Welcome to my world. My real world. The one that holds my heart. The world of Country Justice.
I always like to know the story behind the story. Because I know there is one. Always. Writers claim their work’s fictional and mostly it is, but in its center—something happened somewhere, sometime, someplace, in that writer’s life that triggered it. The story behind Country Justice? Where did Turkey Creek, Rockland County, Georgia come from? I know the places of Country Justice because I live there. I know the characters of Country Justice because I’m part of them and they are part of me. Oh, they’re not real characters, of course. Not really. They’re bits and pieces of here and there, now and then, this and that, mixed and mingled to produce the other.
Nor are the locations real. Exactly. Every small town, southern or not, are microcosms of society, a miniature little world wherein everybody knows everybody else’s business, heritage, secrets, what they had for supper, their usual bedtime. It’s a patchwork quilt, sewn together into a sturdy fabric, stitched with a strong thread of familiarity.
In that world, everybody knows Maggie Kincaid hasn’t spoken to her father in twenty-five years. They know Billy Brayton died twenty-five years back. An accident in basic training, it was, and a damn shame, too, that boy was one of the finest football players ever to come out of Rockland County, even if he was kinda rough around the edges. Too bad nobody told Billy. See, there’s a gray Mustang coming lickety-split over the hill, the driver’s Billy and guess what, folks? He ain’t dead. Turkey Creek doesn’t know what’s about to hit it.
The seeds of the plot for this book made some faint murmurs a long, long time ago. But they didn’t blossom until my son-in-law, a K-9 Deputy Sheriff for my home county, told me a story. A story with some striking similarity to the opening scene of Country Justice. Come visit, why don’t you?
Clayton Chapel loomed out of the darkness, caught in the spear of the patrol cruiser’s headlights. Deputy Alec Wimberly left the engine running per protocol and got out to do his obligatory night check walk-around, eyes open for stray teenagers. Clayton Chapel’s reputation drew them like magnets. He ran the flashlight’s beam around the dark windows of the second floor. And froze. For just a moment.
He raced hell bent for leather back to the car and scrambled in. The cruiser careened down the country road in a flurry of squealing wheels and flying gravel. He didn’t look back. If he looked back, he’d see it. He knew he would. The silhouette of a little girl in banana curls, backlit in the window. Pounding organ music still rang in his ears.
He slowed just enough to negotiate a wide turn onto Highway 96. Back on the asphalt, he could pretend it never happened. He checked the speedometer and eased off the gas. Or tried to. For a moment his foot, lead on the pedal, wouldn’t obey. He reached to his shoulder and hit the send button on his radio phone.
“Rockland 19, back on patrol from property check at Clayton Chapel.”
“Ten-four Rockland 19.” Dispatcher Aileen Sanders hesitated. “You okay, Nineteen? You sound kinda funny.”
“Fine. Nineteen out.” His heart rate slowed. I didn’t see anything. I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear anything, and I’m never gonna see it again. Because I ain’t goin’ back there alone. Ever.