'SMOKIN' MOUNTAIN JUSTICE'
Book 3 - Bobby Harris Mystery
(Out in Spring of 2020)
Bobby finished his first cup of coffee while sitting on the deck of his small, stilted cottage on the coastline of Sandbridge Beach, cradled in the crimson of a Spring sunrise. Dolphins danced in the blue-green Atlantic as he mentally scrolled over his work agenda. He realized for the first time this year, there were no investigations waiting in the wing. Wow! I’d better enjoy this piece of freedom, because like our weather, that too will change.
The thirty-four-year-old Virginia Beach ex-homicide detective, now the owner of SeaView Investigations pushed up on his real leg, then put weight on his fake leg, and moved into the tiny kitchen for another cup of coal-black caffeine. Prior to filling his ‘81 East Coast Surfing Championship mug, Bobby bent over and tightened the strap on his prosthetic leg. Nine years ago, he traded his right leg, just below the knee, to a Great White, in lieu of drowning. The model he now wore was his fifth, and he liked how well it worked. Whenever an improved limb hit the market, Dr. Chase would inform him. After receiving his second model, Bobby had resumed surfing, along with much better mobility and comfort. Satisfied with the strap adjustment, Bobby filled his mug and returned to the deck.
Standing, he gazed out to the thin line of the horizon where sky met ocean. The vision brought his late wife to the forefront of his mind. Marsha loved this time of day. We would spend most mornings savoring the sunrise and our love for each other. Then, the thought turned black, producing a shiver. That terrible day in ‘79 remained tender. Had our unborn child Marsha carried been born, he or she would be almost five years old, but an evil killer in a heinous act took them from me. Bobby blinked glassy eyes and raked blonde hair from his forehead. “I’ll always miss and love you both.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Bobby recalled meeting J.B. two years ago, after he started working full-time at the pier, and on his only day off, at the nearby bait shop. One hot July afternoon they shared a few beers at The Baja, one of Sandbridge’s two watering holes. Bobby learned J.B. was born in ‘48 and raised deep in the Shenandoah Mountains. He experienced a rough life growing up surrounded by forceful family members, uncles, cousins, and many other like-minded kinfolk by marriage. Their honest money came from crop farming, mostly corn, and raising cattle and pigs, but the bulk of their income rolled in from making and distributing many, many gallons of quality moonshine to other counties, including a few in bordering states.
In ‘66, J.B. turned eighteen. He woke up that morning, hitchhiked into town, and joined Uncle Sam’s Army. He told Bobby, “I had no idea what I was getting into, but I figured it had to be better than those moonshining mountains.”
In ‘67, the young mountain man found himself deep in the jungles of Vietnam, fighting for his life against tiny but vicious savages. On his second tour in ‘69, he lost most of his left arm and acquired a permanent limp, compliments of an NVA booby trap. Sergeant Bales was medically discharged several months later. With nowhere else to go, he limped off of the Trailways bus and returned to the mountains. “I figured since I’d survived hell in that jungle, I could survive working in the mountains with my unlawful, money-hungry family members. And for twelve long years, I did. Then a lot of bad stuff started going down because of the new crazy-ass-cutthroat moonshiners and pot growers. Along with those ‘here-comers’ came gung-ho ATF and DEA agents. Of course, all of those changes ramped up our family’s anger, which translated into delivering severe punishments to all offenders. I’d had enough, so I plopped my boney ass on a Trailways bus headed for the Virginia coast. That was the best damn decision I’ve ever made.”
While the two new friends shared another draft beer, Bobby asked J.B. about the black eye patch he wore over his left eye. His reply gave credence to how wild and crazy illegal enterprises could be in the mountains.
“I had two good eyes when I returned from Nam.” He took a long pull on his beer. “I lost my eye one night protecting one of our biggest stills at Coon Holler Cove against a no-count booze thief. The stoned dumbass grabbed a stick from the firewood pile and jabbed me, five-seconds before one of my cousins appeared and put a .45 hollow point between the culprit’s eyes.” J.B. shook his head. “Anyway, the doctor had to remove my eyeball and sew the vacant socket shut. Momma made me this patch.” He touched the patch. “Wanna see?”
Bobby grinned. “Naw, I believe you. When was the last time you went home to visit?”
J.B. gazed into his golden beer and pursed his lips. “Ain’t been back. I call momma every month to see how she’s doing. She’s battling sugar diabetes and is very overweight. I feel so sorry for her being stuck out there putting up with all the craziness. Hell, she was born in those mountains and ain’t never left.” He took a pull on his beer. “Poor thing will die there.” J.B. lightly rubbed his thick black moustache. “If I go back, it would only be for her.”
“I’m sure she would appreciate seeing you. My daddy once told me that good mothers were the best friend a child will ever have.”
“Do your parents live here?”
“No. They were killed in a plane crash when I was a teenager.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Bobby.”
The friends sat for a while in silence, enjoying their refreshing beer.
~ ~ ~ ~
The hopped-up ‘79 Chevy Silverado entered the hairpin curve up the mountain at fifty-five. Oversize tires screamed while keeping the rear end on narrow Rt. 769 to Coon Holler Cove, the area containing eight of their most profitable stills. Fifty-nine-year-old Lester Bales gripped the steering wheel with white-knuckled fingers. “Somebody’s gonna die for stealing from us.” The oldest son of the head honcho of Shenandoah Shine was pissed off, much more than he had been in several years. That fact guaranteed that his trifling son, Albert, would reap a large portion of his wrath. And Lester had no doubt that Irene, his wife, would go off the rails when justified punishment was rendered on their son. He slowed, then turned onto the partially hidden dirt path, and proceeded the two miles to the scene of last night’s theft of sixty gallons of prime corn likker. “That club-footed son-of-a-bitch better be there with some damn answers when I pull up,” he mumbled while lighting a Camel with his Zippo.
Twenty yards from the heavily-wooded section containing three of the family’s eight, one-hundred-gallon stills, Lester stopped to unlock the metal gate. He keyed the heavy-duty padlock, then pushed the gate open. As he climbed back into his truck, he saw Albert leaning against the storage shed, his head down. “I’ll bet he’s cooking up another dim-witted lie to try and save his worthless ass.”
Lester gunned the big V-8 and shot forward, then slid to a stop. He reached under the seat and pulled out his .357 Magnum revolver and slipped it into his belt. Very slowly, he stepped down from the cab, closed the door, and carefully looked around the area. His eyes intentionally skipped over Albert. He strolled over to the wrecked double-doors of the shed and stopped. Albert silently scooted several steps away, dragging his club foot.
“From the damage, they weren’t worried about being quiet,” Lester mumbled. He fired up another Camel and took a long pull. “I’m going to ask you some questions. You’d be real smart to tell me the truth. Understand?”
Albert shoved his hands into his pockets. “Yes, sir.”
“Follow me,” Lester said as he pushed aside several broken boards and entered the shed. Albert shuffled behind his father, eyes on the hard-packed dirt. They each took a seat on separate piles of one-hundred-pound burlap bags of their homegrown whole grain corn.
“You were supposed to be on watch last night from seven o’clock until sunrise. When your Uncle Abe made his rounds before dawn this morning, he told me that he didn’t see you anywhere around here. Is that right?” Lester’s eyes locked on his son as he waited for a reply. “The damn floor ain’t asked you the question, so look at me when you answer!”
Albert’s eyes opened wide and focused on his daddy. “I was around all night, but maybe not right here.” The thirty-four-year-old man cleared his throat and swallowed.
“Okay. Even if you weren’t in here, you should’ve been near enough to hear whoever broke in and stole sixty plastic gallon jugs of our best shine.”
The terrified son looked at him, licked his lips, and quickly shook his head.
“Then where were you? Down by the creek jerkin’ off? Were you stoned again?” Lester looked upward and balled his fists. “I want the truth, Albert!”
The young man ran his calloused hands up and down his denim-covered knees. “I heard them but I could tell there were too many for me to stop.”
Lester dropped his cigarette butt to the ground, crushing it with his leather boot, then he laughed out loud. “Boy, more than one is too many for you. I’m not surprised. Your momma raised you to be a pussy because of your damn foot.” Lester removed the empty pack of Camels from his top pocket and tossed it on the ground. “What were you doing, Albert?”
“Everything was quiet. I was getting sleepy, so I walked down to Rocky Creek to soak my feet in the cool water.” Albert coughed, then spit through the open doors. “That helps me stay awake.”
Lester jumped to his feet. “And how did staying awake help you protect our likker?” Before Albert could produce a reply, Lester’s hand went up. “Don’t answer! Because it didn’t! You fucked up…again. You are worthless, boy.” Lester slowly eased his right hand to the revolver in his belt. Albert’s eyes widened and followed his daddy’s actions.
“Daddy, please don’t…please don’t shoot me. I’ll tell you the truth…please don’t.” Albert trembled and sobbed, hands over his face. “I met up with Autumn at the creek. She didn’t want me to go check out the noise. She said it was too dangerous because I knew who was behind the break-in and why.” Albert looked at his daddy and breathed a deep sigh of relief two seconds before a bullet opened his head like a dropped watermelon.
Stay tuned, friends.
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