The Promise Keeper – Chapter Six

After Nick left The Bar, I sat back down and ordered what was going to be my last beer for the night.  I felt like I had been hit with a sledgehammer but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  The lack of information about #8 was most likely was for her protection.

I wondered if she had moved away or God forbid, was in a coma.  You can survive trauma but that doesn’t mean you’re alive.  It just means you’re still breathing.

I knew nothing about her and I knew absolutely nothing about Nick, other than he was a detective and his father was also a “promise keeper.”  I didn’t know if he had a family now or ever had one.  Maybe his family was the same as his friends…beer and cigarettes.

Although never verbalized, it was clear that Nick was unable to keep his promise.  He never got close to catching the Crucifix 8 killer or ever even had a suspect.

All I knew was that Nick’s torment draped him like a sheer robe and laid visible the scars of defeat.

He wasn’t at The Bar the next night, nor was he there the night after.  The third night as I sat on “his stool,” pondering if it really was the end of the story, Nick walked in.  He looked at me and gruffly said “you’re in my seat.” I got up and moved to what had become “my seat,” and asked him if he would tell me more about #8.

He ordered a beer, lit a cigarette and sighed.  “Her name was Angel,” he said.  “She opened the door, just like all the others, because she knew him. As he tried to suffocate her, she fought and begged for her life.  During the struggle, he threw her on the floor and ripped open her blouse.  When he did, he saw that she had a tiny gold cross around her neck.  When he saw it, he paused.”

“She pleaded with him to let her live and promised that if he would, she would never tell anybody who he was.”  She said “please.  My name is Angel.  I’m only 14 years old.  I’m someone’s child.  I’ve never been loved.” He looked at her, put the knife down and said “I’ve never been loved either.”

“He asked her if she would keep that promise and she told him that she would.  Why he believed her, nobody knows.”

He said “we,” then gritted his teeth and said “I…tried everything to get her to talk.  I threatened her with interfering with an investigation.  I tried shaming her by saying…you know that if you don’t tell me, the next little girl’s blood will be on your hands, right?”

“I tried intimidating her with forceful words and further threats of never seeing her parents again unless she told me who the killer was.  I even told her that I would have her tried as an adult which would mean considerable time in prison.  I hated every word I had to say and I hated myself even more for saying them.”

“Although there were certainly legal grounds to charge her, I knew that no judge was going to compel her to testify and no jury was going to convict her if she didn’t.  I was at checkmate and my king had no moves.”

“All she ever said was ‘I promised’.  I told her that I, too, had made a promise.  I promised all the parents of the other little girls who had been killed that I would find the killer, bring him to justice and she needed to help me keep that promise.”

I said “that’s how you got the nickname The Promise Keeper, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” he said.  “But you see, young Josh.  It turns out that I wasn’t the Promise Keeper.  She was.”

 

Kkeut.

 

 

 

 

 

The Promise Keeper – Chapter Five

I listened and watched as Nick talked.  I knew that this was going to be about where the story took me rather than where I took the story.

Something must have triggered a memory in Nick.  Out of the blue, he turned to me and said “did I tell you that my father’s best friend in the army was a Navajo code talker?”  I wondered how that particular memory tied in with the Crucifix 8 murders but I told him that he had never mentioned it.

“Yep,” he said.  “He was assigned to protect a code talker named Samuel. He and other officers were given orders that ‘they must not let the talkers fall into enemy hands’.  At first, my father resented it but it didn’t take long for him to develop a deep respect and admiration for Samuel.  Having learned some words, my father gave him the name Yanaha, which means brave…and brave he was.”

“What got you thinking about this Nick?” I asked.  He words were almost painful when he said “I don’t know.  Promises, maybe.”

“Promises?” I asked.  Nick said “My father promised to protect Samuel at all costs, even if it meant sacrificing his own life.”

I asked him what happened to him.  Nick said “who?  My father or Samuel?” I looked at him and said “both of them.  Either of them.”

In an almost admonishing tone, Nick said “you do that a lot, you know. None of them.  All of them.  Both of them.  Either of them.”

“So, what happened?” I said.  Nick, in his inimitable, eccentric way said “that was my way of saying I’m not going to answer.”

Without missing a beat, he switched gears and continued telling me about the Crucifix 8 murders.  Five more murders, described in graphic detail and each one seemed to tear a little more of his heart out as he talked.  I watched tears start to well up in his eyes when he said “then there was Emmy, victim #7.”

“Her name was Emily Russell but her parents called her Emmy.  She was only 13 years old.  They found her in her room, clutching a stuffed teddy bear.  Suffocation hadn’t been successful and she was still alive when that monster carved a cross into her chest.”

I understood why Nick was so tormented.  How could anyone witness such carnage and not be changed somehow?  It didn’t take a genius to see that he was a broken man.

I asked Nick how the killer kept gaining access to these little girls.  He almost snapped to attention when he said “they obviously trusted him. What does that tell you?”

“It tells me that they knew who he was,” I said.

“Exactly,” he said.  “They knew who he was but we didn’t.  We knew when and where but we didn’t know who and why.  All we could do was warn people to keep their doors locked and never open them for a stranger, yet the killer still kept getting in.  That tells you something.”

My wheels started turning and I said “do you think it was a police officer?  I mean…people trust them.  Or they might trust the mailman.  I know sometimes if a package is too big for the mailbox, they’ll bring it to your door.  Or maybe a FedEx or UPS delivery person?  Or maybe a clergyman?”

Nick nodded and for the first time, had an impish grin on his face when he said “or maybe a reporter.”  Then he got up, threw a twenty on the counter and said “you have your story.”

I quickly said “but that was #7.  We’re not through.  What about victim #8?  Who was she?  There was no mention of her in the archives but I need to hear her story.”

Nick turned, stared at the floor and finally said “#8 wasn’t a victim.  She survived.”

“What?  Wait!” I said as I watched him ignore my pleas and slowly walk out of The Bar.

 

To be continued_____________

The Promise Keeper – Chapter Four

That night I went to the bar and just as I expected, Nick was in his usual place.  Again, I sat one stool away and again, he all but ignored me.  I ordered a beer and after a few seconds of silence while pretending to drink it, Nick turned and said “well, Josh.  Did you find what you were looking for?”

For a split second, although I have never believed in the supernatural or any kind of extra sensory perception, I wondered if Nick was a mind reader. Snapping back into reality, I realized that he was just attuned to exactly what I was.  A reporter.  Reporters are notoriously nosey and perennially hungry for an exclusive story.

I told him that he could call me Scoop.  He gave me disdainful glance, turned back to his beer and said “I don’t like nicknames.”  When he said that, I realized that it was not the appropriate time to ask about his own nickname…”The Promise Keeper.”

I asked him if I could buy him a beer.   Without even a glance toward me, he said “I don’t know if it’s escaped your attention but I already have one.”

I remembered Karen saying that he was a dick.  Apparently he hadn’t changed but his attitude didn’t intimidate me.

I was after his story and the only thing that was going to get me to leave was if he refused or physically removed me, which I didn’t see happening.  I was no novice and I could play hardball with the best of them.  Besides, I was perfectly capable of reaching into my bag of tricks and pulling out my own dick card.

“I guess you want to hear my story,” he said.  “Yes.” I answered.  Without looking at me he asked “why?  Are you curious or is it just a slow news day?  Or maybe you think if you pretend to have some compassion or genuine interest, I’ll open up and we’ll act like we’re best friends. Or maybe you’ve heard that I’m an asshole and therefore, feel suddenly challenged.”  He turned and looked at me with those dead, weathered eyes and said “which one is it?”

I said “none of them.  All of them.”

He turned back around and said “I’ll take that beer now.”  I ordered both of us another round and whipped out my tape recorder.  I asked if he minded if I recorded our conversations and before I even sat it down, he abruptly said “yes I do.  If you can’t remember a conversation, you need to find another occupation.”  I asked if he minded if I took notes.  He looked at me and said “if that’s the only way you can remember anything, then go ahead.”

I was a little short when I said “I don’t have a photograph memory, you know.”  He mumbled “believe me.  It’s a curse if you do.”  That comment led me to suspect that he remembered every single detail about every single little girl and every single murder.  I didn’t need to feign compassion at that point.  I could hear the soul-killing anguish in his voice.

Before we began, he reminded me that the use of the victims names’ was strictly prohibited.  “What about your name?” I asked.  He said “use it. Don’t use it.  It really doesn’t matter to me.  What’s left of my reputation can stand a few more bullets, I guess.”  Then he said “you know that you can find out everything you want to know in the City Hall archives, don’t you?”

I said “yes, I do know that but so much of the information has been redacted and…I can’t find your story there.”  Nick gave a slight “uh-huh” nod with his head, lit another cigarette and began.

With pen in hand, I began to jot down notes as he talked.

“The first girl was 17 years old,” he said.  “Her name was Alma Stewart.  Her father, Sturgeon, worked at the local Jiffy Lube.  Her mother, Kalinda, cleaned houses for extra cash.  She was at home most afternoons and nights but on her one day off, a regular customer called in a panic.  Unexpected company was coming into town and they needed her to come in and do a quick tidy-up.”

“Kalinda agreed and told Alma that she was only going because they could used the extra money.  She kissed Alma on the forehead and told her that she would be back in a ‘jiffy’.  That was a joke among them.  Kalinda would laugh and say ‘all kinds of things can be done in a jiffy.  Not just oil changes’.”

“That was the day Alma was murdered.  She was found in the kitchen, with Kalinda’s apron draped over her head.  It looked as if she had been trying to prepare dinner to surprise her mother when she came home.”

Nick’s words were heavy-laden with what to me seemed like a combination of anger, grief, regret and hopelessness, but he continued.  “A cross was carved so deeply into her chest, it almost skewered her.  It was what we call ‘overkill’.”

“Psychologists say ‘it’s personal’.  I say that half of them are full of shit and have no idea what they’re talking about.  I guess it’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback and call the plays while you’re sitting in your plush office but when you’re out in the world and witness this kind of carnage, there is no definitive reason for this evil.  It’s just plain evil.”

Downing his beer, his voice trailed off as he continued.  “Kalinda never forgave herself.  The guilt she felt for leaving was overwhelming, as you can imagine.  Over time, fingers were pointed, accusations were made and the marriage eventually failed.”

Nick looked at his beer and said “the children murdered by the Crucifix 8 Killer weren’t the only fatalities.”

Nick took a long drag off of his cigarette and said “I’ll have another beer.”

One thing became clear to me.  The more beer I bought, the more Nick talked.

 

 

To be continued_______________

 

 

The Promise Keeper – Chapter Three

As soon as I got to work the next morning, I opened what I call the cheat sheet.  Spending days, weeks and sometimes months trying to get information was now available with a quick search on Google.

As much as I hated the fact that the internet was responsible for the slow painful demise of newspapers, I admit that I unashamedly took advantage of the vast knowledge attainable on the world-wide web.  Type in a name, click enter and a person’s entire life was laid bare for the whole world to see.

Somehow I knew this curmudgeonly man had a story.  Maybe it was reporter’s intuition.  Maybe it was just curiosity.  Maybe it was because he looked so out of place at The Bar.  Or maybe it was because he looked like a tortured soul.

I typed “Nick Fuller” into the search bar.  I sat back in my chair and whispered “wow.”  I wasn’t prepared for what the search revealed.

“Nick Fuller Tapped To Head Task Force In The Crucifix 8 Murders.”

“Nick Fuller, a 38 year veteran of the Crime Division, aka The Promise Keeper, vows to capture the Crucifix 8 murderer.”

In an interview with the local news outlets, Nick said “this is my solemn promise to all of you who have lost a loved one to this odious, demonic murderer.  I will catch him and I will bring him to justice.”

Further links provided little more information.  Most of the records had been redacted or sealed.  This was more than likely due to the hideousness of the crimes, the ages of the victims and sensitivity to the relatives.

I printed out the information and took it to my editor, Karen Shoemaker. She was quite a curmudgeon herself and had no time for what she called infantile bullshit.  She looked at it and said “oh, yeah.  I remember this.  If I recall, the lead detective was sort of a dick and was absolutely unforthcoming with any information, which made it difficult for us to report anything of consequence.”

I told her I wanted to do a story about it.  Her reply was “this story has been done to death and it’s not really news anymore.”  I told her that I understood, but further pleaded my case.  “I met this Nick Fuller guy and if I can get him to talk, I think his side of the story might be worth telling.  I could interview him, get his story and then use a pseudonym.”

Karen said “you think he wouldn’t recognize himself?  No. That would leave the newspaper vulnerable to a lawsuit and you know that but if you can get his consent, which I doubt, write a rough draft of where you’re going with it and I’ll take a look.”

I went to the archives and started as they say, digging.  The only thing that was revealed in the search was that the murderer carved a cross into the chest of his victims, hence the crucifix murders.  There had been 8 victims, all girls and their ages ranged from 13 to 17.

One reporter had likened the murders to the Boston Strangler in that desperate appeals to remain behind locked doors were ignored.  Like Albert DeSalvo, the Crucifix 8 murderer always seemed to gain entrance into homes.

The idea that these girls perhaps knew their assailant wasn’t lost on me or any other reporter who covered the now defunct case and left us asking “how else could he have gained access to the girls?  They had to have known him.”

Young girls are impressionable and unfortunately in my estimation, far too trusting.  The old “can you help me find my lost puppy” had been used by killers for years.  The love of warm and fuzzy critters is and has always been an excellent way to win the hearts of innocent children.

Bruises on each girl’s face revealed that the murderer held his hand over their nose and mouth until they stopped breathing.  The reasoning behind the cross was never determined although it was speculated that it might be symbolic of a cult.

Investigators never found a shred of evidence that could point to even a casual suspect.  No DNA, no hair, no blood, no fingerprints, no epithelials, no errant clothing fibers…nothing.  No common factors such as a family friend or a common acquaintance could be tied to any of the victims.  There was just the old “nothing, nada, zip, the big zero, what the little boy shot at in the dark” response when it came to the case.

The names of the victims were withheld as I said, because they were minors and numbers were used instead.  I understood but looking at “victim #I, victim #II” and so on, seemed to somehow diminish them.  These little girls belonged to someone.  They had lives that were cut short by a monster and now they were nothing more than a case with Roman Numerals as identification.

As I flipped through the sparse records, something caught my eye. There were files labeled from #I through #VII.  Where was #VIII?  Had the file been misplaced?  Had the entire record been expunged?  Answers, I believed, could and hopefully would come from Nick.

Armed with as much information as I could get, which wasn’t much, I set off for what I hoped might just be the interview of my life.

 

To be continued____________

 

 

The Promise Keeper – Chapter Two

That summer, David graduated and received his coveted law degree. Richard flew in to celebrate and was then going to ride home with him before they set off to change the world.  I was going to miss David and we made the keep in touch promise but I knew that after a few emails, our lives would take their own unique paths.

The last time I saw him, he and Richard were getting into his car.  David raised him arm in triumph and yelled “carpe diem!”  I smiled because I knew that if anybody could seize the day, it would be David.

The next morning, the news came over the wire that David had wrapped his car around a tree.  He and Richard died instantly.  I was thinking that I was glad we hadn’t been more than just pseudo friends.  If we had, I would have been devastated.  As it was, I just felt guilty because instead of being overwhelmingly sad, I was thinking that I was glad we weren’t better friends.

About a week after David died, I wandered into The Bar.  Life was going to be different now.  There would be no jokes, no talking about our lives and no talking about our favorite subject…women.

Life is so unpredictable.  You can be on top of the world one day and the next day, you’re gone.  All of your plans and all of your hopes and dreams come to a screeching halt in the blink of an eye.

I needed some element of comfort and intended to seek it in a bottle of brew but for some reason, “old guy” seemed to be silently beckoning.  I brazenly went to the bar and sat one stool away from him.  It took a minute for me to try to start a conversation, which was met with little more than a grunt.

After a few minutes, he said “you lost your friend, didn’t you?”  I was taken a little aback and said “yes.  He wasn’t my best friend but he was my friend and I will miss him.”

Old guy said “people say life is all about love, but life isn’t all about love. Life is all about loss.  With each one, you feel your soul being torn apart and it leaves scars so deep, there can be no healing.”  Then he extended his hand and said “my name is Nick Fuller, not old guy.”

I was embarrassed.  He must have heard me refer to him that way during one of my conversations with David, when I was obviously inebriated.  I offered my sincerest apologies and he halfway smiled as he said “I’ve been called a lot worse but I would appreciate it if you just called me Nick.  And what should I call you?”

I told him that my name was Josh Hamilton but everybody called me “Scoop.”  Nick looked at me through weathered eyes and said “I don’t get the impression that you work for Baskin-Robbins, so that must mean you’re some kind of journalist…maybe looking for that one story you hope will make you famous?”  It was obvious that there was more to Nick that I had originally thought.

“What do you do Nick?” I asked.  “I drink,” he said.  I chuckled and said “what do you do when you’re not drinking?”  He looked straight ahead and said “I think about drinking.”

Night after night, I had seen him sitting at the counter, staring into his beer as if looking for an answer somewhere in that glass of escapism. Something had apparently happened to this beleaguered, battle-worn man whose only friends seemed to be a cigarette and a beer.

I shook his hand again and thanked him for the conversation, coupled with the obligatory “nice to meet you.”  As I left The Bar, I only had one thought. I wanted to know more.

 

 

To be continued______________

 

The Promise Keeper – Chapter One

His name was Nick Fuller.  The first time I saw him, he was sitting on the last bar stool against the wall, taking turns sipping from the beer can in his right hand and taking a drag from the cigarette in his left.  He looked out of place somehow but in my mind, he was not interesting enough to study any further.  He was just some old guy.

The Bar was a hangout for the local, mostly college kids, who came there for hook-ups, drunken debates or to just indulge in youthful drinking and bullshit.

I was waiting for a relatively new-found friend, named David Richardson. He was what I would call a likable fellow and had a best friend, who was just as likable.  I met his friend once when he stopped to see David on his way through town.

They loved to introduce themselves to new acquaintances and then watch their reactions.  David Richardson’s best friends’ name was Richard Davidson.  Many times they were called upon to produce drivers licenses to prove their identities, which almost always resulted in child-like giggles.

They had grown up together and forged what was sure to be a life-long friendship.  That was something I had never experienced and most likely never would because I had a general mistrust of people.  I found that more often than not, the people you would take a bullet for are the ones who will shoot you in the back.  I had been called cynical and guarded but to me, understanding harsh reality is always better than suffering the consequences of false hope.

David and I spent many an hour sitting in The Bar, drinking and talking about women…careers…women…making our first million…worldly affairs and of course…women.

David was in his last year of law school and had his eye on the prize.  He was going to be a corporate attorney and during one conversation said that he was going to be “one of those famous guys who have only one client, sort of like Tom Haydens’ character in the Godfather.”  A wink and a smile left me doubting that he was being serious about that idea but I did know that he was serious about becoming a litigator…a famous one…or better yet, a seriously famous one.

I was going to be a journalist, which of course after I paid my dues would lay the foundation for what would become a brilliant and successful career as a novelist.  David teased me about my choice until I gave him a brief synopsis of the mini-thesis I had written, which I was positive had secured my position with the local newspaper.

“Journalism is a dying business.  Pages of newsprint have given way to lightning speed computers that condense, edit and abridge information to a now growing audience consumed by instantaneous gratification.  An audience who is satisfied with only a snippet of information rather than an in-depth look at the whole story.  An audience who has gotten itself in a big hurry and is willing to accept half-truths that live on the information highways of YouTube or an Amazon Kindle Fire.”

“Information used to live on tactile pages of newsprint rather than hoping to be caught while soaring around in cyber-space.  The once large pages of news have been reduced to little more than the tabloid size of what used to be known as trashy rags, but journalism will not go out with a whimper nor will it go down on its knees.  It will stand up and roar until it takes its last breath and should modern technology suffer a fatal blow, the world will bemoan what they so cavalierly abandoned.”

David, a few sheets to the wind, looked at me and said “that’s beautiful, man.”

I don’t know where I had gotten my love of the written word or when I become almost obsessed with a well-told story.  I did know that the well-told stories that captured my interest were the ones based on fact.  Fantasy stories were okay but they were just that…fantasies.

Traveling to distant planets on a self-constructed space ship were to me, just not tantalizing or believable.  Now, if you’re talking about The Mystery At The Little Red Schoolhouse, where bodies from the last century are discovered in a mass grave, I’m your reader.

Covering the local news always left me wondering “is anybody really going to read this story?”  I didn’t write to fill up down-sized pages because there were no sales to be advertised, but oftentimes I feared that was the case.

I didn’t wish for some catastrophic event but I admit that I did often wish for a break-in at some hotel which would catapult me into the same class as the famous Woodward and Bernstein reporters.

 

To be continued____________