Prey, Chapter 1

{mosimage}Bill was the president of the hunting club. Its mission was to pass on the hunting heritage to the youth around Bonner County. The distinguishing characteristic that set Bill’s club apart from other clubs was its members’ commitment to harvest deer and elk with vintage rifles that had been passed down from their ancestors.

The harvesting of game with old family heirlooms brought special gratification to members who were able to keep their fathers’ and grandfathers’ memories alive through the experience.

Not only were members encouraged to hunt with the weapons of yesteryear, they were also encouraged to personally hand-load their ammunition. Many of the old cartridges had long ago been discontinued by commercial manufacturers, so the members had to scrounge components.

Primers and powder were no challenge, but brass was sometimes scarce, and bullets frequently had to be custom molded from bullet molds that were as rare as the rifles themselves.

Bill’s pet rifle was a vintage Winchester model 1895 chambered in .405 Winchester, which had been left to him by his father. It was an early twentieth century weapon popularized by Theodore Roosevelt, who’d used it to harvest numerous African trophies.

The .405 Winchester was a long, hard-punching cartridge that propelled a big .412 diameter bullet weighing between 265 and 350 grains, depending on the purpose and brand. It was more gun than necessary for mule deer, but that assured Bill that anything he hit with it would either drop in its tracks or stagger very few yards before succumbing to hemorrhagic shock. He had never lost a wounded animal. The .405 cut a large wound channel through the animal that pumped blood out the entry and exit wounds like a garden hose. It was also big medicine for grizzlies that had lost their natural fear of man.

As a matter of tradition, the members had introduced their sons and daughters to the club when they’d become old enough to sit quietly and tolerate the brutal cold.

Bill and his eighteen year-old son, Paul, had only recently patched up their differences enough to bring Paul into the club. Paul’s teenage rebellion had angered Bill and had severely strained their relationship.

Paul’s vintage weapon was a Japanese type 99 rifle chambered in 7.7mm x 58mm. Bill had liberated it during his deployment with the U.S. Marines in the Pacific theater of World War II. Although it was not the ideal deterrent for grizzlies, Bill planned to be close to Paul throughout the season.

Opening morning of deer season wasn’t particularly cold, with the mercury hovering around twenty. Paul had fired the old Jap many times and was familiar with the basic firearm safety rules, so there was no need for them to sit together. Still, Bill felt better if he were no more than a couple hundred yards from Paul. He wanted to be close in the event that Paul had problems or killed a deer. He wanted to field dress it for Paul and help drag it to the lodge.

Breakfast was served promptly at five. That gave everyone time to dress and get to their pre-scouted stands a half-hour before there was sufficient light to see their gun-sights.

After breakfast, Paul and Bill left the lodge and walked together a half-mile before angling up the slope of a mountain. They’d been arguing when they’d left the lodge, but hadn’t spoken for the last quarter-mile.

As they reached Paul’s stand, there was an uncomfortable tension between them. Paul wanted to talk, but Bill walked on to his stand, leaving him to settle comfortably under the overhanging limbs of a large cedar.

Paul had sat quietly for about two hours. The sun had finally made its way high enough in the sky to break over the mountaintops. He’d dressed adequately for the cold, but there were things left unsaid between him and his dad. He stood, brushed the snow from his seat and slung his rifle over his shoulder.

He walked up the slope to his dad’s stand, which overlooked a small meadow at the back of the canyon. Bill had seen Paul coming and leaned his rifle against a tree. No deer would likely come by with Paul moving about. Paul leaned his rifle against the same tree as Bill’s. He sighed deeply and sat beside his dad, hoping to settle the turmoil between them. He rubbed his arms to ward off the cold and said, "I know you’re angry, Dad. I’m sorry about all this, but I don’t know what to do. I’m scared to death."

This conversation would have to take place sooner or later, so this was as good a time as any. Bill sighed and reined in his anger, "I know you are, Pauley. I’m worried, too. One thing I do know is that if you’d done what I’d told you to, this whole thing would never have happened. I told you to stay away from Shelly Casteel. She was too old for you. If you hadn’t been with her, the police wouldn’t be focusing on you now. I told you she lived a dangerous lifestyle. You have to avoid people like that. She got herself killed, and you’re the logical suspect since you were the last one to see her alive."

"Dad! You have to believe me! I didn’t kill her! I don’t even own a pistol! I was there, but she was fine when I left her! The cops don’t have a case against me! They have to prove that I shot her! They can’t because I didn’t! I had no reason to! She wasn’t angry with me or blackmailing me or anything! I swear, Dad! I didn’t hurt her!"

Bill looked deep into Paul’s watery eyes. "You don’t have to convince me, Pauley. I know you too well. I’m your dad, and you’ll never have to convince me that you’re innocent. But I’m not the police. This isn’t television, son. It’s not a perfect system. They have to prove that you’re guilty, but if there’s enough circumstantial evidence, you’ll have to prove that you’re innocent. The facts are that there were witnesses who saw you go into her apartment. They also heard the gunshot that killed her, but they never saw you leave. You were the last one to be with her, so you’ve got to prove that you didn’t shoot her."

"But, Dad! Don’t they have to find the gun or have some evidence that I shot her?"

"No, son! Guns are easily disposed of, especially ones that small. Nobody saw you leave, so there are no witnesses who can testify that you weren’t with her when she was shot. It looks bad, Pauley. All because you thought you were smarter than me. You’d been sniffing around her for months. You wouldn’t listen when I told you that she was nothing but trouble. You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself shot, too. Whoever killed her would likely have killed you, too, just to eliminate a witness."

"So, what are we going to do, Dad? I can’t go to jail! I know I should have listened to you, and I’m sorry, but I need your help! I’m scared to death!" The fear was written across Paul’s face. Bill reached over and patted him on the back. "I’ll help you, Pauley. I’ll never throw you away, no matter what you ever do. Even if you had killed her, I’d go to hell and back for you. But you listen to me. You don’t talk to anyone. Keep refusing to talk to the police. If they pull you in again, keep quiet till our attorney gets there. He’s got a lot of pull in town. I don’t think they’ll screw with you as long as we’ve got him on retainer."

Paul nodded his head and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Thanks, Dad. I’m sorry I’ve hurt you and Mom. I guess I wanted her so bad that I let my hormones override my good judgment. This whole thing is like a terrible nightmare that doesn’t ever end. Sometimes I think it will last forever." Bill’s heart melted. He put his arm around Paul’s shoulder and hugged him tightly. "Don’t feel bad, Pauley. Every man who’s ever lived has done the same thing at one time or another. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m glad you weren’t there when she was shot. I’d roll over and die if you’d been killed, too."

Paul stood and picked up his rifle. He sighed deeply as he checked the safety and slung it over his shoulder. He turned to leave, but Bill stopped him. "I know you’re scared, Pauley. But we’re family, and we’re going to make it through this mess okay. I’m not without influence myself. I don’t care what it takes. I love you and I won’t let you go to prison." Paul nodded without turning around. He slowly walked away. He’d lost his composure and didn’t want his dad to see him cry.

Paul had only walked about sixty yards when a loud boom echoed through the canyon. He was confused because it had come from the direction of his dad’s stand, but it wasn’t the distinctive report of his dad’s big Winchester. He looked back through the timber toward his dad, but couldn’t see him. He thought he might see a deer running from the shot, but none ran by. It must have dropped in its tracks.

He turned and shuffled through the snow toward his dad’s stand to help field dress and drag the deer to the lodge. When he got close enough to see the stand, his dad wasn’t there. He looked around, but Bill was nowhere in sight. Paul thought he must be tracking a wounded deer.

He took a few more steps, then stopped in shock. Bill was lying in the snow with his feet sticking out from behind the tree. Paul panicked and raced to him.

As he reached the tree and looked around it, he was stunned. There was a large pool of blood in the snow, and his dad was gasping for air. Paul dropped his rifle in the snow and knelt beside him. He grabbed Bill’s coat and tried to sit him up. He was too heavy, and Paul could only stare into his eyes as he died.

Paul was grief-stricken as his dad looked at him in total shock. He had an inquiring expression on his face as if to ask Paul why he’d shot him. Paul yelled as he cried, "Dad! Dad, hang on! I didn’t do this! Dad, you have to believe me!"

He cried harder as his dad relaxed in the snow. He was dead, and Paul didn’t know what to do. They were too far out in the wilderness to get medical help.

He collapsed to a seated position against the tree. He scanned the forest, wondering where the shot had come from. He couldn’t see anyone moving in the area. Surely his dad hadn’t shot himself by accident. Why had he looked at Paul that way? Did he really think that Paul had shot him?

As a matter of courtesy, when club members heard another member shoot, they would automatically move toward the shot to help search for and drag the harvest. Paul sat in shock by his father for about twenty minutes before two other club members came to his aid. Bill was carried from the woods and taken to Sandpoint for an autopsy.

Paul was the logical suspect since he’d been with Bill just before the fatal shot. Club members had also heard them arguing when they had left the lodge earlier. Sheriff’s investigators determined that Bill’s rifle had not been fired, so he had to have been killed by someone else.

Close examination of Paul’s rifle revealed that it also had not been fired, so he was cleared of the shooting. The murder went uninvestigated and remained classified as a hunting accident.

No other hunters could be located in the area of Bill’s stand, and Paul saw nobody moving in the timber. By the time investigators could get to the scene, it had snowed, and any suspect footprints had been obliterated.

Bill LaPierre was buried with great fanfare. The funeral was enormous and drew dignitaries from miles around. He was well known and liked in the lumber business. His murder would not be solved for thirty-five years.

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