The farmland night sky is ablaze with orange glowing light and the stink of burning wood. It is shortly before five o’clock Good Friday, April ninth, nineteen seventy-one. The closest neighbor, a half-mile away, makes an emergency call to the Morrow fire department.
The elderly farmer couldn’t sleep, the stench consuming his nostrils, and arthritic legs pounding him awake. He rolls out of bed earlier than normal and struggles to pull on his overalls. It was a tough night and a rougher morning. Days like this he grieves having lived alone since his wife passed years prior.
He makes his way to the front door following the beam of the flashlight clenched in his fist. He snatches his favorite sweat-stained straw hat off the rack, and he steps onto the front porch. The man takes one painfully slow step at a time down the four stairs and starts across the yard towards the barn. An old hound dog drags behind. Looking around, he sees the radiant western sky above his overgrown orchard.
Alone on the moonless dark road in a timeworn Ford pickup he misses, by mere seconds, the marina-blue Chevelle SS screaming past along the dirt road and sliding onto the main paved thoroughfare. It thunders, lights off, into the pitch-black horizon. The near-deft farmer might have heard the car if he remembered to put in his hearing aids.
The neighbor arrives at the disaster a good half-hour before the rural volunteer firefighters show up. The home has been an uncontrolled inferno for well over an hour. There isn’t much they can do, outside of preventing the adjacent trees and overgrown dead-grass from spreading the flames.
Chief Jeff Gaulin gets on his radio and calls for assistance from the larger Lincoln City fire station. Morrow’s outdated small tender is already halfway through its main tank as Lincoln’s large Mack pumper pulls onto the scene and helps spray water on the lost home. An hour later all left is charred ember studded framing sporadically standing. Everything else is a smoldering heap of low flames and ash. Finally, both engines soak the remaining cinders and standby to let the mass fizzle out on its own. All left is a waiting game; it is going to be a long day.
As the sun peeks over the eastern hills, an A1 fire investigation team shows up called in from Fayetteville, the largest city in Washington County. Henry Mitchell is the lead man with thirty years’ experience, while his partner has been working with him for the last seven. They survey the destruction.
Gaulin approaches the team. “Good morning, gentlemen.”
“Morning Jeff,” Mitchell reciprocates, “doesn’t look like we can get started for a while.” He turns to his partner and suggests they go for eggs and toast. “We’ll see you later, Chief.”
Just before noon, the investigators are back. They stand around catching up with various acquaintances for another hour. Gaulin explains that the first man on the scene was Charles Stone and points in the direction of the neighboring farm. He returned home just after sun up.
The two-man team drives over to talk with Charlie. The farmer tells them he hasn’t seen the young family for a while and prays they are all right. Other than that he knows not what happened.
Back on the scene, the investigators suit up in their Velocity Nomex protective gear. They start shifting through the edge debris, before working their way into the depths of the destroyed structure.
Mitchell is where he believes should be a back bedroom. Carefully he scrapes away malodourous rubble uncovering a tiny-charcoaled encrusted foot. Continuing meticulously on, a small body becomes unearthed. The fragile burnt lump cannot be more than a year old if that.
“I got something here!” his partner bellows.
“There is a baby over here,” Mitchell returns.
Both men head to their vehicle. They need relief from the scorching ash piles. Between them, they guzzle a gallon of water. Mitchell radios to have a coroner come to the area.
The men return to their gruesome task. Just before dark, they finally finish. The two distorted blackened bodies are all they recover.
She was born Elizabeth Marie Jacobs in nineteen fifty-three in Kansas City, Missouri. Her single twenty-five-year-old mother worked whoring the streets of the shantytown on the city outskirts.
After Liz’s birth, it took more than a year for the Housing Authority to approve her mother’s application and move them into a tiny studio apartment within the inner-city slums.
The streetwalker left her baby girl with a neighbor every night. The baby cried constantly until four years of age. The babysitter and her alcoholic husband violently tried to stop the crying; only making it worse. Enduring the unruly child as long as they could, the couple finally called it quits on their unstable marriage. The man moved to St. Louis and the woman went to live with her father in Chicago.
Without someone to watch over her young child, Liz’s mother would leave the infant girl alone in her crib while standing on the corner or working close-at-hand bars. Nightly she brought home a variety of men. Most were vicious leaving her mother in a constant bruised and battered state. The only way she made it through each night was staying high snorting cocaine. Any money she made went to drugs. The neglected child was extremely thin and hungry day after day.
The same week the child turned six years old, her mother moved a man into their one-room apartment. Liz was left on her own to get herself to first grade and home again. Her mother slept while the sun was up and the unkempt man worked the day shift at the local Harley-Davidson factory.
The boyfriend rode his motorcycle to work every morning before six and returned drunk late every afternoon.
After a couple of months, the man started molesting Elizabeth as soon as her mother hit the streets. The drugged out whore either didn’t believe the young girl’s horrific stories or wanted the dirty man worse than her daughter. The abuse lasted two years until her third-grade teacher got involved.
One afternoon Mrs.Cobb asked the withdrawn waif to stay after school. Elizabeth sat quietly in her dirty torn dress, head down refusing to look at the teacher. Mrs. Cobb gently held Liz’s hand and questioned her about her home life. After more than an hour with very little response, the teacher let her go home.
Thankfully Mrs. Cobb didn’t give up. She knew it would take time and determined to save the girl. She started keeping Elizabeth late many days a week. After a month, the young girl broke down. She cried uncontrollably and sobbed out her home-life abuse tale. The teacher promised her it would stop that day. She took the girl to the office and phoned the police.
Immediately a detective team showed up accompanied an older woman social worker. While the officers questioned the teacher, the social worker talked with Elizabeth. She was good at her job and it didn’t take long before Elizabeth told the whole awful story; every prod and poke in appalling graphic detail. The dumbfounded woman excused herself, leaving a detective to watch over the child, and went to the washroom. Even though her life was child abuse cases, she balled uncontrollably loud, worse than a colic newborn. This was the worst case of molestation she ever heard in her twenty-nine-year career.
Another half hour later they loaded the child into their car and went to Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Liz was examined and questioned for hours. As soon as reports were finalized the detectives went to Liz’s house looking for the molester.
It was a dark blustery evening and the place is empty. Liz’s mother was gone in search of drugs and money and when Elizabeth hadn’t shown up from school, the man strapped his meager belongings to the back sissy bar on his older Harley Panhead and hit the wet pavement west to California.
Elizabeth Jacobs is placed in a children’s home and eventually into the foster care system. She never saw her mother or the evil man again.
Going from home to home growing up, Liz never lived in one place that wasn’t marginally better than her mother’s filthy apartment. Liz’s abuse didn’t stop as promised and continued off and on her whole childhood in one home or another. On her sixteenth birthday, Liz ran away.
She went looking for her mother, but couldn’t find a trace the woman ever lived. It was unknown to her that her mother had overdosed on coke and passed away shortly after she lost her daughter eight years earlier.
A man sits in his pickup for a half hour watching customers come and go from the QuicMart gas station on South School Avenue. It is after eleven-thirty Saturday night in nineteen sixty-nine.
Finally, there is a break in the foot traffic. He quickly pulls down his ski mask and runs into the small store carrying an old WWII Walther-P38, 9mm semi-automatic pistol. His father had brought the German military gun back from the European Theater in nineteen forty-five.
At the age of eleven, twelve years earlier, Kenneth Walker’s old man beat him for the last time. Young Ken went into the garage, pulled the P38 and a box of shells from an old water damaged cardboard box filled with war memorabilia that his father kept. He loaded the magazine with eight bullets.
The son returned to the house where his father dozed on the couch, too drunk on vodka to stay lucid. They were alone in the house, his mother working late at a market. Ken stood over his father for the longest time with tears streaming down his face. Hatred at a final point consumed his mind and his courage built to killing level.
The young boy shoved the barrel hard into the man’s forehead.
Barely opening his blurry eyes, “What the hell are you doing?” screamed the dazed man.
Without a word, Ken pulled the trigger and exploded his father’s brains all over the living room wall.
Splattered with blood he ran to the kitchen and wrapped the weapon in tin foil before burying the package behind a shrub in the backyard.
The blast shattered the still spring air and a neighbor immediately phoned the police. By the time the child returned to the living room, sirens were heard screaming up the street.
Ken spent the next ten years in juvenile hall before being released at the age of twenty-one. He spent the following year wandering the streets of Fayetteville looking for work. Unable to find a job he started selling marijuana and other illegal drugs for a local dealer on the campus of the University of Arkansas.
Desperate to get into the drug business on his own, this night Ken went to his old childhood home and snuck into the backyard digging up the ancient Walther.
“Get your hands up!” shrieks the robber.
The terrified young male convenience store clerk quickly complies, “Please don’t shoot. You can take anything you want!”
“Empty the register into a bag! No sudden moves or I’ll blow your head off!” speaking from experience.
Grabbing the brown paper bag containing two hundred and thirty dollars, the thief runs from the store and hastily drives away. A mile up the road, Ken turns right on Twenty-fourth Street and drives up the small mountain mound to the local country club where he sits in the parking lot counting his take.
“He thinks, “At this rate, I’ll need to hit two or three more places.”
After hearing the sirens blaring past down South School Avenue, Ken leaves the lot, following the short curvy road down to the main thorofare. He drives north to the smaller town of Springdale and robs another station.
Using the same modus operandi he pushes on, west to the town of Lincoln for his last robbery of the night.
Back in his half-way house, he counts the bills; five hundred and eighty-seven dollars. It’s enough to make a buy and get his own product to sell.
Randal Brown isn’t pleased with his protégé going out on his own but concedes the white population of the university to him. Ken Walker is the newest drug dealer in Northwest Arkansas.
One night, a few weeks later, Ken wanders into a strip club and sees Lulu Love teasing a pole on center stage. Her long blonde hair flips from side to side to the steady beat of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.
Over the next few months, Ken visits Kats often to memorialize the alluring young woman. During each visit, he stuffs every dollar bill he can muster into her bright pink g-string. Lulu never gives him a second thought.
Living on the streets, after running away from her last foster home, isn’t a step up for Elizabeth Jacobs. She survives scrounging garbage at night and hiding in dark corners during the days. She steals everything she can get her hands on and sells the bounty to pimps and drug dealers.
In ’sixty-eight she meets a group of hippies staying in Budd Park and a young man they call Moonrock. Liz moves into his old VW microbus with him. The couple tries to survive making and selling paper flowers on street corners.
Eventually, they leave the group and moved south to Bentonville, Arkansas. Neither could find work and they can’t afford food or gas. The pair spent their days panhandling and their evenings arguing. They are there only a couple of weeks before they started physically fighting.
Liz gets up early on the morning after a fisticuff. She is bruised and sore from his beating. Elizabeth walks to the highway and sticks out her thumb. The first car to come along, a late-model Pontiac, picks her up.
“Good morning, Beautiful. Where you headed?”
“Not sure. I just know I can’t find work here and need to try somewhere else.”
“You’re in luck. I own a little business in Fayetteville and always looking for help.”
“What can I do?”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. I’ll teach you everything you need to know. First, we’ll stop and get you some food. My name’s Denny. What’s yours?”
He pulls into a local diner in Rogers. Denny has a soda and Liz scarfs down a burger, fries, chocolate shake and two pieces of strawberry pie. Her wide periwinkle-blue eyes sparkling with delight.
Denny explains that as soon as they get to Fayetteville they will stop by his business and she can take a shower and clean up. He assures her sure she’ll love the other girls and be able to borrow pants and a clean top. After which they will go shopping and he’ll buy her new outfits both for work and play.
Liz tells the stranger that she doesn’t have a place to stay. Denny again assures her she has nothing to worry about. He owns a small apartment complex where most of his employees live and she can bunk up with another girl until a unit becomes available. He also offers insurance and other benefits that she can choose from and he deducts from weekly pay. He goes on telling her that the first week he’ll get her to a dentist to fix her teeth and a doctor for a complete checkup, all at his expense. The second week she can start work.
Liz was so excited at her first job she overlooks asking what’s entailed.
A half hour after leaving the café they pulled into the parking lot of Kats. Liz exclaims, “Oh you own a bar?”
“Well yes. It specializes in men’s delight. Your pay is minimum but all the girls live off their tips which are where all the real money is made. You could easily pull down five hundred or more a week. It all depends on what services you offer. It’s like you’ll be self-employed. The sky is the limit!”
“Let me show you around and introduce you to the other girls. Then we can sit down and talk. You never have to do anything you don’t want to do! It’s fun and easy work.”
Kats is closed this early. As soon as Denny and Liz slip into the bar, she sees the stage and glistening chrome pole. Behind the bar is a young woman washing glasses. An older gentleman is stocking bottles of liquor on a shelf in front a mirrored wall. All of sudden a large reflective-tiled ball on the ceiling starts to spin spewing colored light beams around the dim room, and a voice from beyond shatters the quiet scene, “Good morning. Boss. What have you got there?”
Turning around she notices the DJ booth elevated in the back corner where a young man is testing sound and broadcasting equipment. He waves at the new girl, “I’m Ethan.”
Liz’s waves back. She turns to Denny, “What kind of bar is this?”
“Let me introduce you,” ignoring her question.
They approach the bar, “This is Grace, one of our bartenders.”
Grace looks over the filthy ragged young girl. She nods without speaking and turns her back on Liz starting to wipe down the back counter with a dirty dishrag.
Denny makes an excuse for her rudeness, “She hectic before opening. You’ll like her when you get to know her,” wrinkling his nose.
“Milt, come over here.”
The older man walks over, “Hi, I’m Milton but everyone calls me Milt.”
“All right then, let's go to the office. I’ll introduce you to my wife and the three of us can chat.”
Liz follows Denny through the clothes strewn ladies’ dressing room into a large walnut paneled office. There is a giant floor-safe standing in the corner, with a couple of rifles leaning against it, and two desks with a well-dressed beached-blonde sitting behind one. The glass wall looks into the barroom through a one-way mirror. Liz has never seen a one-way mirror and surprised that Denny and his wife spy on everything that takes place on the floor. She also notes a closed-circuit system screen on the corner of his desk picturing the dressing room.
“Meet my wife Charlotte,” Denny’s opened hand outstretched toward the sitting lady.
The three sit down for their talk. They discuss the dancing and money and benefits. Liz is hesitant with taking her clothes off in front of strange jeering men. Charlotte tries to calm Liz down saying she’s in charge of the girls and watches out for them. Charlotte also reinforces the fact that nobody ever has to have sex with a patron and only dance untouched. But she also states most girls make the majority of their income servicing the clientele. She tells Liz her stage name is Lulu Love.
After an hour of convincing Liz and Denny’s wife go the dressing room where Liz meets Madison, the first dancer to arrive. She’s twenty-one, a few years older than Liz, and extremely friendly. Madison lends Liz clean clothes and shows her where to shower and clean up.
After shopping with Charlotte they return to Kats. Her new boss asks Madison if Liz can stay with her for a while until an apartment comes open.
Elizabeth spends the rest of the day and evening watching. After Madison’s shift ends the two girls go home to her apartment together.
Powell Tucker is eighteen years old in nineteen sixty-nine, and a freshman at the University of Arkansas. He attended an early summer orientation weekend with his father, Newton Tucker, Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas.
The father and son arrived midday, a few hours before the Friday night orientation party. Newton took his son to Kappa Sigma’s fraternity house and introduced him around. He had been a member and president many years earlier. Powell immediately accepted as a pledge for the coming semester.
As the father and son team are leaving, the current student ruler slaps Powell on the back, winking, “We’ll see you at Rush Week, Brother.”
Being young and naive Powell asked his father what the guy meant. He’s told it’s just a little harmless initiation ritual; nothing to worry about.
Powell arrives at school a week before the semester starts. He needs to move into his dorm room and plans to get acquainted with his new fraternity brothers. As soon as he’s settled he heads to the frat house.
He receives a chilly reception from the few early members settling in and is invited to leave immediately. Going down the outside steps of the old two-story home Powell runs into Jackson DeFrey, the fraternity’s president, whom he had made a few weeks earlier, “Powell Tucker, right.”
“Where are you going? Come on in and meet the boys.”
“Well, I already met a couple…they asked me to leave.”
“Nonsense. Did you tell them who you are?”
“Didn’t have a chance to.”
DeFrey puts his arm around the new man and escorts him back inside. He introduces Powell around and the freshman is immediately welcomed by most. The head student leads him to the kitchen and pours a couple of beers into large red plastic cups from the ever-present keg, for himself. They go back to the living room and DeFrey sits in the regal seat that’s there just for him. Powell wiggles onto the couch between two other brothers.
“Not yet young man!” DeFrey’s bouncing his bent index finger up and down pointing to the floor. Powell glances around the room and everyone in attendance has bouncing fingers. He moves to his assigned seat.
Tucker starts to say something. DeFrey is wagging his index finger, “No! No! Only when you’re spoken to first.” Again all the brothers are following suit with the gesture. It’s going to be a learning curve for the outspoken new student.
The group chatters away with stories of last year’s Rush Week; all laughing and each adding to every tale of woe. Powell sits quietly for three hours. His buttocks are numb and feet tingling, but every time he tries to stand or shift positions, the finger-wagging and head shaking starts up again.
Finally, Jackson stands and announces everyone is going to the Grub Shack for a burger and brew. The group cheers and jumps to their feet including Powell.
“Sorry, this is a fraternity outing. Please sit back down. You can leave after we’re gone,” patronizing Jackson.
Twenty minutes later the group saunters out the door and Powell stands and stretches his legs, wondering what he getting himself into.
Excerpted from "Death Runner: A Jake Smith Mystery (Jake Smith Mystery Series) (Volume 2)" by H David Whalen. Copyright © 0 by H David Whalen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.