A Touch of Morning Calm
A Sam Jenkins Mystery
by Wayne Zurl
Sam Jenkins’s experience as a New York detective and Tennessee police chief may be varied, but none is more interesting than his encounter with Korean organized crime.
Two former call girls, hoping to establish a legitimate massage therapy business in Prospect, ask for Sam’s help after a Korean mobster attempts to extort protection money from them. Jenkins agrees to investigate but wonders, is their business really aboveboard?
Sorting out truth from fiction in this complicated investigation becomes only a minor problem for Jenkins after a Korean girl, employed by the ex-hookers, is found murdered. And the trouble doesn’t stop there.
When bodies begin piling up, Sam finds it difficult to link the victims other than by their ethnicity. That’s when he again turns to the women in his life for assistance in his police endeavors. His wife, Kate; desk sergeant, Betty Lambert; and TV news anchor, Rachel Williamson, all contribute significantly to the successful closure of two murders in Prospect and finding who killed a pair of thugs in nearby Knoxville.
As often happens, an old colleague from Sam’s days in New York visits his former boss and the touristy town of Prospect, Tennessee. Retired Detective Fred Mazzio becomes intrigued with the murders and volunteers to team up with Jenkins’s assistant, John Gallagher, another ex-New York cop, and follow the undeveloped leads. The two former partners bicker constantly, but lend their fifty years of police experience to the investigation.
Long before there was much ado about the division of North and South Korea at the 38th parallel, that land was known to the rest of the world as Koryeo.
In those ancient days, a dynasty existed in Koryeo called Chosun. To those people, the loose English translation of Koryeo meant The Land of Morning Calm.
If you’ve ever been to the Korean countryside, you know the phrase is appropriate. The same could be said for the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.
But not all the time.
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.”