If you haven't read the prelude or the previous chapters you might want to scroll down and real them. Please let me know what you think.
SYNOPSIS: Jason Franco is an aspiring novelist stuck in a dead end job working for a newspaper in a small town where nothing exciting happens until someone rapes and murders a young woman only eighteen years old. All evidence points to the woman's boyfriend who confesses to the crime. Jason is assigned to write a follow-up story for the paper and soon suspects that the local police are covering up for one of their own. Jason enlists the help from a high school classmate who works at the state crime and the two soon fall in love. Jason and his girlfriend, Tina, follow the leads and Jason finds himself a target for the rapist turned murderer. An attempt on Jason's life puts him in the hospital as the alleged rapist commits suicide. An unexpected turn of events put Jason back in the cross hairs of a different killer.
Sean Tyler, Editor, Torrington Star-Gazette
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
As soon as Jason returned from the prison, Sean motioned for him to come into his private office. “What did Paulo have to say?” asked Sean.
“Not much. I’m glad that I interviewed him. I think you’re right. I believe he’s innocent. He hardly seems like a cold blooded killer. He’s a victim too.”
Sean smiled. “Shit! I told you. Something’s not right.”
Mary marched into Sean’s office with a large mason jar and held it out to Sean. “That’ll be twenty five cents.”
“Dad, you agreed that we’d cut down on the foul language now that Zac is working here. You just said S-H-I-T. Now pay up.”
Sean pulled out his wallet and threw in a five dollar bill. “Put me down for nineteen more.”
Mary pulled the money out and threw it down on the desk. “You know that it doesn’t work like that. Now pay up.”
Sean opened his desk drawer, found a quarter, and dropped it into the jar. Mary marched out.
“Sean, I don’t know what to do next. I don’t have anything new. Where do I go from here?”
Sean thought for a minute. “Let’s dig deeper into the evidence. Maybe the police over looked something. For starters, see if we can find a witness. What do you have Zac doing for you?”
“Nothing right now. Why?”
Sean walked over to his office door. “Zac, come in here.”
Zac bounded in. “Yeah, grandpa?”
“Don’t call me grandpa. You're an employee now. I can't show favoritism to any employee. You’re working on our website. I want you to post a question. Ask anyone who might have any information on the Littlefield murder to contact us. Let me see the website before you update it.”
Zac smiled. He knew that the only employee who wasn't a relative was Jason. “Okay... boss.” Zac returned to his computer.
Sean shook his head. “Who knows? We might get lucky.”
Jason returned to his desk and started checking his e-mails. Sean walked over. “Listen, Jason. I want to tell you why I wanted you to do this story.”
“You said that you were too close to it to be objective.”
Sean sighed. “Yes, but there’s more to it. I was with Angelina’s grandmother, Kate Smith, Mrs. Littlefield’s mother. We dated. I was with her when her daughter called her about Angie's murder.”
Jason sat back. “Holy …” Jason glanced at Mary who was listening. “crap.”
“I went to a few family functions with Kate and I met Paulo. I thought he was a mature young man with a bright future. I can’t believe for one second that he murdered Angie. Now whenever she sees me, it reminds her of that night. She won’t talk to me. She won’t even look at me. She won’t let me comfort her. Whatever we had is gone.”
“And you think that since you had that relationship, you might not be objective?”
“Something like that. I can’t believe Paulo did it. I had hoped to be the one to solve the case, to be the white knight, the hero. But the evidence is so over whelming against Paulo. I’m not seeing something. I need you to take over.”
Jason was frustrated. “Please tell me that you didn’t give me this assignment for a piece of ass.”
Jason never saw it coming. Sean slapped Jason across the face. It was not a hard slap but it still stung. Jason realized that he had crossed the line with his boss. He could see the fire in Sean’s eyes.
Sean took a breath. The fire in his eyes abated. “I’m not one of your buddies that you can talk to me like that. I’m your boss. You need to remember that.”
Jason stammered. “I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t mean that. I was out of line.”
Sean wasn't satisfied and stormed back to his office and slammed the door. Jason just stood there for a minute. Mary followed Sean into his office. She stood in front of Sean's desk and pointed a finger at him. “If you ever pull that crap with me, I'll sue your ass.” She stormed out.
Mary walked straight over to Jason. “You know, when we first hired you, I thought you were arrogant. When I got to know better, I concluded that you were just naive. Now I realize you’re just a stupid ass.” She walked back to her desk.
Jason followed her. “Okay, I screwed up. I realize that. I said I was sorry.”
“You still don’t get it do you? You think this about you.”
Jason let that soak in. “Okay, what's going on? What should I do?”
Mary stood up. “This is not about you or about Paulo or Kate Smith, in spite of what Sean says. You’re just too blind to see it. That’s why you can’t be a good reporter. You miss the obvious.”
“Then help me out here, Mary.”
“Okay, wise ass. Let me spell things out for you. Sean gave you this story not because he can’t be objective. He did it because he thinks he’s losing his memory.”
Jason was stunned. “Holy shit!”
Mary held up the cuss jar as Jason fished in his pocket for quarter. “His father, my grandfather, had Alzheimer’s. His last couple of years were terrible. He couldn’t remember his own kids. Now Sean thinks that it's happening to him. Haven’t you noticed that he has sticky notes all over his office? Christ, he even puts them on his computer.”
Jason smiled and pointed at the cuss jar. “Does he have Alzheimer’s?”
“Christ is the Son of God, not a cuss word. I don’t think he does. His doctor says that it’s normal for people his age start to lose their memory. He’s about par for the course. But he thinks he does. He’s afraid that if he investigates the Littlefield murder, he might forget something that could free Paulo.”
Jason shook his head. “Shoo...ot,” he started to say ‘shit’ but caught himself. “You’re right. I didn’t see it.”
“Now if you can grow pair, go in there and apologize properly.”
Jason started to point to the cuss jar but changed his mind and merely waved his hand. “What about this Kate person?”
Mary laughed. “I think that train left the station long ago. Dad also suffers from wishful thinking. It may be terminal.”
Jason thought about it for a second. Without another word he walked over to Sean’s office. He hesitated and looked back at Mary. Mary jerked her head and mouthed the word Go. Before Jason could open the door Sean came out and nearly bumped into him.
“Oh, excuse me,” said Sean. “I was coming out to talk to you.”
“I was going to talk to you. I want to tell you how sorry I’m that I said what I did. I didn’t mean it. If you want to fire me, I would understand.”
Sean smile. “I was going to apologize to you. I was wrong. I should never have touched you. I’m sincerely sorry.”
“Well, this is a little awkward.”
Sean laughed. “Let’s just forget the whole thing and get back to work. Besides, I can’t fire you; I’ve run out of family members to hire.”
Zac posted the question for information on the paper’s website as Sean had requested. He vaguely worded the request to solicit opinions, feelings or anything about the murder or trial verdict. Monday morning he screened the few e-mails that responded to the question. One in particular caught his eye. He immediately printed it and took it over to Jason.
Jason stopped working when Zac handled him a copy of the e-mail. “What’s this?”
“One of the e-mails from the question posted on our web. This woman is a park ranger at Register Cliff. She wants to talk to you. She added her personal cellphone number. Maybe she wants a date.” Zac laughed as he walked away.
Jason was surprised. He didn’t expect any replies. He dialed the number and the park ranger answered on the first ring. Her name was Daniella Hodkin. Jason introduced himself and said he would drive up and meet with her the next day.
Jason was impressed with Zac. He decided that Zac was a person he could trust. He handed the Littlefield file to him and asked him to look at them to see if he can see anything of significance. He was beginning to understand that he couldn’t see everything and the more eyes on everything the better.
Later, Zac came back to Jason with the file. He opened and removed one picture. “The police printed all the pictures on the two cellphones for the month before Angelina’s murder. There must be over a hundred. Look at this one taken two days before she died.” Zac handed Jason a copy of a selfie of Angelina and Paulo.
“What about it?” asked Jason.
“Well the police report said the ME found two pubic hairs inside Angelina during the autopsy, right?”
At first, Jason didn’t understand what Zac was driving at so he looked again at the picture. It showed Angelina and Jason grinning at the camera both naked. Jason studied the picture for a minute and then it hit him. “Holy shit! No pubic hair!” He quickly glanced over at Mary’s desk but she wasn’t there.
“Bingo,” said Zac. “That’s why they took the picture. They both shaved. Paulo too. No body hairs.”
“But isn’t it possible that Paulo missed a couple or they were stray hairs on his clothes.”
“Are you kidding? This picture was taken two days before she was murdered. I guarantee that they both showered and changed clothes. That’s what people do when they date. Besides, you can bet they shaved each other. That’s why they’re grinning. No chance they missed a hair.”
“That means that those two hairs belong to someone else. This could prove it.”
“Yeah, but there was no DNA test on the hairs.”
Jason thought about that for a minute. “But it would be a reasonable doubt, or if they were Paulo’s, a death sentence, but this makes it less likely that they belong to Paulo.”
The next day when Jason arrived at Register Cliff, it was easy to spot Danielle; she was the only person in a uniform. She reminded Jason of Smokey the Bear. He walked over and introduced himself.
Daniella had worked at Register Cliff for twelve years. “It’d be easier to just show you what I called about.” she explained. She pointed toward one section of the cliff and led the way. As they walked, she explained. “We don’t have a big staff here. It’s a small historical site. Usually there’re only one or two of us here. No one after dusk.”
This was Jason first visit to Register Cliff. As they reached the cliff, Jason began to read the names and dates on the cliff. Most names had dates over two hundred years old.
Daniella explained, “Register Cliff was a key navigational landmark along the Oregon Trail. There was water for their animals and trees for shade. The pioneers would rest up before moving on toward South Pass. Many of them would chisel their names into the sandstone. A little farther west, the California Trail and the Mormon Trail split off. There are hundreds of names and dates on the cliff.”
Most of the cliff was fenced off to keep visitors from writing on it. Daniella lead Jason to an area where the fence was not as formidable as the rest. “We figured out years ago that we couldn’t stop people from writing on the cliff. People would climb over or under any fence. We were afraid someone might get hurt. We decided it was better to give them a limited access to the cliff so that new names don’t show up alongside historical names. Whenever we see a new name, we photograph it.” She pointed to a column of names on the cliff.
Chiseled into the sandstone was a column of names and dates: Penelope E. 7/10/2007, Kristen J. 8/12/2008, Sandy C. 9/29/2008, Cate S. 7/31/2009, Beth A. 10/21/2009, Molli R. 04/16/2010, Jill S. 10/04/2010, Angelina L. 8/15/2012, C. Evans 06/19/2013, Zoe A. 09/30/2014 and Mary D. 05/06/2014.
“Penelope’s name and Kristen’s name showed up a couple of weeks after those dates. I found them. Angelina’s name showed up one week after that date. When I saw it, I immediate made the connection with her murder.”
“Did you notify the police?”
“Yes. I called right away and spoke with the chief of police in Torrington. I forget his name.”
“That would have been Chief Cruse.”
“Yes. That’s was it. Anyway, he sent a policewoman out to photograph the names.”
“Was it Officer Marini?”
“Yes. Yes. Now I remember. She checked it out and said most likely the name was that of Angelina Littlefield, the murdered girl. She said that she crosschecked all the other names of people murdered in those years and couldn’t ID any of them. I found that hard to believe, so I also checked the names against a list of people murdered in Wyoming myself and couldn’t make a connection either.”
“Did you consider neighboring states?”
“No. The number of murders in Wyoming is small compared to other states. When nothing matched, I stopped looking.”
“So what did Officer Marini conclude?”
“She said anyone could have chiseled those names. It might be a relative or a classmate or just a friend. Anyway, once a year flowers show up at the base.’
“Flowers? Like a memorial? When?”
“Yeah. It’s never the same date – always different. If it was consistent we could find out who's doing it.”
Jason took several pictures and returned to Torrington. Once back into the office, he discussed what he had found with Sean and Zac.
“I had an idea about the crime lab,” said Jason. “I recall that I’ve a classmate who now works at the crime lab. Her name is Tina Nussbaum. I know her. I’ll give her a call.