Chapter 9. Crashing the Fundraiser
MONDAY, 7:40 PM
“I…I don’t know what to think.” Nick said.
“I know it is a lot to take in.”
“It’s not just that—if he’s telling the truth, then I’ve wasted…years. So many nights.”
I had worried he would come to that conclusion. Nick had given up his career, his relationship with his mother, and other relationships as well, all based on his belief that Hector Dorantes had killed his father. All of his work since leaving the police force had been in service, either directly or indirectly, of proving that Hector had been responsible for his father’s death. If Hector was to be believed, then Sunset Valley’s current mayor, Donald Price, was really the person he should have been investigating all these years.
“You can’t stop now, just because there is an alternative theory. He could be lying.”
“Oh, I’m not going to stop. Especially not now. I made a rookie mistake, and I paid for it. I didn’t follow the evidence—I thought I knew who was guilty, and I focused everything on him, instead of focusing on the case itself. I knew better, but I managed to do that anyway.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep in mind that if this is true, Donald Price is counting on everyone to think the exact thing you did: that Hector murdered your father to get him out of the way so he could be with your mother. You can’t be faulted for thinking that is a good motive.” I said.
No matter how much I tried to reason with him, Nick left my house in low spirits, blaming himself for what he considered to be his failures in his detective work. He seemed to be convinced that Hector’s version of events was the truth. I knew that this was the reason why detectives who have a personal stake in a case aren’t usually allowed to investigate it—that their objectivity was compromised. How could either of us be trusted to do a good job, when he had his father’s murder on his shoulders, and I had my brother’s disappearance on mine? While we were highly motivated to solve these cases, we were also blinded by our feelings. Unfortunately, we were also the only ones who still cared enough to continue the work.
TUESDAY, 7:07 PM
We were in Nick’s living room, and Connor had called this meeting to give us an update on his research. Connor had recently provided us with all the articles that covered the port terminal project that Donald Price had engineered years ago. The project expanded the shipping profile of Sunset Valley, and after talking with Armand about his father’s dealings, Nick and I thought it marked the beginning of Hector’s relationship with Donald Price. We speculated that Hector had funneled money to Donald Price through campaign contributions in order to get Price to push through the project upon election. After going through the articles, we had asked Connor to look into the journalists who had written them, so we could meet with some of them and ask questions. We needed him to vet the journalists, so we didn’t try to talk to someone who was on Donald Price’s payroll.
“I’m just going to come out and ask. What is up with your hair?”
Connor laughed. “You know what is up with my hair. Kendra made me cut it for the wedding. She wanted me to try this out in plenty of time for it to grow out if it looked bad.”
With that settled, we moved on to business.
“I think I actually found something that needs to be looked into.” Connor said.
“Excellent—what is the lead?” Nick said.
“One of the reporters who covered the dock projects is actually missing.”
“What?” I said.
“Missing. Disappeared. No body, no note, no nothing. Gone, like your brother. And get this—it happened around the same time that Scott disappeared. About a day earlier.” Connor handed over another thumb drive, likely full of the articles about the missing reporter.
I heard the thump-thump of my quickening heartbeat in my ears. A reporter and Scott had gone missing at the same time. What did it mean?
“What was the name?” Nick said.
“Kevin Tremaine. His wife still lives here, in Sunset Valley.”
“How could I have missed this? Did I just block out the reports about this guy? Surely they would have been talking about it on the news—two men going missing at the same time?” I said.
“No one made the connection because Scott didn’t live in Sunset Valley at the time—he was about to move here, but he wasn’t yet a resident. Most of the news coverage for him was from your hometown’s newspaper. Plus, to be honest—there isn’t much coverage about this guy. Sunset Valley PD dropped it all pretty quickly.”
“This is a solid lead, Connor. Thank you—we will definitely talk to his wife.” Nick said. We then told Connor about my talk with Hector and Mona Dorantes.
“I wish I were going to the fundraiser on Thursday—I might have been able to ask Price a few questions or something, just to see his reaction.” Connor grinned.
“That’s right—the fundraiser is this week. I forgot.” I said. I wasn’t able to listen all that closely to what Nick and Connor were saying, because I was already making plans for a phone call as soon as we finished.
THURSDAY, 7:56 PM
“I want to go on record as warning you that this is a terrible idea.” Armand said.
“So you have said, at least eight times by now. Shut up. You owe me.”
“I do. But I don’t think I’m doing you any favors by bringing you here. You have no idea what the gossip columnists are going to do to you, because you are showing up on my arm.”
“It’s a risk I was willing to take. Now smile, and act like you actually want me here.”
It hadn’t taken much arm-twisting to convince Armand to take me to the fundraiser. I had one goal—get a few words in with Donald Price.
The room was full of people who clearly had more money than me. I saw Donald Price near the entrance of the room, and I tried not to react when I saw Hector and Mona Dorantes, as well.
Armand began mingling, keeping me close in case he saw an opportunity to introduce me to Donald Price. We grazed on the food from the buffet and made small talk, and the muscles of my cheeks were beginning to hurt from the effort of smiling at the scores of people in the room.
“Wily bastard keeps moving away anytime we get close.” Armand muttered as we danced.
“We have to make this happen, even if I need to spill some champagne on him.” I said. I had the satisfaction of seeing Armand’s eyes widen. He knew I would do it, too.
“I don’t think we’ll need to do that. He’s coming our way.” Armand said, and we stopped dancing just as Donald Price appeared.
“Armand, I saw that you had such lovely company, and thought I would come over to introduce myself.” Donald Price said. His voice was warm and clear—not at all sinister.
“Donald, I am so glad that you did come over. This is my friend, Edith Prescott. Edith, this is our mayor, Donald Price.”
“I recognized him from television and the newspapers. It is nice to meet you, Mayor Price.” I said, extending my hand. He shook my hand gently, and asked if he could cut in. I assented, and Armand stepped away, winking.
“That young man is really going places.” Price said, smiling.
“I am sure he is. Very enterprising.”
“You know, Miss Prescott—you seem familiar, but I just cannot place you.”
I smiled, and tried to affect surprise. He knew full well who I was. “Perhaps it is my name—you see, you were acquainted with my brother, so maybe you are remembering our surname.”
“Yes, Scott Prescott. He was going to intern for you, years ago—but he disappeared.”
“Oh my goodness, yes—that is how I know you. The news coverage. What a tragedy. Your brother was a very impressive young man. I am ashamed to admit that I have not kept up with his case—was he ever found?”
“No.” I said, my voice going soft. “We are still looking for him.”
“Well if there is anything my office can ever do, please let me know.”
“Oh, I am sure we will. You see, we are making some real progress on his case now. So many things are coming to light these days that we had no idea of earlier.”
“Really? Well that is wonderful to hear.” He said. The sentiment did not reach his eyes.
“It is. Though I am concerned about his fate. It is beginning to look like he did not leave of his own accord, and I almost feel sorry for the person responsible, because I won’t quit until justice is served.” I paused a moment before adding, “It is such a relief to know that your office will be behind our efforts to bring the responsible parties to justice.”
“Nothing would make us happier.” He said. His eyes were saying something entirely different, and I made sure not to waver under his stare. He finally broke eye contact and thanked me for the dance before leaving my side.
Armand and I left soon after that.
“Satisfied with your pissing contest?”
“Only a little. I wanted more of a reaction from him than I got, I’ll admit.” I said.
“Please tell me that Nick knows that you were planning this. Is he parked somewhere nearby or something?”
“He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him I was going to do this.”
“Oh, shit.” Armand said.
I let myself into my house and was greeted by Victor.
“Hey boy—ready to go out?” I let him out and stood on the patio, looking out at the water for a few moments before I realized that Victor hadn’t moved far. He seemed on high alert.
“Victor? Boy? Something wrong?”
He started edging to the side of the house, and I went back inside to get to my phone, which I had left on the counter. Just as I had closed the door, I heard it open and shut again. I turned, and saw him.
Victor was growling and snapping at the door, pawing to get inside. Somehow, this man had gotten past him quickly enough to shut him out of the house.
I put my hands up, and backed away from the man. “P-please. Please don’t hurt me.”
I didn’t recognize the man, but I knew he wasn’t here to do anything nice for me.
“Be still, and keep quiet.” He said, moving toward me. I couldn’t tell whether he had a weapon. He lunged, and I made my own move.
I kicked him in the chest as he sprang, and he was thrown off by the sudden resistance and the heel that was now digging into his sternum.
He managed to keep from falling completely down, but I soon brought him down with a punch to this side of his face. I didn’t want him to have time to recover.
He tumbled to the ground, and I knelt down and arched his arms behind his back, then grabbed his head with my free hand.
“Who sent you?” I shouted into his ear.
The man’s response was almost drowned out by Victor’s frantic barking and growling, and the sound of his nails scraping on the glass.
“No one.” He lied.
“Who sent you?” I demanded again.
“No one!” He said. I banged his head into the floor, knocking him unconscious. I wasn’t in a mood to continue a pointless conversation.
I let Victor inside. “Guard.” I commanded, then got to my phone. My hand was shaking, and I decided that now was not the time to notice that.
Nick picked up on the second ring. “Hey—I’ve been wondering where you were. What’s up?”
“I uh, just dealt with a man who was trying to break in. He’s on my floor, unconscious.”
An inventive grouping of swearwords filled my ear, then Nick said, “I’m on my way. Call the police as soon as you get off the phone with me.”
I did as he asked, then settled in to wait for the sound of Nick’s car, or sirens. Whichever came first.
Authorial Interjection: Well, this chapter was a very long time in coming. I can only assure you that this has been the worst year of my life. I am hoping that things will calm down and that there will be no further setbacks, but if this stretch of months has taught me anything, it is that you can’t count on very much. In any case, I am happy that I was able to get this chapter out, finally. You will probably notice that I did try to add in a bit of reminder info, because I know that it can be difficult to keep track of details from previous chapters (especially because I take so long in between each chapter). I hope that info isn’t too intrusive, and that it helps.