Two days later Piccolo got a call from the FBI office in Hartford where he had sent the lock of hair. Agent Frank Norris had been his contact there, but this call was from a Ken Auletta, regional New England FBI field manager stationed in Boston. Auletta said he wanted to meet Piccolo in Marbury as soon as possible. When Piccolo asked if he had the results from the DNA sample, Auletta said he would discuss that at their meeting. It was set for two days later.
Piccolo felt the personal meeting was simply because the FBI didn’t want to reveal the identity over the phone. At least until Auletta appeared at his office with a government attorney in tow.
Upon meeting them, Piccolo immediately called Tillitson. This was looking like a bigger deal than he had expected.
Auletta looked like a typical FBI agent: early forties, crew cut, broad shoulders bulging under a serge suit with a keep it short and to the point manner. The government attorney, Hal Rosen, a shorter man with round wire glasses, didn’t say much initially, but had plenty to say later.
One they were all seated in his office with cups of coffee in their hands, Piccolo asked point blank if they had a match on the DNA he had sent. Two days of suspense had passed and now he’d like an answer.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little longer Sheriff,” Auletta said avoiding his eyes. “The government would like to see the evidence you have against this person whose DNA you sent.”
“The government would like to see it?”
“Yes I’m afraid we would have to see it before revealing the name would even be considered,” Rosen said opening a worn attache case from which he took a laptop power notebook.
“And why is that?” Tillitson asked. This Fed attorney looked like he had an attitude. He could see a power struggle developing.
“Because,” Rosen replied, “the match that came up from your DNA is a person we have in our Identity Restricted file. We can’t reveal his identity without proper cause.”
Tillitson was about to answer, but Piccolo held him back with a wave of his hand.
“First of all tell us more about this restricted file,” he said. “What’s the basis for it?”
“The file was created to protect those who possess information that the government deems classified,” Rosen said. “They’re protected against any action, legal or otherwise, that the government considers detrimental to maintaining that secrecy. In other words, we won’t allow these people to be prosecuted if it will endanger military classified information or in fact any classified information.”
“Even if the guy is trying to bring down a utility financially and has put a shark that is maiming people in a lake in order to do it,” Tillitson said as bluntly as he could.
“Well that’s what we’re here to talk to you about,” Auletta said. “We want to know just what evidence you have that makes this person a suspect.”
Piccolo suggested they go into the “shark den” to do that.
Once they were seated in the room and surrounded by walls of tacked up evidence, Piccolo took them through the whole thing starting with the first attack on Bill Pazman. He took pains not to leave out any details. Each attack was gone over thoroughly; the medical reports were taken down from the wall and studied as well as pictures of the victim’s wounds. Both agents showed particular interest in the pictures of the shark attacking “Harold.”
The financial aspect of the shark’s presence was also supplied. The Swiss account was discussed along with the Swiss refusal to reveal the identity of the holder. Figures showing the depreciated value of lakeshore homes and the link to what would inevitably be the collapse of Norton Utilities was carefully gone over. Piccolo ended by showing the affadavits of the volunteer firemen who admitted setting the fire that resulted in Dale Puckett’s death.
“So you think that whoever is behind this is out to bring down Dolan who was, and I guess still is, the head of Norton Utilities?” Auletta asked.
“Yes,” Piccolo replied. “And there were only two people who could hate him enough to do that; Mary Puckett or her son Tom. Mary passed away two years ago. That’s leaves us with Tom who luckily we have DNA from.”
“At least we thought we were lucky until now,” Tillitson said glaring at the two government agents.
“Have you presented all this to your state attorney general yet?” Rosen asked gesturing to the material pinned on the walls.
“Not all of it,” Piccolo answered. “We were waiting for the DNA report.”
“And that you feel would give you a prime suspect?”
“That would give Mr. Roehrig somebody to go up against the Swiss with to find out if Tom Puckett is the holder of the numbered account.”
“Can you give us a few minutes alone to talk this over?” Rosen said looking toward his partner.
“Certainly,” Piccolo said getting up from his chair. Tillitson followed him to the door.
In the hallway Tillitson paced back and forth liked a caged tiger.
“I don’t believe this,” he said looking at the closed door. “Those bastards know who that DNA is from and they’re deciding whether to give up the information or not. It sucks. I thought we’re all supposed to be working together. Do you believe that restricted list crap?”
“I don’t know. Roehrig can probably tell us more about it,” Piccolo said calmly. “But let’s not get too upset yet until we hear what they say.”
“Yeah,” Tillitson said shaking his head. “You know if we don’t get this DNA answer we’re back to square one again.”
“I know,” Piccolo said dreading the prospect.
Auletta opened the door.
Piccolo and Tillitson went back into the room and stood rather than taking their seats.
Rosen spoke first.
“First of all let me come right out and say that neither Ken nor I know whose DNA this is. All we know is that the DNA from Tom Puckett’s lock of hair matches somebody on our Restricted Access list.”
“Then why the hell didn’t you tell us that up front!” Tillitson said moving toward Rosen.
“Because we wanted you to give us all the evidence you have without holding anything back.”
“Why would we do that?”
“Look,” Auletta said moving between them. “Our job here was to get all the evidence you have against this person and bring it back to our superiors. They want to know if you have a sufficient amount to bring charges against someone who’s protected by the government for national security reasons.”
“And do we?” Piccolo asked.
“Not in our estimation,” Rosen replied.
“Well I’d like to know why not,” Piccolo said sitting down at the table.
“I think maybe the best thing to do is go over what we think you have and what you don’t have,” Rosen said. He sat down at his laptop and referred to the screen.
“Let’s begin with what you have,” he said without looking up. “You have a shark in a fresh water lake that has maimed people. It’s caused a scare that’s devalued lakeshore property and undermined the stock of the utility that created the lake through its chairman James Dolan. You also have proof that the money used to purchase lakeshore property and Norton land is coming from a Swiss numbered account. You have testimony from firefighters who admit starting a fire that killed a farmer who was involved in a dispute with Dolan. You’ve determined that Dolan is the target of the farmer’s son, Thomas Puckett and have his DNA.
“Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Piccolo answered.
“What you don’t have,” Rosen continued, “is any evidence of how the shark got into the lake. You’re assuming that someone put it in there to devalue lakeshore properties as well as Norton Utilities of which James Dolan is still a major stockholder, but you don’t have any proof. Your determination that Thomas Puckett, who was thirteen when he saw his father die, is now responsible for the shark and the potential collapse of Norton Utilities forty six years later is strictly based on a hunch. The Swiss have already refused to divulge the identity of the numbered account for lack of criminal intent on the part of the holder. So I’m afraid we’re going to have to recommend that there’s not sufficient evidence to link the person on our protected list to divulge his identity.”
“Well then you’re obstructing justice,” Tillitson snapped. “What the hell is so important about this DNA that we can’t continue our investigation?”
“I’m afraid we don’t know that either.”
“Then who does?” Piccolo asked.
“The director of the FBI and his counterpart at the CIA. Probably the deputy directors also,” Auletta said. “Our recommendation goes to Director Fritch.”
“Let me ask you one thing,” Piccolo said. “You said before that all you know is that the DNA from Thomas Puckett’s lock of hair matches someone on your Restricted Access list. The person is obviously the same, but is Thomas Puckett still using the same name?”
Auletta looked at Rosen and then said, “no he isn’t.”
Piccolo expected that answer. Their own computer search and the FBI’s hadn’t come up with any Thomas Puckett who was the right age, race, or born in the right place. But Thomas Puckett’s DNA had revealed his new identity. One that was important enough to the government to protect at seemingly all cost.
FBI Director Alan Fritch walked toward his car outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. He had just met with his counterpart Ray Voss for over an hour. Their relationship had changed ever since Congress had joined the two agencies at the hip to better share information in the wake of failures involving nine-eleven. Luckily he and Voss had gotten along well under the new open system. Rarely did they disagree and they hadn’t at this meeting either.
Both of them had agreed that national security issues dictated that the DNA identity requested by the Fairfield, Connecticut sheriff’s office be denied them. The person involved was too important to national security efforts for his identity to be revealed and have him face charges. They had found that totally unacceptable.
The decision hadn’t been easy.
The person’s identity had linked him to the shark in Arrowhead. If convicted, he would be charged with manslaughter at a minimum and his service to the country impaired. The issue had been whether to prevent prosecution for a crime that had brought several people to the brink of death or declare him immune from prosecution. The latter was chosen.
Several steps needed to be taken however.
This person needed to be removed as a further danger to the lake. His removal had to be done in a manner that would prevent the local authorities from learning his identity.
“Let’s face it,” CIA Director Voss had said, “This isn’t cops and robbers. It’s the cops against the cops.”
A week later Piccolo got a call from Auletta notifying him that the government was not going to provide any information about the DNA match to the person on their restricted list. The information was classified and national security would prevent them from disclosing any part of it.
Piccolo knew there wasn’t any way he was equipped to take on the FBI and the CIA. If he were to have any chance of forcing them into revealing anything about Puckett it would have to come from people much higher up than him. He decided to follow the same plan he had used to pressure the Swiss into disclosing who was behind the numbered account. It hadn’t been successful, but at least State Attorney General Roehrig and Connecticut senator Matson were the well connected people he would need to pressure the Feds.
His first call was to Roehrig who of course was as surprised as he had been to find out that Thomas Puckett had taken on another identity that was on the government Restricted Access list.
“I assume you followed Puckett’s trail to the end by checking all the state records,” Roehrig said.
Piccolo told him they had run into a dead end.
Roehrig went on to question him about his meeting with the Feds. From what Piccolo told him he knew that the higher ups in both agencies had decided that whatever criminal acts Puckett had committed on Arrowhead weren’t justified with subjecting him to charges weighed against his value to the government. That value might be of a military or intelligence nature. It could be a lot of things.
He agreed with Piccolo that Senator Matson’s help was needed and said he would call him immediately. But it was three days before Piccolo heard anything back. When the call came he expected it would be Roehrig, but it was the senator himself.
Matson told Piccolo that he had spoken to FBI Director Fritch who had told him that the person on the restricted list was responsible for the shark in Arrowhead and they would eliminate it. However the person’s identity would still be protected.
“And he won’t be prosecuted for what the shark has done,” Piccolo asked.
“No,” the senator replied.
“Not for the injuries of six people and a near attack on my son?”
“No, none of them.”
“So because he’s so important to the government, he gets away with almost killing six people, bankrupting a utility company and financially breaking a lot of lakeshore owners by devaluing their homes.”
“I know it doesn’t seem right but Fritch has assured me that this person’s importance to the national security outweighed the criminal acts he’s committed.”
“Is it outweighed when my son wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and shaking because he thinks the shark is attacking him?” Piccolo said trying to hold his emotions in check. “Is it outweighed when Bill Pazman walks around with a cane the rest of his life? Or others who have lost the use of their hands and legs? I don’t think so.”
“I know but…”
“But nothing. I don’t care what list this guy is on, he’s broken the law, “ Piccolo said trying to hold his emotions in check. He didn’t care that he was talking to a senator; he was going to speak his mind. “Who the hell is Fritch or the CIA to make a judgement that says this guy is immune from the crimes he’s committed? The law’s the law and he’s broken it.”
“That may be true, but the government does have the power to protect those involved in the security of the country.”
“Well then let me ask you this,” Piccolo said as controlled as he could. “ If this guy is responsible for the shark being in the lake, where was the government? Asleep? If he was so important to them why weren’t they watching him when he put a shark into my lake?” Piccolo was surprised at his own reference to my lake. But that’s what it was. The whole thing had become personal to him long ago.
“They apparently were unaware until you made the connection with the DNA you sent to their lab which identified him as Thomas Puckett,” Pierce said reluctantly.
“Great,” Piccolo replied. “like I said, they weren’t watching this guy very carefully.”
“All right, I can’t argue that, but the point is that the shark in Arrowhead is going to be eliminated. That’s what you want isn’t it?”
Yeah that’s what he wanted Piccolo thought to himself. The CIA and FBI knew how to do it because they knew how Puckett or whatever his name was now, had gotten it in the lake. He was still nowhere on that.
“Yes,” he finally replied, but then quickly added, “but I’m going to make sure that Puckett pays for what he did within the law.”
“And I’m telling you sheriff it’s the Feds case now. I’ve told attorney general Roehrig that and you’re not to pursue this or hinder the federal authorities in any way. You’re also not to speak to the press about any of this. Only close associates in your office need to know.”
“When are they going to eliminate the shark from the lake?” Piccolo emphasized the word.
“Director Fritch said it may take some time. Maybe three weeks or so. It all has to be done very quietly.”
“And how will I know that the shark is gone and the lake safe?”
“Fritch will provide you with proof that it’s gone. That’s all I can tell you.”
“I see,” Piccolo replied. He was happy the shark would be gone from the lake, but he’d be goddamned if he was going to let Tom Puckett get away with what he had done. If the government wasn’t going to see justice satisfied then by God he would.
“Well you tell Director Fritch and anybody else who needs to know, that my office and I will continue our efforts to eliminate the shark from the lake and thank him for alerting me to the fact that I have less than three weeks to do it. Because I will not allow this man to go Scott free. I swore to uphold the law and the law is for everybody, even someone on a Fed Restricted Access list.”
“You’re making a big mistake Sheriff. I can tell you that with certainty,” Matson replied in a stern voice. Piccolo knew he was caught in the middle now and was livid.
“Maybe so senator, but my son woke up shaking last night because he’s reliving being attacked by that shark. Shaking senator, with sweat all over his young body. I won’t let that guy get away with that. I just can’t.”
As soon as Piccolo finished the conversation, he called Attorney General Roehrig. Piccolo described his conversation with Matson in detail ending with his firm stand to complete his investigation and bring Tom Puckett or whoever he was now to justice.
Roehrig as expected told him to “step aside and let the government fix its own mess.”
“I can’t do that Howard,” Piccolo said as firmly as he could. “He’s broken the law and shouldn’t be exempt from it under any circumstances.”
“I’m afraid that even if you find Puckett responsible for the shark I won’t be able to prosecute him. Not if he’s under government protection.”
“That’s not going to stop me. I’ll do my job and know that the people of this state will expect you to do yours.”
Roehrig let out an audible sigh. “Well then you do what you have to do Sheriff,” he said exasperated now, “ and I’ll do the same.” With that he hung up.
With both the federal and local government against him now there seemed to be no chance that Thomas Puckett would ever be prosecuted. But if Piccolo was to continue on with the investigation he definitely needed one person at his side and that was Roger Tillitson. Without him he didn’t have a chance. He called the deputy into his office.
Tillitson ambled in and took his usual seat on the other side of Piccolo’s desk. Piccolo briefed him on the two calls while Tillitson toyed with an elastic band around his wrist.
“So young Tom Puckett has grown up to be a real important guy to the government,” he said leaning back in the chair. “Just our luck.”
“Yeah,” Piccolo said, well aware of Tillitson’s use of the word our. “But I wanted to ask how you felt about going ahead with the investigation. It may all be for nothing now if we can’t get the guy convicted.”
“Yeah but he broke the law,” Tillitson replied.
“That’s what I say.”
“So we continue to go after him. You can count me in on that.”
Piccolo was always amazed at how his deputy always cut to the chase. If things were complicated in his own mind, Tillitson always simplified them and made a decision. He may not have had a college education but he was street wise and always decisive.
“Thank you,” Piccolo said. “But you have to realize that both the state and federal government might even prevent us from gathering evidence. And….” he paused for emphasis, “it certainly isn’t going to be great for our careers.”
Tillitson thought for a moment and then said, “ but it’s the right thing to do isn’t it.”
“Then we do it.”
Piccolo came around the desk, shook his hand but then decided that wasn’t enough. He hugged him.
“Thanks,” he said.
“How was Mark last night?” Tillitson asked drawing away, a little embarrassed.
“Not good. He woke up again shaking.”
“Well then that’s another reason to go after this guy.”
Other books by Bob Neidhardt include
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com