Chapter 6

November 6, 2011 at 11:58 pm (The Truth)

Mack didn’t make it back to his desk until almost six that evening. The note from the civilian aide who had taken Nelle’s call was lying in the middle of his desk blotter. He read the note through twice, trying to understand what had happened. Frustrated with the brief explanation that the aide had copied down, Mack picked up the phone and dialed Nelle’s number. When she answered, he introduced himself and asked if she wouldn’t mind meeting with him over coffee to further discuss her information.

“That will be fine,” Nelle replied. “I live in Gastown. Where would you like to meet?”

Mack suggested they meet at the Caffé Artigiano on Granville Street. Nelle agreed and told him she could be there in thirty minutes. She had spent the remainder of the day working on her illustrations and hadn’t redone her makeup since the crying jag in the shower. By the time she was ready to leave, it was too late to walk there, so she hailed a cab.

As she walked inside, she realized she had no way of determining what Mack looked like. She needn’t have worried, Mack apparently knew what she looked like. He waved her over once she looked around the room. He didn’t look like Harris, she realized. Harris had been blond with blue eyes. Mack had light brown hair and his eyes were a whiskey colour.

Nelle introduced herself and shook his hand. She dropped her coat on the chair and took a seat. Mack offered to get the coffee. Once he’d returned with her cappuccino and his latte, he pulled a spiral notebook from his briefcase and set it on the table. Opening it to a fresh page, he set the pen down and stared at her.

“You were the last person to see my brother alive, before the killer took him.”

Nelle felt the tears fill her eyes again. She’d kept her makeup light this time, knowing that she’d likely spend half the conversation bawling. Pulling a tissue from the pack in her pocket, she dabbed at the corners, staunching the flow before it could streak her mascara.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “It’s still new for me. All this time, I’d thought he was alive.”

“Tell me about that day,” he asked.

She knew he wanted to hear about the last day his brother was alive as much for himself as for the case. Nelle took him through as much as she could remember. She’d been miserable that day, because it was her last in the neighbourhood. Her mom had told her there would be no time the next day for her to see anyone. Their belongings had already been packed into the moving truck and taken away. Nelle remembered the truck arriving just as she and Harris got to her place.

She laughed over the filched bike. “Harris knew he was going to catch hell over that broken chain. He said you’d be mad but then you’d just buy a new chain and make him put it on.”

Mack gave her a watery smile. He could remember being annoyed over the missing bike. When his friend had brought it by the next day, he’d seen the chain and wondered if that’s why his brother was taken.

“I wondered, if I had taken better care of the bike, would the chain have been fine and Harris would have been able to ride away from the danger.”

Nelle shook her head and reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “Harris broke the chain trying to jump a rock, but he landed on it instead. I don’t think even a well cared for chain could have withstood that.”

Mack covered her hand with his. The touch felt comforting without being contrived. She knew exactly what he was going through, inside. She’d known his brother. She’d lost her own brother.

“What was the last thing he said to you?”

Nelle’s eyes watered again and she pulled her hand back to grasp the tissue. “He said he’d miss me.” She told Mack about hugging Harris and telling him that she’d miss him too. “I had no idea that that would be the last time I’d ever see him.”

“You’re the one,” Mack whispered.

Nelle stared at him through her tears, not understanding.

“Harris was always asking me about girls and how you talked to them. He’d wanted to know the best way to ask a girl out. I’d badgered him until he told me who he wanted to date. He said the girl was in his class and she had red-brown hair that was always tied in a braid.”

Nelle nodded. “I did always have my hair in a braid. It was long and curly and just easier to deal with like that.” She wore it in an angled bob now. The curls had relaxed enough that a few pulls with the flat iron smoothed it straight.

Mack watched as Nelle dabbed at her watery eyes again. She’d not touched her coffee. His was half gone. He didn’t remember sipping from it. “I like knowing that he’d told you he would miss you before you left.”

Nelle smiled, remembering something else that Harris had said that day. “When I asked him if you were going to be mad about the chain, he said yeah, you’d probably punch him, but only in the arm and not hard. He didn’t look worried. Well, not too much.”

Mack felt the ache in his heart. So many things he wished for that would never come to pass. What he wouldn’t give to have his brother alive and standing next to him right now. He wondered if Harris would have forgotten Nelle once she’d moved away. Would he have transferred his affections to another girl in his class? Mack liked to think that Harris would have stayed true to Nelle and waited for her.

“Did you see which way Harris went after he left your place?”

Nelle nodded as she finally took a sip of her cappuccino. The coffee was tepid. “He headed up the hill, toward the ball courts.” Nelle explained approximately where her house had been.

Mack remembered the area and knew that her house hadn’t been all that far from his own. If Harris had started up the hill straight after leaving Nelle’s, then his killer had to have been in the area and grabbed him fairly soon after that. The bike had been leaning against the ball courts, so Harris must have stopped there for a bit. He wouldn’t have stayed too long, because it would have been getting close to dinner time by then. Harris had always had a good appetite and wouldn’t miss dinner for anything.

“Would you be willing to take a drive out there with me on Saturday?” Mack needed to see the neighbourhood again, to get a better feel for those last moments. He’d been back several times and knew that a lot had changed, but the ball courts were still there and he thought that maybe Nelle’s old house was, too.

“Yeah, that would be fine.” Nelle made a mental note to pack more tissues.

Mack drove Nelle home, waiting for her to get inside her apartment before continuing on to his house. He parked his car in the garage at the back and walked around to the front entrance. The back entrance was still mid-construction. He’d hoped to have the door and patio finished by the weekend, but the trip to Surrey was more important.

He sat in his kitchen nook and transferred the notes he’d made from his conversation with Nelle. Mack pulled out the transcribed notes from Brent Ennis’ interrogation. Ennis had gone through several back then, but Mack was interested in the one that had taken place several days after Harris had disappeared.

The police hadn’t been able to pin the murders on Ennis in part because he’d kept such a spotty work schedule. Some days he’d been at work when a child had disappeared and other days he said he’d been laid up in pain from some unknown injury. The police couldn’t prove he hadn’t been exactly where he’d said he was. That, coupled with a general lack of evidence at each dump site had made it impossible for the police to convince the DA to arrest Ennis.

The transcript showed that on the day Harris had been taken, Ennis had worked a temporary job through one of those agencies that placed painters and general labourers. The police had talked with the foreman on the job and he couldn’t recall if Ennis had been there or not. They got so many transient workers it was difficult to remember any of them. Several of the construction crew did remember Ennis working there, but didn’t recall seeing him at the end of the day. No one had complained to the agency, so Ennis was paid for a full day’s work.

Mack had hunted Ennis down a year after he’d started working the case and made the man go through everything he could remember from that time. His memory had been spotty. His assertions that he was innocent had been concise. He didn’t waste a lot of words on being angry or annoyed with Mack. He’d admitted that his work record had been lousy before the accusations about being the Surrey Slayer had started. He’d been running down a losing path, he’d said.

It had taken Mack longer than normal to realize why Ennis was being so magnanimous about the whole ordeal. At first, he’d thought the man was stoned and couldn’t feel angry about anything. Then it clicked. Ennis had found God. He’d given himself over to the church, body and soul. He’d not become a priest. Apparently Ennis wasn’t that devout. He’d admitted that he liked girls and was never quite certain if priests were allowed to get any. He wasn’t willing to risk it.

But in every other way he could, Ennis was a child of the church. He attended services several times per week. He volunteered at the soup kitchens on Tuesdays and Thursdays. His past experience with painting houses and general contracting work had come in handy for the church he attended.

Mack had no idea how Ennis made a living. He hadn’t wanted to discuss that, saying it was his private business. Mack thought that perhaps Ennis wasn’t working and that he was trading contracting services for basic food and shelter within the church. Once the furor over the Surrey Slayer had settled down, Ennis had stayed out of the public eye. He didn’t have a record. None of the people Mack had talked to at the church and in the soup kitchens had had anything bad to say about Ennis.

Mack’s voodoo, as Pike would have called it, didn’t register Ennis as anything but a man eking out a living in the best way he was capable of doing. Whatever Mack had expected to feel for Ennis, thinking the man may have killed his baby brother, he hadn’t expected to feel a little sorry for him and a little humbled by the way he’d survived.

Mack had mentally scratched Ennis off his list of suspects long ago. That left him with exactly no one else to interrogate. The police had only ever had Ennis on their radar twenty years ago. The dearth of suspects from such a long term killing spree was disheartening. It seemed impossible by today’s standards that the task force had been unable to dig up even one other person of interest in the two years they’d worked the case.

Had the killer died? Is that why he’d stopped? Did the killer know about Ennis? Had he used the man in some way, to block suspicion from his own actions? Some speculated that the killer had either left the province altogether or that he’d been imprisoned for some other crime. Mack didn’t believe either of those theories. He felt that the killer had gotten better at disposing of the bodies. And that meant that the killer was still out there and still active.

 

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