The following are a couple chapters from my mystery suspense novels "Blue Hole" and a sequel "River's Edge" which have received over (300) four and five star reviews. ☂
In River's Edge I aged Dub (12) and brother Tommy (15) by 50 years and made them Grandfathers who take their Grandsons to Blue Hole where a murder occurred the last time they were there in 1949. They become a family of cold case detectives. It's not easy to solve a (50) year old murder but they prove to be up for the task. Blue Hole has gotten 42,000 downloads and it's FREE.
Blue Hole is based on Rolland Love’s experiences growing up in the Ozark Mountains; however, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the novel.
Cover Design Cheryl Moon
Blue Hole and the SEQUEL, River's Edge, are mystery suspense novels written for YA also enjoyed by all ages.
The story is based on a tale my grandfather told about a murder where a body was found floating in a swimming hole down river from where I lived during the summer and helped my Uncle run a fishing camp. The name Blue Hole comes from the sky blue color of a deep pool of water where a spring branch runs into the Jacks Fork river from the mouth of a cave. Jacks Fork was named one of the most scenic float and fishing streams in the world by Life Magazine.
Amazon Kindle —Featured Author Review— Rolland Love “Love’s writing transfigures his Ozark Mountains stories into a series of fantastic tales Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer could have only dreamed of.”
“Mark Twain would have loved this excellent adventure of two brothers. Doc has disappeared and it’s up to Tommy (15) and Dub (12) to go to the Blue Hole and see if they can find him. This is a story about growing up. About facing your fears and standing up to them and about doing the right thing even when everything inside you wants to turn and run. This story has everything. The dreaded Conner brothers, Buzzard Thompson, ghost, snakes, cave, bats and dead bodies everywhere. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this masterfully constructed story.” Jonathan David Masters, Freelance Reviewer
“I have read a number of Rolland Love’s stories set in the Ozark Mountains and they are all nostalgic, and entertaining. I would recommend his writings to parents who want to show their children the pure joy of living experienced by kids growing up in a simpler place and time. By Dave Hargis, Vantage Point Productions
“Glad to hear River's Edge a sequel is in the works. I read Blue Hole to my boys this summer on a gravel bar on Current River, really spooked them for a while! This is a Great book.” Jim McCarty, Editor - Rural Missouri Magazine
"To understand Overland Park writer Rolland Love, think Mark Twain." Nick Kowalczyk, The Kansas City Star.
Under a full moon with a blazing fire and the sounds of night creatures, two brothers are camped on the bank of an Ozark Mountain river. They are all alone except for what is floating in the Blue Hole behind their tent.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by a scream from the back bedroom. A man with a deep loud voice shouted, “I’ve got to have hot water now.”
From the kitchen a woman yelled, “Water’s on the cook stove!”
My dog Trouser came over and licked my bare foot. I sat up on the side of the bed, rubbed my eyes and draped a wool blanket around my shoulders. I slid out of bed and walked across a cold hardwood floor.
“What are you doing up, Tommy?” Aunt Mille asked, as she rushed past me with an armload of towels and a sheet draped over her shoulder. Her long, blue cotton dress made a swishing sound as the hem dragged across the floor. Before I could say anything, I found myself standing at the bedroom door. The scene was strange and scary, like something in a dream.
Sitting on white wicker tables, one on each side of my mother and father’s bed, were kerosene lamps with thick yellow flames dancing inside glass mantles. The outlines of the people in the room cast dark shadows on the bedroom walls. The smell of burning oil permeated the air. I backed up when I saw a tall, broad-shouldered man with bushy white hair standing at the foot of the bed. My heart began to pound when I realized who it was.
“Push. Push.” Doc Barnes shouted, his deep voice rumbled like thunder. My mother grunted loudly as if she were trying to lift something that was too heavy each time Doc raised his hands in the air like a conductor.
Aunt Mille hurried over and gave me a nudge. “Go back to bed, Tommy. This is not something a little kid should see.”
I looked around when the front door banged open against the living room wall. My Dad rushed in carrying an armload of wood. The cold chill of a winter wind that followed him snuffed out the flame of a candle burning on the coffee table. A half- dozen icicles blew off the Christmas tree and landed on top of presents wrapped in shiny red and gold paper.
“What you doin’ up, Son?” Dad asked, as he dumped the wood in a box beside the black cast- iron stove and brushed pieces of bark from the front of his bib overalls. He opened the stove door and pitched a cedar log in on top of a glowing bed of coals.
“Best you go back to bed. Get ol’ Trouser under the covers. You’ll both stay warmer. There’ll be a nice surprise for you come morning. I hope.” I looked up at Dad towering over me and began to cry. He closed the stove door, picked me up and carried me into my bedroom. Aunt Mille and a lady with bright red hair named Eleanor who lived in town came out of the kitchen with two steaming pails of hot water. They went into my mother’s bedroom and closed the door.
Dad sat for a spell and told me a story and as usual, before he finished, I drifted off to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I lay in my bed and patted Trouser as he looked up at me with big brown eyes. I was trying to sort out if all of the commotion the night before was real or my imagination when I heard a baby cry. My brother Dwayne, later nicknamed Dub, had been born a few minutes past midnight on Christmas Day, December 25, l939. Doc Barnes carried him outside and rolled him in the snow because he was not breathing. The shock of the cold did the trick and brought him around.
Dub became the center of attention from the moment he popped out into the world and I swear nothing has changed since.
Later—I mean a lot later—when Dub was twelve and I was fifteen. I awoke to the sound of Dub’s voice ringing in my ears as he leaned over my bed and yelled at me to get up so we could hurry downstairs to eat.
“We’ve got to get out of the house!” He grabbed his shoes from the seat of a battered old wicker chair and looked at me with steely blue eyes. “Before it’s too late!”
He jerked a red plaid shirt from a hanger in the closet, gave me a squint-eyed grin and disappeared through the bedroom door.
I raised my head up off the pillow and looked toward the open door. “Come back here, Dub!” I yelled as I plopped my head back down, picked up a corner of the bed sheet and wiped the sweat from my eyes.
The little rat was always on the move. Hurry Up would have been a better nickname for him, instead of Dub.
I needed to talk to him about what not to say to Mom. Sure as the world, she would try to stop us from going to our favorite camping spot on the Oak River—a deep pool of cool, spring-fed water called the Blue Hole. She had to let us go. I could probably make her understand why it was so important, if Dub did not mess things up.
I raised my head up off the pillow again when I heard one of Dub’s heavy leather brogans crash down the stairs and hit the floor with a thud. Oh great, I thought, knowing how Mom’s tolerance for loud noise was poor at best, especially early in the morning.
“Put them shoes on next time,” Mom yelled at Dub from the kitchen. “That’s a good way to trip an’ fall.”
“I was in a hurry,” Dub said, as he stomped on down the creaky wooden stairs. I strained an ear to hear what Mom would say after Dub told her his shoes were hard to put on because they were still wet. He slipped on a moss-covered rock the day before and fell into the spring branch that ran through the lower part of our yard, a couple of hundred feet or so to the south of our white two- story farmhouse that overlooked the Oak River.
“Wet? What do you mean wet?” Mom said, raising her voice. “Those shoes are brand-new. They’ve got to last all school year long.”
“Dub, would you come up here, please?” I pleaded loudly enough for him to hear, while trying not to sound desperate. I might as well have shouted into the wind.
Bang! I could not believe he let the back porch screen door slam shut. He was such a smart kid most of the time. Then he would turn right around and act as if he had the mind of a toad.
Dubs right about one thing, I thought, when I heard the clock on the fireplace mantle in the living room clang out six loud chimes. We needed to get a move on for sure. It would be mid-afternoon by the time Dad hauled us to the river trail and we hiked to the Blue Hole.
Once we reached the river, we would have a bunch of stuff to do. First thing would be to take a swim to get ourselves cooled down after a long sweaty hike through the woods. Then we would unpack our gear, set up the tent and head downstream to do some fishing.
Being good fishermen, we would clean our catch, gather some wood and start a cooking fire. By the time we got the fish and potatoes fried for dinner, it would be close to dark and only a couple of hours before we dragged our tired bodies off to bed.
A chorus of night sounds would sing us to sleep. There would be crickets chirping and bellowing bullfrogs setting on the bank, or sprawled out on the top of floating green lily pads, back in the slough. The lonesome call of a whippoorwill would echo off of a bluff that towered two hundred feet above us. I heard Doc Barnes say the Blue Hole was a majestic stone monument millions of years in the making. Hidden away in the shadows animals would watch us with eyes that sparkled like foxfire when they ventured too close and caught the reflection of our campfire. Late at night there would be snakes on the prowl: big cottonmouths swimming back and forth like sentries across the silvery, moonlit surface of the deep dark water— assigned to guard against Dub or me leaving our tent. Normally, it would not have bothered me so badly to camp at the Blue Hole, Dub and I all by ourselves. So many strange things had happened lately that my mind had gotten out of kilter and caused my imagination to run wild. As if the situation with Doc Barnes, who mysteriously disappeared a month earlier, were not enough, I was headed back to the place where I got snake bit the summer before. Plus the moon would be full. Strange things happen during a full moon. I remembered the night Buzzard Thompson went on his shotgun rampage. The moon was full then, too.
When I sat up on the side of the bed, I noticed Dub had turned over to a new calendar page. September, l950: the picture at the top of the page was an outdoor scene of an old man and a hunting dog on the bank of a woods pond facing into the setting sun. It reminded me of Doc and his big red- boned hound, Lucky.
I thought of what Doc told me about ponds and lakes being the eyes of the earth, as I stared into the calendar picture at the mirrored surface of the water, colored reddish-purple and gold.
Still looking at the calendar, I wondered why Dub would do such a thing. He knew good and well I liked to turn up the next page at the end of each month. Why irritate the only person he would have contact with for the next three days in a remote section of the Ozark Mountains? A wilderness can be a lonely place when your only friends are nothing more than a bunch of insects, snakes and wild animals.
Dub acting up was only a part of what caused me to get an uneasy start on the day. I tossed and turned half of the night in a sweat-soaked bed trying to escape the slithering snake demons that haunted me in my dreams.
I slipped into my jeans and a faded denim work shirt laying on a nightstand beside my bed, and wiggled my feet into a pair of brown leather moccasins. My Aunt Maude, who lived in Arizona, sent the shoes for my fifteenth birthday the week before.
Heading for the kitchen, I stopped at the head of the stairs when I caught my reflection in a large wall mirror in a pine knot frame. Funny how a person can feel so jumbled up inside and still look as if nothing’s wrong on the outside, I thought. I turned my head to one side and moved forward for a closer look.
I thought about how many people compared the way I looked to my Dad, and it made me feel proud. I had his same square jaw, dark curly hair and rugged looks. Even the dimple in my chin flattened out when I smiled, like his. Not only was he smart when it came to book learning and things, he understood the ways of Mother Nature and how she taught the wild creatures to live in perfect harmony with the earth.
I rubbed the peach fuzz on my chin, and decided I would shave for the first time ever after Dub and I got back from our camping trip—if we actually got to go. I wanted to show up first day of school on Monday morning looking real spiffy. I needed to make a good impression on Lucy Denton. I hoped she would give me a chance to be something more than a friend. It seemed she started to like me more than usual the last couple of weeks before school let out for summer. I guess it was the kiss good-bye under the big oak tree caused my feelings to act up the way they did. Funny how one little thing turned my whole world upside down and caused me to think about her every day. Fact is my thoughts about Lucy were pretty much the only good things happened to me the three long months she was away.
What concerned me a little was Lucy went to visit her Aunt in St. Louis for the summer. I had not heard word one from her in all that time. I hoped the big city ways did not cause her to change. I liked her the way she was, soft red hair and big blue- green eyes that sparkled when she smiled at me. She smiled a lot.
“Come on, Tommy,” Dub yelled up the stairs. “What you doin’ up there anyhow? Let’s eat.”
Everyone was seated and waiting for me so grace could be said when I walked into the kitchen.
I met a glare with a glare when I pulled a red wooden chair out from under the table and plopped down into the seat. I was sick and tired of Dub greeting me at breakfast every morning by sticking out his tongue. It would not have been so bad if he didn’t flick it in and out like a snake testing the air for danger.
“You seem anxious to eat,” I said to Dub as I nodded my head at Dad and looked around the table at the spread of food. “This sure looks good, Mom.” I gave her an extra-big smile.
Crusted brown biscuits were stacked up next to a gray stone crock filled with thick dark gravy. Hard fried eggs with crispy edges shared a big white platter with sausage and ham. A tub of butter and a jar of combed honey were in the center of the table, one on each side of a pitcher of milk.
“Let’s eat,” Dub said as he picked up his fork and looked around the table wild-eyed as he tried to decide what he should haul onto his plate first. I knew what he was up to. He hoped to get past the ritual of saying grace. A quick hard stare from Mom delivered the message his plan would not work.
“I had the worst nightmares last night,” I said. “After I was—”
“Come on Tommy, say grace. We need to get on the move.” Dub had messed with me again. He butted in when I was about to tell Mom about my snake dream, which was one of the big reasons I needed to go camp out at the Blue Hole. I was going to tell her how I thought it might help me to face my fears. Which was what Doc said I needed to do. Mom respected what he said—a lot.
“You say grace, Dub. It’s your turn. You haven’t done it forever,” I said, narrowing my eyes. Finally, I turned to Mom for support after my attempt to stare Dub down did not even make him blink.
Mom straightened up in her chair and gave the two of us a disgusted look. “You boys best calm down. I won’t stand you bein’ plumb out of control.”
I figured she would jump onto us right then and there about the camping trip and flat-out say the whole thing was called off. Instead, she went on with the prayer.
“I’ll say grace this time. From now on, you boys will take turns. Next turn’s yours, Dwayne Benson.”
Mom always called Dub by his real name, when he got her upset. So she called him Dwayne Benson pretty often.
“Lord, please watch over Doc Barnes and bring him home safe. He’s a good man. He’s helped a lot of people. We need him with us a little longer, Lord.” Mom’s voice held a quiver as her true feelings for Doc came out.
I bit my lip and fought back the tears, partly because of my feelings for Doc, but more right then because I felt sorry for Mom. Her family raised Doc after his parents were struck down at an early age by, of all things, eating poison mushrooms. So Mom, having grown up with Doc, took his disappearance hard.
I glanced up as a tear slid down Mom’s cheek, and quickly looked away. Even though her face was drawn with sadness she still looked pretty sitting there. The early morning sun was shining through the kitchen window onto her reddish brown hair.
Mom closed the prayer by asking the Lord to please keep a close watch on Dub and me. She grabbed the tail of her apron, blotted the corner of her eyes, regained her composure and smiled.
After what she said about the Lord watching over us, I thought we might have escaped any further discussion regarding Doc and the camping trip and we were about to be set free. In the next breath she turned on us as if she was just getting us prepared for the worst. “You know what concerns me about you boys’ trip?” Mom said with a stern voice. “It’s the Blue Hole. That’s where the Patterson boy said Doc told him he was headed. No one’s seen Doc since.”
I scooted up to the edge of my chair and jumped to our defense. “You can’t believe Bobby Patterson.” My voice cracked. “He’s a wild storyteller. He’s the one told stuff about Lucy Denton. I know for a fact she’s one of the most....”
“Tommy. Tommy.” Dad reached over and patted me on the shoulder.
“What?” I blurted out, took a deep breath and sat back in my chair.
“Calm down, Son. We can discuss this civilized- like, okay?”
I looked down at my lap and cleared my throat. “All I know is Bobby Patterson’s as windy as the month of March. Every kid in school will say the same.”
“Okay, Son,” Dad said. “Your mother’s got a good point though. The Blue Hole is a long ways from home.”
Dad was stopped before he could say anything else by a near-death experience. In an attempt to Hog down a big bite of sausage, stacked up on his fork with an inch-thick pile of fried egg, Dub had gotten choked, really bad.
With a violent cough, he sprayed a chewed-up trail of white, yellow and brown food chunks down the front of his overalls and out onto the kitchen table. A moist little yellow piece about the size of a pea landed by the edge of my plate, and I flicked it back. I smiled at him when I pointed at the bloody spot on the back of my hand, where I smashed a mosquito while sitting on the edge of the bed looking at the new calendar page he turned over.
Looking for quick relief, Dub grabbed for his glass and turned over the drink. A pool of milk spread across the table and began to drip through a crack in the middle, sounding like rain falling on the roof as it dribbled onto the blue and white linoleum floor.
Hunter, the old gray and white tomcat curled up back in a corner behind the wood stove leaped up and scrambled toward the milk.
I picked up my glass real quick like, and guzzled down the milk to the last drop when Dub started to grab it. He gave me a dirty look that showed a chipped front tooth, caused by a fall from the hayloft when he was showing off as usual. He jumped up and headed for the water bucket beside the washbasin and picked up the wooden dipper. Water spilled from the corners of his mouth and dripped off his chin as he guzzled down a big long drink.
His coughing fit under control, he walked back to the table, jerked his chair back, plopped himself down, picked up his fork and as if nothing out of the ordinary ever happened, he began to eat.
“You look pale, Dub.” I tried to sound as sympathetic as I could be. “Are you okay?”
I looked around when I heard Dad clear his throat and saw a frown that wiped away my grin.
“If I’d wanted to eat with a pig, I’d be out in the Hog lot,” Dad said, as he forked a bite of gravy- covered biscuit into his mouth and washed it down with a gulp of black coffee. “It doesn’t take much talent to shovel down food.”
“Sorry,” Dub said pitifully, sounding like he had a mouth full of marbles.
Dad sat up straight in his chair and ran his fingers back through his dark wavy hair. “Your mother’s sure right about one thing. You boys best calm down before you bust a gut. It goes double for you, Dub.”
With a big gulp and raised eyebrows, Dub called up one of his well-practiced hangdog expressions and moaned, “I’m sorry as can be, Dad. I surely am.”
I did not like to see Dub get into trouble. But, if trouble did not slap him upside the head every once in awhile, he would live to entertain himself and most of the time it would be at my expense.
Mom’s nostrils flared as she squinted her eyes and stared at Dub. “Let’s eat in peace now, okay, Son? Lord knows that’s what we need now more than anything.”
Except for a couple of fake coughs and Dub clearing his throat six or eight times, nothing else but some serious eating took place. Dub scooped up the final smear of apple butter on his plate with the last piece of his biscuit. He put his hands on the edge of the table and asked to be excused. He was hoping to push away from the table and get out of the house quickly to avoid any further discussion of Doc and the camping trip.
I shook my head and looked up at the ceiling, knowing his plan would never work.
“No, you can’t,” Dad said as he glanced over at Mom and she nodded back at him.
“How come?” Dub asked softly.
“Because your mother hasn’t had all her say, Dwayne. That’s the reason how come. Go on Elsia, you’ve got the floor.”
Mom looked at me and sighed. “Why the Blue Hole, Tommy? Why there of all places?”
“I’ve got a good reason why I want to go to the Blue Hole,” I said.
Mom looked deep into my eyes. “What if trouble found you up there in that Wilderness? You know how dangerous that country can be. There’d be no way on God’s green earth for you to get help if you got hurt. Camp someplace closer to home.”
While I was debating about what I should say next, Dub jumped into the conversation like a hound dog leading the pack. “Come on, Mom! Me an’ Tommy can take care of our own self. You know we can.”
There was a long silence, during which time Mom looked down at her plate and uttered a groan. Time was running out. I needed to say something convincing and do it quick.
“Well,” I said, as I looked around the room while I tried to think of what might save us.
Like a miracle, Dub blurted out a showstopper. “I’ve got to go, Mom. Tommy promised we’d camp at the Blue Hole all summer long. It’s my last chance ever before school starts.”
Mom threw her hands up in the air. “Okay, but I’ve got a powerful uneasy feeling something’s not right.” Dad, Dub and I anxiously waited to hear the reason. After a long pause, Mom said, “It’s ‘cause of a dream I had last night—a strong premonition.”
Oh, no, I said to myself, as my hopes sank. When Mom got one of her ill feelings, or sightings, as I heard her call the mystic occurrences, more times than not, something awful happened.
Everyone knew when she got a sign; it was time to give serious thought to her warning. Doc himself even said if Mom felt something might go wrong a body best watch out, because it probably would. Doc claimed a few people did have those kinds of powers to be able to foresee what might happen in the future, and Mom was one of those who were gifted.
She made a believer of me when she sensed something was wrong at Buzzard Thompson’s house even before Sheriff Johnson found the bodies. Mom was not like a witch or anything. She referred to it as being a gift from the Divine Creator.
“What did you see?” I asked, as I swallowed the lump in my throat, wishing I did not have to know.
She turned her head and stared at the dogwood tree outside the kitchen window, whose leafy branches swayed as if to wave back at her when there was a sudden gust of wind.
“A doll,” she said, without turning her head. “It was hanging in a tree by the edge of a tall bluff.”
“A doll hanging in a tree?” I said.
“Yes,” Mom said. “I heard water crashing over rocks in the river below.”
“That’s not so bad, is it?” I said, thinking if there was nothing more we might be home free.
Mom looked at me and shook her head. “A voice from above warned me not to go any further.” Dub threw his head back and started to act like his cocky self again. “What’s it got to do with us?”
“You boys were standin’ in front of the tree. Pale as a couple of ghosts, eyes wide and faces sweaty.”
Were doomed now, I thought as I looked at Dub and he frowned. We sat quietly for some time while giving our mother’s divine message serious thought and proper respect, as it more than well deserved. However, without a spoken word, we two tough young country boys, who thought we knew everything there was to know about pretty much everything, especially when it came to getting along in the great outdoors, convinced ourselves she could not possibly be right all of the time. This allowed our foolish desire to go to the Blue Hole to win out over Mom’s long-term proven logic. In our infinite wisdom, we were able to break through her spell.
So what could possibly go wrong?
“There’s another good reason besides my promise to Dub,” I said, feeling like a mouse about to get caught in a trap when I saw Mom sit back in her chair and tighten her jaws.
“Just what might that be, Son?” she asked sternly.
I cleared my throat and wiped the sweat away from under my chin with the back of my hand. “I had a horrible dream last night. It was terrible. I’ve got to get rid of those snakes.”
“I’m sorry,” Mom said. “What’s that got to do with the camping trip?”
“Doc’s the one told me to do this.” I figured the use of his name right up front would be my best shot. “Remember what he said about me goin’ back to the Blue Hole?” Mom nodded and did not say a word. “He told me to go back to the place where I got bit. He said then I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. There would be no more bad dreams. Doc said I’d be facing my fears. That’s what I must do, he said.”
“Gosh, Tommy, you really think it would help?” Dub said. “If you camped at the Blue Hole with snakes all around?” Dub looked at Mom. “Tommy looked terrible this morning, wild-eyed and soaked with sweat. His face was scrunched up like he’d chomped down on a sour persimmon. He needs something done. That’s for sure. It keeps me worried. I can’t imagine how bad it is for him.”
I could not have hoped for a better reaction from Dub. I could tell by Mom’s expression he had made some serious headway toward helping our cause. When Mom talked to a person about something important, she always looked deep into their eyes. So I leaned forward and took a good long look into her sparkling brown eyes. “If Doc said it might work, I think there’s a good chance it could. Don’t you, Mom?”
“What about the big search for Doc with Uncle Ira’s hounds?” Dub said. “Those trackers would have found him and Lucky for sure, wouldn’t they, Dad? If they could have been found.”
Dad glanced at Mom and smiled. “Dub’s right, Elsia. Ira’s hounds would have sniffed out the slightest trace. I covered all that river country with Ira like we were sweepin’ a carpet. Between us and those dogs, we didn’t leave nary a stone not turned.”
“I can’t believe we’re not goin’,” Dub moaned, as he lowered his head. “Nothin’ can hurt Tommy and me. We’re tough as pine knots.”
“Hold it Dub,” Dad said, raising his voice. “Just hold it right there.”
Oh Lordy, I thought, figuring Dub had gone too far. To my surprise, instead of it being the end of the trail for Dub and I, Dad looked at Mom and said, “Elsia, I know you’re antsy about the boys takin’ this trip. They’re damn near grown men, especially Tommy. Couple more inches and he’ll be tall as me.”
Dub and I looked at one another with our mouths open. Not only had Dad come to our defense, it was the first time I heard him say anything about me being a man.
“Think of it this way, Elsia. If the boys don’t make it back, we’ll save a bundle on food alone.”
Dad folded his arms across his chest and sat back in the chair while he waited for a response. Mom bit her lower lip and looked away.
After a long pause, during which Mom fiddled with her napkin and looked up at the ceiling, probably consulting with a higher power, she turned to Dad and solemnly said, “All right, Dred Benson. You and your boys win. I’ve only got one last thing to say.”
“What’s that, Mother?” Dad said.
“I hope you’re not playin’ a game of chance with the Devil. If something dreadful happens, it’ll be a terrible burden for those of us left alive to pay. This is my final say about it, please be extra careful.”
END CHAPTER TWO BLUE HOLE - Love's Books - http://tinyurl.com/ogxxlup - Ozarkstories.com
This novel is based on Rolland Love’s experiences growing up in the Ozark Mountains; however, it is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work.
Cover Design by Paul Middleton
Shadow Dancer Images
Amazon Kindle – Featured Author Review – Rolland Love “Love’s writing transfigures his Ozark Mountains stories into a series of fantastic tales Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer could have only dreamed of and his style is compared to Mark Twain.”
"To understand Overland Park writer Rolland Love, think Mark Twain. Love’s stories are enjoyed by all ages." Nick Kowalczyk, The Kansas City Star.
Blue Hole and its sequel, River’s Edge, are two mystery suspense novels set in the Ozark Mountains. These adventure stories are enjoyable for all ages.
The story River’s Edge recounts a camping trip with my grandsons, Nick and Jake, and my brother Dub.
The location is the Blue Hole, on an Ozark Mountains stream where greyishblack snapping turtles bask on piles of driftwood, where cottonmouth water moccasin snakes slither across the surface of the river and fisherman stalk the illusive Smallmouth bass. Turkey Buzzards soar on thermals above towering limestone bluffs and cold spring water with the scent of ancient earth pours from the mouths of caves.
In this idyllic setting, I never imagined we would relive the horror of a murder committed at the Blue Hole the last time Dub and I were there in 1949, or that I would confront the bitterness between kinfolk buried in the deep cool spring fed river of my youth.
The journey began as a celestial call from a spring-fed river. The power of water brought me home. All I had to do was patch up a long-standing feud with my brother, stop thinking about the murders, and not give another thought to the old man who mysteriously appeared behind our tent in the middle of the night the last time we camped at the Blue Hole. I was that close to having the three best days of my life.
I left Kansas City with my grandsons Jake and Nick at sun up and at noon we arrived in Lewiston, a sleepy little river town deep in the Ozark Mountains. I stopped the car on the wooden bridge my Grandfather helped build in the early 1900s and hung my head out the window. I looked down at a pile of sun-bleached driftwood that had washed up against a concrete and stone support pillar. Basking in the late morning sun on a log close to the water was a greyishblack snapping turtle. Aware of our presence, the turtle stretched its neck out and raised his head.
“Wow, that’s a big snapper,” I said. Jake, the nine-year-old opened the back door and jumped out for a look. “Turtles are prehistoric, you know.”
“Yeah,” Nick, the twelve year old said as he stepped outside the car to check it out for himself. “They’ve been around 200 million years.”
“How do you know?” Jake asked.
“Saw it on TV. Read a story on the Internet.” Nick grabbed Jake’s hand and held it up in the air. “They got jaws powerful enough to bite off a finger, too.”
Jake jerked his hand away and gave Nick a shove. “That true, Papa?” he asked.
“It’s true. They’re tough, mean and fast. Mess with ‘em and they’ll bite ya.”
“That one’s the size of a steering wheel,” Jake said. “How big do they get?”
“Fifty pounds or better,” I said.
Jake ran his fingers through his silky black hair and brushed it away from his forehead. “That’s bigger than me. I hope one doesn’t crawl into our camp tonight.”
When Nick and I laughed, the turtle slid off the log into the water and disappeared under the pile of driftwood.
I squinted my eyes against the bright sun and gazed up the river at what looked like flecks of gold dancing on the surface of the rippling water. I took a deep breath and smiled. I had forgotten how sweet and fresh the air smells on a spring-fed Ozark river. I looked up and watched a half dozen turkey vultures circle overhead in the wide blue sky, big black birds the Ozark locals called Buzzards.
“My friends and I used to dive off of this bridge,” I said.
Nick tilted his head to one side and looked at me with questioning brown eyes. “Doesn’t look deep enough to me.”
I turned my head to the right and plain as day, I saw myself as a boy about Nick’s age standing on the bridge railing, waving at my friends who waited in the water below for me to take the plunge. I had a golden tan from a summer of outdoor fun; my blonde sun-streaked hair was blowing in the wind. I had forgotten how much Nick and I looked alike when I was his age.
“What did you say?” I asked when I looked around and saw Nick staring at me.
“I said was the water doesn’t look deep enough. What were you looking at, Papa?” Nick asked as he leaned over the edge of the railing and looked down at the water.
“Thinking about something, that’s all. The water was a lot deeper in the old days. Mother Nature filled in the hole with gravel. Any luck?" I yelled at a couple of kids under the bridge where an uprooted Cottonwood tree had washed against the bank and created a haven for fish.
"Got some goggle-eyes,” the taller of the two boys, who wore a straw hat, yelled back.
“Caught myself a nice Smallmouth bass," the kid wearing bib overalls and no shirt shouted as he held up a stringer with a half dozen fish flopping their tails back and forth.
"Nice mess of fish," I called down to the young fishermen. We waved goodbye and got back in the car.
“Can we catch some fish like that, Papa?” Jake asked.
“Sure, only ours will be bigger.”
I stopped at the end of the bridge and stared at a list of men’s names chiselled into a limestone rock.
“What are you looking at now?” Nick wanted to know.
“Your great-grandpa helped build this bridge.” I pointed at the cornerstone. “There’s his name at the top of a list of men who worked on the project. Tom Benson.”
“Looks like it’s been here forever,” Jake said. “I can hardly read some of the names.”
“Forever is about right. I used to ride across the bridge with Grandpa Tom in a hay wagon pulled by two black Belgian workhorses. ”
“How old were you?” Nick asked.
“Not quiet as old as Jake. Probably seven.”
As I drove down the main street of Lewiston I noticed there was a vacant lot where the church once stood. All that remained was a gravedigger's shed at the entrance to the cemetery.
I thought about the Halloween night I walked the tree-lined road that wove its way in and out of the tombstones. Sycamore trees that swayed back and forth in the light of a full moon looked like a congregation of ghosts. Halfway though I heard a noise that sounded like someone had scraped a knife blade across a whetstone to sharpen it up for some serious cutting. I ran so fast I fell down on the gravel road and cut my knee. When I got to the gate where my friends who dared me to take the spooky walk were waiting, I was shaking all over. It did not bother me that they laughed and laughed; I figured someday I would get revenge and eventually I did.
Now, I stopped the black Lincoln in front of my younger brother Dwayne’s house and turned off the key. Since he was nine years old, he had been “Dub” to everyone who knew him. He and his wife, Molly, walked out onto the front porch of their impressive-looking two-story log home and waved.
Even though he seemed healthy and fit, Dub’s curly blond hair had turned white since I saw him last. Molly still had the trim figure of a teenager. She wore a long, blue cotton dress, the color of the sky. They waved again and smiled as they started down the front steps. Instead of waving back, I looked down at a package lying on the floorboard that I had picked up the day before at the post office. It had my brother’s return address on it, so I left it in the car, unopened. Since I had not spoken to him more than a half-dozen times over the past thirty years, I could not imagine the contents being anything but bad news.
“You getting out, Papa?” Jake asked. He opened the back door and petted a black and tan coonhound that had poked his skinny head inside the car.
“Sure.” I had a knot in my stomach as I watched Dub and Molly walk across the yard. They smiled at one another and laughed, as if everything were okay between Dub and me.
“Get out. Stay awhile,” Molly said. “Got homemade lemonade for you thirsty travellers. Glad you came. It’s been a long time.”
I got out of the car and stood beside the front fender. Dub walked up to me and I shook his hand. The last time I looked into his pale blue eyes, harsh words had been spoken. “How ya doin’, Tommy?”
“I’m okay,” I said with all the confidence I could muster
“I’m glad. Real glad.”
My mind flooded with memories at the sound of Dub’s voice. Hard to believe with all the good times we had as boys that something went wrong between us. On the trip down I thought about what I would say when we came face to face. Mulled over a couple of things in my mind that seemed right, but the healing words never made it to my lips. The only time Dub and I had been together during the past fifty years centred on death: the funerals of our parents and grandparents. We talked on the phone when we sold our folks’ farm and grandpa’s homestead. The conversations were mostly about business. Sadly we knew very little about each other’s lives or families.
I had called Dub a few days earlier, after a five-year silence. I was bringing my two grandsons down to camp at the Blue Hole. He told me that the road to the river was rough and rocky, then offered to loan me his Jeep. I took it as a sign he might want to patch things up between us.
I walked beside Molly as we started toward the house and Dub followed along behind, talking to Nick and Jake. The boy’s finally bolted and ran across the yard, jumped up and grabbed the low hanging branch of a maple tree. They laughed as they swung back and forth like a couple of monkeys. I remembered what it was like to always be on the move, climbing trees, fishing and swimming in the river. I felt guilty about not making more of an effort to put a stop to a sad situation. It had robbed Dub and me of so many good times.
I looked up at the vaulted ceiling as we walked into the living room. Six hand-hewn support beams the size of railroad ties ran across the open space from wall to wall. I stared at a deer head hanging over a large stone fireplace. I remembered the day Dub shot the ten-point buck with a lever-action 30-30 Winchester that belonged to our Grandfather. Who should get the rifle after our Grandfather died was one of the things we got into a disagreement about. What a stupid thing to do, I thought. Why should I have cared who got the damned thing? At the time we had the heated discussion, I lived in the city and did not even hunt. I looked intently at the dark, glass eyes and remembered the dead animals that hung on the walls of Grandpa Tom’s river cabin.
“What happened to the church?” I asked. “Only thing left is the grave-digger’s shed.”
“Good question,” Dub said. “One night it just burned to the ground. People talk you know. Some said it got lightening struck. Other’s thought it was the work of the Devil. All I know is there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the night it happened. Chalk it up to another unsolved mystery during a full moon.”
“What kind of unsolved mysteries?” Nick asked. “Somebody get killed or something?”
When Dub looked at me and frowned, I changed the subject. “I’ll tell you about it later,” I said to Nick. “Nice place y’all got here, Molly.” I found myself slipping back into a slow, down-home manner of speaking. My Ozark roots, which were still ingrained, had been buried in citified ways for many years and were now branching out.
“Thanks,” Dub said. “Built it ourselves. Cut the logs off Grandpa Tom’s farm place. Saw ya’ lookin’ at the deer head. Remember the day I shot it and we hauled it out of the woods?”
“Like yesterday. Biggest rack anybody around these parts had ever seen before.”
“Or since,” Dub added with a smile.
The boys stood under the deer head and looked up through the antlers into a background of red Cedar boards that covered the ceiling. A skylight in the middle of the room looked out toward the heavens.
“Do you still hunt deer, Uncle Dub?” Nick asked.
“Dub hunts and fishes all the time,” Molly said. “We eat a lot of wild game. Fact is I still have jerky from the last deer he shot. You boys like jerky?”
Nick looked at Jake and smiled. “Yeah, sure. I like jerky. Don’t you, Jake?”
Jake wrinkled up his nose and did not comment one-way or the other.
“I’ll gather up a sack full. You can take it on your camping trip.” Molly turned around and walked toward the kitchen.
“You still messin’ with computers?” Dub asked.
I was surprised he remembered. I had only mentioned it in passing many years earlier. “Actually, I sold my company last year,” I said.
“Papa used to travel all over the world,” Nick said. “He even went to China.
“I travelled a lot in the past, but I’ve slowed down,” I said.
Dub looked at me and folded his arms. “Sounds like you’ve had an exciting life.”
“I’ve done well, but there’s been a price to pay. So what have you been up to?” I asked. I tried not to sound overly friendly. Did not want it to seem like I was trying to build back in a few minutes what had been lost for many years.
Dub lowered his head and looked up at me through bushy white eyebrows. “I farm some. Put up hay and harvest a little corn. Run a small herd of Black Angus cattle. Hunt and fish my fair share. Do some preachin’ now too. Got a little country church down by Buck Holler turnoff. Been the pastor goin’ on five years.”
Dub looked deep into my eyes and waited for a reaction. It was obvious the part about him being a minister had taken me by surprise. As a youngster he was the most mischievous boy in town. If anyone had been voted most likely to end up being a troublemaker, it would have been Dub.
Molly broke the silence when she walked into the room. “Dub’s good at capturing the ear of sinners. Come hear him on Sunday. He may say something worth thinking about on the drive back to Kansas City.”
I gave her a startled look. I smiled and agreed to listen to Dub preach before we headed home. I figured I could take anything he had to say so long as he didn’t dwell on repentance and bang his fist on the pulpit when he looked at me.
Dub always could get people to do about anything,” I said. “Too bad there are not more like him to deliver the message.”
“Don’t worry about me trying to convince you to get baptized in the river on Sunday, Tommy. I’m not one to push the Lord’s will on people. Folks come around in due time one way or the other.”
I laughed nervously and was glad Jake changed the subject.
“What happened to your foot?” Jake asked. Everyone looked down at a bandage wrapped around Dub’s foot and ankle.
Dub looked at me and laughed lightly. “You may not believe this, Tommy. I got myself snake-bit.”
“Lordy, how’d that happen?” I asked.
“It was dark. I was giggin’ frogs. I stepped out of the boat onto a gravel bar. A cottonmouth moccasin bit me on the ankle.”
“Did it hurt bad?” Nick asked as he hunkered down for a closer look. “Did you almost die?”
“It hurt real bad and I got sick as sin. I did think I would die. But I’m still here.”
“That’s awful,” I said, thinking at least we had one thing in common. Too bad it had to be snake bit.
“I thought about you after the snake struck me, Tommy. Figured you lived through it, so I would too.”
“Can I see the snakebite, Uncle Dub?” Jake said.
“Sure.” Dub reached down and removed the bandage. “It was all swollen up for awhile, black and blue. Now I’m pretty much cured.”
Except for two small holes that looked like Dub had been stabbed with a lead pencil, his foot seemed to be okay. I remembered the day I was bit. The big cottonmouth moccasin buried his fangs in my flesh and hung onto my leg pumping in poison until I finally shook him loose. I shivered and looked away.
“I think Dub left the bandage on longer to get attention,” Molly said. “But the sympathy’s about to play out.”
Everyone but Dub laughed.
Dub looked down and wiggled his toes. “Hey, you don’t get bit often. You’ve got to make the most of it when you do.”
“You’ve got a couple of fine-lookin’ grandsons,” Molly said.
“Thank you,” I said as I looked around the log cabin and wondered if my travels and hard work in pursuit of the almighty dollar was worth the effort. No doubt I had missed the laid-back times once I moved from Lewiston to the city. Many times I ached for the serenity of the cool, clear spring-fed Ozark River.
“So you’re headed for the Blue Hole, your favorite camping spot,” Molly said. “You’re welcome to spend the night. I’ll fry some ham and eggs for breakfast. You can get an early start with a full belly.”
“Don’t think so,” I said, much quicker and sounding harder than I should have. I softened my words. “Thanks for the invitation, Molly. Like I told Dub on the phone yesterday, the boys and me are camping two nights at the Blue Hole. We’ll come back here on Saturday to tour the town. Get up Sunday and go to church with y’all. Head back to Kansas City around noon.”
Dub looked at me and grinned. “I can go along if you want. You’re not used to driving these roads. The Buck Holler hill is rough and steep. It can be dangerous.”
I shook my head. I knew sure as the world he would make a run at going with us. I figured his approach would be a little subtler.
“Well, I don’t know. I . . . I’ve driven down the steep hill before with no trouble. Doubt it’s changed much,” I stammered and wished I were already on my way. I felt bad turning Dub down on his offer, but not enough to say I wanted him to go along. “The boys and me had this trip planned for some time. Fact is, by the time we set up camp it will be close to dark. We best get down the road.”
I looked at Jake and Nick and wondered which one of them would ask why Uncle Dub could not go with us to camp at the Blue Hole. Neither said a word. I wished they had. Like the endless number of seasons that had slipped away since Dub and I were best friends as boys, another opportunity to patch up our feud had passed us by. It seemed we were destined to spend our remaining days like two lost souls standing at the river’s edge watching the water flow by until time ran out. The brother that remained would wallow in sadness and wonder why he had been such a fool.
THE END OF CHAPTER ONE - Ozarkstories.com - http://tinyurl.com/ogxxlup - (8) Stories