The Secret in Whitetail Lake 12th Installment by Christine Husom

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 entry left off last month.

Chief Deputy Kenner determined that it was premature to dust the safe for prints, and if we did, we should have a search warrant. Obtaining that may be difficult given the lack of evidence that someone had broken in and stolen the money. Kenner decided to post deputies around the clock to keep watch on the sheriff’s house until he was found. If anyone tried to gain access, we’d know about it immediately.

I carefully checked the doors and windows, inside and out, and found no signs of forced entry. Then Mother and I went into garage and I looked in the windows of the sheriff’s department-issued vehicle. There were no papers or anything else lying on the seats or the floors. “Man, I think Denny is more of a neat freak than you are, Mom. He even keeps his car as neat as a pin, just like his home and office.”

“He certainly is. And it’s one of the things I really appreciate about him.” Of course she did.

We completed our tasks in fairly short order, and Smoke found us in the garage. “Anything?” he asked and I shook my head. “Then I guess we’re done here for now. Deputy Ortiz pulled up a minute ago and parked back by the sheriff’s lawn shed. He won’t let anything get by him. Kenner has deputies on two-hour shifts here.”

“Good,” I said and turned to my mother. “You look worn out, Mom. Why don’t we drop you off at Gramps’ house and maybe you can take a nap.”

“Corinne, you know I can’t sleep during the day. But it’s probably a good idea to go there, after all. Your grandfather is worried too.”

We delivered my mother to her father’s house then headed back to the sheriff’s office to check on how the investigation of the Dodge Charger was progressing. “I have a better insight on your mother, little lady. And a clearer understanding of what you’ve been complaining about over the years.”

I let out a short laugh. “When I was younger, all my friends told me she was the most protective parent on the planet, and I really had a hard time with that. Then I finally got to the point when I realized she is who she is and she’s not going to change. But amazingly, the one person she seems the most calm around is Dennis Twardy. So not knowing where he is like a double whammy for her.”

“Kristen wasn’t as high-strung in high school, as I remember, and maybe it was because she had your dad. Losing him probably explains the main reason she’s such a worrywart. I’m just not used to people, even under stress, gasping as much as she does.”

I laughed again. “It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure. When I was about ten I vowed to never—under any circumstances—make that sucking-in sound she does. It used to startle me, make me afraid that something awful was happening. Now I barely notice when she does it.”

When we’d arrived at the department, we headed straight for the garage where the team was working on the Dodge Charger. The smaller items we’d help remove from the vehicle were drying on a rolling unit with mesh shelves. The backseat of the car was sitting on a pallet. There were four fans running at a medium speed some distance away. Sergeant Doug Matsen was working alone. After we’d exchanged greetings, we took a look at the few items on the shelves. The wallet, purse and its contents, keys some small tools, what was left of the various articles of clothing, including the letter jacket, and the tire iron from the trunk.

“Are you working alone today?” Smoke said.

“For a while, anyway. Kenner has his hands full with Twardy disappearing and pulled the major crimes guys to help in that effort. Oh, and I got the DNA samples from the victims’ families delivered to the regional lab this morning. The ones you left last night, Detective.”

“Good, thanks,” Smoke said.

“A question for you, Detective. Did you guys carry cement blocks around in your car in the old days for any reason?” Matsen said.

Smoke smiled at his friendly jibe then frowned. “I’ll forget the ‘old days’ wise crack, and answer your question. No one I knew drove around with cement blocks in their cars.”

“I didn’t think so which is what makes the one I found wedged in partway under the front seat so suspicious.”

“Where was it?”

“I’ll show you.” Doug went to the driver’s side and pointed at area of the floor beneath the driver’s seat then he walked over to where the object in question sat on shelf.

Smoke studied it. “Looks like the kind of patio block a lot of people used back then. And still do today, although they’ve gotten fancier, with different sizes and shapes. What are the measurements on this one?”

“Six inches wide, three inches thick, twelve inches long.”

“And weight?”

“Twenty-three pounds.”

Smoke nodded. “Fairly dense. A buddy of mine built an entertainment center of sorts with wooden boards and cement blocks similar to this one, but they were more decorative. Back in the old days.”

Matsen smiled.

“Seems to me that it’d be stupid, and downright dangerous, to carry something that heavy in your car. In the event of a crash, it’d turn into a heavy projectile that would do a whole lot of damage to a human body,” Smoke said.

“People don’t always think of things like that,” Matsen said.

“Unfortunately, you are right on there. The question we have is why Toby would have one in his car.”

“Maybe his dad was building a patio and sent him to get more of the same kind of blocks, and he forgot it was in his car. It could have been on the floor of the backseat, and moved during the crash,” I said.

“That is one possibility, but knowing Toby, he’d have it in the trunk so it didn’t mess up his car. And it’s an easy enough thing to verify with his dad.” Smoke pulled the memo pad out of his pocket and flipped through some pages. “I’ll call him and ask.” He picked up his phone, dialed, and waited. When he was connected, he said, “Hi, Mr. Fryor, it’s Elton Dawes. How are you doing today? . . . Yes, it will take time. Say, Mr. Fryor, I’m sorry to bother you with this, but something came up that raised a question. We found a cement block in Toby’s car and we’re wondering if you’d have any idea why. . . . Wedged under the front seat. . . . No landscaping projects you were working on? . . . Okay, thank you. Be sure to let us know if you need anything. . . . Goodbye.” Smoke hung up and shook his head. “Poor guy. I hope he’s going to make it through all this. He has no idea why the block would’ve been there.”

“Like I said, it’s suspicious,” Doug said.

“Yes, it is,” Smoke said. “Well, Corky and I are heading to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office to check on things. I’d think if either of our victims had been struck in the head with a cement block, the docs would have noticed that when we removed their bodies from the car. But we’ll ask. Is there anything you need before we shove off, something we can help you with?”

Doug used his shoulder to scratch his chin. “Thanks, I’m good for now, but I’ll holler if I do.”

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series. The Secret in Whitetail Lake is the 6th book in the series.

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