by John J. Hohn
Chapter 41 Excerpt: Detective Raker confronts
Frank Shreve, a suspect.

“Frank,” Helen Schreve yelled from the kitchen. “Somebody’s pulling into the driveway, Frank! Frank?”

“Yeah, so,” Schreve called back from his study deep in the house.

“I don’t know that car, Frank. I don’t recognize it,” Helen yelled again. “A man’s getting out. He’s the guy that was at the sheriff’s office when I was there about Art Nichols threatening you. He’s coming to the door.”

“Well answer it.”

Raker knocked on the kitchen door to the huge lakeside home. Helen dried her hands, opened the door and greeted him. “Didn’t you see the signs?” she demanded nodding back toward the road. “No solicitors. No salespeople.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m not a salesman. I want to talk to your husband. My name is Jim Raker. I’m with Southern World Textiles. Is he in?”

“Frank,” Helen yelled. “He wants to see you. Says he’s from Southern World something or other.”

“What’s he selling?” Frank yelled back.

“Nothing. He’s not a salesman. Should I bring him to your study?”

“Yeah. Bring him back.”

Raker followed Helen through the dining area and the living room with the high vaulted ceiling to Frank’s office.

“What can I do for you?” Frank asked extending his hand.

“Well, I . . . ah,” Raker stammered realizing for the first time in his professional life he did not have a badge to produce or a law enforcement title to give Schreve. “I . . . was here the day the man got shot at the dam. Jim Raker. I’m with Southern World Textiles, head of security for them. And we suspect one of our employees may somehow . . . well, let’s just say that I’m checking up on a few things.”

“I know who you are. You were there the evening Art Nichols ran me off his place with a shotgun. My wife met you at the sheriff’s office after the incident.”

“Hardly the best of circumstances . . .” Raker began.

“What sort of things are you checking? Have a seat.” Schreve nodded to a chair facing his desk. “You can go,” he said to Helen who was standing in the door way. “And close the door behind you.”

“OK. Don’t be long. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Helen said pulling the door closed behind her.

“Speaking of Art Nichols. Talking to him, I understand you are interested, or at least expressed an interest, in the box of files Marie Dennison, the dead man’s widow, turned over to him.”

“No. No. You’re mistaken. I had no interest in any box Mrs. Dennison had. None in the least. I was there as a representative of the Lake Hannah Property Owners’ Association to express condolences on behalf of our members.”

“Art’s impression was you wanted Mrs. Dennison to give it to you, but she refused to hand it over. Art said she was upset.”

“Yes. Well, you have to make allowances for someone who suffered the shock she did. Her husband getting killed that way. She wasn’t herself. I’m having trouble seeing just how this can have anything to do with Southern World Textiles?”

“I’m accountable for the security concerns of my company and its employees.”

“I don’t see how your company has anything at all to do with this. Dennison was shot accidentally. He worked for the state. No one from your company is connected with him or with the accident . . . at least as far as I know.”

Raker had to concede Schreve was right. Without investigator’s credentials, he had no leverage in the conversation. He decided to push as far as he could.

“Why were you interested in the box Mrs. Dennison gave to Art Nichols?”

“I just said I wasn’t interested. She gave it to Art Nichols? I didn’t notice.”

“Yes. Art said you called after the episode at the hospital and asked him for it. He said you wanted it because you thought it had something to do with the property owners’ association.”

“Oh, right. I forgot. Well, that was my reason. Why ask if you already knew? I think this meeting is just about over Mr. Raker. You’ve called at our dinner hour.” Schreve stood up.

Raker remained seated, a tactic he learned years earlier when someone was trying to get him to leave before he was ready. “I just wanted to verify what Nichols told me. And I appreciate that you have.”

“Nichols isn’t on the most congenial terms with the property owners’ association, Mr. Raker. He served as secretary/treasurer for a couple years a while back, and his time in office was . . . well, acrimonious. As for Dennison, a few years ago he stirred everything up with a lawsuit. Brought a lot of negative publicity to the development. If I had any interest in what was in that box, it’s because I didn’t want any old issues resurrected to stir up trouble. Things are running smoothly now. We have a few problems, but that’s just the nature of the beast. You understand.”

“Of course.” Raker acknowledged, hoping a little flattery would alleviate some of Schreve’s suspicions. Schreve sat back down.

“You know whether Art did anything with the contents of that box?” Schreve asked affecting nonchalance.

“No. As far as I know the box is missing. It may have been carried off by the burglars who ransacked his place a couple of weeks ago.”

“Right. The night he ran me off,” Schreve said. “He’s not OK, that guy, you know, Nichols. He had a bad time in Viet Nam and has never gotten over it. Just another reason why I didn’t want property owners’ business in his hands. And that’s why I didn’t press charges for pulling a gun out on me.”

“So you thought the contents of the box were property owners’ business.”

“I thought,” Schreve snapped raising his voice, “there was a strong possibility the box could contain something pertaining to property owners’ business. That’s all. I thought it was my responsibility to determine that for myself. I could hardly take Art Nichols’ word for it, and I didn’t want any information in his hands. Isn’t that clear? I didn’t want any more trouble from him. And now, Mr. Raker, that is all. You never answered my questions about your interest in this matter. I think it is time for you to leave.”

Now Available through all Barnes & Noble Stores. Click here to find a store near you.