Authors: Nick Russell
There were two sheriff's department cars and a white van from the state crime lab at the construction site when he arrived.
"Sorry I'm late," John Lee said, introducing himself to the three crime scene technicians.
"Looks like we're the ones that are late," said the team leader, a woman named Jayne Emerson, who looked to be in her early 40s, with short gray hair and an aggravated expression on her face. "I don't know why your boss even had us come down if he was going to let you people dig the place up anyhow. You probably destroyed any evidence there was to find."
"I'm sorry," John Lee said. "We're not exactly used to finding something like this around here."
"Exactly," the woman said. "But we are. That's our job. We'd all be a lot better off if you'd stick to writing speeding tickets and let us handle this kind of thing in the future, okay?"
"Yes ma'am," John Lee said, chastised.
She had started to turn away, but jerked her head back to him and hissed, "What did you just call me?"
"Let's get something straight cowboy. I am not a ma'am, or a little lady, or a girly, or whatever term of endearment comes to your tiny little redneck mind. You can refer to me by my name. Jayne. Jayne with a Y. There's only five letters in it. Even you should be able to remember that, don't you think?"
And John Lee had only thought his day was getting off to a bad start when D.W. showed up at his door! He didn't say anything because he didn't trust himself to speak. Instead he just nodded and walked to where Barry and Greg were standing drinking coffee next to one of their cars.
"Morning, John Lee. I see you met Jayne with a Y."
"Ain't she a little ray of sunshine?"
"She came outta of that van screaming at us before it even came to a complete stop," Barry told him. "Yellin' 'bout how we had completely contaminated the crime scene and they had driven all the way out here for nothin'."
"We tried telling her we took pictures and measurements and everything, but she wasn't having none of it," Greg said.
"Don't sweat it guys. She can take it up with D.W. if she wants to."
Another member of the crime scene team approached them.
"Is this the car that got shot up yesterday?"
"Yeah," John Lee said, "and before you start, I had to drive it home because we don't have enough vehicles to spare that we could let it sit here all night waiting for you guys."
The man waved his hand to cut off any explanations. "Don't worry, I understand. Jayne's having a bad day today. Sorry about that."
"Does she ever have a good day?"
The man, maybe 50, with thinning hair, thick glasses and a pug nose, put his hand on his chin as if in deep thought for a moment, and then said, "There was a Wednesday, or maybe it was a Thursday, back in 2003, when she was only a bitch and not a total raving maniac. But it was just that one day."
"You see, guys? The next time you've got Flag riding your ass, just remember it could be worse," John Lee told the other deputies.
"Were you able to recover any of the bullets fired into your vehicle?"
"The one that went through the glass here in the door went out the other side and I have no idea where it ended up," John Lee told him. "The one that went through the door went through the inside door panel on the other side but didn't come out, so I guess it's in there somewhere. And when I changed the tire I could hear the third one rolling around inside when I took it off. Tire's still the trunk."
It only took the tech, whose name was Albert Symansky, a few minutes to dissemble the door panel and recover the deformed copper jacketed bullet he found inside. He used a battery powered Sawzall to cut the tire apart and recover the bullet from inside of it. He bagged each of them in separate evidence bags, then walked across the road with John Lee and spent some time looking for where the shooter may have been positioned.
John Lee told him about his theory that whoever had been shooting at them had not been aiming to kill, and the technician nodded his head in agreement.
"At that distance with a rifle like that, especially with a scope on it, if he had wanted you dead I think you would be. You're a lucky man, Deputy."
Just then Greg shouted his name from across the road. "John Lee, dispatch is on the radio. D.W. wants to see you in his office, ASAP."
John Lee sighed as he walked back to his car. Albert Symansky might think he was a lucky man, but he had a feeling his luck was about to run out.
"What am I gonna do with you, John Lee? I'm just speechless."
John Lee didn't say anything, but he was tempted to write the date on the calendar. His father-in-law was much more a politician than a lawman, and he seemed to have a ready made speech for anything and everything that came along. Especially if it was one he could deliver before a group of voters to remind them of what a good job he was doing. And to D.W., a group consisted of anything more than just one person, as long as they were registered to vote.
The sheriff had never really anticipated a career in law enforcement. Actually, growing up he had not given much thought to what he was going to do when he became an adult. Yes, his grandfather, Big Jim Swindle, had worn the sheriff's badge for a decade before an out of work ne'er-do-well named Buster Palmer had gotten liquored up and started beating his wife. When a neighbor called in to report the disturbance, the sheriff went out to their shack on Cass Road to put an end to it. He never got the chance because as he was getting out of his Plymouth squad car Palmer had come around the corner of the house and blown most of his head off with a single shot 12 gauge Stevens shotgun. He then went back in the house, murdered his wife, and killed himself.
Big Jim's son, James Swindle, better known as Junior, had taken up where his father had left off and served as Somerton County's sheriff for over 25 years before he pitched over dead on his 60th birthday. The way the story had been presented to the public, the sheriff had been answering a prowler call when his heart gave out. But it was no secret around the courthouse that he had actually been celebrating the occasion in bed with a 30 year old barmaid named Brenda Davidson when the Grim Reaper came to call.
At the time, D.W. was a young deputy with only a couple of years on the job, but he had already decided that life sitting behind the sheriff's desk was a lot better than life in a squad car, and was more than ready and willing when the county appointed him to fill his late father's shoes. He found that he enjoyed the popularity and being in the spotlight, and while he was more than happy to delegate field duties to Flag Newton and his deputies, he made it a point to get his picture in the paper often enough to convince the public he was on the job. That and kissing a lot of babies, and as many influential asses, assured that he had not lost an election since.
"I just don't understand what this world is comin' to," D.W. was saying. "First Emily runs off to Orlando without a word and we don't see hide nor hair of her for over a month, and then she shows back up in town with that woman she's sharing an apartment with and says she's a bisexual. I don't want to think of my little girl having sex, let alone paying for it!"
John Lee was tempted to explain what a bisexual was, but thought better of it. Sometimes the less D.W. knew, the better off everyone was.
"And now this thing with you and Beth Ann. That just turns my stomach! Now you tell me just how the hell that started."
John Lee wanted to tell him that his daughter had been truthful when she said it was she who had done the pursuing, but he was a grown man and he wasn't going to make any excuses for his own shortcomings. It wasn't like Beth Ann had held a gun to his head.
"D.W., I don't know what to tell you. It just happened."
"No! Thunderstorms happen! Night happens and day happens. Those are just natural forces. But this thing, you and Beth Ann, that's not natural. I've got half a mind to tell you to turn in your badge right now. But with all this stuff with those skeletons goin' on and people shootin' at your car, I got enough on my plate as it is without tryin' to explain to the county supervisors why I fired you. And what the hell were you thinkin' anyhow, not callin' in the state crime lab when you found the first one? That gal that's in charge out there, that Jayne something or other, she called here and tore me a new one because we waited until last night and they had to hear it on the news."
"Wait a minute, why didn't
call in the crime lab?"
"Ain't that what I asked ya?"
call in the crime lab?"
"Why you repeatin' yourself, John Lee? Do you think I've gone deaf or somethin'?"
"Son of a bitch!"
"Hey now, you watch your language! Just cause we's kinfolk don't mean you can be talkin' to me that way."
"I didn't mean you, D.W., I meant Fig."
"Fig? What's he got to do with this?"
"After we found the first one I told him we should call in the crime lab and he said no,"
"Well that ain't what he told me. He said he told you to call them and thought you had."
John Lee turned on his heel and stormed out of the sheriff's office.
"Where you goin'? I'm not done talkin' to you yet."
"You'll have to do that later," the deputy said over his shoulder, "I've got a snake to deal with."
Flag Newton had been expecting John Lee and frowned when the deputy walked into his office without knocking.
"I hear you got your nuts in a wringer with D.W. I told you it was gonna happen sooner or later."
"You backstabbing bastard. You must have bought some of those penis enlargement pills off the internet, because you're a bigger dick today than you were yesterday."
"You can't talk to me that way!"
"I'll talk to you any damn way I want. Where do you get off telling D.W. that I was the one that didn't call in the state crime lab? I told you yesterday we needed to get them out here and you're the one that said no!"
"I think you misunderstood me. Probably too busy thinkin' 'bout gettin' into Beth Ann's pants and not concentratin' on your job."
"That's bullshit and you know it!"
"What I do know is ya' need to watch your mouth, boy. Who do you think you're talkin' to, anyway?"
"I know exactly who I'm talking to," John Lee said. "You threw me under the bus with D.W. to cover your own ass."
Flag had learned long ago playing high school football that the best defense was a good offense. "I don't see where you filed a report on that shooting yet."
"Really? That's how you're gonna try to change the subject?"
"Regulations say anytime an officer fires his weapon he needs to file an immediate report."
"Yeah, well I kind of had other things going on last night."
"I know that, and the way I hear it, D.W. knows it, too. How's that workin' out for you?"
"How do you know what I was doing last night?"
"There ain't much goes on in this county that I don't know about. And don't you forget that."
"D.W. hasn't been to my house in over a year. It's kind of strange that he showed up this morning, isn't it?"
Flag grinned at him. "I don't know what you're talkin' 'bout, but I'd
a given a hundred dollar bill to have been a fly on the wall out there."
"Watch your mouth! And don't try to change the subject. I want a full report on that shooting on my desk in the next hour, do you understand me, Deputy? And what the hell are you doin' with that unauthorized pistol, anyway? Where's your Glock?"
"There's nothing wrong with this gun," John Lee said.
"It's not authorized. Now hand it over."
"Forget it, you're not getting your hands on my Browning."
"Deputy, I gave you a direct order. You hand me that unauthorized firearm right now, or you hand me your badge."
John Lee knew that Fig had wanted his vintage Browning Hi Power for years, and he had no intention of letting the Chief Deputy get his hands on it because he knew if he did, he would never see it again. So he ignored Fig's outstretched hand.
"The only person who can fire me is the sheriff, and he and I just had that conversation. It's not gonna happen today. And as far as unauthorized weapons, that big .44 magnum you're wearing on your hip isn't exactly authorized, either."
"We're talkin' about you, Deputy, not me. Now which is it going to be, your badge or your weapon?"
"The only thing you're getting out of me is your damn report on the shooting," John Lee said. "If you want anything else, you trot your fat ass out from around that desk and try taking them."
Flag was so angry he was trembling, which only made him more so. John Lee had walked around flaunting the rules for way too long just because he was married to D.W.'s daughter. He needed to be taken down a notch or two. And that was damn sure going to happen, he'd see to that. But this wasn't the time or the place, and he knew that, too.
"Get that damn report on my desk within the hour. And don't think this is over with, John Lee. You and me, we're gonna tangle one of these days. And when we do, I'll show you what for."
"Yeah, well you better pack yourself a lunch, because it's going to be an all day job."
He walked out of the office, and Flag shouted at his back, "One hour. I want that report in one hour!"
The bullpen was a large room across the hall from the dispatch center, furnished with six gunmetal gray desks along one wall, each with a cheap office chair and a desktop computer that the deputies used to file their reports and other paperwork, a bank of the same gunmetal gray lockers on the opposite wall, and three long tables with folding chairs in between. John Lee was there writing the report on the shooting that Flag had demanded.
"So I hear you got caught with your finger in the cookie jar. Or should I say nookie jar?"
John Lee looked up and asked, "Are there no secrets in this place, Maddy?"
She sat down across from him at the table and said, "Hell no. Rumors go through here faster than water through a sieve. You know that."
Madison "Maddy" Westfall had been three years behind John Lee in high school, but even then she had been hard not to notice, with her big gray eyes, long ash blonde hair, and legs to match. Her brother Dan had been John Lee's best friend when they were growing up, and he was always telling John Lee that she had a crush on him. But when you're that age, the span is too great to attempt to breach.
When Dan had drowned while swimming in the Suwannee River at seventeen, it had broken his parents' hearts. As so often happens when a child dies, their marriage had not survived the strain. They had divorced and Richard Westfall had moved away. Over time he had taken to drink, and it was only a few years after his son's death that he had driven his car off the road and into a lake somewhere down around Ocala.
Her mother had remarried twice after that, but neither relationship had worked out. She became more and more withdrawn, seldom leaving her bedroom, and never stepping outside the house. Madison had been forced to become the adult in the family while she was still just a girl. She was the one that paid the bills from the monthly Social Security check and an annuity from her father's life insurance policy, she was the one who did the grocery shopping, and she was responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and other household duties. She had handled it all with a maturity far beyond her years, and still managed to graduate at the top of her high school class.
Maddy was only the second female deputy in Somerton County history, the first being the busty and lusty brunette named Carmen Maxwell that Sheriff Junior Swindle had hired and made his personal protégé. Whispers around the courthouse had been that Carmen served in a position directly under the sheriff. Her tenure had ended soon after Junior's death, when she was found in a compromising position in the back seat of her patrol car one night with the pastor of the Third Baptist Church. D.W. had heard the rumors about his father and Carmen and was only too glad to have an excuse to send her packing.
"I could hear you and Fig going at it all the way down the hall," Maddy said. "You know he's going to find any excuse he can to make life hard for you."
"Girl, my life started being hard the day I was born and it hasn't got much easier since then. So if that dickhead wants to try to give me any grief, he's welcome to it."
"Seriously, John Lee, you watch yourself around him. We all know what a backstabbing prick he is. Nobody wants to see you get caught in the middle of the power struggle between him and D.W."
"I appreciate that, but I'll be okay."
She reached across the table and put her hand on his. "Well, like I said, watch your back, okay?"
Her hand felt warm on his, and if his personal life had not already been so complicated, he might have enjoyed it.
"Don't worry about me, it'll take a better man than Fig to take me down."
Sheila Sharp, the daytime dispatcher, poked her head in the bullpen, then stopped when she saw what she thought were the two deputies holding hands.
"Oh, excuse me."
Maddy pulled her hand away and John Lee asked, "What's up, Sheila?"
"Mama Nell has called three times now for you. She said she's tried your cell phone over and over and there's no answer. She heard about the shooting last night and wants to know you're okay."
"Damn, I forgot to charge my phone last night," John Lee said.
"Well, I'm sure you had other things on your mind," Maddy said with a smirk.
"Okay, let me take this report up to Fig, then I'll head over there."
"Here, let me take it up to him," Maddy said. "If you two butt heads again today
may have to be writing up a report on a shooting incident."
"You don't have to do that. I'm not afraid of him."
"I know you're not, John Lee, but it's no big thing. Go see Mama Nell and put her mind at ease."
"Okay, if she calls back. tell her I'm on my way," John Lee told Sheila.
The dispatcher left the room and Maddy leaned over and said, "knowing that busybody, by the end of the day everybody in the courthouse is going to think we're doing the nasty."
"Just what I need, more rumors," John Lee said, standing up.
"You know, as long as we're gonna be blamed for it anyway..."
He looked at her, not knowing how to respond, and Maddy laughed at him. "Geez, John Lee, you are so easy! Relax, you and me doing it would be like incest or something."
He breathed a sigh of relief and headed out the door, ignoring Maddy when she called after him, "Of course, they tell me that
a proud old Southern tradition!"
John Lee had never really known his father. Herb Quarrels had been a sailor from Ohio that his mother had met while on spring break in Pensacola. The two had partied for three days and then he had returned to his job at the Naval Air Station there and Lisa Marie came back to Somerton County with a cheap promise ring on her finger and no idea that a new life was growing inside of her. When she missed her period she had called him in tears, and to his credit he had borrowed a friend's car and driven the 300 miles to her home to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, the two 18 year olds may have been mature enough to make a baby, but they weren't ready for the responsibility or commitment that marriage demanded. They moved into base housing at the Naval Air Station, and less than two years later when Herb shipped out for sea duty, Lisa Marie came home with her baby in tow. Six months later, when Herb came back to reclaim his wife and child, Lisa Marie was no longer interested in married life. With her parents, a freethinking couple who had placed few restrictions on her, more than willing to help care for little John Lee, she couldn't see herself returning to the drudgery of being a full-time mother and wife.
Herb hadn't been all that disappointed, and the divorce was amicable. He had only visited a time or two after that, though he faithfully sent a monthly check to help support his son. More often than not, Lisa Marie was not around to cash the check. The world was full of adventures and she was always off seeking another one. She had gone to cosmetology school in Tallahassee, then worked as a waitress in a Key West bar for a while, then signed on a cruise ship, where she served drinks to passengers as they explored the ports of the Caribbean. From there she had moved to New York City for a brief stint, thinking she would get a modeling gig, but that hadn't worked out. Then, because it sounded like fun, she had taken a course in driving eighteen wheelers at a school in Allegan, Michigan. And so it had gone, all through John Lee's childhood. His father had only been a name on an envelope that came once a month, and his mother would occasionally breeze into town for a visit, promising him that she was there to stay, though he never believed her because he knew all too soon she would get some other idea and be off on her her next adventure, the one that she was sure would make her life complete.
Not that he had ever felt neglected or unloved. His grandparents had given him a good home, even though it was not a traditional one by any means. His grandmother never wanted him to call her that, or by any other name except Mama Nell. Though she had been drawing Social Security for a few years, she was the youngest spirit John Lee had ever known.
There was no question that Nell loved her husband Stanley, and their marriage had always been a good one. But everybody, including Stanley, knew he was her second choice. In the summer of 1961, Elvis Presley came to Inverness, Florida to make the movie
Follow That Dream,
and the moment 14 year old Nell had seen him riding in the back of his white stretch Cadillac limousine, she had given her heart to the singer, who was almost twice her age. And when he had smiled that crooked smile of his and pointed his finger at her when she screamed, "I love you, Elvis," she knew he felt the same way.
He had gone on to even greater fame while Nell had stayed a small town Florida girl, and though she had been heartbroken when he married Priscilla six years later, she would always love him. If she couldn't have Elvis, at least she could feel like she had a piece of him when she named her daughter after his.
Stanley seemed to accept the fact that he would always play second fiddle to the man he referred to as Elvis the Pelvis, and he really couldn't complain about the fact that their home seemed to be a shrine to the man, because whenever he was feeling amorous, all he had to do was put on a CD of
Love Me Tender
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
and Nell would be putty in his hands.