Six men commit an unspeakable act during the foolishness of their youth while at a country bar. Twenty years later, long after the Red Dog Saloon has burned to the ground, someone has come back for revenge. Now they fear for their lives as the mysterious reaper takes them one at a time. Meanwhile the county sheriff is trying to unravel the mystery of why his normally quiet town has become a killing field.
Targeted Age Group:: 15 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The inspiration came during a Sunday morning service. The minister was preaching about how you can be forgiven for your sins in Heaven but you still have to pay the price here on earth. That’s what gave me the idea of that for some acts there is no redemption.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Red Dog Saloon was inspired by a real-life country tavern of ill-repute that was in my county when I was growing up. The characters were inspired by law enforcement officers I met in my hometown during my career as crime and courts reporter.
Sheriff Sam Delaney hated mornings, especially cold mornings like this one. The chill invaded his aging bones reminding him that he was not a spring chicken anymore. He hated the prospect that he was just a couple of birthdays short of fifty. It was a milestone he dreaded with a passion.
Of particular annoyance this morning was the slow pace at which his patrol car’s heater cut the cold, leaving him seeing his own breath for most of his cross-county trek. His lips were already going numb from the biting cold as the cruiser’s heater belched out lukewarm air doing little to stem the chill.
He navigated the winding country roads peering out through the small circle he defrosted in the middle of his windshield. The limited visibility slowed him to a snail’s pace as he spent twenty minutes reaching his destination. The drive should have taken half that time. He was paying for his oversight the night before when he neglected to cover his windshield despite the frost warning. The garage at his house was reserved for his wife’s new minivan. Sam had made a habit of parking his car outside his house anyway as the mere presence of his patrol car tended to dissuade speeders in his neighborhood. Having the sheriff living on your street was better than having a neighborhood watch.
His arrival this morning, however, was not time sensitive given the fact the body wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yes, it took a dead body to get the sheriff out of bed at such an obscene hour. His standing orders to his deputies were quite specific when it came to rousting him from his sleep before eight o’clock on any given day. Homicides, jailbreaks and major natural disasters were the only reasons for which Sam wanted to be called in before his regular business hours. After all, he had loyally served the thirty thousand citizens of Castle County for over twelve years. He had spent a fourth of his life as sheriff, first winning election after coming back to his hometown after a stint with the Army.
Arriving at the scene located off Walker Road, Sam saw the yellow crime scene tape fluttering in the wind, the perimeter around the small house completely surrounded by the barrier. In the driveway sat one of his department’s patrol cars, a rookie deputy in the driver’s seat, his door open and the engine running as evidenced by the smoke rising from the tailpipe. Sam pulled in behind the deputy. His car was finally a pleasant temperature and his windshield finally defrosted just in time for him to get out into the cold.
The young deputy quickly hopped out of the warmth of his patrol car to greet his boss and make a quick report.
“What do we have Deputy Faulkner?” the sheriff asked as he zipped up his jacket to keep the chill at bay.
“It’s definitely a homicide, sir,” the deputy answered. “One of his co-workers found him this morning just after sun up.”
Sam wondered what brought the co-worker to the house at such an early hour. It was way too early for a social call.
“Our victim in there is Andy Crouch,” the young officer revealed. “He works second shift over at the Rockford factory. It seems he didn’t show up for work last night, something that’s very unusual since he hasn’t missed a night in years. When he didn’t call in and didn’t answer his phone the foreman got worried and sent somebody over to check on him. That’s when he found him lying just inside the door.”
The deputy noted he had already taken a preliminary statement from the man who found the victim as to the circumstances surrounding his grisly discovery.
“And you’re sure it’s a homicide, not a suicide, right?” Sam asked.
The sheriff realized suicides were much easier to work than homicides since in the case of suicides you already know the killer. The rookie gave the sheriff a big grin as he assured his boss they were looking at a case of homicide.
“Oh, I think when you get in there you’ll agree. There’s no way this is a suicide,” he declared. “Someone definitely wanted this guy dead and they succeeded.”
The officer advised the sheriff that the crime lab was on their way down from their headquarters, their arrival still about an hour away. The investigators from the lab would look for trace evidence at the crime scene, perhaps providing the sheriff a starting point in his homicide probe. Given the relatively small size of Castle County, Sam depended on the help of the state crime lab on the rare occasion there was an unsolved murder, the number of which Sam could count on one hand during his entire tenure as sheriff.
“Well, let’s get this over,” Sam said as he walked up the steps to the small white house careful not to touch the door knob which might still contain fingerprint evidence.
“Watch out when you go in, sir,” the deputy called out from behind. “It’s pretty messy. You might step in something.”
Sam was immediately greeted by a scene of slaughter as he pushed the door open a few inches. Blood was clearly visible splattered across the carpet and back wall of the entry way.
“You weren’t kidding, were you?” Sam said given the horrific scene before him.
Sam looked back at the deputy who still stood at the bottom of the stairs. He was apparently not keen on seeing the hideous scene again. The sheriff figured it was young Faulkner’s first body, something that could make anyone a bit squeamish. Despite seeing his share of bodies over the years, the initial shock was something he hadn’t gotten used to.
The stiff remains of Andy Crouch, his body likely suffering from the throes of rigor mortis and from the bitter cold, lie on the floor just inside the door. The cause of his death was apparent. An ax laid buried deep in his forehead. His eyes were still open wide suggesting his death was instantaneous.
“Yep, I think we got us a murder,” Sam agreed.
Sam squeezed past the body and pool of blood, being careful not to leave his footprint in the evidence.
“The poor guy never knew what hit him,” the sheriff noted.
Sam figured the victim was dead before he hit the floor. The crime scene before him suggested he’d been surprised when he answered his door, ambushed by whoever was waiting outside.
“Plus I don’t think our victim was in any condition to do that,” Faulkner said, pointing toward a mirrored bureau in the living room of the residence.
Given the shocking specter of the bloody victim lying in the doorway, Sam failed to notice the mirror and the red letters written on it. As the old-timers often say, “if it were a bear it would have bit him”.
“Red Dog,” Sam read aloud as he stepped over to the mirror.
The words were written crudely on the glass, some of the crimson ink running down to the bottom of the mirror from the letters.
“What do you think?” Sam asked the young lawman realizing this was a perfect time to begin grooming the new officer for bigger and better things in the department. “I assume this is your first homicide.”
The deputy shook his head. He readily seized the opportunity to play the part of detective despite being the greenhorn of the department.
“Looks like it was written in blood to me, sir,” he responded. “Looks like whoever did this used the victim’s blood to write that on the mirror for some reason.”
“Yes, I’d have to agree,” Sam said he took a close look at the mirror. “And it appears they painted it on here with their finger.”
“Why would someone do that, sir?” the deputy asked.
“It’s the proverbial writing on the wall, deputy. Whoever did this was sending a message,” Sam answered.
Glancing down as he examined the writing on the mirror, the sheriff noticed a wallet on the bureau. It was lying in plain sight, close enough to the mirror that a couple of drops of the crimson fluid had dripped on it.
“Seven hundred dollars and all of his credit cards,” Sam noted as he looked through the wallet. “It doesn’t look like this was a robbery. I mean if you’re taking time to use the man’s blood to scrawl out a message on the mirror, I think you’d notice his fat wallet right there.”
Sam worked his way back out of the one-bedroom house careful not to disturb anything. He shut the door behind him, leaving the scene sealed for the crime lab.
“So he didn’t show up for second shift meaning this probably happened sometime before seven last night,” Sam said.
He was familiar with Rockford’s schedule since he had worked there for a short time after his time in the army.
“That means he was lying here all night until someone found him this morning. Who was it that found the body?” Sam asked.
The deputy reached in the car and pulled out his notes.
“It was a guy named Eddie Young,” the officer began. “He said our victim was just a regular guy who liked partying a lot. As far as he knew he didn’t have any enemies, at least no one who’d want him dead. He said the guy worked at the plant for nearly twenty years and was a good employee. Aside from his drinking he was just your regular everyday guy.”
Sam took Eddie’s number and address with plans to contact him later. He realized nothing more could be done at the scene until the crime lab arrived, his tromping about making it more likely he might contaminate the crime scene. A trip to his office and a hot cup of coffee would be his next move.
“I need you to watch the place until the crime lab gets here and then I’ll send out someone to relieve you,” Sam directed. “And one more thing, keep what was written on the mirror quiet. We don’t want that getting out to the public quite yet.”
“Yes sir,” the young officer responded. “What do you make of it, sheriff? The only Red Dog I know of was the old bar that used to sit off East Ridge Highway but that’s been gone, well, since before I was born. Folks just use it when they give out directions and tell you go out to the old Red Dog and take a left.”
“Some things never die,” Sam declared as he walked back to his car, the sun finally getting high enough to offer a faint ray of warmth on the otherwise cold morning. “The old Red Dog will always be there.”
Given the fact Eddie lived between the crime scene and Sam’s office, the sheriff figured he may as well make a stop on his way to headquarters to pick his brain for any details the young deputy may have not elicited. After all, he was already wide awake and any chance of returning to his slumber at this hour was null out of the question. Plus, Sam knew people often think more clearly once they are removed from a traumatic situation, their thought process clouded the closer they are to that trauma. Finding a co-worker’s body with an ax sunk several inches deep in his head, like Eddie did earlier that morning, would qualify as traumatic in Sam’s book. It was certainly no way to begin one’s day.
The sheriff pulled into the driveway and made his way to the door. His first knocks on the door of the double-wide trailer weren’t answered despite Eddie’s truck parked outside his residence. Surely he hadn’t gone to sleep already, especially after what he had just witnessed. Sam knew it would be hard for a man to lay his head down and fall into slumber after witnessing such a heinous sight.
After nearly a minute of knocking by the sheriff, Eddie made his way to the door, the tall, dark-headed man with a scraggly graying beard still dressed in his factory uniform.
“Come on in,” Eddie invited with a slight slur in his voice.
He motioned the sheriff into his messy living room where the smell of liquor hung heavy. The host walked with a slight wobble.
“Care for a drink?” Eddie asked.
“It’s a little early for that don’t you think?” Sam replied as Eddie refilled his glass with straight bourbon, taking a big swallow as he sat down on his couch.
“It’s never too early,” Eddie retorted. “Don’t worry sheriff, I’m not drunk yet. I’m just taking the edge off.”
The sheriff didn’t really believe Eddie to be a suspect in the murder. Instead the lawman was more interested in small details he might be able to provide. Sam had learned by experience that sometimes it just takes one nugget of information to turn a case.
“So tell me what happened this morning Eddie,” Sam began, hoping the liquor wasn’t already clouding his memory.
“I don’t know, sheriff,” Eddie replied as he took another swig of his drink. His hands were noticeably shaking.
“When we couldn’t get ahold of Andy at work we got worried since he never, and I mean never, misses work,” Eddie explained. “Since me and him go back a long way, the foreman asked me to drop by and check on him.”
Eddie paused and swallowed hard as he recalled the events of the morning.
“When I first pulled up, I noticed the door was open a bit and his truck was in the driveway. That seemed odd on such a cold morning for a man’s door to be open like that, you know,” Eddie recalled. “I went up and pushed the door but there was something behind it. When I stuck my head inside the door, there laid Andy, his skull split wide open by that ax.”
Eddie finished his drink in one big swallow and slammed down his glass.
“It was the most horrible thing I ever saw, sheriff,” Eddie declared, looking at the lawman, his eyes bloodshot either from the bourbon or perhaps from mourning the sudden loss of his friend.
“You didn’t see anything else? Think about it now. Did you see anything at all that you haven’t mentioned?” Sam quizzed. “Take your time and think. It could be important.”
“No sheriff. When I saw Andy lying there I went right back out and called the law,” Eddie responded. “I didn’t know if whoever did it might still be around.”
Sam believed Eddie’s recollection yet at the same time he seemed almost overly nervous even given what he had just witnessed. Perhaps there was something else on his mind, something he needed liquor to help cope with.
“So did you see anything inside, anything on the wall, anything unusual at all?” Sam asked.
The sheriff wondered about the bloody writing on the mirror. Had Eddie noticed it? If so, why had he not mentioned such a glaring detail?
“No sheriff,” Eddie said sheepishly. “Like I said, when I saw him lying there I just backed out. I mean we not only worked together but we’d been friends for a long time, pretty well since high school.”
Sam was already aware Eddie and the victim were old friends since Sam had grown up in the same county with them. Castle County was the kind of place where everybody knew, or at least knew of, everyone else.
“Yeah, I thought you two were friends,” Sam said as he stood up to leave “As a matter of fact, you two go way back. Seems like I remember seeing you all hanging out together back at the old Red Dog and that’s been more than twenty years. Time flies doesn’t it?”
Eddie’s face went pale white with the sheriff’s reference to the Red Dog. His odd reaction caught the sheriff’s eye. It was as if Eddie was suddenly at a loss for words, the wind seemingly knocked out of him.
“Something wrong, Eddie?” Sam asked.
The lawmen realized he must have hit a nerve with his reference to the Red Dog. He now suspected his witness had seen more than he was telling.
“Um, no sheriff. It’s just been a long morning,” Eddie stammered nervously as he stood up to escort the lawman to the door. “I appreciate you coming by though. If I think of anything else I’ll call you first thing. I promise.”
Sam stepped out the door giving Eddie a long look. The sheriff could tell he was being hustled away. Eddie’s demeanor suggested he was eager for the lawman to leave.
“You do that,” Sam said as he left.
Why was Eddie not telling everything he knew about the murder of his friend? The question would bother the sheriff all the way to his office that morning, leaving him to mull Eddie’s odd behavior over his first cup of coffee.
Eddie looked through his curtains, watching as the sheriff’s cruiser disappeared out of sight. He poured another drink. His buzz was just starting to arrive. It couldn’t get there fast enough. Eddie needed the liquor to calm his uncontrollable shaking, his hands trembling like leaves in the wind. While a two-fisted drinker, Eddie rarely started so early but today was special. He needed it before he made the call.
He sat silently by his phone for a moment trying to focus his thoughts and decide what he was going to say. While known as the big mouth amongst his group of friends, the morning’s events left him uncharacteristically quiet. Fear had robbed him of words. The horrifying scene of his friend’s skull sliced wide open and his blood used as human ink to spell out an unmistakable message left Eddie petrified. Deep down in his very soul Eddie knew the meaning of the message.
Eddie gathered his courage and picked up the phone. His fingers shook so much that he had to concentrate to peck out the numbers. The alcohol made the square digits on the dialing pad a moving target.
He waited impatiently as the phone rang, nervously rapping his fingers on the coffee table.
“Foster Motors,” came a voice on the other end of the phone.
The voice was one Eddie knew to be that of Bart Foster, the ringleader of their old running group. He was now a successful car salesman and semi-reputable businessman in Easton, the county seat for Castle County.
“Hello? Anyone there? Foster Motors,” Bart said as he was about to hang up since he heard no one on the other end of the line.
“Hey Bart,” Eddie stammered. “This is Eddie Young.”
Going quiet on the other end for a moment, Bart hesitated as if deciding if he wanted to take the call.
“Oh, Eddie, how’s it been?” Bart responded in a contrived pleasant voice. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah … it has,” Eddie agreed. “It’s been a lot of years.”
Bart didn’t know why Eddie was suddenly calling him. They hadn’t spoken, except in passing, in many years. The businessman assumed his old pal wanted something from him.
“To what do I owe the honor?” Bart asked. “Are you ready to trade vehicles? I have some real beauties, all low mileage on the lot. I’ll give you the old friend’s discount.”
Not really knowing how to transition the conversation, Eddie cut to the chase.
“Andy’s dead,” Eddie blurted out. “Did you hear me? They found Andy this morning. He’s dead.”
Putting on a calm tone, since it had also been a long time since Bart had any dealings with Andy aside from selling him a truck several years ago, the businessman spoke up.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Bart said. “What happened?”
“What happened?” Eddie asked excitedly. “What happened is he was murdered last night.”
“Murdered?” Bart responded. “Who would want to kill Andy? He was a good guy.”
Bart was actually right. Andy was likely the best person when it came to their former running group. He was the only one who seemed to have an inkling of a conscience back in their younger days.
“I don’t know,” Eddie admitted as he put his head in his hands, running his hand through his thinning hair with the receiver still to his ear. “I found him this morning after he didn’t come in to work. He had an ax buried in his head.”
The revelation concerning the heinousness of the crime came as a surprise. Even with that, Bart still wondered why his long absent friend would be notifying him like he was next of kin. He would have read about it in the newspaper the next day even without the advance call. The way Bart figured it, Andy had gotten himself into trouble and someone had come calling to settle the issue once and for all.
“That’s horrible,” Bart replied, still using his pleasant businessman’s voice as he eyed the man outside checking out some of the cars on his lot. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I don’t think you understand, Bart,” Eddie said. “It doesn’t just involve Andy. It involves all of us – the old gang.”
“Okay Eddie, you’re not making any sense and I have a customer I need to wait on,” Bart replied. “Why don’t you call me back later when you’re a little less, you know, drunk.”
“The killer wrote the words Red Dog!” Eddie yelled into the phone. “It was written in Andy’s own blood! Don’t you understand? Someone knows! After all this time, someone knows! What are we going to do, Bart?”
Bart forgot about his customer as his mind raced. Memories attacked his consciousness, pictures appearing before his mind’s eye like snapshots in time as if it had just happened yesterday.
“Are you sure?” Bart asked.
“I saw it with my own eyes!” Eddie confirmed with his voice quivering. “Well, what are we going to do?”
Taking charge as he always did back in their “wild days,” Bart responded in an authoritative voice, hoping to snap the drunken Eddie back to reality.
“The first thing is you need to stop drinking,” Bart ordered. “And keep your mouth shut. You haven’t told anybody else have you?”
“No. I talked to the sheriff but didn’t tell him I even saw the writing,” Eddie retorted.
“Let’s keep it that way,” Bart said. “You need to keep your mouth shut. I don’t want you talking to anybody and that goes doubly true for Sheriff Delaney. Let me check this thing out.”
Eddie was almost to the point of tears as he fought to hold it together amidst the fear that was gripping him.
“Who could it be?” Eddie asked with his voice pleading for an answer – an answer Bart didn’t have.
“I don’t know, Eddie,” Bart admitted. “It’s been a long time, over twenty years as a matter of fact.”
“It seems like yesterday,” Eddie shot back, his tone worrying Bart.
“Now listen to me, Eddie,” Bart began sternly. “You sit tight and toss the liquor bottle. I’ll find out about this thing. We got to hang together, just like we did back then. Do you understand me?”
“Yeah, yeah Bart, I understand,” Eddie sheepishly responded.
He poured himself another drink despite his old friend’s admonition. Eddie wasn’t about to put down the bottle. Liquor was the only true friend he had left.
Bart assured Eddie he would contact him as soon as he discovered anything. Then, plastering a smile on his face, he went out to meet his customer, hiding the fact behind his salesman’s grin that a long-buried ghost had returned from the grave to haunt him.
R.D. Sherrill is an award winning journalist who has served as crime and courts reporter with the Southern Standard newspaper in McMinnville for the past 24 years. While by-lining several thousand real-life crime stories over his career, Red Dog Saloon, inspired by a honkytonk of ill-repute in his hometown, was his first foray into fiction. Since its release late last year, Red Dog has sold on five continents and has been met with overwhelming five-star reviews. The twisting tale is a nominee for the Silver Falcone Award at the upcoming Killer Nashville Conference. His second book, Average Joe, is hot off the press and has also been critically acclaimed. A tale of five regular guys who conspire to rob their hometown, Average Joe captures the essence of small town life and examines the often blurred gray line between good and evil.
Sherrill’s experience in writing real-life crime dramas helps him bring his characters to life in his fictional works while his motto of “all thriller, no filler,” ensures readers will stay up deep into the night to find out what happens next.
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