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Bill Morris lives and works in the soundside village of Straits in Down East Carteret County. That same sound country is the setting for his first novel, Saltwater Cowboys, as well as the story "Dinah's Dog," winner of the 2003 Doris Betts Prize for short fiction. A graduate of Duke University, Morris is a regular contributor to Our State and Wildlife in North Carolina magazines, as well as the Raleigh News and Observer outdoors pages. His work has also appeared in the North Carolina Literary Review, Real Fiction, The Dead Mule, Urban Hiker, Spectator , and the Best of the O. Henry Festival 2003 . He is currently at work on a second Down East novel.
Saltwater Cowboys (2004)
Even in the dark the voyage from Croaker Neck harbor to the back side of Atlantic Beach can be made in less than an hour. But it was well past midnight when I tied the R/V Gannet up at the dock of the Binnacle Inn and JungleGolf and walked into the haze of yellow bug-bulb light. A squad of creosoted posts holds the motel box a story above ground level, and their criss-crossed shadows lay at odd angles on the sand-dusted concrete pad. In the center, a wispy cloud of steam rose from the surface of a sunken Jacuzzi.
Surrounding the tub, yellow crime-scene tape was threaded through several lawn chairs and tied off to the stainless steel handrails that humped above grade on one side of the human crockpot. In one of the chairs, a thin young woman sat red-eyed and shivering under a layer of flimsy motel towels. It was late May, and the night air still had enough chill to raise steam off a Jacuzzi or goose bumps off a white girl's skin. Three Atlantic Beach cops were hovering over her, one asking questions while the others tried not to stare too obviously at the margins of the towels. A fourth cop, a tall, thin Black guy wearing a baseball cap and a dark windbreaker with NOAA ENFORCEMENT stenciled on the back, was busy talking on his cell phone. At the front of the motel, the side opposite Bogue Sound, two EMT's were loading an occupied gurney into an Atlantic Beach Fire Department ambulance. The slamming doors caused the shivering woman to suddenly shudder. With siren blaring the ambulance headed off for the hospital in Morehead City.