The Turbyfield family was like many whose various homes dotted the landscape of Blount County’s foothills. The Turbyfield’s lived on a fifteen acre family tract on the homestead of an elderly grandparent with various degrees of children and grandchildren living either on the property or nearby. Johnny was raised by his grandmother due to the divorce of his mother and father when he was very young. His father, who was a Sparks, claimed Johnny wasn't his, so his mother, Imogene Turbyfield, gave Johnny the Turbyfield name. His relationship with his mother was more like the relationship with a friend or an older sister. Considering Imogene was only sixteen years older than Johnny, it was difficult for him, in any case, to think of her as a parent.
Because of Imogene’s lifestyle – she partied continuously – Eloise Turbyfield - Johnny’s grandmother - intervened early to make sure Johnny’s future prospects were more solid than his mother’s or his absent long distance trucker father. Her decision was sound. Johnny was a “B+” student in high school and received a fully paid two year scholarship to the local technical college where he earned an associate degree in medical technology.
When Johnny was ten, Imogene’s Toyota was struck in the rear by a maintenance truck from the nearby ALCOA mill. Through the efforts of a good trial attorney, Imogene received an annuity for life. Imogene, her doublewide, and twenty acres she bought with a portion of the settlement, were less than two miles away from Johnny and his grandmother. Even though her emotional support was sporadic, Imogene was always willing to help Johnny financially. All in all, the Turbyfields were relatively happy. Grandma Eloise ruled the roost and Imogene had done little to interfere with the arrangement. Johnny was the favorite of his various aunts and uncles and basked gloriously in their attention.
On holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, he made no less than five stops where fawning family members made sure he had a plate or two to take home for him and grandmother to share. Johnny was always a cheerful young man, indeed, he had no reason not to be.
His supervisor and co-workers at the hospital held him in high regard and one of the more prominent surgeons had recently made Johnny an offer to become her office manager and chief medical assistant. Johnny was giving the offer serious thought, but not as serious as the thoughts he was giving a young respiratory therapist named Melinda Tefeteller.
Johnny and Melinda had known each other almost since infancy. They had gone through all grades of school together and were close friends and confidants. It was only recently, when Melinda had started dating a pre-med student at the University of Tennessee that Johnny realized his feelings for Melinda went deeper than mere friendship. Moving fast, Johnny let Melinda know how he felt and to his great surprise found out that she felt exactly the same about him – but had about given up any hope that Johnny would show any interest in her. Both of them made a pact to become engaged to become engaged. Neither felt that they were in a financial position to tie the knot – at least not yet…
Johnny was thinking about Melinda as he drove his truck east out the Walland Highway towards the Hubbard Community after working his shift. Turning left on the Old Walland Highway, Johnny made another left turn prior to the one lane concrete bridge that crossed the meandering Crooked Creek. Less than a mile up Century Road, Johnny arrived at the old Century Presbyterian Church. The cemetery was behind the church. The moon was out and not far in the distance, Johnny could clearly see the outline of Chilhowee Mountain to his east. This comforting visual reference eased his mild apprehension about being in a cemetery so late at night.
Taking a small hand spade, the severed potato, and a flashlight, Johnny began searching for his great uncle Sam Turbyfield’s grave. When he finally found it, the time was a quarter until midnight. It didn’t take Johnny long to dig a hole over Uncle Sam’s grave that was large enough for his chopped potato. Looking at his watch Johnny waited until it was precisely midnight and buried the potato. As he muttered the last “amen” of his three repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Johnny felt a cold breeze coming in his direction. He also heard what sounded like voices – little girl’s voices. Johnny broke out in goose bumps and began to shudder. Just the wind and the sudden change in temperature, he thought. His apprehension immediately returned when he heard the voices again – this time coming from another area of the cemetery near it’s corner and to the left. He shined his light towards the voices and to his wonderment stood three girls that looked between the ages of ten and twelve.
“What are you girls doing out in the cemetery at this time of night? Do your parents know where you are?” Johnny spoke loudly more to assure himself of the reality of his situation than any other reason. Something was wrong with this situation and Johnny couldn’t figure out what.
The smallest of the little girls looked Johnny with big eyes, and then she said,
“Help us Johnny.”
“Help you do what?” Johnny asked – wondering how she knew his name.
The same little girl more urgently said,
“You’ve got to help us Johnny.” It was like she had not heard him.
Johnny moved closer and pointed his light towards the little girl doing the talking. This was some kind of joke he thought. His grandmother or his mother was playing a joke on him. They did that sometimes. They thought it was humorous that he followed his great aunt Zora’s home remedy prescriptions so fastidiously.
Johnny was so close he could nearly touch the little girls, but they seemed like they were fading away. He had never seen anything like it. He was becoming very frightened.
Before they totally disappeared, the little girl who had been doing all of the talking asked,
“Will you help us Johnny? We have been waiting on you for a long time. We know you can help us.” Her last sentence sounded more like a pitiful wail that a voice. Before Johnny could reply, the girls faded away completely. Scared, Johnny nearly busted his knee on a tombstone getting out of the cemetery...his throat was constricted and he felt a tightness in the small of his back. Somehow he knew the unreal experience he had was very real indeed. If he could just make it home without wrecking the truck...
Cosby Quillen knew land. In his youth, barely 25, he once told a friend that he would rather have a real estate broker’s license than a law degree. During a short three year stint in the Army during the late sixties while his buddies were drinking beer and chasing girls during their off time, Cosby studied real estate texts – dreaming of the day when he would return to his native Sevier County, Tennessee and make his fortune. By the time he was thirty-three, he had made more money than most of his high school graduating class would see in a lifetime. The development boom in the tourist havens of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg was yet to happen. Cosby was positioned well when it exploded. His attitude about achieving his goals was to simply – make it happen. He disdained many of the traditions of the established real estate circles in the area and set out in his own direction. He was a rogue and liked to think of himself as one.
Cosby liked to own things. His needs and desires extended far beyond land, buildings, or motels. He liked to own people. In the hill country of Sevier County, Tennessee this was not hard to do. On one side were the “haves” who owned motels, theme parks, guest cabins, and other tourist related businesses, while on the other side were the “have nots.”
You might say the “have nots” were the support team that kept all the “haves” in business. It took a lot of people to be desk clerks, ticket sales clerks, maids, garbage workers, and an array of the various trades and skills necessary to keep a billion dollar tourist industry operating.
Cosby was charismatic. Even his enemies were swayed by his charm. Imagine Bill Clinton and you get an idea of the personality type that Cosby Quillen belonged to. Even approaching sixty he looked good. Time had been kind to him. He could still impress an eighteen year old with his money, his cars, and sometimes – his dope. He’d found that doing favors was the best way to influence young unfocused minds to persuade them into his bed, running one his condo complexes, or wiping the counter in one of his restaurants. Cosby kept tabs and always made sure the favors were returned.
Now he didn’t pay these people great salaries – he didn’t believe in that, but he did things for his employees to keep them from going somewhere else. He’d front the down payment on a car or provide a temporary free room at one of his many motels. Over several years of doing this and reaping the benefits – many had a loyalty to Cosby Quillen that was similar to the loyalty that existed between old Sicilian immigrants and mafia dons.
Cosby had little respect for the law. He considered police not as servants of the people, but as his servants. He kept a record of birthdays, anniversaries, and key events on many of the key police officials not only in Sevier County as well as the other areas where he had substantial business interests. Cosby considered gifts, short-term interest free loans, and tickets to sporting events and theme parks, part of the investment necessary to keep law enforcement happy.
This attitude also extended to lawyers. Cosby had a first team and a second team of attorneys. The first team he kept very close. These guys and Cosby were very tight - sort of like the gang that were Elvis's closest confidants.. They did not receive standard attorney compensation, but got breaks on investment opportunities in Quillen Enterprises. Most of their activities, if fully known, would probably have resulted in their disbarment.
The second team of attorneys were traditional lawyers who had great reputations and made Quillen’s schemes and sometimes questionable deals look palatable to the public – forget that – palatable to judges, county planning commissions, or others in authority who might be curious.
Totally disarming, Cosby Quillen had a host of people convinced that he was their best friend. During the time he was exposed to them – he was. Even though, as a rule, he despised most people. Over half of the Sevier County Planning Commission were obligated in some shape or form to Cosby Quillen. They all considered themselves intimates - even though Cosby had to be reminded of their names. He once said jokingly, Everybody in Sevier County is an Ogle, Maples, Reagan, or a Millsaps. How in the hell do you keep track? Cosby kept track very well. His slurred slow speech and mountain manner were a very well cultivated act.
He treated his family as if they were employees, which was natural because most of them were. His own mother had died on the midnight shift clerking in one of his motels. She didn’t have time to make it to her room where she kept her nitroglycerin tablets. Quillen wouldn’t let any of the motel employees take the time off to attend her funeral. His children hated him, but stayed close fearing what dad would do if he really became pissed at them.
Cosby loved the power he had over people. It was sexual. He would test people to see how far their loyalty extended. He was capable of anything. Cosby James Quillen was a sociopath of the first order.
The paths of Johnny Turbyfield and Cosby Quillen were soon going to cross. It would be a nightmare for both of them…
Rick Wilson’s log cabin had a clear view of Rich Mountain. He had three bedrooms, a finished basement, a designer kitchen, two baths and an impressive deck. As a Blount County deputy sheriff, he couldn’t afford any of it. Fortunately, a few years back, in his other life as a sports journalist, he had married well – even though the marriage was short-lived. When the marriage broke up, his ex was happy to relinquish the cabin.
Mary Beth Oliver hated the outdoors, ticks, campfires, and various critters walking on the deck at night. The trendy Knoxville suburb of Sequoyah Hills was more her style. Her parents had been happy to take her back into the fold when she and Rick’s marriage went south. Rick hadn’t heard a word from her since the divorce papers were signed three years previously.
This particular morning Rick did not have to report into his shift as early as he usually did. He had to give testimony later on that morning concerning a hunter he had recently nabbed in the south end of the county in a community near the Abrams Creek Ranger Station in the national park. The hunter had been illegally poaching black bears to the extent that he had a butcher shop set up in his garage where he sold bear meat, moonshine, and a little marijuana. Rick had gathered enough evidence to put the fellow away for twenty years; however he doubted the guy would get three years. He might not serve any time at all. Juries in Blount County were still composed mainly of old white men and women who still remembered the days when their “daddies” used to bear hunt.
Pulling his unmarked Tahoe into a small restaurant which sat besides the Little River in Townsend, Tennessee, Rick noticed the Lincoln Navigator occupying two parking spots. He recognized the car. It belonged to Ed Cable, a local developer. He almost pulled back out to go somewhere else. Rick hated Cable. As far as Rick was concerned, Cable was scum. Townsend used to be a beautiful mountain community before Cable and other low life developers had gotten their hooks into it.
Rumor had it that the former county mayor had loaded the Blount County Planning Commission with retards like Cable and had received enough kickbacks to insure her retirement when she eventually was forced out of office. Cable had ruined more pristine mountain property with cheaply constructed houses than strip mines had ruined West Virginia.
“Hey ‘deputy dog,’ how’s it hanging?” Cable’s smirk showed his mutual dislike for Rick.
Rick didn’t hide his feelings about Cable’s wanton destruction of the local environment, and had nailed Cable on every infraction he observed the developer committing. On one occasion he arrested no less than six of Cable’s uncle’s dump truck drivers for not holding valid operator’s licenses. This action resulted in Cable having no one to bring fill dirt to one of his new subdivisions for several days. Cable had tried to “back door” Rick by making a complaint to the Sheriff. This backfired on Cable resulting in five more drivers working on another Cable development being arrested for the same offense.
Rick ignored Cable’s sarcastic greeting and wandered over to another part of the restaurant, greeting several people along the way. He spied young Johnny Turbyfield sitting by himself and took a seat at the same table. Rick had played on the same softball team with Johnny. Soon, he and the younger man had become good friends. Rick noticed Turbyfield did not look very cheerful this morning.
“What’s up with you Johnny? You look like your best friend died. Are you and Melinda fighting? Rick knew that Melinda – like all the Tefetellers – had a temper.
“Naw, we’re getting along just fine, Rick,” Johnny made the comment without a great deal of enthusiasm.
“Well, what’s the problem boy? It can’t be something that you can’t tell your old “uncle” Rick is it? You didn’t rob a convenience store or something, did you?”
Johnny gave a small grin and said, “You know I wouldn’t ever do something like that, Rick.” Then he paused, looked at Rick in a strange way and asked,
“Rick have you ever had warts?” Rick thought to himself, this is going to be an interesting conversation!
On the other side of the restaurant, Ed Cable worked on his country ham, biscuits, and “red eye” gravy. His doctor had recommended a milder diet, but what the hell, Ed figured, that’s why God made cholesterol medicine… Looking out the window, Ed saw his sons, Rowdy and Brat, drive up in Rowdy’s Lexus. These were not their given names, but Ed, much to their mother’s dismay, had fixed the nicknames on them when they were toddlers.
“You boys want some breakfast? The ham’s good this morning.” Ed dipped his biscuit in the bowl of red eye gravy next to his plate.
“No daddy, we already ate in Maryville. We got up here as soon as we could as soon as we got your message.” Brat generally did all the talking for the two – especially in the mornings. Sometimes Brat believed that Rowdy didn’t know what world he was in until at least noon. Rowdy’s substance abuse issues were escalating.
“Boys, we are damn sure set on making some big money. I got a call last night from Cosby Quillen and he wants to go into a joint venture with us on a piece of property off Blockhouse Road. He doesn’t own it yet, but he assures me it’s only a matter of time.”
Brat looked at his dad and said, “What is the “joint” part of this joint venture?”
“Don’t get ahead of me, Brat. I’ve got to do some things and Cosby has to do some things.” Right now the problem is getting the county and the state to build a nice road to the property. I’ve talked to Rob Young on the Blount County Planning Commission and he told me that with the right amount of “consideration” he thought he could convince his buddies in the state to pull it off.”
“What do we get out of it Dad?”
“We get to subcontract on everything. Quillen will be the general contractor of course, but he would make his share off the sales. We do all the construction.”
"What do we have to give Quillen, Daddy?" Brat asked
"Oh - just some help in getting the land owners to sell. I'll take care of that. You boys don't have to get involved."
“How many homes, Dad?” Rowdy had just woke up.
“Well you are with us, aren’t you Rowdy? Boys were looking at about 800 homes built on quarter acre lots.”
“God, we can all retire!” exclaimed Rowdy.
“That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking boys. Besides when the lawsuits begin, it would be much better if we and our families were safely in Costa Rica…”
The boys laughed, but they knew their dad wasn’t joking.
At Johnny and Rick’s table, Rick was scratching his head pondering the strange story Johnny Turbyfield had just told him.
“You won’t tell anybody else about this will you Rick? I’d be laughed out of Blount County.” Johnny knew before he asked the question that he didn’t have anything to worry about. He just needed reassurance from Rick.
“You know I won’t tell anybody, Johnny. I’m not sold that the girls you saw were ghosts, but I have no doubt that you saw and heard something. I’m going to take some time and check things out.”
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