SPLIT SECOND

back-of-canoe

 

They say you never hear the shot that kills you. Whether that’s fact or fiction there is really no one to ask the question of. In a split second, does someone hear the sound before the impact? It was one of those perfect western Montana days in early August. It was chilly in the low 40s crystal-clear and no wind. The sun was just starting to break over the horizon. The Bitterroot River was deserted, except for Hank, who had launched his pontoon boat before dawn. Now miles down River from the launch, on a deserted section of the River, Hank was casting a number 16 blue wing olive to a few rising rainbows against the bank. The crack of the rifle echoed up and down the River. How close was the shot? It seemed to have come from twenty or thirty feet back in the woods from where Hank was casting. Hank put his rod in the holder; lifted the anchor and drifted down river around the bend and pulled the boat up on a sandbar with a log that was a favorite lunch spot for guides.

Sitting on the log, Hank took out his thermos and poured a cup of coffee. He tried to steady his shaking hands; a flood of memories from a day that seemed like yesterday, but happened years ago in New Hampshire, took him back to another time. It seems like it should be pretty easy to put two and two together and come up with four but sometimes things and people aren’t always what they seem. A call from Judy McCaffrey inquiring about a drift trip for two in mid-September seems normal. Judy was one of the state’s congressional representatives and someplace between a friend and client. Judy was married to John McCaffrey whose family was a fixture in the North Country. Originally the family had owned a good portion of the forests in northern New England. They had operated several paper mills and even a railroad. Over time they divested all of the holdings except for several parcels of land used for hunting and fishing.

The matriarch of the family was Helen; her husband had died in Vietnam. Their only son John, now in his 40s, was the president and CEO of an investment company headquartered in Lancaster, New Hampshire. John, like his mother and most of the family, were graduates of Dartmouth College. As astute as John was in business, he was equally well-known for his ability with a fly rod, rifle and shotgun. As good as he was, his mother Helen usually out fished and out hunted him. If there was reincarnation John would have been Abe Lincoln. Tall and lanky, he could traverse miles of mountains or rivers in a day. John seemed destined to be a bachelor forever until Judy arrived on the scene. They seemed like Mutt and Jeff; John being a foot taller and very reserved, Judy outgoing and vagarious. She was an avid outdoors person with a passion for hiking and cross country skiing; John had introduced her to fly fishing. She was a lawyer and always involved in environmental issues which is how they met. Always crusading for causes, she had decided to run for public office at the state level and then was appointed to fill the term of a congressman who resigned due to ill health, that may have been spurred on by an ongoing bribery investigation.

Judy’s Washington roommate, Janet Halligan, a senator from Wyoming. She would be visiting and Judy wanted to take her fishing on the Androscoggin River in mid-September. The river would be starting to cool down; one of the keys to good fishing. Judy liked to bring guests to the river; it always seemed to capture visitors with its phenomenal scenery. A week or so before the trip Hank received an unexpected visit from Harry Tenford; Harry, weathered and lackey, looked to be in his sixties. He introduced himself as working for the Halligan’s on Janet’s staff. With a slow western drawl he was the type of individual who immediately put people at ease. Warm and friendly with a smile that would melt any mother’s heart Harry was a remarkable good looking man. Hank invited him to have a cold one on the porch. Over the course of an hour or so Harry talked about everything under the sun; how he had met Henry Halligan in college; worked on his staff when he was governor; and went to Washington with him when he became a senator. He’d rather be retired and hunting and fishing in Wyoming, but Henry had talked him into staying on to help his daughter when she had successfully run to fill his seat. Now in her second term she was viewed as one of the up and coming senators and rumored to be on the short list of possible candidates for vice president in the next election. Harry wanted to invite Hank to dinner at the Balsams after the trip; it was sort of a getaway weekend for a few of the staff members. Hank related how he had worked in Montana and learned to fly fish, along with more information about his life than he would normally talk about. Harry seemed like a friend you had known your whole life. As he was leaving Harry asked if Hank would mind showing one of the staff a few places where she could take pictures of the trip; hate to mix business with pleasure but a little publicity never hurts; you may even get a few leads from it.

The day before the trip Hank picked up Sally Smith at the Balsams and drove her along the river pulling of at several locations along the way to show her where she could stop. Sally was well prepared marking the coordinates with her GPS. Sally didn’t particularly look like an outdoor girl but she was dressed in comfortable clothes that could have come from the Bean or Orvis catalog; nothing wrong with that. Sally was an attractive and athletic looking woman probably in her late twenties or early thirties. She said she was on staff, working mostly on publicity. The day of the trip they met at 6:30; Hank had seen pictures of Janet in newspapers; in person she looked much more attractive and one of the most charismatic personalities he had ever met. During the trip she talked about growing up on a ranch on the Wind River Range and learning how to ride, hunt and fish soon after she could walk. Fishing turned out to be pretty good; Janet was an excellent fly fisherman; as good as anyone he had seen. He was vaguely aware of Sally; sometimes he would notice her taking pictures. To be truthful Hank was captivated by Janet’s personality; looks, and overcome with a sense of masculinity whenever she asked him to hold her arm to help correct what she perceived to be a casting problem; which he thought to be as close to perfect as possible.

The day seemed to fly by. That evening Harry, Sally, Janet and Hank had dinner at the Balsams; one the last grand hotels. Janet related how she appreciated Hank taking the time to spend an evening with them. Harry talked about driving around checking out moose and stopping at LL Cotes and was surprised to find a 300 Savage in mint condition just like his father’s which was stolen years before. The last thing I need was another gun but I picked it up; I’ll take it back to Wyoming in October. Janet said she would be back for a fundraiser for Judy at the end of the month and hoped Hank would be available for dinner the evening before the event. Sunday Janet and Sally were going to join Judy and visit the McCaffrey homestead in Stewartstown where Helen lived; Harry was going to drive back to Washington, stopping to see friends along the way. After a late evening Hank was a little slow getting going for a trip Sunday morning.

It was another good day on the River the water temperature had dropped to 57 and a few Isonychia mayflies were on the water; enough to get a few trout rising. Dry fly action in late September is always a bonus. Sunday night Hank received a call from Helen inviting him over for dinner at the Homestead Wednesday evening. Besides being an excellent cook, Hank always enjoyed spending time with Helen who had a wealth of knowledge of the history of the North Country.

Hank had no trip on Monday and planned on setting up his deer stand. Sleeping in a little later than usual he was surprised by a knock on his door; it was seldom anyone visited his cabin especially early in the morning. It was Sally she asked if she could speak to him for a few minutes. She apologized for getting him up early. Hank said he should have been up hours ago and if you don’t mind my asking how she knew where he lived. Sally said “I was a Journalism major in Wyoming, and worked for one of the local papers in Jackson doing about everything, but what I enjoyed most was writing articles about the people who lived in the state. A few years ago I interviewed a woman who was a teacher in the Wind Range area; that’s where Janet’s home is. The teacher was in her late 60’s and getting ready to retire after almost 40 years. She had a lot of interesting stories of students and their families and lives. I tape-recorded numerous stories; more than I could ever use.” I asked her what the most poignant story she could remember was. She had a sad look in her eyes and said “I have one I’ve never told anyone.” I asked if she would tell me the story.

She said she would on one condition, that I never write about it. She attended the University of Wyoming; her roommate for four years was Ellen Cassidy. The Cassidy’s had the ranch next to the McCaffrey’s. In her senior year Ellen was date raped by one of the football players. Unfortunately she became pregnant. She dropped out of school returned to the ranch and gave birth to a son. Besides her parents only a few other people knew she was pregnant; I was one of them. Her parents raised the boy as their son; Ellen stayed and worked on the ranch; her little brother became the light of her life. Henry Halligan; Janet’s father and Ellen Cassidy’s father were best friends. She remembered Henry, then the governor and Harry Tenford visiting her father shortly after she returned to the ranch. The boy who raped her disappeared a few weeks later; evidently lost in the Wind River Range and was never found.

Ellen’s son Allan was the same age as Janet and they went to school together; from grade school to the university; they married the summer they graduated. Janet never dated; Ellen always thought Janet’s father pressured her to marry Allan. A month after they were married Allan committed suicide; he shot himself. There was a suicide note; it alluded to Janet having a secret lover while she was at the university and still having one; Allan had found letters. Ellen never told her parents about the suicide note. The only call was to the McCaffery’s. Harry Tenford showed up; an accident was staged and Allan’s death was ruled a car accident; local officials didn’t seem to mind helping out to preserve the family’s reputation. Ellen confided in me that Janet’s lover was another woman. Ellen committed suicide shortly after her son’s funeral.

Janet went to Washington to work on her father’s staff. Sally said that there would be no way any charges could ever be brought except for possibly the missing football player which would be impossible to prove. She was so intrigued by the story she could not let it go. She landed a job on Janet’s staff in Wyoming and six months later was promoted to the Washington staff. She had been there two years and was still not considered an insider but she did get bits and pieces of things; one thing for sure was Janet’s father was calling the shots and Harry was the mastermind behind the political operation. Janet’s team did a thorough background check on anyone she would be in contact with; Hank was amazed at the detail they had compiled on him. The staff also used a retired Washington DC detective, Dick Murphy to help with security issues. Harry was a stickler for insuring there were no leaks or bugs related to the office, emails, phones and computers. Harry reviewed all inquiries into Janet’s past and approved all press releases. Good publicity never hurt and a diversion like Hank would portray Janet as an attractive woman enjoying a getaway weekend. Sally showed Hank a few photos that were being leaked to the press; all of the photos were of just Janet and Hank; in the boat and at dinner.

Sally said “I’ve been very careful on any research I’ve done about what I told you; I always used PC’s at public libraries and never keep any notes or information on my PC or in my apartment. My fascination with the story is over, I’m going to resign and move back to Wyoming. I don’t want to be part of anyone being used to create an illusion. I have no ill will towards Janet and Harry; no ax to grind, it’s just time to get on with my life. Since you know Judy, I’m going to show you a few pictures I took yesterday at the homestead. After lunch yesterday Judy and Janet took a walk around the farm. I took a walk along the road from the farm that runs along the ridge; the views were phenomenal. On the way back about an hour later I stopped to take a few pictures of the farm.” Showing Hank her camera Sally clicked through the pictures. The first picture was of the property; house, barn, surrounding fields and the pond about a half mile away. Sally had zoomed in for close ups of all of the above. By the pond was a picture of Judy and Janet in an embrace that looked more than friendly. On the porch was a picture of Helen. Sally said “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t want to know. I’m going to give you my memory card with the pictures; you have the same camera as I have.” With that she left. Hank felt like a fool; after years of trying to dupe trout with something that was artificial and not real he had taken the bait, hook line and sinker; no pun intended.

It was time to have a cup of coffee, check email and get on with the day. Hank’s inbox was flooded with hundreds of messages; the photos of Hank and Janet must have gone viral. It took Hank until midnight to clear his inbox and sort through all the junk messages. Hits on his web site were astronomical; at one time the server had crashed due to the volume. Hank looked at every email to make sure he didn’t delete any possible clients; at the end of the day only five were legitimate leads. There were a lot of messages from clients ranging from How come you never held my hand to Do we get lunch at the Balsams on our next trip. Humor brought a few smiles along with the realization that he would get hammered for years by the photos. Tuesday Hank was on the water again; fortunately the clients were older guys who probably were not exposed to social media; unfortunately every guide on the river tried to outdo each other with comments.

Arriving back at his cabin around 6pm Hank was surprised to see a vehicle parked in front of his cabin; the individual identified himself as Lewis Atkinson; with the FBI out of Portland, Maine. He wanted to know why Sally Smith had called Hank that morning. Hank said he didn’t know Sally had called; he had left for the river at 6:30 but he would check his messages; Lewis followed him into the cabin. There were several calls, the first one from Sally at 6:45. “Hi. I’m out for my morning jog. Today’s a big day; I’m going to resign, I’ll stick around if they need me for a few weeks but usually they let people go. Anyway I’ll be back in Wyoming in a few weeks and will send my new email address. O shit; I forgot my pepper spray; O well I’m only five minutes from the apartment; better go back. You know better safe than sorry.”

Lewis said “turning around was a mistake; she was killed by a burglar. She had a routine of running an hour every morning; someone probably had scoped out her routine.” Hank asked “what was missing;” Lewis replied “her cell phone, camera and PC were missing.” Hank asked “how many apartments were in the building;” Lewis said “over fifty,” Hank said “it seems like more than a coincidence that someone would know what apartment she lived in and how many burglars would wait outside a building for days to get peoples routines down.” Lewis said “what you are trying to say.” Hank said “maybe it was a burglary, but they may have been looking for something else.” Lewis said “do you know something you’re not telling me”; Hank replied, “you didn’t ask.” OK Lewis said “let’s start over.: Hank knew if he didn’t say something he wouldn’t be able to follow up. “Here’s what I know; Sally was a reporter for a newspaper in Wyoming. She was told a story about the death of Janet’s first husband; it was a suicide but was staged to look like an accident to protect both families; Henry Tenford was involved. Allan’sister was actually his mother who was raped in college. The rapist disappeared in the Wind River Range and was never found; that’s it in a nutshell.” Hank left out the part of Janet having a lover. Lewis asked what Sally was going to do with the information? “Nothing”, Hank replied. When did she tell you Lewis asked; Hank replied “yesterday morning”. “Why did she tell you” Lewis asked? “I don’t know” Hank replied; “I think she had been intrigued by the story; and followed it up by getting on Janet’s staff. After two years I think she had satisfied her curiosity and made the decision to forget about it and move on with her life”. “Do you think they know about her” Lewis asked? Hank related how careful Sally was; “but anything is possible. Searches for information can be detected; it’s hard to say. They do have a retired detective Dick Murphy they use for security; you could ask him.” Lewis took a lot of notes and said; “it looks like Sally was pushed when she opened the door; she fell and hit her head. The burglar probably didn’t even know she was injured; it did not look like it was intentional.”

Hank was glad for another day on the water; it didn’t take away the thought that ran through his mind but he was oblivious to the jokes from the other guides. After another long day he headed to the McCaffrey homestead for dinner. John had driven up from Lancaster and joined them for dinner. On the porch, Hank looked to see if the pond was visible; it was but it was about half a mile away. Hank wondered if Helen had seen the embrace at the pond. The murder of Sally was the main topic of conservation over dinner; an excellent pot roast. Helen asked if Sally had any protection like pepper spray; an ironic question, Hank related the phone message; if she had not gone back she would still be alive. John said, “Mom, Judy and I always have a gun handy and although we feel safe anything can happen anywhere; kidnapping is something we have always been concerned about. Helen replied, “well we have a plan, we’ve just never had to use it.” Hank asked what it was. “We expect that anyone who kidnaps one of us would ask for a ransom. If so we would ask to speak to the one being held hostage. The reply, I’m OK it would be serious but not life threating; I’m fine would mean a life threating situation. For us to get any amount of money in cash we have to go to Lancaster or Berlin. We have all our accounts flagged; any large cash withdrawals are to be immediately reported to the police as a hostage situation. We’ve talked to the police in both communities and the state police.” “How fast do you think the police will reply” Hank asked; “hopefully with the speed we’d expect from our annual charitable contributions”, John laughed.

Hank didn’t get back to the cabin until almost 11; Lewis Atkinson was waiting for him. Lewis said “Dick Murphy was murdered earlier this evening; shot in DC at one of the parks. We had an appointment to talk to him in the morning. It could be a coincident but you never know. We understand that there’s a fundraiser the end of the month and Janet Halligan and Harry Tenford will be back in the area. We don’t want you to say anything to them about what Sally told you.” Hank had trips the next three days and Saturday night finally came; Late Saturday afternoon there were several state police cars headed north on Route 16 along the Androscoggin River along with several helicopters. As Hank drove through Magalloway Junction he was pulled over by a state police cruiser. The officer asked Hank to pull in at the town hall and see Lewis Atkinson. The hall consisted of one large open room which had been transformed into a command center; Hank had seen similar occurrence’s when people were lost. After a few minutes Lewis took a break and talked to Hank. “There’s been a shooting on the Cliff Pond trail; Janet Halligan was shot and killed while hiking with Judy McCaffrey. I’ve been assigned as the agent in charge; at least for now because I was the closest. We don’t know if this was a hunting accident or if there’s any connection to the death of Sally Smith or Dick Murphy. For now don’t talk to anyone about this investigation; the press will be all over this story. How familiar are you with the trail?” Hank replied that he’s been to the pond numerous times fishing and hunted the area. Lewis asked if Hank was available Sunday. “Yes, the clients I had rescheduled; the forecast is for below freezing temperatures overnight and high winds Sunday, not great for fishing.” “OK said Lewis, meet me here at 7am; I want to take a look at the area; we have it secured and don’t want people tramping around. There will be no hikers, fishermen or hunters allowed within a mile of the area.”

Hank was home a little after dark; he unhitched the boat and unloaded the gear. He made a sandwich from the leftovers from lunch and turned on the TV. All the news stations had coverage of the death; it seemed like they had interviews with about anyone and everyone in town they could find; not hard to do when the population is only in the sixties. Hank was up at 5AM; had breakfast and pulled his hunting boots out of the closet; along with his orange vest and hat. Around 6AM a car pulled up to the cabin; it was Harry Tenford. Hank opened the door; Harry looked disheveled, twenty years older and exhausted. “Can I talk to you about what happened?” Harry asked; “come in” Hank replied. Harry said Janet was very upset over what happened to Sally and said she had to get away; she had flown to Manchester NH and driven to Lancaster with Judy. Harry didn’t know where she was until she called him from Manchester. It was too late to get a flight so Harry drove; he didn’t make Lancaster until 10am; by then they had already left to go hiking. John McCaffrey wasn’t sure where they were going; he thought it was someplace north of Errol. Harry had picked up an AMC hiking guide and had spent the day driving around checking out trail heads but did not see Judy’s car. The trail to Cliff Pond was not in the hiking guide. Hank wanted to ask Harry why it was so important he find Janet but given his current state of mind it didn’t seem like a good question. Harry asked Hank why Sally had called him Monday morning.

Bells were going off in Hanks head; the only way he would have known she called is if he had seen her cell phone; unless of course he had received the information from the police which was possible given his connections. Hank replied, “listen to the message” and pushed the play button; it was the only message he had saved. Harry looked dumbfounded; “she was going to quit he asked, why?” Hank said she had stopped by on her last day and said she was sorry for any problems the photos would create but they were just politics; she like her job but missed Wyoming and wanted to go home. “That’s why she stopped by to see you?” Harry replied. Hank wondered how Harry knew she had stopped by; did the rental have a GPS or did someone figure it out from the rental cars mileage? Hank thought the situation was getting very tense; might as well ask the question. “I was watching the national news to see if there was any update on Sally and they had a report on of a detective being shot.” Harry replied; “DC is a high crime area.” Why didn’t Harry say he knew Dick Murphy? Harry asked if Hank knew where Helen McCaffrey lived; she was one of the last people to have talked to Janet. Harry said Janet had said Helen seemed a little distant when she left and thought he would stop by to see if there was anything particular bothering Helen. Had Janet sensed something and said something to Harry? Hank said “I was over for dinner Wednesday night and I think she mentioned she was going someplace today; I can call and check.” “That would be great” Harry replied. Hank called and Helen answered the phone; “how are you?” Hank asked; “great replied Helen, how are you?”. “I’m fine” Hank replied. “Are you sure” Helen asked, “yes positive; I’m fine.” “The reason I called is Harry Tenford is here and would like to stop by and see you; will you be home?” “I can be Helen said; I have to feed a friends horses, can you stop by in an hour and a half?” Hank looked at Harry who nodded; “Ok see you at 8.” Helen replied “I’m going to be working clearing some brush down around the pond; why don’t we meet there.” Harry said “I’ll take the coffee if you don’t mind”; he didn’t take his coat off; Hank wondered if he had a gun underneath it.

The drive to Helen’s was a little slower than normal. There was a lot of traffic in the junction and Errol with news trucks with satellite dishes everywhere. They arrived a little after eight and Hank pulled into the road to the pond. Helen’s jeep was there; Hank parked next to it. Helen was about thirty yards away with a pair of brush cutters and heavy winter coat. They walked around the pond; Harry was behind Hank. About five yards from Helen the explosion shattered the silence. Hank turned to see Harry crumble to the ground; he had a gun in his hand. A camouflaged figure stepped from the trees holding a rifle with a scope followed by Lewis Atkinson.

Later in the morning Lewis and Hank hiked the trail to Cliff Pond; Janet had been shot about a mile up the trail as it crested a ridge line. Lewis explained that Janet was shot in the left side of the head; whoever shot her was someplace on the ridge line. The shot could have come from a few hundred yards away; there was a stand of hardwood; the woods were fairly open. The bullet had not been found or any trace of someone being on the ridge; the tracking dogs had not picked up any scent. It would have had to be an accident or it was someone who really knew the area and was waiting for her which seemed pretty remote given the fact no one seemed to know where they were hiking. Hank said the other possibility is that someone was behind them on the trail and Janet was looking along the ridge and had her head turned. Lewis asked about Harry and what he said; Hank went over most of it but left a few things out. Lewis asked what Hank’s opinion was. Well it could be theorized that Harry suspected Sally knew something or had pictures of something that was incriminating; maybe Harry or Janet suspected something relative to her husband’s death or it could have been something more current. Anyway Dick Murphy may have been checking Sally’s apartment when she returned. Maybe he was going to turn himself in and Harry shot him. “Did you ever find the 300 Savage he had purchased from LL Cotes;” the answer was no. The gun may have been involved in both shootings. Maybe Janet knew and was going to talk and Harry shot Janet to silence her. He was in the area.

Lewis asked if Hank actually thought Harry shot Janet and what did Harry want with you and Helen. Hank said; “Harry may have thought Sally said something to Helen or me about Janet. She did say something to me; she may have said something to Helen. I don’t know. We were two of the last people she talked to; maybe he was trying to wrap up loose ends; he was clearly distraught. The fact that Janet said something to Harry about Helen leads me to believe that she was concerned about something in her past and thought Sally knew about it. Hank actually knew Helen had seen them at the pond which is what Janet may have surmised; checking Sally’s camera was probably just a precaution that went array.” Lewis said “Janet’s family would appreciate it if whatever privacy could be preserved.” “Hank said Sally was dead because her family had tried to be discreet; the intent may have been good but the end result was not. Part of Sally’s story should be told.”

Hank had the same conversation with Helen a week or so later. Hank never mentions Sally’s pictures; the memory card had been added to the woodstove the day of Harry’s death. Helen asked the same question of Hank about who he thought killed Janet. The only other people who may have known where they would be hiking would have been John who just had a general area and possibly Helen who Judy talked to on a daily basis. Hank replied telling about Janet’s first marriage; never mentioning the lover was another woman, the death of her husband Allan, his mother Ellen Cassidy, Sally Smith, Dick Murphy and the rapist. “The intent may have been good or just motivated by personal or political benefit but deceit added to others dying and you and I came close to being added to the list we should be thankful we weren’t.”

A year later there was no new developments in the case. Judy had a three month old baby girl; she had resigned her seat when she found out she was pregnant. Grandma Helen was ecstatic with her new role. Sally’s story became part of a book; Allan and Ellen Cassidy’s tragic story was finally told.

“How are you;” Hank looked up to see a guide standing beside him and two clients in a raft on the bank. He had not seen them drift down the river or the guide walk up beside him. Hank looked at his watch; it was noontime. “I’m great replied Hank; I was just getting ready to leave; would you like to pull up for lunch?”

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