Case of the Riverville Murder
A Short Story by Ernie Whitenack
The object, as he freed it from the glue-like mud, appears to be a sea bag with barely discernable letters, USN, stenciled near the top, a six-foot rope securely tying the opening closed. Hendersen, pulling on the rope, puffed and strained to drag the bag over the mud to the walkway. Once there, and greased with mud, it was relatively easy to move the bag along the wooden walkway. He estimates it weighs a hundred pounds or better. Once off the walkway, he made a quick inspection of the contents by feeling through the canvas and detected what appears to be a leg with a foot attached. A cold shiver came over him as he moved the sea bag to the tall grass bordering the flats, scrapes some mud from his boots and trots back to the road and the nearest police call box.
Sunday dawned bright and clear and the Adams clan decided to walk the five blocks to Saint Michael’s church, arriving just as the Hendersen’s rounded the corner and approached them. For many years, the two families habitually shared the same third-row pew, and after mass take breakfast together. As is the case, the staff at the “Humble Mushroom” restaurant joins two tables and puts out place settings in preparation for the two families’ weekly visit. They joyfully chat among themselves while eating and when an occasional friend or relative stops by to say hello. All in all, it is a happy, carefree time for the two families.
As the families leave the restaurant, Kathleen approaches Agnes and says, “Remember sister, it’s my day for dinner and yours to bring dessert.” “No worries, I haven’t forgotten. We’ll see you at four, sharp.”
James Hurley and Frank Sullivan, are strolling along the street, enjoying the warmth of the sun after a filling breakfast, and discussing the urgency of getting the armament shipment, sitting in the trawler Dolphin at Portland, on its way.
“I just wish we had the balance of the payment. That fact worries me,” Sullivan told Hurley.
“You have to have some trust, Frank, me boyo. Its not like we haven’t done business with the New York group before. We’re all in this together; and then there is the great cause were all after. It’s not all about the money.”
“I’m aware of all that, Jim. Don’t I have an entire family decimated by the Prods and one of their bombs?” Sullivan replied.
“And sorry my heart is for you, and them. It is a terrible thing.”
The two walked along in silence for a while and Hurley suddenly turned to Gaelic and said, “What about the girl. Do you think we have anything to worry about if she happened to hear our conversation last night?”
“How should I know. Even if she heard, I doubt she knows what we really talked about. She’s a youngster and, more than likely, could care less.”
“Perhaps, but I’d like to know more about her, Hurley continued. I want you to get up to Riverville and find out what you can about Kelly Adams; where she works and what her family does. Follower her as much as possible and remember her habits. Give it a few days. That should be long enough to get a good picture. However, if you think you have been noticed, don’t take any chances. Get out of there quickly.”
Sullivan suddenly stopped walking, knocked his pipe against his heel to dislodge the ash, and turned to Hurley, “OK, Jim. You’re the boss and I’ll do it. I hope and pray you don’t have anything bad in mind for that young lady. We’re not animals, and remember, this is the USA, not Ulster. Besides that, these young American lasses aren’t interested in politics much less what’s going on in Ireland. Their life is a good time, parties, dancing and boys. She has probably already forgotten Saturday night, much less what she might have overheard. I wish you would call it off and leave her alone. But then, you are always bent on dramatics and violence. You should have left it all back in the old country.
At that very moment in the Catholic section of Belfast, in a run-down warehouse with CONDEMED notices nailed to the doors, Gus Malone picked up the phone, asked for long-distance and gave the operator Jim Hurley’s number. The warehouse, for the time, is the headquarters of the provisional IRA. Gus Malone sits at a makeshift packing box desk in a small hidden room. A green painted industrial light fixture hangs over the desk from a nail in a ceiling beam. Two scared kitchen chairs complete the decor. Holding the phone on his shoulder, Malone scoops tobacco from an old oilskin pouch into the bowl of a large, full-bent, Pot. Just as he scraps a kitchen match across the end of the desk, the operator returns to tell him the number he wanted is not answering. He thanks her and slams the receiver on its cradle and quickly discards the, nearly burned out, match. He lit-up again and, in a fit of anger, puffed furiously at the prospect of having to spend the rest of the day trying to contact Hurley.
In the Hendersen home, dinner is over and the women, gathered in the kitchen, are about washing dishes and tidying up. The men, with the Sunday paper divided among them, sit quietly in the living room reading; with after-dinner pipe smoke casting a blue hew to the shafts of late afternoon sun entering the large bay window.
Kelly Adams slowly enterers the room and sits on the arm of her uncle’s chair.
“Uncle Carl, I’m sorry to bother you but I heard something last night that is troubling me and I think you should know about it.”
“You’re not bothering me, dear girl, but don’t you think your father should know as well?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“Good. Let’s go to the porch. Stanley, Kelly has something to tell us. Come to the porch with us, please.” Kelly related the conversation between Hurley and Sullivan, noting they were no longer in the booth when she and Mary returned from the dancefloor; that she didn’t get a good look at them earlier by intentionally avoiding looking in their direction.
“Kelly, I’ve warned you to be careful where you go in Somerville. There is a lot of trouble there between gangs,” her father scolded.
“Daddy, it is a safe place. People come there from all over. It’s a neutral place, not a neighborhood hangout. They don’t allow any politics or religious goings-on; no posters or fund raising. They hire people to enforce the rules if needed; although I’ve never seen the need.”
“She is right, Stanley. I know of the place. It’s more on the side of a tourist attraction than a hangout. The building is as much of an attraction as anything, having been shipped over from Dublin and reassembled. However, Kelly, I think you should stay away until I look into this bit about armament and shipping from Portland. I’ll get on it first thing tomorrow.”
“OK, I’ll stay away if you think it’s wise, Uncle Carl,” she responded. “Daddy, I went to Uncle Carl because I don’t want you to worry about me, not to exclude you.”
“I understand, dear. It is best I know something like this. I want you to be aware of what’s going on around you from now on. If you feel uneasy about anyone or anyone gets too friendly, I want you to call Carl immediately. Do Not take any chances and don’t dally too long in any one place. Try to have someone with you as much as possible.”
“Good advice,” her uncle interjected with a smile. Now let’s get back with the family. I’ll let you know if I turn up anything.”
In the evening, after the Adams family went home, Carl Hendersen settles in his favorite chair pondering the information his niece gave him. I’ll have to take some action on this tomorrow, he thought. First to protect Kelly and then look into the armament part of what she overheard. I’ll call my father and set an appointment before rollcall, his thoughts turning to the implications of illicit shipments of guns and the troubles in Ulster.
Carl Hendersen entered the Riverville Police Station promptly at seven o’clock, bypassed the detective section, and the cubicle with his name on it, and continued another twenty feet to a frosted glass door on which was printed M. J. Hendersen – Chief. As Carl raised his hand to knock, the door abruptly swung open.
“Oh, good morning, Son. Have a seat,” his father said and continued out the door to his secretary’s deck.
“Katie, please see if my grandson is in as yet and ask him to come to my office, then, if you will be so kind, please bring us three coffees.” The coffee and Patrolman Francis Hendersen arrived at the Chiefs office almost simultaneously.
The three men settled in and the Chief turned to Carle and asked, “All right Detective Sergeant, now what is this all about?”
After Carl related Kelly’s story and interjected his theory about the armament being destined for Northern Ireland, he added, “I wanted to talk to you before rollcall. I believe Kelly to be in danger and want your opinion. Also, to discuss the possibility of asking off-duty officers to volunteer for a protective force, when she is not at home, discretely keeping an eye on her in perhaps teams of two. If you agree, I will present it at rollcall, and do so at all three shifts. Francis and I can organize the whole thing and, hopefully, not cut into our duty hours.”
“If your theory is correct this will have to involve a lot more than this police force. Chances are the ATF already has wind of this shipment. I have some contacts there and will make some inquiries. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing from, and perhaps seeing, someone ATF soon.
The three men entered the squad room, the chief making his way to the podium. The room became suddenly silent. “Men, it isn’t often that I take over rollcall but we have a situation brewing that warrants I do so.” The chief went on to explain the situation regarding the overheard conversation in the Somerville pub and the position in which it could put Kelly. “This involves our community, someone most of you know and my family. I now ask for volunteers, for off-duty hours, to shadow and protect Kelly Adams, while our detective division digs in and investigates these two men she heard talking. Report anything suspicious and don’t hesitate to intervene if it appears Kelly is in danger. Whatever your actions, they will be sanctioned and supported by this department.”
To a man, the shift raises hands to volunteer. The chief thanks them with a note of pride in his voice ending with an inaudible sigh of relief.
Just off Wall Street, in a pretentious, glass and stainless steel fronted, building befitting the area, the Global Mortgage and Loan Company hold offices on the fifth floor. The offices are fronted by the same stainless and glass with the theme carrying through in the interior décor. The company name, in flowing raised script letters decorate the window next to the entrance door. Global solicitates and brokers large real estate and construction mortgages throughout the country with huge amounts of money on the books. The “Loan” end of the business is not so well defined or visible. Money passes through Global to many, mostly dummy, corporations and businesses. The fact is, other than capital invested from the mortgage business, the money comes from private Irish Relief fund-raisers and bar-top collection cans in pubs across the country. A small portion is used for Irish relief and sent directly to relief organizations serving the underprivileged Catholic population of Northern Ireland. The majority goes out as loans to dummy companies and ends up supporting the Provisional IRA in either cash or armament.
The phone at Global does not ring, but blinks a light and emits a low buzz. “Global Mortgage and Loan,” the lilting voice said in Jim Hurley’s ear, “May I help you?”
Yes, this is James Hurley from Boston. It’s important I speak to Mr. Connors.”
“One moment Please.”
Hurley, waiting impatiently, finally hears a click followed by, “Good afternoon Jim. What can I do for you?”
“You can give me the remainder of the loan for the present transaction. The merchandise is together and waiting to be shipped. However, it can’t be shipped without pre-payment” he lied. “Now, you know this merchandise is badly needed by the customer. He can’t move forward without it.”
“Jim, I’m really sorry we have been amiss on our end with the payment. I promise that a courier will be on a plane to Boston within the hour. You can meet him at the usual place within two hours.”
“Thank you, Mr. Connors. I didn’t want to bother you but it was necessary, or our merchandise could be soon sitting on the sidewalk in Portland,” he lied again. “Please keep in touch. Looking forward to doing business again soon.”
“Yes. Good luck Jim. Talk to you soon.”
Riverville 4:30 PM:
Chief Hendersen, returning from a meeting at City Hall, picks up the large white envelope on his desk and runs a letter opener under the flap. The County Coroner’s report is succinct, stating that the cause of death was a single gunshot to the head of a, yet unidentified, male between the age of thirty-five and forty-five years. The body is in the first stages of decomposition and emitting gases. Papers on the body are being restored and examined, a report of which will follow.
The cloth bag, in which the body was discovered, is of sufficient density and tight weave as to retain air for a time, and give floatation to the body at some depth in salt water. Gases from decomposition further enabled the bag to float to where the tide deposited it at Chandler’s Point mudflats. No indication exists as to where the bag was put in the sea.
The chief noted the county seal embossed in the corner along with the signature of Donald E. Scott M.D., County Coroner. He places the report in a file basket as he scans the pink call messages. He tells himself there is nothing there that can not wait until tomorrow.
Chief Hendersen locked his office door and passed his secretary’s desk just as the phone rang.
“Chief, this is Dr. Scott. Glad I caught you still there. I have some news. The technicians discovered a cleaver hidden pocket in our Chandler’s Point corps’ wallet. From an ID folded in this pocked we have determined the body to be of an ATF agent. The ID does not contain a name however, some of the type being washed away. I thought you would want to know this information immediately. A report will follow tomorrow.”
“Thanks Doc, that is certainly important. Can you lift any fingerprints or is he too far gone”?
“We have applied a mild desiccate to his fingers to hasten drying. If the swelling isn’t too great, we might have a good chance. I’ll let you know if we’re successful, and then I’ll run them through the usual agencies. We might have an answer before the end of day tomorrow.”
“Let’s hope for the best, Doc. Good-by.”
Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired. Oh, and in case you didn't notice.... he's a pipe smoker too.
Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2019
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