An informant leads Chief Sam Jenkins and Sergeant Rose to a partially buried corpse in a forest clearing once used by marijuana growers. The medical examiner states a fact and makes a conjecture—the dead man was killed elsewhere, and the killer was a vampire. The investigation leads Jenkins to a group of religious fundamentalists. Jenkins has to figure out a way to reach the murderer.
When I lived in New York, Tennessee looked like a relatively easygoing place. New York was a refuge for drug dealers, organized crime, carjackers, burglars—as a cop I met them all.
I thought the sleepy little town of Prospect would be a milk run for its police chief. Well, not exactly.
Sometimes horrible things happen to me while sitting behind my desk at Prospect PD.
I sat there initialing reports one Tuesday morning—or was it a Wednesday? I can’t remember. What I do recall turned out to be one of the strangest cases I’ve investigated.
My intercom buzzed.
“Yes, dahling,” I said. “Is it time for cocktails already?”
Sergeant Bettye Lambert laughed into the phone. “Sammy you always say somethin’ to amaze me. It’s ten o’clock in the mornin’. If I drank a cocktail, I’d fall asleep.”
“Oh, well, I tried. What’s up?”
“Call for you. Won’t say who he is, just said tell you it’s the man with the John Deere hat.”
“OK, that narrows it down to only a half million adult males in the state.”
“That’s why you get the big bucks, darlin’.”
She transferred the call.
“This is Chief Jenkins, may I help you?”
The accent sounded very local. I wasn’t surprised.
“Your voice is familiar. Help me out a little.”
“I gave ya the information ‘bout the stolen cow. Ya got me that re-ward money. ‘Member now?”
“Sure I do. You wore a John Deere hat when we met you in the woods.”
“Yep. ‘Member I said I owed ya another favor?”
“OK, this is a good one. Meet me same place as last time, that li’l clearin’ back o’ the Air Park.”
“Want to give me a hint what it’s about?”
“I’ll tell ya when we meet up. Ya comin’?”
“Sure, what time?”
“‘Bout eight o’clock t’night. Ya bringin’ that big black feller with ya?”
“Yeah, he’s my partner.”
“OK, see ya then.”
He hung up.
* * *
At 7:45, Sergeant Stanley Rose and I sat in my unmarked Crown Victoria, parked in a lonely clearing in the hinterlands of Prospect. Once the hideout of moonshiners, that wooded area changed its economic use from untaxed liquor to a different cash crop until the DEA busted up a lucrative marijuana-growing business.
After the pot disappeared, the desolate woodland, connected by makeshift trails, accommodated clandestine lovers and the occasional thief needing privacy. And then it became a place for me to meet informants.
“Wonder what John Deere has this time?” Stan asked.
“He wouldn’t say. Likes to play the man of mystery. Who knows, maybe some old man with a still is back in business.”
“Hope the mosquitoes don’t find us when we get out of the car.”
“You’re a born pessimist. Didn’t mosquitoes bite you when you were an LAPD cop?”
Stanley is six-four. Few creatures would dare to bite him.
“I think our boy is heading this way,” Stan said.
A solitary figure suddenly appeared on the trail no more than a hundred feet from where we sat. John Deere, as we called him, appeared to be in his forties, of medium height and build. The bright green and yellow baseball cap sat on his head. His wardrobe consisted of a plaid short-sleeved shirt and blue denim overalls.
We got out of the car and met him in the middle of the trail.
“Howdy,” I said, trying to embrace the local culture. Stanley nodded to him.
“Whatcha say.” he responded and waited.
“You understand I don’t have money to always pay for information.”
“I done tol’ ya, I owed ya one more favor for the extry cash ya got me. Ya coulda kept it yerse’f. We been through that.”
“Don’t know if ya gonna like what I show ya, but it’s a good’un. Ya gotta foller me.”
“No, it ain’t fer.”
He turned and walked down the trail.
Stan and I followed. When we reached the narrow gravel road, he turned right. The daylight began fading, but even under the forest canopy, enough light filtered through for us to follow him without using our flashlights.
A few minutes’ walk put us in a clearing ten times larger than the one we left.
“This here’s where they used t’ grow the mary-wanna,” he said. “Look over yonder at this.”
In the upper left corner of the circular clearing I saw a pile of hastily mounded leaves. We walked closer. Poking out from the bottom of the leaves, I noticed a two-tone brown cowboy boot.
“What the hell?” I said. “Stan, give me some light here.”
Both our flashlights probed the pile of leaves. Directly opposite the boot I saw a hand. I turned my light to where our informant last stood. He was halfway across the clearing and on his way to being gone.
We didn’t disturb much of the scene and it didn’t take long for us to learn that the man under the mulch was dead.
Stan called it in, requesting a county crime scene unit and a medical examiner. He arranged for Officer Will Sparks to meet them both on the main road near the Prospect Air Park and guide them into the clearing.
Crime Scene Investigators Jackie Shuman and David Sparks, Will’s cousin, set up enough portable lighting to illuminate a night baseball game. They puttered around processing and photographing the crime scene while Stan and I looked on with interest.
The on-call pathologist, Dr. Morris Rappaport, and his assistant Earl Ogle, represented the ME.
“Wild guess, Mo,” I said, “how long’s he been dead?”
“I don’t mean to be either didactic or pedantic—or facetious, for that matter, but how many homicides have you investigated, Sam, both here and back in New York?” The doctor spoke with a New Jersey accent.
“I don’t know—lots.”
“As well as I, you know when a body goes into rigor and when it relaxes. You can read lividity, and you have a working nose. How long do you think?”
“Couple of days. Looks like a few of the woodland critters got here before us.”
“Ah, a couple of days—bingo, that would be my guess, too. I’ll only know more after the autopsy.”
Morris withdrew a liver probe from the appropriate area.
“God bless you, Sam-a-la, you’re a credit to your profession. I say that with all sincerity.”
“Thanks for the compliment. You’ve boosted my ego for another thirty days. Have you found any bullet holes, knife wounds, bludgeon or ligature marks, tire tracks, blah, blah, blah?”
“You’ll plotz when I tell you, but you know what first comes to mind?”
Copyright© Wayne Zurl. All rights reserved.