DEATH IN THE CAPITOL- CHAPTER XIV

I took care of as much as I could that day. I did get my license and my registration. I was thankful that the Department of Transportation folks took pity on me. They got me everything that I needed and I was done in 30 minutes. I stopped by my insurance broker and we looked at a number of rentals that were available. I would have to talk to Margaret about where we could live. Jonathan had to be in the same school district. That limited our choices. I called Margaret and had the broker send her pictures of the rentals, mostly furnished homes, for her to look at. Fortunately, she had her Iphone and was able to see them.

I also went to Burlington Coat Factory and bought some clothes. It was weird to know that I did not have one stich of clothes to my name other than the ones that Steve lent me. I even didn’t have underwear. It was a burden just to walk through the store and see things that I did not have anymore.

As I was driving from place to place, I really started to get annoyed by the two detectives who had interviewed me.  As I thought about it, I realized that they did not treat me very well, most unprofessional. As I thought about dressing them down somehow, I realized that I did not have a cell phone. I hustled over to Costco to the Verizon kiosk and encountered the woman who always seemed to be there when I was in trouble with my phone. She had heard about my problem and was able, with little fanfare to get me a new phone. Since I did not have any money or even a credit card (I did call the company from Steve’s house), she said that she would have the company bill me. I gave her Steve’s address.

I went back out to my car, called information and got the number of the township building, which housed the police station. I dialed the number and was transferred to a desk sergeant. I introduced myself and the sergeant immediately knew who I was. He said that Chief Banion had wanted to speak to me, as soon as possible. Since we had no phone number for you, or knew where you were, we had to wait for you to call us.

That was strange. How did the two plainclothesmen find me then? I guess someone must have told them. Chief Banion was a neighbor and asked me how I was doing. I told him that all of the things that I had to do just to continue living kept my mind off the tragedy. He said that he understood. I told him about the two plainclothes detectives who came to Steve McElroy’s home to question me. I explained that they were not very professional, nor were they helpful. There was a long pause. I could tell something was wrong. “Chet, we didn’t even know where you were. How could we have sent anyone out to Steve McElroy’s house to interview you? These were not members of our police force.”

DEATH IN THE CAPITOL- CHAPTER XII and XIII

I was dog tired. I had not really slept for 24 hours and I was dragging. I fell asleep on the couch in the living room at the McElroy’s house. I guess someone must have put a cover over me. I did not realize that it was 3 o’clock in the morning. All of this happened so fast, that I was beyond confused. When I awoke the next morning, I could smell coffee. I got up and went to the downstairs bathroom and washed myself as best I could. Steve had lent me some pajamas to wear. I went into the kitchen and Steve and Paula were sitting at the kitchen table. They asked me how I was doing. I told them that I was tired and worn out, but had some things to do immediately.

I asked if I could borrow Steve’s cell phone again. The first person that I called was Margaret. She was very distraught. She had called our daughter in Seattle. It must have been a difficult decision. In reality, it was a call that told my daughter that she did not have a place to live. The same thing would have been true of my son Jonathan. He was still in high school and was planning on graduating this  year. I told Margaret that I would get on the stick and get someplace for us to live temporarily.

After gulping down the coffee, I called the police and told them everything. They asked if they could come over and speak to me. I asked Steve and Paula and they agreed. The police had already gotten wind of the fire which was now described as arson. They did not know that two men had tried to kill me.

I then called our insurance broker and informed him that our house was no longer alive and that I needed a place for my family to stay, while we were without anything. They said that an adjuster had already been out to the house and determined that a replacement would be needed. Since I already had contents insured, that would also come into play.

I now focused my attention on the disappearance of Sam Ellis. Today was the day that he would officially be labeled at missing. Whatever forces that were available could now be deployed. I might even discuss his absence with the police when they arrived. Steve had called his contact in the Governor’s office. I should get a call from the commander of the state police any time now.

Two plainclothes policemen pulled up into the McElroy’s driveway at about 11:00. I guess the township had given them instructions to be very careful about what they asked me. They were generally very polite, but not very interested in what I had to say about Sam Ellis. Their questions made me think that they were just running out a string and anxious to get to someplace else. I did see them take some notes and kind of look at each other. I finally said to them, “Are you interested in why two people wanted to kill me by burning down my house and leaving me on the floor to die?” They both looked at each other and one said, “We do understand that you have gone through a trauma and we are trying hard not to put you through a wringer. We do understand that you were assaulted in your home and that the fire was set deliberately with you partly unconscious in the house.” “So” I said, “Why are you being so nonchalant about your questioning? You act as if what I say has no meaning in the scheme of things.”

They both shrugged their shoulders and looked at me as if I were a bit strange. I am not sure what their superiors told them, but it could not have been what I was expecting. “Look Mr. Wainright, our instructions were to ask you about the fire and the assault. We are not involved, nor will we be, unless asked, in the disappearance of Senator Ellis. He lives in Dushore in Sullivan County. Since Sullivan County does not have a police force, the state police will be doing the investigation. Our involvement in that part of what happened to you will only be peripheral.”

I was not sure that I really believed what the detective was saying. How could what happened to me be divorced from the disappearance of the senator. As I looked at Steve McElroy, I got the feeling that he agreed with me. The two detectives asked some pro forma questions picked up their notebooks and left, saying that they would be in further contact with me. I was kind of glad that they were going. I was getting angrier by the minute and I guess I showed it.

When they left, Steve looked at me and said, “Chet, there is something going on here, that seems very strange. Why would local police not be on the lookout for a missing person, especially one with statewide recognition? Don’t state police send out bulletins to all police forces across the state notifying them of a missing person?” I thought so too. Is it possible that there is some force involved in all of this that has some control over what is happening? As Alice would say, “This is getting curiouser and curiouser.”

I thanked Steve for allowing me the use of his phone. I was anxious to be able to get a hold of some car keys, so that I could do some things independently without relying, or actually bothering, Steve.

I called the dealership from whom I had bought the car and got them to understand what I needed. Since I did not have a wallet or any other identifying pieces of paper or credit cards, it was nice of them to cooperate. They told me that they could give me a sort of master key for my key fob, until they could get the one that was specific for my car. They warned me not to drive too much without a license or registration (which I always kept in my wallet).

Steve drove me first to the dealer and then to my burnt out house to pick up my car. I never realized what would happen if I did not have everything that was in my wallet. It was time to make another bunch of phone calls and visits to the DMV.

DEATH IN THE CAPITOL- CHAPTER XI

Steve picked me up about ten minutes later. I don’t remember too much after that, until I woke up in the emergency room with a bandage on my head. Steve told me that I had conked out almost immediately upon getting into the car. We arrived at the emergency ward at the hospital and had some of the orderlies put me on a gurney and wheel me into the emergency ward. The docs looked at me and decided that there was a large enough lump on the back of my head to do some x-rays and an MRI. Fortunately that did not find anything wrong. They said that I would be up soon.

Steve asked me if I remember how I got the bump. I told him about being attacked by at least two people upon descending the stairs in my house. He agreed that someone was trying to kill me and that I was lucky to have gotten out of the fiery house alive. I agreed with him. He suggested that I call the local police at once and he would help me get to someone in the governor’s office. There certainly would be connections there to get the state police on the case. There was also the mystery of Senator Ellis.

We arrived at Steve’s house 20 minutes later. His wife, Paula, met us at the door. She helped Steve get me situated on a living room couch. My head was still hurting. I am not sure that Paula was aware of what was happening. Steve gave her the short version. Paula had worked in the House of Representatives for many years. She had recently retired. Her connections were the equal of Steve’s. She also knew Sam Ellis as well as I did and was shocked to learn that he was missing.

Since Paula was a friend of Sam’s family, she had no problem calling the senator’s wife to ask her if there was any progress in his disappearance. There was none. There were only a few hours before he would legally be classified as missing. The police would then be obliged to swing into action. I had a feeling that they were already doing things. Sometimes having connections obviates the rules.

DEATH IN THE CAPITOL-CHAPTER X

To say that I was devastated is to understate what I felt. As I watched various parts of my home collapse, my whole being disintegrated. Did I blame myself? Of course I did. Why did I meddle in affairs that I had nothing to do with? If I had not been so curious, I would be sitting by the hearth with my wife and my son. There was no call for what I did. I realized that what I was looking at was sheer venom on the part of those who wanted me dead and buried. What had I done to inspire their hatred?

I was almost afraid to call Margaret to tell her what happened. It was going to be the toughest phone call that I would ever make. I could not make it in public. I had to get to somewhere private, so I could say what I needed to say. I didn’t have my cell phone. It was destroyed like everything else. As the fire died down, I was able to spot one fireman at the periphery of the crowd, now assembled. He appeared to be someone in charge. In fact, he was the chief of the local fire battalion. I had met him some time ago at a fire house function. I did not remember his name, but he sure remembered mine.

“Mr. Wainright, this is a tragedy. It pains me to see your home go up in smoke. I cannot imagine how you feel at this moment.” I was not anxious to tell him about the intruders and their intention of killing me and having me burnt to death. “Chief, could I please borrow your cell phone and call my wife. She and my son are out of town,” I asked. The chief was accommodating and gave me his cell phone immediately. I walked behind one of the fire trucks and dialed my wife’s cell phone number. Since New Orleans was an hour or two behind us, I thought she might be aware.

“Who is this,” she asked? “ Hon, it’s me calling on another phone.” “What’s wrong, where is your phone.” I began to tell her what had happened. I could tell by her responses that she was crying. She asked very few questions. When I finished with the story, she said, “What are we going to do about living some place.” I told her that I would contact the insurance company. I am sure that there are provisions for this kind of thing in our insurance contract. She was not mollified. Everything had been destroyed. All of the things that we had accumulated through our years of marriage and our children were now all gone. Many of those things could never be replaced.

“Chet, what happens now that they will know you aren’t dead? Will they then come after you again?” I told her that I would now contact local police and some folks that I knew in the Governor’s office. They might have some ideas of what I could do. The only problem would be that I would need my own phone or one that I could hold onto, since I had to give the chief back his phone. Fortunately, my car was not parked in the garage. When I came home, I was too lazy to put it in. Iwas lucky that the car had not been affected by the flames.  However, since I had no keys, I would not be able to use it.

I made one more call to Steve McElroy. After telling him my story, he immediately said that he would be right over to take me to his home. He said that I could use his home as a base of operations till I made some arrangements to a more permanent situation. I thanked him profusely and sat down on the curb and let myself cry.

DEATH IN THE CAPITOL- CHAPTER IX

Steve’s words were pounding through my head. This was getting more complicated and dangerous as time went on. I was dog tired from all of the activity during the day. I mixed a gin and tonic for myself and started to watch the eleven o’clock evening news. The local news featured weather, sports and an assortment of misdeeds in town and in the suburbs. There were stories about what the next legislative session had in store and some interviews with talking heads. Funny, I have never been a fan of talking heads on any level. Most often what they say is trite and their predictions are never really on target.

I was ready to end my travails for the day. I checked all of the doors on the first floor and made sure that all of the windows were locked. I walked up the stairs and into our bedroom. I had decided that I was going to take a shower and go to bed.

The shower was a god send. I stayed in it for too long a time, so that my hands looked like prunes. I finished my ablutions and slipped into bed and was asleep in a few moments. I don’t even remember covering myself. I must have even not taken off my specs.  I usually wake up a couple of times during the night. It’s kind of something that happens as one gets older.  I awoke sometime about 3:00 a.m. I went to the bathroom and I peed. As I was leaving, I thought that I smelled something. Margaret has said that “smells are my life.”

As I walked towards my bed, I sat down on the mattress and tried to clear my head. I definitely smelled something strange. At that moment it smelled like rubber burning, which is a distinctive smell. My mind cleared and I put on my bathrobe and headed down the stairs to the first floor. As I reached the bottom, I was grabbed by my neck and my arms were pinioned behind me. I tried to cry out, but to no avail. Someone was clamping my mouth shut. All of a moment, something hit the back of my neck. I fell to the floor almost unconscious. I heard sounds around me and the smell of things burning were now in evidence. The front door opened and I heard the sound of feet running. I lapsed into a twilight sleep, not exactly awake and not entirely out on my feet.

I realized in my fog that there was a fire in my house. I got on my knees and looked around. It appeared that everything was in flames. I tried to move forward on my knees. I moved toward the front door. With a supreme effort, I got onto my feet and shuffled slowly toward the front door. By the time I reached the door, I heard fire trucks somewhere nearby. I stumbled and fell on the grass in front of my house. I felt that I had to get far away from the fire.

I vaguely saw shapes of people standing on the sidewalk. A few of them approached me and helped me to get further from the house. The firemen arrived soon after. They did the best that they could to stop the fire before it engulfed the whole house. They were not successful. After all of my years creating a home for my family, it was now in ruins.

DEATH IN THE CAPITOL- CHAPTER VIII

His first words caught me off guard. I now knew that Sam Ellis’ disappearance had gone beyond just those in the legislature. “Steve,” I said, “What in god’s name is going on? I can get either no answers or circumspect answers. I have even had my family threatened.” There was a long silence. That did not sound very encouraging to me. I called Steve for advice, but it appeared that he was somehow involved or had knowledge of what was going on.

“Chet, you and I have been friends for a long while. Have I ever knowingly steered you wrong?” I could honestly say that he hadn’t. Was I going to get nothing from Steve and then decide whether I should call the police? “What are you saying to me, Steve? Is there some reason why Sam Ellis is off the grid and either he wants it to be that way, or someone took him off?” “It’s not at all like that yet, Chet. Sam Ellis is in deep trouble with a very powerful group of people. He has teed them off and they are not the forgiving kind. I must tell you that even they are looking for him.”

“Steve, this is way beyond my ability to comprehend. Is Sam in hiding? Does his family even know where he is? Shouldn’t the police, state troopers, or FBI be called in” I asked? Steve then told me that Sam’s request before he left was to contact no one about his absence. He did not want anyone looking for him. He knew that if he was found, he would not have very long to live.

With that answer, I understood what was happening. I really could not imagine how this all worked. Having lobbied for 35 years, I was unaware of an interest group going this far. How was this possible in 2015? My place in the story suddenly became extraneous. I did not want to go against Sam’s wishes. If I did, might I be endangering his life?

“Steve, do you know what the issue is or what group is after Sam,” I asked. “I can’t tell you the actual names, but I can say that Sam’s position and influence on this issue has sparked a series of events that Sam could not control.”

DEATH IN THE CAPITOL- CHAPTER V

I spent the next couple of hours on the net looking at the bills that Sam Ellis sponsored or was on as a co-sponsor. I even looked at bills that he was on. I reviewed this year’s bills and those signed into law and went back another year that might give me a clue. I looked for patterns and could not find one. Sam was on the appropriations committee and that was a pretty powerful committee, even if you were in the minority. Fortunately for Sam, he was in the majority. Chris Montalto was the chairman and wielded that power like Thor and his hammer.

I was drawing a blank when the phone rang. No one in the house seemed to pick it up, so I did. I said hello and no one responded. I asked if there was anyone there, and I heard nothing at all. I said, “Alright, if you don’t want to talk or this is a wrong number, I am hanging up.” That is what I did. It was curious that the person on the other side kept listening without hanging up. They may have wanted to hear my voice to see if it was the person they were calling.

I dumped my legislative sleuthing and went to the bathroom to take a shower. While I was showering, I heard the phone ring again. It rang five times, until someone, maybe Jonathan picked it up. I heard nothing more. When I dried myself, I went downstairs to see who had called. Margaret told me that Jonathan, our seventeen year old answered it, but the person on the other end said nothing, so he hung up. For a second, I was worried. Then, I realized that some phone marketing people do that from time to time.

The phone rang a third time and I answered it quickly. This time I was ready to yell at the person. However, it turned out to be Rhonda from Senator Ellis’ office. She seemed a bit off stride as we got into the conversation. She told me that she was racking her brain to see what she could come up with about the senator’s absence. She called it absence because she did not want to conclude that he was missing. I told her about my research and Margaret’s idea that someone does not want him to be found.

Rhonda began to cry again. I tried to calm her, but was unsuccessful. I told her to call me back when she had calmed down. She told me that she would.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang and I answered. I fully expected Rhonda to be on the other line. Instead there was the silence again with one difference. After about a minute, a disguised electronic voice said, “Stop looking for Ellis. If you continue, you and your family will be in danger.”