Sam Jenkins might say, “Falling in love is like catching a cold. It’s infectious and involuntary. Just don’t sneeze on any innocent people.”
Getting kidnapped and becoming infatuated with a married policeman never made TV reporter Rachel Williamson’s list of things to do before Christmas. Helping her friend, Sam Jenkins with a fraud investigation sounded like fun and would get her an exclusive story.
But Sam’s investigation put Rachel in the wrong place at the wrong time and her abduction by a mentally disturbed fan, ruined several days of her life.
When Jenkins learns Rachel has gone missing, he cancels holiday leaves, mobilizes the personnel at Prospect PD, and enlists his friends from the FBI to help find her.
During the early stages of the investigation, Sam develops several promising leads, but as they begin to fizzle, his prime suspect drops off the planet and all the resources of the FBI aren’t helping.
After a lucky break and a little old-fashioned pressure on an informant produce an important clue, the chief leads his team deep into the Smoky Mountains to rescue his friend. But after Rachel is once again safe at home, he finds their problems are far from over.
Read an Excerpt
The sixty-degree temperatures of several days earlier had cooled slightly. The cloudless Wedgwood blue skies we‘d been enjoying had turned to a muddy, hazy gray hanging over Prospect. The pollution of Knoxville and Oak Ridge had been blown southeast by the prevailing winter winds.
When we pulled up at the repair shop, it took me less than a minute to spot Elrod sitting in his office reading a magazine. Another young man worked on a pick-up truck in the garage bay and two others sat on folding chairs nearby, drinking soda from cans, talking with him. We sat twenty yards from the open garage door and heard a radio playing. Someone lamented the loss of his girlfriend and contemplated his exodus to San Antone. The song didn‘t sound like one of the icons of country and western to me.
Len Alcock, Bobby John Crockett, and Stan Rose pulled their marked police cars curbside, blocking the driveways after Junior and I drove up to the office door. The two soda drinkers were about to run when Alcock and Crockett put the arm on them. Stanley rousted the mechanic, a guy who looked like he ate pit bulls for breakfast, before he could hide in the supply room off the work area.
Junior followed me into the office. I walked up to a scarred and dented gray metal desk. An open bag of pork rinds lay on top, next to a two-liter bottle of Mello Yello. A half-eaten corn dog hid in a wrinkled wrapper.
“Hi there,” I said. “I‘ll bet you‘re Elrod Swaggerty.”
He was a thin, shady-looking character with short hair and side-burns ending below his earlobes. His dark blue mechanic‘s outfit hadn‘t seen soap in a long time.
Elrod eyed me for a few seconds and then shifted his look to Junior and back again to me. If he didn‘t assume I was a cop, he was more mentally bereft than I anticipated.
“That‘s me.” His voice cracked a little as he tried a nervous smile.
“The Elrod Swaggerty?” I started to enjoy myself.
“Uh-huh, whot‘s up?”
I held up a copy of the arrest warrant for him to see. “I know you were hoping Officer Huskey and I came from Publisher‘s Clearing House and we were about to give you a check for a million bucks, but I‘m sorry to disappoint you.”
Junior tried to stifle a laugh, which came out like a combination snicker and snort from a clogged sinus passage. I should have remembered to smack him when we finished, but didn‘t.
Someone in the garage turned off the radio, stopping the Nashville sound.
“Elrod, my friend, you‘re under arrest,” I said.
“Whot fer? I didn‘t do nuthin‘.”
“You just committed a double negative in public. If you didn‘t do nothing, you must have done something. May I take that as an admission of guilt?”
“Do whot?” He was almost gasping.
“Elrod, son, you have the right to remain silent. I suggest you avail yourself of that right before I feel compelled to flatten your head with a brick.”
“Hey now, don‘t go gettin‘ mean an‘ hateful on me, I really didn‘t do nothin’.”
“Pal, you haven‘t seen hateful yet,” I said. “We‘re only having a spirited conversation here. If you see me call in a helicopter or break out a field phone with little alligator clips attached to wires, you may infer I‘m going to get nasty.”
I heard Junior giggling behind me. I should tranquilize him the next time we go on an arrest.
“Let‘s go, guy, on your feet. Time to put the cuffs on,” I said.
“Cuffs? Are you crazy? I said, I ain‘t done nothin‘.”
When he stood, I gave him a push and moved him up against the wall behind his desk. Just to the left, hung a two-foot-tall calendar showing a girl in a bikini, holding a gallon can of anti-freeze, standing next to a shiny black Mustang with the hood raised.
“Assume position one, Elrod. Hands on the wall and walk your feet back some.”
Elrod seemed familiar with the steps to that dance. I took hold of his belt and backed him up even more, and then I used my right foot to spread his legs wider.
“I‘m going to search you now,” I said. “Is there anything in your pockets or on your person that is a weapon or might cut me, stick me, or in any other way piss me off?”
“Do whot?” he croaked again.
“Now listen carefully, Mr. Swaggerty, these are not multiple choice questions, just a simple true or false. Do you have a weapon or something sharp on your body?”
“I got me a folder on my belt—that‘s it, it ain‘t concealed.”
I removed a cheap knock-off of a Buck lock-back knife from a beaten-up leather pouch on his belt and handed it to Junior. I finished patting him down, put cuffs on him, double locked them, and brought him back to the position of attention.
“Whot am I charged with? I got a right ta know!” he crooned.
“Larceny by inveiglement—four times and scheme to defraud.”
Obviously, vocabulary hadn‘t been one of Elrod‘s favorite subjects.
When Junior and I walked our prisoner out to the car, I saw John Leckmanski filming the festivities from a discrete distance, far off Elrod‘s property.
I looked toward the garage area and thought Stan and the boys also hit the jackpot. Elrod‘s three minions were in cuffs, too. Stan found the mechanic with a shirt pocket filled by a baggie brimming over with the evil weed. The guy drinking Dr. Pepper was wanted on a Blount County Traffic warrant for failure to pay fines, and the lad with the Mountain Dew was named on a bench warrant from the Rockford Justice Court for failure to appear. The two cops would transport the prisoners. Stan Rose would stay to secure the scene and inventory any cash found in the office.
The time involved in messing with Elrod‘s mind and processing his arrest would take us well beyond the 3:30 deadline for arraign-ments. Swaggerty would spend the night as a guest of Prospect PD and be transported to the county justice center in the morning. I timed the arrest that way for two reasons. I thought of Elrod as a first-class scumbag who needed to remember you don‘t screw around in Prospect. And second: I wanted to give my favorite TV newsgirl time to catch him tomorrow after he made bail and see if she could get an interview during the morning light.
When Rachel and I spoke, I suggested she attend the arraignment. She and John could watch the judge set bail, but because the county deputies and court officers may be less enamored with good-looking female reporters than I am, they wouldn‘t let her get close to the defendant. I thought they should wait in the Justice Center parking lot until Elrod‘s release and follow him back to Prospect, when he‘d undoubtedly go to his shop and check on the status of the working capital he left behind. There he‘d find a copy of the search warrant with an inventory of the confiscated or secured property.
I‘ve lived to regret that suggestion ever since.
HEROES & LOVERS is available in trade paperback and eBook
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