25 Oct They Do Come Back
“They Do Come Back”Written by J.C. Fields Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 17 minutes
Twenty-five years ago, I became the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Brash, arrogant, cocky and brilliant, I could do no wrong. I prosecuted organized crime figures, brought down corrupt Chicago politicians and started the first anti-terrorist department in the central United States. As my reputation grew within the U.S. Attorney’s office, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would be elevated to the Washington, DC scene and become the United States Attorney General. It was a lock, or so I thought.
My law diploma from the University of Chicago, where I graduated first in my class, showed my name to be J. Wendell Boyd. Associates called me, Wendell. Others referred to me as Mr. Boyd. I was at the top of my game.
Then, twenty years ago, Aaron Morton walked into my office and changed my life. And I might add, not for the better. I probably should explain.
During the first five years of my tenure as United States Attorney, Chicago became plagued by a horrendous series of gruesome murders. Since they all occurred in Chicago, their District Attorney oversaw the investigation and potential prosecution. While, I knew about the homicides, I had other matters on my plate. On October 21st, exactly twenty years ago to this day, my assistant rushed into my office followed by a clean-shaven skinny fellow with neatly trimmed blond hair. I looked over my glasses and stared at the newcomer as he stood in front of my desk. Professionally dressed in a navy pinstripe suit, white silk shirt and a red and gold tie, he looked and sounded like a successful businessman from the east coast.
“Sir, my name is Aaron Morton. I am a serial killer and I am here to turn myself in and make a deal.”
After his surprise statement, I glanced at my assistant, who stood off to the side and appeared ready to soil his pants. I pointed at one of the leather wing-back chairs in front of my desk. “Have a seat.”
After he sat, he crossed his legs at the knee, leaned back and offered me a half-smile. “Did you hear me?”
“I heard you, but you’ll have to give me a few more details before I can determine my response.”
“No, I am busy and do not have time nor the inclination to play games.”
“Very well, I am the person responsible for the deaths of ten men and ten women. I try to be an equal opportunity killer. I am a trained surgeon and, if you have been reading the newspapers, you will realize all of the victims were dismembered.”
I leaned back in my chair and brought my arms up to make a steeple with my fingers tapping my lips. I could feel my heart start to pound. Taking a calming breath, I tried to keep my expression as neutral as possible before I spoke. “Okay, you have my attention. But sources tell me there are only a total of ten victims.”
“Ten the Chicago police know about. You see, I targeted my prey in your northern Illinois district. I have designed it so the investigation will fall explicitly under your jurisdiction.”
This revelation gave me pause. I kept my fingers on my lips and stared at the man as he displayed a smile that sent chills down my spine.
He continued. “Also, what has not been reported in the media is that of the bodies already discovered, there are various parts missing. They are not complete. Let’s just say I’ve retained souvenirs.”
I sat up straighter. The hairs on the back of my neck stood and I struggled to catch my breath. The reports I received indicated this very fact. The police intentionally withheld this information pending locating a person of interest. But they only knew of ten victims.
He raised an eyebrow, “Ah—I finally have your attention.”
Regaining my composure, with a slight smile, I looked at my assistant who had not taken his eyes off the man, nor had he moved. “Greg.”
He blinked several times and finally looked at me. I said, “Would you be so kind as to ask Assistant Attorney Jefferies to join us?”
After Greg left the office, Morton said, “I will only give my statement to you. You can have as many witnesses as you like, but I will not address anyone but you.”
With a relaxed demeanor, he folded his arms and smiled. “I have my reasons.”
“Until we know for sure about the other victims, I won’t be involved.”
He leaned forward. “Oh, but you have to be involved. You see, your presence will give my crimes the status they deserve.”
“Wait and see.”
* * * * * *
After a week of following directions provided by Morton, ten additional bodies were discovered and the matter did indeed fall under my jurisdiction. I accompanied state and local police plus a state medical examiner to the last five sites. I did this because I knew I would have to lead the prosecution of this monster.
What I saw at these sites will haunt me until my final days. Once we recovered the last body, I scheduled an interview with Morton. A meeting that did not go well for me.
I was escorted into the interrogation room before he arrived. As they brought him in, I almost gasped at the change in his appearance.
“I take it you don’t like my new look, Boyd?”
“Are you trying to mimic Charles Manson, Aaron?”
“Manson was an amateur.”
Morton’s charade as a professional businessman no longer existed. In place of the well-groomed aristocrat, a disheveled, wild-eyed crazy man sat in front of me. His once neatly groomed blond hair, appeared to have been self-cut and at odd and varying lengths. A thick blondish-red mustache and goatee now adorned the once clean-shaven face. Tattooed on his left cheek were the words, I AM, on his right cheek the word, GOD.
“A little pretentious with your new tattoos aren’t you, Aaron?”
“Am I? Who among us has shown the power of life and death over his fellow man, counselor?”
With a slight smile, I said, “A jury of your peers.”
“Yes, but the process is so lengthy it borders on the absurd. I, on the other hand, can strike at any time and at anybody.”
“I believe the proper tense would be could.”
I kept my expression neutral as a chill swept over me. Shaking off the feeling his words might be prophetic, I asked, “Do you want a lawyer?”
“Are you going to defend yourself?”
He only nodded.
“How did you choose your victims?”
I said nothing as I waited for his response.
“The men were simply random. If I didn’t like their looks or attitude—well, you know.”
“No, I don’t know, Aaron. Enlighten me.”
“Have you checked their backgrounds?”
“Of the ones we can identify, yes.”
“Ah…” He gave me a wicked smile and changed the subject. “Amazing how important a face and hands can be in learning who someone is. Would you agree?”
If I remember correctly, I did not respond.
“The women were chosen for two reasons. First, they had to be attractive. Second, they also needed to have money. Age did not matter.”
“I seduced them, counselor. Once I secured access to their money, well you saw what happened.”
“Where are the missing body parts?”
It took every fiber of my being not to reach over the desk and strangle this monster sitting across from me. His flippant disregard for his victims shook the very core of my humanity. After taking a deep breath, I said, “When are you going to tell me where this safe place is?”
He just sat there and gave me a smug smile.
Following this, I performed a very unprofessional act. I stood, walked around and slapped him.
* * * * * *
“Do you want a drink?”
“Sure, whatever you’re having.”
My father, the Honorable Preston Elwood Boyd, Federal Appeals Judge, said,
“Johnny Walker Black it is.”
I heard the clink of two ice cubes in a crystal glass followed by the same sound a second time. I sat in a wingback leather chair positioned in front of his desk at his home office. He handed me my cocktail as I stared at his law library which occupied the wall on two sides of his office. He then sat behind his massive oak desk and said, “Why did you slap him?”
After taking a sip, I studied the liquid in my glass for a few moments. “I’ve been trying to determine the reason ever since it happened. To be honest with you, Father, I don’t have a clue.”
“Your mother, God rest her soul, would be pleased you did. I, on the other hand, am surprised you allowed him to get to you.”
“I’m not proud of it.”
“Have you recused yourself?”
“I tried. He won’t talk to anyone but me.”
“Then you are facing a legal conundrum.”
“Who is this man?”
“He refuses to tell us anything about himself. What we do know, we’ve been able to piece together. The only background he provided came from a statement he made the first time I spoke to him. He told me he was a trained surgeon.”
“It took a while, but one of our investigators determined he dropped out of medical school just before starting his residency at Mount Sinai.”
“Did he have a specialty?”
“Yes, orthopedic surgery. According to our investigator, his grades as a student in medical school were mediocre. In fact, he barely passed.”
“I suppose someone has to be at the bottom of their class.”
“Yes, but he strikes me as highly intelligent.”
My father remained quiet for a long time. Finally, he asked, “Are you here seeking my advice?”
I nodded as I took another sip of my scotch. “I enjoy your company, but tonight it’s the reason I’m here.”
“Continue as the main prosecutor, only never be in the same room with him alone. Always have a witness.”
“Wise counsel, Father.”
* * * * * *
The trial of Aaron Morton commenced exactly one year from the date he first walked into my office. The court, refusing to allow Morton to represent himself, appointed an attorney from a large firm in Chicago. The trial lasted three weeks. My nightmares started the same day we seated a jury.
As the chief prosecutor for the Northern District of Illinois, I normally acted as a supervisor for my team and rarely got involved as the lead on a case. With the Aaron Morton trial, I stepped back into my role as a practicing prosecutor.
Because of this, I immersed myself into the details of the twenty victims, their lives, their families and their ultimate gruesome deaths. From what the autopsies revealed, all twenty individuals died a slow and drawn-out demise. Using his training as a physician, Morton kept each one of them alive as long as possible while he dismembered them. I still have trouble discussing this fact even twenty years later.
My argument to the jury began with my opening statement which summarized the life of each victim prior to crossing paths with this monster. After I finished, I sat and waited for the defense’s turn. Morton’s attorney stood, turned to the jury and said, “My client concedes the events described by Mr. Boyd did occur.”
The judge blinked several times, shook his head and asked, “Mr. Turner, is your client changing his plea to guilty at this time?”
“No, your honor. But he does not contest the information presented by Mr. Boyd.”
The trial grew more surreal from this point on. Turner never offered a hint of a defense. I, as prosecutor, presented the jury with two and a half weeks of grisly testimony. I subjected family members of the victims to reliving the loss of their loved ones and how their deaths affected each of them.
During my presentation, I would glance at the defendant occasionally to emphasize a point. Every time I did this, he appeared to be enjoying the descriptions of his ghastly acts.
When I rested my case, I was utterly and literally drained. The passion I normally felt for my job washed away in the flood of depravity coming from the black soul of Aaron Morton. I could not make myself give the prosecution’s closing remarks, I turned those duties over to an assistant.
Morton’s attorney Michael Turner offered only one witness for the defense; Aaron Morton. After he was sworn in, Turner asked him to tell the jury his side of the story.
I will never forget what happened next. Morton turned, stared at each member of the jury and said the following with a devilish smile. “I’ve been lying to my attorney from the beginning. It happened exactly like J. Wendell Boyd said.”
Chaos broke out in the courtroom as reporters scrambled out to find a phone or get in front of a camera. I remember the judge banging his gavel on the desk in a vain attempt to quiet the room. Finally, in a desperate move, he ordered the bailiffs to remove Morton from the premises.
I remember clasping my hands together in front of me and staring blankly at the tabletop. Thoughts of resigning my position started to formulate in my head as I sat there. Before the commotion caused by Morton’s statement settled down, I made the decision I never wanted to deal with anyone like Aaron Morton again.
* * * * * *
Sentencing for the monster occurred three months later. Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, his hands and legs shackled, he stood at the defendant’s table, this time with a rookie public defender standing beside him. They both fixed their attention on the judge.
With a condemning glare, Judge Kevin Mayer clasped his hands together and asked. “Before I announce the state’s sentence on your actions, Mr. Morton, do you have anything to say?”
Morton did not hesitate, he turned and stared directly at me. “This isn’t over, Boyd. You will never be rid of me. Even in death, I will haunt you for eternity.”
My stomach clenched with these words. Apparently, my face displayed my sudden fear as Morton grinned devilishly and returned his attention to the judge.
Rolling his eyes, Judge Mayer said, “I was hoping for an expression or a hint of remorse. Obviously, you are not capable of such sentiments. Very well.” He picked up a piece of paper and read. “Aaron Morton, you are accused of the brutal murders of the following Illinois citizens.” He read the names slowly, making sure he mentioned each victim’s spouse, siblings or parents. “From your testimony given during these proceedings, you admit to being the cause of these senseless deaths. Therefore, this court sentences you to be put to death at the earliest possible date.” Spectators in the gallery burst into applause. Mayer allowed it to go on for a few moments and then banged his gavel and asked for silence.
He then paused, took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. “If I could sentence you to twenty death sentences I would, but I can’t. Never in my twenty-five years on the bench have I presided over a more depraved series of acts by one person against his fellow human beings. You are an abomination. If there is a hell, surely you will dwell there for eternity. Bailiff, remove him from my sight.” Once again, the gallery celebrated with applause.
I have always considered myself to be intelligent and immune to the empty threats from babbling psychopaths. But the conviction in Morton’s final words shook me to my core. Two weeks later I resigned and moved to a small town in the middle of Illinois, hundreds of miles from Chicago. My wife chose not to move with me. A year later, we divorced.
* * * * * *
Today, I am not a big city attorney anymore. I still practice law, but mundane stuff. I write real-estate contracts, prepare wills, help couples adopt children, offer advice to the elderly to protect their assets with trusts and on occasion take on insurance companies in wrongful death claims. While I do not practice criminal law anymore, I do help the good citizens in this town with traffic tickets and the occasional DUI. I am well-known, well-liked, and I even served as mayor for one term.
But I stay away from anything dealing with the seamy or negative side of the human experience, I want no part of it. I do not go by Wendell anymore or Mr. Boyd. People here in town call me Jay.
My efforts to forget the deeds of Aaron Morton have mostly failed. Five years ago, his execution made national news. So did my involvement with his prosecution. And yes, I had to endure the notoriety of being involved with a nationally known serial killer for months.
He is present in my nightmares and I constantly see individuals on the street who remind me of the man. Not the disheveled vulgar tattooed individual I had to deal with during the trial, but the sophisticated professional I met in my office that first fateful day.
* * * * * *
I live in an old two-story Victorian house several blocks off the main square. During the remodel just before I moved in, I had the contractor prepare one-half of the bottom floor as an office and reception area. Since I run a one-man shop, I only need a receptionist three days a week, her name is Ruth. She and her husband moved to town several years ago after they retired. She worked in a large law firm in Chicago, knew my father before his passing and jumped at the chance to work part-time for me.
For the past twenty years, the name Aaron Morton had tried to dominate my every waking thought. For a number of years, it did. But since his execution, not so much. Until two months ago. On the fifth anniversary of his execution, Federal Express delivered a package to my office. While not an unusual occurrence, that particular day Ruth walked into my office with a worried look on her face.
“Jay, this just came for you.”
I looked up over my glasses and smiled. “What is it?”
She held it like it might explode at any second. “It’s from Newman, Peabody, and Schultz in Chicago.”
“Aren’t they the ones who represented Aaron Morton at his trial?”
I took off my glasses and studied the white and blue flat package she held in her hand. “Yes, I believe they did. However, from what I heard, they were not too pleased at taking him on as a client.” I reached for the package and she handed it to me. While I did not check, I am sure the package measured nine and a half by twelve and a half and it weighed practically nothing. Whatever might be in it, would only be paper.
Once opened, I extracted a printed letter and an old yellowed envelope. The computer printed letter read:
To the honorable J. Wendell Boyd, Attorney-At-Law
Our client, Aaron Morton commissioned our firm to deliver this envelope on the prescribed date of September 1st five years following his execution. Herein, with the delivery of this package, our obligation to Mr. Morton has been fulfilled.
The letter contained the signature of what I suspected was a junior associate within the firm. They are the individuals who have to pay their dues by performing meaningless grunt work. I studied the yellowed envelope and turned it over. Only one side held writing. The back bore no markings. The front contained only three words. To Jay Boyd.
I looked up at my assistant. “Thanks, Ruth. I’ll open it later.”
“Very well. Let me know if there’s anything I need to do about it.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. But thanks.”
After she left the room, I placed the envelope on my desk and just stared at it for a long time. How long, I do not remember. My first inclination was to burn it. But curiosity kept me from taking a match to it. Finally, after debating the pros and cons, I used a letter opener to slice open the top. A handwritten note fell out. It read:
On All Souls Day, I will return to make amends and settle old scores.
Despite knowing there was nothing he could do to me from beyond the grave, these words sent a chill up my spine. Bile rose in the back of my throat and I had to swallow hard to push it back down. The note did not contain a signature, but Aaron Morton created hundreds of handwritten pages about his victims. Before his trial, I forced myself to read them all. These manuscripts contained graphic depictions of how each victim died and his fascination as he watched them succumb to their injuries.
After glancing at a calendar on my desk, I realized there were only sixty days available to figure out the meaning of his note.
* * * * * *
Twenty years have passed since I last stepped foot in Chicago. My ex-wife remarried and move to New York, so I did not have to worry about running into her. My appointment with the senior partner at Newman, Peabody and Schultz occurred ten minutes late. Pretty good considering how hesitant he was when he made the appointment.
After we shook hands in the reception area, Charles Newman said, “It’s been a long time, Wendell. You look well.”
“As do you, Charles.”
He made no move to take me to a private office.
I said, “Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
“Is this about the Morton case?”
“It’s about the letter I received.”
“I’m surprised you are asking about it. You of all people should know about attorney-client privilege.”
“I understand, but since he’s dead…”
“Makes no difference. This firm has fulfilled its obligation and that is our final word.”
“I just need to know how long you had the letter.”
“Sorry, Wendell.” He folded his arms and made no offer to discuss the topic in private.
I stared at him for a few moments. “Sorry I wasted your time.” I turned and left the reception area and walked quickly to the bank of elevators. I pressed the down button and waited. Since we were on the thirtieth floor, I figured I had a bit of a wait. Before the door opened, a young man in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows joined me at the door. He followed me into the elevator, punched the button for the floor just above the lobby and said the minute the door closed, “I’m the guy who signed the letter.”
I glanced at him and nodded.
“We’ve had the letter since his conviction.”
“What other instructions did he leave?”
The man handed me a folded piece of paper. “Don’t open that until you are out of the building.” The car stopped its descent and he stepped out, holding the door open. “I’ll get fired if they find out I gave you that copy.” With those words, he let the doors close.
* * * * * *
I abided by the man’s wishes and did not open it until I got back to my car in the parking lot. I guess I expected a lengthy letter from Morton explaining his actions. Instead, the mystery piece of paper turned out to be a receipt of payment. A receipt for the sum of five thousand dollars for the delivery of two letters. One package needed to be delivered September 1st. The second package would be delivered the day before November 1st, All Souls Day. It specified the deliveries were to be made five years after the execution of Aaron Morton. To whom it would be delivered did not appear on the receipt. For that matter, neither did my name. I looked back at the tall structure containing the offices of Newman, Peabody, and Schultz. I now understood why Newman invoked the attorney-client privilege clause. They still had another package to deliver.
* * * * * *
Subsequent efforts to discover what the November 1st package contained failed. No one at the law firm would return my calls. So, I reread the short note in Morton’s handwriting over and over trying to determine what it might mean. My imagination filled in the parts logic could not provide.
The nightmares returned with vengeance. Waking up in the middle of the night soaked from sweat and my heart thumping hard in my chest is not a good way to get a good night’s sleep.
After the third night of sleeplessness, Ruth noticed and told me I needed to see my doctor. Every time she mentioned it, I would thank her and indicate I would. I didn’t.
I started seeing Aaron Morton everywhere. The most startling event occurred on the Monday after the nightmares returned. As I washed my hands in the public restroom at the courthouse, I brought my eyes up to the mirror in front. A wild-eyed man stood behind me. His hair and pallor the same color as Morton’s twenty years ago in the courtroom. I gasped. My heart started pounding.
The specter stared at me. “What’s your problem, man.”
The voice bore no resemblance to Morton’s. I quickly dried my hands and exited the restroom. But similar incidents occurred daily.
* * * * * *
October 31st has arrived. The day before November 1st, All Souls Day.
The outside lights on my house are off. I do not wish to interact with anyone. I sit at my desk listening to the sounds of trick-or-treaters roaming the neighborhood. The sounds cause my imagination to run amok.
A full bottle of Glenfiddich sits next to my left hand, which holds an empty glass. A Glock 19 is next to my right hand.
Every time I hear the swishing of leaves outside my office window, I put my hand on the pistol. Then the laughter of children describing their bounty of the evening breaks the spell and I release the weapon.
Time drags slowly as the hustle and bustle of trick-or-treaters subsides with the lateness of the hour.
The bottle is now half empty. Sweat trickles down my forehead, even though there is a chill in the house. Because I live so near, I rarely perceive when the bell in the steeple of the First Baptist Church a block from my house rings. Tonight, it sounds like a drum in my ears. I count the number of rings. Ten, eleven, and then twelve. It is midnight. All Soul’s Day is here.
Waiting. Waiting for the unknown. Waiting for the threat my imagination senses Morton will cause. My right hand clutches the Glock. Its weight and purpose provide a false sense of security. When the church bell ceases its incessant ringing, the house is oddly quiet. All lights in my office are extinguished. The only illumination comes from a street light outside which shines through a large window. The limbs of a huge oak tree sway in the breeze, causing eerie shadows to dance across the floor. My nerves twitch to the slightest sound. The quiet enhances the normal sounds one never hears. Branches rubbing the house, the furnace kicking on, the normal creaking of an old house, all of these create a symphony of unsettling noise. I pour another drink.
* * * * * *
Banging on the front door jars me awake. My head shoots up, while my arms sweep across the desk sending an empty bottle and glass crashing to the floor. My right hand finds the gun. I clutch it with an unsteady grip. Night has transitioned to the beginnings of dawn.
The sound at the front door increases in volume and intensity.
I stumble out of the office and stagger away, fleeing the perceived threat.
Treading down the dimly lit hall, a figure appears, walking toward me. It is an amalgamation of all the missing body parts Aaron Morton refused to return. The face glares at me. The unblinking eyes are Morton’s. I scream. Pointing the pistol at the ghastly figure, I pull the trigger until it locks open. Darkness engulfs me.
* * * * * *
Voices raise me from the abyss. My eyes open to the sight of a nurse bending over me.
“Welcome back, Jay. I thought we’d lost you.”
The nurse’s name is Marilyn. She is a friend. Several years prior, I won a large settlement for her after her husband was killed by a drunk driver. Occasionally, we see each other socially.
“Where am I?”
“Drake County Hospital.”
“Early this morning. Seems you had a bit too much to drink last night.” Her head nods toward the other side of the bed. “He brought you in.”
I turn my head. A man is standing next to the bed. I look over at him. Sheriff Martin Burton stands with his arms folded. “Jay, what the hell were you doing last night?”
“I…” Taking a deep breath, I stop and collect my thoughts. “I guess I fell asleep at my desk. I heard noises at the front door this morning and it startled me.”
“You shot your hall mirror to smithereens. Guess we scared you, huh?”
“You might say that.”
“I came by to tell you the Chicago PD received a posthumous letter from Morton yesterday. The letter gave them the location of all the missing body parts.”
My reaction to his words must seem strange to the sheriff. I close my eyes and say, “Just as he wrote in his letter, he has made amends and settled old scores. The bodies are now whole.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A