High Country Cop

By: Cynthia Thomason

CHAPTER ONE

CHIEF OF POLICE Carter Cahill was working the ten-to-six shift in Holly River, North Carolina, on this Friday. Since he had some extra time in the morning, he’d driven the patrol car out to Hidden Creek Road and stopped in to do some chores for his widowed mother. Carter or his younger brother, Jace, stopped by the family home at least once a week to help Cora with her to-do list.

Satisfied that the leaky pipe under the kitchen sink was fixed, Carter headed back to town, the place he’d called home his entire life. When his cell phone rang, and he recognized the number of the police station, he initiated the car speaker. “This is Carter. What is it, Betsy?” he asked his dispatcher.

“Just got a call from a witness who said he could shed some light on last night’s break-in at the hardware store, Carter.”

“What did he say?”

“That he saw Dale Jefferson’s old Jeep in the alley behind the store at the approximate time of the robbery.”

Carter wasn’t surprised. Whenever a crime was committed in Holly River, Dale’s name was usually suggested as the perpetrator, or at least as someone who could provide information. In all fairness, if Dale was guilty of even 20 percent of the crimes he’d been accused of, Carter didn’t know when he’d have time to eat or sleep. Dale was adept at not getting caught. He’d served only a handful of short stints in the county lockup though he’d been accused of everything from public intoxication to stealing grapes from the supermarket.

“Who is the witness?” Carter asked Betsy.

“Mitch Calloway.”

“Great, another call from Mitch. Maybe someday he’ll get over the fact that Dale stole a few chickens from his coop and quit associating the guy with every minor crime in Holly River.”

Betsy chuckled. “It’s no secret that Mitch, and most everybody else in town, would like to see Dale locked up for good, but you’re going to investigate anyway, aren’t you?”

“Of course. Since I’m so close to the station, I’ll stop on my way and see who’s on duty today. I doubt I’ll have any trouble at the Jefferson place, but it never hurts to know who my backup is.”

He drove the last few blocks of downtown Holly River, an area that was familiar and comforting to Carter. The town consisted of quaint streets, a few mom-and-pop restaurants and shops, churches and a small college. There was one traffic light in the middle of everything, which was conveniently located between the police station and his brother’s mountain adventure business, High Mountain Rafting. Carter noticed Jace’s SUV in the parking lot of High Mountain and figured Jace was preparing for the day’s first white-water trip. In view was Sawtooth Mountain, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Once he determined that Sam McCall, the department’s newest rookie and Carter’s friend, was his backup, Carter left the station and headed out in the direction of Laurel Hollow Road, where the Jefferson clan had lived for decades. The fifteen-minute drive to Liggett Mountain would take Carter from the charming ambiance of sleepy Holly River to the run-down shabbiness of the cabins outside town. This was the part of the county the tourists never saw and the part where few residents ever managed to escape their poverty.

He smiled when he remembered Betsy’s warning when he’d left. “You take care, Carter,” she’d said. She was almost like a favorite aunt and never failed to issue similar warnings to all of Holly River’s eight officers.

Soon the terraced, manicured lawns of Holly River’s more prosperous residents gave way to the scrub and unkempt forested areas of the folks who couldn’t afford gardeners, HOA bills or even ride-on lawnmowers. Some of the lawns, if a guy could even call them that, hadn’t been tended in years and had been taken over by rocks and dry, sandy soil.

An old tire with a weary-looking mailbox post sprouting from its center marked the Jefferson cabin, the one Dale’s parents had left to their oldest son—the one where the younger brother, Lawton, lived now after getting out of prison. Lawton hadn’t been as lucky as his older brother. He’d been caught red-handed spray painting the mayor’s BMW. That might not have landed him in the state penitentiary, but the twenty pounds of freshly manufactured methamphetamine next to the illegal firearm in the trunk of his old Buick did—for eight years.

As he pulled up the gravel drive to the house, Carter couldn’t help noticing how worn out this place was. He didn’t know why the battered chimney, looking like a mouth of missing teeth, was still standing. And surely the dozen patches on the shingle roof didn’t keep the rain out. Carter figured there wasn’t much extra cash for repairs. Dale’s part-time jobs barely kept the electricity on and oil heat burning in the winter.

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