Alvis Is In The Building

Jun 27, 2014

Alvis Is In The Building, A Sam Jenkins Mystery by Wayne ZurlPool huckster Alvis Seebold didn’t make any friends when he sandbagged his way into a big playoff with resident professional Tommy Crowe at Prospect’s only billiard club. When visiting pool shark Cannonball LaShott is found stabbed to death after losing to Alvis in a major upset, Chief Sam Jenkins investigates a murder seemingly without motive. Lacking an apparent suspect, Sam looks for help from the proprietress of what he calls the best little whorehouse in Tennessee, a place patronized by the hustlers and prominent locals who would prefer to keep their recreational pursuits a secret.

Read An Excerpt

Like most municipalities, Prospect, Tennessee needed money. If the council voted to raise taxes, they feared a general insurrection. So, the Prospect Police Department was asked to bring in revenue through fines.

That’s how Sergeant Stan Rose and I found ourselves standing at a DUI checkpoint on McTeer’s Station Pike one balmy evening in May. PO Jamey Hawkins sat in his vehicle prepared to transport drunk drivers to headquarters or pursue anyone who failed to stop at Stan’s request.

There hadn’t been much traffic, but it was still early and I hoped we’d get some action. Then Stanley drew my attention.

“What the hell is that?” Stanley held up his right hand, making the universal signal to stop for a policeman. A six-cell flashlight dangled from his left hand, illuminating the blacktop in front of him.

I stepped next to Stanley as a candy-apple-red Cadillac with a sparkling white convertible top rolled to a stop a few feet in front of us.

I answered his question. “Looks like a ’59 Caddy with Louisiana plates.”

“Those fins would make the Batmobile jealous, and there’s enough chrome to blind me.”

“Hell of a boat.”

“Let’s see who’s driving.”

Stan moved to the driver’s side, I took the right and shone my flashlight into the car. Two black men sat in the front. The driver cranked down his window. The passenger looked at me and put his hands on the dashboard as if he’d been trained to do so. I spun my finger in the air, indicating I wanted his window down.

The driver, a large man with a shaved head and sport jacket almost matching the color of his car, spoke to Stanley. “Hello, my brother. How y’all this fine evenin’?”

Stan took a moment to reply. “Don’t remember seeing you at the last family reunion, so I guess I’m not your brother.”

“No offense, officer. I jus’ meant … Well, y’all know what I meant. What can I do for ya?”

“I’d like to see your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance.”

“I do somethin’ wrong, suh?”

“Not yet. This is a DUI checkpoint. Have you been drinking tonight?” The driver fumbled opening his lap belt and pulled a wallet from his back pocket.“Drinkin’? No, suh, ain’t touched a drop. Swear ta Jesus.” He handed a driver’s license to Stan and turned to the man in the passenger seat.

“Spider, git me that envelope from the glove box wit the regstaration and in-surance card.”

I drew the Smith & Wesson from its holster and pointed my light at the glove compartment. “Do it slowly, Spider. I get jumpy at night.”

Spider stopped cold, waited a moment, and turned to look at me. “Yessuh. Movin’ nice an’ slow, suh. Donchew worry.” Spider handed the driver a tattered white envelope. He gave everything to Stanley. Stan looked over the three documents. “Princeton LaShott?”

“Yes, suh. That’s me. Princeton ‘Cannonball’ LaShott.”

“You’re a long way from New Iberia.”

“Yes, suh. Been a long drive.”

I bent down and scanned the interior with my light. Spotless, white leather seats matched the top. There wasn’t a speck of dust or piece of trash to be seen.

“Nice wheels, Mr. LaShott,” I said. “Own it long?”

“Thank ya, suh. Yes, suh, ’bout ten year now. She’s a honey, ain’t she?”

“She is. Spider, why don’t you dig out some ID so we can get acquainted?”

He wasn’t wearing a seat belt, so fishing out his wallet looked easy. He handed me another Louisiana license. I matched the photo to Spider’s face. He was as thin as a fishing pole and had café au lait skin, short hair with a part razor-cut into the side, and a pencil line mustache.

“Cordell Vinson,” I said. “And you’re also from New Iberia.”

“Uh, yes, suh.” He looked at my jeans and windbreaker. “Or should I call y’all dechecktive?”

“I’m not a detective, Mr. Vinson, I’m the police chief. You don’t have to go beyond ‘sir.’ What are you gentlemen doing in Prospect?”

The driver turned and ducked down to make eye contact with me. “We’s lookin’ for Tommy Crowe’s Smoky Mountain Billiard Club, suh.”

“You’re on the right road. Going there tonight?”

“No, suh. Lookin’ ta stay the night at the Foothills View Mo-tel. Got us a reservation.”

“Easy to find,” I said. “About a half mile from here, on the right. You’ll see the sign.”

“Thank ya, suh.”

“You’re welcome. Now, give us a minute to check if you two gentlemen are wanted by any jurisdiction between here and Louisiana and we’ll wish you good night.”

Spider nodded quickly and Cannonball said, “Yes, suh. Take y’all’s time.”

I met Stanley in front of the Caddy and walked to his police car.

“Princeton “Cannonball” LaShott and Cordell “Spider” Vinson going to Prospect’s own little pool hall. Son of a gun.”

“You know these guys?” Stan asked.

“I know a couple of hustlers when I see them.”

Neither man was wanted for anything in the US or by INTERPOL. We thanked them for their cooperation and they continued down the road to find their motel rooms.

After they left, we spent an otherwise uneventful night looking for drunks.

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