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Bill Hopkins - Judge Rosswell Carew 02 - River Mourn

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Bill Hopkins - Judge Rosswell Carew 02 - River Mourn

  Praise for Courting Murder

  the first Judge Rosswell Carew Mystery by Bill Hopkins

  “Here comes the judge—he’s stubborn, cranky, a bit sarcastic and completely charming. Bill Hopkins nails the voice! This is a big-time mystery in a small town—and you’ll fall in love with the place. Courting Murder is guilty—of being terrific.” ~ Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity-winner; author of The Other Woman

  “Bill Hopkins’ debut mystery Courting Murder introduces characters who are truly characters—in the most entertaining sense of the word. Even the judge turns every stereotype you may have about judges on its head. And to think Marble Hill, Bollinger County, MO, is a real place! Hopkins’ zany, delightful adventure turns this unsuspecting burg on its head, too.” ~ Chris Roerden, author of Agatha winner Don’t Murder Your Mystery

  “The verdict is in. Courting Murder is a winner! In his entertaining debut mystery, Bill Hopkins transports us to Bollinger County, Missouri, where Judge Rosswell Carew and a cast of colorful characters track down missing bodies, drug dealers, and murderers using their wits and a few extra-large dollops of homespun charm. A fun read!” ~ Alan Orloff, Agatha Award-nominated author of Diamonds for the Dead and the Last Laff Mystery Series

  “Courting Murder is a promising series debut by judge-turned-novelist Bill Hopkins. Lively characters, a crafty plot, and an off-the-beaten track setting in Missouri make for a good read. The protagonist—plagued by allergies, illness, and a cantankerous nature—is a humorous departure from the typical macho-man mystery hero. I’ve got my eye on Courting Murder’s Judge Rosswell Carew.” ~ Deborah Sharp, author of the Mace Bauer Mysteries

  River Mourn by Bill Hopkins

  Copyright©2013 by Bill Hopkins

  Cover picture by Gregg Hopkins, a photographer and a musician with The Melroys www.themelroys.com

  Cover and interior design by Ellie Searl, Publishista®


  Edited by Patricia D. Smith

  “Shoshiku” by Shoshana Kertesz © 2011 Shoshana Kertesz

  Foliate Oak Literary Journal, November 2011


  All rights reserved

  No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Bill Hopkins.

  River Mourn is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, dialogue, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Deadly Writes and the Deadly Writes image and colophon are trademarks of Deadly Writes Publishing, LLC.

  Print Book ISBN-13: 978-0989345606

  Print Book ISBN-10: 0989345602

  Print Book LCCN: 2013938471



  Deadly Writes Publishing, LLC

  Marble Hill, MO


  Thanks to my first readers Christine Gunnin, Sondra Gockel, Carolyn Begley, Dawn Rhodes Lincoln, and Tim Bollinger. And to those folks who patiently answered my questions, including Patricia Winton, Frank Elpers, Terry Rottler, Mark Halacy, Melody Scott, Captain Joe Kent, Marian Hutchings, Charles Hutchings, Michael Strong, Erik Klein, Steve Rahm, Karla Smith Adams, Van Riehl, Mark McKinney, and Ken Steinhoff. Thanks to my talented cousin, Gregg Hopkins for the great cover photograph, Patricia B. Smith for her extraordinary editing, and Ellie Searl for her computer magic.

  Thanks to Jill Mabli and Karyn Byler for lending their names. Although they are portrayed here as evil, I assure you that they possess spotless reputations.

  None of this would’ve been possible without my wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins, who is my toughest editor and most honest critic. She’s also the best writer I know.

  All the mistakes are mine

  I love Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. I hope that the kind people there will forgive me for changing some of the geographical details and otherwise taking liberties with their beautiful town and picturesque county..

  Chapter 1

  Last Sunday Morning

  A skinny man tossed a body off the ferry.

  The woman’s face loomed in the binoculars. “My God, she looks like Tina!” Judge Rosswell Carew shouted, although no one else was on his balcony.

  He bounded from his room in the bed and breakfast almost before the body sank. His presence of mind allowed him to pat himself down, making certain that he had his cell phone, and also to clutch the binoculars in one hand so that they wouldn’t bounce up and smack him in the face.

  His lodgings were in a building that roosted on a cliff over the flood plain of the Mississippi River. It would take too long to drive down the road from his rooms to the ferry landing. Instead, he chose to use his military training to scurry down the less steep parts of the bluff. That would be faster than using his car.

  He stumbled through the brush. Thorns tore at his face and arms. He jumped sideways several times to keep himself from taking a headlong tumble. Gravity was his friend as long as he kept his momentum under control. The successful downhill maneuver was to maintain an erect posture, lean forward a few degrees, and move with short, quick strides. It worked.

  Until he fell.

  Halfway along, he lost his rhythm, plunging face downward, his cheek connecting with a log, bruising his arms, scratching his palms. Blood seeped from his hands. “Shit!” Rosswell wiped his right hand on his pants leg while holding the binoculars in his left, resumed the pace, and then switched hands, wiping the left one. His face stung.

  At the bottom of the bluff, he shuffled down one side of the steep road ditch and scuttled up the other side. After he crossed the asphalt road, he halted on the gravelly sand of the ferry landing.

  The scent of dead fish littering the bank stuck to the inside of his mouth and nose, strong enough for him to taste the vile stuff. Asian carp, the exotic scourge of the river, were caught by the dozens and allowed to rot on land. Rosswell wheezed and gasped, sucking in as much air as he could. He craved the oxygen. Someone on the ferry must have seen the woman go overboard, but no one on deck appeared to have noticed. Binoculars to his eyes, he scanned the boat. The skinny man climbed into the passenger side of a white van. He focused on the van. The tags were smeared with mud—an old trick for anyone who didn’t want to be identified.

  Unable to signal any other way, Rosswell waved his hands, losing a grip on the binoculars. “No. Tina, no!” It was futile. No one paid any attention to his efforts. The ferry was a third of the way across, leaving Missouri, heading for Illinois. Rosswell scolded himself for not knowing better. Even if the man or anyone else on the ferry had superb hearing like Rosswell’s, no one could ever hear him over the noise of the engine, especially not at this distance.

  When he called out the name of his beloved, his eyes teared up. Five months earlier, someone kidnapped Tina from a hospital bed where she lay recovering from a gunshot wound. Since then, searching for her consumed most of his work time and all of his free time.

  He returned the focus of the binoculars on the ferry, particularly on the three vehicles it carried. The late September morning brought another day of unusual scorching heat. The boat plying the river wavered in the hot air, much like a mirage. An aroma of baking vegetation

  increased with the rising of the day’s heat.

  What had happened? Rosswell knew he’d have to wr
ite this incident in the journal he kept concerning every detail of his quest to find Tina. The points clicked in his mind like the tumblers of a lock opening.

  He replayed the scene, mentally formulating the entry he’d make later.

  Rosswell had been perched on the balcony of the third-story room he’d rented at a bed and breakfast in Sainte Genevieve. Instead of glimpsing the rare Golden-Crowned Sparrow he’d been seeking, he spotted the ferry. A loud thump sounded when the boat was leaving the dock on the Missouri side. He’d checked his watch at 7:00 AM, which was an hour after the first scheduled ferry run. That was when he’d seen the corpse dumped in the river by the skinny man with dark hair dressed in Levi’s and a blue work shirt.

  The woman’s face burned in his mind. So familiar. So much like Tina. The woman was tall and slender. Strawberry blonde hair. Blue jeans and a white tee shirt clinging to curves. Definitely female. Definitely pregnant. Definitely looked like Tina. After the man dropped the body into the river, he lounged against the guardrail, studying the water for a few seconds before he climbed into the van.

  Questions about the other people on the ferry chased each other in Rosswell’s mind. He hoped the guy wouldn’t get away with the crime. None of the other passengers paid heed to what the man had done. In fact, the other passengers clustered in a knot on the other side of the deck, their heads bent, staring into the water.

  What was so interesting?

  Rosswell refocused the binoculars where the woman had been dropped. Nothing. He broadened his inspection to the area around the ferry but couldn’t see her. Perhaps the body had been weighted down and sunk to the bottom. Again, he tried to focus on the man who’d tossed the body, but he wasn’t visible inside the van. Except for the steady chugging of the vessel’s engine, Rosswell could not have sworn that there was any traffic at all on the river. Besides the sound of the rolling water, little else made any noise in the morning air. Even the birds swooped up and down without sound.

  It wasn’t an option to stand on the ferry landing close to the swirling current doing nothing. He had to do something. But what? He removed his glasses and wiped his face with his hands. And sobbed.

  Since Tina’s disappearance, Rosswell had taken to chanting a mantra urged upon him by a New Age counselor. “Center. Center. Center.” He played a game with himself in such stressful circumstances. Graph paper ran from his brain like a seismograph reporting an earthquake. All Rosswell had to do was inhale until his lungs filled, close his eyes, and allow his brain to carry him to a secret calm place until the line on the paper inked itself horizontally. The guru had called it centering.

  The main problem was that centering didn’t work. Plain old thinking worked. Not only were the facts of what he’d seen stamped in his mind, he knew what else he needed.

  Rosswell wrangled on his tri-focals so he could punch 9-1-1 on his cell phone. Tried to punch. His hands shook. Working his fingers was impossible. After two more tries, he punched the three numbers in the correct sequence.

  “What is your emergency?” the operator answered before the phone finished ringing one time.

  Rosswell swallowed. “I witnessed a…”

  Recollection turned murky. Had he seen a murder? Someone hiding the evidence of a murder? What?

  After a few more moments of staring out across the river without speaking, Rosswell heard the dispatcher ask, “Sir, what did you witness?”

  Rosswell did an about-face, showing his back to the river and closed his eyes. “I witnessed a man throw a woman off the ferry.”

  After the call, Rosswell marked a line in the riverbank with the tip of his shoe. There was no turning back. What had he committed himself to with that call? He pivoted and chose the road, the easy way up the bluff. The dispatcher had assured him that someone would arrive at his location soon. In fifteen minutes or so.

  Plodding back to his room exhausted him. He regained his place on the balcony to continue mulling over what he’d seen. Tina’s absence drilled into his gut as it had from the moment of her disappearance. The only things he was sure of were that the woman tossed off the boat was not Tina, Tina was still alive, and that he would find her. How did he know that? He didn’t know. Details, he assured himself, would follow.

  Rising fog marred the view of the water. Roswell scanned the riverbank again. No one else was near. No cars. No body washed ashore. The thump, he surmised, was someone slamming a car door or trunk shut. Although he wondered why anyone would do that if he were dragging a body from a vehicle to throw into the river. Wouldn’t that bring unwanted attention? Like his?

  Or had something happened to the ferry? Although Missouri struggled in the grasp of a vicious drought, the river was swollen with runoff from rain up north. With the water so high, maybe a big tree racing downstream had slammed into the boat. That could account for the thump.

  Would anyone believe him? There was not a single piece of proof in the entire story, only his eyewitness testimony. Roswell wasn’t even forty and his eyes were already packing it in, but so what? He’d been wearing his glasses when he saw the man throw the woman into the river. He hadn’t been sucking down any booze, either. Tina’s absence had been a sore test, but he wouldn’t let himself go anywhere near the stuff, not while she was still missing. Above all not after he got her back!

  If he got her back.

  About fifteen minutes later, Mrs. Bolzoni, the owner of Bolzoni’s Bluffside Bed and Breakfast, commonly known as The Four Bee, knocked on his door.


  “You open the door,” came the reply, spoken with an Italian accent.

  As ordered, Rosswell opened the door to discover the short barrel, which was Mrs. Bolzoni, regarding him through Coke-bottle eyeglasses. She nodded. He admired what she’d done with her silver-gray hair, piled on her head in a circular arrangement with nary a loose strand. Her ancient shoes and dry scent befitted a senior citizen. There had to be a place where elderly women bought those clunky shoes with about a hundred eyelets that laced halfway up the calf. And that old lady powder that smelled like a nursing home. Where did they buy that stuff?

  “Good morning, Mrs. Bolzoni.”

  “Here’s you espresso. I am out of the Pepto-Bismol last night and the insides, she is in uproar.” The squat Italian woman had the habit of starting most conversations with a report on the state of her bowels. She waved her hands and shook her head several times. “Much pain.”

  “I’m sorry to hear that.” He sipped the extra strong brew laced with enough sugar to make it syrupy. A dash of salt added a bit of flavor. The concoction worked a number on his acid reflux. No matter. If the hair on his scrawny mustache had been a centimeter or two longer, the black drink would’ve curled the ’stache into a real handlebar.

  “The police, they come and want the Judge Carew.” Mrs. Bolzoni failed to disguise the delight in her voice. She loved gossip more than life itself. “I tell them you I get.”

  “Would you send them up? I need to show them something.”

  “You not cooking the menthol, are you?”

  “No, I assure you that I’m a peaceful and law-abiding citizen.” Rosswell suppressed a smile. “And I’m not cooking meth.”

  “As if.” Mrs. Bolzoni primped her hair although there wasn’t the slightest disarray.

  She clopped down the steps and, in a few minutes, Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff Gustave Fribeau—despite what Mrs. Bolzoni had said, it was one cop, not a “they”—marched into Rosswell’s room.

  “Judge Carew.” Gustave pulled a slim black cigar out of his pocket, unwrapped it, stuck it in his mouth, and threw the cellophane to the floor. “You called 9-1-1?”

  The sheriff, standing a shade over five feet tall, had a square jaw that matched his square body, and blonde hair that gave him movie star good looks. Admiring the sheriff’s mustache, as thin as an ant trail, Rosswell wondered if he could trim his own sickly caterpillar mustache in the same fashion.

  “Yes, I called 9-1-1.”

  “You made me climb up here. What do you want to show me?”

  “Let me show you what I saw. Look over here.” Rosswell escorted him onto the balcony and pointed to the river. “I saw somebody throw a body into the water.”

  “You saw a body go in the river?”

  “Yes. Didn’t I say that?”

  “Who did the throwing? Man or woman?”


  The sheriff took in the view, staring all around. “Where was this man who did the throwing?”

  “On the ferry.”

  Gustave chewed on the unlit cigar. “Moving?”

  “The man or the ferry?”


  Rosswell rubbed the back of his neck. “The ferry. It was headed across the river.”

  “The body—man, woman?”

  “Female. Young woman. I think.”

  “Why do you think that?”

  “She looked like a woman. And the impression I got from her clothes, hair, and what little I could see of her face made me think she was young.”


  “She was pregnant.” Rosswell practiced his withering glare until the Sheriff caved.

  “How do you know she was dead? Could she have been unconscious, knocked out?”

  “I don’t know that she was dead when she went into the river, but she wasn’t moving.” Rosswell fingered the binoculars. “Her eyes were closed when she went in the water.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “Take a look for yourself.” Rosswell offered up the binoculars. “These are powerful. I could see her face.”

  Gustave waved the binoculars aside. “What did this guy look like?”

  “A dark complexion. Skinny. Dark hair. Wore Levi’s and a blue work shirt.”

  “That narrows it down to ten or twelve thousand people within a hundred miles.”

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