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_____________