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!
It was a perfect October day. The sky was a light blue and a slight breeze rustled any leaves that hadn’t yet fallen. The Fiesta committee would be pleased.
I unlocked my bike and headed for the radio station, which was only a couple blocks down the road.
Kingsbury’s main street was lined with old-fashioned, brick-front buildings. A few years ago, the local historical society had campaigned to restore all of these old buildings to their original condition and it had been well worth the cost. It was one of the nicer downtowns I had ever seen, each storefront a tribute to the town’s past. Nearby Donlyn had seen the same type of restoration.
For as long as townspeople could remember, KKNG had been housed in one of those brick buildings. The first thing Mr. Toews had shared with me was that they had always made a profit. Never did I hear him talk of how many people had been blest by their broadcasts.
I parked my bike in the lot behind the building and went inside. The sounds of the station’s morning programming filled the hallways. Every morning at nine a.m. on the dot, Chuck Swindoll’s program would grace KKNG’s airwaves. Swindoll was a personal favorite but I would have to miss him this morning, as I had other things to tend to.
Walking down the hall, I headed to the production studio on my right. A tall, thin man with bushy black hair sat at the controls. I waved at him through the soundproof window. He took off his headphones and opened the door.
“Hey, Pastor Mike. Ready to tape your show?”
“I guess so, Kevin,” I answered hesitantly, still not comfortable speaking on the radio. Mr. Toews had been insistent that the station needed some local appeal to attract local sponsors, so I’d allowed myself to be talked into it. But my main motive was a bit selfish; one of the station workers informed me that it could possibly lead to a job at the station. Since our church couldn’t afford to pay me a salary, an extra part-time job was always an appealing prospect. My work with the local paper didn’t pay very much either.
I shook my head. Shame on me, I thought. Mr. Toews attitude must be contagious. My main motive needed to be using this program to reach people with the gospel, not money. No matter how much I needed it.
The studio was small, but adequate. I sat down at a small table where a big microphone stood on a stand, then handed Kevin a list of songs. He took the list to a cabinet behind me that held a bunch of carts containing various songs. He picked out the songs on my list, sat down at the controls, and put on his headphones. The workers here often complained that the station operated in the dark ages but Mr. Toews wasn’t about to spend a penny he didn’t have to. Pretty much every other station in the country had gone digital and automated, which had put a lot of people out of work over the past decade.
“Ready to go?”
After giving him the thumbs up, I put on my headphones and pulled out my notes. For the next half hour I introduced songs and Kevin played them. Eventually Toews wanted me to go live and have an evening program, but I hated to give up my evenings and wasn’t certain how I felt about going live. At least not yet.
Things went smoothly, the only interruption coming when Kevin had to leave the room to check on a program. Within an hour, we were finished.
“Good job, Pastor Mike.”
I didn’t argue, but I wasn’t really buying it. “Do you think anyone really listens?”
“Oh sure, we’ve really been promoting it. Toews has big plans for your show. Local appeal. He thinks he should be able to get some good money from local businesses for advertising before and after your program.” He laughed. “Money is what makes him tick after all.”
“Speaking of Mr. Toews, is he in?”
Kevin opened the door and pointed across the lobby to a door that had the words “office” on it. “He’s always in unless it’s lunch time or he’s out schmoozing an advertiser. I don’t think the man has a life. Just knock.”
Facing the large oak door to Toews’ office, I felt like I had been called to the principal. I knocked, then heard a quiet, “Come in.”
Toews was sitting in a brown leather chair at a large desk, his ear glued to the phone. His large frame overflowed the chair. He motioned for me to take a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk and I complied.
“Now see here, Thompson, I won’t stand for this. You’re three months behind on payment and, if I don’t see payment in full by the end of the week, your program’s history. I’m not running a charity.” Toews’ tone was firm, leaving no room for argument. I felt sorry for Thompson, whoever he was.
Hanging up, Toews’ stern frown transformed into his salesman smile. “What can I do for you, Pastor Mike?”
“I’d like to talk to you about Eddie Martinez.”
The frown momentarily returned, then went back to a smile. He looked like a bulldog one minute and Santa the next. It was disturbing.
“Eddie’s a good boy, just filled the position already.”
“Eddie says he has more experience than the boy you hired. He thinks you didn’t hire him because he’s Hispanic.” Normally I wasn’t this bold, but few things ticked me off like discrimination.
Toews stood with a bit of effort due to his age and weight. He was a man of average height and I felt like he was standing up for effect. This way he was able to look down on me when he spoke. “I can’t believe anyone on my staff would take part in such practices, but I’ll definitely check into it. The station manager has much to answer for if he is discriminating against minorities.”
I knew this was a just a story to cover for himself and pass the buck. The station manager, Tom Ham, went to my church and volunteered at the local youth center. I’d never known anyone less bigoted. But it was clear there was no point arguing.
“Thanks, Mr. Toews, I’d appreciate it.”
He reached out a wrinkled hand. “Please, call me Marvin.”
I stood up and shook his clammy hand. “See you around, Marvin.”
“That you will. I’m the grand marshal at this year’s parade. Don’t forget to plug the station in your parade report for the paper. Maybe next year we’ll have you cover the parade for the station too.” As he talked, he guided me towards the door, then was distracted by the traffic director, Cindy Free.
While he followed her to her office, I decided to drop in on another one of the station’s announcers before making a retreat. But, when I walked into the main studio, Jim Barrows wasn’t at the controls. I shrugged, figuring he must have just stepped out. Normally on the graveyard shift, he’d told me he would be in today preparing for the parade coverage. He wouldn’t be the one covering it from the parade, but he would be in charge here at the station, making certain it all went over the air without a hitch.
I headed outside to my bike and heard a familiar deep voice as I stepped out the door. “Hey there, Pastor Mike. What’s up?”
Jim’s long dark hair was pulled back in a tasteful ponytail. That ponytail had been the subject of many arguments with Marvin Toews. But rumor was that Jim was too good at his job to get fired, and he knew it. I hoped he was right because he was doing something else at that moment that could have caused his termination.
“How can you stand that disgusting habit?”
He took a puff, then exhaled, almost bowling me over with the strength of the aroma. Cloves. There was no doubting that smell. After the time I’d spent in New Orleans’ bars in my wilder days, I’d become familiar with smells I no longer had a reason to deal with on a personal basis. After exhaling, Jim smiled, showing teeth stained by tobacco.
“Just thought I’d see if I can talk you into joining our church for Sunday Service this weekend.” I’d been trying to get Jim to church ever since I’d started my program here, and I felt he was weakening. He admitted to me he’d been raised in church but strayed away in his youth, never to return. I’d found it odd that a Christian radio station employed non-Christians, but Toews didn’t seem to care about workers’ religious beliefs as long as they did their job and didn’t complain about the lousy hours or low pay. Radio jobs were now hard to come by, so no one dared to complain.
Jim’s brown eyes sparkled. “You know an old vampire like myself never ventures out in daylight if they don’t have to. This parade is the only daytime assignment I get all year. I’ll need days off to recover.”
“There’s always evening service,” I countered.
I started to leave, but found my reporter curiosity wouldn’t let me. “Jim, why have you always worked nights? You’ve been here a long time. Shouldn’t you have a better shift?”
The smile faded. “Old man Toews wouldn’t dare fire me because he knows I’m the best he has, but he doesn’t like me, so I’ll be stuck on that shift forever unless I leave this place. Which I might actually do someday.”
This I doubted. Jim didn’t seem to like change. He’d told me more than once that he still owned the same red 1960’s VW bug his dad had given him when he turned 16 in 1970. He also struck me as a very private person with few contacts outside the station. But then working at night and sleeping during the day didn’t make having a social life easy. Especially in a town the rolled up it’s sidewalks by ten. Most of the time he seemed content, sort of. I hoped I could help make that contentment real by getting him back to church.
Since there was nothing more I could do for Eddie or Jim at the moment, it was time to head to the church and catch up on some paperwork before going to the Fiesta. I looked forward to the Fiesta with great anticipation; actually glad it was much tamer than Mardi Gras. I’d seen enough violence and excitement in New Orleans for a lifetime. It felt good to be in a town where nothing ever happened.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003