The Rockwater Mountain Murders

ROCKWATER MOUNTAIN

MAY 1973

Johnny…JOHNNY….Helllllppp ussss.

Daddy, we’re burning, we’er burrrrrnnnningggg.

“Mr. Michell, you have the right to remain silent…..”

They’re coming, the gooks are coming, hurry up, they’re on our flank. Throw it, now, now. Throw the goddamned grenade…NOW.

Look out. Shoot him. Shoooot himmm.

“Anything you say….”

The fire, its hot. It’s burning. Johnny….. Johnnnny…..

Over here, over here. Hurry, over here.

“Can and will be…..”

Deeper, deeper, I want it now, deeper. Love me Johnny, Looove meee Johnnny.

“Used against you….”

Did you feed the dog?

Yes, daddy. Can I go outside now?

“In a court of law.”

Make love to me Johnny. I want it. I want it so bad Johnny. Fuck me, now Johnny, now, fuck me now Johnny.

Helppp usssss, pleeeaseee…pleeeaseee…Johnny, pleeeaseee….

“You have the right to an attorney….”

Sniper, here boy, come here Sniper, good boy.

Shoot the bastard, shoot him between the eyes. Shoot the fucker now.

“If you can not afford one…..”

The commies are coming….retreat….RETREAT!

“One will be appointed for you.”

Don’t stop….don’t stop….Love me Johnny.

“Do you understand, what I have just said to you? Johnny, do you understand what I have just said to you??? Johnny???”

Look out. Oh, shit. He’s getting away. Shoot him, he’s getting away, SHOOT HIM. He’s….getting….awaaayyyyy……….

Flashes of light played jump rope with flashes of death. Red light, patrol car light. Thump, thump, thump went his feet as they relentlessly pounded the ground. He looked back – only briefly… he had to keep moving. Thump, thump, thump. Faster – fiercer they went. Feet, please, don’t fail me now. Zig, zag, under the brush, into the forest, he sprinted. Ring, zing, zing, the bullets had joined the game. But he had played the game before. He knew he could win. Thump, thump, thump he ran as the gunfire continued its ringing and zinging into the black of the night… but his feet… they kept thumping. Finally he stopped and leaned against a tree. Elated, he listened, as their bullets harmlessly persisted – faster – and fainter. He took a breath and laughed out loud. Thump, thump, thump. And just like that, he was gone.

*

It’s never easy telling someone that their significant other has just been murdered. Especially when that person is a ‘society-type lady’ and you also have to tell her that the man who killed her husband was captured, but then escaped. It’s even worse when you live in a small town like Rockwater Mountain, and the society type lady unwittingly inherited the bank that has a lien on your house and those of just about all of your family and most of your friends. They always said there would be days like this. Well, maybe not quite like this.

Up until now, Saturday mornings were for little league baseball, or weeding the garden, or better yet, spending quality time with the wife. But that was before. Before the streak had been broken. The streak of thirty-one years and three months without a killing. Before Johnny Tom decided to snap. But now, today, Saturday morning was for coroners and killers, and spending crying time with a widow. Next week, who knows, maybe more of the same, the streak after all, had been broken.

He held his cap against his abdomen nervously fumbling its brim between his thumb and forefinger. Just maybe, he hoped, she might not answer the door. He kept spinning the cap and hoping. Around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody knows. Hello Mrs. Millionaire, I just dropped by to tell you that your husband was murdered last night, rather heinously I might add, and oh yeah, did I mention that we caught his killer, but alas, he somehow managed to escape. Not to worry, however, here’s a check for this month’s mortgage, I’ll keep you posted, and have a beeeautiful day. He placed the cap back onto his head ready to leave, but her voice came over the intercom.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Harry Tucker, Rockwater Police, I need to speak to you Mrs. Davis, it’s very urgent.”

“You probably should talk to my husband. He’s away on business. I’ll have him call you when he gets back.”

“No, Ma’am, actually I need to speak with you. Can I have a few minutes?”

“With me? Can’t this wait?”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am.”

“Ok, give me a minute. I’ll be right down.”

Longingly he gazed at his cruiser, only a few feet away. It could go well over a hundred miles an hour, thus quite satisfactorily removing him from this most unpleasant of obligations. He wanted desperately to turn and run wildly towards it, but the opportunity escaped, just like his suspect had a few hours earlier. She opened the door.

“Hello Chief, please come in, what can I do for you.” He lifted the cap from his head and stepped inside. For five after eight on a Saturday morning, she looked pretty damn good. He had met her a few times before, but only one conversation stood out in his memory. It was right after the conclusion of the week long Rockwater Mountain Sesquicentennial Celebration, two years back. As chairwoman she had insisted the chief personally report to her daily concerning security. After the celebration had concluded, she offered him a job to provide on-site security at her home when her husband was out of town. But he feared that the undercover work could turn out to be just that, so he politely declined. As he listened to her invite him in, her voice still had that faint underlying hint of suggestiveness. He quickly dismissed it given what he was about to tell her.

His gaze shifted towards the foyer and into the living room. Aside from her snugly fitting jeans, there wasn’t much American in sight, certainly nothing made in Rockwater Mountain. In fact, it was apparent that as a perquisite to occupying the room, the item must have traveled over at least one ocean or continent, and its description must contain no less than three of four vowels, preferably one or two with some sort of accent, and be over a hundred years old. He turned a solemn gaze back upon her. Mrs. Millionaire, it was rumored, was no more than 30.

He said, “Can we sit down?”

“Certainly, right over here.” The suggestiveness he earlier detected had now turned to concern. She directed him to a spot on the sofa.

He fumbled the hat in his hands. “I’ve never had to do this before,” he said as he looked into her eyes, “but…, I’m sorry to have to tell you that last night your husband was murdered.”

She sat motionless at first. Silently, blankly, she stared at him for what seemed like the time it takes for a round trip to hell and back, maybe longer. Slowly the words registered in her face as her hands reached up touching her cheeks, then sliding over and covering her mouth. She writhed excruciatingly before responding. “What! That can’t be. No. No. Nooooooooo.”

The brim of his cap turned furiously, like a roulette wheel at the hands of Hercules as he watched her anguish rise like a red tide, leaving behind a beach load of death, until she gathered herself together and began firing the questions. His answers were almost instantly met with impulsive monosyllabic interruptions. Who? What? When? Where? And, why? Inevitably, they culminated with a painful, how? She needed to know. By the time they had gotten to ‘how’, he was wiping the sweat from his forehead almost as often as she was wiping tears from her face. By the time the Kleenex had run out, her painful queries turned more and more into some scornful lectures, and before they were through, he wasn’t sure if she was more distraught over the murder of her husband, or the fact that they had captured his killer and then let him escape.

“How could you let this happen?” He avoided her eyes admiring the furniture and artwork, biding his time contemplating a satisfactory reply until she demanded one clutching a fistful of uniform from his chest in her hand. “How could you let him get away?” she repeated, her grasp on his uniform unrelenting.

The policeman’s cap again spun nervously through his fingers, like a pinwheel of chance at the county fair, easing to a stop, clickity click, click, but there was nothing he could say. “I’m sorry ma’am, these things…they just happen, sometimes.” He was groping desperately for anything that was positive, anything that would free him from her agonized grasp, but nothing was there. She pressed on. How? How could you have lost the killer? And then finally, she relented.

“When will you catch the son of a bitch?” In a matter of minutes, her grief had seemed to breeze right through sorrow and was now clearly entrenched in anger, but acceptance would be a long way away, he was certain of that.

Like a bad habit, he blurted the truth, “I don’t know ma’am.”

The cap spun again more furious, while Harry looked down, his eyes a pair of snake-eyes. Sorry chief, you lose. She stood up, her voice building to a crescendo, “I should have you fired for incompetence, dereliction of duty, accessory to murder.” She was stretching, and the tears that had earlier flowed like volcanic lava, had turned cold on her cheeks. “You need to leave now,” she abruptly concluded.

The cap went back onto his head “Yes ma’am.”

“And catch that bastard before he kills somebody else,” she added, following him, practically chasing him, to the door.

Chief Harrison Tucker took a final glance back before climbing into his cruiser as she stood in the insipid entrance that adorned the front of her otherwise stylish mansion. She pushed out her 36-Cs like a drill sergeant, and with each hand gripping a door she loudly repeated the objective. “Find that son of a bitch,” and then she was gone. Julia Templeton Davis, despite the circumstances, was no wallflower.

He drove down the 150-yard long driveway from the Davis mansion to Milltop Road. The massive home had been built some 50 years ago by Albert Davis, the grandfather of Julia’s now late husband, as a gift to his wife. The property, along with everything surrounding it for nearly 20 miles, was originally acquired by Albert Davis’ great-great grandfather through a poker game with a drunk. Years earlier, the man’s family had received the land in a grant from the government as part of the process known to historians as Manifest Destiny. Easy come, easy go.

The story of that poker game over the years had become folklore, but the favorite tale recited in barrooms and barbershops around town, was that of the origin of the Davis family mansion. It was built from the proceeds received after Albert coerced a local congressman to convince the government to purchase a couple thousand of acres of leftover land from the original grant. Ironically, land that was given away by the government over 150 years ago, was repurchased from the Davis’ to create what was now known as Rockwater National Park. Three years later the massive home was complete. Some say the photographs never existed, others say they’re in a vault deep in the belly of the Rockwater National Bank, while still others say they are framed and hanging in Albert’s old office in the mansion. The congressman was not willing to take a chance at finding out.

Long before the mansion was built however, the Davis empire had become well rooted throughout the region. After having acquired the expansive land and its abundant timber, the family went to work building a series of sawmills. Soon after they were using the leftover sawdust in running a lucrative icehouse business. With the help of the Rockwater River, they expanded the mill business to include a gristmill and later a bakery. For over a hundred years, nearly every inhabitant to the region had a home constructed with Davis wood, ice in their boxes from Davis icehouses, and flour and or bread in their pantries from Davis gristmills and bakeries. More recently, with the incursion of electricity and the automobile, the family business shifted away from the sawmills and gristmills to more lucrative banking and real estate, plus a handful of gin-mills.

Chief Tucker had the urge to visit one when his radio crackled with the voice of his deputy, Lamar Smith. “Chief, you copy?”

“What’s up Smith?”

“Me and Quinn are up at the Mitchell place. It’s burned down to the ground. Just like he said. Damn things still smoldering.”

‘Just like he said.’ The words haunted him. His knuckles turned white as he pressed on the radio. “You got to be shittin’ me, what?”

“I said it’s burnt to the ground. It must have went up last night. Just like he said. There’s no sign of Mitchell, either. I think his wife and kid may have died in the fire. You need to come up here right away… Chief?… Chief?”

Over fifteen years of police work. Some stolen cars, countless barroom brawls, a regular supply of pot busts, but never a murder, not even once. Now there were three, in a single night. In just a few hours, Chief Tucker’s Mayberry had turned into the Joker’s Gotham City. Yesterday had mercilessly turned into tomorrow leaving nothing of note behind but a cancerous and sinking feeling, along with the vision of Alan Davis, dead, and lying in a pool of blood, his heart wrapped inside the fist of his hand, his eyes staring straight up to the heavens. He felt like vomiting… again…, but nothing was left. He pressed the radio and lifted it to his face. “I’m on my way,” he said, almost a murmur. Rockwater Mountain, he knew, would never be the same, and quite likely, he thought, before this was over, neither would he.

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