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 detoured me to the food with very little effort. We took our tacos, which we had purchased from a booth with a bright yellow banner, back to her booth. She continued to work in between bites. My mind kept wandering back to the Martinez family and their problems; it wandered so far that I didn’t realize Lola was talking to me.
“Mike, are you listening to me?” she asked, her hands again on her hips. Where did women learn that stance anyhow? I recalled my sister doing it practically from birth.
“Sorry, I was thinking about something else. What were you saying?”
My beautiful lady friend formed her lips into a perfect pout. “If you’re going to ignore me anyhow, finish up your food and go see what’s up at the ice cream booth.
I took one last bite, then leapt up and gave her a big hug. “Thanks, Sweetie. You’d make a great pastor’s wife,” I told her with a wink.
She blushed and shooed me away.
I didn’t even get to the booth before I heard another fight, but this one came from the opposite direction of the Happy Mouth booth. I decided to follow the noise. It led me to the bike shop booth with its green banner, where they were selling cinnamon rolls to raise money for a new skate park. One side of the argument was the same voice as had been part of the earlier argument. It was no surprise to me that it was Toews. I didn’t want to eavesdrop, but felt compelled to learn all I could about this man’s business practices so I could help Miguel.
“Mr. Toews, you have to give us more time. Everything I have has gone into completing the skate park. As soon as I get the park going, I’ll be able to finish making payments on the property. For the sake of the kids, give me a little more time,” pleaded Alec Stanford, the bike shop’s owner.
“Stanford, I can’t abide sloppy business practices. If you don’t have the past due payment to me by the end of this week, I’ll put a halt to this foolish skate park. These kids have better things to do with their time. Don’t kids work anymore? We don’t need them out there causing trouble,” said Toews in a crusty old voice with an edge as bitter as vinegar.
Did this man have it out for kids? Or was this more prejudice against minorities since the kids who needed the skate park most were the minority kids whose parents had to be out working? Yet another safe place for these kids was being threatened. My anger boiled. How could one man be so awful?
I had to step back to keep from being run over as Toews barreled out of the booth and headed out to cause more trouble. Feeling annoyed, I decided to follow him and find out what he was up to next. I was beginning think I’d been spending too much time around Stephen.
Toews strode like a man with a purpose, his hand gripping some papers that fluttered in the wind created by his movement. He kept his eyes focused straight ahead so it was easy for me to blend into the crowd milling around. I followed him past all of the food booths to a big blue and red bounce house sitting in the intersection. A long line of kids led up to the fun.
He pushed his way through the children to the tall brunette who stood taking tickets and overseeing the attraction. This woman gave Toews a look that stopped him in his tracks. He handed her some papers and stepped back. I had to laugh. I wouldn’t have wanted to tangle with Dorian either. Dorian ran the local youth center and could be a tiger when she needed to be, though with the kids she was sweet as an angel. Toews was definitely a man with a mission, a mission against the young people of Kingsbury. I had little doubt that he had handed her an eviction notice and that she would fight him tooth and nail. That was a fight I’d be willing to buy a ticket to see.
“Have you decided to become a PI?” spoke a familiar voice behind me that again made me jump. I turned to face my blond friend as he flipped an unruly lock of hair from his eyes.
I leaned back on a fireplug and sighed. “Just trying to figure out what Toews is up to. He appears to be evicting every business in town that concentrates on helping kids. What is it with him anyhow?”
Stephen folded his arms and looked down at me. “Preacher Boy, don’t you think it’s more likely he’s trying to chase out the undesirable elements from Kingsbury?”
I squinted and tilted my head until something clicked in there. “You mean he’s trying to chase out the minorities. That thought did cross my mind. But why? Why would he consider them undesirable?”
“You’ve been away from the South too long friend; you’ve forgotten what prejudice is like. While more Californians may seem enlightened in that area, sometimes I think they just do a better job of covering it up. Some people don’t think anyone who is of a different color is as good as they are.” Stephen shrugged. “Hard to understand isn’t it?”
Stephen himself was half-Italian and half Spanish.
“God made us all equal. But He also made us all sinners.” I stood up, feeling very low. My first impressions of Kingsbury had been good, but I was beginning to wonder how much evil lurked in its shadows.
We joined Lola for a dessert of homemade peach cobbler as she showed the quilts to interested bidders. Her group was holding a silent auction that ended on Saturday evening; many people were putting their bids down for the beautiful creations already.
“I have a case to work on, so I’m off,” said Stephen as he finished off his last bite.
“Hey, Heathen Boy, isn’t it late to be working?”
“Bad guys don’t always sleep.”
“Will we see you in the morning?” asked Lola, after she finished showing the quilts to a bidder.
“Probably. Alex says I need to go. She wants me to give her a report since she’s out of town. See ya guys later.”
Lola tilted her head to one side. “I wonder if he and Alex will ever get married?”
“Not unless we can get old Heathen Boy back to church. She’d never marry a non-Christian. At least I don’t think so.” Steering things away from a painful subject, I added. “Aren’t you about finished for the night?” I yawned to add extra affect to my words.
“Okay, sleepyhead, go home. I’ll see you in the morning before your bike race. Peddle well.” She pecked me on the cheek and shoved me out of the booth.
Against my better judgment, I had let Eddie talk me into competing in the Fiesta bike race that took place just before the parade so I desperately needed my rest if I was going to make it to the end of the race. I only hoped I could sleep. My heart was still troubled by seeing such obvious bigotry.
What I saw on the way to my bike made me feel even worse. Josh and his pals seemed to have a young Mexican girl cornered. I found myself wishing Stephen was still around, but I did have God as my shield.
“Help me, Lord,” I whispered, jogging over to them.
The young girl looked frightened.
“Everything okay?” I asked, determined to help her.
“Everything’s fine, preacher. This young lady just needed some directions and we’re helping her out,” answered Josh. I wasn’t buying it.
“Miss, if you need some help, I’m sure the police can help you.” I pointed towards the door to the police department only a few feet away. These boys had nerve. She nodded and slipped between them, heading straight for the police.
Josh glared after her, but seemed to decide it wasn’t worth the effort. I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t have a talk with his father.
“Since you’re such a helpful sort, Josh, perhaps you could become a leader in the youth group. Of course, you’d have to show up at church more often.”
He seemed disinterested and didn’t even look at me when he answered. “I’ll give it some thought, preacher. But the boys and I are pretty busy.”
I watched the trio head back towards the park and wondered what sort of mischief they would find to get into next. There was no doubt I needed to talk to Josh’s parents.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003