During the next week Piccolo and Tillitson spoke to the other Brookdale volunteer fireman involved in torching Puckett’s barn. They fell like dominoes once they knew Phillips had confessed to arson. There was the usual “I was only driving the truck,” defense, but in the end they were equally guilty and signed statements to that effect.
Piccolo wasn’t interested in charging them for the thirty-five year old offense at this point. His main objective was still to apprehend whoever was responsible for the shark. That meant keeping his focus on James Dolan who definitely had to be the target of the attacks. Now he knew the truth about what had happened to Dale Puckett as a result of his defying Dolan and was set to confront him with it.
This time their meeting wasn’t going to be on a patio overlooking the lake sipping ice tea. Piccolo’s duty desk sergeant made the phone call to Dolan saying that he was wanted by the sheriff for questioning at the department headquarters that afternoon. When Dolan said he wasn’t available, the sergeant said if he didn’t appear, a warrant would be obtained and they would come for him. Dolan said he would be there.
Upon his arrival he was escorted into the interrogation room where Piccolo and Tillitson were waiting. The room was stark grey with a table and four chairs in the middle. The far wall had a coffee and soda machine from which all suspects were offered drinks. It was never meant as a friendly gesture; only to obtain DNA.
Dolan sat facing Piccolo and Tillitson in his usual relaxed and confident manner.
“This was all rather sudden Sheriff,” he said. He was dressed in a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, white slacks and tennis sneakers.
“We recently found out some interesting facts that we wanted to talk to you about,” Piccolo said opening up a manila folder.
“Facts that say you lied to us,” Tillitson added, again playing the heavy.
“Lied to you? About what?”
“About not having anyone in your past who might want revenge against you,” Piccolo replied.
“I’ve told you everything. I have nothing to hide about my dealings with anyone.”
“Well let’s talk about your dealings with Mr. Dale Puckett when you tried to buy his land to create Arrowhead.”
Dolan reacted with little more than a blink of an eye, but Piccolo caught it.
“I offered Mr. Puckett a fair price for his property. I might add even more than the others, but he refused to sell.”
“And by being the only holdout standing in the way of your lake, coincidentally his barn burned down days later,” Tillitson said.
“That was the result of an electrical storm. The fire department determined lightning was the cause.”
“But we have evidence now that says it was arson,” Piccolo said watching Dolan beginning to squirm.
“And may I ask what that is?”
Tillitson opened the folder, took five pieces of paper from it and turned them so Dolan could see them. “These are the statements of five Brookdale volunteer firemen who said they were paid by you to set fire to Mr. Puckett’s barn.”
Dolan looked at the documents, quickly scanning the signatures and the typed names beneath them. Piccolo saw the color begin to drain from his face.
“These men are lying. I didn’t pay them to do any such thing. The fire chief signed reports that lightning was the cause.”
“The fire chief Jamie Phelps was the one who led us to you,” Piccolo countered. “He told his great grandson that you were the blame for Puckett’s death and we followed up on it.”
Piccolo knew that Jumper’s accusation could be challenged in court on the basis of his Alzheimer’s, but apparently Dolan didn’t know about his condition.
“If I’m being charged, I would like to exercise my right to an attorney,” Dolan said after just seconds of consideration.
“You’re entitled to that, but right now we’d like your cooperation,” Piccolo said as Tillitson gathered up the documents in front of Dolan.
“It might be a smart move right now,” Tillitson added. “Conspiracy to commit arson can land you fifteen to twenty-five.”
Dolan said nothing.”
“We still need to know who is out to get Norton Utilities,” Piccolo continued. “Who’s responsible for the shark and who’s trying to bring down Norton. Your company Dolan. You may be guilty of arson but at least help to save your company.”
“I’m listening,” Dolan said impassively.
“The two people most likely to seek revenge for Puckett’s death are his wife Mary and his son Tom. What was your relationship with them after he died? Did you pursue buying the property from her?”
“I of course waited a respectable amount of time after her husband’s death and yes, then I made her an offer.”
“Six hundred and fifty dollars an acre. Fifty dollars higher than the last offer to Mr. Puckett."
“She refused. Said she would….well she said she would sell it to the devil before she sold it to me.”
“Gutsy lady,” Piccolo said smiling.
“Yes, but not very practical,” Dolan replied. “I saw some ads in the paper she ran but there weren’t any buyers.”
“Because everyone was afraid their house would be burned down if they didn’t sell the land back to you,” Tillitson said cynically.
Dolan ignored the comment. “Within three weeks I got a call from her lawyer, Ed Goin saying she was ready to sell at eight hundred an acre. We split the difference at six seventy-five.”
Piccolo made note of Goin’s name. He knew him as a respected attorney in Marbury.
“So you had the closing and I take it that went normally. Were Mrs. Puckett and Tom there?”
“No. Goin handled the whole thing with presigned papers.”
Piccolo made a few more notes. “Do you know where the Puckett’s went to live after the sale?”
“No. I have no idea.”
Piccolo closed his folder and settled back in his chair.
“It’s pretty obvious why you didn’t tell us all this a year ago Dolan. You certainly didn’t want to open the can of worms that now has you involved with arson. But let’s put that aside for a minute. Didn’t you ever consider that the Puckett’s might have enough motive to try and destroy you?”
“Of course I did but Mrs. Puckett would be in her seventies today. The money she got for her land would let her live comfortably but nowhere near enough to buy up half of Arrowhead Lake. And put a shark into it? I don’t think so.”
Piccolo tended to agree, but over the years he had known stranger things to happen.
“And what about Puckett’s son Tom? He’d be in his late fifties now, right?” he asked.
“I guess so,” Dolan replied. “But he was only a kid then.”
“A kid who saw his father burned to death,” Tillitson again added.
“So you have no idea where Mrs. Puckett and the boy went?”
“Is there anything else you can tell us about either of them? Did they ever say anything threatening to you?”
“They were angry but nothing really threatening that I can remember.” He paused and considered whether to say anything more. Then he added, “ I just want to make one thing clear. I didn’t push Dale Puckett into that burning barn. He chose to go into it to save his horses. It’s not my fault that he died.”
“But if you didn’t have the fire set, he wouldn’t have had to go in there,” Tillitson shot back.
Dolan didn’t answer realizing that he had said more than enough without his lawyer. After a few more questions Piccolo saw this and ended his questioning.
“If you have nothing more to tell us, you’re free to go,” he told Dolan.
“Then you’re not charging me,” he said hopefully.
“Not right now, but don’t leave this jurisdiction.”
Dolan quickly left the room. Piccolo and Tillitson spent a few minutes discussing the meeting.
“Do you think it’s still worth while tracking down Puckett’s widow and son?” Tillitson asked. “ The six hundred and something thousand she got from Dolan isn’t anywhere near enough to have bought all that Arrowhead real estate.”
“I think it’s still worth it,” Piccolo said opening the case folder again. “And maybe only if it leads us to the boy.”
Piccolo took one of the statements from the folder. It was from Brookdale firefighter Tony Tedesco who now lived in New York City. He read what Tedesco had said. “I’ll never forget the look on that young Tom’s face kneeling next to his dead father. The guy’s hands and face were a charred mess. That kid looked up at us like he wanted to kill us. Like he knew we had come to put out a fire we started ourselves.”
“Yeah that might just be reason enough,” Tillitson said. “because he probably also knew who had put those guys up to it.”
“And that would be Dolan,” Piccolo replied.
A phone call to attorney Ed Goin in Marbury told Piccolo that Mary Puckett had moved to Newberryport, Massachusetts after she sold the farm to Norton Utilities. His forty five year old records indicated that she would be staying with her sister until she could purchase a home of her own. Two months later Goin was involved in the purchase of that home in Marlboro just a few miles away. That was the last he had heard from her.
Inquiries with authorities in Marlboro revealed that Mary Puckett had died two years ago. Her sister Mrs. Evelyn Caprio still resided in Newburyport and Piccolo was given her address and phone number. Tillitson was sent to Newburyport.
He arrived at early afternoon in front of a neat white clapboard house located on a hill overlooking the harbor. The house like most on the street, had probably been built in the eighteen hundreds and renovated. Tillitson crossed a wide porch and rang the doorbell.
Mrs. Caprio, a white haired attractive woman answered the door with a Siamese cat at her feet. Tillitson stated who he was and she let him inside.
“Would you like something cold to drink?” she offered leading him into a bright airy kitchen filled with hanging indoor plants, “I just made some lemonade.”
“That would be fine, thank you,” Tillitson said, his detective’s eye taking in the surroundings. There were a number of antique furniture pieces in the living room that he thought might be valuable.
“From what you said on the phone you’re here to ask about my sister and her son Tom,” she said rhetorically.
“Yes ma’am, we..”
“Please call me Evie,” she said sitting down at a round oak table across from Tillitson.
“It’s in reference to your brother-in-law’s death; Dale Puckett.”
“Oh that was over thirty years ago. Such a tragedy. Dale was such a fine hard working man.”
Tillitson explained they now had the man responsible for setting the fire and how it all might be related to Norton Utilities and the shark in Arrowhead Lake. Evie listened carefully nodding occasionally.
“Well I can tell you that my sister hated this fellow Dolan, that’s true. She told me right after Dale’s funeral that she knew Dolan was responsible for setting the fire. Couldn’t prove it though and those policemen didn’t believe her either. They kept saying it was the electrical storm. Well she didn’t believe that for one minute. But there wasn’t anything she could do about it.”
“Did she try anymore once she got here?”
“No. In fact once she set foot in this house she never spoke of it. She had pictures of Dale in her room and she would talk about her memories with him, but she never said anything about how he died again.”
“Were you close after she moved to Marlboro?”
“Oh yes. John, my husband...he passed away five years ago, and I saw Mary and Tom often. We included them in our friend’s get-togethers. Made them part of our little group.”
“Did you have children of your own?” Tillitson asked.
“No we didn’t. John would have loved to but I just couldn’t.”
“So it was nice to have a nephew then,” Tillitson volunteered.
He noticed a quick change in Evie’s attitude. She straightened in the chair and took a long sip of lemonade before answering.
“Tom was a bit of a strange one I’m afraid,” she said softly. “He never said much. At first we thought he was just a moody teenager, but then we realized his father’s death had affected him greatly. He never hung out with the other kids, was studying all the time. He became a very good student. Got straight A’s once he got into Newberryport High.”
“How did Mary feel about her son’s moodiness?”
“She never said anything about it. We were surprised. She seemed to understand the boy, but we could never even get a smile out of him.”
“So what happened to Tom? Did his good marks get him into college?”
“Got him into the best. MIT. A four year scholarship. Mary had plenty of money to pay for his education, but he got the scholarship anyway because of his high grades.”
“What was he studying at MIT?” Tillitson asked taking a notebook from his shirt pocket for the first time.
“Electrical engineering. Always was interested in the way things worked.”
“Did he go on to a good job after college?”
“Well that’s where the strange part begins,” Evie said. The cat jumped up into her lap and she stroked him gently. “Tom went out to the west coast and my husband and I had no idea where. Whenever we asked, Mary said he was fine, but she never told us where he was or what he was doing.”
“Why did she keep it a secret?”
“I have no idea. At first I thought maybe Tom wasn’t even in contact with Mary, but I think he was. She just wasn’t telling us or anybody else.”
“How long did this go on?” Tillitson asked after jotting down a few notes,
“Right up until Mary died two years ago. The poor dear passed away from cancer and suffered for a long time. I asked her then about Tom, wanting to at least let him know his mother was dying, but again she wouldn’t tell me where he was. And I think she knew.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know. There’s just things that sisters know about each other.”
“If you don’t mind,” Tillitson asked hesitantly, “I’d like to know who received the money from your sister’s estate.”
“Mary was very generous,” Evie said stroking the cat. “She left me a sizeable amount, some went to the American Cancer Society and the rest to Massachusetts General’s cancer research. That hospital took very good care of her.”
“Nothing was left to Tom?”
“She never said why?”
“Only that she was sure Tom was doing quite well.”
Do you have any pictures of Tom?” Tillitson asked. They would be important now that the boy seemed to have disappeared after college.
“I have an album that Mary kept. There are lots of pictures in that.”
Evie went into the dining room and came back with an album that she opened up at the kitchen table. The pictures inside were neatly placed inside tabs at the corners and there were notations as to time and place under them. There were baby pictures of Tom with Mary holding him and a lock of Tom’s hair clipped onto the page. Other pictures showed Tom growing up. He had turned into a muscular strapping boy whose body was built up from hard work on the farm.
“This one is in front of the barn that burned,” Evie said sadly.
It was picture of Tom and his father with the barn in the background. Tom was smiling. Dale stood with his hands in the pockets of his worn jeans expressionless.
The latest pictures showed Tom at MIT and finally his graduation picture taken on June 8, 1975.
“This is the last picture you have of Tom?” Tillitson asked.
“Yes,” Evie said. “I haven’t seen him or heard from him since.”
Tillitson spent another half hour with Evie Caprio. As soon as he left, he called Piccolo to tell him what he had learned. They agreed he should make an appointment to see officials at MIT even if it meant staying another day. In the meantime Piccolo would contact the Caprio lawyer and also begin a computer search for Thomas Puckett. Piccolo wanted to know what had become of the thirteen year old boy who had witnessed his father’s death and then later disappeared from his family.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com