William Manchee

Novelist

DISILLUSIONED


A STAN TURNER MYSTERY

Volume 9

Summer 2010, 299 pages, ISBN 978-1-969976-66-9, Trade Paperback / Mystery-Political Thriller


After being discharged from the United States Marine Corps, Stan ends up in Dallas where he intends to finish law school. In the spring of 1976, while attending SMU, he is recruited into the Republican party, elected county chairman, and finds himself helping President Gerald Ford in his campaign against Jimmy Carter. The campaign is marred, however by an untimely FBI investigation into the financial dealings of a major party contributor, Brad Thornton.

The investigation unleashes an avalanche of misfortune beginning with the alleged murder-suicide of Stan�s friend, Rob Shepard, his wife Cindy and their three children and culminating in the resignation of two Republican candidates for the 67th District's state representative seat. Stan, who can't believe his best friend could have murdered his family, launches his own personal investigation to clear Rob's name. When the investigation turns up new evidence that threatens members of a powerful Mexican drug cartel, Stan becomes the target of Cartel thugs and hit men. Undaunted by these threats, Stan enlists the help of a resourceful classmate, Paula Waters, and a law professor, Harry Hertel (aka Snake) and undertakes a dangerous mission to extract a key witness held by the Cartel at a Mexican resort.


Still saddled with the responsibly to field a candidate in the 67th District Stan recruits his assistant, Kristina Tenison, for the job. Kristina is reluctant to run as no woman has ever been elected to this office since Reconstruction, but when Stan agrees to be her campaign manager, and promises her she'll win, she reluctantly enters the race against the veteran incumbent, Ron Wells. But as the election draws near and she still finds herself lagging in the polls, she wonders if she hasn't made a big mistake and questions Stan's continued assurances that she'll win.




Chapter 1

 

     Stan Turner knew only too well that anyone hoping for a career in politics needed to have an unblemished public record. During his youth, he�d been particularly careful to avoid trouble, and as a result, he was a model student. He�d done well becoming an Eagle Scout, graduating number two in his high school class, serving as a congressional intern for his local congressman, and graduating from UCLA with honors. When he was drafted into the Marine Corps fresh out of law school, it was Stan�s intention to have a stellar military career from which to launch his political career. Unfortunately, fate wasn�t in his corner. Just a few days into officer candidate school, he found himself in the worst trouble of his life�accused of the murder of his Drill Sergeant.

     He�d been acquitted of the murder, but when the trial was over he�d had his fill of military service, so he requested and was granted a general discharge. Despite his acquittal there were those who still believed he was guilty and he knew he faced a lifetime of suspicion and doubt on that score.

     At the time he was drafted, Stan had been in law school in California, but his father-in-law had been transferred to Dallas in the interim. Rebekah wanted to be close to her parents, so after Stan was discharged, he applied for entry into SMU School of Law for the fall semester of 1975. There were a lot of questions about his trial and disastrous military career, but the Dean of Admissions admitted they couldn�t legally hold his court martial against him since he�d been acquitted. So, after many interviews and endless paperwork, they reluctantly and grudgingly accepted his application.

     Although getting into law school was a big relief for Stan, it also triggered a myriad of problems, not the least of which was how to survive financially�particularly because he was married with four children. His wife Rebekah was an ER nurse, so her income was good, but it was not enough to pay SMU�s steep tuition and the cost of books, along with all the other regular family expenses. Stan had little choice but to get a job to pay for his legal education or mortgage his family�s future by taking out student loans. Since he already had unpaid student loans from college, Stan elected to get a job instead of going further in debt.

     His job hunting had been difficult, and the best thing he could come up with was selling life insurance for Cosmopolitan Life. He hated the job, but the hours were flexible, so he could work around his schedule at SMU, and the pay was just enough to cover his tuition and books. During his six-week training course, he not only learned about insurance but a lot about marketing as well. He found this interesting and suspected it would be useful knowledge to have when he started his law practice. They gave him some nifty little gadgets too�calculators, an insurance needs slide rule, and a briefcase with a built-in audio-video player-recorder for making fancy presentations. He also soon discovered that insurance agents often were asked by their clients for referrals to lawyers for needed legal services, so the connections he made in the insurance industry could be very beneficial to him when he started his law practice.

     Even though Stan knew a political career wasn�t an option for him anymore, he was still keenly interested in politics and soon found himself involved in the local Republican Party. In the summer of 1976, the Democrats still controlled almost every political office in north Texas, but that was changing, and for the first time since Reconstruction, Republican candidates in northern Dallas and southern Collin counties actually had a chance of beating their Democratic opponents. This excited Stan. He loved a good fight, particularly when he was fighting for the underdog. When the members of the executive committee learned of his legal training and experience as a congressional intern, they asked him to run for county chairman. When he protested that he didn�t have the time to take on that kind of responsibility, they assured him the staff would do most of the work and he wouldn�t be expected to put that much time into the job. Despite Rebekah�s protests, he accepted the job and was elected in the June primary.

     On Saturday, July 3, 1976, Stan and Rebekah were attending a barbecue at the home of a wealthy businessman, Brad Thornton. The home was a palace compared to Stan and Rebekah�s $18,000 Fox and Jacobs tract home they�d recently purchased. As they strolled past the parade of Cadillacs, Lincoln Town Cars, and Jaguars parked in front of the house, Rebekah spotted their friends Rob and Cindy Shepard coming from the other direction.

     "Cindy! Hi," Rebekah said.

     "Hi, Rebekah. How are you?"

     "Fine. Can you believe this house? It�s huge."

     Cindy nodded. "Yeah, I love this French country home style. This one�s got five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. We looked at it before the Thorntons bought it. It�s almost as big as my parents� house."

     Cindy Shepard was in her mid-twenties, short, with light brown hair and beautiful green eyes. She had a nice figure and a beautiful complexion. She came from a wealthy family that owned a lot of real estate and operated several prosperous businesses in north Texas. Rob�s family had been around a long time too, but they hadn�t accumulated near as much wealth. Cindy�s parents hadn�t been thrilled when the two of them announced they were going to get married, but Cindy had a mind of her own and didn�t much care what they thought. As a result, there had been a lot of tension between the two families, and that strained Rob and Cindy�s marriage.

     "Hey, Rob," Stan said, shaking his friend�s hand.

     Rob was tall and muscular. He�d been the star quarterback on the high school football team and consequently was quite well known and popular in the community. That was why Brad Thornton had recruited him to run for state representative. The Republican Party needed someone well known if they were to have a chance at upsetting the Democratic incumbent, Ron Wells.

     "Hi, Stan. Can you believe this heat?" Rob asked.

     The temperature in Dallas in July usually hovered around a hundred degrees, and this day was no exception. The girls were dressed in shorts and halter tops since it was an outdoor party. Stan gazed at Cindy�s long, sexy legs then smiled at her when she caught him looking.

     "Yeah, thank God for air conditioning," Stan replied.

     "Look! A waterfall," Rebekah said, pointing to the corner of the courtyard.

     "Wow! That�s cool," Stan replied enviously.

     They entered the courtyard, appreciative of the shade provided by several large cottonwoods. Stopping for a moment, they admired an assortment of exotic plants and a pond full of tropical fish. A small stream ran in front of the house from the waterfall to the pond. They continued to the front door, where they could see guests inside through a stained glass window. Rebekah knocked on the door. A second later and Melissa Thornton swung the door open and smiled out at them with her ultra-white teeth and bright blue eyes. She was a dirty blond in her early forties, but with the help of a skillful plastic surgeon, she still looked quite stunning.

     "Hello. Come on in," she said.

     "Melissa, this is Rebekah and Stan Turner," Cindy said.

     "Oh, it�s a pleasure to finally meet you," Melissa replied. "Hi, Rob."

     "Hi, Mrs. Thornton," Rob said. "How are you?"

     "Fine. Go on over to the bar and get yourself a drink. Brad�s around here somewhere. I�m sure you�ll run into him."

     "No doubt," Rob replied.

     They went to the bar, got drinks, and then went onto the back patio where most of the guests were mingling. A half dozen children were swimming in the large pool, and a catering company was setting up a buffet. Rebekah spotted an empty table, and they went over and staked a claim to it. After a few minutes they were joined by Brad Thornton.

     "You finally made it," Brad said to Rob. "I�ve been anxious to find out how your meeting with the chamber of commerce went."

     "Everyone seemed friendly," Rob replied, "but you never know what they are thinking."

     Brad Thornton was a tall, thin man with dark hair and a thin mustache. He was never without a Stetson on his head and a grin on his face. Rebekah thought he looked a little like Clark Gable.

     "True. A lot will depend on how the presidential race goes. If Reagan gets the nomination, you�ll have a good shot at winning."

     Ronald Reagan had trounced Ford in the May 1, 1976 Texas primary, winning all 100 Texas delegates, despite the fact that the Republican establishment had been squarely behind Ford. Rob had been one of the Reagan delegates scheduled to go to the Republican Convention in August. Stan was a Ford supporter but narrowly missed being elected a delegate to the convention.

     "I hope Reagan gets the nomination," Rob said. "He�s a hell of a lot more popular around here than Ford."

     "Don�t you think the conservatives would prefer Ford over Jimmy Carter?" Stan asked.

     "Sure," Brad agreed, "but they won�t turn out in the same numbers for Ford as they would for Reagan."

    "I don�t know," Rob said. "The thought of Jimmy Carter becoming president is pretty scary."

     They all laughed.

     After a few minutes, Brad left to mingle with his other guests, and Stan and Rob went for more drinks. On this way to the bar, Stan was stopped by Kristina Tenison, one of the volunteers assigned to help Stan with this duties as county chairman. Besides being young and beautiful, Kristina was very well organized and efficient. Stan had been in awe of her from the moment they�d met. In fact, he felt a little guilty because Kristina did most of his work and he got most of the credit for it.

     "Hi, Kristina," Stan said, smiling broadly.

     "Oh, Stan, I�m so glad I ran into you."

     "Yeah? What�s up?"

   "I got a call yesterday from Robert Brown, Ford�s Dallas Campaign Chairman."

     "Oh, really?"

    "Yeah. The President�s coming to Dallas at the end of the month. There�s going to be a reception for local officials and candidates. Robert would like you to pick a dozen people from this area and invite them."

     "Really? Why me?"

     "Because you�re one of only a few who signed up to be a Ford delegate at the convention. Most everyone else is backing Reagan."

     "Yeah, but I didn�t get picked to be a delegate."

     "That doesn�t matter. They know where your allegiances lie."

     "Hmm."

    "Anyway, he needed an answer right away, so I told him you�d do it."

     Stan laughed. "Okay."

     "Are you mad at me for accepting the job for you?" Kristina asked. "I didn�t want you to miss such a great opportunity."

Stan shook his head. "No, no. It�s fine, as long as you�re going to help me decide who to invite."

     "Of course. Monday�s a holiday. Maybe we can get together for a few hours to work on it. "

     The thought of spending time with Kristina excited Stan. As a child, he�d been overweight, shy, and not very attractive to girls. When he�d approach one he liked, he�d often be rejected and humiliated. It was frustrating for him to be around so many pretty young girls while he was growing up, unable to sustain a relationship with any of them. By the time he was in high school, however, things had changed. He�d grown taller, slimmed down, and begun to excel in school. After a while, girls began to hang around him more and even flirted with him. Stan loved all this attention, and the girls liked hanging around Stan because he was a good listener and actually paid attention to what they had to say. From then on, if Stan met a pretty woman, it was a good bet they�d soon be good friends. In fact, most of Stan�s good friends were women, which made Rebekah very jealous.

     "Okay. It will be great meeting the president in person."

     "Yeah, that�s what I thought."

     Stan smiled. "Thanks, Kristina. You�re amazing."

     Kristina blushed. "Why do you say that?"

     "You always seem to know what to do and never hesitate to act. I don�t know why they asked me to be county chairman. They should have asked you."

     "They�d never elect a woman county chairman."

     "Why not?" Stan asked.

     "They just wouldn�t."

    Stan resisted a strong urge to put his arm around Kristina. So far, he�d managed to resist any show of affection toward her, but it hadn�t been easy. Several times they�d been alone at Republican headquarters, and he�d had trouble concentrating on the work they were doing. He wondered if she felt the same way about him or if it was just her nature to be flirtatious with the men she worked with. He vowed not to seek an answer to that question, as it might be his undoing. I�m a happily married man with a wonderful family, he often told himself, and I shouldn�t be looking for trouble.

     When Stan and Rob got back to their table with fresh drinks, Rebekah and Cindy had already filled their plates with barbeque and were starting to eat.

     "We got tired of waiting for you," Cindy said to Rob. "What took you so long?"

     "It was Stan�s fault. Kristina grabbed him the moment we got in the house."

      Rebekah�s eyes narrowed. "What did she want?"

      "Oh, the President�s coming to town, and his staff wants me to invite some guests to a reception he�s having. I�ll put you on the list, Rob, if you�re willing to be seen with him."

     Rob frowned. "If I thought it would help my campaign, I would, but I�m not sure."

     "It couldn�t hurt. He is the president."

     "Let me give it some thought. I�ll let you know on Monday if I want an invitation."

     Stan and Rob took their plates and got in the food line. Ten minutes later, they were back and dug in. After dinner, when it got dark, everyone gathered in the back yard to watch the annual fireworks show put on by a church down the street. When it was over, they went inside and caught the end of the big bicentennial celebration in New York on TV. An hour later, Stan looked at his watch and sighed.

     "Well, this has been a blast, but we�ve got to go," Stan announced.

     Rebekah nodded in agreement. "Yes, we promised our babysitter we�d be home by ten."

     "I�ll call you on Monday," Rob said.

     "Oh, just put us on the list already," Cindy said. "You�re not going to miss a photo op with the president."

     Rob shrugged. "Okay. I guess you�re right."

    "Good," Rebekah said. "We�ll all go together. It should be fun."

     Stan and Rebekah said goodbye to Melissa and Brad and then left the party. When they got home, Jenni, Reggie, and Mark were watching the bicentennial celebration on TV. Jenni immediately got up, obviously delighted to see them.

     "How were they?" Rebekah asked.

     Jenni shrugged. "Okay. Peter went right to sleep at nine, but I had trouble getting Marcia to go down. She just fell asleep a few minutes ago."

     "She was probably overtired," Rebekah said. "I have trouble getting her to sleep sometimes."

     Stan paid Jenni, and she left.

     "Alright, it�s bedtime," Stan said to Mark and Reggie. "It�s after ten o�clock. You guys should already be asleep."

     "We were watching the fireworks," Reggie protested.

    "Well, if you two don�t get in bed in the next two minutes, you�ll see some real fireworks."

     Mark and Reggie ran up the stairs, and Stan followed them to tuck them in and to check on Peter and Marcia. When he returned, Rebekah was sitting on the sofa watching TV. Stan gazed at her from the top of the stairs for a moment. He loved her long black hair, big brown eyes, and smooth olive skin. He went to her and gave her a long kiss.

     "What was that for?" she asked with a sly smile.

     "Just celebrating the bicentennial," he said, turning off the lamp next to them.

     He kissed her again, and they began discarding unwanted clothing. Soon, they were making frantic love. They both came quickly, and when they were done, they moved their passions to their bedroom and made love again, this time slower and more methodically�trying to make their ecstasy last as long as possible. An hour later, when the two were finally spent, they fell into a deep slumber.


 

Chapter 2

     On Monday, since it was a holiday, Stan took the family out to breakfast. After they�d returned home, he went outside to get the newspaper. He was shocked to see Brad Thornton�s face on the front page with the headline, �Local Businessman Under Investigation�...

     "FBI agents executed a search warrant at the home of local businessman Brad Thornton. The agent in charge would not comment on the search, but said it was part of an ongoing investigation. Informed sources familiar with the case claim there have been accusations of money laundering against Mr. Thornton in the past and the search today may be related to those accusations."

     Stan rushed inside to show Rebekah the article. She was putting a load of clothes in the washer. "Look at this news report," he said. "It looks like Brad Thornton�s in some kind of trouble."

     "What? You�ve got to be kidding," Rebekah said, grabbing the newspaper from him. "We were just with him last night."

     "I know. Rob�s gonna be devastated. Thornton�s been bank rolling his campaign."

     "You think they�ll arrest him?"

     Stan shrugged. "I don�t know, but if they do, I�m sure Rob�s funding will dry up."

     "What will he do if that happens?"

     "Find new contributors, if he can."

     "I should call Cindy," Rebekah said.

    "Yeah, do that. I was about to head over to Republican headquarters to meet Kristina. I�m sure she�ll know what�s going on. Tell Rob I�ll call him later."

     "Okay. Don�t be too long. You promised the kids you�d take them to Penny Whistle Park today."

     "Alright. I�ll be back by two. That should give us plenty of time."

     Rebekah nodded and went to call Cindy. Stan said goodbye to the kids and then left to go downtown to Republican headquarters. It was a hot day, so Stan had dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. Kristina was just walking up to the front door when he drove up. She was wearing shorts with a halter top. Her legs were nicely tanned and perfectly shaped. Stan gazed at them a moment before he got out.

     "Hi, Stan," Kristina said.

     Stan smiled and walked up to her. "Hi. Good timing."

    "Yes, I was afraid I was going to be late. The phone�s been ringing off the wall today."

     "Oh? Because of the newspaper article this morning?"

     "Right. You saw that?"

     Stan nodded. "Yeah. I can�t believe it."

     Kristina unlocked the door, and they walked in and turned on the lights. It was a small three-room office. In one of the rooms was a small conference table. Stan took a seat at the table and looked up a Kristina expectantly.

     "Coffee?" Kristina asked.

     "Sure, if you�re having some."

    She nodded, went over to a kitchen area where there was a coffee pot, and filled it with water.

    "So, one of the calls was from my sister Molly. She works as a secretary at the Sheriff�s Office and overheard two deputies talking about the investigation. I guess the sheriff has been working with the FBI on the case."

     "Really? What are the money laundering allegations they were talking about in the article?"

     "Well, a few years ago, Thornton wanted to retire, so he sold his share of an import/export business to his partners for several million dollars. His retirement didn�t last long however. Soon, he was investing his money in several new ventures. One of them was Silver Springs Lake, a small lake that had filled up with sediment over the years and become worthless for any recreational purposes. The community around the lake became rundown, and the property values plummeted. Thornton came in and bought up all the property for a tenth of its original value. He drained the water out of the lake and began processing the sediment into commercial mulch. After he�d mined all the mulch, he had the lake dredged to an acceptable depth and then filled it back up with water. Once that was done, he started a rehabilitation project for the homes around the lake. Of course, with the lake rejuvenated, the value of the real estate skyrocketed."

     "Okay, but that just sounds like he�s a hell of a businessman."

      "True, but there were rumors Thornton had teamed up with some Mexican drug dealers and that he was running their drug money through his Silver Springs Ventures and returning it to them in valuable lakefront property."

     "Well, I don�t know much about money laundering. I understand the concept, but I�m not exactly sure how it works."

     "I don�t understand it either," Kristina said. "It�s very complicated."

      "So, I guess that�s why Thornton is such a big contributor to all the politicians in the county," Stan reasoned. "He wants to dampen their enthusiasm for any investigation of his businesses."

     "That�s a possibility. I think that�s why the feds got involved. The sheriff and district attorney are Thornton�s best friends, so they�ve protected him."

     "I�m worried about Rob," Stan said. "Thornton and Rob are good friends. Rob may be involved in some of his ventures. I�ve overheard them talking about Silver Springs Lake before. I know Thornton has somehow contributed a lot of money to his campaign."

     Kristina shrugged. "Well, if Thornton is guilty I�m quite sure he wouldn�t have left any incriminating evidence around his house, so I doubt they�ll be able to prosecute him."

     "Well, only time will tell. I guess we won�t put Thornton on the President�s reception list after all."

       Kristina laughed. "No. We probably shouldn�t."

      "Rob wants to be on the list. I think he�s prepared to support President Ford if he gets the nomination. So, with you, Rob, and me, that leaves nine more to pick."

     "You�re going to put me on the list?" Kristina asked.

     Stan frowned. "Of course! You�ve earned it."

     "I�m flattered but�"

     "No buts. You�re on the list."

     Kristina smiled. "I suppose we should put Commissioner Barnes on the list. He�s a Democrat, but he�s talking about switching parties."

     "Yeah, Paul Barnes. I think there�ll be a lot party switching as the county becomes more Republican. Why don�t we tell him if he switches, we�ll let him come to the reception and announce the switch at the President�s news conference? That should provide him a lot of good publicity, and it will demonstrate the President�s ability to garner Democratic support."

      "Brilliant. I think he�ll go for that."

      Stan and Kristina worked another hour on the reception list before it was completed. Then they locked up the office and went home. When Stan walked in the door, not only were all his kids waiting anxiously to go to Penny Whistle Park, but Rob and Cindy�s kids were there too.

     "Daddy! Daddy! You�re finally home," Mark said excitedly. John, Paul, and Jenny are coming too."

     "I see that," Stan said.

     "Let�s go, Dad," Reggie said. "We�re all ready."  

     "What took you so long?" Marcia asked. "We�ve been waiting for hours."

     "Rebekah laughed. "I packed you a lunch. I don�t imagine you had time to eat."

     "No, I didn�t. Thanks."

     "So, are Rob and Cindy coming?"

    "No. I offered to take her kids off her hands for the afternoon. Apparently Rob�s not taking the Thornton matter too well."

     "Oh, right. They�re good friends."

     "More like family."

     They all went out the front door and began piling in the station wagon. Stan locked up and then joined them in the car.

     "So, what exactly did Cindy have to say about Thornton?" Stan asked as he backed out of the driveway.

    "Oh, the FBI is coming by to talk to Rob about him tomorrow," Rebekah replied.

     "What? You�ve got to be kidding."

     "No. He�d like you to be there when they come."

     "What? Why me? I don�t know anything about Thornton or his involvement with him."

     "I know, but you�re in law school. He figures you can tell him what to say."

     "I can�t give him legal advice. I don�t have a license, not to mention the fact I have no experience in dealing with the FBI."

     "You successfully defended yourself at your court martial, didn�t you? You were dealing with the FBI then."

     "I had legal counsel."

     "You told me your lawyer was worthless and had you relied on him, you�d have been convicted."

     �That�s true. It�s legal for me to defend myself, but until I get a license, I can�t defend someone else."

     "He�ll feel better if you�re there, even if it�s just as a friend. It couldn�t hurt."

     "The FBI won�t allow it. They�ll want him alone. But I guess I can go over there ahead of time and prep him."

     "Good. Cindy�s worried Rob will have to drop out of the race if his campaign funding dries up."

     "He can�t drop out of the race now. It�s too late to get a new Republican candidate."

     "I know."

    "Did she say whether Rob invested in any of Thornton�s business ventures?"

     "No, but Cindy says Rob is scared and depressed over the situation."

     Stan told her what he had learned from Kristina about Thornton�s business ventures.

      "Oh, God. I hope he�s not involved in anything illegal. Cindy and the kids would be devastated."

       "Is Daddy in trouble," Jenny asked from the back seat.

Rebekah turned and looked at Jenny. She was eight, the eldest of the Shepard children. "No, honey. One of his friends is in trouble."

     "Uncle Brad. Daddy�s scared �cause he knows too much."

A chill darted through Rebekah. Stan glanced back at Jenny and forced a smile. He wondered what Jenny had overheard.

     "He never mentioned any investments to me," Stan finally said, "but that�s not something that would necessarily come up. I did hear them talking about the lake project. Thornton was pretty proud of it. All I know is that somehow Thornton is providing the funding for Rob�s campaign. I�m not sure how though. I guess I�ll find out tomorrow."

     After they�d spent a few hours at Penny Whistle Park, they went to dinner at McDonald�s. It was after seven when they finally pulled up in front of the Shepard house to drop off the kids. Rob came out to greet them as they drove up.

     "Hi, Rob," Stan said.

     "Hey. Thanks for taking the kids this afternoon. It�s been a horrible day."

     "No problem. Glad we could help."

     "Are you going to be able to come over tomorrow?"

     "I don�t know how much help I�d be. Since I�m not an attorney yet, they probably wouldn�t let me be in the interview with you."

      Rob sighed. "Damn it!"

      "What I can do is to prep you for the interview. If you want, I could come over early tomorrow so we can talk before they arrive."

"     No, I won�t be able to sleep. Can we talk right now?"

"     We need to take the kids home and put them to bed right now.

      "Alright. Call me when you get them settled."

     "I can�t prep you over the phone. There�s no guarantee of privacy."

      "Okay. You want to meet somewhere later?"

     "Yeah. How about Denny�s? That�s usually a good place to talk."

     "That�ll work. I�ll see you there in thirty minutes."

     "Alright."

     Stan looked at Rebekah. She nodded, and they got in the car and drove home.

     "What was all that about privacy? Do you think his phone is tapped?"

     "Possibly�particularly if the FBI sees him as an accomplice."

      "How do you know talking at Denny�s is safe?"

     "I don�t, but it�s usually pretty noisy, and the FBI won�t have had time to bug the place."

     Rebekah swallowed hard. Cindy was her best friend, and the thought of Rob being in trouble was unbearable. She�d met Cindy a year earlier at a Republican function, and they�d hit it off immediately. Cindy loved having a nurse for a friend since one of her three kids seemed to be sick all the time. On the other hand, Rebekah loved to have someone to talk to when she�d had a stressful day at the hospital. Cindy was a good listener and loved to hear Rebekah�s complaints about rude patients or incompetent doctors. Stan gave her a kiss and left.

Stan was relieved to see that Denny�s was pretty crowded. He didn�t want anyone overhearing what Rob had to say to him. It was dangerous for Rob to be telling him anything incriminating. There would be no attorney-client privilege, so if the FBI questioned Stan later, theoretically, he�d have to tell them what he knew. Of course, he could claim a bad memory, but that was a dangerous thing for an aspiring attorney to do. Stan parked his car and looked around for Rob. He saw him getting out of his car on the other side of the parking lot and go inside. A few minutes later, Stan went in and joined him in a booth.

     "Hey, Rob."

     "Hi, Stan. Thanks for coming."

     "No problem. What a rotten turn of events, huh?"

     The waitress came over and took their order.

    "Tell me about it. Everything was going so well. I can�t believe this is happening."

     "So, what did the FBI say they wanted to talk about?"

     "They didn�t say. They just said they needed to talk to me."

     "Do you know anything about Thornton�s businesses?"

     "Not really. He�s told me about some of them, of course, but I�ve never actually seen them."

     "So, why do you think the FBI wants to talk to you?"

    "I don�t know. Maybe it�s the way he�s been financing my campaign."

     Stan frowned, fearful of what he was about to hear. "What do you mean?"

     "When he recruited me to run for state representative, he told me I wouldn�t have to worry about financing the campaign. He said he�d make sure I had plenty of money. I just assumed he meant he had a lot of contacts and they�d do fund-raising events for me, but that�s not what he had in mind."

     "What was his plan?"

     "He said the law wouldn�t allow him to just write me a check for what I needed, but that I could spend my own money and it would be quite legal. I told him I didn�t have any money, and that�s when he told me what he had in mind."

     "Oh, God. What did have you do?"

Rob took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well, he had me invest $25,000 in one of his ventures for ninety days. When the ninety days was up, he paid me back $75,000."

     "I thought you didn�t have any money. Where did you come up with $25,000?"

      "I just wrote him a check that didn�t get cashed until he paid me the $75,000 return on my investment."

      "Oh, shit!" Stan said. "Why did you go along with that?"

Rob shrugged. "I don�t know. It seemed harmless. I didn�t figure anyone would ever know."

      "Did you report the profit on your income taxes?"

      "Huh?"

Stan sighed. The waitress showed up with two cups of coffee and two pieces of pie. Stan smiled at her as she set them down. When she was gone, he continued. "Rob, if you make $50,000 profit, you�ve got to pay taxes on it. Didn�t you report it on last year�s income tax return?"

     "Ah. Actually, I haven�t filed yet."

    "Well, that�s good news. Be sure and report it. Otherwise, they�ll come after you for income tax evasion. Did you file an extension?"

     "Uh huh. My accountant filed it."

    "Good. What kind of paperwork was there with the investment with Thornton?"

      "I signed something. I can�t remember exactly what it said."

      "Do you have a copy?"

      "I don�t think so. I trusted Brad. I�ve known him for a long time."

     Stan wondered what he should tell Rob�that he needed to hire an attorney. If Rob was telling the truth, then he may just be an innocent victim of Thornton�s attempt to get a friendly legislator elected, but Stan wasn�t sure Rob was coming clean with him.

     "Did Brad tell you he expected anything in return for financing your campaign?"

      "No, not exactly."

      "But you knew he would expect to be influential in your decisions."

      "I guess, but I�m my own man. If I didn�t agree with Brad, I would vote my conscience."

      "Of course," Stan said and looked away.

      "So, what should I say to them?"

     "Well, if you are going to talk to them, you should tell the truth, but you probably shouldn�t talk to them."

      "Why not?"

      "You�ve done some things that are suspicious at best, and if Thornton has been doing anything illegal, then you�ll be dragged into it. You could refuse to talk to them and go consult a good criminal attorney."

     "But if I do that, I�ll look guilty. It will damage my campaign."

     "True, but you won�t have incriminated yourself. Right now, they don�t have anything on you, but if you answer just one of their questions wrong, it could be all over for you�Really, you should get a criminal attorney."

     "Oh, Jesus. Why did this have to happen? Damn it. Everything was going so well."

      "I know. I wish there was something I could do."

Rob sighed. "Okay. I guess that�s what I�ll do. Do you know a good attorney?"

     "Not really. Ask your father. He�s been around town a long time. He probably knows who the best criminal attorney in the county is."

      "Oh, God. What will he think of me?"

      "He�s family. He�ll understand."

     Rob nodded. The waitress came by and dropped off their check. Rob picked it up, slid out of the booth, and stood up. Stan gave him a sympathetic look and then followed him to the register. When they were outside, Stan wished Rob good luck, and they both went their separate ways.


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