V is for . . . Vitamin?

May 6, 2013

V is for...Vitamin? coverWhat starts out as a slam-dunk arrest of two subjects for a series of armed robberies on the greenway at Prospect, Tennessee turns into a murder investigation at a local nursing home.

But was it murder? The attending physician says, “No.” The medical examiner says, “Maybe.” But an ex-detective in a wheel chair claims it’s a homicide.

Chief Sam Jenkins and his partner, Sergeant Bettye Lambert, need to crack a few tough customers: three septuagenarian female residents of the nursing home, to get the evidence, tie all the puzzle pieces together, and resolve the seemingly unrelated crimes.

Read An Excerpt

Bettye Lambert and I walked arm in arm along the Prospect Greenway at 6:15 on a moonless Thursday night. Leaves from poplar, maple, and elm trees floated down, littering the isolated blacktop path, illuminated only by the occasional overhead mercury vapor lamp.

Further up the trail, we stepped over golden-brown sycamore leaves, some the size of dinner plates and all garnished with julienned slivers of willow.

“You walk too fast,” she said. “It’s more romantic to walk slow.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Then let’s slow down.”

“You want to look romantic, let’s sit on the next bench and neck.”

“Sammy, darlin’, it’s not even forty degrees out here.”

“I know. I’m from New York. I walk fast and the cold doesn’t bother me.”

We walked for another hundred yards. Bettye told me how her son signed up for freshman wrestling at Heritage High School and I told her I just bought a new set of Pirelli radials for my ’67 Austin-Healy.

“Not many people are out on a Thursday night,” she observed.

“Yeah, people are funny. If they walk or run or bicycle three times a week, they do it on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The other days don’t get much action.”

The Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special in my jacket pocket felt cool from the brisk evening temperature. Acorns crunched under our feet as we walked on and passed a narrow path leading to McTeer’s Station Pike.

Sixty seconds later I said, “I think we’ve got company.” Footsteps slapped the pavement behind us.

I whispered, “I’m turning around. Take a quick step forward and to the right.”

“Okey dokey.”

I spun around abruptly and looked at a stocky man not more than ten feet behind us.

“Excuse me,” I said. “What time is it?”

He stopped in his tracks; his unshaven face partially hidden by a hooded sweatshirt worn under a brown Carhartt jacket.

The man looked shaken, but stared into my eyes and recovered quickly. He stepped closer and whipped a hand out of his jacket pocket. I heard the sharp click first, and then saw the brushed silver blade of a push-button knife shine in the lamplight.

“It’s time to gimme your wallet.” His voice sounded low and menacing.

“Hey, take it easy,” I said. “What do you want?”

“I want ya money, stupid. Gimme yer wallet and yer watch or I’ll cut yew and yer perty woman here.”

He pointed the blade roughly six inches above my stomach.

“Oh, I’m so glad you cleared that up, asshole.” I leveled the stainless steel .38 at his chest. “You’re under arrest.”

“Oh, shit!” he said, and tossed the switchblade at me, the point catching in the fabric of my new ninety-dollar Storm Chaser jacket, making a short slice in the cloth.

Looking down at my ruined windbreaker, I said, “Son of a bitch! Don’t you run on me.” I fumbled momentarily getting the revolver back into its holster as I began trotting. Bettye followed close by with a small blue steel .38 in her hand.

“Are you hurt?” she asked.

“No, but I’ll kill him for cutting my jacket.”

I sprinted off after our would-be robber.

“Police. Stop!” I yelled, as the chunky felon ran awkwardly along the path.

He had no where to go but straight ahead. To our left, Crystal Creek gurgled along over rocks and tree roots. To our right, beyond thirty feet of woodlands, a six-foot chain link fence blocked access to the road.

As we approached a dog-leg to the left and a wooden footbridge over the creek, the tarmac walkway puckered in all directions from the overgrown roots of a giant tulip poplar. The cracked pavement offered an obstacle to the fleeing subject. I was only twenty feet behind him when the toe of his sneaker caught the elevated blacktop and sent him sailing.

He landed, letting out an “Ooof,” as he hit the ground, but immediately began low-crawling toward the grass verge and the woods beyond.

I caught up to him before he wiggled ten feet.

“Stay where you are, damn it.” I said, puffing from the run.

As he continued his comical escape, I lunged forward and caught a handful of his hoodie. He struggled and grunted and I slammed my fist into his kidney.

“Goddamnit, you prick, hold still,” I said.

But he still tried to crawl further, all arms and legs flailing in four directions, no doubt hoping to escape the inevitable. I heard Bettye’s footsteps behind me and hit him twice more, same spot.

“Ooof! Oh! Je-sus have mercy!” he cried. “Okay, okay. No more. I give up. You got me.”

From behind me I heard, “For God’s sake, Sam, don’t beat him to death.”

“Bastard ruined my new jacket and he thinks I’ll let him get away!” I slapped him on the head and yanked his right arm behind him to hook up a handcuff.

Less than five minutes later, Officer Will Sparks met us in a marked Prospect PD cruiser sitting at the main intersection of the four trails that made up the city greenway.

I led our defendant toward the open back door of the police car, his hood now hanging behind his head.

“Hey, boss. Hey, Miss Bettye. Y’all got yerse’fs a perpetrator.” Young Sparks sounded cheerful. He looked like a thirty-year-old version of Opie Taylor.

When we reached the cruiser, Will said, “Hey, I know this ol’ boy.”

The man in cuffs hung his head. Will took off his PPD ball cap and ran a hand through his reddish hair.

“Uh-huh, name’s Virgil Terp. I locked him up once fer . . . Cain’t remember. Stolen property or some such.”

“Virgil Terp?” I recalled a historical character with a similar name.

“Yep, that’s him,” Sparks said.

“He only matches the description of the subject in one of the robberies on the greenway,” Bettye said.

Her blonde hair looked shiny in the bright parking lot lights.

“We’ve got three more stick-ups done by someone three inches taller and forty pounds lighter,” I said. “Will, you know if he hangs out with someone about that size?”

Virgil stood at about five-nine and weighed at least two hundred pounds. We needed someone closer to my height, six-foot or even taller, and thin, no more than a hundred and sixty.

“Got him a brother named Morgan,” Will said. “He’s taller and perty thin.”

“Morgan and Virgil Terp?” I said. “You gotta be kiddin’.”

“Nosir. The Terp family’s been around Prospect fer years.”

“Is there a third brother named Wyatt?” I asked.

“Not that I know of,” he said, missing my inference.

Bettye smiled and her hazel eyes sparkled.

I pushed Virgil into the backseat of Will’s car and slammed the door.

“Take him in and start the paperwork,” I said. “We’ll be back at the barn shortly. I’ll write the prosecution worksheet. On your way in, call Stanley and ask him to meet us at the PD. And call in the next cell guard on the list. This guy’s not going anywhere tonight.”

As Will drove away, Bettye and I took the short walk to my unmarked Ford.

“You may want to spend some time on the treadmill, darlin’. You were puffin’ by the time you caught ol’ Virgil,” she said.

“I don’t like treadmills. I get up early three days a week and walk.”

“Then maybe you ought to run.”

“Gimme a break.”

“Bein’ tall, dark, and handsome’s not enough, Sammy. You need to be healthy.”

“Are you my sergeant or my mother?”

I don’t know why she laughed at that.

“Have you gained weight recently?” she asked.

“I have not, and you know it. I’m the same hundred and eighty pounds I’ve been since I was a kid.”

“Just askin’.” She chuckled.

“You were just harassing me.”

“Sammy, would I do that?”

“Yes.”

“I said tall, dark, and handsome, sugar. But there’s a lot more gray up there since you started workin’ here.”

“That’s because of you. Now leave me alone.”

She laughed again. I wished I had Virgil handy. I would have smacked him.

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