The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Three

When I got back home, mama asked me what I had been up to.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell her that I had been up to the haunted house on the hill so I lied and told her that the twins and I had just been out exploring.

She surprised me when she gave me “that look” and asked me what we had been exploring, like she knew exactly where we had been.  Mama had a way of somehow knowing everything and I didn’t doubt for one second that she did indeed have eyes in the back of her head, as she kept telling me.

I was caught and I knew it so I told her I had been to see Miss Emmogene Cook.  Mama laughed and said “I thought you boys were afraid of her.”  Her response put me at ease and I started telling her about the cookies and “the brew.”

“Mama, she puts teabags out in the sun and it makes brew,” I said.

Mama chuckled.  At the time, I didn’t know that people often referred to beer as “brew” and mama didn’t choose to tell me any different.  She did though, ask me what it tasted like.  “It tasted like real sweet tea,” I said.  Mama smiled.

She asked me what we talked about.  I told her that Miss Cook told me some black cat jokes.  Mama smiled that same smile and said “such as?”

“What do people in England call small black cats?” I asked.  Mama put her finger on her mouth and said “hmm.  Kittens?”  I laughed and said “you’ve heard that joke!”  Mama said “maybe.  Or maybe I’m just smarter than the average bear.”

She told me to go get cleaned up for supper and said “you better not have ruined your appetite with those cookies!”  I turned as I was leaving the room and said “I didn’t but can I go visit Miss Cook again?”

“I guess it’s okay,” she said.  “But mind you.  I don’t want you bothering her or worrying her to death.  And for heavens’ sake, keep those terror twins away from her.  There’s no telling what those two will do.”

The next day, I walked up the hill and I didn’t wait for Rick and Mick.  I remembered what mama had said and I also remembered what they had done to our cat.  I didn’t see any cats at Miss Emmogene’s house but she might have some pet bats or something.

I knocked on her door and when she opened it, she again smiled broadly and said “come on in, J-Lee and I’ll get the cookies and brew.”

The first time I was there, I was focused on not getting killed or having a spell put on me.  This time, I looked around.  Her house reminded me of my granny’s house.  Above the mantle piece, hung a picture of Jesus and John F. Kennedy.  I had seen those two pictures in so many old people’s houses.  I used to think they were saints or something.  I mean, I knew who Jesus was and I guess I thought that maybe John was his brother.

Her house was tidy and not at all what I expected.  There was not a huge cauldron with bones beside it and there were no cages with imprisoned children peeping out.

Just as she came back with the tray of cookies and brew, I noticed a picture sitting on an easel.  I asked her who it was.  “That’s my beau,” she said. “His name is Hadley Langston Thackeray, III.  Remember?  I told you that my beau was also a third.”

“Where is he?” I asked.  “He’s traveling the world, seeking his fortune,” she said.  I asked her why she wasn’t with him.  She said “he’s returning for me as soon as he makes his first million!”

“How long has he been gone?” I asked.  She stood up, ran her fingers across the portrait that she herself had painted and said “it’s been a long time but I know as soon as he returns for me, it will seem like yesterday.”

She pulled a chain up and showed me a locket.  “He gave this to me before he left,” she said.  “See?  That’s me and that’s him.”  I looked at the pictures inside the locket.  It was a real picture of her in her younger days but the picture of him was another painting.

“You’ve waited on him all this time?” I said.  “Oh, yes,” she said.

“Well, do you ever think about giving up?” I asked.  She quickly said “oh no. You must never give up.  Hope is the last thing to die so you must never give up hope.”

She left the room and came back with two more paintings.  “See?  Isn’t he handsome?  Oh!  If you could have seen him in his heyday.”  Her voice trailed off but then she said “I don’t know what he looks like now.  It’s been a while, like I said but I imagine he’s just as handsome as he was the day we first met.”

There was a sadness in her eyes but it quickly left when she asked me how I liked the cookies.  “Those cookies were made from my granny’s favorite recipe,” she said.

“I have a granny and she makes cookies too,” I said.

She looked at me and smiled.  I smiled back.


To be continued____________




The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Two

Saints be praised, at that very instant, I heard mama calling me.  “Gotta go guys,” I said.

I don’t believe I had ever been so glad to hear my mama’s voice and I was sure she would be putting her hand on my forehead to see if I had a fever because I had never come home the first time she called.

I walked away with a wry smile on my face, certain that I had escaped gruesome torture from either the supposed witch on the hill or from the hands of the terror twins.  Alas, my freedom would be short-lived.

The next day, Rick and Mick showed up with the same taunts.  Not one to be bullied and also wanting to show what a tough guy I was, I took a deep breath and slowly started walking toward the house.  My breathing began to quicken as I drew closer to the door.  I could hear the twins giggling and making eerie sounds in the distance but I trudged on.

As I got to the front porch, I saw the broom standing at attention as if ready for instructions to plot a course, but something looked out of place.  There were spider webs all over the bristles and it looked as if it hadn’t been used for sweeping or flying in years.  I was thinking to myself “this is weird but witches like spiders, don’t they?”

I mustered up all of my courage and knocked softly on the door.  I was hoping the old witch wouldn’t hear me and I could quickly make my escape, but suddenly a figure appeared and pushed the screen door open.  It was the witch!  The door sounded like a creaky rocking chair in need of a touch of Wesson Oil, as mama used to say.

I stood frozen, looking into the eyes of this tiny snip of a woman.  She grinned broadly and said “and who might you be?”  I was praying for a quick death as I mumbled “I…I…I…live down the hill.”

“Well, little boy who lives down the hill.  My name is Miss Emmogene Cook. Would you like to come in?”  I slowly turned around, trying to make sure the terror twins saw me go inside, so they could tell the police officers what had happened to me when I was never seen or heard from again.

As soon as I walked in, she asked me if I would like some “brew.”  My eyes were darting back and forth like a metronome.  “Brew?  As in witches brew? As in witches brew that would turn me into a toad or worse?”  What little good sense I had flew out the window as I said “sure.”

“Have a seat,” she said.  “And I’ll go get you a brew.  Would you like a cookie with it?”  Being a little boy, what answer could there possibly be other than “yes, please.”  That was like asking me if I’d like a shiny new bicycle.

She came back in with a tray of cookies and two glasses of “brew.”  As I reached for a cookie, she said “I call this my brew.  It’s actually sunshine tea.  I put some teabags in a jar full of water and let the sun just kind of do its thing.”

“Have you decided to tell me your name yet?” she asked.  A little more at ease, I smiled and said “my name is Johnny.”

“And do you have a last name?” she asked.  I laughed and said “Johnny Lee Wainwright, III.  My mama calls me ‘J-Lee’.”  She looked at me and said “oh my!  My beau is also ‘a third’.  You may call me Emmogene.”

I told her that mama frowned on children calling adults by their first name so she said “alright then.  We don’t want to go against your mamas’ wishes, so you can call me Miss Cook.”

She didn’t have long black hair.  She had a few more than three teeth and they weren’t rotten, green and slimy.  She looked like an older version of my mama but her hair was grey and she wore glasses.  She looked at me and said “I guess you’ve heard that I’m a witch, haven’t you?”

I didn’t want to admit that not only had I heard it, I actually believed it so I lied and said “no ma’am.”

While we ate cookies and drank our brew, she started telling me jokes. “What do people in England call baby black cats?” she asked.  I thought about it for a few seconds before I told her I didn’t know.  She laughed and said “kittens!”

I don’t know how long we had been talking and telling jokes but I told her that I should be getting on back down the hill.  She said “well, Master J-Lee, you are welcome to come over any time you want and we’ll have some more cookies and a touch of the brew.”

Children don’t normally like to hang around adults outside of their own family but even at my young age, I found her to be interesting.  I told her that I would come back to see her as soon as I could.  She smiled and said “I will be so looking forward to our next visit.”

Being a mischievous little boy and wanting to get back at the terror twins, I left her house doubled over, moaning and acting like I had just been eviscerated.  Just before they took off running, the look on their faces was such sweet revenge.


To be continued______________



The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter One

It was the spring of 2008 when I first met Miss Emmogene Cook.  She lived all the way up on the hill in a ramshackle shack and for the most part, people just left her alone.  There were the usual rumors that she was a witch and her broken down house was haunted by the ghosts of curious children who dared to venture too close.

It was in my nature as one of those curious children to snoop around, trying to catch a glimpse of the wicked witch and her captive apparitions, whom I heard would scream in agony when the moon was full.

A huge oak tree provided cover while I silently stalked her. Day after day with my best impersonation of a mannequin, I watched and waited and day after day, I walked away having seen nothing.

One day I asked mama who lived in that house up on the hill.  She said “that old dilapidated house?  I think her name’s Emmaleen or Angeline or something like that.  Oh wait.  I think it’s Emmogene.  Why do you ask? You haven’t been snooping around up there have you?”

I lied and said “no ma’am but Rick and Mick said she was a witch and there were ghosts living there.”  Mama laughed and said “you mean the terror twins?  I wouldn’t put too much stock in what those little hellions say.”

Frederick and Michael Osborne, aka Rick and Mick, were identical twins who looked so much alike their own mama had to turn them around to see which one was which.  Rick had a Mallen streak which he inherited from his daddy and his mama used to say that were it not for that birthmark, she would have to ask them who they were.

Mama said they were always up to some kind of mischief.  She asked me to recollect when they tied a tin can to our cat’s tail.  She sighed and said “the poor thing almost ran himself to death, trying to get away from that can.”

She banned them from our house for the entire summer that year.  Their mama finally made them come over and apologize and promise that they would never do anything like that again.

I had been known to throw rotten apples at houses and hide behind bushes and howl like a wolf when a little old lady was walking to a neighbor’s house.  But that was the extent of my rowdiness and I was never lucky when it came to my practical jokes.

Mama always seemed to find out what I had done and after a stern warning, penance and apologies were required.  I never knew what I feared the most, suffering my mama’s indignation or the embarrassment of being marched to the victims’ house with my head bowed and my tail veritably tucked between my legs.

One day Rick, Mick and I were walking along a dirt road, swiping the ground with a stick when Mick had the idea that we should sneak up to “the old witches’ house.”  It seemed like a good idea at the time so we made our way up the steep hill.  We laid down in the tall grass and took turns giving our version of “who, what, where, when and why.”

“I heard she’s got long black hair and a wart on her nose the size of a baseball,” said Rick.  Mick chimed in with his second-hand knowledge and said he heard that she only had three teeth and they were rotten, green and slimy.  He went on to say “they say she’s a hundred and thirty-eight years old and if you look her in the eye, she’ll turn you to stone.”

I said “you know, guys.  She may just be an old lady.”  Rick gave me a playful punch and said “do you not see that broom sitting on the porch next to her front door?  Don’t you know that witches ride brooms?”

I said “maybe she just uses it to sweep her porch.  I know mama has a broom and that’s what she uses it for.”  He laughed and said “you are such a daisy.  Keep believing she’s just an old lady and when you disappear, we’ll know what happened to you.”

I watched him nudge Mick and smile.  Then he said “if you think she’s just an old lady, why don’t you walk up there and introduce yourself?”

I answered with a “pffftt,” and told him I didn’t want to.  Rick immediately started clucking and said “not only are you a daisy.  You’re a chicken, too.”

I stood up and gave my best impression of a tough guy when I said “I’m not a daisy and I’m not a chicken.”

Rick looked at Mick and then looked back at me and said “prove it then. Walk up there and knock on the door.  I dare ya.”


To be continued______________________




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.”








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____________