Murder in Knoxville

and other Sam Jenkins Mysteries

by Wayne Zurl

Sam Jenkins is the new police chief in town and everyone wonders, will Prospect, Tennessee ever be the same?

Here are six novelettes where Jenkins gets to show off his skills learned as a former New York detective.

A LABOR DAY MURDER and A MURDER IN KNOXVILLE take the reader into the world of domestic violence with a smattering of political corruption. In BULLETS OFF-BROADWAY, the investigation leads Sam into the life of a victim who spent his leisure time reenacting the days of the old west and was killed with an antique revolver. The hard-boiled story of SCRAP METAL AND MURDER begins with a simple larceny and quickly escalates into the murder of a building contractor, infidelity and more suspects than you can shake a claw hammer at. And the off-beat stories, BY THE HORNS OF A COW and its sequel SERPENTS & SCOUNDRELS show the more bizarre side of police work as Jenkins looks for a stolen fourteen-foot-tall statue of a dairy cow and ends up among a group of snake handling fundamentalists who use their serpents in a deadly manner.


A Labor Day Murder



I don’t think she really hates me, but she does cringe every time I walk into her office. Maybe it’s the lawyer jokes I tell. Or maybe it’s how I show a lack of respect for the local politicians. I guess I’m comfortable with our relationship. And someday Moira may learn the Jenkins method of compromise: We talk about it and then do it my way.

“You expect me to go before a judge and ask for a warrant so you can search a restaurant for the proceeds of illegal gambling?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s why I’m here,” I said.

“Lord have mercy, Sam. It’s only a card game.”

“In the last seven days, my cops have made two DUI arrests of men leaving that place after hours. Both people said they were playing cards, and the owner was chopping the pot.”

“If you held a card game at your home wouldn’t you accept some reimbursement for the food and drink you offered the players?”

“This guy is taking fifteen percent from each pot. They’re playing dollar-five poker. That’s more than the goombahs get back where I used to work. He’s also operating a cash bar, serving untaxed moonshine. His restaurant only has a beer license.”

“I hear what you’re sayin’, Sam. I understand. Do you understand that Audie Blevins has operated that restaurant for almost forty years? His daddy owned it for Lord knows how many years before that. Audie’s brother is the chairman of the county commission, and Audie’s a very, and I emphasize very, big supporter of and contributor to the local Republican party.”

“Well, three cheers for Audie. He sounds like a real good ol’ boy. Do I have to tell you I don’t give a rat’s ass to whom he’s related or to what he contributes?” I asked.

Moira Menzies is a pretty blonde, around fifty, and if she smiled more often would be even more attractive. She’s also the chief assistant district attorney general for Blount County, Tennessee. Whenever I need a search or arrest warrant, I deal directly with her.

For a moment before she spoke, she closed her eyes and shook her head. “You’re not goin’ away, are you?”

I smiled at her. My lady-killer smile has been known to melt the coldest heart.


We were sitting in her second floor corner office in the Justice Center, overlooking the new jail.

She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Don’t try that smile on me, Jenkins. More cops have tried that act than I can count.”

I looked up at her. “Yeah, but I’m the only ex-New York cop you know, and I’ll bet I’m the best lookin’ police chief in the county.”

She dropped the pencil she’d been holding onto her desktop—with a little more force than necessary. “You sure ain’t the most modest. Come on, I’ll walk you up to the judge’s chambers.”

Twenty minutes later, I had my ‘no knock’ search warrant for the Iron Skillet restaurant.

“You think the judge will drop a dime on Audie and give him a heads-up about the warrant?” I asked.

“Judge Myers is a pretty straight shooter, but anything’s possible. Audie is well-connected.”

“Let’s hope Judge Myers believes in truth, justice and the American way.”

“Let’s hope he believes in at least the first two,” she said.

* * *

At 11:30 Saturday night, six of the twelve cops employed by Prospect PD and I waited outside the Iron Skillet on Sevierville Road. Five of us had driven our personally-owned pickup trucks to haul away the furniture, file cabinets and other accouterments used by the owner to promote gambling and sell untaxed alcoholic beverages.

“Twelve cars plus Audie’s. Must be a couple of games goin’ on,” Sergeant Stan Rose observed.

“I guess,” I said. “No one new has shown up for thirty minutes. Time to kick in the door.”

Stanley nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”

“I wish we had a paddy wagon. It looks unprofessional using our own pickup trucks.”

“A paddy wagon? Sometimes we look like the Keystone Cops, but there’s no reason we need a paddy wagon.”

“Each precinct had a paddy wagon in New York.”

“You own a pick-up in New York?”

“Of course not.”


“You sayin’ I’m getting like the locals?”

“I’ve got no theory. I’m just presenting the evidence.”

“Don’t you feel stereotypical driving a Cadillac?” I asked.

Stan is from Los Angeles and usually sounds like a Cal Tech graduate. “I do not. A brother’s got to look good when he’s on the road. Clean car, pretty woman…you unnerstand what I’m sayin’?” Occasionally he lapses into Ebonics for my benefit.

“Uh-huh. My man. Right on. What it is!” I said, sounding more like a Black Panther than a police chief.

“Honky racist.”

“You wish.”

“We ready to go?” he asked.

“I was ready before you started all this ethnic crap.”

“Well then, great white leader?”

“My wife doesn’t give me as much trouble as you.”

Stanley gave me a big grin. “Come on, man. It’s show time.”

I keyed the portable radio I held, “Prospect-one to all units—do it.”

Officers Bobby John Crockett and Vernon Hobbs pounded on the front door. Harlan Flatt, Leonard Alcock and Junior Huskey covered the back door and the windows at the rear of the restaurant. Stanley and I moseyed up to the front entrance.

A thin man with short dark hair and a wispy mustache, looking like a bartender in his white apron, answered the door. The two cops pushed their way in. Stan and I followed.

“Police department. We have a search warrant. Nobody move!” Bobby called out.

No one moved.

“Where’s Audie Blevins?” I asked, waving a copy of the warrant in my left hand.

“That would be me,” said a short, well-dressed man of about sixty.

I handed him the paper.

“This is a warrant to search your premises for evidence of illegal gambling and untaxed liquor,” I said. “I see two card games. Care to explain anything?”

“Jest some friendly games, officer. We get t’gether ever once’t in a while ta play cards. Nothin’ more.”

“Have a seat, Mr. Blevins, and don’t touch anything.” Turning to the bartender I said, “What’s your name?”

“James Begley, sir. Most ever’ one calls me Jammer.”

“Okay, Jammer, you have a seat, too.”

I told Bobby Crockett to open the back door and let the other three cops in. While Stan and I took names, and capped the drinks on the tables with Glad-Wrap, the boys searched the restaurant, the adjacent office and the storerooms.

The quickest way to put pressure on a restaurant owner is to threaten to take away their liquor license. I demanded a copy of his from Audie Blevins. As I recorded all that information, Junior Huskey got my attention.

“Sam, look-it here.” He handed me two folders and a well-stuffed, padded manila envelope. One folder was marked players; the other was unmarked. The envelope was full of cash. I looked over the two-page list of players. There were over thirty names with telephone numbers. The unmarked folder had several loose-leaf pages showing dates and dollar figures. The dates went back more than two years.

“Good work, kid,” I said to Junior, “a list of gamblers and profits from the games. You ought to be a detective.”

“I could live with that, boss.”

I gave him an encouraging thumbs-up even though we have no detectives at Prospect PD.

Crockett and Harley Flatt carried in four plastic, gallon milk jugs all full of clear liquid.

“They’s about six or seven more jest like these in the back,” Harley said. “Take a whiff, boss.”

He popped the cap off one jug and lifted it to my nose.

“Yahoo.” I took a half step backwards. “Smells like pure alcohol. Must be 190 proof or better.” I turned to the closest table of players. “Any of you guys feel like you’re going blind?” No one seemed to enjoy my attempt at humor. “Harley, confiscate everything and box up all these glasses we’ve put tops on. We’ll let the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms people analyze this for us.”

Then Vern Hobbs walked up, extended his hand and showed me a large revolver.

“Got this in the office, boss. Nice lookin’ gun.”

It was an old Smith and Wesson model 1917, .45 caliber revolver...a revolver that fired .45 automatic ammunition.

“This pistol have a story behind it, Mr. Blevins?” I asked.

“I got a right ta keep a gun in my restaurant. It’s all bought an’ paid fer, all legal-like,” he said. “Ain’t yew ever heard o’ the Second Amendment?”

I wanted to give Audi the finger, but resisted the urge. “Bag it, and tag it, Vern. I’ll send it off to be checked.”

All the players we met that night were on the list Junior found. I wanted each man charged with participating in illegal gambling, privately interviewed and a statement taken from each one. We had several hours of work ahead of us. I’ll send it off to be checked.”

When we finished issuing appearance tickets to the players and Jammer Begley, we took Audie Blevins to Prospect PD to process his arrest. At three in the morning, we released him on one hundred dollars bail. Two sixty-inch round tables, sixteen chairs and two tall file cabinets filled the lobby of our office and the squad room. The evidence closet held eleven-and-a-half gallons of moonshine, over three thousand dollars in cash and a few other evidentiary items taken from the Iron Skillet. In a few hours, the Sunday eight-to-four shift would arrive at work, wonder what the hell went on the night before, and then life would go on.



"A Murder in Knoxville" by Wayne Zurl


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