The blare of his alarm woke Enos at 5:30am. He shut it off with a groan, feeling for all the world like he'd never slept at all, though given he'd only had a little over two hours of shut-eye it wasn't surprising. He dragged himself from the bed, only to trip over the clothes he'd been too tired to toss in the laundry basket the night before and fall headlong against the wall, banging his forehead on the windowsill.
"Ding-dang it all, it better not be one of those days," he muttered.
He picked himself up and dressed, then filled a small saucepan with water and oatmeal, setting it on the stove to to cook. He finished up his morning routine, poured his oatmeal into a bowl, and added a handful of Lucky Charms to the mix.
His mother had a long standing belief that eating sugary cereals was somehow akin to sinning on Sunday, and that anything created after reconstruction was inherently evil. His father, God rest his soul, had been the eternal optimist of the family right up until the day the family still had blown up, sending Otis Strate to ridge-runner heaven. Enos had been fifteen when his father died, but he'd never forgotten the man who had shaped his life.
"Son," he would tell him, "you find something to do that makes you happy - something you can be proud of..."
Enos shook his head. Thinking of his pa only brought thoughts of Hazzard, and he'd vowed not to think about that if he could help it. He'd spent the last four years trying to forget it.
He'd always wanted to work for the LAPD, it had been a dream of his ever since he'd graduated from the Police Academy in Atlanta at 19. The excitement of chasing dangerous criminals in a big city had intrigued the starry eyed boy from the back hills who's family hardly ever had two dimes to rub together. He'd gotten there, too, and the first two years he'd spent in Los Angeles were eye opening to say the least. He'd returned to Hazzard, welcomed back into the small community with open arms.
Four years ago his experience at the LAPD was a pleasant memory of lessons lived and learned, and realization that he didn't belong there. The only reason he was here now was, well, it was the only other place he knew to go. He'd run away, something that went against everything he'd ever believed in. He shared some understanding with the fugitives he'd captured – he knew what it was like to not be able to go home again.
"I'm not thinking about that," he told himself resolutely.
He left his apartment and headed down to the subway, catching the 6:15 that would take him into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. He entered the Parker Center, humming the tune to a radio jingle that had gotten stuck in his head as he climbed the 8 flights of stairs.
"My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R..."
The outer office of the LAPD was usually buzzing with activity, but this morning all was silent, a fact that he was too wrapped up in his own mind to notice until he turned towards his office and consequently the television set bolted to the wall in the corner of the waiting area. Everyone in the department was gathered around, watching.
"Hey y'all! Whatcha watching?"
Most of them turned to face him, and something in their expressions made his heart give an odd thump before one of the officers, Alice Kremen, spoke.
"Enos! Hey, haven't you been watching the news this morning?"
"No," he said, confused, "I don't have a television... What's going on?"
"There's been another murder in Georgia. I thought you might have heard about it. Isn't that where you're from?"
He nodded solemnly. "Hazzard County. It's north of Atlanta."
The woman regarded him thoughtfully then gestured to the television. "They found another girl in Choctaw County. You know where it is?"
"Choctaw County! That's just on the northwest border of Hazzard!" He tried to keep up on the news from around there, but the papers his mother sent him were always a couple weeks behind at best. "Someone was killed?"
"Three so far, all women from around the area as far as anyone can tell. This girl disappeared six days ago from Sweet...something."
"I don't keep up with things there as much as I'd like. My mother sends me the newspapers, but she doesn't get to the post office very much. I'm still in last October."
"You didn't go home for Christmas?"
Enos rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "I..it's a long way. Three killed? There hasn't been a murder around that part of the state since ol' Whitey Fogbottom ran his wife through a chipper in '68 over in Chickasaw County."
Alice paused and looked at him strangely. "Bad way to go. Yeah, that's one reason they're pretty sure the murders are all related. They..."
Enos pointed to the television and the reporter who had begun talking about the disappearances and subsequent murders in rural Georgia.
"...Annabelle Murphy, reported missing after she'd failed to return home from her job at a local gas station in Colonial City October 7th. Her car was later found outside Raleigh in Chickasaw County, and her body was found near Lake Choocha-Cooble on October 17th. The body of twenty eight year old Doris Hicks of Hatchape County was found November 21st in Seminole Canyon, only fifteen miles from where Murphy's body was found the previous month.
The search has been called off now as authorities examine the body of the young woman found near Spartanburg early this morning, believed to be that of Lillie Walker of Sweetwater, missing since December 27th."
As the reporter spoke, the pictures of the three victims flashed by on the screen - young, smiling, full of life. Enos's trained eyes picked up other things as well, their height, build, hair color, eye color – all eerily similar, all obviously chosen carefully. His heart skipped a beat as the memory of another girl with long brown hair and hazel eyes flooded his mind. Unconsciously he wiped his hands, now cold and sweaty against his slacks. Colonial City, Raleigh, Sweetwater, Spartanburg – these were all towns surrounding western Hazzard County where he'd grown up, deep in the heart of ridge-runner territory, places where not many lawmen would dare to venture or know how to find their way out if they did.
"You okay, Strate?" asked another officer. "You didn't know any of them did you?"
Jerked out of his reverie, Enos looked over at him. "No..," he said quietly. "No, I...they don't look familiar. 'Scuse me, I...I've got a lot of work to do." He turned to walk to his office and in his lack of concentration managed to walk into another desk, toppling the flower pot perched on the corner, shattering it against the floor. He grimaced and bent down to pick up the pieces. Placing them back on the desk, he looked sheepishly at it's owner.
"Sorry Susan...It was a beautiful plant. I'll get you another one."
Susan, long used to Enos's lack of coordination while his mind was elsewhere shooed away his apology. "That's okay, Enos, I probably would have killed it myself if you hadn't. I couldn't get a cactus to grow in the desert."
Enos closed the door to his office behind him and set down at the desk. His hand hovered over the phone for a moment before picking it up, only to return the receiver to its cradle. There was no one in Hazzard he could call. He briefly toyed with the notion of calling Luke Duke and asking him to keep an eye out on Daisy, but he was sure he and the others were anyway, besides he didn't want to look like a stalker. He hadn't talked to any of them since he'd left. Instead he picked up the phone and dialed the operator.
"Name and location, please," said a cheery voice.
"Choctaw County, Georgia, Sheriff's Department, please ma'am."
Enos waited while she made the connection and the phone began to ring. "Choctaw County Sheriff's Department," said a female voice on the other end.
"Mornin' ma'am, is Sheriff Ragsdale in?"
There was silence for a moment and then the voice, now sounding slightly confused answered, "I'm sorry, sir, Sheriff Ragsdale retired last year."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I haven't been in the area for a while. Who's Sheriff there now?"
"Dewey Wilkes, sir."
"You don't say...Is he there now, ma'am?" Dewey Wilkes had been a deputy there last Enos knew. They'd gone to police academy together, and he and Enos went way back.
"Sure, I'll patch you through to him, one moment please."
"...Sheriff's Department, Dewey Wilkes speaking."
"Lord have mercy, Dewey, what in the world did they go and make you Sheriff for?"
"...Enos Strate, you mangy varmint! Is that you?"
Enos gave a nervous laugh. "The one and only, Dewey."
"You ain't back in Hazzard are you?"
"No, I'm still in LA. Miss it there, though."
"I gotta tell you, it got pretty rough around Hazzard when you left ol' Rosco and Cletus in charge over there. I can't tell you how many times I had to drag their asses outta the fire an' back into the fryin' pan."
"I'm sorry about that, Dewey. I had my reasons."
"Yeah, I heard about that, too. I'm real sorry, Enos," said Dewey. "I gotta feeling this ain't a social call, though, is it?"
"No Dewey, I'm afraid it's not. What do you know about what's been going on?"
The sheriff sighed, "It ain't good, buddy - no way, no how. People here are scared – there ain't been nothing like this ever happened. We got two gals dumped here in Choctaw County and that third one down Spartanburg way is the other one, they just haven't released the name yet."
"Yeah, I saw on the news here. They didn't give any details, though, if you know what I mean."
"It's not pretty for sure. From what we can tell the guy either picked them up or hitched a ride with them. They'd all been strangled, beat up pretty bad. Here's something that you won't find on the news, and I'd like to just keep in the loop if'n ya' don't mind...he keeps them alive for quite a while after he takes them."
"How do you know?"
"Well, of the two girls found here, the coroner says Doris hadn't been dead for more than a few days and she wasn't found until nearly two weeks after she'd been missing. Annabelle was still warm when her body was found ten days after she disappeared."
"Possum on a gum-bush... That means he's got to be holed up somewhere around. Have you talked to anyone up on Ridge Road, yet?" Old Ridge-runner Road bordered Choctaw and Hazzard counties, the area that was smack dab in the middle of all the disappearances.
"Ain't none of them ol' ridge-runners gonna talk to me or anyone else that goes up there - that is if you're lucky enough to actually find anyone to talk to. They see a police car comin' and they're as scarce as a mud puppy in a drought. Look, I know what you're thinkin', Enos, and I appreciate your worry, I do, but we're doing the best we can."
"I know you are, Dewey, it's just...well, the descriptions of the girls are a bit...familiar to hit that close to home."
"You know," Dewey answered, quietly, "I actually had a feeling you might just call me after it got on the national news. I agree, it's uncanny. If you're worried about Daisy, though, you're best off calling Rosco. Not much I can do from this here neck o' the woods."
"Yeah, I know, Dewey. I just wanted to find out what was really going on. I'll think about calling Rosco. Thanks for filling me in."
"Hey, anytime Enos. And if ya' ever need a job, you come see me."
Enos laughed. "Will do, Dewey. Bye now."
"Bye, Enos." Sheriff Wilkes hung up the phone and shook his head sadly. "That poor boy ain't never gonna get over that girl."