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
Lola dropped me off at my apartment and headed home. Even though it was late, I opened the curtain on my window that faced the Kings River. I was lucky to have gotten a place at the Riverside Apartments. It wasn’t a new complex but the view and sounds of the rushing water made up for the older buildings.
After unlocking the window — the manager had put new locks on after a rash of burglaries — I opened it just enough to hear the water, turned a little Mozart on quietly in the background and sat down at my laptop.
Not only had I forgotten my sermon, I’d forgotten to write anything for the paper. I pecked out a short article with the few details that were known about the death and another quick one about the parade, then emailed them to the paper.
That done, I pulled out my Bible, a concordance and a couple of other Christian reference books I liked to use, and began working on my sermon. Inspired by the prejudice I’d seen at the park, the sermon was flowing when the phone rang. I hesitated, not wanting to stop but decided it must be Stephen.
“How’s the sermon going, Preacher Boy?”
“Good. What’s up?”
“Talked to Paul. They’re charging Eddie as a juvenile so no bail. Eddie’s going to be moved to Fresno on Monday morning. Paul’s hoping we’ll come up with something to get him out before then. We gotta get busy finding the killer.”
“I agree. Now get some sleep, Heathen Boy, so you can get to work on that tomorrow.”
I heard a yawn. “Maybe you’re right. What about you, Preacher Boy? Don’t want the preacher falling asleep during his own sermon.” He laughed.
“Very funny. I’m almost done and I don’t think anyone’s going to fall asleep for this one.”
There was a moment of silence on the line before Stephen spoke again and I was afraid he’d fallen asleep. “Almost makes me want to be there.”
“So what’s stopping you?”
“Got too much work to do,” he answered then hung up before I could argue.
Morning came far too early for me, I was awakened by a rough wetness on my face. “Stop it, Sherlock,” I said as I gently shoved the thirteen-pound, tan striped cat off my pillow. He looked more like a lion cub than a cat, except he wasn’t quite that big. Sherlock had already been asleep in the middle of my bed when I returned home last night.
“Licking isn’t very becoming of someone named Sherlock,” I teased as I scratched him under his chin. I was rewarded with a deep, masculine purr.
I looked at the clock beside my bed and groaned. It was seven a.m. and I needed to be at the church in an hour to unlock the doors and get ready for the service. I tumbled out of bed and headed for the shower.
After my shower, I made myself a cup of Earl Grey and opened up the Sunday morning edition of the Fresno Bee. The headlines didn’t improve my mood.
KINGSBURY’S NUMBER ONE CITIZEN MURDERED AT TOWN FIESTA
The story put the blame firmly on Eddie without any room for doubt. Bill wouldn’t be happy with me for not writing the same sort of hard-hitting story, but I wasn’t about to write something that wasn’t yet proven and smear an innocent boy’s name.
My phone rang and I almost didn’t answer it. This was quick even for Bill. “Hi, Bill.”
“What’s the deal letting another paper scoop us on a big story in our own town?” he growled.
“I’m going to do you one better and get you the real story. I’m going to find the real murderer.”
I heard a sigh on the other end of the line. “You’d better be right. The police are pretty sure they got the right guy. You blow this and you may be looking for another job.”
He’d fired and rehired me dozens of times already, so I wasn’t worried. Bill wasn’t as tough as he liked to pretend. Besides, I knew I was right and prayed God would help me prove it.
When I arrived at the church, it was almost eight-thirty. Arguing with Bill on the phone had made me late. I rushed around to turn on all of the lights, unlock the doors and make certain that the bulletins were on the table in the foyer. Lola had typed the bulletins earlier this week and left the sermon title blank. She’d come to know me well enough to know that I often didn’t have my sermons finished until the night before. I worked best under pressure.
It was almost time for Sunday School by the time I had everything ready so I picked up the bulletins and stood by the front door to greet my parishioners. The early ones arrived five minutes before service time. Lovely Lola was one of the early arrivals.
“Good morning, Mike. Did you get that sermon done?” she asked with a wicked grin on her face as she took the bulletin I handed her.
“No, I’m just going to wing it this morning.”
She giggled and went inside. Mrs. Hatch gave us an odd look as she took her bulletin and entered without a word. A few others followed her.
The ‘on time’ crowd was next and brought with it Josh’s father, Scott Matthews, the farmer who had made the awful comments at the Fiesta. He strode in with an air of superiority I hadn’t noticed before. Surely, it was just my imagination but he made chills run down my spine.
“Scott, how’s the farm?”
“The farm is fine, Preacher. We’re packing Emperor Grapes right now. A little short on workers though.”
Matthews shook my hand and went inside, and it was hard for me to act like I hadn’t overheard his ugly comments the day before. I wondered if he was a member of that All American Club Stanford had mentioned and hoped for a chance to talk to him about Josh, who was nowhere to be seen. But now wasn’t the time.
The last group to come in was the late crowd. Henry was among that group; he was never in a hurry to get anywhere. Of course, he lived next door to the church so he didn’t have far to go.
“Good morning, Henry.”
“I hear you had some excitement at your first Fiesta. Hope you don’t let it keep you from trying it next year. It’s not every year someone gets killed.”
“Did you know Mr. Toews?”
“Everyone knew him,” was all he answered but I would have sworn his body tensed.
After the morning preliminaries, it was time for me to present my sermon. My stomach tied in knots. “God, you have to help me do this,” I whispered, heading for the pulpit to deliver the sermon of my life.
I took my place behind the sturdy wooden pulpit that had undoubtedly heard more sermons than I’d ever write.
“There was once a man who was born to a poor carpenter and his young wife. He was a Nazarene, whom many thought were beneath them. But who was this man? He was the Son of God who had come to save all men.” As I cleared my throat, I noticed some of my people were squirming in their seats and didn’t look happy.
“First Corinthians 12:12-17
talks about the body of Christ and how every part of the body is equally important. Please follow along as I read:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
For by the one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
To give everyone a moment to think, I paused and looked out over the congregation. Some were nodding and looked thoughtful but others, like Matthews, looked annoyed and squirmed in their seats.
“God has made every person on this earth, and He has a purpose for all of us. We are all special and important to Him. Romans 12:9-11
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.
I shifted from foot to foot as I continued, careful not to look at the congregation again for fear I’d lose my nerve. “God wants us to serve one another, to care for one another. To cling to what is good and to hate what is evil. What could be more evil than to treat some people cruelly because of their race? Or their age or sex? Prejudice is an awful thing. A thing that God hates. How can someone say they love and serve God and practice something that He hates? We are all human and we all sin. But anyone who practices a sin must confess it to the Lord and repent.”
Hesitantly, I looked over the crowd and, if looks could kill, I would have been dead again. After giving me one more good glare, Matthews got up and walked out with as much noise as possible. The clomp of his boots filled the silence. The congregation turned to watch him leave. Several others followed, and I was disturbed to notice that many of them were board members.
I swallowed. “As a youth in the South, I witnessed a lot of prejudice but I had been told Californians were more enlightened,” I continued, trying to ignore the departures. “But, this weekend, I was rudely awakened to the prejudice that lives within our own little town and even within this church. Prejudice against minorities and against the youth. We are asked to love one another. To be a light unto the world. Christians are supposed to go out into the world and bring the lost into the church, no matter what they look like or where they are from. We are all God’s children and He loves us all equally. Are we not all sinners? Everyone should be welcome in God’s house.”
The church was silent when I finished and I wondered what kind of backlash I would suffer over the next few days. But I knew, whatever happened, I had done the right thing and God would be with me.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003