Authors: Nick Russell
John Lee didn't know his way around the Internet very well but he knew someone who did, and the next morning he called Maddy.
"Are you working today?"
"I go in this afternoon at three. Why?"
"If you're not busy, can I come over for a bit?"
There was hesitation on the line and he wondered if their conversation at breakfast the other day had strained their friendship. He hoped not, but he did know how to approach it.
"Uh... yeah. Come on over."
"Are you sure? If it's not a good time..."
"No, Mama's just having one of her bad days. I tried to get her to come down for breakfast and she wouldn't, and when I took a tray up to her she didn't want to eat."
"I'm sorry. Look, we can do this another time."
"No, really, it's okay. If I spend much more time cooped up in the house with her this way, I might wind up just as depressed as she is."
"All right, I'll see you in a few."
Maddy and her mother lived in a two-story house that her grandfather had built back in the 1940s. It sat on a half acre of land, and the grass needed mowing. Getting out of the Charger, John Lee noted that the place could have used a coat of paint, too.
Maddy met him at the door wearing green shorts and a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville T-shirt. He followed her inside, and couldn't help noticing how good her legs and rear end looked in the shorts. As if reading his mind, she looked over her shoulder and said, "Caught ya."
John Lee felt his face redden and she chuckled. It seemed like a lot of women were having fun at his expense lately.
"Sure. Cream and sugar."
"I know what you like, John Lee." He noticed a little extra wiggle in her walk as she said it, and wondered if it was intentional. Nope. That was another can of worms he needed to leave unopened.
She filled their coffee cups, then asked, "So is this a social call, or business?"
"A little bit of both, maybe."
He took the envelope with the metal disk out of his pocket and showed it to her. "Have you ever seen anything like this before?"
She looked at both sides of it, and shook her head. "No, what is it?"
"I have no idea," John Lee said.
"Where did it come from?"
"We found it out in the trench with those bones."
"Interesting. Did the folks up in Tallahassee have any idea what it might be?"
"I met with a forensic anthropologist named Shania Jones. She could tell me an awful lot about those bones we found, but nothing at all about this."
"Okay, so tell me about the bones."
John Lee shared the things that Shania had told him, and when he was done Maddy shook her head. "Man that's a rough way to go out. Do you think it was the Klan?"
"That was my first thought," John Lee said.
"Can I show this to Mama? Maybe she's seen something like it before."
"Wait here." She took the disk and went upstairs and was gone a couple of minutes. While she was gone, John Lee sat at the table and looked around the kitchen. It seemed like everything had stopped soon after Dan had drowned. The refrigerator, stove, even the electric toaster looked like the same ones his friend's parents had used when they were teenagers. The only new appliance he saw was the electric coffee maker.
"No luck," Maddy said when she returned.
"I was wondering if you could find anything on the Internet about it?"
"It's worth a shot, I guess."
She went to the living room and came back with her Dell laptop computer and opened it on the table. She did a search under dog tags, Somerton County tags, and the letters SL and the numbers 428, all with no success.
"Sorry, John Lee. I tried."
"I appreciate it. I'll show it to Paw Paw and Mama Nell and see what they say. And maybe I'll check in with some of the old folks around the county and see if they have any ideas."
He had a second cup of coffee with her and she asked him about the rumor going around the courthouse about a big blowup between Flag and D.W.
"The way I hear it, Fig went stomping out the door, and when Sheila asked him if he was done for the day, he went off on her and told her that he damn sure wasn't done, he was a long ways from being done, and people around there needed to know that and not forget it."
"Yeah, he was trying to get me suspended and D.W. pulled rank on him. It got pretty ugly."
"And then I heard D.W. put you in charge of the investigation into those bones?"
"Yep, and told me to keep driving the Charger, too."
"Damn, John Lee. Maybe you should've been sleeping with both of his daughters all along!"
"You just had to bring that up, didn't you?"
She laughed at him and said, "Most guys would be bragging about it. I mean what could be hotter than doing two sisters?"
"I don't know. Doing two sisters at the same time?"
Maddy put her hands on both sides of his face and said, "I don't doubt you're good, John Lee, but I don't think even you are that good!"
They laughed and she sat back and asked, "So what are you going to do today?"
"Well, I could mow your grass."
"If that's a euphemism for what I think it is..."
"In your yard," he told her.
"With all the neighbors watching?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Maddy. I'm talking about getting a lawnmower and mowing the grass in your yard."
"Yeah, I knew that. No, really, I did."
"I just noticed it's getting pretty long out there."
"I hired Leroy Bolger to do it and he'd come by a couple times a month to mow. But I had to tell him not to do that anymore."
"Why? Couldn't depend on him, or did he do a crappy job?"
"Neither. He started showing up a little too often wanting to talk about other things besides the yard work, if you get my drift."
"What, Leroy's not your type? Looks like he's in pretty good shape from all the work he does. And I hear tell he's only got six or seven more payments due on his pickup and he'll own it free and clear."
"Call me picky," Maddy said, "but I've got a rule that any guy I date has to have more teeth than he does tattoos."
"Girl, you're gonna have to look a lot farther afield than Somerton County unless you plan to be a virgin the rest your life."
"And just what makes you think I'm a virgin, John Lee?"
"I'm just gonna shut up now."
"You should've thought about that a few minutes ago."
"Anyway, do you have a lawnmower?"
"Yeah, there's a riding mower out in the shed next to the garage."
"Has it been started in the last hundred years?"
"Yes, it has. Leroy used it when he cut the grass."
"Let me go check it out," John Lee said.
The shed smelled of dust and old garden mulch. A small collection of rakes, hoes, and shovels leaned together in one corner, looking like nobody had used them since Maddy's father had left. There was a workbench along one wall, hand tools hanging on a pegboard above. Like the rakes and shovels, he was sure they had not been touched in at least a decade.
A tarp covered the mower, an old Toro Wheel Horse, and while it looked like it had seen better days, it started right up. John Lee spent a couple of minutes figuring out the controls, then drove it to the front of the property and mowed the grass on both sides of the driveway all the way to the back of the house. He had the backyard almost done when it ran out of gas.
He had stripped off his shirt and was sweating above his jeans and boots. Maddy came out with a glass of lemonade.
"Damn, John Lee, I may take a picture and put it on a calendar!"
"Flattery will get you anywhere," he told her. "Do you have any gasoline around here?"
"I think there's a can in the shed or the garage, let me check."
She was back in a couple of minutes with a red plastic two gallon can.
"Feels like it's about half full."
"That's enough to do the trick," John Lee told her. He filled the tank and the mower started on the third try. He handed her the empty lemonade glass, gave her a thumbs up, and went to finish the rest of the yard.
Watching him, Maddy had a smile on her face. At six feet tall and 175 pounds, with his dark hair and broad shoulders, there was no denying that John Lee Quarrels was a fine looking man. And as far as she knew, he had all of his teeth and no tattoos.
John Lee was hot and sweaty by the time he finished mowing the grass, and after he parked the mower back in the shed and pulled his shirt back on, he thanked Maddy for trying to help him find out any information on the disk and drove home to take a shower.
He was just drying off when his cell phone rang. He looked at the screen and the caller ID said it was Shania Jones.
"Are you busy?"
"No, just got out of the shower, to tell you the truth."
"I must have had an impact on you if you are taking cold showers at this time of the day!"
He laughed and said, "Yeah, that's what it is."
"I don't suppose you know how to Skype, do you?"
"How to do what?"
Shania laughed and said, "Never mind. The reason I'm calling is, I showed the pictures of that disc you sent me last night around here, and nobody's ever seen anything like it. The closest thing I got was couple of people who said it might have been a dog tag. But I doubt Somerton County issued any kind of dog tags back when these guys got shot. Do you even require them on dogs now?"
"Yeah, I think they cost a buck or two. But I doubt if half the dogs in the county have one."
"And one of the guys here said he wondered if it was a key fob."
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes when companies have a lot of vehicles, each one has a designated number, and they use some kind of a tag or something on the keychain so you know which key goes to which one."
"That's interesting, I never thought of that. We use a small square plastic tag for the vehicles here at the Sheriff's Department. It's worth checking out."
"I'd be interested to hear if you find out anything about it," Shania said. "I'll be sending over my formal report sometime this afternoon after I get it written up. It's not going to say any more than what we talked about yesterday, but I'll put a whole bunch of scientific terms on it and dress it up so that it looks like I know what I'm talking about and am earning my pay."
"Sounds good," John Lee told her. Even though they were just talking on the telephone, he felt a little self-conscious doing it while he was standing there naked, especially with her knowing that he had just gotten out of the shower.
"Anyway, keep in touch, okay, John Lee?"
"I'll do that," he told her.
"Oh, and you should look into Skype."
"If you say so."
She laughed and said, "Who knows? It could open up a whole new world for you. Have yourself a nice day, John Lee."
He shaved and put a uniform on, and realized he was humming to himself as he did it. What was that all about? He never hummed.
He called dispatch to check in with Sheila and see if there was anything going on that he needed to know about.
"No, but D.W. just asked if I had heard from you today."
"Okay, transfer me up to him if you would."
"I can't, he went to the Rotary for their monthly luncheon."
"All right, I'll catch him later."
"Before I go, did you hear about your patrol car?"
"My patrol car? No, what about it?"
"Well, it needs a new window in the driver's door."
"No, it needs windows in both doors. When that guy was shooting at us the bullet went through one window and out the other."
"That's not what I mean," Sheila told him.
"Okay, then I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Well, you're gonna love this, John Lee. After his big blow up with D.W. yesterday, Fig went to the garage this morning and saw that they had replaced the windows in your car, but that you were still in the Charger. He hit the roof again, and called D.W. right then and said that you were driving it without his permission. That's when D.W. told him that he had assigned the Charger to you permanently. Buster, there at the garage, he said he heard Fig arguing with D.W. about it, and even though he could only hear one side of the conversation, he said it sounded bad."
"Fig really has had a couple of bad days, hasn't he?"
"Oh, it gets better," Sheila assured him. "Buster said that when he got done with the conversation, Fig threw his phone across the garage and it hit the wall and broke into about a hundred pieces. He said then Fig turned around and put his fist right through the brand new window he had just installed in your old car."
"You're shitting me?"
"That's what Buster said, and it gets even better."
"Yeah, not only did he bust out the window, it sounds like he might have broken a couple of his knuckles. Had to go to the hospital in Perry to get them looked at. And then," she had to pause because she was laughing so hard, "and then when D.W. heard about it, he had Buster write up an incident report and said that the cost of replacing the window was coming out of Fig's paycheck!"
"Damn, that's about the funniest thing I've heard all week," John Lee told her.
He ended the call and laughed all the way out to his Charger.
"Nope, I've never seen anything like that," Mama Nell said, turning the disk over in her hand.
"Let me see." Paw Paw took it from her and studied it. "Doesn't look familiar to me, but it looks like the letters and numbers were punched in with individual dies, one at a time. See how they're not exactly straight? The four is a little higher than the other two numbers?" He turned it over and said, "
nd you can see that it's not flat here in the back. It's dimpled a little bit."
"Yeah. Come on, I'll show you."
He led John Lee through the back door into one of the collection of sheds he had constructed on the property. Inside there was a long tool bench, with various wrenches and screwdrivers hanging from a pegboard above it. Paw Paw opened one of the many drawers under the bench and fished around and pulled out a plastic box.
"Do you remember when I was doing leatherworking?"
John Lee remembered all too well. At one point his grandfather had bought a leather making kit from Tandy and for the next year everybody Paw Paw knew got wallets, belts, leather headbands, and wristbands, all decorated with designs. He opened the box and took out a metal punch and a piece of scrap leather. Placing the leather on the table, he centered the punch on it and hit the end with a hammer.
There was a perfect half-moon shaped crescent in the leather.
"You could do the same thing with metal, like that disk of yours if you had some dies or punches with numbers and letters on them."
"Okay, that helps a lot," John Lee told him. "Somebody suggested that maybe this was a tag that went on a key, like for a fleet vehicle?"
"Yeah, that could be. When I worked for FPL we had something similar for all our vehicles. And not just the vehicles, the chainsaws and things like that all had one on them at one time. That was before they started bar coding everything."
"Thanks, Paw Paw, I appreciate it. I need to get back to town to start asking questions."
"Long as you're going back to town, give me a ride."
"Where you headed?"
"Back to town."
Mama Nell had joined them in the shed, and said, "Paw Paw's decided he's goin' to start ridin' a bicycle. I told him at his age he's probably goin' to fall off and break his hip or somethin'."
"I'm not gonna break my hip! Besides, riding a bicycle is healthy for you. I should get one for you, too, and you could ride with me."
"No thank you," Mama Nell said. "We both break our hips who's gonna take care of us?"
"You always look for the worst side of things, woman! Riding a bicycle is good for the environment and good for the health. I don't know why anybody would want to drive a car anyhow."
"Whatever," John Lee interrupted. "If you're going to be riding a bicycle, why do you need a ride into town?"
"So I can ride it back home."
"Well, where is this bicycle, Paw Paw?"
"In the garage."
"Okay, now you've totally confused me."
"We're going to put the bicycle in the trunk of your car and you're going to drive me to town, and then I'm going to ride it home. What's so confusing about that?"
"Well, why don't you just ride it into town and back home again?"
"That wouldn't make any sense. If I was already at home, why would I ride a bicycle into town just to turn around and ride it back home?"
"Because..." John Lee realized this wasn't going to get him anywhere, so he just said, "You better not scratch up my new car putting that bicycle in the trunk."