THE BEAN FIELD MURDER
Returning from the 1948 Law Enforcement Conference, Cayuga County High Sheriff Loren Kregs had barely entered the county seat of Collins, when his car's dispatch radio crackled. Chief Dispatcher Vince Tandberg's twang was directing Chief Deputy Billy Greenoak to the Sorell farm.
Loren doubled back to a narrow, dirt lane that masqueraded as Town Line Road. Turning into it, he entered the whirling dust storm that was Billy's wake. As usual, his tall, cadaverous Chief Deputy was barreling at floorboard speed, setting his usual bad-driving example to Vince Dennet, the young rookie riding with him. When Loren pulled up, both troopers already were bagging the clothes Doc Krastil and his assistant, Glen, were carefully stripping from an unconscious old farmer lying next to a newly sown bean field.
The High Sheriff had investigated several numerous accidents during his long career, but this one spawned fluttering butterflies in his belly. A large, rear wheel of Sorell's mammoth tractor, follow by the bean planter and the sharp harrowing disks it was pulling, had crushed and horribly mangled the old man's thighs and lower body. Apparently, the unmanned rig subsequently wandered aimlessly, before ultimately wedging itself between two lofty white cedar trees. For now, Loren ignored the machine.
Mrs. Sorell had braved the horror of finding her husband in gore long enough to summon assistance. Shaking violently, she continuously was asking what had happened. "Try to get her to into the house, Vince," Doc suggested, "she's in shock."
Dennet nodded. "Will do, Doc." The tall, barrel-chested rookie tenderly shepherded his charge through the small grove of imposing white cedar trees that served as a wind barrier for the weather-beaten house, his attentiveness contrasting sharply with his muscular physic.
Doc again turned his attention to his patient. Encircled by horn-rimmed bifocals, his eyes misted as he worked. His Old Dutch beard quivered; he and Sorell were close chess buddies.
In a choked voice, he responded to the sheriff's unspoken question. "Well, Loren, my old friend won't be playing chess with me any more. He's still alive, but not for long."
Loren nodded sadly. "How long before he's ready for transport?"
"A few minutes." Doc glanced at Glen. "I want you with him in the ambulance. The sheriff and I must check out this accident while the clues are fresh."
Moving to Mrs. Sorell, Loren gently guided her away from the vehicle and motioned for it to leave. "Please wait with me, Mrs. Sorell. I'm sending for my wife. You know Verony. You work together on the church council. She's your friend."
After a moment, the dazed woman ceased struggling and stared intently at Loren. Her confusion gave way to recognition, "Why, Sheriff Kregs, I didn't know you were here. When did you arrive?"
"A short while ago. Verony won't be long. I'm sending a deputy for her. Please wait till she gets here. One of my men will drive both of you to the hospital. Will you wait for Verony, Mrs. Sorell?"
"Of course; it's the least I can do since she's coming to be with me."
"Mrs. Sorrel, I'll find out what happened. That's a promise."
Loren activated the radio. "Dispatch a car for Mrs. Kregs. Mrs. Sorell needs her. Hurry!"
It wasn't long before Loren heard the fast approaching wails of two patrol cars. He brightened at Verony's arrival. He and his sonsy wife still shared those frequent times when she set his blood aflame, and then dissolved at his touch. Her way with people awed him. Mrs. Sorell instantly relaxed in Verony's company. Both women entered the house, and when Loren again saw them, Mrs. Sorrel appeared refreshed and neatly dressed. Verony guided her into a patrol car, then climbed in next to her. Loren nodded to the driver, and the patrol car accelerated to chase speed toward the hospital.
Loren turned his attention to his task. He felt those confounded butterflies again tease his belly. Unsuccessfully, he attempted to force them to roost, then glared at the rig. Duty summoned.
"Doc; Billy; time to start our investigation."
Loren's brawny, six-foot-three frame had served him well during his college football years. Now it offered no advantage to the fortyish sheriff, whose chest heaved as he lumbered over the rig with Doc. His criminologist's antenna was vibrating with questions: Why were the gears still engaged? Had they meshed accidentally? How? Had Sorell been refilling the seed hoppers? If so, he'd have been behind the tractor. That raised the question of how the wheel could have pass over him. Did he fall while mounting or dismounting?
"And that brings me back to those blasted gears," Loren pondered audibly.
"The back of his head was crushed with deadly force, before the wheel passed over. Even if he survives, he'll be a vegetable," Doc pointed out.
He noted that the ground where Sorell had lain was soaked with blood. "That's blood from his lower body. There's none where his head rested, but it bled profusely. Leaked cerebral fluid too."
Loren's baby blues eyes widened. Doc had limited his private practice years ago to become Cayuga County's Chief Coroner; one whose conclusions he respected. All ears now, he asked, "Before the wheel passed over?"
Doc nodded. "I found coagulation in the head wound. The lower ones still bled."
"And . . .?" Loren prompted.
Doc smiled wanly. "Well, figure it out. I'm just a . . ."
"Yeah; yeah; you're just a country doctor doing his job. And I'm a Boy Scout helping an old lady. Cut the malarkey; answer me!"
"We'll talk soon. I'm due at the hospital. Gotta roll." Doc could be frustrating.
Watching Doc amble toward his ride, Loren combed his fingers through his receding, ash-blond hair. He stared as the car, racing to challenge the ambulance's receding wake, grew its own tail of billowing dust. It vanished around a bend in the road; silently cursing Doc, Loren resumed his duties.
Loren and Billy endeavored to confirm Doc's finding. Nothing! The High Sheriff felt like he did when searching for his reading glasses. They were somewhere, almost biting him, but where? He cursed silently, backing off to study the contraption, his fingers combing his hair. When he again stepped forward, there it was - in the cavity of the planter's hitching unit. He'd expected blood on the disks, but blood in that cavity was something else. Puzzled, he scrutinized the miniature pool. Then, realization struck! The clear substance marbling the blood was the cerebral fluid Doc had mentioned. The blood was jelled, proving extended exposure. Doc was right.
The finding deepened the mystery. Why had Sorell's head been over the cavity? How could he have tumbled from the planter to fall in front of the tractors rear wheels? Billy approached, asking if Sorell's cap had been found. The ancient headpiece was the old man's fetish. He jokingly claimed that he'd not gone bald because his hair had spent a lifetime under the cap and considered it home. He was never without it, yet it wasn't with his clothes.
A search located it, bloodstained and crumpled several rows from a narrow thicket that butted the far side of the field. Nearby, scores of bluebottle flies buzzed, swarming over a dark spot on the soil. The officers glanced at each other; they understood. With a stony expression, Loren pressed a lump of the soil between a forefinger and thumb. Blood!
A line of uncovered seed in the rows of the final cut caught the eye of the farmer's son in Billy. It revealed to him that the rig had stopped there. On restart, the planter had dropped surplus seeds, some left exposed by the furrowing disks.
"Loren, why would Sorell stop in the middle of a cut?" the Chief Deputy asked.
Loren wondered why, too. This close to home, Sorell would have answered nature's call in the outhouse or slaked his thirst at the well, both located close to the field. Furthermore, the rows were short; so after being filled on the other side, the planter easily could have made a few round-trips without reloading. Had there been mechanical problems? The officers had no answer, yet both agreed Sorell was hurt and had lain on his back for a time. His blood told them.
The bean field was an agricultural instructor's dream, marred only by the uncovered seed, the buzzing bluebottles, and the tractor still nosing the cedars. That nagged at Loren, and he wondered why. It was time to analyze the dilemma.
"Billy, your head's gushing blood. What's the first thing you do?"
"Try to stop the bleeding."
Loren nodded. "Find anything Sorell might have use for that?"
Billy frowned. "Nothing."
Again Loren nodded. "If the old man took the tractor for help, he'd be standing or sitting. Where would the blood from his wound flow?"
Billy's eyes widened. "Straight down his neck," he declared, "But there's no blood on Sorell's shirt."
"Or in the tractor cab," observed Loren.
"Then Sorell didn't get up." Bewilderment filled Billy's voice. "How did he get to the other side?"
"Someone moved him." Loren's own words startled him.
Now he realized why the neatness nagged him. If Sorell had rushed for help with the tractor, he'd have made a beeline for the house. There would be a row of crosswise cuts over the completed rows. Yet, there were none.
The officers elbowed through the thicket, to an unused utility road that divided Sorell's property from an adjacent woods. Perpetually shaded by trees, it never lost its dampness, terminating several miles ahead, at the depleted natural gas wells it once serviced.
Billy studied fresh tire tracks on the shoulder. "A pickup, I'd say."
He noticed oil. "With a leaky oil pan," he grunted.
His finger raised culms of bent orchard grass within the tracks. Again they curtsied. "It left not long ago," he concluded.
Loren nodded assent. "Someone left the truck here and then entered the field from the road," he theorized aloud. "Sorell must have climbed down from his tractor to see what the person wanted and was hit from behind."
But Loren couldn't explain why the old man was left bleeding in the field for a while. Nevertheless, the blood-filled cavity proved he eventually was placed on the planter, with his head over the coupling. The assailants brushed out the footprints and even took time to finish the last cut before dumping him on the other side.
As he concluded his, Loren swallowed hard and his facial muscles twitched. Those confounded butterflies were active again! "By then, coagulation set in, but not before Sorell bled into the cavity. They tried to fake an accident by running the rig over him and leaving it moving. Then they jumped to the grass and ran. They forgot Sorell's cap, but you didn't, Billy!"
Billy shuddered. "Real brutal guys!"
Loren searched studiously for his notebook. "And we have to catch them! Get what we need to perverse evidence." Billy left, tires smoking, and Loren radioed the county sheriff's garage. The jolly voice of Casper Tolinas, its foreman, responded. "Well! The boss! A 'tomic bomb explode, sheriff?"
Loren explained that he wanted Sorell's rig impounded. "Send a C-2. Priority code!" Tolinas's flippancy evaporated. The code meant: "Get here now!" He
promised speed, but Loren defined that by the sloth creep of the department's gargantuan, C-2 truck cranes, times the fourteen miles between the garage and Sorell's farm. The wait would be long; he wished those who viewed his job as
adventurous could see him now.
Sorell didn't make it. An autopsy revealed an oily substance in his head wound. Specimens of it were sent to the FBI lab in Washington, together with other evidence. Even before the findings returned, a coroner's jury issued a verdict of homicide, shredding the fabric of trust that had characterized Cayuga County.
The unthinkable had occurred!
As he stood before his own desk, Jules Rimfurt's face looked peaked. Though he was Cayuga County's supervisor, his expensive, blue, 42 regular business suit looked tawdry on his 42 short physique. Its jacket hung too low, while the trouser cuffs sagged behind white brogues. Contrasting sharply, the hand-tailored, black, pinstripe suit now occupying Rimfurt's chair, blended perfectly with the glistening cordovans that were plunked brazenly on his exquisitely crafted, black walnut desk. Smoke from one of Rimfurt's Havanas spiraled from behind the desk, caressing a textured ceiling, then billowing in curling waves against paneled walls. A former dairy farmer, Rimfurt had sold his soul to the state political machine. Molded to its specifications and fitted with minor cogs, he'd been synchronized with its corrupt mechanisms.
Earlier, The Pinstriper had ordered Rimfurt to meet him at the county hall at 10 P.M., when they could be alone. Now his manicured hand motioned him into a plush chair. Like a wayward child, the apprehensive supervisor complied. He knew what was coming and his head ached. "Without us you'd still be squeezing milk. You repay us with stupidity! You idiot! Why'd you kill the guy?"
"Those goons did it. I told them to just scare Sorell," Rimfurt whimpered.
The Pinstriper glared. "You hired them! Stop that investigation before things explode or you'll join the old man!" He paused. "Get the drift?"
Rimfurt felt a sudden urge to use the men's room. He attempted to push his voice through a large lump in his throat. It squeaked. He swallowed hard and nodded.
"Good. I tell the Big Man. Enjoy your evening." The Pinstriper's cordovans carried him back into the night. And Rimfurt's brogues sped him into the men's room to retch.
FBI tests revealed that one of the truck's tires was deeply gashed; moreover, traces from heavy pipe threading were embedded in them. The substance from Sorell's head was driller's grease, commonly used for augers. Loren stared at the report. Driller grease! An agricultural county, Cayuga depended on drillers for the water so essential to its needs. Most were tough, hard-working men.
Consulting with Chief Dispatcher Tadber, Loren located Billy at Frank's counter, sluicing down a burger with coffee. "Let's take a booth, Billy. This you gotta see!"
Billy read, and his chewing slowed. "A driller's truck?" he whispered hoarsely.
Loren washed down a mouthful of his ham on rye. "Maybe; we'll search."
Billy volunteered to check out the county's numerous bars and Loren consented. "Take Paris, wear civvies and drive an unmarked. Our dispatchers are to know your location at all times. Understood?"
"Understood. We'll start tonight."
After his session with the Pinstriper, Rimfurt lost it. His constant explosions sent those around him scurrying in panic. Unable to eat, he lost weight he could ill afford. The short intervals of sleep he gleaned resulted in drenching sweat. Massaging his brow, sometimes nibbling his knuckles, he paced incessantly. His subordinates had always considered him to be erratic; still, they'd been able to limp along. Now there was chaos! Rimfurt gave orders, repudiated them, refused to sign documents, cancelled all meetings, and rejected all calls. He customarily shunned the Sheriff's Department, so Loren was puzzled when his intercom announced that Rimfurt insisted on seeing him.
The sheriff was appalled at supervisor's appearance. A life-long teetotaler, Rimfurt reeked of alcohol. Dark shadows rimmed his eyes. His hair, unkempt, hung over his now skeletal features. Tremulous, his right hand held an unlit Havana. In his left hand he clutched a Homburg.
"Jules! What happened?"
Rimfurt's features went from chalky white to crimson. So violently did he tremble that Loren reached to steady him. The supervisor erupted like someone cursed with an explosive disorder. "You happened to me! Doc Krastel happened to me! Everyone's screaming murder! Sorell had an accident; close the case, now!"
He collapsed into a chair, sucking air. During the lengthy silence that ensued, Loren noticed a hint of pleading in Rimfurt's eyes. "Jules, you're not feeling well . . ."
"I'm fine!" Rimfurt screeched, "The investigation's over on my say-so!"
Loren sighed. "You haven't that authority, Jules. Calm down. We're following leads."
"Why do you want the investigation dropped?" Loren countered.
Rimfurt changed the subject. "Look at you; New York State's sloppiest sheriff. When I kick you out of office, you won't yell murder any more!"
He scrutinized Loren's attire. "You disgrace the entire county; everyone laughs at your clothes!"
Loren realized he was no fashion plate. Verony told him often enough, with her self-styled "love nags." She wanted him to conform to the dress code he mandated for his deputies: neatly pressed uniforms, complete with side arms when on duty. Only undercover deputies were exempt. And, because of his size, he also was exempted, he informed Verony. She knew that stores that sold clothes in his size were expensive, so he bought sale items that just happened to fit his huge frame, wherever he could find them. Nonetheless, he did own one expensive, specially tailored uniform that was reserved for special occasions.
He glanced down at himself. Why were people so critical of his attire? There was no reason for Jules to be so insulting. He didn't look so bad! No matter that Verony claimed the enormous camp shirt he was wearing draped him like a horse blanket. It hung over faded, war surplus, Navy work pants, the waist and rear of which he had nagged Verony into expanding. They drooped deeply at the posterior, their cuffs reaching down to sneakers that long ago surrendered their whiteness. Ignored had been Verony's advice that the incongruent combination not be worn on the job. What was wrong with everybody? His clothes were neat and clean.
"I'll ignore your insults, Jules. Please leave."
"Lover Boy Kregs, the Romeo of Bowen . . . "
Loren's towering presence overshadowed the Supervisor! Rimfurt had overreached. The reference was to Loren's rescue of a teen-age girl. His opponents had tried to capitalize on its humorous aftermath by dubbing him, "Lover Boy Kregs."
Now, his two massive fists enclosed Rimfurt's tie and lapels. As the stubby man elevated, his slack finger's released the hat and cigar. His feet kicked air as he stared directly into the smoldering eyes of his nemeses.
"You drunken little frog," Loren growled, "I could squash you, but your not worth it."
Loren lowered his thrashing captive, but still retained his hold. "When you insulted my clothes, I let it pass. Now you slandered my integrity! Your bosses tried it in the last election. I sued and won. You pip-squeak. You never learn, do you? Want me to have everything you own? Fine. Just slander me in public."
Releasing Rimfurt, Loren pressed the intercom. A young brunette in maternity clothes entered. A faint rash on her hands apparently embarrassed her, because she tried to hide it behind her steno pad.
"Mrs. Baymark, take Mr. Rimfurt's dictation. You were you saying, Jules?" Dampness beaded Rimfurt's forehead. Lips pursed with suppressed fury, he scooped up his hat and charged out. "Guess he changed his mind," Loren shrugged to the baffled brunette, He then hurried to Dispatch Central.
The Sheriff's Department was concluding its third week of searching for the pickup. Billy found it impossible to remain anonymous in the driller hangouts. He and Loren had failed to take his long service into account, and civvies did nothing to disguise his distinctive features. Each time he entered a bar, its patrons shouted greetings to him. After several such friendly encounters, it fell to the inconspicuous Paris to infiltrate the dives, while Billy focused on the vehicles in the parking lots. It surprised him how many leaky oil pans he spotted. Numerous damaged tires were seen, but none that meshed with the castings.
On this third Friday of the search, Billy and Paris had just arrived at The Drinking Well, a watering hole with an unsavory reputation, near Silver Creek. Each year, the Sheriff's Department could count a booming business from The
Well, especially on Friday nights, after its clientele had deeply imbibed. More than one deputy had been hurt quelling the stabbings, clubbings and gang fights that broke out there. Still, politics kept the place open.
"Dispatch Central, this is unmarked one. Over." Paris's tenor conveyed no enthusiasm.
"Unmarked one, Chief Dispatcher Tadber, here. Go ahead."
"Sir, this is Deputy Paris. I'll be entering The Drinking Well. Chief Deputy Greenoak, will be checking out tires."
"Let me speak to the Chief Deputy."
Hearing Billy's explanation, Tadber responded, "The High Sheriff'll have to
clear this. Stay put. Out."
Billy lit a cigarette. He appreciated Tadber's concern. Payday, booze, and The Well's clientele, made an explosive combination. If Paris were identified, he'd be in trouble. "I'm going in with you."
"Then there's no sense in you going in, sir."
Billy knew Paris was right. The radio crackled. "This is Kregs. Pick up, Billy."
Billy complied. "You and Paris are not to enter The Well. A call is sure to come in from there soon. I'll respond with the others. Go drink some coffee till then."
Paris's relief earned a smile from Billy. "You made both of us very happy, boss. Don't know about coffee, though. Can we check tires?"
"That's up to you, but don't go in."
"Good. Kregs out."
The Well's rear lot was filled with rows of cars parked grille to grille, leading the officers to park their car in the last row. They'd been working some twenty minutes, pacing each other on opposite sides, when Billy heard a loud grunt.
Peering beneath the truck he was inspecting, he saw Paris prone on the asphalt. Next to him stood a pair of heavy work shoes, accompanied by two combat boots. Billy drew his weapon, remaining low. Moved cautiously between the
vehicles, he peered around the grille of a station wagon. Two men were standing over Paris, one holding a blackjack, the other keys. Both were apparently oblivious of his presence. Taking aim, the chief deputy stood.
"Deputy Sheriff! Drop what's in your hands! Hands on your heads! Now!"
The men stiffened. Blackjack and keys fell to the ground. Their hands went to their heads.
"Back away slowly, or you're both dead!" Billy voice conveyed certainty. "Far enough. Slowly lower your left hands pull off your belts and drop them!" The men complied, securing their pants with their left hands.
"Hands back on your heads!"
This time they hesitated. There was a metallic click from the pistol. "On the three count!" Billy snarled. Up went the hands. Down went one pair of pants.
"Now kneel and press your noses together."
Gathering the belts, Billy approached until the pistol nozzle pressed against the
noses of both prisoners. He felt a tremendous relief when they at last were on their sides, cuffed together and tightly belted at the thighs.
Unconscious, Paris had a large goose egg on his head. Though he wasn't bleeding, his breathing was shallow. Medical help was needed, but it was necessary for Billy to move to his car to summon assistance.
"Now hop to that old Studebaker!" he ordered the men.
The obscene objections he received died when he advanced, brandishing the blackjack he had collected from the pavement. Hastily, the captives struggled to their feet. They sullenly hopped to the Studebaker, where, in a bent stance, they were coupled to the car's front bumper with Paris's cuffs.
A sudden wave of nausea engulfed Billy as he reached for the mike. He lit a cigarette, but it didn't restore his dissipated adrenalin high. "Unmarked one to
Central Dispatch. Officer down. Officer down at the Drinking Well parking lot. Deputy Paris hurt and unconscious. Dispatch immediate medical assistance and backup. Have two shackled prisoners. Greenoak. Over."
Tadber responded, "Chief Deputy, medical assistance and backup already en route. State condition of Paris; also your own." Concern was in Tadber's voice.
"I'm okay, Central. But Paris is unconscious from a severe blow to the head with a blackjack. No blood, but shallow breathing. I am unable to ascertain more. Have the two perpetrators in custody and shackled. Repeat: We need immediate assistance."
"The Silver Creek patrol should reach you soon. Silver Creek's ambulance already en route. We're diverting units other to you. The High Sheriff is also heading to your location. We shall keep this channel open. Do you require anything else?"
"A tow truck to haul in a pickup."
"Tow truck will be dispatched."
"I can hear our boys approaching, Central. Greenoak out. And thanks."
"We're pulling for Paris, Chief Deputy. Out."
Preceded by the ambulance, the unit assigned to Silver Creek was just entering the lot when Billy signed off. Other units quickly followed. Patrons poured from The Well, protesting when the lot was cordoned off. Billy stood by anxiously, while a young ambulance doctor checked his now conscious partner. Uttering a low moan, Paris rubbed his head.
"What happened? Owww! What a headache!"
"I want you in City Hospital for observation," the doctor instructed. Paris protested, but Billy ordered his compliance and the ambulance left.
Dusk was near when Loren arrived with Watch Lieutenant Thompson. The downed trousers evoked amused, questioning looks. "I needed the belts," Billy sheepishly explained.
Loren inquired about Paris, and eyed the prisoners. The appearance of the older, bandy-legged man was squalid. A grizzled Viking beard draped his barrel-chest. Its matching head of hair apparently had never been caressed by brush or comb. Swinging beneath a filthy t-shirt, a bloated, blubbery belly attested that he lived for his suds. The embarrassment of literally being caught with his pants down exacerbated his surliness. And, judging by its loud jeers, the crowd harbored no sympathy for him.
Much younger, his companion was tall and athletic. A blond crew cut crested his Apollo features, and his storm sea eyes harbored concern. An Eisenhower jacket revealed that technical sergeant stripes recently had been removed. Tucked into worn combat boots, though now beltless, his faded fatigue pants remained steadfast. A vet in his late twenties, Loren guessed.
"Hey, skull-face. My back hurts," The Beard bellowed.
Fists bunched, Billy headed for him, but Loren's warning glance stopped him. Brandishing a clenched fist at The Beard, he blinked owlishly at Loren, and moved toward the pickup.
Assuming an understanding tone, Loren informed the men that he wanted to make them more comfortable, but he needed answers first. What was the older man's name? A series of expletives blasted him.
"Awwww, are you having a bad day?" Thompson sarcastically sympathized.
"Your name, kid?" Loren asked Apollo.
"I ain't with this bozo."
Your name?" Silence.
"Could be the killers," Loren mused. Apollo's eyes widened, "I didn't kill anyone!"
"Shut up!" The Beard yelled.
"Don't tell me to shut up, blubber belly. I'm not going to get blamed for what they say you maybe did! I didn't kill anyone!"
Winking conspiratorially, Loren remanded them to Thompson's custody, and turned toward the crowd. "And, for Pete's sake, lieutenant, have that fat one pull up his pants! There're women watching! Charge him with indecent exposure, too!"
A barrage of curses rewarded his drollness as he strolled toward Billy.
For the first time in their long acquaintance, the Big Man had castigated The Pinstriper. The Big Man had received a report that Rimfurt's two loonies had been arrested. That spelled trouble for the political machine, especially since Rimfurt assassins couldn't be trusted, and he was informed.
"They're a dangerous liability!" the Big Man had raged.
'You're not doing your job!" he raged at The Pinstriper, "Those two screwballs will connect Rimfurt to the old farmer, and Rimfurt will implicate you! Then the rest of us will be up a creek with no paddle!
The Pinstriper tried to assure the Big Man that everything was under control. Nonetheless, he wouldn't buy it.
"You had better get those loonies before they get us! We're paying you big bucks to handle these kinds of things for us. Earn your money!" the Big Guy had demanded, just before The Pinstriper attempted to reach Rimfurt's home by phone. Only a constant ringing at the other end rewarded his efforts.
Furious, he reluctantly dialed the Cayuga County Building, and was passed through to Rimfurt's office. An efficient female voice responded. Employing an alias, he stated, "This is Mr. Stemir. Supervisor Rimfurt, please."
"Sorry; he's away."
"Where can he be located? It's urgent!"
"He didn't say, sir.
"When is he returning?"
"Soon, I expect. He's been gone three weeks."
Cradling the phone, the Pinstriper lit a cigar, and cursed through the smoke.
"The jerk's skipped!"
He scowled venomously, and dialed again. He was leaving to locate and neutralized Rimfurt, he informed the Big Man.
The Beard was a troublemaker named Rus Decanner. Apollo was Anton Milnay, an Army vet cashiered for gross insubordination. Both were riggers, employed by a drilling outfit near Silver Creek, and both frequented The Drinking Well. The truck belonged to Decanner. It revealed a new oil pan gasket and its tires were recently mounted.
Sitting in his office with Loren and Billy, County Prosecutor Calson Zacaro was reviewing the case against the two men. He frowned. "I can only prosecute them for assaulting Paris, and obstructing a police investigation. Sorry, guys."
What about the truck?" Billy sounded disgusted.
"Only suspicions. The gasket and tires are new. So what? I think they killed Sorell, but if we try them, they'll walk."
Zacaro steepled his fingers. "Sorry. Assault and obstruction's the best I can do," he finished, tonelessly.
Loren knew Zacaro was right. If the pair walked, they couldn't be tried again for killing Sorell, even with absolute proof. The lesser charges must suffice for now. He stood. "You're right, Carlson. We'll get proof. Don't know how, but we will."
Zacaro extended his hand and they parted.
Kenny Jarvin was a busy attorney with an accounting degree. He not only was the chief executive of his father's enormous accounting corporation, but he also held retainers from several of Cayuga County's large co-ops. This morning, however, as he waited for Loren in one of Frank's corner booths, other thoughts occupied his mind.
Loren's ham on rye was ready, even before he entered and managed to wedge his extended beltline between the seat and the table. As usual, he grumbled to Frank about needing larger booths. "You can afford them; I eat here often enough."
"That's why you don't fit."
Loren mimicked a scowl. "What are you - a frustrated comedian? Let's see your fat gut get in here."
Frank retreated, and Loren turned to Kenny grinning victoriously. He sobered when he noticed Kenny's furrowed brow. "Problems?"
"A pretty serious one."
Loren lowered his unbitten sandwich,.
"After Sorell died, Rimfurt wanted his farm. Kept upping the offer to widow Sorell. She wouldn't sell. She said he did the same to her husband before he was killed. Told him he wouldn't be responsible for what happened if he didn't sell.
"Rimfurt's office informed me that he left town with his family three weeks ago, without notice. No one knows where he is."
Loren attempted to absorb this. All county executive officers, including Loren, were obligated to give County Clerk Rita Biscard, at least a month's notice before an extended absence. They were required to inform her in writing on where they could be reached.
"He's flipped," he exclaimed, "When did he say that to Sorell?"
"Just before the killing. Another thing; a few days ago Mrs. Sorell received notice of foreclosure from the county for tax delinquency. Luckily, I located receipts proving the taxes were paid. Sorell's county records showed four years of tax delinquency. Rita can't understand it."
"Would the records be hard to change?"
"Not for someone with authorized access. The files are loose-leaf ledger pages in heavy binders. Each property has a separate posting page that registers 10 entries; two a year."
Kenny's gave a startled gasp. "That's it! Somebody falsified Sorell's latest ledger!"
He calmed himself. "Will you go with me to see Rita?"
Taking a bite from his sandwich, Loren swallowed before answering. "I planned to observe Decanner and Milnay being arraigned today. But I'll go with you, if you'll ride to Rimfurt's with me, afterward."
"Let's take Billy in case there's trouble," Kenny suggested.
Loren looked askance; nevertheless, he considered. Billy was assigned to head the detail that was escorting Decanner and Milnay to court. He then was scheduled to resume their interrogations. So far, claiming connections, Decanner was playing hard case. Milnay, though, seemed nervous. Loren felt that, if the correct emotional buttons were pushed, the cashiered vet would break. That would make the Sheriff's Department look good, especially if Decanner's claimed connections were identified. Loren wanted to be there should that happen. He decided Thompson would head the arraignment detail. The interrogations could wait for Billy's return.
"Okay. Billy should be in on this."
"Great! Lunch on me."
As he passed the register, Loren pointed back to his sandwich. "See, Frank?" he gloated, "Ate only half. You should eat less, too." And, with a brusque salute, he left.
The fresh ink on Sorell's ledger page confirmed Kenny's suspicion. Rita explained that, beside her, two persons had keys to the glass enclosed registry - Rimfurt and the deputy clerk. But only she and Rimfurt had keys to the main entrance of the tax department. She unlocked both doors at the start of each workday, and relocked them at day's end. Six registry clerks were authorized to enter transactions in the ledgers. In addition, either Rita, or the deputy clerk, or both, remained in the department whenever the registry was unlocked. Rita was adamant in her affirmation that neither she nor her clerks were culpable. She promised to personally correct the error.
"Has Rimfurt been in since Sorell's death?" asked Loren.
Rita conferred with her deputy clerk.
"No, not during the day," she answered, "But that doesn't mean he hasn't been here. He could've come in after we closed the office."
Loren pocketed the counterfeit page for fingerprinting, and left with his friends.
Hidden behind manicured hedges, Rimfurt's estate was accessed by a long, curving drive, rimmed by lesser hedges.
"For a public servant, he sure likes privacy," Billy observed dryly.
In the back seat, Kenny chuckled. He was wealthy, but owned nothing like this grandiose domain; a magnificent fieldstone mansion, with several lesser buildings, set in rolling acres of private park! A stream, bordered by flowering trees, rippled through it. Cascading lazily down a stony glacis into an enormous, pristine pond, it resumed its meanders after exiting from the other end. A series of rock gardens, terraced alongside a lace-work of winding, cobblestone paths, were mottled by the prismatic hues of myriad flowers. Adjacent to the pool stood a sprawling summerhouse with lawn furniture stored inside. Loren noticed that the floors to ceiling windows were cranked tight, while the door swung wide.
Billy braked the car to rubberneck. "What's a County Supervisor paid, anyway?"
Kenny leaned forward. "Not enough for . . ."
A thundering muffler interrupted, succeeded by clashing gears. The thunder increased until, rounding a hedge, an ancient jalopy (still endeavoring to preserve its dignity as a red stake truck) shook itself onto the driveway. On its passenger side, a rusted, loose, running board waggled to a misfiring engine.
Billy engaged the flashers, and the rattletrap coughed to a halt, its engine dying. Dented doors bragged in rainbow lettering that it belonged to "Guido's Artistic Landscaping."
A giant with an olive face descended, his head shielded by a Panama, well ventilated by use. His ebony eyes evidenced concern, brightening when they noticed Kenny.
"You know each other?" asked Loren.
"This is Guido Tonini. He does all our landscaping. Don't let the truck fool you; he's the best in his field!"
A snaggletooth smile lifted Tonini's cheeks.
Loren indicated his badge. "Why are you here, Guido?"
Tonini replied that he handled all the Rimfurt landscaping. He'd been commissioned to complete a special project while the family was away. He'd expected them back by now and had come for his money. "Body no boddy home!"
"So you work here a lot," Loren observed.
Tonini's sweeping gesture embraced the skyline, climaxing with a finger poking at his expanded chest. "Alla my work."
Asked if he'd seen anyone around since Rimfurt left, Tonini shook his head. "Bod see lossa trueble! Wassa goin fer da policea."
"What happened, Guido?" asked Kenny.
Tonini motioned for them to follow. The ornate front door of the house was demolished. The four doors to the garage yawned wide. On its concrete approach a new Olds 98 and a late model Lincoln convertible each had a breached side window. Glass shards strewed their interiors and their trunk lids had been pried open.
Inside, the mansion was chaotic. The contents of all the drawers, closets and cupboards were strewn. Rimfurt's desk and safe had been emptied. The contents of his file folders papered the rug of his den, mixed with mounds of books dumped from shelves.
Back outside, Loren asked, "Okay to search your truck?"
Tonini appeared stunned by what he'd just seen; still, he managed a nod, but all Billy found were tools. The boneshaker resurrected with a roar, gagging Kenny and the lawmen in the billowing smoke from its tailpipe. Tonini engaged the transmission with metallic grinding that set their teeth on edge. Then, trailing smoke and coughing fumes, it joggled away.
When he could hear himself think, Loren noted, "Looks like someone's after Jules. He's running!"
"Then why hire Guido?" asked Kenny.
"To make it seem like he's coming back. But I'll bet he emptied his bank accounts."
The radio was awakened by an urgent plea from Tadber.
"Unit one! Return! Priority code! Unit one! Return! Priority code!"
Loren picked up and heard, "Sheriff! Return, priority code! Decanner's been killed by a sniper!"
Rimfurt had indeed emptied his enormous bank accounts. He also converted all liquid assets to cash. Thinking to ward off suspicion, he had engaged Tonini, saying he would pay him on his return, but he wasn't planning to return. With his family, he had driven to Camden, New Jersey and taken a hotel suite. In the morning, Brenda found she'd spent the night with a bundle of cash. Her husband had disappeared!
The morning of his planned search of Rimfurt's property, the Pinstripper been warned off by a howling, off-key rendition of "Oh, Solo Mio" blaring through the hedges. The frustrated baritone had consumed valuable time, and the search had been fruitless. Then his sources reported that the State Police had received a Teletype from the Camden, New Jersey police. Rimfurt's wife had reported him missing. His Cadillac was in the Greyhound lot, where he may have boarded a bus for New York City. The Pinstriper had just landed there. He was in a limo, heading for the Hilton. And he wasn't happy. He sighed. Why hadn't his shooter completed the contract to eliminate those two morons Rimfurt hired? The whole ball of yarn was beginning to unwind. It was up to him to roll it back up.
Entering the Hilton lobby, the Pinstriper made several phone calls, feeding Rimfurt's description to the grapevine. In less than an hour, it was being digested by an underworld whose myriad eyes and ears Rimfurt would find impossible to escape.
The Pinstriper waited.
Decanner was taken out with a single shot by a sniper with a 30-caliber Army carbine. A professional shooter had fired from maximum range, reasoned Loren. Such a killer wasn't apt to leave clues. After an investigation confirmed this, his digestive acids seared his throat and red-hot intestinal pains plagued him. Yet, Milnay was a redeeming factor. Convinced that his freedom meant his death, he confessed. He and Decanner had been hired by Rimfurt to bully Sorell into selling, but the old guy wouldn't scare, threatening, instead, to call the sheriff.
Going to the truck, Decanner returned with an auger, and crushed the back of Sorrel's skull. "Then the freak ran him over with the tractor," Milnay sobbed, "How could I stop him?"
Roxby Prison became his home for the rest of his life.
Alone at Frank's, Loren sat staring at the fizz in his Seltzer water. He downed a lot of it lately to relieve his stomach. He didn't notice Paris until he spoke.
"You okay, sir?"
"Just tired, thanks." A vague gesture invited Paris to sit.
"Can't sir. Mrs. Baymark asked me to bring you this."
Loren took the envelope and Paris left.
8/19/48, 11:13 A.M. Teletype Dispatch.
To: High Sheriff Loren Kregs, Cayuga
From: Lt. Peter Curelli.
Ref: Your requested info, Jules Rimfurt.
Mrs. Rimfurt reported husband missing
8/13/48, 10:17 A.M.
Since family strangers in Camden, search
time-limit waived. Rimfurt's 48 Caddy
located Greyhound lot. Ticket agent
reported Rimfurt boarded bus bound NYC.
Caddy claimed by Mrs. Rimfurt. End.
Loren grimaced. The dispatch only confirmed Brenda's answers to his questions, after she and the kids had sulked back to Collins. When informed of the charges against her husband, she registered a shock so profound that Loren had sent for Doc.
Loren's satisfaction in having apprehended Sorell's killers was tempered by the fact that the real perpetrators still were free. Not only Rimfurt, but his bosses, too. They deserved to be with Decanner! He mulled over the dispatch. Oh, well; since Rimfurt was out of reach, he'd call his friend, FBI Agent Euler, in Washington. Maybe he'd help.
His gastric problems notwithstanding, Loren was seated before a heaping plateful of roast pork, stuffing, lemon rice, fried pan bread, and gravy - his favorite meal. His fork returned to the plate at the demanding summons of the phone. Ignoring Verony's advice to let the blasted thing ring, he heard Euler's monotone on the other end.
"Hello, Sheriff Kregs? Hope it's not an inconvenient time." Loren assured him it wasn't.
"I put feelers out on your request. This thing is huge! Goes to the very top of your state, plus two others. Something about natural gas deposits. Old ones are petering out, and I understand that powerful interests want to gain a private monopoly on all reserves. The members will become billionaires. They want Rimfurt killed because he knows too much."
Loren almost dropped the receiver! When he regained his voice, he said, "This is way beyond my jurisdiction!"
"Just between us, the President has ordered us to step in. I'll be top-dogging an investigation. My man in New York City tracked down Rimfurt. Rimfurt told him he knows he'll be killed if he doesn't come in. But he'll surrender only to you. Will you go to New York?" Somewhat cautiously, Loren agreed.
"Good. I'll arrange it and get back to you."
Rimfurt talked, pushing the first domino by fingering Deputy Governor Joseph Lisogen, alias Mr. Stemir - The Pinstriper. Lisogen spewed his guts about party chairman, Ross Wourtrer - the Big Man. Wourtrer, in turn, implicated Governor Keserton. Hoping to gain leniency, Keserton gave names, thus toppling the remaining dominos. When those so named scurried to follow suite, the entire state administration collapsed, along with its political machine.
Rimfurt testified that, while gobbling up properties rich in gas, his bosses discovered old utility company maps that indicated Sorell's land held one of the state's richest deposits. They ordered him to get it, so he hired Decanner and Milnay to pressure the old farmer. Instead, they killed him.
No deals were needed. With almost every cog squealing, the case against the machine was foolproof. Before long, Milnay and Rimfurt were put in isolation to protect them from a large company of newly arrived prisoners.
Exercising his emergency powers, the President appointed a caretaker administration over the state until the next election. It was granted sweeping powers to root out the corrupt vestiges still remaining from the former administration. Distilled through a screening process and pressed through a sieve left them sanitized and leanly efficient.
After the State Police were pressed through a similar sieve, the acting governor contacted Loren. The President had been impressed by his long participation in the unusual case; the toppling of the corrupt administration was due to his efforts. Washington was recommending that Loren head the reformed State Police.
Positively flattered and about to blurt out an instant acceptance, Loren reigned in his ego. Finally, he declined.
"Please thank the President for me, but I decline. Please tell him that I'm just a county sheriff, who was only keeping a promise to a little old lady."
Josprel (Joseph Perrello)