My current work in progress is a murder mystery set in the fictitious mountain community of Round Peak, North Carolina. The unsolved murder of the former mayor and rumors of moonshine money stashed in the foothills take center stage in this suspense-filled novel. The working title was The Mystery of Round Peak Mountain, but I’ve recently changed it to At the River’s Edge.
As the book progresses, I will post excerpts here, but not so many as to spoil the plot or ending. Please stop back regularly and tell me what you think. All constructive comments are welcome.
— D.R. Shoultz
- Working Cover by GrabillCreative under iStock Standard Agreement
- Excerpts Contain Adult Language
A DOOR SLAMMED on the garage side of the house, jolting Hank Richards from the comfort of his recliner. Richards tossed his book onto his chair and strode to the front window as the ninth chime of the hallway clock faded.
Leaves swirled under the lone streetlight in front of his two-story Tudor, but he saw nothing to explain what he heard. He looked up to see a stiff breeze contorting the limbs of the aged oak, bending them close to the eaves.
Maybe I left the side door open.
He walked toward the garage and flipped on the overhead light before opening the door. Taking a single step, Richards froze.
Two men stood beside his silver Mercedes holding flashlights. The taller man was wearing a denim jacket, a five-day beard and a scowl. His slightly shorter, dark-haired companion was dressed in jeans and a grey sweater.
“What the hell are you two doing in here?”
IF YOU ASKED LOCALS why they lived in Round Peak, their answers would fall into one of three categories: they wanted to, they had to, or it’s just where they ended up.
With the exception of four years at North Carolina State, James Wolsey lived in the historic mountain community all his twenty-six years. He never thought he’d come home after college, but he did. His grandfather died, and his mother needed help running the family hardware store, so James returned, joining the ranks of “they had to.”
AFTER FLIPPING THE door sign to Closed, James’ mom straightened shelves near the checkout.
“I’m going to clear the register and head to Rick’s,” James said.
“Go ahead. I won’t be much longer. See you at home later?”
“Sure, I shouldn’t be too late.”
The streetlights had begun replacing the setting sun as James stepped from Bryant’s Hardware onto the cobblestone sidewalk a block south of the town square.
Round Peak, North Carolina was nestled in a valley beneath the mountain for which it was named. Suburbia encircled the town, but the storefronts on the square and the streets radiating from the two-story granite courthouse had remained unchanged since the days of horse-drawn carriages.
DETECTIVE FRED RANDALL and Bill Wyatt, the town’s sheriff, prepared for the council meeting in Wyatt’s office which was stuffed into the northeast corner of the courthouse. The council meeting room was just down the hall and already buzzing with curious citizens.
Randall looked the part of an SBI detective: tall, short-cropped silver hair, and square jaw, wearing a blazer and open collar shirt. Wyatt was a beefy man, barely five-eight, an expanding waistline and never out of his khaki-colored uniform. He’d headed the town’s police department for 22 years without challengers.
Both men had been on the Richards’ murder case from day one. Wyatt gladly let Randall lead the investigation. The SBI had the resources and experience, plus it allowed Wyatt to distance himself from the constant questions of townspeople.
“Do you really believe disclosing this evidence will prompt the memory of someone?” Wyatt asked.
“Don’t know for sure, but after five years, we need to try something.”
“Why has it taken so long to take this step?”
“It’s standard practice to not disclose evidence, but the DA has agreed to release this information in hopes it will rekindle the case.”
“I have to admit, I’m not too crazy about this idea,” Wyatt said, standing and pacing the small office. “I know we need to solve this murder, but the town was finally getting back to normal. This is just going to stir things up again.”
“If it generates one lead, it’ll be worth it.”
SPENDING THE NIGHT in the city jail didn’t sit well with Jake and Billy Wilson. They lived their lives blaming others for their problems, and to them, their night behind bars was undeserved.
“Grab me another!” Jake called out from the back porch of their doublewide located just outside Round Peak.
Billy sorted past the aging condiments and half-empty carton of spoiled milk to find the remaining beer at the back of the refrigerator.
“We’re gonna need to make another run,” he yelled back.
He brought the brew to his cousin and flopped down in the chair beside him. They were both wearing sweat-stained work clothes from the day before.
“Ya know, Billy, we work our asses off pourin’ concrete for Callahan, and we ain’t got shit to show for it.”
“You got that right,” Billy replied, tipping back his can of beer.
“You take that Emily Edwards. She ain’t no better than you or me, and she’s sittin’ pretty up in that cabin probably livin’ off her grandpappy’s stash.”
“Yeah, and now she’s found herself a sugar daddy to take care of her,” Billy added. “I can’t stand that Wolsey. Whatta prick!”
“I’d bet you my F-150 that Wolsey’s up in that mountain cabin right now with that green-eyed bitch. Why don’t we go pay them a visit and thank them proper-like for last night?”
“Fine with me,” Billy replied, tipping up his empty can, “but we need to stop for a six-pack on the way.”
James was as surprised as the Wilson boys to see Emily holding the handgun. He rose slowly and went to stand beside his wild-eyed girlfriend.
“I came to get my dog, and that’s what I’m going to do,” she said, pointing the gun at Jake.
“You have three seconds to tell me where Rufus is. Three, two, one!”
The shot whizzed past Jake’s ear and buried into the wall behind him. Jake nearly knocked Billy to the ground as he jumped to the side.
“I’m getting pretty nervous,” Emily said waving the gun at the Wilsons. “I’m not sure where the next shot will go.”
“Emily, you need to calm down,” James said, reaching for her shoulder.
She brushed his hand away with her free arm, keeping her eyes fixed on Billy and Jake.
“Rufus is my dog! I’ll handle this!”
James stepped back.
“Okay, one more time,” she said. “Three, two…”
“Stop!” Jake screamed, holding up his arms.
It was noon Friday, and the Wilson boys skipped work to get a head start on the weekend. Sitting at their kitchen table, Billy was a couple beers ahead of Jake and plotting trouble for them both.
“So what are you suggesting, Billy? That we just waltz into the cabin and turn it upside down?”
“If no one’s there, who’s gonna stop us? Miss Green Eyes is working at the distribution center and her macho boyfriend is counting nails at the hardware store. The cabin will be vacant for several hours.”
“What about that coonhound?” Jake asked. “I’m not gettin’ my ass bit looking for a map that probably doesn’t even exist.”
“You let me worry about the dog,” Billy said, pulling a .22 caliber handgun from a drawer in the kitchen. “If he makes too much trouble, this’ll put him in his place.”
“They’re gonna know who broke in. Chief Wyatt will be at our doorstep by nightfall,” Jake argued.
“If we find the map, why would we come back to this shithole? We’ll take the loot and head south. Money goes further in Mexico,” Billy replied, crushing his empty beer can on the table.
EMILY AND JAMES ROUNDED a bend in the river. Far ahead at the river’s edge sat a cemetery. Sun-bleached headstones dotted the ground in front of a grove of oak trees. No longer straight and uniform, the weathered markers bent in all directions like crooked teeth in need of braces.
Emily slowed her pace, staring at the limestone markers in the distance. She could hear her heart beating as she approached what could be her ancestors’ the final resting place. Stories Pop had told her about their family history came rushing back into her head.
“Are you nervous?” James asked.
“Sure, I’m nervous. I’m finally going to find out if the rumors are true.”