This is Jack.

by | Apr 28, 2021

Photo by Megan Baldree


“It looks like they found it,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

“They’re saying at least 19 bodies so far.”

Jack took a deep breath, “The second graveyard.” It was more of a statement than a question.“Yeah, that’s what it looks like. The first few bodies they dug up… it sure looks like him.”

Standing in the kitchen, he was pretty sure he could hear the dogs getting into the trash cans again. Apparently, the cinder blocks he put on the lids didn’t do the trick. “Where?”

“In Stonewall County. Take 380 out of Aspermont and then up 1835 right past the Salt Fork of the Brazos. Dried out oil field. There’s some active rigs nearby, but it looks like this area has been basically dead for years.” He paused awkwardly realizing what he just said.

Jack was quiet, just standing there on the phone, breathing, listening to the dogs rummage through the garbage.

Finally, the other voice spoke again. “Sheriff, you comin’?”

“Don’t call me sheriff, Mike.” He took another deep breath, “Yeah, I’m comin’. I’ll call when I get close.”

“Okay, Sheriff. You’ll see the circus once you cross the bridge.” Mike hung up the phone before he could correct him again.

He placed the phone back on its receiver and then just stood there for a few minutes trying to gather his thoughts. It had been close to eighteen years since they had caught him, and they had finally found it. Jack himself had stood in the desolate fields many times, convinced the graveyard was out there but unsure where to look or where to even start.

The last few months since his retirement, he had not thought about it as much. Maybe just once or twice a day. But in the back of his mind, he had always known it was out there, somewhere. He let out his breath, only then realizing he had been holding it, “The second graveyard.”

A scuffling noise from outside reminded him of the dogs. Walking to the door he discovered them right by the back door, wrestling over what looked to be one of his old shirts. “Frank, Jesse!” he yelled. For a second, the two dogs stopped in mid-struggle, both turning their heads to look at him and then going back to gleefully fighting over the blue fabric.

“Drop it,” he said, walking towards them. The two looked at him again, and then with obvious reluctance, they both let the shirt go, careful to make sure the other was doing the same and not about to get an edge up. As Jack reached down to pick it up, the two took off across the yard, bumping each other as they ran.

Jesse, Jessica West Texas Sunrise as she was officially named, was a purebred Golden Retriever. She had been his wife’s dog, bought for her by Jack as a puppy in the last year of their marriage, when they were both trying to save it. After the divorce, she got Jesse. But when she passed away two years ago, she willed the dog back to him. She said in her will, “Jack’s the only person who loved Jesse almost as much as I did.” Jack had always liked that.

Frank was his dog, a monster of a mutt he had found abandoned as a puppy in a drug house a few years back when he was still with the Texas Rangers. Jack could never be sure, but he suspected he was part Cane Corso, part Labrador, and part fairy tale monster. A huge animal, he was one of the friendliest dogs Jack had ever known.

Frank had been named for Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who had led the group that caught and killed Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s. His wife had named Jesse because she liked calling them Frank and Jesse. He had tried to explain that would make them Frank and Jesse James who were outlaws. And his dog was actually named for a lawman, but she did not care.

As he followed the dogs back into the house, Jack studied the shirt they had been fighting over. It was an older blue one. Before the dogs had gotten a hold of it, he would have said it was still wearable. Now, it sported several pronounced tears. He wondered for a moment how it had gotten in the trash since he knew he had not put it there.

He gave an audible sigh, his daughter-in-law had been at it again.

Since his retirement, she and his granddaughters had visited a couple of times, and it looked like she had been going through his clothes again.  Lately, she was working on “updating” his wardrobe. He really did not think that was necessary, but whenever he tried to argue with her, she would just smile and walk away. Knowing when an argument was already lost had always been one of his strong suits.

As he headed toward the door, his eyes focused on the hat. It was a tan cowboy hat with a brown band. Since he had retired from the Texas Rangers, he had not really worn it much. Truth be told, he had never been a big fan of the hat, but it was a required part of the Ranger uniform.  His natural reaction was to leave it, though no one would say anything if he did wear it. It was Texas, and once a Ranger always a Ranger.

But then, he reminded himself that he would be standing out on a Texas road in the September sun. Though technically it was considered fall, as Mike’s father used to say, West Texas basically had two seasons: summer and Christmas. And given that he was already wearing jeans and cowboy boots, he would probably look like half the people out there anyway.

He checked the dog door on the back to make sure it was open since he was not sure how late he would be getting back. Then, he locked the front door of the house, though more from habit than need. Chance, Texas at least felt a lot like one of the last bastions of rural America. Everybody in the small town knew each other and watched out for one another. It was one of the reasons he had bought a house there after his divorce and the main reason he had moved back to it after he retired from the Rangers. That and to stay out of Sweetwater, there had just been too many memories from his time as sheriff. He needed to be somewhere else, and Chance, right on the border between Nolan and Taylor Counties, was perfect.

He got into his truck but didn’t start it up.

He sat there for a moment debating with himself. Then he got out of the truck and let himself back into the house. Both dogs were now laying on the couch but looked up when he came in to see if maybe he had come back to give them food. When they realized he had not, they both laid their heads back on the couch.

Jack went to a closet in the back of his house. He had not opened his gun safe since his retirement, but the combination came back to him without even thinking. He pulled out his Sig Sauer and a full magazine along with his holster. He wished he had time to clean it, but hopefully, he would have no reason to use it. He was not even sure why he was taking it with him, but it felt right.

He went back out to his truck and put his gun in the special box he had built into his cab. He locked it up and then climbed into the driver seat. He paused again before starting it up. He was not looking forward to this, but he knew he had to go. He had spent almost 25 years with the Reaper case, and the possibility of finally closing it for good was something he had to see through. Though he knew there would be some people, probably already there, who would not be happy to see him.

Sitting his hat on the seat next to him, he started up his truck and pulled out of his driveway.  One of his neighbors, Mrs. Cone was in her front yard tending her flowers. Jack gave a quick honk and a wave as he drove by, but he was sure by the time she looked up, he would be gone.

In just a few minutes, he was out of town and headed for the highway with Robert Earl Keen’s The Road Goes on Forever coming out of the radio. He thought about heading into Sweetwater and then heading north, but he decided to take smaller county roads instead and turned north immediately. The flat horizon of West Texas lay out in front of him as he drove, peppered by a few houses and miles and miles of flat land.

He tried not to think about what the apparent “find” would mean, but he was just a few minutes into the hour or so drive and he could already feel the thoughts fighting their way to the surface. With a silent sigh, he gave up his attempts to concentrate on… well, anything else but Sam Moses.

Jack had just been in his first term as the sheriff in Nolan County when they had their first inkling of what was to come. The first body they had found had been Debra Swain’s. A nineteen-year-old sophomore at Texas Tech University, she has been home visiting her parents in town, but then never showed back up at school.

The body had been buried in the backyard of an empty house right past the south side of Sweetwater.

They probably would have never found it, except it had not been buried deep enough, and something had started to dig her up.

Jack has never forgotten what Debra’s body had looked like when they pulled it out of its temporary grave. It had only been a week since she had vanished. Decomposition had started, and the animal that uncovered her had obviously been to work on her, but it was still easy to tell she had not died peacefully.

Later at the autopsy, the doctor had confirmed she had been sexually assaulted both before and after she died. And also tortured. Long cuts ran deeply down her back from the base of her neck all the way down to her butt. Cause of death had been a slit throat, but Jack suspected that had been a blessing by the time it occurred.

Jack could still remember Hank Glenn, his most experienced deputy and Mike’s father, putting a steadying hand on his shoulder and urging him to keep his composure. Jack was the youngest sheriff in Nolan County’s long history, and everyone would be watching to see how he handled it. So, he had drawn a deep breath and pulled himself together. Then, he had thanked the doctor and walked outside right into his first mistake. The first of many he would make over the next six years.

Reporters had been gathering right in front of the police station, including two of the TV crews from nearby Abilene, desperately wanting to report something. A murdered co-ed was big business for local news and not something that came around much in West Texas.

Jack was only 29 and still very new at being sheriff.

He was sick and angry and probably more than a little scared. So, he took Hank’s advice to put on a brave face and went straight to the gaggle of reporters. Looking right into the camera, he had announced that Debra Swain had been brutally murdered, but the citizens of Sweetwater should not worry, the Sheriff’s Department would be working night and day on the case.

He said the murderer of Debra Swain was obviously a sick individual and probably a coward. And there on TV, Jack King guaranteed they would catch the killer very soon and make sure the murderer got the needle.  They would show Debra’s killer that no one could escape Texas justice.

They found the second body three days later in the exact same spot as Debra’s. It was older and seriously into decomposition. It also looked like it had been somewhere else and then dug back up and placed in what had been Debra’s grave. It was harder to identify her and would be years before they discovered her name, but there was no doubt it was the same killer. The wounds on what was left of her back were the same length, and while he could not be sure, the doctor said he would bet it was the same blade.

Against advice and his own judgment, Jack went back on TV and said it was obvious they were closing in, and the killer was rattled, or he would not have tried to move the body. Even as he said it, he knew it was wrong, and he knew he was making a mistake. But his anger got the better of him again, and he addressed the killer on camera and said he should run and hide, because they were coming for him.

Three days later, high school junior Cindy Watson went missing.

The town immediately started a search. Everyone was terrified about what it meant and hoping against all hope that it was not what they knew it was. Her friends were questioned. The areas outside of town, especially where the first two bodies had been found, were checked. Then, double and triple checked. Jack stopped talking to the press, but he already knew deep down it was too late.

Then on Sunday morning, while everyone was in one of several churches praying for Cindy’s safe recovery, her body was left two blocks down on the front steps of the Sweetwater Police Station.

Jack was jolted from his ruminations about the first weeks of the case but was unsure what had caught his attention. The road still stretched out in front of him, lined on one side by cotton fields and scrubland on the other. He was still at least thirty minutes out from the Salt Fork of the Brazos.

When his phone buzzed again, he realized that was what had drawn his thoughts back. He looked at the name that had popped on the screen in front of him and could not stop a slight smile from crossing his face. While depending on who you were, this call would make things more complicated or easier. And Jack was pretty sure it meant the latter for him.


He thumbed a button on the steering wheel engaging the speaker phone, “This is Jack.”