In case you missed the release of Stuckey’s Gold a few weeks ago, here’s a snippet to get you movin’. If you’ve read Stuckey’s Bridge, you’ll recognize this sheriff, although it’s been ten years since he retired. If you’ve read Stuckey’s Legacy, you’ll know exactly who they are talking about at the end. 🙂
She knocked on the wooden frame of the screen door and the rattle reverberated across the screened porch. The kind face of a white-haired man with gray eyes greeted her warily.
“Yes, miss? May I help you?”
“Yes, sir. I’m looking for Sheriff Temple.” Penny gave him her biggest and brightest smile.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Well, that would be me, young lady, and who might you be?”
“Sheriff, my name is Penelope Juzan. I wonder if I might ask you a few questions.”
“Questions about what?”
“I’m interested in a man who worked for my father in 1901. He sent my father a message that he was staying at an inn in town, and we never heard from him again. His name was Carter Stuckey.”
The sheriff froze. He stared at her for a long time and didn’t respond.
“Sheriff? Please, sir. I came all the way from Vicksburg to speak with you.”
He sighed, turned away from the door, and walked into the house. “Oh, all right. Come on in.” He didn’t open the door for her and he didn’t sound very enthusiastic.
She opened the creaking screen door and followed him into the cool darkness of the modest home. The place smelled musty. A worn and dirty flowered sofa sat in the living room to her left, along with a big chair that had seen better days long, long ago. She stood in the middle of the room and watched him light the wood-burning stove and place a black teakettle on top. He finally turned to her and gestured toward the small dining table to her right, then turned back to the stove. “Have a seat, Miss Juzan.”
Penny pulled out a wooden chair that was covered with dust. She scanned the room to see if there were any feminine touches, as the house appeared to be owned by a bachelor. She saw nothing that would suggest a woman lived there. As the former sheriff stood at the wood-burning stove, she glanced at the back of his wrinkled shirt, hoping he wouldn’t turn and see her wiping off the chair before she sat down. She held her handbag in her lap, as she wasn’t sure if he would offer her some tea or kick her out in the next few minutes.
She was concerned when he began to cough violently. He pulled a cigarette off the shelf above the stove and lit it with a match. Penny remained silent and watched him exhale smoke between coughs. As his coughing spell subsided, the teakettle whistled. The sheriff used a pot holder to grab the hot kettle, and he poured two mugs of tea. He brought them to the table and placed one in front of Penny.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
He turned back to the stove, snubbed out his cigarette on a plate, and then sat down at the table.
“Carter Stuckey, eh?”
Penny nodded and took a sip of her tea. It was extremely hot and just as weak.
Once the sheriff began telling her the story, he spoke for quite some time. She listened wordlessly, mesmerized by the tale. He told her the whole saga of the inn up on Chunky River and the innkeeper’s victims. She sat with her mouth agape at the heinous story, and was even more stunned at the way it ended.
“The innkeeper’s name was Stuckey—Thomas Stuckey.”
“Yes, it appears he took the name of one of his victims.
“So, Carter Stuckey was one of the victims?”
“Yes, ma’am. Carter Stuckey had something in his pocket with his name on it when we uncovered his body, so we know for sure he was murdered at the inn. No one ever came looking for him, and we didn’t know who to contact about his death, so we moved his remains to Concord Cemetery and buried him in an unmarked grave.”
“Well, no one knew he was here except my father. My father died about the same time and I just recently found his journals, which led me here.”
The two sat in silence for a few minutes while Penny absorbed the gravity of the tale.
“Miss Juzan, why are you looking for Carter Stuckey now, a decade later?”
“Oh, um, well, he had something of my father’s, something of great importance. I’m afraid I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago when I found my father’s journals.”
“And what was this item of great importance?” He wrinkled his brow at her.
“It was a trunk, sir.”
“A trunk?” The sheriff ran his fingers down his stubble and shook his head. “I don’t remember finding any trunk at the inn, but I’ll tell you who might know. The only survivor of the whole incident was a young boy. He was maybe twelve or thirteen years old at the time. He was a blond, blue-eyed boy named Levi Stuckey. The moment his father—the murderer—was hung, the boy disappeared. I searched for him for years but he’d simply vanished. If he’s still alive somewhere, he’d be about twenty-two now. Maybe he knows something about your missing trunk. Maybe he has it himself.”
She nodded. “Maybe he does.”