A Leprechaun's Lament
A Sam Jenkins Mystery
by Wayne Zurl
A stipulation of the Patriot Act gives Chief Sam Jenkins an easy job; investigate all the civilians working for the Prospect Police Department. But what looks like a routine chore to the gritty ex-New York detective, turns into a nightmare. Preliminary inquiries reveal that a middle-aged employee didn’t exist prior to 1975.
Murray McGuire spent the second half of his life repairing office equipment for the small city of Prospect, Tennessee, but the police can’t find a trace of the first half.
After uncovering nothing but dead ends during the background investigation and with frustrations running at flood level, Jenkins finds his subject lying face down in a Smoky Mountain creek bed—murdered assassination-style.
By calling in favors from old friends and new acquaintances, the chief uses resources developed during a lifetime in law enforcement to learn the true story of the man everyone called Typewriter Murray.
Monday, October 2, 2006
I dialed a number at the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower on 8th Avenue in Nashville and reached the local Office of Homeland Security. After a brief shuffle, the operator connected me to a woman with information on how local government agencies could obtain grants to pay for enhanced security—one of the “bennies” of our Patriot Act.
“Do you foresee a problem in Prospect, Chief Jenkins?” she asked.
“Not specifically. I just thought your idea of conducting background investigations on civilian employees who work with a police department was a good one.”
“Oh, we’ve said that?”
“Yes, ma’am, and I like your thinking. I also believe there’s grant money available to finance these investigations. With a small police department like mine, there’ll no doubt be a necessity for overtime.”
“Oh. You’re looking for financial assistance, not personnel to conduct the investigations.”
“Correct. If you’ve got the cash, I’ve got the cops.”
Wendy Clabro chuckled. “You make it sound like you’re leading a band of mercenaries.”
She had a nice voice. I wondered if she looked as good as she sounded.
“I’m willing to work for nothing,” I said. “To protect and serve is enough reward for me, but I like to take care of my officers as best I can.”
“Should I really believe that?”
Oh, yeah, great voice.
“I’m a cop ... would I lie to you?”
“Chief, you sound like an All-American hero. I’d enjoy meeting you some day.”
I was looking for grant money, not a personal relationship.
“Call me Sam. Everyone does. I’m here Monday to Friday, nine to five or by appointment. There’s always fresh coffee, and my desk officer tells me I have a nice smile.”
Sometimes I have difficulty controlling myself.
“Your desk officer?”
“She’s a shameless flirt.”
She laughed again. “I hear it’s beautiful in the Smokies this time of year. Maybe I’ll stop by one day—just to see where the grant money goes, of course. Right now though, I’ll bet you want me to send you the format for making a grant proposal. I really don’t see a problem getting you an approval.”
“Just what I wanted to hear, Ms. Clabro. Thank you.”
“Please, Sam, call me Wendy.”
I gave her my email address and thanked Ms. Clabro for her help and encouragement. We chatted for a few more minutes, and I ended by telling her she was doing a fine job keeping Tennessee and all of America safe for democracy. I dropped my telephone back onto the console feeling confident I could still schmooze my way around the bureaucratic system and glad I sounded younger than I often felt.
But the simple job I thought would be a walk in the park became a nightmare I never saw coming.
Tuesday, October 10th
I entered Prospect PD that morning by the back door, the way we brought in prisoners. My old Scottish terrier, Bitsey, came with me. I took her to work on the days my wife spent out of the house.
Bitsey made a straight line for Bettye Lambert, our regular desk officer.
“Hello, Bitsey, darlin’,” Bettye said, as the little dog gyrated next to the reception desk.
Bettye turned to me, flashed a good morning smile, and wiggled her fingers as a greeting while she scratched Bitsey on the chin with her other hand. After the dog received most of the attention, Bettye said, “The mayor,” pointing toward the lobby of the municipal building.
“The mayor? The mayor what?” I feigned an attitude.
“The mayor wants to see you, Sammy. He’s in early, and he’s already called down.” Bettye’s accent could turn Rhett Butler into a lovesick 200-pound lump of Silly Putty. Being a beautiful forty-two-year old blonde worked wonders on me, too. After years of living in Tennessee, I’d become a sucker for southern girls.
“All you say is, ‘The mayor?’ No explanation? No good morning, boss? You point and expect me to trot upstairs without another word? What happened to all that respect and adoration you showed three months ago when I got here?” I behaved like a sulking little boy.
“Oh, Sammy darlin’, you know I love you. All the girls do. Once they get to know you, they can’t help themselves. Now go upstairs and see our fearless leader...please.”
“All right, I’m outta here. Keep an eye on the mutt for me.” I turned and passed through the two glass doors separating us from the rest of the first floor.
“Morning, Ms. Connor. You two are in early today,” I said to the mayor’s secretary. “You think Ronnie’s wife will get jealous?”
“Mr. Jenkins! What do y’all mean?” Trudy Connor was in her mid-fifties and looked like a proper lady—a stereotypical librarian or old-fashioned schoolteacher.
“Just kidding. I’m non-judgmental.” That was a lie. “You guys can do whatever you want. No business of mine. He wants to see me?”
“Yes, sir. Go right in,” she said, with a shake of her head and a look…the kind women reserve for guys who say embarrassing things or plant whoopee cushions. I opened the shiny oak door to the mayor’s office and stepped in.
“Hey, boss, what can I do for you?” I asked Mayor Ronnie Shields.
“Sam, you doin’ aw right today? Sit down. I’ve got things to see you about,” he said, all smiles.
Ronnie always tries his politician’s act on me. I suppose he figures if it gets by a cynical ex-New York cop, it’ll fly anywhere.
I sat in one of the green chairs near his desk and thought all the pleated leather furniture in his room must have cost the taxpayers a small fortune. After taking office, he re-decorated the mayor’s command center in an eclectic blend of cabin-craft and American sportsman motif. Wildlife prints, stuffed dead things, fly rods and a hand-painted canoe paddle were among the interesting trinkets hanging around the room.
“Yes, sir,” I said. “’It’s your dime.”
Ronnie looked like he could be a southern politician, a televangelist or a used car salesman. At forty-five, he appeared overly well groomed with a fifty-dollar haircut and a Joseph A. Bank suit. He oozed friendliness at every opportunity.
“First, Sam, I want to say we all think you’re doin’ a fine job these last three months. A fine job.”
“Thanks.” I tried to look humble and embarrassed.
“Wednesday night we’ll vote a yea for the record on the promotions for your two sergeants. It’ll be effective next pay period. Who’s the lucky pair?”
Whenever a politician offers me something, the term quid pro quo comes to mind.
“Bettye Lambert and Stanley Rose. Bettye will stay on the desk—day shift, and Stanley will do all four-to-twelves. He’ll be the night supervisor. We’ll make a rotating chart, to get the squeals, if someone needs supervision during the midnight tour.”
“Squeals?” He looked as if I said a dirty word.
“Sorry. Old New York police term. Means the calls.”
He smiled and sat there nodding. It all seemed too easy.
“Oh, by the way,” he said, “we got us a quick approval for the subsidies from Homeland Security. Now you can do the background investigations on the civilian employees who work with the PD.”
Good old Ms. Clabro.
“That means complete investigations on all future hirees and also for those already on board,” he said. “Trudy will give you the personnel files when you’re ready.”
“Okay, I’ll get some people on those right away. And just so I can tell the new sergeants when they get promoted, when does the next pay period start? I want them to have their stripes sewn on.”
“What’s today? Tuesday the 10th?” He looked at his desk calendar. “Two weeks from yesterday.”
“Great. I’ll tell them it’s official. Everyone in the department is happy for Stan and Bettye. Life is tranquil in our little banana republic.”
“Real fine, Sam. Jest real fine. I keep tellin’ the council y’all are the finest department in the city.”
“Ronnie, you sure know how to lay on the schmaltz.”
I began to think I should give Yiddish classes for Prospect’s employees.
* * * *
“Officer Lambert, let me be the first to congratulate you,” I said. “In less than two weeks, you will officially be Sergeant Lambert.
“Oh, Sammy,” she said. “Are you serious? It’s really gonna happen?”
“I never would have gotten this if it wasn’t for you. I could just kiss you.”
Not an unpleasant thought, but even I have professional standards. And a wife.
“Steady, Blondie, if a shoofly sees us smooching, we’ll be in hot water. I could end up walking a foot post around the town square on the midnight tour.”
Bitsey, who acted as Bettye’s guard dog, stood up and seemed to feel excitement in the wind. I saw a tear on Bettye’s cheek.
“Oh, Lord have mercy, Sam. I think I’m gonna cry.”
Why do the women in my life do things like that?
Bitsey, now up on her hind legs with her front paws on Bettye’s thigh, looked at me, wondering what I said to make her partner cry. Bettye hugged the dog. A few more tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Oh, Bitsey, your father is such a good guy.”
“Hey, don’t let that get around. I have a reputation to uphold,” I said. “But you earned the promotion. I didn’t get it for you. I only shook up those yahoos on the council.”
“Thank you, Sam...so much.”
“You’re welcome. Now go fix your eye make-up. I only want beautiful women working here.”
She smiled between the tears. “I take everything back. You’re a proper beast.”
“Thank you. It’s good to be best at something.”
Before she retreated to the lady’s room, Bettye insisted, “Now before you do anything else, please call Old Town Police Supply in Knoxville. They called...again and need you to pick up your uniforms, the ones that were ready more than a month ago.”
“See why I didn’t give them my home number?”