Stassin then interjected, “You threatened Grant after the trial. Why should we believe you weren’t involved?”
“How could I be involved in a heart attack? The way you two are acting, I can tell he must have died from something else. I don’t even wanna know what happened. Quite frankly, Koehler, I don’t give a rat's ass what you believe or don’t believe. Yeah, I hated the way Grant pushed the poaching thing. Yeah, I already told you I’m not sad he’s gone. But I didn’t have anything to do with it. Now your time is up. I answered your questions, and it’s time for you to leave the same way you came.”
“Just one last thing Stanky,” Stassin said. I’ll need that bottle of scotch in your cupboard. I’m sending it to the State Police lab for testing.”
“You rat bastards are even gonna steal a man’s booze?”
“Afraid so Stanky, It’s evidence. If you don’t get it back from the lab, I’ll see if the department can replace it for ya. Or, if you’d prefer, I could go get that warrant.”
“Yeah, not gonna hold my breath waiting for you cops to replace it. Take it and get outa here!”
At that point, they didn’t have any more questions. They wouldn’t get any more information out of Stanky. Stassin grabbed the scotch, and they exited the cabin and headed back down the two-track road.
The next day, as Jeff drove into town, his phone rang. He immediately recognized Stassin’s number. “Jeff, Stassin here. I just wanted to update you on the visit I had today at Silver Lake Lodge. The owner, Jack Perkins, tried to tell me he couldn’t give me any information. As soon as I told him this had become a murder investigation and withholding evidence is criminal, he changed his tune. He gave me a list of the names of people working there and all the clients for the date in question. I left a copy in your mailbox because you weren’t home. Check it out and get back to me if you recognize any of the names.”
As soon as Jeff got home, he grabbed the list of names in his mailbox. There were 16 names on the list, from housekeeping staff, cooks, and guides. Jeff immediately recognized the second to last name on the list. Tim Starks, the guy Grant fired for selling weed at the Iron Works. Jeff had no idea Starks worked for Silver Lake Lodge. He also found this fact too much of a coincidence. Jeff remembered Starks being bitter about being fired. Could this have been a motive to harm his brother? He immediately called Stassin and told him about Starks. Stassin indicated he would check ATF records to see if he owned a 30-06 rifle. He also promised to drive to Silver Lake Lodge to interrogate Starks about the murder. Stassin impressed Jeff with how seriously he was taking the case. Jeff knew it would be a “feather in his cap” if Stassin could solve it.
Jeff remembered something the next morning that made him return to the hunting camp after breakfast. He recalled there were three game cameras Grant had placed in the woods around his blind. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t remembered the cameras earlier. With all the trauma around Grant’s death, they just slipped his mind. Jeff didn’t know exactly where they were but remembered Grant talking about them a few weeks before rifle season. Jeff needed to find the cameras and see if they offered any clues about what happened to his brother. He had to do something, and even a long shot beat doing nothing.
Jeff pulled up to the camp and found Mooch and Frenchie still there. Chet had returned to town because he had to teach at the high school. Jeff told the guys about his task, and Mooch and Frenchie instantly offered to help. They all jumped into Jeff’s truck and drove to the same parking spot they used the night of Grant’s death. On the way, they talked about where they might find the cameras. “I suspect that at least one will be posted along the edge of the field by the blind,” Jeff volunteered.
“Yeah, I’ll bet you’re right,” Frenchie agreed. “The other two are probably a little way from the field along some type of deer runway. Also, he wouldn’t have wanted to walk too far. Mooch and I will start a grid search for the cameras off the field. Jeff, you should check the field edge for the other one.”
With that plan, the guys piled out of the truck, and Mooch and Frenchie started systematically checking the wooded area around the blind. Jeff walked slowly around the edge of the two-acre field. Within about five minutes, he found the first camera near the northeast edge of the field, attached to an oak tree. He unhooked the camera strap and deposited the SD card in his shirt pocket. He would check it out when he returned to camp.
Jeff then joined Mooch and Frenchie in their search for the other two cameras. They were much more difficult to find. The men spread out and tried to walk in a straight line covering as much real estate as possible. After about 20 minutes, Mooch yelled, “I got one.” Jeff and Frenchie came over and saw the camera attached to a large white pine, virtually invisible unless you were on the right side of the tree. Jeff pulled it off the tree, extracted the SD card, and added it to the one already in his pocket. They continued their grid search in that area, and finally, after about 45 minutes, Frenchie found the last camera. It had been attached to a stump left by loggers several years ago. Jeff quickly grabbed the camera and pocketed the chip before they headed back to the truck.
Jeff turned on his laptop and inserted the first SD card as soon as they got back to camp. The chip came from the camera overlooking Grant’s field. He scrolled quickly through pictures from a couple of weeks back so that he could focus on the timeframe on or around November 16. Nothing of great interest appeared. Unfortunately, the camera couldn’t cover the entire field. It didn't even pick up the buck Grant shot on the day he died. Jeff popped the second card into the laptop. This one came from the last camera they found north of the field. Again, they saw lots of deer and learned the huge deer they called Starbuck used that runway at night. However, they saw nothing that gave any clue to Grant’s death. Finally, they examined the 3rd card that Mooch found. They immediately saw a blurry figure walking toward the camera at 12:07 pm on November 16. They tried to blow up the blurry photo to no avail. Jeff then clicked on the next picture, and the image came through perfectly clear. A man appeared no more than 6 ft away from the camera. They immediately recognized the person in that picture as Chet!
“What the hell,” Mooch exclaimed. “Why was Chet near Grant’s blind? He lied to me. I went to his blind on the 16th to meet for lunch, and he’d left. He told me he went for a walk near the orchard. This is the opposite direction on the property. Why would he lie?”
“He lied to the police too,'' Frenchie added. “I sat in camp the day Deputy Stassin interviewed him. Chet said he hadn’t seen Jeff the whole day and never went anywhere near Grant’s blind. He’s got some definite explaining to do. Is it possible he could have been involved?”
Jeff jumped in, saying, “Until now, I would have said absolutely no way. I know Chet had a few problems with Grant, and doesn’t exactly love me, either. However, I never considered him a suspect. But now, …, why would he lie to everyone and make it harder to catch Grant’s killer? Also, his lies make me question the cut straps on the Tower Treestand, where I could have been killed. Chet claimed he checked the straps, and they were fine. Sure looked like somebody cut em; maybe Chet. I agree. He has a whole lot of explaining to do.”
The guys continued to talk about Chet and why he might have lied, but nothing seemed to make sense. Jeff called the school and left a message for Chet to come out to camp when school ended at 3:30. He said something urgent had come up, and they needed to talk face-to-face. Jeff then placed a second call to Deputy Stassin, filling him in and asking him to join the meeting at Roads End that afternoon.
Chet drove up to the camp around 4:30, surprised to see a sheriff’s car parked out front. He proceeded into the cabin where Jeff, Mooch, Frenchie, and Stassin were waiting. “Please sit down, Chet,” Deputy Stassin began. “The reason for this is to figure out why you lied to your crew and me about where you were on November 16th. You told me you were nowhere near Grant’s blind and never even saw him that day after breakfast. Is that still your story?” Chet paused with a puzzled look on his face before answering the question with a question of his own.
“What’s this all about? Why do I feel you are trying to drag me into this mess?”
“You said you were never near Grant that whole day. What would you say if I told you there is a trail camera picture of you by Grant’s blind at 12:07 pm on the day of the murder? Would that cause you to want to revise your story?”
Chet’s face dropped, and Jeff detected a bead of sweat accumulating on his forehead. Chet thought very carefully before answering. “Ok, I admit I briefly stopped at Grant’s blind and talked to him for a few minutes that day.”
Before he could continue, Mooch, who was chomping at the bit to join this conversation, interjected. “You told me you took a walk by the orchard. Why lie to me?”
“Look, ok, I may have stretched the truth or told a white lie, but I still had absolutely nothing to do with Grant’s murder. Come on, guys, this is me, Chet. I ain’t no murderer. I always tease guys at camp who get to opening day and aren’t prepared. Well, it happened to me this year. I thought my heater’s propane tank remained full from last season. However, it ran out of fuel on the morning of the 16th. I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t ready for the hunt this year. So, I told a white lie about walking to the Orchard. In reality, I walked to my truck and drove into Alpine Sports to grab propane for my heater. On the way, I stopped to talk to Grant since his blind was nearby. Yes, we did argue briefly because I called him a backstabber for supporting the audit of my shop class. He disagreed, and we went our separate ways. I left Grant alive and well. I have no idea what happened after I left.”
Stassin jumped in and asked Chet, “Are you aware of the penalty for lying to a police officer?”
“Yeah, I know I made a mistake. I told a small lie to protect my reputation. I also didn’t wanna get dragged into the investigation when I had no part in it.”
“There may be consequences to your lie down the road,'' Stassin replied. “Right now, I’m focused on solving his murder, and you’re definitely on my radar. I’ll be trying to verify your story and will definitely be in touch. Do you have a receipt for the propane you bought at the sports store?”
“No, I didn’t have any reason to keep it.”