From New York to the Smokies

Apr 13, 2015 by

From New York to the Smokies

From New York To The Smokies, Five mysteries spanning more than four decades in the life career police officer Sam JenkinsFive mysteries spanning more than four decades in the life of career police officer, Sam Jenkins.

THE BOAT TO PRISON – set in 1963 when a teenaged Jenkins and his friends attempt to foil a plot to kill a Long Island union leader and keep Sam’s shop steward father from doing hard time.

FAVORS drops readers into a New York of 1985 when Lieutenant Sam Jenkins mounts an unofficial investigation to learn why one of his civilian employees isn’t overjoyed about her promotion to police officer and uncovers a history of unreported and unspeakable crimes.

ODE TO WILLIE JOE, ANGEL OF THE LORD, and MASSACRE AT BIG BEAR CREEK brings the reader up to date with three adventures of Chief Jenkins and the officers of Prospect PD, a police department serving a small town in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee. UFO sightings, a serial killer on the loose, and the most brutal murders and feud between mountain folk since the Hatfields and McCoys pushes Sam to use every trick he’s learned in a lifetime of detective work to resolve these incidents on his “peaceful side of the Smokies.”

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Read An Excerpt

The rain never stopped. From early June through late August, it poured or drizzled almost every day. I thought if I stood still too long I might begin to mold. It reminded me of the monsoons in Southeast Asia.

Drops of rain falling from the brim of my cap were exceeded only by the young woman’s tears.

“When did you see the boy last?” I asked.

“Right after breakfast. He went into the living room to watch TV, and I started doing laundry in the basement.”

“And when you came upstairs he was gone?”

More tears rolled over her cheeks as she stood there, wringing her hands. “Yes.”

“Was your door locked?”

“Lord have mercy, no.”

“Is your son’s rain jacket here?”

She shrugged and cried a little more.

“Let’s look,” I suggested.

We walked to the mud room off the kitchen. A small hooded jacket hung on one of the five pegs over an antique wooden chair not six feet from the back door. A small pair of bright blue rubber Wellingtons sat on the floor.

“You call for him outside?”

“Of course. I ran all around.”

Without the puffy eyes and fear scarring her face, Emily Suttles would have been an attractive brunette.

“And then you called 9-1-1?”


“What was he watching?”

“I don’t know. He knows how to work the TV.”

“You turn it off?”

“One of the policemen did.”

“Let’s take a look.”

She stared at me as if I had two heads. “Why?”

“Indulge me.”

Back in the living room, Emily picked up the remote control and turned on a flat screen about the size of a stretch van. The American Movie Classics channel came on playing a scene from Halloween 4.

“Did you or the cops look through the house?” I asked.

“Yes, of course, me.”

“All over?”

“Every room.”

“Slowly or quick?”

“Quick. I was frantic.”

“Let’s try again. Where’s Elijah’s room?”

“Upstairs.” Emily began to look impatient. “I know he’s not there.”

We walked upstairs anyway. I looked under the bed. Nothing. The boy’s mother called his name. More nothing. I opened the closet. Huddled in the left corner, leaning against the wall, four-year-old Elijah Suttles slept peacefully, a small flashlight in his right hand. I shook his knee.

“Hey, partner, you doing okay in here?”

He opened his eyes, blinked rapidly, and looked frightened.

“Take it easy, son. I’m a policeman. Your mom couldn’t find you and asked for some help.”

“Jesus have mercy, Elijah,” his mother said, “you ‘bout scared me half ta death. You come out here right now, young man.”

“Go slow, Mrs. Suttles. He probably had a good reason to hide in here. Didn’t you, son?”

The little boy nodded, but still looked scared.

“Something happen on the TV?”

Another nod.

“Ready to come out now?”

The boy stuck out a hand, and I pulled. Once on his feet, he scrambled to his mother and locked onto her leg, mumbling an apology.

“Some of these slasher movies scare me, too,” I said. “He just ran from the killer on the screen. Wasn’t a bad idea.”

Emily Suttles hugged her son, looked at me, and said, “Thank you.”

“I’ll call the three officers and let them know your son’s safe.”

I switched on the ignition in my unmarked Crown Victoria and keyed the microphone. “Prospect-one to headquarters and all units. The missing child has been found. Resume patrol. Five-twelve, close out the call at 1015 hours.”

PO Johnny Rutledge acknowledged. “10-4, Prospect-one.”

“Five-oh-nine, I copy that,” Billy Puckett said.

After a long moment of silence, Sergeant Bettye Lambert, our desk officer, broke in. “Unit 513, five-one-three, do you copy?”

No answer.

“Anyone know 513’s 10-35?” I asked.

“Joey was goin’ house ta house, east end o’ the street,” Puckett said.

“I’m probably the closest,” I said. “I’ll check.”

Just as I shifted into reverse, PO Joey Gillespie spoke on the radio.

“513 ta Prospect-one. Boss, ya gonna need ta see this. 1175 Benny Stillwell Road, obvious 10-5.”

10-5 is our brevity code for a homicide.

* * * *

Two men lay face down on the kitchen floor. One with a shaved head made it easy to see the small caliber bullet hole at the base of his skull—a .25 perhaps or more likely a .22. Blood trickled from the wound down past his right ear, over a thick neck, and onto the Mexican tile floor. The other victim’s blood oozed to his left. Funny, the little details you notice at the scene of a murder.

“You call crime scene and the ME?” I asked.

“Yessir, had Miss Bettye do it right after I called ya.”

I nodded and looked around the kitchen of a relatively new and expensive home. “Big house.”

Joey Gillespie nodded.

“At least 4,000 square feet,” I guessed. “And quality. These guys had bucks.”

He nodded again and looked a little queasy.

“The air hasn’t come on recently. In this humidity blood tends to stink quicker. Smell bother you?”

“Yessir, I ain’t used ta this.”

“Nobody gets used to it, kid. You just learn to ignore it.”

“I guess.”

“You search the rest of the house?”

“Jest looked on the first floor ta see if there was anybody here.”


“Nosir. On a slab.”

“Let’s go upstairs.”

I drew my old Smith & Wesson from the holster on my right hip, and Joey pulled out his .40 caliber Glock.

“Look around, and pay attention. Don’t watch me. There’s probably no one here, but we’ll do this by the numbers.”

“Yessir. I’m right behind ya.”

We made a quick sweep of the first floor, opening all the closets before ascending the stairs. The landing above left us in a hallway with what looked like four bedrooms, two baths and two closet doors. We found nothing in the guest johns or closets. A lack of personal property in three of the bedrooms led me to believe they were set also aside for guests. We looked further in the master suite and discovered two closets holding clothing for two different people.

“I guess the two guys slept t’gether,” Joey said.


“Strange, huh?”

“Not strange, just a minority.”


Two car doors slammed out front.

“Let’s see who’s here,” I suggested.

Jackie Shuman and David Sparks, crime scene investigators from the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, had arrived and stood in the foyer holding cameras and forensic kits. Moments later, Deputy Medical Examiner Morris Rappaport and his assistant Earl Ogle pulled up in the morgue wagon.

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Graceland On Wheels

Jun 27, 2014 by

Graceland On Wheels

Graceland On Wheels, A Sam Jenkins Mystery by Wayne ZurlSam Jenkins has been fishing all his life, but he’s never caught anything more interesting than the dead body of an Elvis impersonator. While the chief and Deputy Sheriff Jackie Shuman are angling for trout in Crystal Creek, Sam hooks the body of Garland Humphries, a murdered man wearing a white leather jumpsuit. Garland had been a human train wreck just looking for a place to jump the tracks and let his cowcatcher plough into the soft earth of east Tennessee.

Read An Excerpt

Garland Humphries awoke with a bucket of composted cow manure in his mouth—or so he thought.

When he raised his head, bolts of lightning flashed before his eyes and a mule kicked him in the forehead. Using the strength of three men to open his eyelids, Garland saw dried vomit on his white jumpsuit. Fearing what it would cost to clean the sequined leather garment, he began to shake his head, and received another kick from that troublesome mule.

The smell of his breath reminded him of the stench in a cesspool. He needed to wash the putrid taste from his mouth and gingerly attempted to sit up. Swinging his legs off the wide mattress felt like he just cleared a high hurdle. But when he stood, an image of the Milky Way covered his field of vision and caused him to sit quickly.

Garland sucked in a large volume of air attempting to stop the spinning sensation and after a few seconds, he again tried to stand. That time he made it. In a few moments a flicker of confidence radiated from his head, through his body, and down into his legs. He took a step, then another, and felt the all too familiar sensation of his brain being too big for his skull. He decided to look for a bottle of aspirin, but really wanted a glass of Jack Daniels to clear his head.

When Garland reached the doorway of the bedroom in his big RV, he looked down the narrow hallway toward the little kitchen, the dining and sitting areas, and finally the driver’s and passenger’s seats and the door. The hall between him and the wide open spaces looked like a tunnel, with walls no farther apart than the width of his shoulders. The kitchen was no more than fifteen feet away, but it seemed like a hundred yards and he began to feel claustrophobic. The sides of the tunnel started to pulsate. Garland saw stars again. Bile collected in his mouth and nausea overtook him. Garland Humphries needed a toilet or a bucket—fast. He ricocheted off the walls and the first door he found opened into the combination toilet closet and shower. Garland dropped to his knees, hugged the commode, and lost the contents of his stomach in two great heaves.

Unable to move for what seemed like an eternity, Garland mustered the strength to push himself upright, turn, and use the sink as a crutch. He scooped up hands full of water to rinse his mouth and splash on his cheeks. When he stood, Garland couldn’t focus on the pathetic drunk staring back at him from the small mirror and opened the medicine cabinet looking for a bottle of mouthwash. The childproof cap caused major problems, but finally, he took a drink, rinsed, and spat into the sink. That accomplished, he grabbed a bottle of aspirin, cursed the cap, opened it with his teeth, and swallowed half a dozen.

Leaving the toilet and sink as they were, Garland moved toward the door of the RV and opened a portal to fresh air and the outside world. As most drunks would, he exaggerated a careful descent of the two steps and without falling, found himself on solid ground. The noise of the slamming door erupted inside his head.

“Hello, Garland. Y’all don’t look so good.”

Humphries couldn’t see who had spoken, tried to look through the foggy darkness, but only saw a shadow approaching. It was the last thing he ever saw.


By anyone’s standards, Crystal Creek is a proper little river. But it’s not as big as the Little River, into which it empties near the site of the old Cherokee town of Ellejoy, a place now an agricultural research center for the University of Tennessee.

Jackie Shuman and I were fishing a deep pool on an outside bend of Crystal Creek. He with a float and fly attached to an ultra-light spinning rig and me with a rubber bug called a Trout Magnet attached to a small jig head.

“Why don’t you git yerse’f some new fishin’ gear?” he asked.

“This works. Why replace it?”

“Must be fifty years old. Part with some o’ yer New York po-leece pension and git you a new rod and reel.”

“It’s almost sixty and I like this one.”

I retrieved the lure and cast it upstream, watching it move with the current as I cranked the handle on my Orvis reel. Then I snagged something; I assumed a submerged log because it wasn’t fighting, just dead weight.

“Goddamnit.” I felt the drag slip as I turned the reel handle. I raised the tip of my seven-foot rod and something white broke the creek’s rippling surface about twenty yards away in a spot of bright sunlight.

“What in hell you got hooked to?” Jackie said.

“Can’t see with the glare, but it weighs a ton.”

In a few seconds it came closer, the current pushing it toward the bank where we stood.

“Good thing you’re usin’ a rod big enough ta catch a tuna,” Jackie said.

I drew the object closer to the shore.

My eyes popped. “I’ll be damned. Looks like I hooked Elvis Presley.”

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Alvis Is In The Building

Jun 27, 2014 by

Alvis Is In The Building

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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The Swan Tattoo

Jun 27, 2014 by

The Swan Tattoo

The Swan Tattoo by Wayne Zurl (cover)Jerome Lee, owner of the Magic Panda, a new Chinese restaurant in Prospect, suspiciously has a finger cut off. Three days later, he’s found hanging from a second floor landing in his home, a suicide note only a few feet away. But Police Chief Sam Jenkins thinks Mr. Lee was the victim of gangster Jimmy Fong, a thug employed by loan shark and triad leader Martin Kee. Sam’s investigation takes him to Atlanta, Malaysia, and back to Tennessee with twists and turns and false leads.

Read An Excerpt

At 12:30 Kate and I waited inside the doorway of the Magic Panda, a new Chinese restaurant in Prospect. Every table was occupied, five people stood in front of the sushi bar, and more than a dozen hungry souls circled the two long buffet islands like buzzards over a dead cow, each holding a large white plate. One heavyweight cracked his head on the glass canopy when he reached to the opposite side of the steam table and grabbed the last egg roll before a young girl could take it.

“I told you to meet me here at 11:30,” I said. “A new restaurant always creates a feeding frenzy.”

“I only finished my program at Prospect Pines a little after noon. I couldn’t get here any earlier.”

Four soumo-size customers sitting at a table looked like they’d finished eating, but continued to shoot the bull, caring nothing for the local police chief and his wife who needed a seat. I hate when people do that and envisioned more steam escaping from my ears than what circulated beneath the buffet trays. If my wife wasn’t so good-looking, I’d have gotten mad at her.

Then a bloodcurdling scream from the kitchen grabbed everyone’s attention. Being the only man of action in the building, I pulled out my badge and trotted toward the noise.

“Call 9-1-1,” I said to Kate who followed me.

We pushed through the double swinging doors and found a middle-aged man holding a bloody apron around his left hand. The color had drained from his face as quickly as his blood soaked the apron.

“Bettye, this is Kate,” she said into her cell phone, “Sam needs a car and an ambulance at the Magic Panda, that new place in the strip mall across from the Foothills View Motel. A man’s bleeding.”

Several cooks, waitresses, and a few unidentified men stood in the kitchen watching the injured man bouncing around and squealing in what I thought sounded like the Foochow or Hokkien dialect I once heard in Singapore, but no one helped him.”

When I got near the victim, I noticed a foot-long kitchen knife and a little finger lying on a wooden cutting board in the middle of a stainless steel table.

“Hold still,” I said. “Let me see your hand.”

I unwrapped a not very hygienic apron from around his hand and saw a short stub where the severed pinkie had once been.”

“Someone hand me a clean towel or apron, quick,” I barked at the onlookers.

Blood drizzled out of the wound and still no one moved. My Chinese is limited to getting around Hong Kong in a taxi, so I tried a little pigeon lingo, pointing at the bloody apron. “Che um che clean? Quick, quick!”

The calmest man in the room, a thin young guy with a pony tail and brightly-colored sport shirt pulled a clean apron from a nearby shelf and handed it to me with as much emotion as a two-toed sloth. I rewrapped the hand, but in only moments the oozing blood soaked the white cloth. Pressing the veins on the underside of the man’s wrist helped, but not much.

“I can’t stop the bleeding,” I told Kate. “Tell Bettye I’ll transport, but have her get clearance to Blount Memorial. Adult male, severed finger. You come with me.”

As Kate and I pushed through the kitchen, I grabbed a plastic bag and stuck his bundled up hand inside.

“I don’t want blood all over my car,” I said. “Sit in the back with him and keep this elevated.”

As we hustled through the dining room, most of the customers gave us their undivided attention, but a resolute segment of the starving masses kept gobbling their pepper steak or gnawing on their chicken sticks.

With Kate and my victim snuggling in the back seat, I fired up the Crown Vic, turned on the flashing grill lights, and flipped a switch for the siren. Once I hit the blacktop and nailed the accelerator, I grabbed the microphone.

“Headquarters, this is Prospect-one. Have the man responding to the Magic Panda get names from everyone in the kitchen who witnessed this, then find someone who speaks good English and bring them to the ER in case we need an interpreter. Also, have medics wrap the severed finger in a clean cloth soaked in a saline solution and put it in a closed container. With luck, a surgeon can sew it back on.”

“10-4, Prospect-one. Five-zero-one is 10-36 now.” Bettye said calmly—she never gets rattled.

“He’ll meet you at BMH as soon as possible.”

“10-4, Headquarters,” I said. “501, switch to channel two.”

I flipped a toggle on my radio console and heard, “501 on.”

“Junior, pick up the big knife on the kitchen table and preserve it for prints.”

“Ya mean this ain’t an accident?”

“Not certain yet. Be sure to get names for the three men in the kitchen wearing sports clothing. . . If they’re still around.”

“10-4,” he said.

I looked in the rearview mirror at the Asian man who was still moaning, mumbling, and gently rocking back and forth as Kate held his crudely bandaged hand.


Kate and I stood in front of the triage area only a few feet from the entrance to the emergency room.

“Sometimes this police work gets in the way,” I said. “I’m starving.”

“You’re always hungry, sweetie, but how often do you get to save a life?”


“We can eat when you’re finished here.”

“If I don’t eat soon, I’ll faint.”

Kate smiled and was about to tell me to shut up when the Chinese woman PO Junior Huskey brought to the hospital walked out of the ER. She looked pale and thin and wore her black hair pinned back with barrettes. I stepped over to meet her.

“I’m Sam Jenkins, police chief in Prospect.”

“I am Agnes Lee. Someone from the restaurant called me at home. It was my husband Jerome who had the accident. We own the Magic Panda.” She spoke with a slight accent and appeared concerned, but not too upset.

“How is he doing?”

She shrugged. “They say he lost much blood and gave him a transfusion. Nurses have taken him to surgery. The doctors think they can attach his finger. He may get feeling back, but maybe not.”

“How did it happen?”

Her eyes flashed between Kate and me. She looked like I had just asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question and she didn’t know the answer.

“It was an accident.”

I thought about that and wondered how a right-handed man using a kitchen knife could slip and cut off his left pinkie. Why not the thumb or index finger? They’re closer.

“I’d like to speak to him about that,” I said. “Will they keep him overnight?”

She frowned. “He will be ready to leave later this evening.”

“Then I’ll come back. I won’t bother you much more, but can I have your husband’s information for the report?”

“What report? It was an accident.” She sounded surprised.

“All accidents get what we call a field report. It just accounts for our time.”

She didn’t look happy with my answer.

“All right.”

I found a scrap of paper in my jacket pocket and wrote down a pedigree on Jerome Lee.

“If you’re going to wait, can I call someone to stay with you?”

“Not necessary, thank you. I have a cell phone.”

Kate toned down her usual dazzling smile to low wattage and said, “We hope Mr. Lee recovers quickly.”

Agnes Lee mumbled something, turned, and walked a few yards to the waiting area. Kate and I left the building.

“Notice anything odd back in the kitchen?” I asked.

“There were two mahjongg sets on the shelf where they kept the clean aprons.”

“That’s odd?”

“Who plays mahjongg in a commercial kitchen?”

“I’ll bet when they close the restaurant, they break out the mahjongg sets and play in the dining room all night. The Chinese are great gamblers.”

“They always play mahjongg for money,” she said.

“They play everything for money. I meant did you see anything odd—about the whole scene?”

“I’m not sure. Things happened pretty fast.”

“There were no vegetables on the cutting board where he lost his finger. That long knife is used to cut carrots and things.”

“Very observant, Inspector Charlie Chan.” Kate spoke with a theatrical Chinese accent.

“Right, number one wife. Also, he would have to reach across hand to cut off pinkie when three other fingers and thumb were closer to blade.” Two can do Asian accents, doll-face.

“Number one wife? Who’s number two?”

“What about my theory on access to the pinkie” I growled.

She thought for a moment. “Sounds about right. I’d hold what I was cutting with my thumb, middle, and index fingers. My pinkie would be too far away.”

I reactivated Charlie Chan. “Exactly, grasshopper. I think we have oriental mystery.”

“You’re so clever . . . and sarcastic. How can anyone stand to work with you?”

“They look at working with me as the ultimate education.”

“Oh, pa-leeze. Go live with number two wife.”

I ignored her juvenile statement.

“Did you look at the thin young guy wearing the loud Indonesian print shirt? The guy with the pony tail.”


“No one in the kitchen would move before he did. When he handed me the clean apron, his arm stretched out of the shirt sleeve and I saw a swan tattoo. I’ve never seen one like it before.”

“Everyone gets tattoos nowadays.”

“But he looked like a gangster and these Asian hoods are very into macho. They usually get dragons or tigers or snake tattoos. A swan seems a little tame.”

“Why is that strange? Maybe the swan has some meaning to him.”

“I think his presence was strange. The waitresses and kitchen help were dressed appropriately for their jobs. Jerome Lee, one of the owners, wore a white shirt and black slacks. Also appropriate for his role. Mr. Ponytail and two other clowns didn’t fit.”

“Maybe they sell things to restaurants. Or maybe they just stopped in to see Mr. Lee.”

“And Lee played with a big knife while he had company?”

“You’ve got a point.”

“Maybe they sell protection to restaurants. Or maybe they make loans or who knows what.”

“You think they’re loan sharks?”

“If Jerome Lee is a big mahjongg loser, maybe he needs extra cash to settle his debts. Maybe he makes bigger wagers on other things, sports betting perhaps. There’s lots of money in that. Maybe he was late with his payments and Ponytail wanted to express his displeasure. All possibilities.”

“Who is Mr. Ponytail?”

“No idea yet, but I’ll ask.”


“The man with the severed finger for starters.”

Kate snapped her seatbelt in place and I switched on the ignition in the big Ford.

“Are we going back to the Magic Panda?” she asked.

“Hard to maintain my mystique as the Charlie Chan of Prospect while I’m nibbling on dim sum dumplings. Let’s go see Mr. Lum.”

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Pigeon River Blues

Jun 26, 2014 by

Pigeon River Blues

Pigeon River Blues by Wayne ZurlWinter in the Smokies can be a tranquil time of year–unless Sam Jenkins sticks his thumb into the sweet potato pie.

The retired New York detective turned Tennessee police chief is minding his own business one quiet day in February when Mayor Ronnie Shields asks him to act as a bodyguard for a famous country and western star.

C.J. Profitt’s return to her hometown of Prospect receives lots of publicity . . . and threats from a rightwing group calling themselves The Coalition for American Family Values.

The beautiful, publicity seeking Ms. Proffit never fails to capitalize on her abrasive personality by flaunting her alternative lifestyle–a way of living the Coalition hates.

Reluctantly, Jenkins accepts the assignment of keeping C.J. safe while she performs at a charity benefit. But Sam’s job becomes more difficult when the object of his protection refuses to cooperate.

During this misadventure, Sam hires a down-on-his-luck ex-New York detective and finds himself thrown back in time, meeting old Army acquaintances who factor into how he foils a complicated plot of attempted murder, the destruction of a Dollywood music hall, and other general insurrection on the “peaceful side of the Smokies.”

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An oddball named Mack Collinson sat in his mother’s office discussing the upcoming auction of farmland straddling the border of Prospect and neighboring Seymour, Tennessee.

Jeremy Goins, part-time real estate salesman at the Collinson agency, defrocked federal park ranger, and now full-time maintenance man in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, walked into the room and tossed a newspaper on Mack’s lap.

Collinson, a short, dark man in his late-forties, had close-cropped, almost black hair, a single bushy eyebrow spanning his forehead, and a thick beard that covered his face from just below his eyes and disappeared into the collar of his sport shirt.

“You seen this article in the Blount County Voice?” Goins asked.

Mack shrugged. His mother neither commented nor gestured.

Goins sighed and continued, seemingly unimpressed with his male colleague. “’Bout how Dolly’s havin’ a benefit show and that lezzy bitch—‘cuse me, Ma—C.J. Profitt’s comin’ back home fer a week a’forehand.”

People showing deference to her age referred to Collinson’s mother as Miss Elnora. Those who knew her more intimately, called her Ma.

“Lemme see that,” Elnora snarled, screwing up her wide face, one surrounded by layers of gray, arranged in a style the locals called big hair.

“Yes, ma’am.” Anxious to please his employer, Jeremy snatched the newspaper from Mack and handed it to Mrs. Collinson.

The Collinson Realty and Auction Company occupied an old and not very well maintained building on McTeer’s Station Pike just below the center of Prospect. Sixty-five-year-old Elnora Collinson had been a realtor for more than forty years, first with her late husband and now with her son. In either case, Ma represented the brains of the operation.

After allowing the woman a few moments to read the article, Jeremy Goins continued the conversation.

“I hated that bitch back in hi-skoo,” he said. “And I hate her even more now that I know what she is and what her kind means ta the rest o’ us.”

Goins was a stocky, rugged-looking man, approaching fifty, with a liberal mix of gray in his dark brown hair. The gray hair was the only liberal thing about Jeremy Goins.

“I s’pose she’s fixin’ to stay around here and mebbe bring some o’ her pur-verted women friends with her,” Mack said. “This world’s goin’ ta hell when ya got ta be subjectedsta the likes o’ her on the same streets good Christian folk walk on.”

“Amen ta that,” Jeremy said.

When Ma finished reading she snorted something unintelligible, rolled up the paper, and threw it at a wastepaper basket, missing by a foot.

“Boys, this is shameful.” She took a long moment to shake her head in disgust. “Downright shameful.”

Both men nodded in agreement.

“When that girl went ta Nashville an’ become a singer, I thought Prospect was rid o’ her and her kind once’t and fer all. Lord have mercy, but we’re doomed ta see her painted face on our streets ag’in.”

“Momma,” Mack said, “we ain’t gotta take this.”

He spent a moment shaking his head, too. Then he decided to speak for the rest of the population.

“Don’t nobody here want her back. Mebbe we should send’er a message if the elected leaders o’ this city won’t. We kin let her know.”

“You’re rot, son. Ain’t no reason why that foul-mouthed, lesbian should feel welcome here.” Ma Collinson, who resembled a grumpy female gnome, sat forward in her swivel chair and with some difficulty, pulled herself closer to the desk. “Jeremy, git me that li’l typewriter from the closet. I’ll write her a note sayin’ as much.”

Goins nodded and moved quickly.

“And Jeremy, afore yew git ta work at park headquarters, mail this in Gatlinburg so as ta not have a Prospect postmark on it.”

Goins stepped to a spot where he could read over her shoulder and said, “Yes, ma’am, I’ll do it.” After inserting a sheet of white bond paper under the roller, Elnora Collinson began to type:

Colleen Profitt we know you. We know what you are.
All the money you made don’t make no difference 
about what you have became. You are a shame to your 
family and the city of Prospect. Do not come back here.
We do not want you. God does not want you.
The Coalition for American Family Values

That was the first of six messages sent to country and western star C.J. Profitt. The last letter, typed almost two weeks later, said:

CJ Profitt you have not called off your visit to our city. 
We repeat. You and your lesbian friends are violating God’s Law. 
You must not come here. If you do you will regret it. The people 
of this city will not suffer because of you. Your ways are the 
ways of Sin. Your life is a life of SIN. If you come here 
YOU WILL suffer and then burn in Hell. Do not show your 
painted face here again.
If you do you better make your peace with GOD. 
You will face HIM soon enough.
Sooner than you think.
The Coalition for American Family Values


On Friday morning, February 2nd, Mack Collinson slammed the front door to the real estate agency, shrugged off his brown canvas Carhartt jacket, and tossed it on an old swivel chair. He spent a moment blowing his nose in a week-old handkerchief and stormed into his mother’s office.

“Well she’s here,” he said, putting his hands on his hips. “She never done took your warnin’s serious-like.”

Ma Collinson looked at her son over the tops of reading glasses she recently purchased at the Wal-Mart Vision Center.

“This mornin’ Luretta and the kids was watchin’ that Knoxville mornin’ show,” he said. “And there she was—film o’ her at the airport ‘long with some others goin’ ta perform at Dolly’s benefit thing. She never listened ta ya, Ma. Now she’s here.”

At five after nine, a coo coo clock in Elnora’s office struck eight. Mrs. Collinson pulled off her glasses and tossed them onto the desk. She wrinkled her brow and puckered her mouth in disgust. Elnora did not look happy.

“She’ll be talkin’ ‘bout her ideas and her ways like she always does,” Mack said. “It’s un-natural is what it is. Against God’s way. Why does God let people like her live, Ma? Makes me jest so gat-dag mad. Makes me think we ought ta kill her. Kill her our own selves.”


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