Hurricane Blow Up

May 6, 2013

Hurricane Blow Up coverHurricane Irene caused thousands of coastal residents to flee inland and escape the storm’s carnage.

Two of them ended up in the Smoky Mountain tourist town of Prospect, Tennessee.

And then their car blew up. The bomb expert said they were the target of an assassin. One of the intended victims was a former New York Detective who had sent dozens of Russian mobsters to prison.

But he also stole the wife of an NYPD bomb technician who just happens to have retired to Prospect.

Chief Sam Jenkins enlists all his usual assistants to lay a trap and solve the attempted murder.

Read An Excerpt

Hurricane Irene slammed the South Carolina coast the night before. Forecasters said it wasn’t the most powerful storm, but it was the largest with about as much square footage as Europe.

I strolled from the parking lot to the back door, tapped in my four-digit code, and entered Prospect PD.

When I reached our lobby Bettye Lambert asked, “How is it out there?”

“Beautiful. About seventy-five and dry. A twenty mile-an-hour breeze is blowing, but no one would know a hurricane is hammering the coast.”

We were working on a Saturday and Bettye had abandoned her Monday to Friday police uniform for a blue knitted blouse and tan slacks. A sergeant’s badge hung on her belt along with a .40 caliber Glock automatic. She looked like my idea of a sexy TV detective.

“We could use some rain,” she said. “Don’t hold your breath. Not a cloud overhead, but the sky looks like a war zone. The Air Force is sending oodles of C-130s from bases on the coast to McGhee-Tyson and the Army has squadrons of choppers heading to the aviation support facility. Makes me want to raise a band of mercenaries and attack Kentucky.”

“Of course you do, Sammy.”

“Before I plan a military operation, I should run all these tourists out of town. Every motel, B&B, and RV park from here to Pigeon Forge is packed with evacuees, NASCAR fans going to Bristol, and all the usual late summer merrymakers.

“The guys handled six fender-benders before I got here at eight this morning,” she said.

“These visitors just don’t know where they’re going.”

“And I hate every one of them for making us work overtime.”

“You’re not exactly a good candidate for ambassador of tourism, are you?”

“Ah, nuts. Screw’em all.”

Bettye laughed and the radio crackled.

On the other end, PO Junior Huskey yelled into his microphone, “Lord have mercy! This is 501. I’m drivin’ by the Foothills View Mo-tel an’ a car jest blew up.”

As he held the transmit button down, we heard his tires squeal when he turned the cruiser toward the motel. “Je-sus, look at that smoke and fire!” Junior said. “Stand-by, I’ll check it out.”

I’ve never seen Bettye get rattled. “10-4, five-zero-one,” she said. “I’ll send the fire department. Advise if you need medics.”

“10-4,” Junior said. “I’m 10-36 now. I’ll advise.”

Sergeant Stan Rose spoke calmly from his car. “535, headquarters, I’ll respond and assist. Other units, remain on patrol until I know if we need additional cars.”

“10-4, five-three-five,” Bettye said. “Prospect-one is here and knows the situation.”

“535, 10-4,” Stanley said.

“507, copy.” And “511, me, too,” came from POs Bobby Crockett and Jamey Hawkins respectively.

Then Junior’s voice came over the radio. “501, headquarters, send medics. I got an adult male with glass cuts.”

Bettye typed a quick line into her computer and transmitted the information to Rural Metro Ambulance Service.

“10-4, five-zero-one,” she said. “Paramedics on the way.”

“Damn,” I said. “Aren’t you and our troops just so disciplined and efficient?”

“Cause we have a great leader, darlin’,” Bettye said.

“Thank you, my dear. Since I’m Prospect-one, I’ll just mosey over to the motel and see what’s up. By the time I get there, the firemen should have the situation under control.”

“Call me when you know,” she said.

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The Best Western Foothills View Motel looked like something transplanted from Innsbruck, Austria to Prospect, Tennessee. Chalet-styled with dark wood siding and rustic white shutters, colorful flower boxes hung under the windows, and the glass panes were so clean, they sparkled in the sunlight. Charming, simply charming.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the tranquility of the alpine setting had been scarred by a smoldering white Cadillac DeVille with South Carolina plates.

The Blount County Fire Department had dispatched two trucks and an assistant chief’s car from the nearby Walland substation. Hoses from the pumper covered the blacktop surface and two firefighters in turnout gear stood near the still smoking car. Streams of water trickled down the sloping pavement.

The Rural Metro ambulance was parked halfway between the office and the scene of the explosion. A man in his early-thirties sat on the tailgate of the ambulance. A man and a woman in paramedic uniforms tended to the wound on the back of his head and a tall young woman dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, stood close by looking concerned. I showed the four my badge.

“That your Caddy?” I asked the injured man.

“No. Jesus, I just backed into that car and it went up. Honest, I didn’t know I was that close.”

The stress showed on his face and in his voice.

“I was backing out of the spot across from him. I guess I wasn’t paying attention, and then—wham! The damn thing blew and there was glass everywhere. I’m sorry, but . . .”

“Take it easy,” I said. “Which car is yours?”

The female medic used a long tweezers to pick glass fragments out of the man’s hair.

“The red Dodge,” he said. “I pulled away from the Cadillac best I could, but my back window blew out. I . . .”

“Okay. You’re lucky you weren’t looking to the rear or that glass would be in your face.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“Y’all need ta hold still,” the medic with the tweezers said.

“Let these people finish fixing you up and we’ll talk again. What’s your name and room number?” “Jeremy Bullen. We’re in 212.”

“Okay, Jeremy, hang in there.”

Junior Huskey and Stan Rose stood thirty feet from the burned out hulk of the once white Cadillac next to a middle-aged man wrapped in a terrycloth robe. The man’s dark hair was streaked with gray, wet, and slicked straight back. I assumed he had been in the pool when the car went up. It only took me a few more steps to get a close look at the man. I thought he could have been George Hamilton’s stunt double. Add pearly white teeth and a well cultivated tan to the hair I described and anyone would assume he’d have a closet full of Brooks Brothers double-breasted blazers.

The windows of two first-floor rooms had been blown out. The drapes moved slightly in the breeze, showing scorch marks on the white backing. The other guests had vacated the pool area, but plenty of them stood around watching the action.

A half-dozen firemen waited patiently as a man wearing a blue jumpsuit rolled from under the Caddy on a mechanic’s creeper. I recognized him as Delbert Ousley, the assistant fire chief.

He reached the two uniformed cops and Mr. Hamilton just as I did.

“Gennlemen,” the assistant chief said, “I’m afraid I got bad news fer ya. It appears there was an explosive device planted under the driver’s seat. No doubt in my mind. Y’all need ta have a bomb expert look at this.”

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