Low Country

Low Country

by A Keith Barton


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Stan Davidson, restaurateur, teams up with his old army buddy who heads up FBI’s Atlanta office to solve the murders of three federal prison wardens. Two parallel plots involve drug money and land schemes extorting the mayor of Savannah.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) serves as the backdrop for this mystery thriller as Thomas Pierson is on the take for placing crooked wardens in federal prisons to mastermind his global, terrorist plot to cripple the U.S.’s intelligence community. Pierson plots the escape of four cons, who assist him in Operation Black Widow, to sabotage an orbital satellite, instigate a nuclear disaster in south Texas, destroy peace talks in the Middle East, and threaten U.S. relations with Taiwan and China.

Scenery includes Georgia’s barrier islands of Tybee, Saint Simons, and Jekyll. The personalities of the islanders provide an interesting cast of characters: the trustees, the moochers, old and new money, scam artists, drunks and druggies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780595217229
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/28/2002
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

     Joey Simonton arrived for his usual four o'clock to closing shift at Lighthouse 31. The Memorial Day crowd was well into its revelry as the two jazz musicians ordered another beer and headed into their second set. College kids sat at open tables on the dock jutting out into the Intra-Coastal Waterway. An orange round ball fell below the horizon over the town of Brunswick, Georgia, across the water. Running lights aboard the cabin cruisers and yachts dotted the coastline as the boats headed north towards Savannah. Beer and margaritas were the drinks of choice early in the evening before the testosterone levels escalated to boilermakers and shots of Tequila.

      "Joey, we've got a two-hour wait for inside seating so we need to move the drinks faster at the RahBar," Stan said.

     The RahBar was Stan Davidson's pride and joy. Stan had learned to cook in the army, preparing meals for the NCOs and Officers in the Midwest before moving to Macon to open his first restaurant, specializing in "Tex-Mex" cuisine. His chili pepper and picante sauce recipe was a hit on the island and he hoped one day to market his sauce for a major grocery chain. His love, though, was providing good food, service, and entertainment. This weekend was one of four weekends during the year that would hit fifty grand in sales-not bad for an oyster bar on Jekyll Island that barely grossed two hundred thousand annually a year before Stan arrived.

     "I just got out of class. Give me a fuckin' break, Stan," Joey yelled above the ribald crowd consuming large amounts of Coors Light and 'Low Country Boil.' The Boil consisted of steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, new potatoes, crab legs, sausage, and Stan's secret seasoning.

     "Get your ass in the kitchen and keep the raw oysters shucked and iced," Stan yelled back, over the clanging of dishes, glasses, and hurried waitstaff on a half-run between the kitchen and their tables.

     A strong breeze whipped up the edges of the plastic tablecloths as dusk transformed the pier from a sauna to a cool, refreshing oasis cast alone on the edge of the Intra-Coastal Canal with no signs of life until the next barrier island of Saint Simons ten miles north. The state of Georgia owned the once-pristine and highly acclaimed hunting lodge for the rich and famous since the first part of the twentieth century. Some of the wealthiest families from the Northeast formed the Jekyll Island Hunting Club in 1888, which lasted until 1942, after civilian demands escalated to support our troops in World War Two. The families of Cyrus McCormick, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Vanderbilt stayed in the their winter cottages from December through April of each year, bringing with them their nannies, cooks, valets, stable staff, and hunting guides.

    The sub-tropical climate provided an ideal winter environment to stave off the usual winter maladies of pneumonia, bronchitis, and whooping cough during the cold 'Nor Easters.' Many of the restored homes stood only two hundred yards from the restaurant, that once docked the ferries carrying the nation's wealthy financiers and businessmen in the teens and twenties from their yachts and rail cars, south through the Chesapeake Bay into the Intra-Coastal Waterway. The leeward side of the barrier islands provided refuge from the gale-force winds that buffeted the Atlantic Coastline during the harsh winters. Native Americans once inhabited the land that provided plenty of wild game, pecans, fruit, and vegetables.

     The croquet fields of yesteryear had been replaced with trolleys traversing the once, lush vegetation on paved roads, at speeds not exceeding twenty-two miles per hour. The refurbished clubhouse was now a large hotel for the noveau riche, hoping to experience the grandeur of yesteryear. The juxtaposition of the elitist vacationers eating inside Stan's restaurant with the ribald, college crowd outside at the RahBar made for an interesting mix of clientele. Inside the air-conditioned restaurant, white table cloths and fine crystal complemented elaborate place settings for five-course meals, while outside, plastic and paper were the nightly fare for the regulars, who had come to celebrate the end of another school year and the beginning of summer.

     Many of the college kids were from wealthy families living on Hilton Head, Saint Simons, and Jekyll Islands. Most did not have to work and lived off the interest from large trust funds established for them at conception. School for many was a rite of passage rather than a means to enter the workforce. Joey's father owned Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island, and Joey grew up with some of the greatest tennis players and golfers during his eighteen years. But Joey eschewed the life of leisure, preferring to work for Stan to learn the restaurant business. Joey's obsession was to become a world-famous chef and open his own restaurant in Savannah, specializing in southern and French cooking. Many of Joey's friends spent their summers playing golf and tennis during the day while getting laid at night after a night of drinking.

     One of his friends was Harvey Plimpton, an aspiring golf pro who ran the clubhouse on Sapelo Island and lived in a three hundred thousand-dollar townhouse on Saint Simons, thanks to his parents. Harvey attended a prep school in Atlanta to prepare for his father's alma mater, Yale University, but the drinking had taken its toll on the young man, now majoring in rehab after two DUIs and a drug charge for possession of a controlled substance. Harvey barely graduated from high school and was denied admission to Yale, despite being a legacy. About the only positive attribute in Harvey's repertoire was a sub-par round of golf. Although a sponsor was not required to meet his financial obligations on the Nike Tour, Harvey desperately needed an exemption from a local PGA pro to allow him to play in a major tournament. When he was on his game, he was very, very good, and when he was off, he was very, very bad.

     The two boys renewed their friendship at Lighthouse 31. Harvey had introduced Joey to his drinking buddies at the RahBar and tipped the young waiter quite nicely. In return, Joey served as a designated driver to return Harvey to his townhouse. The drive from Jekyll to Saint Simons Island was a u-shaped, heavily traveled causeway over the Intra-coastal Waterway because no bridges connected the barrier islands for environmental reasons. The lighting was poor and many drivers lost control of their vehicles and ended up in the canal. Some were not so lucky and found a watery grave.

     "Hey, Joey, how about another round of drinks for my friends?" Harvey belted out over the guitar and bass.

     "Hold on, Harvey, your friends are sucking me dry. Save a few beers for the rest of my customers."  Joey continued to shuck oysters with his rubber gloves and screwdriver while the young girl in tight jean shorts strutted back and forth with beers and Ritas for the thirsty revelers.


    Jeremy and Larson had finished their third set and were packing up their bass and guitar for another gig on the island. Larson, the bass player's stage name was "Ricardo Cranium," aptly given to him by Stan who loved to banter with the two jazz musicians.

     "Hey Dickhead, you owe me another fifteen minutes. Don't be cutting out on me to go over to Elaine's. You're stinkin' drunk and they won't let you in until you've showered and changed clothes," Stan yelled as he walked among his staff insuring good service while talking to his faithful customers.

     "Fuck you, Stan. You don't pay worth shit, anyway. I'll dress any goddamn way I please. Without me, you got no customers. You think these kids come out just for the food. It's the water, the music, the babes, the moon, and least of all, your sorry ass face."

     Stan and Larson met at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas in the eighties. Stan was managing the NCO club while Larson ran the package store on base. The two had developed a friendship during their four-year tour. On weekends they traveled south on IH 35 to Austin to party on Sixth Street. It was in Austin that Larson developed a love for jazz and played open-mike nights at many of the local clubs. After a brief college stint at the University of Oklahoma, Larson's 1.5 GPA was sufficient to place him on "Sco-pro" and he never returned to pursue his petroleum engineering degree and work with his father and brother. Larson made just enough money to support himself playing gigs in Texas, until Stan brought him to Saint Simons, Georgia, to entertain the college crowds from Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Savannah.


     "Stan, got to run. I'll catch up with you later. We do our last set at midnight at Elaine's. Josey pays better and she's a helluva lot prettier than you."

     Larson had introduced Josey to Stan two years ago at a party on the island. Josey's first husband had left her and their pre-teen daughter, Susan, for a college co-ed from the University of Georgia. After ten years of drinking and whorin' around, Josey finally kicked the sonofabitch out. Grant took the clothes on his back, leaving the four-star restaurant for Josey to manage. Her no-count husband had not managed the restaurant the last five years of their marriage, and left Josey with twenty thousand in debts despite the steady flow of customers. Her twenty-year old daughter tended bar and hosted, while Josey ran the upscale restaurant for "old money" Hilton Head and Saint Simons patrons. Two years of hard work left Josey with thirty thousand dollars in savings and no debts.

     "I'll let Joey close up and I'll meet you and Josey at two a.m. I promised her that I would look at her air conditioner before the weather gets any hotter," Stan replied.

     "Okay, fuckstick. I'll see you in four hours. Don't forget to bring a couple of c-notes with you. You owe me from last week," Larson said, walking up the pier to the parking lot in front of the Jekyll Island Hotel.

     "You'll get your money. Just tell Josey that I'm bringin' a new recipe for oysters bien."

     Stan and Josey traded recipes in that the two restaurants did not directly compete with each other. Josey served traditional southern dishes cooked in French wine sauces on carefully decorated plates. Presentation was the sine qua non of her success, while her coiffured clientele discussed the latest stock market reports. She had hired her chef from the Atlanta School of Culinary Arts and the young twenty-four year old had already been featured in Southern Living. Josey's customers were island regulars who spent more money on the food than booze. Stan made forty cents on the dollar from his RahBar, which was cheap and quick to produce food in mass quantities.

     Stan had befriended the single mother and her daughter by doing maintenance on the aging restaurant. After his own divorce five years ago, he swore he would never marry again. Luckily he had fathered no children, but he could have easily been a surrogate because his ex slept around on base with the officers in training for M-60 tanks. After her second abortion and unconfirmed DNA test, Stan filed on his wife and mustered out of the army. Dating had never been his strong suit. The intimacy was too painful. He preferred to hang with large crowds to forget about his past. The last two years with Josey had been challenging, yet rewarding. The two had become close and spent evenings together with a bottle of wine after a harried nine hours of nonstop work running the kitchen, wait, and bar staff. By the time the last customer left the restaurant, every muscle ached from the stress of the frenetic pace and dispelling verbal altercations amongst the waitstaff and dealing with drunken, irate customers.

     It was eleven-thirty when Stan left Lighthouse. Joey handled the closing. Stan needed not to worry because Joey was a quick learner and mature for his eighteen years. Stuffing some paperwork into his laptop briefcase, Stan walked down the wooden planks, creaking with each step. The tide was coming in and the water gently caressed the pilings, pulling back every so slightly as the moon exerted its magic on the water.        Throwing his laptop into the backseat of his extended cab, he carefully backed his '98 Ford truck to avoid hitting a Jag and Mercedes and continued his journey into the night. He chewed on a cigar, having given up smokes since he began dating Josey. George Strait crooned about his exes livin' in Texas on the radio as the strong, nightly breeze whisked his golden locks up around his forehead. His steely, blue eyes focused on the pavement in front of him. On the front seat beside him was a bottle of Merlot that he planned to sip with Josey after closing.

     After a year of hard work renovating and rejuvenating Lighthouse 31, managing required less of his time. He had hired good people who cared and wanted to do a good job. Stan rewarded his people well, and they loved working for him. He was a superb leader and manager. His recent success was scary because it left him more time to work on his personal life. Josey was a Godsend. They enjoyed cooking, laughing, working hard, and making love. The last two years of his life had made him happier than his previous thirty-five years. The only thing missing was any commitment but at least for now, Josey was not complaining.






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