A/N: The Long Road Back is a side story to Secrets, Bittersweet Memories, and Dolly Parton Goodbyes. However, it not necessary to read Secrets in order to understand this tale. The story has been in my head for quite some time and finally found its way onto my computer.
The Long Road Back...
"He who returns from a journey
is not the same as he who left."
Atlanta, Georgia – February 5, 1998
Sitting at a table in a windowless cubicle at the Region 10 office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Decatur, Turk groaned when he was abruptly hit with a reminder of what day it was. With all that was going on, he'd missed the fact that February 5th would have been Latoya Brown's 30th birthday.
He didn't know what, or how much, Enos had told his wife about what happened in '81 that had sent him back to Hazzard, only that he had told her.
Memories of life altering events can be cruel, even after seventeen years.
What Turk remembered was that his former patrol partner and best friend of eighteen years, the most optimistic person he had ever met, had once upon a time been overwhelmed by grief and guilt - and the paralyzing fear that if Arthur Wayne Tremont had not done it for him, he was capable of breaking the sixth commandment. Even if his head might have prevented it, there had been murder in his heart.
In the Los Angeles of May 1981, the hunt for the person the press had dubbed The Sunset Boulevard Killer was in its fifth month by the time the subtotal of his victims reached nine.
News coverage and public appeals for information brought in data overload and brought out the kooks ranging from alien abduction theorists to fake mediums, and lonely people who just wanted some attention. It was difficult in a mega city to sift through the bullshit in order to glean legitimate facts.
There were no photos and no security camera footage - only a sketch cobbled together from bits and pieces of descriptions by grieving parents, mall employees, gas station patrons and anyone else who might have seen anything out of the ordinary.
There was a reason it was called a 'sketch.' The resultant composite was neither good nor accurate, but it was all that investigators had. The killer had left no fingerprints and what little had been left of trace evidence was counterintuitive. DNA evidence would not be a factor in identification for another six to eight years. Since the cause of death had been different for each child and the victimology did not fit any determinable pattern, the FBI's psychological profile was limited. A link connecting the murders to a single perpetrator had only been conjecture until the discovery of the body of his fourth victim, thirteen year old Gwen Olsen, in November 1980.
The Sunset Boulevard Killer had been abducting and murdering young girls from all parts of the city at the rate of one per month since August. Because the days of the month for each abduction also did not follow any discernable pattern, there was divided opinion among investigators whether the victims were chosen by design or by opportunity.
The only actual witnesses to the killer's modus operandi were the girls he had abducted, violated, murdered, and left in dumpsters and other trash receptacles along one of the most iconic and traveled thoroughfares in Los Angeles...like garbage. By the time the broken body of his fifth victim, thirteen year old Maria Alvarez, was found by a restaurant employee making her last trash run of the day, Southern Californians feared for the safety of their teen daughters.
Residents and employees of businesses along the twenty one mile boulevard became wary of opening their trash cans and dumpsters, afraid of what they might find inside. There weren't enough resources available for twenty four hour a day surveillance of every trash receptacle large enough to fit a teen's body along the route. Even though the public had been on alert for several months, the killer managed to evade the lenses of security cameras, the public, and the eyes of patrol units to deposit four more bodies by the end of April 1981.
At 10:12 pm on May 25, LAPD Officer Enos Strate, working out of Metro Division, pulled into an out-of-the-way gas station off Sunset Boulevard to lend a hand to a stranded motorist. Tired, and drained by a fourteen hour shift that had seemed like twenty four, he might not have stopped if he hadn't noticed that the man was dragging a game leg and struggling to retrieve a tire from his trunk.
That, and the station looked as if it had been closed for some time. The security lights flickered and gave little illumination to the area where the man had parked the '76 Medium Blue Chevy Impala hardtop. It was not a good place for a single soul to be at that time of night.
At first, the man refused Enos's offer when he pulled over to ask if he needed assistance. When he identified himself as an off-duty Los Angeles Police Officer, the man reluctantly accepted his help. He was a friendly, fortyish man of medium stature and build that reminded Enos of Cooter Davenport's Uncle Jedediah.
"Wasn't sure about you at first. There's a lot of crazies out there," the man had said. "Name's Art, by the way." He stuck out his hand for Enos to shake.
Between the two of them, they completed the tire change in nine minutes, tops. Enos hefted the flat tire into the trunk for Art and laid it among soiled paint rags, rubber gloves, paint stained canvas overalls, brushes, rollers, and several gallon-containers of paint in varying colors. He said 'good luck' to Art, shook his hand again, and was back on the road headed to his tiny apartment to get some much-needed sleep.
On May 27, four hours after Latoya Brown was taken from a crowded mall in West Hollywood, a new, more detailed sketch of the Sunset Boulevard Killer was circulated to every police station, patrol unit and news service that covered Southern California from Bakersfield to the Baja.
There was no doubt about it. The man in the new sketch was Art.
Tips flooded in from the public identifying more than fifty different individuals. But it was Officer Strate's detailed description of the car and driver that helped investigators put even more detail into the sketch, narrow down the possible owners named Art, or variations thereof, with a possible physical handicap. With a confirmed identification by the latest grieving mother, only then could a license number be matched to both a name and an address.
Both Latoya's and Tremont's photos were splashed on the news constantly over the next eighteen hours in a desperate attempt to find both him and the teen.
On the afternoon of May 28, 1981, LAPD arrived at Arthur Wayne Tremont's address to serve a warrant and found that the residence had been vacated and his vehicle was no longer in the garage. What they found in the house was a nightmare that no one should have to see. However, Latoya was not there.
By then, it was already too late. It had already been too late even by the time Enos had provided the description of the car Tremont was driving.
On May 27, within hours of her abduction, Latoya Brown, born on February 5, 1968, was thirteen years, three months, and twenty two days old when she became Art's tenth and final victim.
In the early hours of the morning on May 29, 1981, Art was finally found in his car in a dry flood control channel - dead by his own hand with Latoya's lifeless body in the trunk.
The realization hadn't come in small waves. It hit Enos all at once. Not only had he let a monster escape, he had helped him on his merry way - and an innocent young girl had paid the price.
He had failed to save her.
Had he and Enos been the patrol unit that discovered Latoya's body and Tremont alive...?
Turk wasn't sure. The only thing he was sure of was that a darkness had settled in and surrounded Enos. It wore his uniform, it rode in the car with them - it drew his breath and pumped thick hot blood through his heart - and frankly, it scared them both.
Then the guilt set in.
Turk tried to convince him that it was not his fault. Even Lieutenant Broggi, who constantly complained that Enos would be the death of him, tried to assuage his conscience.
The original sketch only barely resembled Tremont – none of them would have made the connection; the limp was new; even if he'd gotten the license number, they had all been too late to save Latoya.
That he had likely saved three children that might have otherwise died to fulfill Art's sick reverence for the number thirteen fell on deaf ears. He could not be consoled and would accept no reasons or excuses to forgive himself. Nothing Turk or Broggi said could pull him out of the pit he had let swallow him whole. He shut them out and refused any professional help. Latoya's blood was on his hands...and his alone.
He wouldn't even allow himself the solace of tears.
The day after Mary and Torence Brown buried their daughter, Enos Strate went back to Hazzard to bury himself in the mundane and the unremarkable.
It's been said that there are seven emotional stages of grieving: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance – not all are experienced by all who grieve and not necessarily in the same order. The debate that stages even exist and can be labeled is ongoing.
Regardless of any debate, recovery can be a slow and arduous process...especially if you're Enos Strate.
For the first five years Enos reconciled himself to doing his penance in Hazzard County - familiar, unchanging, and oh so anesthetizing. The HazzardNet could still be counted on for all the latest gossip; Miz Emma Tisdale was still at the Post Office; the Sheriff was still Rosco P. Coltrane; and Boss was still trying to make life miserable for the Dukes.
Enos was the one who had changed. He didn't look at anything the same as he had before; he didn't react to anything the same as he had before. The gulf between the man he was before he left for California and the man who returned from there widened more as the years clicked by.
Settling back into the safety of being a Hazzard County Deputy had been as easy as pie. Escaping into his comic books, he found a way of keeping himself grounded in the part he needed to play - a part he had spent a lifetime rehearsing. So very few noticed the change. Rosco noticed. Uncle Jesse noticed. Whether Daisy noticed or not...?
Slowly, as he moved past the pain and self-recrimination, he could not forget that once, for a brief period of time, he had been useful.
After the first year, he went back to school – nights, weekends, days off – to keep from going crazy. Scarcely was he seen around town on his off-duty time. Speed trap duty eventually became time he used to study for an upcoming exam or do some extra reading on a subject with which he was not familiar.
Attorney Bronke, whose office was in the courthouse, let him borrow law books - always with the promise that it would be kept just between the two of them. Having lived and worked in Hazzard for thirty years, Bronke never questioned why Enos didn't want anyone to find out that he not only had a brain but knew how to use it.
Yet, he was still not ready to rise from the depths of guilt that should not have been his to bear.
Until the winter of '86 when Turk started to notice a change. Their phone calls became more frequent, with Enos making the call instead of the other way around.
In the early part of '87, after Enos had finally earned three terms in college credits, Turk began to get vibes during their phone conversations that he might be open to returning to Los Angeles. He seemed reenergized and...restless.
Then, one day in March, Joseph Broggi showed up in Hazzard out of the clear blue sky.
Using a cane because of an old duty related injury, he walked into the Hazard County Sheriff's office as pretty as you please. When Rosco called Enos off patrol, he only told him that someone was there to see him. Broggi tried to dissuade the sheriff from pulling one of his only two deputies off-duty, and that he could wait. But Rosco explained that Enos 'was just manning the speed trap, uh, watchin' for speeders.' Broggi heard Rosco say, under his breath, "Probly just got his nose in another book and ain't watchin' anyway..."
While waiting for Enos to come in, Broggi took Rosco's suggestion and went over to the Busy Bee, where a waitress named Vivian* showed him to a table by the window.
"I'll be back directly. Want a refreshin' beverage in the meantime?"
"I suppose. What do you have to cure the humidity?"
She sighed. "If I had a cure for that, I wouldn't be workin' here. But...I can bring you a glass of buttermilk. Usually does the trick for Enos."
Smoothing his mustache with his fingers to hide a wistful smile, Broggi told her, "I believe I'll pass on the buttermilk. Perhaps an unsweetened iced tea instead?"
"You got it," Vivian said and sauntered over to the counter.
When she returned and set the tea down in front of him, she took a seat in the chair opposite.
"So, what was Enos like out there in Los Angeles? 'Cause he hardly ever talks about it...except for that time he found those emeralds in his foot locker and the time Frank Scanlon tried to get revenge on Enos for testifyin' against him."
Broggi cleared his throat. Strate had told him about the lightning speed of the local grapevine but he hadn't expected a grilling under hot lights.
"Word gets around real fast here in Hazzard...especially you bein' his commanding officer at Metro and all."
"I haven't been his commanding officer for many years. And I'm retired now," he corrected, taking a sip of his tea.
"Congrats," she said earnestly. "You know, Enos never stops talkin' about you and Turk but we don't get diddly squat out of that man about much else."
The sparkle in Vivian's eyes when she said Enos's name made Broggi wax a bit nostalgic. Officer Strate had left more than one disappointed female back in the City of Angels. Just as he was plotting a tactful response regarding respect for Deputy Strate's privacy, Enos walked through the door and greeted him with what he remembered as the most genuine smile he had ever seen. Although he would never admit it, that infectious and often irresistible goofy grin gave him hope that his little side trip had not been in vain.
The few hours Joseph Broggi spent with Enos in Hazzard had only been a warmup for Turk's weeklong visit less than a month later.
Turk had been in Hazzard for five days before he got around to talking turkey with Enos. He'd been building up to it through three suppers at the Duke farm, two evenings at the Boar's Nest, a few wild car chases after Bo and Luke through the hills, and one really long really boring day in the basement of the Sheriff's office organizing files because they accidently on purpose failed, yet again, to catch Bo and Luke doing something to violate their parole.
When Enos asked for Saturday off, Rosco said no way, no how.
"Saturday off? You dipstick! You done used up all your days off!" Rosco had declared, in mock indignation.
"But Sheriff, you said if my buddy Turk came to visit, you'd give me time off to spend with him, don't you remember?"
"He's been with you on patrol all week. So you already been spendin' time with him." He looked at Turk. "An' neither of you brought in those Duke boys. They're still out there free as birds when they should be locked up like jail birds."
"But we didn't catch 'em doin' nothin' wrong, Sheriff. Did we Turk?"
"Wellll...that's beside the point. You got standin' orders from Boss to make dang sure you find 'em doin' somethin' wrong." Rosco picked up a dog biscuit and bent down to hand feed it to Flash. "Idd'n that right, Flash."
"Sheriff?" Enos asked, scratching Flash behind the ears. "If I recall, I used my last five days off for jury duty?"
"So, what of it?" He picked up Flash and walked to his desk.
"I didn't get paid by the Sheriff's Department so they don't really count as days off...strictly speakin'."
"Won't make no difference to Boss and he's the County Commissioner. If I was to give you extra days off, he'd fire the both of us."
"Yes, Sir, he is and he would. But Mr. Hogg, I mean the County Commissioner, never paid me the jury duty compensation for them five days I served. Hazzard County still owes me $170.00. If I can't get them days off back, then I'd kinda like the money for the jury duty now. If you don't mind, Sheriff."
"No, Sheriff, beggin' your pardon, but it's the law. And...and now it's been forty two days overdue for payment, county regulation says the County Commissioner owes me interest of one percent per day for every one of them days I ain't been paid."
He waited while Rosco tried to do the math in his head before putting him out of his misery.
"That's $241.40, Sheriff...not compounded of course – just addin' in the one percent per day off the $170. Now if I was to compound it...let's see that would be..."
"I don't need no math lesson, you lugnut!"
The more red-faced Rosco got, the less Turk believed he could hold it together.
"Well, I sure wouldn't wanna' cheat the county, Sheriff. So, since I wouldn't think of lettin' Mr. Hogg, I mean the County Commissioner, rack up any more debt on my account, maybe you could go get Mr. J.D. and I could get my $241.40 compensation for the pain an' sufferin' due to not gettin' them five days off that's in my contract."
"Enos, are you crazy. You know I can't go to Boss and tell him that."
"Got a copy of the uncollected IOU right here in my billfold." Enos pulled out his wallet and retrieved an IOU. "An' if you want, I can go get the book with the regulation."
After some intense speculating over the chicken scratch handwriting that was clearly done by his little fat buddy, Rosco hemmed and hawed, wondering how he was going to explain to Boss that he might have to fork over $241.40 to Enos out of his ill-gotten county skim money.
"'Course," Enos said, feigning a sheepish grin, "...if I was to get just one of them days back, I'd consider it compensation enough to pay that IOU, and we could just forget about them other four days the County owes me."
Enos hustled Turk out of the Sheriff's office while Rosco was grumbling about how Boss was gonna' put a horrendous flaw in his slaw for letting Enos bamboozle him like that.
When they climbed into Enos's truck and sped out of town Turk said, "Thought you didn't have a contract."
"Didn't before I left. But when I came back, that was part of the deal Boss Hogg made with the governor so that he wouldn't appoint me to the Georgia State Police jurisdiction over Hazzard County. Same reason he wouldn't really fire me."
"How long were you planning to carry that IOU around?"
Enos answered him with a mischievous grin.
Turk''s last day in Hazzard was spent fishing with Enos at Quarry Lake.
How Latoya Brown's death had affected Enos was never far from his mind when they spoke on the phone. Turk remembered vividly how he had been affected by his own first loss. No one could be a police officer in Los Angeles and avoid being exposed to the worst humanity had to offer and feel helpless in the face of it. He had told Enos as much at the time, but he had been too busy wallowing in self-pity to listen.
After spending two hours in silence, having caught nothing but several odd flip flops and two bikini bottoms left behind by midnight skinny dippers, it was Enos who broached the subject Turk had come two thousand miles to discuss.
"When Captain Broggi was here a few weeks ago, it wasn't because he just happened to be travelin' through this part of the country by accident, was it?"
In the previous five days, Broggi's visit had never come up in the conversation.
"No. But he was on his way to see his daughter and her family in Philly."
"He coulda' taken a non-stop for that. You send him?"
"I...talked to him about coming here myself. It was his idea to route his flight through Atlanta and take the extra day. Did he waste his time?"
Enos only shook his head without taking his eye off his cork. There wasn't much to catch at Quarry Lake using a cork and stationary bait, but neither he nor Turk were there to catch fish. Besides, last night at the Boar's Nest, Daisy had promised them Uncle Jesse's crawdad bisque for Saturday supper.
"So, what did you two talk about, anyway?" Turk asked, annoyed that his cork was actually bobbing and hoped Enos would either not notice or not mention it.
Enos was embarrassed to say. Broggi told him he could only do so much and that he would never be able to save everyone; that he was going to make mistakes no matter how careful he was. And he needed to pick himself up off the floor, clean himself up and move on.
"You made a real difference in L.A.," Turk said, quietly. "You're never going to make a difference here in Hazzard. You know that, right? Not with what you're doing now. Not unless you're willing to dismantle Boss's operation."
A month later, Enos was back in Los Angeles, temporarily staying in a room at Turk's mother's house, working to finish his degree in Criminal Justice at USC and becoming the oldest cadet at the LAPD Academy.