The following morning Piccolo called his friend Steve LaSala at Goldman Sachs in New York. Steve was as knowledgeable as anyone on Wall Street when it came to the inner workings of large corporations trying to raise money. He had promised to keep an eye on Norton Utilities to see if CEO James Dolan made any moves to generate capital that would enable Norton to purchase additional land at reduced prices.
Dolan had in fact made several overtures to large speculative investors and had been rebuked by all of them. With Norton’s stock falling every day for over a month now, nobody would loan them money. Norton’s thousand acres of waterfront on the lake had taken a big hit along with everyone else. That, combined with increased competition, had Norton on the road to financial collapse.
The information lessened the likelihood that James Dolan had anything to do with the shark. If he had put it in the lake to drive property values down, he would have had to have investor’s money in place to quickly purchase land in the future at reduced rates. He apparently hadn’t been able to find any.
LaSala said he would continue to monitor Norton, if only to alert Piccolo as to any attempts of a takeover of the utility, which he anticipated would occur now.
With Dolan seemingly in the clear, Piccolo turned his thoughts to Benson & Stanley. They were making a lot of money on the shark threat. Without any proof of criminal misconduct he would have to approach them carefully. His objective was to have an informal talk with the principals to find out as much as he could about their client. Whoever he was, he had invested a lot of money obviously in the hope that the shark would be found and prices would revert back to normal. Why was this person or persons so sure of that?
He decided to call Sally Benson, the principal owner, and arrange a meeting with her on her home turf. After some deliberation he thought it best to go alone. Roy Tillitson was still very much a part of the investigation, but two of them might seem intimidating. He would go out of uniform, and keep the meeting as informal and upbeat as possible.
Piccolo sat across from Sally Benson in Benson & Stanley’s conference room. She had been very cordial on the phone and he got the impression that she had been expecting his call.
The room definitely had a woman’s touch with fresh flowers as a centerpiece on an oval walnut conference table. Floral pastel paintings were on the walls. Sally was dressed in a soft beige business suit. Piccolo wore a dark blazer over an open collar shirt and charcoal slacks.
He found Sally very open and friendly, almost too much so. He told her that he had learned her agency was buying all Arrowhead lakeshore properties and was interested in finding out who the buyer was. That’s where her previously saying “I’m glad to help your investigation any way I can,” got sticky.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know the buyer’s identity,” Sally told him. “My client is Union Suisse in Zurich, Switzerland. The buyer has a private numbered account with the bank. His identity is protected by Swiss law.” She paused for a moment and then asked. “He hasn’t done anything illegal by purchasing these properties has he?”
“No, he hasn’t,” Piccolo said reluctantly. “But it’s coincidental that he started buying them right at the time the shark was found in the lake. That strikes us as odd to say the very least.”
Piccolo watched Sally carefully. She had the attitude of a lot of people suspected of doing something wrong, but knew he couldn’t prove a damn thing.
“The shark of course has driven prices down so this client, whoever he is, stands to make a considerable profit if and when it’s killed,” Piccolo continued. “So you can understand how we could link your client to it being in the lake.”
“Are you saying that he had it put in there?” The question had the sound of incredulity to it. “You can’t be serious?”
“The motive is certainly there,” Piccolo replied. “He’s stands to make millions.” Piccolo looked at the expensive furnishings and added, “you’re not doing badly yourself.”
“If you’re insinuating that we had anything…” Sally was turning livid, but also frightened.
Piccolo held his hands out as if to stop an onrushing train. “I’m not insinuating anything Ms Benson. I’m simply stating that these transactions have been very profitable to your agency. How many lakeshore homes have you brokered so far?”
“Well I can do the math. They probably average about seven hundred thousand apiece. Let’s say you get a standard seven percent commission…that’s forty nine thousand times twenty two…that’s over a million in commissions so far. Not bad.”
Sally didn’t tell him that her commission was actually double that. Union Suisse was paying fifteen percent, bringing the agency’s take to over two million already. If she had any qualms about the possibility that the numbered account was involved with the shark, that kind of money had over ridden them.
“We’re only providing a brokering service for our client, nothing more,” she managed to say. “And our client is a reputable Swiss bank. They certainly didn’t put that shark in the lake.”
“Maybe not and I don’t have proof that the person behind the numbered account did either. But our investigation wouldn’t be complete without our knowing this person’s identity and questioning him.”
Piccolo suspected that Sally really didn’t know the person’s identity and the Swiss would never reveal the holder of a numbered account. The best he could hope for was to get Sally’s contact at the bank.
Sally considered whether to divulge this information or not. She didn’t want to get dragged into this whole thing any farther than necessary. Piccolo didn’t have any proof that the numbered account was behind the shark. According to the media he didn’t even know if the shark was still alive. However she didn’t think it wise not to cooperate with him. Just the fact that she and Beth felt a little guilty every time someone was seriously injured made her feel like an accessory to what was happening.
She opened a leather bound folder, removed Rolf Welty’s card that had been attached to some correspondence, and handed Piccolo.
“This is the man we’ve been dealing with in Zurich,” she said. “I know what he’s going to tell you though.”
Piccolo finished the thought for her. “That even with a supoena he’s not required to divulge his client’s identity unless it can be proven before a Swiss magistrate that his client is involved in a criminal act.”
“That’s correct. You’ve done your homework Sheriff,” Sally said closing the folder.
“Well we may get to the point where we have that proof, Ms Benson,” Piccolo said slipping the card into his jacket pocket.
Sally didn’t answer.
He had one more question. It concerned Dolan and Norton Utilities. If Dolan wasn’t able to borrow money to save Norton financially, why wasn’t he at least trying to sell off his lakeshore property before its value got any lower?
“I’m curious Ms Benson,” he began, “if this protected numbered account holder is interested in undeveloped lakeshore real estate on the lake. I’m sure you know that Norton Utilities has a thousand acres of it.”
“Yes I know,” Sally replied cautiously. She had decided to answer in the sprit of cooperating with the law, but not endangering her relationship with Union Suisse. “Mr. Dolan, a Norton board member met with me recently to ask the same question. I contacted the bank to ask if their client was interested in undeveloped property. The answer was no. They are only interested in lakeshore residential. I have since relayed that information to Mr. Dolan."
“And why do you suppose your client’s not interested?”
“I have no idea.” She was going to leave it at that, but then added, “I can only speculate that he feels residential properties are a better investment and will gain more in value when the shark threat is removed.”
“Do you think that’s true?”
“Yes I do. Many of Norton’s undeveloped properties need zoning permits to ever be built on. That’s a hassle for developers and affects the value. Established residential is a lot easier to deal with.”
“I see.” It was a reasonable answer, but the real fact of the matter was that the decision by the numbered account holder not to buy undeveloped property was driving Norton into bankruptcy. Nevertheless he felt he would get nothing more out of Sally. And he wouldn’t get anything out of the Swiss bank unless he could link their client to the shark.
“I’d like to thank you for your cooperation,” Piccolo said. He stood up to leave.
Sally got up. Piccolo came around the table to shake her hand.
“Thank you again,” he said politely.
She watched as he left the room and wondered why she had been helpful at all. Maybe it was the deep blue eyes, the shoulders bulging against his suit jacket, and the salt and pepper color of his wavy hair. God…. he was good looking.
Mark was swimming through the water as fast as he could. His lungs were straining to take in every quick gasping breath. Kick your feet faster. Take quicker strokes. Faster, swim faster. Don’t look back.
The shark was gaining on him. It could feel the turbulence in the water. Oh God it’s going to get me. He waited for the first moment of terrible pain. And then it happened. The shark bit deep into his left leg. He screamed as the pain shot up through his body. It was more pain than he had ever felt. The shark’s teeth were clamped on to his leg like a vice and wouldn’t let go. The water all around him turned a bright red. He tried to continue to swim, but the shark held him back.
He turned to fight it, beating it on the head as hard as he could. His heart felt like it would explode inside his chest. The shark held on shaking its head side to side ripping his leg open.
He couldn’t stop screaming. He was going to die. Oh God. I’m sorry I went in the water mom and dad. His body was thrashing around violently as the shark twisted it up and down.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
And then he woke up. The sheet was wet from perspiration. His mother was beside him and his father was standing in the doorway.
“Shhh,” Ann said stroking him gently on the chest. “You were having a nightmare. It’s all right.” She turned on the bedside lamp and Mark sat up wiping his brow.
“You were yelling I’m sorry, Mark. What was the dream about?” Piccolo asked coming closer.
Mark turned to his mother. He wished his dad hadn’t woken up. It would be so much easier just to tell her.
“I was dreaming that I was in the lake and got bitten by the shark,” Mark said. He could feel tears welling up in his eyes.
“Well you weren’t in the lake and it was just a dream,” Ann said softly.
He was eleven years old and crying like a baby but couldn’t hold back the tears. He couldn’t hold back his secret any longer either.
“I was in the lake, when I ….when I went over Donny’s house,” he blurted out. “Brian saw it first. Then it came after Donny and me. It…it almost got Donny.”
He was sobbing uncontrollably now, his whole body shaking. Ann wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. Piccolo sat on the bed beside him. He wanted to make sure he had heard what he thought he had.
“Mark, did you say you were in the lake and saw the shark?”
“Yes,” he said still sobbing. His head was buried in his mother’s arms.
“Were any of the other boys hurt?”
Piccolo’s first thought was thank god that Mark and his friends had escaped the shark. The next thing was that the Authority executive committee had voted to keep the lake closed. Had it been opened, Mark’s delay in telling them about the shark could have caused serious injury.
Ann could see that he was about to ask more questions. With a slight shake of her head she stopped him.
“Everything is all right now that you’ve told us,” she said softly to her son. “You’re safe in your bed. Try to go back to sleep. Do you want some water?”
“No mom.” Mark said pulling away from her. Tears were still streaming down his face as he said, “I’m sorry dad. I didn’t want to go, but the guys were making fun of me and…”
“I know,” Piccolo said taking his hand. “You shouldn’t have gone, but we’re happy that you’re safe. That’s all that counts.”
“You won’t tell Donny and Brian that I told will you? We all promised we wouldn’t tell anybody.”
“Don’t worry about that. Go to sleep now.”
Piccolo pulled the covers up over him and he and Ann left the room, closing the light on the way out. Mike thankfully had slept through the whole thing.
Back in their bedroom Piccolo said, “I’m going to have to go public with the fact that the shark was sighted.”
“Well I hope you’re not going to name Mark.” Ann said raising her voice.
“No, I’m not going to name names,” Piccolo said reassuring her before she got too excited. “I’m just going to tell the press that the shark was sighted by boys whose identities are being withheld because they’re underage.”
“Why do you have to do this Gary?” Ann asked. She had that cold look, held for times when she felt it was really necessary to use it.
“Because,” Piccolo said putting his hand on her shoulders, “there are other kids, and grownups too who have a false sense of security now that the shark hasn’t been seen in weeks. They’re ready to take a chance on going in now, just like Mark and his friends. We’d really be responsible if someone else got bitten by the shark because we kept it a secret that it was still alive.”
“I know,” she said half heartedly. “But what about Mark’s promise to his friends? They’ll know he told you when they see it in the news.”
“Well I’ll just have to lie a little I guess. I’ll say someone saw Mark and his friends in the lake and told me about it. The boys could have been seen by the Cooper’s or the D’Amato’s. Both houses are close by.”
“I guess that’ll be okay,” she said trying to force a smile.
“Don’t worry,” Piccolo said kissing her lightly on the lips, “I’ll protect him.”
Later Piccolo lay in bed staring into the darkness and thought about the shark. Ever since the first attack he had taken the hunt for it personally. Ann had criticized him for it and he supposed she was right. He was the “head of the sheriff’s department not a one man band,” as she had put it. But now the shark had struck his family; his own son.
His inclination was to step up the patrols day and night. Feed the damn thing as much bait as they could get into the lake. But that wouldn’t help.
He had to keep reminding himself to keep his investigation focused on who was responsible. Keep reasonable patrols up and down the lake, but keep the emphasis on finding who was behind all this. Because now, whoever it was had tried to kill his son.
This was personal…with a capital P.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com