By: T.G. Browning

A mottled buff and rust colored Volvo pulled off the road by the mailbox and the driver, a roundish man of about 50, got out and stood staring across the road to the driveway. It appeared to offend him somehow. Perhaps not. His face had the look of a person who is easily and continually offended by something . He pulled a couple of letters from an inside jacket pocket and opened one; he glanced at it. Then at the address on the mailbox. They matched.


That one word said so much! It came from a person who probably hadn�t had a kind thought since the second Reagan administration, which wasn�t really true. The second Bush administration perhaps.

He took one last look and his expression went from slightly pissed off to steamed. Now , there was a wooden cross sitting ten feet to the right of the mailbox. He had either not noticed it before, which was as likely as not noticing one�s boots were on the wrong feet, or�

It hadn�t been there before.

He didn�t like either option much. But then again, he never liked any options, period .


George Taft regarded the coffee half-filling his cup for a moment, began to take a sip and stopped. A little mental calculation confirmed his suspicion that this particular pot of coffee could probably successfully apply for Social Security. He dumped the cup and the pot and set about making a fresh pot. The wind outside the Sheriff�s Annex rattled windowpanes and he thought seriously about turning up the heat. He was still mulling that over as he finished measuring coffee grounds when he heard the storm door to the mud-room open and then get man-handled back into a semi-secure closed. Jerry Hancock, his fellow exile of a Clatsop County Sheriff�s Deputy, stomped into the substation from the mud-room, still shaking rain and mud off as best he could. Which wasn�t much, if the truth were told.

Jerry regarded the empty coffee pot sullenly before he sighed. After a moment, he brightened a bit. �Guess what?�

George finished pouring water into the coffee pot. �No.� He said it rather coldly. �No way. Either tell me straight out or clam up. I don�t much care which.�

Jerry snickered. George sounded a lot meaner and crankier than he actually was. All it meant was that he was dieting again. �You�ll love it.�

George gave no indication that he did, so far.

�It�s gone.�

George sighed. �Ah, hell.�

�Yeah, that�s why I�m back so soon.�

�You�re sure?�

�You want me to show you a picture? I can if you like.� Jerry started patting his pockets for his cell phone.�

�Don�t bother.�

�You want me to make the call?�

George plugged the coffee pot in and went over to the desk he inhabited each and every bleak day of the winter. �No, I guess I will. It�s what? Four-fifteen?�

�Yeah. I spotted it missing about--�

�Three-thirty. It�s always between three and four o�clock.�

Jerry froze for a minute. �You�re kidding.�

�Nope. At least all of the times I�ve been around.�

Jerry looked a bit spooked at that, which was kind of odd. Anybody who had ever spent any time back up in Jewel knew about it and more or less ignored it. It spooked everybody the first three or four times they�d hear about it, and then the novelty would wear off.

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