BEULAVILLE, DUPLIN COUNTY -

The Beulaville police chief is back in action after five weeks of recovering from open-heart surgery.

Chief Joey Carter says out of his 32 years in law enforcement, he's only taken two days off work -- until he noticed himself having shortness of breath. His doctors found several blockages to his heart.

"Had no clue at 56 years old, I was fixing to have open heart surgery," Carter said. "I'm back, I'm not 100 percent, but I'm back. The drive makes you mend a lot quicker when you want to come back to work. You've got something to look forward to."

Thursday was his first day back at work.

"You could tell he was gone," said Nickey Dunn, a Beulaville resident. "I mean, you really could. We missed him."

Carter had a lot waiting for him -- a mountain of prescription pills to send to the State Bureau of Investigation lab, hundreds of emails and messages and a closet full of evidence to sort through.

He's fought Duplin County's drug lords and major surgery. His next challenge -- retirement, somewhere down the road.

"That's going to be one of the most difficult days, when you go home and you know you're done," Carter said. "I'm not done -- not today."