The Cochran Resolve {Tom Sheehan}

Closing on forty-five years on the Saugus Police Department, all of it on the street it seemed except for the last few years of count-down to his retirement, Silas Tully owned up to a few things. If he were asked to give a thumbnail sketch of himself he would have replied simply, but very graphically, as follows: God-fearing, American to the absolute and final core, stiff believer in the Marine Corps and its heady history, a cop every day until his last day, and a detailer. That he loved, and lived by, details, was a paramount importance in all he did. So it was not odd in 1990, late in the year, leaves crisp and yellow as butter or red as lava flow, the stadium a full bandbox of sounds on Saturdays, dates and anniversaries and common events came piling across the back of his mind like some inner movie being run for the hundredth time.
Silas Tully always paid heed to such home movies. Now the old headlines grabbed at him, tossed their thick and tall blackness and page-wide shrieks into his mind, their gripping attention reaching out to him. MURDER they had screamed, VIOLENT MURDER, a girl, a nice neighborhood girl, some fifty years ago, garroted and strangled and fiercely and barbarously treated and then dumped off the side of a lonely road.

He'd been just a spanking brand new fifteen year older when the murder had taken place, and even now, after all the years on the force, after all he had seen and wished he hadn't seen at times, the newer murders, the later crimes, the heinous deeds he had been sometimes witness to, it still came at him as if it had happened only yesterday.

It had happened almost fifty years ago, and Silas Tully found an old reproduction of a LYNN DAILY EVENING ITEM, one he had finally Xeroxed before it gave up the ghost, the cream of wheat texture of it, the aging yellowness falling away to near dust. He read again the lead paragraph, a paragraph some reporter had written when Silas was a mere fifteen years old, a paragraph hard enough to make any man sit up, even today: Twenty-four hours after the mutilated body of attractive Frances Cochran, nineteen year old bookkeeper, of 54 Water Street, was found in a thicket near the Salem-Lynn-Swampscott line police were seeking the driver of a '34 or '35 Chevie with yellow trimmings. The Chief of Police had reported that a mysterious caller to a local radio station had advised that a body could be found off Danvers Road. Frances Cochran had disappeared on July 17 and was the object of an intense search for three days before her body was discovered. After the tipster called, two Swampscott patrolmen had found her body.
Silas Tully could still feel the taste in his mouth, all these years later, which the story had induced. He found nothing as despicable as hurting the fair sex, and knew that much of his character and all of his police life had been painted by that distaste. Now and then he shook in anger at such doings. It made him work much harder than the guy next to him.
The girl's body was found with her face and head bludgeoned into a pulp, her skull crushed and parts of her shoulders and torso burned in a crude attempt to burn the body. Her teeth were broken and her entire body maltreated. Her clothing was torn to shreds. "Absolute barbarism and the work of a crazed fiend or a maniac," said the chief. A tree twig, about an inch in thickness, was found lodged deeply in Miss Cochran's throat. The body was sprawled in a tangle of brush about thirty-five feet from the road.
The beastliness of it all came a full charge at him, a horrible sense of the deed working on him as strong as it had when he was that mere boy. Over and over again he read the story, assimilating every detail, categorizing and filing each little item, each entity or bit of information, and slowly and surely, the way a glacier makes its way out of the mountains, a matter of resolve began to fill him. From every known source he gathered additional details, taking Xeroxes of everything in the files of THE LYNN DAILY EVENING ITEM and THE SALEM EVENING NEWS. In turn he was lead on to clippings from a number of Boston papers, the GLOBE and the HERALD and TRAVELER and the RECORD and AMERICAN and the old POST, and subsequently to an innumerable number of magazine articles and specialty features on one of the most brutal of crimes. Certainly, for those along the North Shore, from tightly-packed Winthrop under the sound of aircraft popping in and out of Boston's Logan Airport to the water-world that was Gloucester and Rockport and Manchester-by-the-Sea, the crime was one for the century.
And for the fact that half of that century was about to pass, Officer Silas Tully, God-fearing, American, Corps' man, cop forever, detailer (Ars Punctilio, as Chief Noel Rebenkern had so often referred to him), sitting daily now in the soft chair easing him down the road to retirement, decided to have a go at it himself!
The chief wondered what the hell was keeping Silas so busy, reading and poring over notes and literature, copying newspaper and magazine clippings, burning both ends of the candle with retirement just over the hill. But he knew his man as well as any man, and if this bulldog of a cop had got his bite onto something, then someone someplace or somewhere should be wary. In his own way he pictured Si a long time in the past working behind the Japanese lines a mere two hundred yards off the beach of some now-quieted but memorable Pacific island. It could make the most alert man nervous.
"Si,' he said, one day late in October, coming into work and the crisp air of the outside a cool and vivid memory on his face as he passed by Silas, "What the hell's got you perked up? You've been poring over that material for a week now." He hitched his belt up and pulled at it, as if to redistribute his bodily matter and to make himself taller, the textbook stuff. Halfheartedly he coughed and muffled it with an open hand, but felt clumsy and so readable. It was obvious to both of them he was about to make a dictate. With a shrug of the shoulder that said, Hell, you know what I'm up to, to Si, he offered the dictate: "Take it easy. You've earned your time. I don't know of anything so goddamn important you've got to get all involved in it now. You must be driving Phyllis absolutely nuts. And she thought it was going to be easy!" An image of Si's wife floated to him from a distant corner of the station. He could see her pale blue eyes looking inquisitively at both of them, her head shaking in either frustration or impatience, and finally, as it always had come about, the relenting smile which had become part of her make-up, had become part of her life as the wife of Ars Punctilio. It had to go with the territory.
"She still doesn't like my truck, Noel. Thinks I think I'm still a kid." The big red F350, a massive ball of power that Phyllis at times thought was right at the cutting edge of senility and a thought which she invariably let go from whence it came, was parked right outside the window of the office where Silas was working his way through the Cochran case for the umpteenth time. He held up the old ITEM headline and the chief had instant memory of the case, the classic and perfect crime of the century, still unsolved after fifty years. A flicker of passionate disgust passed through him as a few of the old details came into his mind. Most of all, as a man first, and then as a cop, it was the garroting that had inflamed him long ago, which came back on him so quickly and just as strong as it had previously been. The evil was liquid on him, crawling on his skin, his mouth foul and dry. He wished he could see into Silas' head, to see how things stacked up in that fertile mind, to mark what he had marked, even so early in the game. They'd been through so much crap together, but the garroting was something by itself. He thought, as he had before, it was a maniac leaving some kind of clue to his identity, an aberrant signature of an aberrant mind. Silas nodded when the chief made that thought verbal; it registered with a big check mark because he too had had that same intuition. The cut of the cloth was evident in each.
"So," continued the chief, "what are you up to?"
Silas looked up at his old partner. The jaw of Noel Rebenkern was still square, but the neck was thicker and somewhat softer, the hair thinner on top, and the steel blue of his eyes had watered a bit. Their thoughts could have been in unison: he'd been through a number of hells with this man, starting way out in the islands of the Pacific almost half a century ago when each was a mere boy, through the silent agonies and noisy carnage that had spawned themselves off Route One and its fast world, the speed lane that halved Saugus. Silas thought, My old pal won't be long behind me when I leave this post.
"I'm going to give it a whirl, Noel," he said, "one last swing through the hinterlands as they might say. There's got to be something they didn't pay attention to, some little idiosyncrasy left untouched, smoldering all these years, perhaps a piece of matter so small or so insignificant it didn't appear to matter at all."

His forehead V'd itself as if pointing right down his distinguished Roman nose, the flesh of his inquisitiveness furrowed deeply. It was evident to the chief that his old comrade was poring over every detail with the same old determination his whole career had been marked with, for he was a computer in himself, a forty-five year old filing system, and was possessed of a filter that caught at the most minute bit of slag and slush one could imagine. Whoever you are, my weird soul of souls, beware if you're not dead, if you didn't die out on the islands when we were there, if you didn't join up after killing that poor girl and get wasted in the hell of Europe, if you're still kicking around Lynn all these years later, I don't give a shit how old you are now, you better beware! 
Silas' eyes had darkened, the skin on the lower part of his face tighter than it had been minutes ago, still wearing the russet cordage of the weather and the years, almost a sandpaper quality to that organ. There was a lock about him, a fusion of all his parts coming into one feeling, one sense, one duty. He'd been that way ever since the chief had known him, a determination that seemed to take over every facet of his being, the bulldog cop taking a grip and never letting go until some kind of accomplishment had been made.

"Do you want some time away from here, Si?
"Don't treat me special, Noel. I didn't ask for that." They were eye to eye, superior to subordinate, friend to friend.
The chief reddened a bit. "For Christ's sake, Si, you are special! You've done your damn job better than any man could have, better than I could have. We both know that. I just got through the paper work a little easier, so don't give me any of this happy horseshit you appear to be swinging around here. Take all the time you want. Take off the blue if you want. Go plain. Go where you want. Dig in where you want. We both know the cut-off date. So does Phyllis. If you got to do this, do it." He let his stomach sag back against his belt and let out a mouthful of breath, unmistakably a period at the end of a sentence.

It was settled then, cut and pasted; Silas Tully set about to solve a nearly fifty year old murder. The distaste was still in his mouth as he thought about the golden anniversary coming up in 1991. Frances Cochran, nineteen, pretty dark-haired bookkeeper from Lynn, bludgeoned, burned, beat to absolute hell by a fiendish madman, garroted finally in some grotesque measure he could not fathom in all of human kind, lay dead almost fifty years, and his own marker, his forty-fifth and final year on the Saugus Police Department, was also coming to its own celebration.
Time and duty of the most inordinate order came at him and took hold of him. Into overdrive he went, calling on adrenaline when he needed it, rarely resting, and testing Phyllis to the limit. Through every resource available, he went back through the case. Police files, through a compassionate network of the brotherhood, found their way to him from Lynn and Swampscott and Salem, and from departments as far west as Idaho where one suspect had been apprehended, and Ohio where another man was once questioned, and also there came files from the district attorney's office, and musty documentation from the coroners' offices, for poor Frances had been exhumed and a second autopsy performed on August 8 of that eventful year of 1941. All the suspects, and there were a lot who had been questioned, were re-studied. He pored over those who had been recently released from prisons and were known to have been around the area at the time of Frances' death. And there were musicians and cooks and students and street people and acquaintances and neighbors and cabbies that had been queried. There was the car, a square backed car spotted by at least two witnesses who had seen Frances get into it on a side street off Eastern Avenue....square-backed Chevie, '31-'35, with yellow wooden spokes on its wheels, perhaps with yellow trimming, and driven by a male whom she had obviously known.
In the first twenty-five years after the murder there had been more than twenty confessions, all fizzling out, falling off into the dream world that some people have to inhabit, or have to cook up for themselves. Rewards had been offered over the years, lots of them, from a variety of sources and for a variety of reasons. Silas was quite sure some of them had been offered because there really appeared to be no chance to solve the case. That disturbed him also. He could not stomach anybody making points on somebody else's pain, let alone most atrocious murder. When the image of the garrote came on him again, he determined to find out what kind of a man would do that kind of act. Whenever he went away from the act, something brought him back to it. He paid attention to that fact, much as he did everything else. Nothing was going to escape him. Nothing at all!