September 8th, 1970
The cramped and musty spaces of the St. Augustine Police Department were usually quiet except for the occasional sounds of typewriters or the rattling of the teletype machine. The cigarette-smoked-filled offices were often undisturbed and nearly empty, especially during the offseason when the vacationers were gone once again. The residents could enjoy the calm splendor of the ancient city that so many of them loved.
A perky young clerk named Casey Clemons hung up the telephone and looked over at Officer Frank Henley, who was sitting at a desk, eating an apple.
“Your John Doe from Saturday morning has been identified,” she said.
Henley almost spit out his bite, “Really? Wow, that was fast, in three days? Those FBI guys can do…” Casey cut him off, “Not the FBI. The morgue, over at the hospital.”
Henley gave her a puzzled expression, “How?”
“Someone claimed the body on Monday evening. They had his passport, license, and a few other credentials. He was foreign,” Casey informed him as she looked down at the page she had just jotted the information down on, “Diego Duran, 68 years old, from Spain, from the Island of Menorca to be more precise.”
“Menorca?” he repeated.
The bookish girl adjusted her cat’s eye frames over her emerald-colored eyes, “It’s a small island in the Mediterranean, there are a lot of descendants from that island here, ancient history now but…”
Henley cut her off, “Yes, I know, the plantations south of here at New Smyrna Beach centuries ago. Indigo and all that. But Saturday morning, when I spoke with that man, hours earlier, his English was precise. From the Midwest, if I had to take a guess, from Iowa or Ohio. Are you sure about this?” Henley asked skeptically.
“That’s what the medical examiner at the hospital morgue just told me,” Casey responded. “He also said to come by and pick up copies of the paperwork, including the release form, whenever possible.”
Officer Henley stood up, grabbing his motorcycle helmet. “I’ll go over and get them,” he said. “You know who’s not going to like this? Weston,” he said, answering his own question. “Not after that article in The St. Augustine Record saying how he was going to buy a burial plot and build the man a grand memorial fit for an unknown hero. Richard Weston and his Daddy are already buying up every other piece of property around here, why not burial plots too?”
Casey smiled at his remarks, smoothing out the pleats on her blue and yellow daisy-patterned dress, “Well, it’s the biggest news to happen here since ’64, when Martin Luther King Jr. was in town during the passage of the Civil Rights Act. But you’re right, Frank. A memorial built for some unknown hero would likely have the Weston family name on it somewhere.”
“Martin Luther King in ’64. You’re adorable, Casey. Where were you in 1964?” Henley asked.
“I was in eighth grade,” the young Casey answered with a smile.
Henley smiled back before he turned and walked out the door, helmet in hand, for the short drive over to Flagler Hospital. Riding along the Bayfront, past the National Guard Headquarters, under a cloudless sky on a muggy September afternoon, and remembering the conversation that he had with the man, now known as Diego; about how calm the old man’s demeanor was for waking up to a policeman looming over him, with a nightstick in hand.
Cautiously slowing the motorbike as he approached a section of aged and rough cobblestone on Marine Street, he saw Roger and Richard Weston walking from the main hospital building. Henley shut off the bike and coasted to the curb near the two men.
“Good afternoon, gentleman. Perhaps you’ve already heard-,” Henley said until quickly interrupted by the elder Weston.
“Yes, we know. We know,” acknowledged Roger Weston sounding slightly irritated. The balding man in his early seventies peered over his bifocals at the officer. “I’m not sure the man’s body was properly released though, seems like anyone can just stop by the morgue these days and take someone.”
“What do you mean, sir?” asked Henley.
“I’ll leave it to the medical examiner to explain it to you just like he did to us,” said Rodger. “It’s a pretty fanciful story that might need investigating. I hope that you look into it. Once you finish here, officer, go over to the marina. Talk with the harbormaster about the events of last night.”
“What happened at the marina?” asked Henley.
Rodger looked directly at Henley with a cold stare, “That’s your department, or maybe my lawyers will have to figure out, sir.”
The tall and husky Richard remained stoic, or timid, Officer Henley always thought the latter. The younger Weston did not utter a single word during the exchange and followed his father towards their shiny long Cadillac. As the two men walked away, the son quietly asked his father to keep calm.
Once Henley reached the tiny, dank receiving room at the Medical Examiner’s Office, he knew what probably also perturbed the elderly Weston. Behind the thick glass window was a young man, unshaven, with thick dark hair past his collar. The generational divide between the officer and the man behind the counter was clear and would be even more pronounced with the elder Weston.
The man looked up from his LIFE magazine, “Can I help you, man?”
“The Medical Examiner, please,” requested Henley.
“Oh right, he’s gone for the day, man. You’re here about our hero, Duran?
“That’s right. Do you have a copy of the man’s file for me?” asked Henley.
The man got up from his desk, pulling a clipboard off the wall behind him and handing it underneath the glass window to the officer.
“Just sign the sheet, man.” said the clerk. “I thought Casey would be stopping by for the paperwork,” the man smirked.
“Sorry to disappoint. How do you know, Casey?” asked the officer.
“We went to high school together. She’s a pretty cool chick,” the man answered, sliding Henley the requested vanilla folder underneath the glass.”
Henley smiled at the grungy-looking clerk. “Well, I’ll be sure to tell her that you said ‘Hi.’ What’s your name, buddy?”
“Gus, man. Yeah, tell her Gus asked about her,” replied Gus.
“Say, Gus, were you here when Diego’s body was claimed?” the officer asked.
“Oh yes,” Gus’s eyes lit up. “A fine-looking foreign chick with some dude came in here yesterday afternoon. She had a hot and real heavy Spanish accent, and I don’t think the guy spoke any English.”
“How did she know, Diego?” inquired the officer.
“She said that he was a crew member on the schooner they were aboard. That he fell overboard down offshore, near Cape Canaveral, less than a week ago. A beautiful woman with long dark hair. Real cool, and by that, I
mean cold. She didn’t seem sad about his death. She was all business.”
Henley asked, “Did she tell you the name of the schooner?”
“No, man. She just provided all the right documents,” answered Gus.
Before Henley walked away, he held up the folder near his head, “Thanks… Man.”
Back on his motorcycle, Officer Frank Henley drove back down Marine Street, heading towards the St. Augustine Marina. He thought about Gus on his short drive, and that some young men should probably be drafted into military service. Perhaps not necessarily to be exposed to the current horrific experience of Vietnam, or even what he had to endure in Italy during World War II, but given some amount of discipline and respect instilled in them through service to country.