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 called me just before I went to bed to let me know she’d managed to work it out so she didn’t have to watch the quilt booth until after the parade. I was glad; this meant we could see to the parade together. It sounded like quite the small-town experience. Many people who moved away came back every year just for the parade and Fiesta. It was like one citywide family reunion. Every year, the theme had something to do with fruit since the San Joaquin Valley is the biggest fruit producer in the country.
From what everyone told me, it was unlike anything I’d experienced in New Orleans. Granted, the town was filled to overflowing during Mardi Gras, but it never felt like a family reunion. I was glad the Kingsbury News had asked me to cover the Fiesta, reveling in any opportunity to write.
Promptly at seven a.m., my beautiful lady showed up on my doorstep, lawn chairs and ice chest in hand. Dressed in jeans, a WWJD T-shirt and tennis shoes with a light blue jacket tied around her waist. No matter what she wore, she looked like a princess to me.
“Ready to go?” She gave me a look that said I had better be. “I warned you we needed to get there early to get a good seat.”
“Almost. Let me grab my jacket and cap.”
“Oh, you’re not going to wear that awful Saints cap are you?”
Lola hated football but it was my favorite cap. My dad had bought it for me at the last game we attended before he passed away. However, when I looked at that smile of hers, I acquiesced. What was that song about how when a man loves a woman she has him in the palm of her hand?
We walked to the parade since I only lived a couple of blocks away. I grabbed my red ten-speed with one hand and, as I took the chairs from Lola, I noticed she had a video camera.
“What’s the camera for?”
“I’m going to film the parade for my cousin. She can’t make it this year.”
Wow, this must be some parade I thought, if someone is having it filmed because they can’t make it. My stomach was all tied up with anticipation, just like a kid waiting for Santa Claus. A great parade and a beautiful lady, what more could one ask for?
I tried to push the thoughts of the previous night out of my mind for the time being. There was nothing I could do about it at the moment. I slipped my notebook into my pocket to take notes for the article, looking forward to writing about this incredible Kingsbury tradition.
Within minutes, we made it to our destination. The sidewalks were already crowded with people of all shapes and sizes, but Lola spotted a vacant location for us across from the park. It was just big enough for Stephen and us. He had called that morning to confirm he would join us in time for the parade. With his girlfriend out of town, he was a bit restless. She was often away on weekends, singing.
To keep squatters from taking our spot, I put out the lawn chairs and was pleased that it appeared to be a prime location near the beginning of the parade route. If we got hungry, one of us could simply walk across the street to one of the booths. I put down the ice chest and settled myself into one of the chairs since the bikeathon didn’t begin until eight. Lola stood and stretched her pretty neck around looking for something.
“What are you looking for, Babe?”
I laughed, and she stopped looking just long enough to frown at me.
“You don’t have to look very far to find people.”
“People I know, silly.”
She resumed her search and it wasn’t long until she sprinted off across the street, waving to someone.
A little bummed that I had been abandoned, I decided to help myself to a soda while doing a bit of looking around myself. Even as a relative newcomer to town, it didn’t take long to spot several familiar faces. I could see the Martinez booth from our vantage point and was happy to see it was surrounded by patrons. Obviously they needed the money. I wondered if Toews wasn’t killing the local businesses for some big plan of his own like some sort of shopping mall or something. It would be a shame to lose the wonderful downtown area.
As I sipped the cool liquid, I spotted several of my parishioners. There had to be hundreds of people in town for this event and I could hardly wait for it to start. Still alone, I began to listen to some of the conversations around me, appeasing my guilt with the thought that it would be hard in this crowed not to overhear people.
“I can’t believe Toews is grand marshal again. It just makes me sick.”
“You know they say he bought the honor by making a large donation to the community chest for downtown renovation.” This was followed by a loud harrumph.
“He owns downtown — he ought to pay for the whole dumb thing.”
After this last comment, those two moved on. Hmm… interesting. It appeared Mr. Toews was quite the entrepreneur indeed. But then it was said in New Orleans that the same man owned half of the French Quarter, so this concept was nothing new to me. I did often wonder though why God allowed certain people to be so wealthy when they obviously did not have a heart to share their wealth. And then there were kind, generous people who would share their last loaf of bread with someone in need and they were often those who barely survived themselves. Perhaps they had little because they gave it all away, but one day their reward would be great.
Thinking about Toews reminded me I had brought a pocket radio with me so I could listen to the play-by-play of the parade on KKNG. I nearly jumped out of my seat when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I needed to get eyes in the back of my head and Stephen really needed a good pair of squeaky sneakers.
“Sorry, Preacher Boy, didn’t mean to scare you there.”
Stephen plopped his long slender frame into one of the lawn chairs while brushing an unruly lock of blond hair from in front of his eyes. It was one of the rare moments I’d seen him in anything less than an expensive Italian suit. I was willing to lay odds his jeans were top of the line instead of Salvation Army brand like mine. How two more different souls ever connected, would forever be a mystery to this old preacher’s son.
“No problem, Heathen Boy.” When we used our odd nicknames it gave me a certain pleasure to note the strange looks we were given. I had never been one to be conventional, though Stephen might argue otherwise.
“Ready for the big parade?” he asked, while helping himself to the 7-Up I’d added to the ice chest for him.
“You’re the only one around here that doesn’t seem thrilled, even though you’re almost as early getting here as us. Why is that?”
He popped the top of the can and took a swig before answering. “It’s no Mardi Gras but I guess, for a small town, it’s okay. I still can’t believe Alex was bummed that she had to be out of town and miss it this year. Maybe it’s a local thing. Let me know what you think about it once you’ve had the experience. Shoot, she doesn’t even live in Kingsbury. But then Donlyn and Kingsbury are so close they’re practically the same town anyway.
“As to why I’m so early, the neighbor’s dog woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was tempted to strangle the creature. Didn’t get home until late last night as it was and needed my sleep.”
Lola slipped into the chair on my other side and laughed. “You may be right about the local thing, Stephen. I’ve lived here all of my life and I just can’t imagine not attending. I still remember going as a child and getting so excited when people in the parade would throw candy to the kids. Sometimes, I still grab a piece.
“Don’t you need to get going, Mike?”
“You’re right, Babe. See you guys in time for the parade. And leave me some soda, Heathen Boy.”
Stephen grinned, mischievousness gleaming in his grey eyes.
I unchained my bike and nearly ran into someone wearing a hooded jacket. “Excuse me,” I said, feeling like I’d bumped into a brick wall. The smell that accompanied this person was very distinct. Cloves again. First Jim, now this stranger. Someone around town must be a doing a booming business.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003