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Deadly Discrimination: Chapter 1

IN THE May 29 ISSUE

FROM THE 2010 Articles,
andLorie Lewis Ham,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Lorie Lewis Ham

Lorie has been singing gospel music and writing since childhood. Her first song and poem were published when she was 13 and she has gone on to publish many articles, short stories and poems throughout the years as well as write for a local newspaper. Lorie continues to sing and her mystery novels are set here in the San Joaquin Valley, with five of the six featuring gospel singer Alexandra Walters.

Deadly Discrimination was originally published as a novel. The story takes place around a fictional version of the Reedley Fiesta and is being serialized here at Kings River Life Magazine in weekly installments. Be sure to start with Chapter 1!

CHAPTER 1

book cover of Deadly DiscriminationICE CREAM TRUCK ROBBED, read the headlines in the Kingsbury News. I nudged my breakfast companion from his study of the entertainment section of the San Francisco Chronicle. He looked up, annoyance in his gray eyes, and I showed him the headline.

“And you thought nothing interesting ever happened in Kingsbury,” I teased.

My friend frowned and waved our waitress, Candy Callahan, over for a refill of our coffee. “I wouldn’t call that interesting, Preacher Boy. That’s just weird.”

“It’s as much crime as I ever want to see,” I said, as I added cream to my coffee. “Not that it makes for very interesting print. But I’m satisfied with covering local charity events, pet parades, and harvest festivals.”

This got my companion to put down his paper, a mischievous grin spreading across his face. That face had broken many a heart when we grew up together in New Orleans. Stephen had always been the ladies man of our team. Around him, I didn’t have a chance.

“Don’t you get to cover the Kingsbury Fiesta parade this year?”

I shrugged. “My editor says people return to town for it from all over the country. The booths are rumored to sell the best food in the San Joaquin Valley. The food part definitely sounds good.”

“That parade is so boring and predictable you could write about it without even seeing it this year and no one would ever know the difference.” Stephen again waved Candy over.

She walked over with a lightness in her step that would fade as her day went along. Working at the Main Street Café, the busiest café in town, had to take its toll. I’d been trying to get Candy to attend my church ever since I moved to Kingsbury a few months ago, but without success. She’d had a hard life but was a sweet gal.

“Was your breakfast all right, Mr. Carlucci?”

Stephen favored her with one of his smiles. “Delicious, Candy. What’s it going to take to get you to call me Stephen?”

She blushed, matching the red of her hair, and giggled like a schoolgirl despite the fact she was probably in her thirties like myself.

“What about you, Pastor Mike? Were your biscuits and gravy okay?”

“Great as always. No food better in town than that of the Main Street Café. Will I be seeing you in church this Sunday? The choir’s got some good numbers planned.”

I was rather proud of our new choir. When I first took on the pastorate at the Kingsbury Community Church, there wasn’t any choir at all. This was my first church and I was determined to do well by it.

Candy shook her head. “Too busy with the Fiesta this weekend. The Main Street Café has a booth this year. Matter of fact, I have to go over there and set it up this afternoon.”

“I forgot that the booths open tonight.”

She placed our bills on the table. “Is this your first Fiesta, Pastor?”

“Yep, and I’m really looking forward to it. Everyone seems so excited.”

“It’s nothing like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but it’s a lot of fun. The booths will have great food, some craft stuff, a few carnival games, and there’s even a pony ride for the tots. And there’ll be a concert in the bandstand around eight. You really ought to come. It’s a local jazz band and they’re great. Friend of mine plays bass.”

Stephen took a sip of his coffee, then nodded. “Emilio, right?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s one of my girlfriend’s boarders. Seems like a cool guy; never heard him play. Mostly does church stuff.” Stephen grimaced.

I was certain he hadn’t darkened the door of a church on Sunday for a long time. Raised Catholic, Stephen left church completely when the Mafia executed his brother. It was at that time that Stephen learned of his father’s position with the Mafia. If the Catholic Church accepted his father among its members, Stephen wanted nothing to do with it. Only in a city like New Orleans could a preacher’s boy end up best friends with the son of a Mafia don. Of course our friendship blossomed during a darker time in my life.

In the last few years one of my greatest desires had become to win my best friend to Christ. I was certain it was part of the reason God had called me to a church in the same town where he now lived.

“Pastor?”

Candy’s voice brought me back to the moment. “I’ll be there. Don’t want to miss a moment of my first Kingsbury Fiesta. What about you, Stephen?”

“I don’t know about tonight or even the parade, but I’ll definitely catch you at the park after the parade. We can meet at the Mennonite Church booth. I’ve developed a taste for German food since moving here.”

“And for German women?” I prodded, knowing my friend’s heart was completely taken with the young gospel singer he was dating. They made quite the contrast and I wasn’t sure how their relationship meshed with his lack of religion.

“Watch it, Preacher Boy. I wouldn’t talk if I were you. Isn’t that lovely Lola of yours German, too?”

“Got me there, Heathen Boy.” As boys we’d given each other nicknames that had stayed with us a lifetime. Our nicknames had been as odd a combination as our friendship.

Candy laughed as she left us to greet some new customers coming through the door.

Stephen’s cell phone rang, so I leaned back and watched the room as I finished up my coffee. Watching people was a hobby of mine; it was amazing what you could learn. The café was packed as usual. The only thing that ever changed was the makeup of the crowd. We’d missed the farm crowd, they were here as early as five a.m., much too early for this city dweller.

At this time of the day, senior citizens filled the place, and perhaps a few business types stopping in for a cup of coffee. The room was filled with quiet chatter, but this was quickly shattered as three young men breezed through the doors and waltzed up to the counter, each sitting down on an empty stool.

One of them slammed his fist down on the counter. “Candy, get your pretty little self over here and bring us coffee and donuts. Growing boys need sustenance.”

I’d learned that many of the seniors at the two local high schools were given a certain amount of leeway for going off campus when they didn’t have a class, something that didn’t happen anymore in big cities. Of course the kids from Kensington High, the private high school in town, had the most leeway and lived by a completely different set of rules. I recognized these boys as being from Kensington.

The normally perky waitress looked up from the bill she was figuring and frowned. “Keep your pants on, Josh Matthews. And your voice down.”

Josh hopped off the stool and helped himself to the coffee. Candy tried to shoo him away without success. Her petite form was no match for the six-foot-two-inch football player.

It was time to intervene — after all, he was the son of a member of my church board. I walked over to the counter. “Josh, behave yourself and take a seat. I’m sure Candy will get to you as soon as she can.”

Candy smiled with relief, but Josh glared at me without moving. But when Stephen came up beside me Josh returned to his seat. A big, tough, private investigator was more threatening than a simple country preacher.

We returned to our booth for our bills. Before we could leave, our church’s young janitor came rushing in, his face twisted in anger.

“What’s wrong, Eddie?”

“Mr. Toews is a jerk!” he yelled as he plopped down into the booth we had just vacated.

Stephen headed for the cash register. “I’m outta here, Preacher Boy. I’ll catch the bill this time.”

Stephen could afford to pay more than I could and we both knew it, so I didn’t protest. He may be a private investigator, but he lived off of his investments. I always believed he became a private investigator just to tick off his father. It seemed more of a hobby than a serious profession. Though he was good at it.

Candy suddenly appeared with her coffeepot. “Coffee, Eddie?”

He smiled at her but it didn’t have the same effect coming from a tall, thin boy just beginning to come into his manhood at seventeen. “Thanks, Candy. In a to-go cup please. I’ve got to drive the ice cream truck and catch the homeschool kids on break.”

Eddie watched her walk away with the interest of youth in beauty. His family owned the local ice cream parlor and had a truck that roamed the neighborhoods selling ice cream. Perhaps his had been the robbed truck. I cleared my throat to get his attention.

“Sorry, Pastor Mike. Mr. Toews turned me down for the internship at the radio station.”

“Did he say why?”

“He’s prejudiced, that’s why. If I had a name like Toews or Matthews instead of Martinez I’d been hired on the spot.” Eddie glanced over at the boys at the counter who were once again annoying Candy. But this time she was armed with a spatula. I smiled.

Mr. Toews owned the local Christian radio station. Recently he talked me into hosting a music program. I learned quickly that Toews wasn’t known for his generosity and that Christian kindness had nothing to do with how he ran his business. He was a tyrant to work for.

“Why would you say that?” I asked.

“What else could it be? I put in the first application, I’ve got experience in radio from deejaying that show on the high school campus station last year, and I’ve got a great radio voice.”

Eddie had a point. His voice had gone bass at the beginning of his junior year and I still hoped to get him into our choir. I wondered if his appearance would ever catch up with his voice.

“Would you like me to talk to him?”

His dark eyes suddenly sparkled. “Would ya, Pastor Mike? That’d be great.”

“I’ll let you know what he says.”

Candy handed Eddie his cup, and he slid out of the seat. It was my cue to leave as well, so I followed him to the door.

“Was that your truck that was robbed?”

“’Fraid so, and on my watch too. I feel awful. But he didn’t take much of anything. Really odd if you ask me.”

“Did you get hurt? Did you get a good look at him?”

Eddie shook his head. “I’m fine. I was making a delivery out on Elm and when I was walking back to the truck I saw someone jump out of the driver’s seat. They were dressed in black from head to toe — couldn’t even say for sure if it was a man or woman. It all happened so fast.”

“What did they take?”

“Nothing really. Just a twenty that I’d stupidly left on the seat. All the other money was with me.”

“Maybe you should start locking the truck when you get out?”

He slipped into the drivers seat. “You bet. See ya later Pastor, when I come by to clean up the church.”

I waved as he headed off down the street. Eddie was a smart boy and had graduated last June. Now he worked to help his family and save up for college. I only wished there were more the church could do for young people like him. I sighed as I spotted Josh’s silver Porsche parked out front. Why did some people seem to have everything and others nothing? I knew God had His reasons, but sometimes I wished He’d let me in on them.


Originally published by PublishAmerica in 2003, © Lorie Ham 2003

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds.

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