Sins of Eden

Dec 31, 2018 by

Sins of Eden

After losing their jobs at Prospect PD, veteran detectives Sam Jenkins and John Gallagher set up shop as private investigators. But their life in the private sector is short-lived when their former colleague, Bettye Lambert, the new county sheriff, enlists them to investigate a seemingly cold missing person’s case.

Twenty-seven year old Tommy Lee Helton disappeared from the beautiful and idyllic Orr’s Valley section of Prospect where he lived. None of his family or friends can find him and no one can provide a clue to where he may have gone.

The closest thing to a lead comes from a beautiful woman who is a member of the environmentalist group to which Tommy Lee belongs. Her information leads Jenkins and Gallagher to a paper mill reportedly discharging toxic chemical waste into the river system of North Carolina and Tennessee.

The security supervisors at the mill, a former federal agent from the Diplomatic Security Service and a retired Marine Corps sniper had a serious confrontation with Helton during a demonstration organized by the activists. They soon become prime suspects in his disappearance.

As the search and investigation continues, an unrelated murder victim is found, more anomalies spring up, people are blatantly withholding information and nothing seems to be as it appears.
The question remains, with all those obstacles, can Jenkins and Gallagher find the missing person and restore order to their little chunk of paradise on “the peaceful side of the Smokies?”

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Chapter One

The paint wasn’t dry on the walls before we started moving in.

“Ya know, Boss,” John said, “we should have bought new office furniture. That would give the place a touch o’ class. This old stuff, I don’t know. Clients judge you by the appearance of your office.”

No one will ever accuse former Detective John Gallagher of being financially savvy. And his wife is no better. They had living beyond their means down to a science—spending money like Crockett and Bowie the night before the Alamo fell.

I finished rubbing dark scratch remover into a scar on top of the old solid oak desk. “First thing, John, stop calling me boss. We’re partners in this cockamamie private detective business. I have a first name. Please use it.”

“Okay, B…uh, Sam. But you know how it is, old habits are hard to break.”

“Let’s put those words to music and get Bobby Vinton to sing it. The song should be more successful than we’ll ever be.” I shook my head. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this private cop venture.”

John look shocked that I’d question the sanity of his goofy scheme.

“It was a good idea,” he said. “According to Lonnie Ray, we’ll make lots of money.”

“And we agreed to give Lonnie Ray Wilson seventy-five bucks for every hour he spends with us working on his computer, hacking into places where we shouldn’t be. You think he’s got a vested interest in suggesting we start this business?”

“Boss, you’re the voice of doom.”

I grunted and finished buffing the top of the old desk as I sneered at Gallagher. “There, see? These things have character. Between the Salvation Army and Goodwill, I bought four desks and eight chairs. After I tipped the kids who work there for helping me load this stuff into my truck, the whole shooting match cost us $320.00. You can’t get a bottom-of-the-line new desk for that—and it would be made from some kind of poisonous Chinese flake board that would give us cancer. Who needs new furniture? These may not be genuine antiques, but they have a special kind of class. They give the place sort of a…hardboiled, Philip Marlowe look. Vintage. Like us.”

John didn’t have a chance to comment when Bettye Lambert walked into the outer office.

“Good mornin’, gentlemen. How’s the new business goin’?”

“Well,” I said, “you’re looking good. The new job suits you.”

John jumped in with a compliment of his own. “Yeah, Sarge, uh, Sheriff, that outfit is way nicer than your old Prospect PD uniform.”

For the five years I’d known Bettye, during our time together at Prospect PD, I often thought of her as the loveliest desk sergeant on the planet. Now she’s the most beautiful sheriff. Her silky black blouse clung to her figure like one of the gowns worn by the Muses and Graces living above the clouds on Mount Olympus. Her straight beige skirt showed only an inch of knee and couldn’t have been more appropriate for a newly appointed female sheriff.

John, on the other hand, looked like a slightly larger than usual leprechaun whose tie was always too short. Or were his pants always too low?

“Thank you both,” she said. “I won’t lie and say I wasn’t overwhelmed when I started this new job, but so far, so good. I’m gettin’ to like it.”

John smiled.

I said, “Good.”

“But listen,” she said. “I came to see you guys and ask how you like bein’ private eyes?”

I let Bogie answer, “Private investigators, doll-face. Save that private eye malarkey for guys like Boston Blackie. We’re high class like Marlowe and Spade. We get twenty-five smackers a day plus expenses. And I love it when a dame like you visits the office.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Bogart. Have you been busy?”

“Honest answer?” John said. “I did one case—followed a cheating husband and his girlfriend to a sleazy motel. Not exactly the French Connection.”

Bettye smiled before asking a question, the answer to which would change our lives for the next couple of weeks. “How would you like to work for me? I’m ready to put you two on the payroll and let you use those Special Investigator badges I gave you when I became the official interim sheriff of Blount County.”

John jumped in promptly. “Yes, ma’am. I could use the money.”

I played hard-to-get. “What’s it all about, sweetheart? Come on. Spill the beans. I’m no sap. What am I gettin’ involved in for my twenty-five bucks?”

“Will you stop with that 1940’s act?”

“If I must.”

“Good. This should be right up your alley. And you get a lot more than twenty-five dollars a day.”

She took a moment to reactivate a smile I took in with my eyes, but felt all the way down to my shoes. I have problems leaving my hardboiled gumshoe character behind.

“Stanley got a missin’ person case in Prospect that he passed off to us because he’s goin’ to be in Los Angeles for at least three weeks,” she said. “His grandmother died. His family would like help handlin’ her affairs, and Prospect PD is shorthanded now that we all left. I’m low on personnel, too, what with vacations still goin’ strong and a couple of complicated cases that are keepin’ CID busy.”

“I like missing persons cases,” John said. “The Boss does, too.”

“John, I’ve asked you to stop calling me that. But you’re right. I like MP cases. Always have.”

“Ya know, Sheriff, the Boss, uh, Sam, worked missing persons cases when he first got to be a detective back in New York. He started out in Juvenile, but didn’t last long there.” John lowered his voice and looked around as if he was afraid some nonexistent person might hear him. “He told me MP cases were easy because you didn’t have to worry about Miranda or any of that stuff. He’d dangle someone out a window or hang them off a pier to get information about the missing kid.”

Bettye looked at me as if she just learned I enjoyed pulling the wings off dragonflies. “Sam Jenkins, I will not allow you to dangle or hang or otherwise physically abuse some witness while you’re investigatin’ for me. Is that clear?”

“Yikes,” I said. “Has she gotten tough or what? John, there’s no doubt who’s the new boss in town.”

“Oh, stop,” she said.

“Okay. When are you going to tell me about the case? I need to know a few things before we jump into this.”

Bettye smiled. “I’ll tell you all about it if you take me to lunch.”

“I’ll bet you’ve got an expense account, don’t you?”

“Matter of fact, I do.”

“Wow, a pretty woman with an expense account. I’d marry you if your father owned a liquor store. Let’s go someplace pricey.”

“Yeah, Sheriff, I mean, Boss,” John said, “I can call you that, right?”

“Of course you can, John,” Bettye said.

He finished with, “Where we going?”

“Not we, John,” I said. “You have to write up your keyhole peeping case for the offended woman, and then you’ve got those four boxes of crap you want to hang on the walls to deal with. I’m gonna take my blonde lady friend here and buy her a glass of cheap white wine before she picks up the tab for our expensive lunch. I’ll come back and tell you why she wants to hire us.”

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A Bleak Prospect

Apr 25, 2018 by

A Bleak Prospect

A serial killer dubbed The Riverside Strangler by the Knoxville press corps has murdered eight Internet prostitutes in East Tennessee, the most recent found floating in Prospect’s Crystal Creek.

Chief Sam Jenkins joins a task force led by the county’s chief deputy, Ryan Leary, a cop known for his flamboyant police work and questionable methods.

When investigators hit a stone wall in the case, the killer strikes again—or was it a copycat? The type of victim and location follow the Strangler’s pattern, but some details are significantly different.

During the investigation, Leary is charged in a bizarre and seemingly unrelated case of police brutality and relieved of duty. Sam is faced with assuming command of the task force or turning over responsibility to the FBI.

The outcome of the case and subsequent actions taken by the Prospect City Council affect everyone at Sam’s police department and suggest that life there will never be the same.


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Police officers who work in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains occasionally require equipment not often needed by cops in cities or semi-urban neighborhoods.

Crime scene investigator Jackie Shuman and I were standing waist deep in the briskly moving waters of Crystal Creek wearing our police issue rubber waders.

Deputy Medical Examiner Morris Rappaport, his assistant, Earl W. Ogle, four other police officers, and a partially controlled crowd of tourists stood on the bank as Jackie and I approached the fallen tree that snagged a very dead body as it floated downstream, adjacent to the Creekside RV Park in Prospect, Tennessee.

“Go easy when you remove her from those branches, Sam,” Morris said.

“If she’s been underwater for a few days, you might get surprised.”

From the color of the corpse, it seemed like Morris was giving us sound advice. The once light-skinned female, now only partially clothed, looked roughly the color of a blue Italian plum.

“Jackie, block the moving water with your body,” I said. “It’s forcing her into the tangle. I’ll see if I can free her arm from this branch.”

“Times like these, I ask m’self why I didn’t volunteer fer the traffic division.”

I understood his complaint but ignored it. “Okay, go slow, and pull the branch down while I lift the arm.”

“Oh, Lord have mercy.”

It took us almost ten minutes of finessing the body out of the gnarled branches of the dead sweet gum before we could float her to a spot clear of debris. Jackie’s partner, David Sparks, met us on dry land with an aluminum-framed rescue litter. Once we maneuvered the body and secured it onto the litter, we pushed, while Sergeant Stan Rose and Officer Junior Huskey pulled her onto the grassy shore.

Several spectators appeared to be getting more curious and began inching their way closer to the action, craning their necks for a better look.

“Junior,” I said, “Help Johnny keep the gawkers back.”

“Glad to, boss.”

Stanley covered the body with a yellow disposable blanket as the doctor set up his workspace.

To Shuman and Sparks, I said, “Get your stakes out, and cordon off the area.” To Stan Rose, “I think you three can move that herd back toward the parking area. Let’s give Mo and Earl a little privacy.”

“Piece o’ cake,” Stanley said.

All three went about their business.

I stood over the body as Morris and Earl attempted to gain a little preliminary information and prepare her for a trip to the morgue and her post-mortem examination.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, “I count twenty-three stab wounds to the torso alone.”

“Look at the bruises across the carotid arteries,” Mo said. “Strangled.

That either killed her or rendered her unconscious. I’m only guessing about these wounds, but I think the killer wanted to get air out of the stomach and lungs, so she’d sink.”

“Cold and crafty bastard. Only it didn’t work. This is a pretty shallow body of water to think she’d make it down to Davy Jones’ locker.” Morris nodded. “After the autopsy I should know if there was any forcible sex.”

“That leather miniskirt and one remaining knee-high boot might indicate she worked in the sex trade.” I shrugged. “Or she just liked to look the part.”

“I’ll let you know what I find, Samilah. But offhand, I’ll bet you’ve just joined the lucky investigators looking for the Riverside Strangler.”

I shook my head and blew out a large volume of air. “Just what we need in beautiful downtown Prospect.”

Earl zipped up the black vinyl body bag.

Morris looked up at me but spoke to the corpse. “Welcome to the peaceful side of the Smokies, young lady.”

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Honor Among Thieves

Aug 6, 2017 by

Honor Among Thieves

Cops run into all kinds of characters on the job. But when Chief Sam Jenkins meets four people from his former life as a New York detective, it throws him for a loop.

The first was a low level gangster named Carlo “Carly Nickels” DeCenzo—lying on a slab in the Blount County morgue with Sam’s name and phone number written on a scrap of paper in his pocket.

Next there’s Gino Musucci, infamous Northeast crime boss who says he wants to retire and relocate—to Sam’s town of Prospect, Tennessee.

And there’s Dixie Foster, Sam’s former secretary and the woman who wanted to steal him away from his wife. Sam wonders why she’s turned up after eighteen years.

With DeCenzo’s murder unsolved, another body shows up in a Prospect motel—that of a retired detective and co-worker from Sam’s past.

When Sam receives a letter from an old mobster who warns him about a contract on his life, he wonders: Is this any way for a cop to spend his time on the “peaceful side of the Smokies?”

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At 9 p.m., Kate and I sat on a loveseat in the living room watching a PBS special on Yellowstone National Park. Just as a small herd of bison began trudging through a soggy meadow in the Lamar River Valley, the phone rang. A county detective named Bo Stallins requested my presence in the morgue at Blount Memorial Hospital.

Twenty minutes later, I parked my unmarked Crown Victoria in one of the police spots near the emergency room entrance. A chill November breeze blew down my neck and caused my open jacket to flutter. As I approached the building, double sliding doors parted like the Red Sea, and I found Stallins leaning against a wall next to the triage nurse’s station. The tall man flexed his shoulders and pushed off the tile.

“Hey, Sam, you doin’ aw right today?”

“You interrupted an important incident I was handling, but I’ll live.”

“Shoot, you’s probably jest watchin’ TV.”

“So smart. No wonder you’re a detective. What’s up?”

He handed me a wrinkled 3×5 card with Sam Jenkins Prospect Police and the office phone number written on the face.

“Hey, that’s me. What do I win?”

“A thank-you if ya can gimme a name for the dead guy who had this in his pants pocket. Let’s take a look.”

Not exactly the answer I wanted to hear.

We walked through institutional green hospital halls, took an elevator to the lowest level and adjourned to a dimly lit corner of the morgue. The unmistakable shape of a fairly large body lay on a stainless steel gurney under a sage green sheet.

Stallins and I stood by as a young attendant with a crew cut and long sideburns lifted the sheet to show me a face attached to the body.

“Know him?” Bo asked as he unzipped his black leather jacket. An oval Sheriff’s Department badge hung on his belt just forward of a Glock .40 caliber pistol.

I took a quick look and nodded. “I’ll be damned. Carly Nickels. He’s a long way from home. Hasn’t aged well.”

“Nichols, ya say?” Bo asked. “N-I-C-H-O-L-S?” He spelled it out.

“Not Nichols, Nickles. Like dimes and quarters.”

He looked confused. The morgue attendant was busy picking at a hangnail on his left thumb and paid no attention.

“His name’s Carlo DeCenzo. They called him Carly Nickels because his old man owned a vending machine company. Carly was the bag man. He collected coins from the machines and restocked them. And he probably did a few not so legitimate things.”

“Uh-huh,” Bo said. “How long ya known him?”

“I met him a long time ago. It’s been twenty-five, thirty years. He was just out of high school when a uniform cop collared him for assault. He almost killed another kid who tried to get fresh with his girlfriend.”

“When you worked in New York?”

“Sure. The DeCenzos lived in a community called Mastic Beach. I was the squad dick who handled the arrest.”

“He do time for the assault?”

“No, I thought Carlo was justified in using force to terminate the sexual abuse and cut him loose. I told the victim to take it to civil court if he thought the force was excessive. Carlo didn’t look like an angel, but the complainant was a shitbag.”

Bo raised his eyebrows.

“Witnesses confirmed the girl’s story and said Carlo did what he had to do.”

Bo still looked a little skeptical.

“It was that kind of neighborhood. And I doubted any witness would want to get on the wrong side of Carlo’s old man, Alphonse DeCenzo. He was a family man if you know what I’m saying.” I used my index finger to push my nose to the side.

Bo looked confused again. Stallins was in his mid-forties and a hair over six-foot. I’d known him for almost four years and had watched his hair turn gray from the job.

“Bent noses? Wise guys?” I said. “Organized crime family?”

He nodded. “Don’t get much o’ that here in Tennessee.”

“Yeah. Makes our jobs easier.” I took the end of the sheet and pulled it down to Carly’s waist. Just below the intersection of autopsy stitches that formed a Y and closed up Carlo’s chest cavity, someone had fired two shots into his ten-ring. They looked about nine-millimeter size.

“Ouch.” I said. “Now, I suppose you’d like to know who did that?”

“That is why we’re standin’ here.”

“Who found him?”

“Airport police at McGhee-Tyson. In the covered parking structure, second floor. I checked the airlines. He got in on a flight from Islip-MacArthur on Long Island and came in by way o’ Charlotte ‘round 5:45 tonight. Never picked up his rental car and never checked inta the Country Inn in Alcoa where he had a reservation.”

“Safe to assume someone he knew met him?”

“Be my guess. But mebbe a gun in his ribs would make him leave the terminal with a stranger. You think of anything better?”

I shrugged. “If no one witnessed a struggle, I haven’t got a clue.” I did a little quick math. “Haven’t thought about him, much less seen him in eighteen years. Why he’s here looking for me is as much a mystery as who kidnapped the Lindberg baby. I remember him, but knew his old man much better.”

Turning to the morgue attendant, Bo said, “Thanks, Virgil. We’re done here.”

The young man nodded, took a bite of cuticle and covered the body.

Bo and I rode the elevator up two floors and walked back to the hospital lobby.

“I got me a feelin’,” he said, “there’s one o’ them New York war stories under yer hat. How’s about we get us a cup o’ coffee and you tell me what ya know?”

“Sure, but I don’t wear a hat. And who drinks hospital coffee? Let’s go to Howell’s. I’ll buy you a beer, and we can talk like civilized gentlemen.”

“Works fer me.”

A Wednesday night in Prospect, Tennessee is about as busy as Christmas in Tel Aviv. We found only three cars in the parking lot at the pub and four patrons sitting at tables inside. I ordered a pint of black and tan and got Bo a Budweiser. We sat at a small round table near the dart board.

“Okay, young feller,” I said, “sit back, and listen to something that sounds like the plot of a Martin Scorsese movie.”

Bo took a big sip of his Bud, stretched out his long legs and got comfortable.

“Carlo’s father is Alphonse ‘The Torch’ DeCenzo, former contract arsonist and trusted soldier in the Musucci family of New York and New Jersey.”

That captured Bo’s attention.

“The Torch? Carly Nickels? People really get names like that?”

“Sure. Charlie the Waxer, Tony Big Ears, Louie the Fat Man—who, by the way, was only about a hundred and forty soaking wet. Yeah, everybody gets a nickname. It’s part of the culture.”

“And this arsonist was a friend o’ yours?”

“Not a friend—a cordial acquaintance. He was out of the arson business when we met. Alphonse became a made man in the Musucci organization and got a vending machine territory on Long Island for services rendered.” I shrugged. “A step in the right direction, you might say—unless he laundered money through the all-cash machine business.”

Bo shifted in his chair and took another long pull on the Bud. “Back to my original question. What’s this Carly Nickels got ta do with you?”

“I’m getting there. I doubt he has anything to do with me, but his father may.”

Bo drank more beer. Two customers picked up their check, called out a good-bye to Reggie, the barman and headed out into the dining room to the cash register.

I downed a bit of black and tan and continued.

“Two local idiots burglarized Alphonse’s home, and I caught the squeal. One of the things taken was a carved shell cameo that once belonged to his wife’s grandmother. Not a terribly expensive item, worth maybe three hundred and change, but one of the things you don’t do, is screw with a goombah’s family. Understand?”

“Not really, but I can see yer point.”

“Okay. So, I felt sorry for Marie, Al’s wife.”

Another one of the bar patrons picked up and left, and I looked at my watch.

“To get to the bottom of my investigation, I tossed an informant out the window and got a name. And I recovered the brooch, made two collars and after that, The Torch said he’d be eternally grateful.”

“Y’all threw somebody out a window ta get information?”

I nodded. “He was a sleazy little paid snitch who was lying to protect a friend. We had to correct a simple quality control problem. And besides, it was split-level, probably no more than ten or twelve feet off the ground. No big deal. He landed in a bush.”

“Lord have mercy.”

“Anyway, guys like Alphonse have this thing about debts and honor. He said he owed me one, and he knew money or something material was out of the question. Over the years, Alphonse has handed me a few tidbits of info on a few other mooks I should know about. I always thought he was just sticking it to the competition, but I didn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth. So, I’m guessing he sent Carly here to tell me something. And someone shot him before he could deliver.”

“Any idea what he wanted ta tell ya?”

“No, but I guess I’d better find out.”

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A Can of Worms

Jan 22, 2017 by

A Can of Worms

A Can of Worms by Wayne Zurl, coverAgainst his better judgment, Police Chief Sam Jenkins hires Dallas Finchum, nephew of two corrupt politicians.

Now, Finchum is accused of a rape that occurred when he attended college in Chattanooga three years earlier.

The young man claims his innocence, but while investigating the allegations, Jenkins uncovers corruption in the local sheriff’s office, evidence that detectives mishandled the rape investigation, and the district attorney lost the entire case file.

False accusations, scandal, and extortion threaten to ruin Jenkins’ reputation and marriage unless he drops the investigation.


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“Sam, I’ve got a woman on the line.” Bettye sighed before continuing. “You really need to talk with her.”

She transferred the call, and I answered my phone.

“Chief,” the woman said, “do you normally hire rapists to be po-leece-men in Prospect?

I’m glad no one was watching me. I felt my eyes pop open, and I’m sure my jaw dropped. I knew exactly who she was talking about.

“That’s a disturbing question, ma’am. Would you explain a little more?”

“I’ll explain a lot more. Will you do somethin’ about it?”

I had the option to tap dance and keep a disillusioned citizen on the line or take offense at someone thinking I might not be the best police chief Prospect ever had. Compromise is everything.

“Ma’am, I’ve believed in something important ever since I got sworn in as a police officer a long time ago,” I said. “I think a cop’s reputation is one of the most important things he or she has. If what you say is true, my reputation and that of Prospect PD are in jeopardy. You bet I’ll do something about it.”

There was a long moment of silence.

“You’ll listen ta me then?”

I thought I hooked her attention. “Of course I will.”

“My daughter was raped by a man y’all hired.”

I remembered back all those months to when I met Dallas and thought, why me?

I gave the caller a few options. “Would you like to do this over the phone or at the police station? Or would you like me to come to your home?”

There was another moment of silence.

Then, “On the phone is aw rot fer now.”

“Sure, that’s okay—for now. Will you tell me your name?”

“I guess ya need ta know that, don’t ya?”

“It would help. I’ll need to know your daughter’s name, too.”

“My name’s Asher—Jodelle Asher.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Asher. If you didn’t hear Sergeant Lambert or me say so before, I’m Sam Jenkins, the police chief in Prospect.”

“They’s a bunch o’ Jenkinses here in Blount County. You from a local family?”

“No, ma’am. I’m from New York.”

“Ya didn’t sound like you’s from Tennessee.”

“No, I guess I don’t, do I?” I knew the answer to my next question, but I asked anyway. “Mrs. Asher, which policeman are we talking about?”

“That Finchum boy, Dallas. He’s the one raped my daughter, Dorie.”

I remembered my reaction when Dallas first told me about an incident that both the UT campus police and Chattanooga detectives summarily dismissed as unfounded. I worried about it then. Now it felt like something was waiting to come back and bite me in the posterior.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“More’n three year ago, but that don’t make it no less awful, does it?”

I silently blew out a little air. “No, ma’am. I can’t think how rape can ever be forgotten or looked at as anything but awful.”

Bettye Lambert walked into my office and sat in one of the guest chairs in front of my desk. She held a sheet of paper. Her little granny glasses rested low on her nose. She reached forward and handed me a Tennessee Department of Safety printout for Jodelle Asher, showing her personal information, address and driving record. Bettye had listened in on the conversation, then checked on our complainant

“Dorie was in school at UT, Chattanooga,” Jodelle Asher said. “So was Dallas, but I suppose you already know ‘bout him.” She waited a few seconds for a response, but I didn’t offer one. “They knew each other ever since high school.” She pronounced the last words hi-skoo. “They’s seniors in the college school when the rape happened. Dallas had asked her out a couple times, then one night he ups and attacks her. I believe my daughter, Mr. Jenkins. If she says she was raped, then she was raped.”

I had already heard Finchum’s account of what Mrs. Asher just said and the rest of what she was about to tell me, but I asked a few basic questions and allowed her to talk so I’d have two stories to compare.

“Did your daughter report the rape?”

“Yes, sir, she shore did to the college po-leece.”

Bettye took off her glasses and sat there swinging them back and forth listening to the one-sided conversation.

“Campus police usually don’t investigate serious crimes,” I said. “Did they refer it to the local police or the sheriff’s office down there?”

“They did. Hamilton County Sheriff. Little good that did.”

“What did the Hamilton County detectives tell your daughter?”

I looked up at Bettye, waiting for Mrs. Asher’s explanation. Occasionally she wears a hint of green eye shadow. It goes well with her blonde hair and hazel eyes—matches her uniform pants, too.

“A lotta noise is all. They called her a couple o’ days after it happened. Then he, this detective, told her how hard it was to prove rape and how tough a lawyer would make it fer her when she got ta court. That man made her feel like she’d be the one on trial, ‘stead o’ Dallas.”

The story began differing from what Dallas told me.

“Did your daughter report this immediately after it happened?”

“Yes, sir, she did. Same night.”

“And a couple of days later a detective tried to kiss this off?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did Dorie see a doctor?”

“Yes, sir. Same night. A woman from the college po-leece took her.”

“Were there any witnesses? Did anyone see her right after she was raped? A roommate maybe?”

“Yes, sir, Dorie had a roommate. Nice girl, name o’ Laura Jean Hensley.”

I wondered how much of this behind the scenes action Dallas Finchum knew.

I looked at Bettye again. She tilted her head as if to say, “This sounds like a fine can of worms you’ve picked up, Sammy.”

“Mrs. Asher, I plan to investigate this, but I’ll need to meet your daughter and speak with Laura Hensley as well. When do you think I can do that?”

“Dorie don’t much like talkin’ about the rape. Bad memories an’ all. Laura, she lives in Knoxville. Works there, too.”

“I believe all you’re telling me, Mrs. Asher, but I can’t arrest Dallas Finchum or fire him for what he did based on our telephone conversation. I need to see Dorie, get a statement from her, see Laura, record what she saw and then find out why the people in Chattanooga didn’t do more.”

“I unnerstand.”

“Before we hired Dallas, my investigator and I listened to his side of this date rape story. A detective named Gallagher spoke with your daughter, and she refused to make a statement. She said the incident was over, and she wanted to get on with her life. She more or less reaffirmed that she decided not to press charges.”

“I know Dorie was terrible upset over the whole affair. I can pitcher her sayin’ that. That mean nothin’ can be done now?”

“No, it doesn’t.”


“May I speak with Dorie now, or will you have her call me?”

“I’ll ask her. Don’t know if she’ll talk with ya though. She might not’ve changed her mind.”

I began to feel a serious frustration.

“I promise you, Mrs. Asher, if I can do something to help your daughter, I will. But it’s important for me to speak with her…and with Laura Hensley. They have to cooperate.”

“I’ll have ta call ya back.”

“Okay. Do you live in Prospect?” I asked, wondering if the driver’s license information was up to date.


“Where do you live?”

A little more silence.

“Mrs. Asher?”

“We live in Maryville.” Like most local people, she pronounced it Murr-vull. “East end o’ Murr-vull, not fer from Walland.”

“Tell Dorie I’ll meet her anywhere she wants. Here at Prospect PD, at a public place, anywhere—doesn’t matter.”

“I hear ya.”

“Can I call you back to find out what she says?”

“I’ll call you.”

“When? Tomorrow?”

“I ‘spect so.”

“Alright then. Good luck with Dorie. And, Mrs. Asher, I promise I’ll help you.”

“Uh-huh. I’ll call ag’in.”

She hung up. I needed a drink.

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A Touch Of Morning Calm

Jul 22, 2016 by

A Touch Of Morning Calm

A Touch of Morning Calm by Wayne ZurlChief Sam Jenkins runs headlong into Tennessee’s faction of Korean organized crime when a mobster tries to shake down two former call girls attempting to establish a legitimate business. Soon, bodies begin piling up—all with a Korean connection—in Sam’s town of Prospect and nearby Knoxville.

Sorting truth from fiction calls for more than Sam and his officers can handle, so he turns to the women in his life for assistance. His wife, Kate, Sergeant Bettye Lambert and TV news anchor, Rachel Williamson contribute significantly in clearing the convoluted homicides.

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For the last two years, I’ve spent nearly one third of my life with Sergeant Bettye Lambert, my administrative officer and occasional partner. We get along famously—most of the time.

At my age, you’d expect I’d know how to deal with women, but experience shows I’m not as smart as I think. If I inherited the ability to handle the opposite sex efficiently, I would have taken a different job—like a hairdresser. But apparently in that area I’m hopeless. So I remain a cop.

The main telephone rang on Bettye’s desk. If the caller wanted me, she would buzz my phone and forward the call. Nothing happened. Moments later, she stood in my office doorway, looking a little miffed.

I could always tell when things weren’t going her way. She cocked her left hip to the side and rested a hand there. I thought she looked attractive. With her right hand, she leaned on the doorjamb and scowled at me.

At least she isn’t holding a gun.

“It’s your friend—that cheap blonde,” she said.


Bettye shook her head, and her blonde ponytail swung back and forth. “You know who.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t. Who are you talking about?”

“Well, you seemed to get along with her just fine. It was me she didn’t like.”

“Huh?” I remained in the dark.

“You damn well know who I’m talkin’ about, Sam Jenkins. That blonde we met on the Cecil Lovejoy case—that one from Chicago.”

“Ah-ha.” A light in my brain switched on.

“Yes, ah-ha. Now pick up your damn phone.”

Bettye gets away with saying things like that because we both know how important she is to my little police department. And hearing a note of jealousy in her voice boosts my ego.

“You’re beautiful when you’re angry,” I said. “Just why are you angry?”

“Lord have mercy, you’re pathetic.”

I tried a smile. “That may be true, but you’re still hopelessly in love with me.”

“Not after today, darlin’. I said answer the phone. That one’s waitin’ for ya.” She turned and walked away.

Sergeant Lambert made reference to a woman named Veronica Keeble. Two years ago, after a local man, one Cecil Lovejoy, was murdered in Prospect, Bettye and I interviewed Mrs. Keeble. Sort of a suspect at the time, Veronica was thirty-five-years-old, blonde and absolutely gorgeous. Did I mention she was an ex-hooker?

I answered my phone, curious to learn what ‘that one’ had to say.

“Hello, this is Chief Jenkins.”

“Well, hello there. It’s been a long time.” She sounded friendly.

“Yes, it sure has. How are you?”

“I’m fine, thanks. Were you the police chief when we first met, or have you been promoted from detective?”

I remembered the time I interviewed her. On a warm July day, we walked down the street where she lived, and I listened to the intimate details of her earlier life.

“Yeah, I was the chief back then. We only have thirteen cops here, so I get to play detective at times. I’d have to sweep the floors, too, if the mayor caught me not looking busy.”

She laughed briefly, something a little husky and a whole lot sexy. “I see. You must have a tough boss.”

I thought about Bettye. “Sometimes I wonder who the boss is around here. What can I do for you, Mrs. Keeble?”

“The last time we spoke, I thought we agreed on Sam and Roni.” Her voice sounded soft and inviting.

Another memory—before we parted company, she asked my first name, shook my hand and left me gazing into the most incredibly blue eyes on the planet.

“We did. Okay, Roni, how can I help you?” I wondered what I might be getting into.

“Did you ever find out who killed that awful man?”

“That’s a long story—sort of.”

She called me to learn the outcome of a two-year-old case?

“You’ll have to tell me some time.”

“Sure, but first tell me why you called. I want to know if I should be flattered because you remember me or act totally professional.”

“Wow, how do I answer that?”

“Try the direct approach. Remember, I’m a civil servant. You pay my salary. I, madam, am at your disposal.”

She used that soft and inviting sound again. “That opens up all kinds of possibilities.”

The woman really had a way with words. I thought I’d play along. I wasn’t busy.

“But,” she said, “I guess I should tell you why I called before I forget.”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s your dime.”

“Well, I have a friend who just opened a business in Prospect. I think she may need police assistance.”

“Really? Why didn’t she call?”

“I told her you and I had already met. I know it’s been a while, but I still remember how nice you were. You listened to my story, and you weren’t judgmental like someone else might have been. I thought you were okay for a cop. I told her I’d call and see if you would help her.”

“Okay for a cop, but not so hot for a plumber or delivery man?”

“Oh, stop, you’re just looking for compliments.”

“Maybe. I could be suffering from self-esteem problems.” I allowed a few seconds for her to enjoy my self-deprecating humor. “If she’s in some kind of trouble and it’s a police matter, of course I’ll help. But I’m sure you understand I have to hear her story first.”

“I knew you’d do it.”

Roni Keeble didn’t say, ‘Yipee,’ but I could envision her smiling. I still have a good memory. Did I mention the girl was gorgeous?

“Will you have lunch with us? I’ll introduce you, and Sunny will explain everything.”

“Having lunch with a complainant and her friend isn’t the usual way a policeman starts an investigation.”

“Lunch would be nice though, wouldn’t it?”

This is how a cop gets into trouble.

“Yes, I’m sure it would be, but you two could come to my office.”

“Sunny is Asian. They like to conduct business over a meal.”

I remembered thinking about not being busy. And her story sounded intriguing. Or was I just in the mood for a little more flattery?

“Ask her if having tea would work. It’s culturally appropriate, and we can mingle with the gray-haired ladies at Tillie’s Tea House here in town.”

She laughed again. “Okay, tea is fine. Would this afternoon at two be convenient?”

“Sure. That gives me time to get a purple rinse and a perm. I want to fit in with the local girls.”

“Sam, I can’t wait to see you with purple curls.”

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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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