The following morning…

The following morning…

Nothing could have prepared us for what was about to happen next. In the 12 months prior I had done everything I could think of to tract down documents about that night or the ensuing investigation — but had garnered little beyond the GBI report and what I already had in Hazel’s files. What was about to take place was nothing shy of a miracle as far as I was concerned and I could scarcely contain myself. J had made contact with an old family friend as way of distraction and the evening had been spent out with intermittent review of the day’s events and information. Two glasses of wine later, the tension in my shoulder eased but not for long. I had saved the texts from R on my phone to record the following morning, but could not leave them alone. I held my phone below the tablecloth and shifted from sent to received at least five times during the course of dinner- checking, rechecking what had been shared and revealed. I watched J’s son. He had been freaked out by the grim reaper statement earlier that afternoon and it still showed in his face. Hell, I had been freaked out and to this hour I still have the text on my phone- which I might add, came through at exactly 3:33 in the afternoon. Gotta love the numerology in this thing! Dinner finished we called it a day and headed back to the hotel.

After a fitful night’s sleep, I got up early to check email, write and sort out my thoughts. My appointment was initially made for just after 9:00. The clock read 7:45 and in the hopes of securing some sanity in a cup before the appointed hour, I woke my husband then knocked on the wall that separated our hotel rooms. J answered with a knock. I banged back and two minutes later she was at the door in her night shirt wanting to know the game plan. I expressed my immediate need for a shower and coffee and so agreed to meet within the half hour. While putting my laptop away, my husband suggested I thank the men of the day before. But before I could reach for my phone, it rang. It was the man with the booming voice who had a question and a concern. We talked for a few moments about where we were headed and I promised to call later in the day with an update. Once showered, I made a call of gratitude to two other men, including the man with the crooked teeth. His return question seemed odd. He asked if they had ever matched the bullets to the gun- ballistics. I told him I was surprised he of all people would not have known that answer. I could confirm only what the reports on file had stated– positive ID.

I was confused. Why would someone who claimed to be so intimate with the crime and its history not know that? Even the paper clippings 44 years ago had suggested such. I chocked it up to his age and tucked that ironic bit of information in my pocket. J appeared at the door, ready to go. I told her I would meet her in the parking lot below. Just as I reached the car, my phone went off again. My contact with the file suggested we take our time and grab breakfast. He had an hour’s worth of copies left to make and was thinking of stepping out to grab a bite of something himself. Not wanting to offend and in dire need of caffeine, we scheduled to meet him at his business office for sometime after 11:00 and found a restaurant close the address he’d given.

The fevered pitch from the day before had left us all pretty wired for sound and I thought that maybe a good hot breakfast was just the thing to bring us back down from the rafters, so I agreed to take our time. Throughout the meal I continued to eye J, occasionally asking her of she was alright. It was one thing to know academically what had happened to her father- but this guy said he had photos…graphic photos and that is quite another thing to consider. Concerned about her son too, I bothered him only once as to his comfort level with what we had learned thus far. He commented it was pretty out there- but that he was there for the long haul and that I shouldn’t worry about him. I did and asked about him seeing the photos. Even my contact had worried it might be more for J to see than she needed, but I assured him- that could not be prevented. J said she would look first and then make a decision as to whether she thought C should be allowed to preview. It was a prudent decision. I looked at my husband- we all felt the same, but I knew there were answers in those photos we would never find any other way and C had just as much right to know as the rest of us. Charley would have been his grandfather.

Breakfast completed, we drove the few blocks with keen enthusiasm for what was about to take place. I felt odd about the meeting. The three conversations I’d had with this man already told me a great deal about him. He was a family man, devoted to his wife and his kids and the memory of his parents. I didn’t want to like this man. He was tied by blood to somebody else in this mess that I had had misgivings about from early on. But there he was, smiling and congenial waiting at the door to let us in. His compassion for J humbled me. Here, after suffering a family tragedy the day before- taking time to copy and explain every piece of information that his file held. You could not help but feel sympathy and gratitude for his generosity of spirit and genuine concern. Even his dog made me feel guilty for being suspicious of another agenda. I didn’t want to like him or his dog- didn’t want any kind of feelings to interfere with my objectivity, so I tried to remain distant and even in my dealings but it was damn near impossible.

He placed the file in front of her and then asked again if she was ok with what he was about to share with her. She acknowledged and the deluge began. Paper after paper laid out before us in the form of news clippings and peripheral information. First we got background information, then statements, then depositions. The last sheets in the file remained upside down until we had all composed ourselves. He asked her again if she was ok and with her sigh of acknowledgement he flipped over the remaining stack of papers to reveal 6 photos.

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