A New Prospect
A Sam Jenkins Mystery
by Wayne Zurl
Sam Jenkins never thought about being a fish out of water during the twenty years he spent solving crimes in New York. But things change, and after retiring to Tennessee, he gets that feeling. Jenkins becomes a cop again and is thrown headlong into a murder investigation and a steaming kettle of fish, down-home style.
The victim, Cecil Lovejoy, couldn’t have deserved it more. His death was the inexorable result of years misspent and appears to be no great loss, except the prime suspect is Sam’s personal friend.
Jenkins’ abilities are attacked when Lovejoy’s influential widow urges politicians to reassign the case to state investigators.
Feeling like “a pork chop at a bar mitzvah” in his new workplace, Sam suspects something isn’t kosher when the family tries to force him out of the picture.
In true Jenkins style, Sam turns common police practice on its ear to insure an innocent man doesn’t fall prey to an imperfect system and the guilty party receives appropriate justice.
A NEW PROSPECT takes the reader through a New South resolutely clinging to its past and traditional way of keeping family business strictly within the family.
Financially, Pearl Lovejoy stood on top of the hill. Intellectually and spiritually, she foundered on a reef surrounding her unhappy existence. Had she owned a time machine, she would cheerfully turn back the clock more than forty years, erasing the greatest mistake of her life. Realistically, she couldn’t turn back. She could alter her future, but so far chose not to rock her sinking boat.
Pearl thought of this failure as she drove a shiny black Lincoln up to the gates of her driveway, tapped in a four-digit code on the keypad to her left, and watched the tall, black iron gates swing inward. She began to drive toward the large home her husband designed to look like a tailored-down version of Mick Jagger’s French chateau.
Passing the circle by the front entrance, she continued clockwise along winding blacktop bordered by a thick band of flowers until she came to the three garage bays that took up half the lower floor under the main house. She pressed a button on the car’s visor, the overhead door opened, and she drove in.
Pearl spent that Sunday much like all the other Sundays in her life. That morning she drove to Maryville and picked up her father, retired Sessions Court Judge Minas Tipton. They attended church services, spent another hour at a fellowship gathering at the church and then went to lunch at Aubrey’s Restaurant. She passed the remainder of the day at her daddy’s home.
Pearl’s watch showed 4 p.m. Her husband’s SUV and his vintage Rolls Royce sat in the garage. He was home—somewhere in the big house, but she didn’t care where nor what he did with his time.
For the first weekend of June, the weather seemed warmer than usual. She started up the stairs to the second floor intending to go to her bedroom and change into cooler, more comfortable clothes. Pearl disliked Sunday nights. Jodie, her housekeeper, had the day off. If Pearl ate at all, she would have to make something herself—for herself; her husband could do whatever he wanted.
Sunday nights weren’t all that displeased Pearl. For a long time, she had complained to her father and daughter of being terribly unhappy, but no one seemed able to resolve her marital problems.
At sixty-two, Pearl Lovejoy looked painfully thin. She no longer felt even remotely attractive, although people used to call her pretty. She worried about her appearance and spent hours each week having her nails done and her blonde hair styled and colored.
Walking toward her bedroom, she passed one of the guest rooms. The door stood partially open. She thought that odd. During the summer, she made sure Jodie kept all the interior doors open wide to let the air circulate. Pearl looked inside. The bedclothes lay in disarray, the room recently used. She stepped closer. Picking up one of the pillows, she sniffed the lace-edged case. An unmistakable smell of perfume lingered on the fabric.
Pearl turned and stormed out of the guest room, down the hall toward her husband’s bedroom and his office.
“Cecil, you no-account son-of-a-bitch, where are you?” she shouted, but heard no response.
She looked through the doorway into her husband’s bedroom, saw it empty and slammed the door for a desired effect. Rage building inside her, she continued to his office.
“Damn you, Cecil, you had a woman here in my house. Damn you to hell!”
At the end of the hall, she reached the doorway to his office. Pearl saw him sitting at his desk, partially obscured behind a computer screen, his sallow face hidden from view. A digital camera with an attached cable sat on the desktop. The cable disappeared over the side of the work surface. She waited, seething with anger. Cecil ignored her. That only enhanced her rage.
“Have you nothing to say, Cecil Lovejoy? How in hell could you...?”
She heard herself screaming again and felt her blood pressure rise. Her face flushed. She stopped, took a deep breath and looked toward a window framed by gold brocade drapery.
“Why hello, Miss Pearl,” he said calmly, as if an altercation was the furthest thing from his mind. “Y’all have a nice visit with the Judge?”
Her anger took hold again. “You show me no respect, Cecil. I have endured your sordid affairs for years, but now you bring a strange woman into my house for sex. This is intolerable.”
“This is not the first time, darlin’,” he said, brushing a few strands of thin sandy hair off his forehead. “You’ve not been this upset b’fore.”
“What do you mean not the first time?” Her expression changed from anger to surprise. Her blue eyes widened.
“Course not, Pearly. See, what ya don’t know don’t hurt ya.”
“I will not stand for this, Cecil. Not in my house, damn you.”
Smiling again, her husband began an explanation he’d given more than once before.
“When ya decided ta stop havin’ sex with me after Travis was born, I tried ta explain my manly needs. Remember? I do have needs, ya know. I’m not too old ta want a woman’s company.”
“Oh, please,” she snorted.
“See, you’re disregardin’ me now just like you’ve done in the past. So, I found my own way in the world, so to speak.”
The grin on his jowly face infuriated her. Cecil shrugged off her anger.
She watched him turn his focus back to the computer, once again ignoring her.
Stepping to the side of his large mahogany desk, she stood there as he transferred photographs from the camera’s memory card to the area of his computer where he stored his personal pictures.
“Oh, Lord have mercy, Cecil, you made pictures of her.” Pearl saw dozens of amateur photos of a nude woman. “Well thank the Lord. At least she’s an adult.”
“Pretty woman, ain’t she?” he asked, as if speaking to a friend.
Pearl pushed her husband, took the mouse from his hand and double-clicked on one of the thumbnails. A larger shot of a woman’s bare back came up on the screen. The woman had a good figure and a firm backside, Pearl thought. Curiosity spurred inside her to learn more about the woman, so she advanced the sequence of photos several more times. The quality of the posing and photography left much to be desired. Finally, a full frontal shot appeared. Pearl saw the model’s face clearly. The woman looked directly at the camera with a sad expression.
“God damn you,” she screamed. “I know this woman. She sells lightin’ fixtures. How in the name o’ God could you bring her here? I could abide you pickin’ up whores and beddin’ them in a Knoxville hotel, but I will not have you bring a local woman, someone who works right here in Prospect, into my house—for this? I warn you, Cecil. End this affair with that woman now.”
“Or what, Pearly?” Cecil’s voice sounded soft, not confrontational.
Pearl looked at him with a feeling of hatred. She hated his womanizing. Hated the way he spoke to her. Hated him for always wearing yellow shirts.
“Or I will make arrangements for someone to speak with her,” she said, “and I assure you, it will end. She does have a husband, I believe. Does she not?”
“Gonna use one of the judge’s storm-troopers ta enforce your laws, Pearl?”
“I will do what I must to maintain my dignity. I swear, Cecil, I should have left you years ago. No, damn it, I should have had someone kill you!”
Cecil laughed. “Well now, ya might could,” he said, “I believe ya surely might could—then or even now. But ya know why ya won’t?” Neither did he wait for an answer nor did she offer one. “Cause ya like my money too much, Miss Pearl. Yes, indeed, ya surely do. The Judge may give ya the power ya love, but it’s ol’ Cecil who’s got the money—and ya love that cash, don’t ya? I was never sure which meant more ta ya.”
Cecil allowed himself a moment to chuckle.
“I die, and ya only git a pitiful small insurance policy and the bidness,” he said. “Ya wanna run the bidness yerse’f? The way ya spend, ain’t enough money in the whole world ta last very long. I’m jest worth too much alive and on the hoof, darlin’. I jest keep makin’ money hand over fist.’’ He laughed aloud at his own words.
Furious, her pride seriously bruised, Pearl rushed out of the office. She stopped in the hallway and for what she thought good measure, yelled back, “Damn you to hell, Cecil Lovejoy. God forgive me, but I wish you dead!”