The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department found two bodies in an old vehicle recovered from an area lake, opening up a decades old cold case. And meantime, the sheriff has gone missing. This picks up where the last one left off.
My personal cell phone rang, and when I glanced at the dial decided it was important to answer it. “Excuse me.” I slipped out and found a semi-private corner. “Hi, Mom.”
“Corinne, I’m worried sick. Ever since you called looking for Denny, I’ve tried his phone a dozen times and he hasn’t called me back. It’s just not like him to not return a call after so many hours.”
I searched for encouraging words to reassure her, but there were none. “The patrol deputies are on the lookout for his car. I know it’s odd, but there is a very good reason which we’ll find out.”
“You sound so sure, dear.”
“I am.” And hoped it was true. Thirty years ago her classmates had disappeared and we’d finally found them today. I counted on the fact that the sheriff was a resourceful man with years of experience in countless situations. Maybe he had run an errand that had taken far longer than he’d thought. And if his cell phone was dead, he wouldn’t know we were looking for him. There was a remote possibility something like that had happened.
“Mother, I’m sorry that I have to cut this short, but I’m in the middle of something right now. Hang in there and I will call the minute we get word about Denny.”
“All right, I suppose. Thank you, dear.”
I hung up and it took me a minute to steer my mind from wondering where the sheriff was to the investigation at hand. When I slipped back into Smoke’s cubicle, he was in the middle of collecting DNA from Darwin Fryor. Smoke swabbed the inside of his mouth then dropped the sample in a sterile bottle and sealed it.
“We’re going to review the files from when Tommy and Wendy disappeared, talk to some folks, and try to piece together what happened. And we’ll keep in touch with you, Mister Fryor. ”
Darwin Fryor rubbed his forehead then his cheek. “I surely can’t figure how the car could have ended up in Whitetail Lake.”
“It’s a real puzzle to be sure. And we’ll do all we can to piece it together,” Smoke said.
He escorted Darwin Fryor out and I returned to the file room. I was reading statements taken from the friends and classmates of Tommy Fryor and Wendy Everton when Smoke joined me.
“You come across something troubling in there?”
“What? Oh, no. It’s the sheriff. Mother was the one who called me. She is a nervous wreck, of course, because she can’t help herself. And in this instance, it seems like she’s got good reason.”
“I’m with you on that one.”
“I don’t want to even say this out loud, but what if someone lured Denny out somewhere, somehow took control of him, and is planning to hold him for ransom.”
Smoke’s eyebrows shot up and his lips formed an O. “Whoa. Little lady, you do have a vivid imagination at times. I can’t imagine the sheriff falling for something like that. On the other hand, the whole thing is definitely worrisome. We got a bunch of deputies scouring the county for him. The chief deputy is checking with other county employees to see if anyone saw him leave. We’re bound to learn something before long.”
I nodded, and as much as I wanted to believe that, I wasn’t convinced. I knew Smoke wasn’t either. “One thing: I know we can trust Chief Deputy Kenner to be thorough, and he’ll make sure no stone is unturned.”
“Very true. And in the meantime, we’ve got our work cut out for us.” He sat down at the table and moved a pile of documents closer to him. “So is there a golden needle in this haystack that may give us a clue?”
After reading and taking notes for a while, I said. “It sounds like Tommy was a bit of a risk taker, which led his classmates at the time to support the theory that they had run away.”
“He was. Not unlike most of the teenage boys I’ve known. Most of us feel immortal when we’re sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.”
“I have to say I pretty much did myself.”
“The investigation back then was focused on why Tommy and Wendy disappeared. Most everyone thought they must have run off together.”
“That was the talk, and the only explanation anyone could come up with.”
“A number of his friends were surprised he’d do that since it looked like he had a promising future, either as a professional athlete or a coach.”
“Yeah, when you get to my statement, you’ll see I was in that camp. Tommy was a star athlete. He was offered a full scholarship at three or so colleges. On the other hand, he was smitten, more like obsessed with Wendy Everton. A lotta other guys were, too. Fortunately, I did not go too far down that road with her.”
“I’m trying not to dislike her.”
Smoke reached over and squeezed my forearm. “Corinne, whatever Wendy was or was not is no longer an issue.”
And she wasn’t there to defend herself. “Of course. Mostly I feel awful that their families have gone through over thirty years of agony.”
“Thanks to Sergeant Warner for picking Whitetail to test his new sonar equipment, they’ll be able to bury Tommy and Wendy, and hopefully work through it.”
We scanned through the documents for another hour.
“We should pay a visit to Wendy’s parents then I’d like to examine the area where the car went in. Try to figure out what in the hell happened.”
“From what I read, there was no indication that either one of them was depressed. A few wondered if Wendy was pregnant.”
“That was the talk at the time. If she was, no one knew it for sure.”
We gathered the papers, packed up the file, and put it back in its place in the drawer. It was 6:01 in the evening and my mother phoned again. She was still at work. “Corinne, you haven’t called and I thought maybe you got busy and forgot.”
“I have been busy, but I haven’t forgotten.”
“So there is still no word on Denny?”
“Not yet, unfortunately.”
“Where are you, anyway?”
I knew she was wondering why I hadn’t stopped by her shop to see her. “I got caught up in a case. A car was pulled out of Whitetail Lake this morning.”
“One of my customers told me about it a little while ago. She happened by when they were loading it on a tow truck. I hadn’t heard of any cars going in the lake. The road is nice and straight along there, so how did it happen?”
Maybe if my mother had something else to think about, she’d worry less about Sheriff Dennis Twardy. “Brace yourself for this one. That car has been down there a long time; since you were in high school, in fact. It appears it was Tommy Fryor’s Dodge Charger.”
There was a clunking sound in my ear and I realized Mother must have dropped the phone on her counter. It took a few seconds before she was back. “What did you say?”
Smoke reached his hand out for my phone so I passed it over. “Kristen, it’s Elton. . . . No, it doesn’t seem real. . . . No, they did not push the car in the lake before they ran off. . . . Because there were humans remains in the car.” Smoke put my phone against his chest. “I think she dropped the phone.”
I took it back from him and waited until Mother said, “What?”
“Mother, I am going to pick you up and give you a ride to Gramps’ house. Okay? . . . I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Your poor mom. We might as well take my car, and I’ll drop you off at yours when we get done for the day. Let’s go rescue Kristen.”
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.