BY: TIM HOLLAND
A small business owner, Amos Dunn, has been found murdered in the lowcountry town of Morgan, South Carolina. The initial reaction of the local police is that the robbery of Dunn’s convenience store got out of hand resulting in the owner’s death. The robbery and murder receive token coverage in the local and regional press, which is not uncommon. But nothing is what it seems.
Tillie James, the housekeeper for Professor Sidney Lake, a retired professor of English Literature at Morgan College, doesn’t believe it and convinces Sidney Lake that something is very wrong. Enlisting the aid of a new black police officer and a recently arrived county assistant coroner, they band together to seek the truth. And so begins a wild ride though the politics and changing culture of a small, quiet lowcountry town that endangers all of their lives as they seek the truth.
The story of Amos Dunn’s murder and its aftermath will forever change the way the town of Morgan views itself as it is thrown into a spotlight it has tried to avoid. This is a town where big city problems aren’t supposed to exist. A quiet family place where the local churches are still the center of life and Wednesday night suppers and meetings in church education buildings are a mainstay of its social fabric.
Tim Holland’s weaving of the story through common everyday events in Morgan brings the town and its people to life. Everyone from Professor Lake and Tillie James to tourist, pastors, policemen and especially Mrs. Micawber, Sidney Lake’s Labrador retriever find themselves entangled in a web they thought could only be woven by the decadence of a large city. This is one you won’t want to put down.
Ellen C Priest – Editor/publisher, Sommerville South Carolina Journal Scene – “You may want to pick up this really good mystery set in the lowcountry. I really enjoyed it!”
E. Compton Lee – Author of Native – “I really like the way the first chapter sets up the mystery. Very effective. The reader knows how the victim died, but not who did it or why, and is able to watch the characters make inaccurate assumptions. The story moves along seamlessly. I found it hard to put it down.”
Peter Stipe – Author of Remember Me – “The way the professor and his housekeeper play off one another is very effective. The dialogue is real and the way each chapter ends makes you keep looking for the next one.”
Ben Mackin – Collins Group LLC Next Door Neighbor – “Tim…is a writer. With two novels to his credit and two on the way, he is passionate about words. The Rising Tide is an interesting murder mystery thriller set is a fictional town in the lowlands (sic) of South Carolina. It follows Sidney Lake, an English literature professor, and his friends as they investigate a murder in their small town. The two forthcoming novels, (The Murder of Amos Dunn and Deception) will be the next installment in the Sidney Lake series.”
The Murder of Amos Dunn
That makes me mad,” Tillie said as she came close to Mickey with her broom. Sidney Lake watched as she cleaned the kitchen floor and tried to keep Mickey out of the way. As Tillie made her way around the room, Mickey would move in front of her by about ten feet and then lie down, only to get up again as the broom approached. It was a biweekly routine that never changed. Every Monday and Thursday Tillie would sweep and Sidney would get Mickey to move. A treat would usually solve the problem, which really wasn’t a problem, as the three of them were well aware of the bribery routine being played out. Mickey loved people and if Tillie and Sidney were in the same room, she assumed it was a family conference so she had to be there. If they were in separate rooms, she would position herself to keep an eye and an ear monitoring them.
“Make you mad? What has you upset today?” Sidney Lake said.
Tillie mumbling along about something as she worked seemed to be a part of her daily routine. Most of the time it involved a comment one of the other Gullah housekeepers said about their employers, but problems with children, husbands and grandchildren were also high on the list.
“Somebody killed Mr. Dunn.”
“Excuse me. Amos Dunn?”
“Yeah, they’s lots a people around that could use a bop on the head, but Mister Dunn ain’t one of um.”
“What in the world happened?” Both Sidney and Mickey stared at Tillie.
“Professor Lake, don’t you ever read the newspaper?”
“Of course I do, but Mickey and I went for an early walk this morning. She brought in the paper and left it in the office and then we went out for breakfast at the City Hall Café.”
Tillie kept working as she spoke, pushing the broom a little stronger for emphasis from time to time, “Some low-life broke into his place last night and hit him on the head. Police say it’s a straight forward robbery. Which don’t make no sense since he don’t keep anything there of value and everybody knows it. He don’t even live above the place anymore.”
“I know. He told me he bought a place two blocks away last year and rented out the apartment above the store.”
“That’s right.” Tillie stopped working and leaned on the broom. “Has a standard routine. He closes up around seven. Goes for a walk around downtown, then heads home for dinner. You can pretty much set your clock by him.”
“He was found in the store?”
“Musta gone back there for somthin’ since the police think he was killed around eight or so. Routine walk is only a half hour long. Usually doesn’t pass the store on his way home. Either got a late start or maybe remembered something in the store he forgot and went back.”
“Was all this in the paper?”
“No. Paper never gives any specifics ‘bout nothin’. Jimmy Smalls does the cleanup at City Hall and the police department every night. Nobody pays attention to him. It’s like he’s invisible so the police just talk like he ain’t there. Rita, his wife toll me.”
“Hmmmm.” Sidney looked off into space.
“You got that look again Professor Lake.”
“What? Oh, I was just thinking there might be another possibility.”
“You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”
“Somebody he knew asked him to open the store as a favor. Probably forgot to buy something earlier.”
“Yeah, you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’ all right.”
“No one who’s local who went to the store would ever try to rob it. It doesn’t make sense. Cedar Street is probably the safest place downtown, even more than Market Street.”
“Yeah, you thinkin’ it’s somebody he knows, but not from downtown.”
Sidney stopped but didn’t answer. He quietly looked at Tillie. Mickey caught the pause and sat up. Then Sidney said, “Why are we always doing this?”
“Assume a sinister event instead of a simple straight forward one. The logic would be a simple robbery gone wrong. Open and shut.”
“Maybe we got that fairytale disease?”
“Yeah. Like that lady who every time she heard the story of Humpty Dumpty fallin’ off that wall thought ‘did he fall or was he pushed.’ I think that’s what we got. Never can take somethin’ for what it seems to be—the logical simple answer. The easy ‘open an’ shut’ answer.”
Sidney had a smile on his face and Mickey’s tail thumped the floor when he said, “I think you’re right. Yes, I think you’re right.”
“Problem is we both know that ‘open an shut’ is probably the right answer in the white neighborhood, but in the black one it’s just the easy one an the ‘shut’ part ain’t always really shut.”
* * *
Pete Hornig celebrated his tenth anniversary as Morgan’s police chief just a month earlier and had been silently reflecting on how much had changed during that time when Corporal Sam Cashman came into his office. Sam covered the downtown area and had two officers assigned to him. The Amos Dunn robbery and murder, so far, was his responsibility. Hornig had not yet made the decision about which of his three detectives would be assigned to the case. He wanted to see all the medical and forensic reports first. If it confirmed that Amos Dunn was killed in a random act of violence during a robbery, he would give it a different priority than a premeditated killing. So, for the time being he would just keep Sam nose-ying around and digging up whatever he could. Besides, he valued Sam’s thoughts, especially as Sam was from the Gullah community. Hornig knew Amos Dunn from the Morgan Rotary Club and couldn’t imagine someone wanting to kill him. Besides, Amos’ Cedar Street Market sat at the edge of the black community downtown and the chief figured Sam Cashman would have an easier time getting people in the area to talk than any of his white detectives.
“So, Sam, any thoughts?”
“Mind if I sit?”
“No, go ahead. I don’t have anything scheduled. Something bothering you?”
Sam sat down and took a deep breath “Yes and no. Amos’ murder. The logical conclusion is a petty robbery gone bad. The cash register was empty, a wine bottle broken on the floor, some other stuff on the floor as well and the back door open. Looks like he was hit from behind. All kind of fits…and yet it doesn’t. Anything from the coroner yet?”
Hornig made his way around to his chair behind the desk but didn’t sit. “No, but Cooper promised some preliminary stuff by noon. So, are we looking at a break-in gone bad?”
“Preliminarily, I’d have to say yes.”
“Well let’s keep it that way for now. I’ve got Ed working on the vandalism problem up on Layfette Boulevard and Kent’s only here temporarily. Patton’s not due back from vacation for another week so you’re the acting detective on this one. I just don’t have anyone to put on it and I’m not going to ask for county help unless this proves to be more than a simple robbery.”
©2020 by Tim Holland