A/N: I'm not sure many people care or notice, but in all my stories addresses, phone numbers, zip codes, place/object names etc, are usually picked for a reason. Sometimes they are merely factual, sometimes they are easter eggs or clues to a bigger picture. Just sayin... ;)
Chapter 18: A Change of Plans
"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."
-Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
August 18, 1988
The air was still crisp and gray with pre-dawn as Daisy crawled out of her bed and dressed. Anticipation of the interview with Rosco had caused a night of broken sleep, but Amos wanted to put her column in the Tuesday edition so she couldn't put it off any longer. She was dreadfully worried that the sheriff would take more than a little convincing.
The kitchen was empty this early as she sat down with her bowl of cereal and studied the brain teaser on the back of the box with no great conviction. Apparently, there was free gum inside. She took the bag out of the box and shook it around, but the only thing left was the crumpled wrapper that one of her cousins had tossed back into the Sugar Smacks.
By the time she finished her morning routine, the boys were busy fighting over who hogged the most hot water in the shower. She would just as soon leave them be, knowing their argument would eventually drift over into her business when one of them asked for her opinion. The keys jingled as she scooped them off the counter, and Bo stuck his head around the corner.
"Where're you off to so early?"
"I'm gonna see if I can catch Rosco in a good mood. See if he'll let me interview him for the paper today."
"Rosco's more apt to remember you're due a parking ticket than he is to agree to be interviewed," he said, laughing at her optimism.
"I won't know till I try."
"Suit yourself," he shrugged. "Hey, any chance you could stop by the impound and get an old tire? I need a bumper for the end of the barn in case I have to wedge some equipment in there this fall." He dug into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled five dollar bill. "Here. If Clyde's working today, just bat your eyes and smile real big at him, and he'll probably give you one for free."
"'Cause he's sweet on you," Bo said, giving her a wink. "See you later, Daisy."
She stuck the money into her jeans and left, not looking forward to meeting Clyde.
Since last fall, she had met a couple of fellas who tried to stand too close or gawked at her in a way that made her skin crawl. One in particular, a man named Darcy Kincaid, had even dared to put his hand on her backside when they were standing in line at the Busy Bee. She'd given him a good shove and told him to buzz off, but ever since then she had been on the lookout for him whenever she went to town.
The truck's CB sprang to life with a flurry of chatter, having been tuned to the HazzardNet the day before by Bo and Luke listening to the race out at the dirt track. She let it play while she drove, until she realized it was only a gaggle of teens discussing how dreamy a fella named Kevin Costner was and she turned it off.
The impound yard was on the east side of town, just before the city limits, so she decided to get that task over with first. The guard walked up to meet her as she pulled up to the gate .
"Well, hey there, Daisy!" A man with a pleasant boyish face, whose nametag read 'Clyde', leaned over and peered into the truck. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"You're Clyde, right? Bo sent me to see about an old tire. You got any?"
The guard grinned at her, and Daisy wondered how old he was. Younger than her by a good whack, probably. "Sure thing, we've got plenty. You can take your pick," he said, gesturing to a pile in the corner of the lot. "Listen, why don't I open the gate, and you can park inside."
"Sounds good, thanks!"
The gate was built into the chainlink fence surrounding the lot, and she waited as he unlocked it and rolled it open. Beyond it was a mish mash of junked, wrecked, and rusty vehicles (mostly police cruisers in various states of disrepair) and in the distance a green army tank. She parked and got out, shading her eyes and looking over at the stack of balding tires. They all looked the same, and she wasn't sure why one would be any better than the others.
"When I realized it was you, I kind of figured you were coming to check on Dixie."
"Dixie...Oh, you mean my Jeep! it's here?" It had been months since she had thought about the actual accident, and it had never crossed her mind to wonder where it had ended up.
"Well sure," he said with a shrug. "This is where they towed it after...well, after your accident."
Daisy looked past him, at the sea of junked cars. "I haven't thought about it for a long time," she admitted. "Maybe I oughta take a look at it."
Clyde studied her with sad eyes. "I'm afraid it's not real pretty."
"I don't expect it to be."
He nodded and motioned past her towards the far side of the yard. "It's down that second row, past the crane. Listen, I'm sorry, Daisy but I've got to stay up here by the gate. Do you think you can find it on your own?"
"I think so. Thanks, Clyde."
"Great! I'll just... wait here. Say, it's really good to see you again, Daisy," he stammered, blushing. "The guys from the state police said you'd be dead if the Jeep hadn't had the roll cage, so I'm awful glad you're okay. Let me know whenever you're ready for that tire, and I'll load it up for you."
Down the second row of cars and past the great rusting hulk of an old red crane, she found the Jeep. She knew it by the name on the crumpled hood; the letters scarred with rivulets of rust as though they were crying.
Both ends of Dixie were a mess. The hood was folded back on itself, and the wheels were only rims with bits of shredded rubber, splayed out on broken axles. Even the windshield bent over the dash at an unnatural angle. The remains of its engine rested on the ground beneath a tangle of hoses. The roll cage that Clyde had mentioned sat in stark contrast to the rest of the Jeep with nary a dent, and the only damage to the interior was a scattering of glass across the vinyl.
She curled her fingers around the handle and waited. The metal was cool and smooth, but beyond that, it was simply a door handle and nothing more -no magical talisman to awaken the past. She turned it and pulled and, in spite of the damage to the rest of the vehicle, the door swung open with a groan.
It surprised her that she felt nothing, that there was no instant surge of panic. Just a beaten and rusty vehicle that might or might not have meant something to her in another life. The only sounds were birds and crickets and the far away hum of machinery. Before she could think about it, she grabbed the steering wheel and hoisted herself into the seat.
And now, she could feel it - a shadow of the same terror she must have felt that day.
It was like pulling a dried bandage off a fresh wound, only this one was over her heart. It raced wildly as she clenched her fingers around the steering wheel and shut her eyes. The last time she had sat in this seat, she had been that other Daisy - the one who remembered. A part of her had died here. Here, in this very seat, her past had spilled out around her like blood into the dry dust of Georgia.
She wanted cry in her Aunt Lavinia's arms. She wanted Uncle Jesse to chuckle and pat her hand and tell her a story that made her forget her tears. She wanted to go home and be a kid again and hate Luke and ruffle Bo's hair and ride her bike through the field and scare the crows.
Tears smeared the dust on the steering wheel as she rested her head against the dash and wept.
Enos figured he was was either going to go blind or crazy if he had to sit here and stare at fingerprints much longer. He was on the morning of day three of searching the volumes of prints which the FBI had loaned out to the county. As someone who had grown up around haystacks, he felt qualified to say that finding a needle in one of those would have been infinitely easier.
He pushed his chair back and pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering if there was any aspirin left in the storage room, and didn't hear the door open.
"You look tired."
He looked up and gave Melinda a half-hearted smile. "I am tired," he admitted. "What're you doing here this morning?"
"I can't stop by to see how you're doing?" she chided. "Jenny's working the museum. The state gives me five personal days a year, and if I don't take them they go to waste."
"Ah, I see. So, you came here to gloat."
She grinned and pointed to the papers and books that covered his desk from one end to the other. "I never kick a man when he's already down, Enos," she said. "Besides, I thought of something that might help with your case after I went home the other night."
"Really?" He racked his sleep-deprived brain trying to remember everything they had talked about. "I sure appreciate you coming by, then. What was it?"
"It's probably nothing," she said, waving off his excitement. "Nothing big, anyway. I was just thinking...that note - the one on the cigarette box - did they translate the name or did they just leave it how it was?"
"Sorry, I'm not following you." He showed her his empty coffee cup. "I ran out of caffeine two hours ago."
She laughed and pulled up a chair beside his desk. "The name. You said it was Aliz or Alise?"
"That's right." He pulled a manila folder out from the chaos of his desk, thumbed through the contents, and took out a picture of the cigarette box. "Yeah, they just kept it the same as the original since it was a name. Why?"
"Well, I was just thinking that there are lots of Anglican names which are spelled differently in Russian because of how they are pronounced. The name Alisa in Russian is usually Alice here in the US. Maybe you're looking for an 'Alice' instead of an 'Alise'?" She blushed. "See, not very important."
He rested his chin in his hand and studied her. "You know what someone told me once?"
"That I couldn't see the forest for the trees." He shook his head and put the picture back into the folder. "You should've been a detective."
"No thanks, I like to sleep at night. You want some help with-" she waved at his mess, "whatever it is you're doing? I'll make coffee..."
He rubbed the back of his neck. It wasn't good practice to let outsiders help with cases, but then his eyes fell on five remaining volumes of fingerprints, and he knew he would never get through them in time by himself. Besides, it was just a fingerprint, not interviewing witnesses.
"If you don't mind, I sure could use another pair of eyes."
"Absolutely," she said, as he handed her a book and magnifying glass. "I don't mind at all."
By the time Daisy picked up the tire and drove into town, the sun was bright and hot and her earlier sadness had faded. She parked outside the courthouse directly in front of a plastic fire hydrant which she picked up and carried into the sheriff's station.
"You left this out front, Rosco," she called up to where he sat at the booking station. "You wouldn't want someone to figure out how you make the county's money, now would you?"
"I oughta arrest you for stealin' county property," he sneered, without looking up.
"Oh come on, Rosco," she said, climbing the steps up to where he was furiously stamping the county seal onto a stack of loose papers. "You and I both know you ain't gonna arrest me. You're an old softie, even if I am a Duke." She controlled a sudden urge to pinch his cheek.
"Don't tempt me." He stopped his stamping to look up at her. "What're you doin' here this early? Your goat on the lam? Kew! Kew!"
She laughed at his horrible joke in spite of herself. "I'm here to tell you the good news!"
"Your cousins are leavin' Hazzard?"
"That's not funny, on account of Luke is leaving," she reminded him, dismally. "The Firefighter Academy starts week after next, and I don't think he'll be coming back to Hazzard afterwards. Bo's here for the long haul, but since he sold his share of the General Lee to Luke, you're gonna be bored outta your mind for a long time to come."
Rosco sighed deeply and lay the stamper down. "To be honest with you, Daisy, I'm getting to old for all them car chases." His eyes resting on hers were kind but tired, and she felt a lump rise in her throat - they reminded her of Uncle Jesse's. "So what's the good news?"
She cleared her throat. "Oh! Well, I've chosen you to be the next person I interview for the Hazzard Gazette!
"Please Rosco! Why not?"
"Cause', I said 'no'!" he told her, flatly. 'Now get out, I've gotta get these papers off to the State today." He gathered up the stack of papers and elbowed past her, down the steps, and into his office.
With a growl of frustration, she followed him. "But, it won't take hardly any time at all!" she pleaded. "I can ask you questions right now while you're doing that other stuff. I'll just sit in the corner, and you can pretend I'm not here. Except I'll be writing down your answers, of course."
"I've got better things to do than to sit here and answer ridiculous questions from the likes of a Duke." He pointed to the door. "Now git!"
She wondered if he had always been so mean as she stormed out of his office and back into the lobby, her face burning.
She stopped and brushed a rogue tear from her cheek as his footsteps crossed the room. The outside door was right in front of her; she could run away and he wouldn't follow.
"I...I'm sorry, Daisy." He sounded different...embarrassed, soft-spoken, and she knew this was him and not the charade he pulled with everyone. This was the man who had saved her life. "I didn't mean nothing by it. It's just an old joke, you know. You Dukes are supposed to yell at me, and tell me how I couldn't solve a crime if it wasn't for y'all...or something like that."
She turned around and tried to smile.
"I didn't aim to hurt your feelings. You've gotten to where you hide it so well that sometimes I forget that you don't remember." His last words made her squeeze her eyes shut against the tears threatening to fall. "Now, don't you start crying," he warned her. "I can't abide cryin'. Gives me a quiver in my liver."
She laughed. "Rosco, you're the strangest person I know. I don't think I understand you at all."
"And that's the way I like it," he told her. "No interviews, Daisy. Amos and I have an agreement. He leaves all my mistakes out of his paper, and I don't remind him how he stole my girl after putting ipecac in my glass of punch at our high school graduation. Don't seem like something you'd want to do, anyhow, interviewing me. Is that the real reason you're here?"
She groaned and ran her hand through her hair. "I don't care so much about the paper, but I need Enos Strate's address. Cletus said you had it."
"Enos?" He looked genuinely confused. "I thought... You remember Enos?"
She shook her head. "Not really, but I found an old diary from when I was a kid and we seemed really close. I thought maybe I could write him a letter..." She paused, but the sheriff didn't say anything so she continued. "You know, just...let him know what happened to me and say 'hi'. That sort of thing. Do you think he'd remember who I was if I wrote to him?"
"You're askin' me if Enos would remember you?"
"I guess that's silly, really," she mused, ignoring his question. "After all, Bo and Luke said he used to celebrate Christmas with us, so I suppose he knows me."
Rosco was staring at her like she'd grown an extra head. "Oh, I think it's safe to say he'll know who you are. I can't give you his address, though."
"Well, see now, I sort of promised him I wouldn't."
She didn't understand this at all. "Enos made you promise not to give me his address?"
"No...Yes... Well, not you exactly. He said not to give it to anybody."
She threw her hands up in dispair. "Rosco, please" she begged, "I just want to write him a letter, surely that wouldn't hurt anything?"
Rosco glanced nervously at his watch, dithering as if weighing a decision. "I'm awful sorry I can't give you his address, Daisy. Really, I am. After all, it's right over there in my unlocked file cabinet, under "D" for Dipstick. Kew! Kew!" His eyes met hers, sparkling with mischief. "You rotten Dukes are always finding ways to get yourselves in trouble, so I guess it wouldn't be so suprising if you happened to poke around while I went down to the Busy Bee to get a bear claw."
"You're the best, Rosco!" she gushed, throwing her arms around him and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
He patted her stiffly on the back. "Alright...alright...none of that!" He disappeared out the door, leaving her alone in the station.
She wasted no time pulling open the file cabinet behind his desk. D for Dipstick, he'd said, whatever that meant. She thumbed through the files and pulled out the one with 'Enos Strate' on the tab and lay it open on the desk. Her heart beat so fast at the notion of finally getting some answers that she put her hand on her chest and breathed deeply to slow it down. The top page in his file read 'RESUME' and included a list of places he had worked, the dates, and their addresses.
March 1986 - Current
Whitefish County Sheriff's Department
Tamarack, Michigan 49768
October 1985 - March 1986
Whitefish County Sheriff's Department
Tamarack, Michigan 49768
June 1985 - October 1985 / November 1980 - September 1982
Los Angeles Police Department - Metropolitan Division/ Central Division
Los Angeles, California 90026
September 1982 - June 1985 / January 1972 - November 1980
Hazzard County Sheriff's Department
Hazzard, Georgia 30016
Daisy jotted down Tamarack in Whitefish County, Michigan, on a scrap of paper from Rosco's desk. Most of the other pages were timesheets or copies of paystubs, but a blue piece of paper near the back caught her attention and she pulled it out. It was a life insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha listing him as 'Benjamin Enos Strate' born April 2, 1952, in Hazzard County, Georgia, with parents Otis Strate *deceased* and Agnes (Tribble) Strate. The policy had originally been issued April 1973, but she supposed it was still current since the date at the top of the paper read April 3, 1988 - only five months ago.
She scanned the rest of the page hoping for his home address but found none, and she was about to put it back into the stack and close up the folder when her eyes caught the name of the beneficiary at the bottom.
She stared at it for a very, very long time.
Outside, Cletus called to someone, and she slammed the folder shut and refiled it, sneaking out the side door of the station just as the deputy was coming in through the front.
Melinda sighed and pulled her legs up beside her into the chair. "So this fingerprint we're looking for...I thought you already knew who the guy was that you found out in the woods?
Enos paused but kept his eyes glued to the print he was matching so as not to lose his place. Nearly three hours had slipped by while they poured over the FBI's records with neither of them coming up with a match.
"I do. It's not his. I pulled it off his boot."
She sat her magnifying glass down on a stack of paper where it slipped off and clattered to the desk. "Wait a minute. I thought you said you didn't have any physical evidence?"
"I didn't until two weeks ago." It had been one of the few times staring up at the ceiling all night had brought a breakthrough. "I hadn't thought to dust his boots. Can't say that it's from the murderer, but having someone else's prints on your boot's awful strange."
"Hmm. And you're sure the FBI is going to have a match on it?"
His eyes, tired from studying the repetitive arches and whorls, jumped from their focus. "No, I'm not sure at all," he confessed, wearily. "But stringing someone up by his leg and gutting him don't seem like a killer's first rodeo."
"So all these books..." She gestured at the piles around them. "This is everything the FBI has? You'd think there would be more."
"Oh, no, these prints are all the same type." He stood up, wincing as his back popped from sitting in one spot too long. "There's three main types of fingerprint patterns; whorls, arches, and loops. These are just their records of whorl-type prints."
"You mean that circle-like thing in the middle I'm getting tired of staring at?"
"Yep, that'd be it."
She looked down at her own thumb, then stuck it out towards him and laughed. "Alright, I give up, you caught me!"
"I should've known all along," he said with mock exasperation. "Here I've been working hard this whole time when the answer was right in front of me." He looked down at his watch to find that lunch had passed them by. "Listen, I need a break. If you don't mind pasties, I'm buyin'."
She held out her hand and he pulled her up from her chair. "Watch out, Enos, you'll sweep me off my feet talking like that."
The truck idled softly in the intersection of Mill Road and Canyon Springs. Straight would take her to the green fields of the farm where her cousins waited, full of life and hope and happiness. Like moving slowly through a dream, she turned right instead, down the lonely road that led to the Pine Ridge Cemetery and the only parents she had ever known. She slowed as the road grew narrow and uneven, the truck bouncing so much she could hardly keep the wheel straight. This part of the county was owned mainly by timber companies with few houses, and the roads were pocketed with holes from the semis hauling logs over it.
She pulled off at the cemetery and parked beneath the shade of a giant pin oak. The dry, late-season grass crunched beneath her feet as she walked up the hill to the gate and lifted the rusty latch. It screeched as she pushed it open, bending back a cluster of thistles half her height. The older graves were closer to the front, littered here and there with cheap, silk flowers and covered with white rock. Many had the iron crosses of CSA veterans stuck into the dirt in front of them.
She left these behind and continued towards the back and the newer graves, kicking the rocks as she walked the path between the rows. The last time she had come here had been the day after the funeral, when she and her cousins had paid their last respects alone. It had seemed wrong for Uncle Jesse's final resting place to look so simple, just a scar on the earth, as though someone had tilled a patch of dirt and left it forgotten.
Spring had passed and summer had come and now the scar had faded. Crabgrass and jimson weed had crawled across the emptiness and set down roots. His headstone had been set after her aunt's passing with "Jesse L. Duke" inscribed into it, along with his date of birth, but the death date was still missing. Next spring, the funeral home had said, after the ground had settled, they would come and complete it.
Daisy knelt down in front of her aunt's marker, tracing her name with her fingers. So much time had passed that the black paint the letters had been filled in with had faded and washed away.
So many years. So many springs and summers, falls and winters.
"Aunt Lavinia?" she whispered. "I can't remember if I told you that I loved you. But I do...and you, too, Uncle Jesse. I miss y'all so much."
With a heavy heart, she sat down on the ground between their headstones.
"I can't talk to Bo and Luke about this, so I hope God'll let you hear me up there in heaven." She looked up and watched the clouds move slowly in the sky, and thought about what she had seen in Enos' file. "I wish you'd of told me more about him, Uncle Jesse, but I know you were just trying to make everything easier. I was gonna send him a letter, but now I feel like there's something I'm missing. Maybe something important. More complicated than waking up and cooking breakfast and doing laundry..."
That reminded her that after next week, she would have one less mouth to feed. Luke was leaving to chase a future outside of Hazzard, and even Bo had found his calling.
A moth landed on her aunt's stone, it's gray banded wings camouflaged against the lichen. If only she had wings to fly away. "Where are you going, little moth?" she wondered, imagining it sailing on the wind, high above the dry, dusty roads of Georgia. "Somewhere far away? I sure wish you could take me with you."
The moth fluttered off and the spell was broken. She stood up and looked around at the gravestones; broken and still. The quiet which had been comforting moments before seemed vaguely unsettling, and the feel of death was everywhere.
It took all her courage not to run as she made her way back to the truck.
Two Weeks Later...
September 2, 1988
"You're sure you've got everything?"
Luke, who had been riffling through the overstuffed duffel bag, zipped it and tossed it beside the door. "Bo, I know how to pack my own unmentionables," he groused. "You're starting to sound like an old mother hen."
"He just cares," Daisy reminded him. "Let him alone. The last thing we need is for you two to start picking at each other."
Bo turned towards the window, and she knew this parting wasn't easy for him. Luke glanced at her, then walked over and put his arm across his youngest cousin's shoulders.
"It's not like I'm goin' to the other side of the world, cuz. I'll be back."
"Yeah, I know that, Luke," he said, heatedly, "but it won't ever be the same again, and don't say it will!"
Both knew his anger wasn't directed at them. Luke pulled him into a hug and Daisy felt a lump stick in her throat. Bo was right, this might be the last time they were all together like this. The end of one journey and the beginning of the next, and the news she was about to give them wouldn't make it any easier. This was the only time she would have if she wanted to tell them both at once.
"Fellas," she began, trying to keep her voice from shaking, "there's something I've gotta tell you."
Both cousins turned to look at her.
"What's wrong, Daisy?"
She shook her head. "Nothing's wrong, Luke," she assured him. "I've just been doing some thinking over the last couple of weeks." She pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, trying not to fidget. "Hard thinking, to tell you the truth. I love you fellas a lot, but I've made up my mind. I'm leaving Hazzard."
She held up her hands to ward off their volley of questions and complaints.
"I don't mean forever. It's just that...I need a chance to figure out who I am. Call it a long vacation. A couple of months, that's all." She bit her lip as Bo and Luke gaped at her with bewildered expressions. "I've gotta do something besides sit here and get old! Uncle Jesse thought I was brave for wanting to go back to school," she reminded them. "So, just think of this as me being brave again. Maybe - just maybe - if I can get away from all the stuff I can't remember, I'll find my way again."
"Uh well...I don't really know what to say, Daisy. The world's a big place."
"What Bo's trying to say is that we promised Uncle Jesse we'd keep you safe."
She walked over and put her arms around both of them. "I know you did," she said, "and I love you for that, but this is something that I've gotta do. It's important to me."
"Where would you go?" asked Bo. "Heck, if you want a change of scenery, Aunt Molly lives down in Canton. That's a good hour from here, at least, and I'm sure she'd love to put you up for awhile."
Bless his heart, she thought to herself, Bo was such a homebody that he would never understand, not in a million years. "No, Bo," she said, softly. "Not with family, and not in Georgia, either."
"But...but where...when?" he sputtered.
"She sounds like she's already made her plans, cuz," Luke said, studying her curiously. "How far away are you talking about?"
She shook her head. "That's part of the plan, too," she answered. "I'm sorry fellas, I'll call home as soon as I get where I'm going, but I need to do this on my own. And, there's no changing my mind on it, Bo. I've saved up plenty of earnings from writing my column in the paper, and I've got what Uncle Jesse left me if I really need it."
"Only two months? You promise?"
"I thought I'd stay here late enough to help you get ready for harvest, so bought the ticket for a flight out of Atlanta on September 16th. I promise I'll be back home by Christmas."
"I'll hold you to that promise," Bo warned her.
Luke pulled her into his arms and hugged her tight. "Whatever it takes, we'll both be there to drop you off that day. You ain't leavin' off to nowhere without me saying 'bye' first. And you be damned careful. You don't have to do this to prove anything to us."
"I know, Luke. It's me who needs the proof, and I can't find it here in Hazzard."
That night in the quiet of her room, Daisy stared at the one-way ticket to Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. She didn't know what she would find up north, and the possibilities both excited and terrified her, but it was time to start living a new life and stop trying to fit into the old one she couldn't remember. For the first time, she knew what she would do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. The relief almost made her cry.