Authors: Nick Russell
Magic greeted him when he pulled in the driveway and John Lee spent a few minutes playing with the dog before they went inside. He hung up his gun belt, then filled Magic's bowl with food, refreshed the water in the bowl next to it, then got a Dr. Pepper out of the refrigerator before he plopped down on the couch. He picked the remote control up from the end table and turned on the television. A pretty Latina reporter was on the screen, with the Somerton County Courthouse in the background.
"After talking to Sheriff D.W. Swindle, this reporter tried to contact the State Crime Lab in Tallahassee, but nobody there could give us any further information on the case. So all we know at this point is what the sheriff shared with us, that a road construction crew discovered some skeletal remains yesterday afternoon, and further investigation by the sheriff's office revealed that there was not one, but three victims, and all appeared to have been murdered. Sheriff Swindle said that while his deputies were at the crime scene, an unknown sniper fired three rounds at them before disappearing into the forest. Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the suspect remains at large. We will have more details as they become available. This is Marta Gonzales reporting for Channel 27 News."
The screen switched to a story about a tractor-trailer accident on Interstate 10 and John Lee got up and retrieved his pistol from its holster. There had been too much going on and he had not had the time to clean it after firing it at the unknown shooter. He put newspaper down on the kitchen table, removed the magazine and the round from the chamber, then field stripped the Browning and spent the next fifteen minutes cleaning it.
John Lee loved the old pistol that had probably been manufactured sometime in the early 1970s, and the minute he had spotted it on a table at a gun show in Lake City two years previously, he had bought it. Made in Belgium, the Browning Hi Power had been the standard military and police weapon for generations of European agencies. And even though there were newer, fancier, and lighter handguns on the market, he was comfortable with the 9mm pistol and its thirteen round magazine, and the two backup magazines he carried in a pouch on his gun belt give him plenty of firepower. There was nothing at all wrong with the standard issue Glock Model 17s that the other deputies carried, and John Lee himself carried a smaller Glock Model 27 in .40 as his off duty weapon. But authorized or not, he chose to carry the Browning when in uniform.
He reassembled the pistol, pushed the magazine home and chambered a round, then put the safety on and removed the magazine and added another round for the one he had moved to the chamber. That done, he put the dirty newspapers and his cleaning kit away and returned the Browning to its holster.
He noticed his uniform from the day before still lying on the floor on the other side of the unmade bed and thought that the least Beth Ann could have done was to make the bed and put the uniform in the clothes hamper before she left. He went through the pockets, taking his cell phone out and plugging it in to charge, and retrieving a small pocket notebook and pen from one of the shirt pockets. Checking the pants pockets to make sure they were empty, he felt something and reached in and retrieved the evidence bag with the metal disk that they had found at the crime scene the day before.
"Well that's just going to make Jayne with a Y real happy when I call and tell her I forgot about this," he said to himself. "She'll probably say I'm withholding evidence or something."
Magic barked and he heard the sound of a car coming up the driveway. He glanced at his watch, seeing that it was after 7 PM. "Now who the hell is coming around bothering me?"
He walked out to the deck and saw the red Toyota pickup truck. Magic barked excitedly and bounded off the deck to greet the woman who climbed out.
"How you doing, sweetie?"
She bent over and played with the dog for a moment or two, then looked up and said, "Aren't you going to say hi, John Lee?"
She pulled a small canvas bag from the truck and came up on the deck, where she dropped it and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. Every time she came home like this John Lee told himself that he was not going to give in. He had told himself, and her, over and over that he wasn't a toy that she could take down from the shelf and play with and then put back up when she was done with him. And he meant it every time. It wasn't going to happen again. He was a man and he had some self-respect. There was nothing she could say or do that was going to change his resolve. And then she stuck her tongue in his mouth and ground her crotch into his and everything changed.
Later, as they layed in bed together, John Lee asked, "Does she know where you are?"
"She has a name. It's Sarah."
"Whatever. Does she know you're here?"
"Are you going to start being ugly, John Lee? Can't you just enjoy what we have and let it go at that?"
"What do we have, Emily? Huh, what?"
"We have this."
"Yeah, we have this. Every week or so you show up here, unannounced. You screw my brains out, and when I fall asleep I don't know if you're gonna be here in the morning or not. And if you are, you're always gone by the time I get home from work."
"Do we have to have this conversation every time I come here?"
"Yes, damn it, we do. I can't go on like this forever, Emily. I love you, but I want a full time wife, not somebody who's going to show up when she wants and then take off to go live with her girlfriend the rest of the time. How do you think that makes me feel?"
She moved her hand under the sheet to his crotch and said, "I know how this makes you feel."
He pushed her hand away irritably and said, "Stop it. I'm serious."
She sighed and sat up. "Okay, if you must know, Sarah had to go up to Valdosta. Her daddy's in the hospital with a bad prostate and they're doing surgery tomorrow morning. And
, she doesn't know where I'm at. It's none of her business. She doesn't own me, and neither do you, John Lee."
"Is that what you think it is? That I'm trying to own you? Christ, Emily, we're married! I'm not trying to own you. You're my wife and I want you here with me. Is that too much to ask?"
"How many times do we have to have this conversation? I told you, I felt... stifled here. All my life I've had to do what was expected of me. My daddy expected me to be the perfect young lady like a small town sheriff's daughter should be. Then I went away to school and I realized there's a whole big world out there, John Lee. A whole big world, and I wanted to experience it all. But what did I do? I came back here and I married you!"
"I thought you married me because you loved me."
"I did, and I do. I really do. I just need some more time, okay?"
"How much more time, Emily? A day, a week, a month, ten years? How much time?"
"I don't know. Look, we have tonight. Just enjoy it, okay? Don't make it more complicated than it is."
"It's not enough, Emily."
She pulled the sheet away and moved down his body. He wanted to resist, damn how he wanted to resist. But he didn't. He never had been able to.
"So you got laid, and then you got a BJ, and when you woke up she was gone. Most guys would think that's the perfect relationship," Maddy said, scooping up a spoonful of cheese grits from her plate.
"I guess I'm not most guys."
"All guys are the same," she said, washing down the grits with a swallow of coffee.
"I don't know, maybe you're right."
"Of course I'm right. I'm always right. Haven't you learned that yet?"
"You can be a real bitch sometimes. Do you know that?"
She laughed and said, "I know. Isn't it great?"
She filled her spoon with grits again and then stopped with it halfway to her mouth and asked, "Look, John Lee, what's the big deal? I mean, was it bad sex?"
"No. I wish it was, it might be harder to resist."
She laughed again and shook her head. "Resist? Seriously? There's no way you're ever going to be able to resist Emily. I mean hell, she's drop dead gorgeous, she's got a great rack, and an ass to die for. Why would any man want to resist that? If I was a little bit more like that Sarah she's mixed up with, I damn sure wouldn't try to resist anything she wanted to do to me."
"You better watch it," John Lee cautioned her. "There's already enough guys around this town that think you're a dyke because you won't put out for them."
"You know the difference between a slut and a dyke, John Lee?"
"No, but I figure you're about to tell me."
"A slut will go home with any guy in the bar. A dyke will go home with any guy in the bar except you."
He laughed in spite of himself.
She reached across the table and stabbed a sausage patty from his plate and set it on top of her grits. Maddy had an amazing appetite and John Lee was always amazed at how much food she could put away. But she never seemed to gain an ounce of weight.
"So, what do you think?"
"What do I think about what?"
"Are you one of the guys that think I'm a dyke, too, John Lee?"
"I never gave it much thought, to be honest."
"I said bullshit. Are you gonna sit right there and look me in the face and say you've never thought about what it might be like?"
"What, you with another woman? That's more a fantasy than a thought, isn't it?"
"Bite me. You know what I'm talking about."
He felt uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going and tried to change the subject, wondering aloud if his patrol car had been repaired yet.
"Uh uh," Maddy said with an evil grin on her face. "You're not getting off that easy. Have you?"
"Are you kidding me?"
"I'm just asking a question, that's all. Have you?"
"Have I what?"
She leaned across the table and looked him in the eye and asked, "Have you ever thought about what it would be like, you and me together?"
He started to look away and she put a finger on his jaw and turned him back toward her.
"Jesus Christ, Maddy! Where's this coming from?"
He tried to avert his eyes, but felt hers boring into him. Finally he looked back at her and said, "Yeah, I guess I have, a time or two. That's only natural, isn't it. You're a beautiful woman and I've known you forever. So sure, I'm not going to lie and say it's never crossed my mind."
She sat back and smiled and asked, "There, was that so hard?"
"I'd sure hate to be a perp being interrogated by you."
She didn't reply, just scooped the last of the grits from her plate and ate them.
"Well, how about you?"
"How about me, what?"
"You know what I mean."
"I'm a cop, not a clairvoyant, John Lee. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You're really going to make me ask, aren't you?"
She batted her eyelashes at him innocently and grinned. "Ask me what?"
"Have you ever thought about you and me being together?"
"We are together, right here, having breakfast."
"Jesus, it's like pulling teeth with you. Have you ever thought about you and me... you know, sexually?"
"Oh, God no," Maddy said. "I told you yesterday, you're like a brother to me. Gross!"
John Lee sat back in his chair, confused and not knowing how to respond. He felt like he had just made an ass out of himself, crossed a line he never should have. But she was the one who had broached the subject.
Before he could think too much, Maddy stood up and said, "I've got to get on patrol. Fig's got me working the west end of the county today."
"Yeah, okay," John Lee said. He couldn't wait to be away from her so he could try to figure out what the hell was going on. He had known Maddy forever. She was one of his best friends and he sure had not meant to ruin that. But she
been the one that had brought it up in the first place.
She left some money on the table on top of her bill, and as she walked past him she leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Remember what I told you yesterday about proud old Southern traditions."
He heard her chuckling all the way out the door. Martha Darden, who was somewhere between 40 and 60 and had been a waitress at Bernie's Café for as long as he could remember, came by with a glass carafe of coffee and asked, "Do you need a refill, John Lee?"
"No, thank you," he told her. "I need to get out on the road."
John Lee liked driving fast. It was one of the best things about his job. How else besides being a NASCAR driver would someone give him a powerful car and pay him to drive it? With Maddy on the west side of the county, he drove in the opposite direction, and once he was out of town he pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. The car was a Dodge Charger with a 370 horsepower V-8 engine and a stiff suspension that would take the rigors of high-speed pursuit driving. He would have loved to have been assigned the car all the time, it was the fastest and most powerful in the fleet. But Flag guarded it like a precious gem and didn't want anybody behind the wheel. It seemed like he wanted to preserve it as a museum piece instead of a working police vehicle. It was only because John Lee's regular car was still in the shop waiting for the window glass to come in that he had been able to get it.
With roof lights and siren on, he drove out past Wilson's Crossroads, easily hitting 100 miles per hour on the open straightaways, only slowing down when he encountered other traffic. He knew the Charger had more to give him, a lot more, but it would be just his luck to hit a raccoon or something at high speed and flip it. And the way his life was going, he wouldn't be fortunate enough to die, he'd survive and have to face Flag's anger. Even so, the high-speed run had helped relieve some of his frustration and confusion over the conversation with Maddy.
At the county line he pulled to the side of the road and sat for a minute while a slow moving propane truck caught up and passed him, then he made a U-turn and drove back in the direction he had come from, this time keeping it down to about 60. He wished women were as cooperative as cars. He understood automobiles. A car made sense. If he took care of it and treated it right, it would always respond the same way. With women, from his wife to his sister-in-law, and even with Maddy, he never knew what the hell to expect.