"Freedom is a pillow of dreams to those who rest in chains."
Thursday, July 25, 1985
It had seemed ridiculous at first – a wild goose chase up to the middle of nowhere in a little county called Hazzard on an anonymous tip.
The District Attorney's office had insisted, however, and so a group of people who by all rights stuck out like a sore thumb against the rural landscape, had gathered together off a dusty back-road in the sweltering heat of summer. Lined up beside the road, near a bluff known locally as Hickory Ridge on the edge of Stillson Canyon, were four Georgia State Patrol cruisers and a jet black '82 Plymouth Fury. The cars were empty, the officers having been dispatched to search the bush and crevices in the ravine below and the surrounding woods.
Special Agent Robert Wilburn was no stranger to rural Georgia, having grown up in Waynesville, a town of about 4,500 in Brantley County, but the heat never seemed to get quite as oppressive near the coast as it did here in the foothills of the Appalachians. He had been stationed with the Bureau in Conyers for eighteen years now, but he still missed the constant breeze, tasting slightly of salt, that rolled in from the Atlantic Ocean.
He breathed in deeply, appreciating the cleaner air, smelling strongly of vegetation in the baking sun, and of the hard clay that rose in slight puffs of dust under his feet, but nonetheless feeling further from home than he cared to.
"Sir!" An officer called, bringing him back to the present. "Sir, I think we've got something!"
Wilburn made his way to the left of the overhang, joined on the way by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's young Coroner and his partner, Special Agent Tim Stewart. As they neared, the officer moved out of the way, gesturing to a small area that had been cleared away where a large grouping of bones was now visible, scattered in the dirt.
He let the Coroner look first, rolling his eyes at his partner. "Well, I guess we ain't gonna make it home for supper."
"If that's him, he's right where th' girl said he'd be," answered Stewart. "Can't be much left after two years, though. I'm surprised th' coyotes didn't drag him off."
An officer with a camera began taking pictures and they backed up for a moment so that she could get a clear shot of the crime scene. There wasn't much to photograph, and the Coroner quickly knelt back down beside the remains.
"This guy's a mess," he said, disgusted. "He's got more broken bones than not. It'll take a month t' piece him back t'gether."
"You want me to call it in?" Stewart asked Wilburn.
The older man shook his head. "No, I'll do it. I need to talk to the DA anyway. There's already a warrant out, but he'll want to know we found the corroborating evidence."
He left the crime scene and walked back to the Plymouth and got into the passenger seat, sighing as he picked up the phone in the center console and dialed the number of the Georgia District Attorney's office.
Ten miles to the northwest of Hazzard proper, an orange Dodge Charger tore down a lonesome back-road, the dust of the hard-pack churning up like a billowing cloud behind it. The driver and two passengers were tired and nearly as dirty as the car, owing to the fact that the air conditioner in the General Lee hadn't worked properly since Luke had decided to tear into it the year before. In fact, they wouldn't have ventured out at all into the heat had it not been for a sale on peaches at the Parker Peach Orchard in the tiny town of Jackson up on the border of Hatchape County.
Daisy pulled her sweat-soaked hair back from her face, flipping it up behind her to cool her neck, and wished she'd had the good sense to put it up in a ponytail before they'd left. It was bad enough to be this hot, but being the smallest, she always drew the short straw of sitting in the middle, away from the breeze of the windows and between two smelly, sweaty guys.
She took a swig of cool water from the Mason jar she was holding before passing it over to Luke who accepted it gratefully. "We get home, we're gonna have t' water them tomato plants again," she reminded them.
"I reckon it don't matter none," griped Bo, "We ain't doin' any good. Th' water just dries up as soon as it hits th' ground. Why, them plants won't have a dozen tomatoes between th' lot of 'em."
Bo was right, she knew it, but she'd not been ready to admit defeat just yet. "A dozen off th' vine's a dozen we ain't gotta buy at th' store, Bo Duke," she scolded. The guys might think groceries grew on trees, but she did the shopping.
He took his eyes off the road long enough to scowl at her. "Well, I don't like my tomatoes all dried an' shriveled up."
"You get out an' water 'em more, they wouldn't be dried up!"
Luke groaned. This kind of heat always put him in a sour mood. "You two stop your fussin'. It' too hot t-"
His words died on his lips as the General Lee rounded the corner at Hickory Ridge at the northern end of Stillson Canyon. To the side of the road were four Georgia State Patrol cars and a jet black Plymouth Fury with tinted windows and government plates.
"What th' heck's goin' on?" wondered Bo, aloud.
Luke shook his head. "I don't know. Pull over, Bo, let's see if they need any help."
"I'm right on it, cuz."