John Jones works as security officer for the town of in Lyerly, Ga., located south of Summerville, Ga.



LYERLY, Ga. -- He shuffles to his Crown Victoria with two knives, a baseball bat and a cooler of hard candy, his inventory for an evening with trouble.

"I do the same thing every night," he says. "Ride these streets. Check 'em out. Watch for fires."

John Jones will be 77 in September, but he's Lyerly's security guard, the first line of defense in a town with an area less than a square mile and a population a little greater than 500. They don't have a police department here, so Jones is the man who sniffs out danger.

He looks for teenage boys who fight, sneak sips of beer and talk back to their elders. It reminds him of fishing on the Chattooga River.

After patrolling the streets for an hour on a recent evening, finding no rebels, Jones parks outside Sam's Family Grocery. He'll wait until it shuts down at 8, just in case anyone gives the clerk a hard time. Then he'll move next door, to the parking lot of the Dollar General, which closes at 10.

Inside the store, men his age sit next to a Slush Puppie machine, cracking jokes. But Jones stays in his car and reaches for his Bowie Chewing Tobacco, the cheapest bad habit he can find.

He thinks about his father, who moved from the Appalachian Mountains to Walker County, Ga., in a horse and buggy. Jones was born at the end of the Great Depression and quickly developed a distaste for relaxation.

When he was 8, his father made him dig a well. Jones can still hear him: Boy, you better get it.

His father farmed until he died in his late 70s, about Jones' current age.

He rarely sees his two children from a previous marriage, and he doesn't have a best friend. When he wakes up, he tends to his wife -- bedridden after a recent fall -- and mows his lawn to make the hours before work feel shorter. He doesn't want to think about outliving his job, though that might happen.

The Lyerly Town Council voted in 2011 to cut his position to part time. He rides around just 20 hours a week now, for about $12 an hour. Mayor Josh Wyatt wants him to take it easy. So does Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader, who says Jones needs to stay in his car and call the real police if he finds any criminals.

But Jones wants action. That's why he joined the Air Force in the '50s, why he crossed the country as a trucker in the '70s. He says he tackled a man a foot taller than him at a bar in Guam once and knocked out a machete-wielding lunatic down the street with his shovel about 10 years ago.

He doesn't see any lunatics tonight, though. He drives to an empty cemetery and thinks about the teens who like to kiss here, how he sends them home to their parents. And he thinks about some of their parents, how he finds them here on alcohol-lubricated nights, "completely nekkid."

He drives across town, to the baseball fields. They're empty, too. He creeps his car through an abandoned field, to the edge of the woods. He pulls two green cylinders from a baggie, plops them into a pepper spray gun, and fires them at a tree.

He thinks about hitting a shirtless criminal running for freedom one day, how the fugitive will squirm in pain when Jones connects.

Then he drives away.

"It's just a little town," he says. "It's all it's ever going to be."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at or at 423-757-6476.