Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003
Deadly Discrimination: Chapter 8
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.
Paul, as he insisted I call him, took the Martinezes home while I returned to the park. It took some time to convince them to leave. They insisted that they would be back this evening when the booths were reopened.
By now, the park was nearly deserted. The police were gone as well. But I did find Stephen in the Martinez booth with a trash bag.
“Making an occupation change?” I teased.
He frowned. “I’m looking for clues of any sort. According to those I’ve spoken to, Toews went straight from his ride in the parade to this booth, ate ice cream, then was stabbed as he headed away from the ice cream booth.” Stephen pointed away from the booth.
“What do you expect to find in here?”
“Don’t know, but never hurts to be thorough. Maybe we’ll find something they’ve missed. The crime looked cut and dry, so maybe they didn’t look as closely as they should have. I’m going to pick up the trash they’ve left behind.”
A smile spread across my face as I looked up and saw Lola approaching. She too was carrying a garbage bag.
Her smile was like sunshine in this mess. “No, I haven’t opted for a new occupation,” she said before I could open my mouth, echoing my comment to Stephen. It was disconcerting how well this woman was beginning to know me.
“I’ve been tracing Toew’s route from the parade car to here.” She put a tie on the bag and put a tag on it, marking it.
“I’ve had enough trash for today. The officer I ran into said we could start preparing our booths to reopen, so I’m going over to the quilt booth. Anyone want to join me?”
“No, I’ll check out the crime scene. Got another trash bag for me?”
Lola reached into her handbag, pulled one out, and gave it to me. I wondered what all she had in there. Though sometimes I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
My stomach growled and I realized we’d never eaten. “Can I get a late lunch for everyone, assuming any food booths are open?”
Stephen rose and tossed back his head, getting an unruly lock of blond hair out of his eyes yet again. Since we’d been teens, I’d bugged him about getting a different haircut, but he argued that the ladies liked the look and he wasn’t going to mess with it. He did have a point. Stephen had never wanted for lady friends.
“Looks like there are people in some of the booths; maybe you can rustle up something here. I’ll take anything.”
When he was working, Stephen really wasn’t all that concerned with food. He stood up and took the empty trash bag from me. “We need to pick up that trash before too many people start milling around.”
“I’ll go with you, Mike,” said Lola. “Then we can eat in the quilt booth. I have some chairs in there.”
Sounded good to me. We wandered around, noticing that all of the booths seemed busy with activity again, in anticipation of the crowd’s return. I wondered if the people would come back. Considering how people were these days, they’d probably flock back more to ogle at the crime scene than to eat and buy stuff.
“I want verinica,” said Lola with the passion of a woman starved. This was a local German delicacy I’d never tried, but figured why not. I’d go just about anywhere this lady would lead.
“Hi Sally, have anything to sell us?”
A short, gray-haired woman seemed to literally bounce up to the booth window. As spry as a teenager; I wondered what had kept her young. Maybe it was this veronica stuff. I’d definitely have to try it. In five years, I’d be hitting forty.
“Sure, Lola. How many?”
“Hmmm, I’ll take one, and I guess four more for the guys?” She looked at me for confirmation and I shrugged. She frowned at my lack of an answer.
“And maybe some zwiebach to go with it,” I added. This I had tried. They were wonderful homemade rolls, though the name was also used for some crunchy wafers babies ate. Perhaps the wafers were made from these rolls. You couldn’t be a true southerner and not love bread.
As the woman put together our food, I decided to make double use of our time. “Sally, is it?”
Sally smiled, and her face lit up. I was struck by the clues to the striking woman she must have been in her youth.
“Yes, Pastor Mike.”
“How’d you know my name?”
Her blue eyes sparkled. “Lola’s told me about you. From what’s she told me, I’d figure you’re about to ask me about the murder this afternoon, right?”
Sometimes women were so intuitive it frightened me. “Why, yes. Did you see or hear anything interesting?”
Sally continued to prepare our plates, filling them with oval noodles stuffed with something or other along with a couple rolls each. I had to admit it smelled good.
“My booth isn’t too far from where things happened, but it was too busy, too many people milling around to really see anything. I heard Lizzie scream, that’s for sure. But that’s about it. They’d just left here with food a few minutes before.”
“Mrs. Toews. Known the family for years, they go to our church. Lizzie and I grew up around here. Went to school together. Never understood why she married that twit.” The smile disappeared.
“Can you think of any reason someone might have wanted to kill him?”
She laughed, a rippling laugh that softened the lines in her face. “Just ‘bout everyone. Not a soul in town liked him, but they coddled up to him anyways because of all of his money and power. He owned half the real estate downtown and was always hassling anyone who missed a rent payment.” Again, she frowned, and instantly looked older. “Course, in my mind, your best bet is that weasel of a nephew. He’s turning out to be just like his uncle. Such a pity.”
I’d met Cecil Toews many times and, she was right, the nut hadn’t fallen far from that tree. But murder? I couldn’t imagine he’d have the stomach for it. “Why would you say that?”
“You mean you don’t know?” She laughed again. “Guess you haven’t tapped into the Kingsbury grapevine yet. Cecil inherits all the stations. It’ll make him a bundle.”
This surprised me. I’d assumed the widow would inherit everything, or that there were children. “What about his wife and children?”
Sally put foil over our plates and placed them in front of us. “Lizzie gets everything else, but she never cared about the stations. He owns six across the state, you know. All good moneymakers. As far as kids, he hasn’t spoken to his children in years. They can’t stand him either. Lizzie goes up to Washington to visit them a few times a year. He disinherited them as soon as they refused to go into the family business and left town to be preachers like you. Jack is in Seattle, married with three kids. Billy is in Vancouver, single but engaged.”
This woman really was full of information. “Interesting.” I pulled out my wallet. “How much do we owe you?”
“Ten. Would you like something to drink too?”
I realized my mouth was very dry. “What do you have?”
“Pepsi, 7-Up, orange juice and milk.”
“Milk for me, and 7-Up and orange juice. Lola?”
Sally gave me an odd look, likely thinking I must be really thirsty. Lola opted for a Pepsi.
“So why all the questions? I thought the police arrested the Martinez boy.” She asked as she handed us our drinks.
“Yes, but I don’t believe he did it.”
“Didn’t like that idea myself. Such a nice family. Sure, Eddie’s been in trouble a couple of times, but what kid hasn’t? You make sure they don’t send that poor child to jail, Pastor Mike.” She reached through the booth window and squeezed my arm.
We paid for our lunch and drinks and headed to the quilt booth. Stephen was there, waiting for us. “Find anything good?” I asked as we set everything down on a small card table.
“Don’t know yet. Just picked up everything the cops missed. Figured we could go through it later at my apartment. What’d you find for lunch?”
We uncovered the food and pushed a plate his way. I also handed him the 7-Up and orange juice along with an empty cup I’d gotten from Sally. “Thanks, Preacher Boy.”
Stephen proceeded to make his own special concoction, which he called Orange-up, by mixing the two in the same cup. It had become so popular that many restaurants in the area had put it on their menus.
“We got some interesting info,” I mumbled between bites. This stuff was great, though I still wasn’t certain what all was in it.
“Yeah,” chimed Lola. “Looks like the nephew might be a good suspect. He inherits the stations.”
“I think I’ll head over to the station here later tonight and snoop around,” I said, after I’d swallowed.
“I went to school with that brat,” said Lola, a scowl on her face. “He used to play practical jokes on all the poorer kids at school. Couldn’t stand him.”
“Did he ever pull anything on you?” I asked.
She blushed, which was quite attractive on her fair skin. “None of your business.”
Stephen and I laughed, and her blush got even redder.
“I think we should snoop around here a little longer first. Ask a few more questions. We can meet at my apartment late tonight for pizza and trash.”
Lola formed her mouth into a perfect pout, something women seemed to do with perfection. “I have to stay in the booth. But I can see if anyone else in the booths knows anything.”
“I’ll take the food stands,” I said with a grin. “You can take the craft ones.”
“Preacher Boy, if you don’t watch it you’re gonna get so fat you’ll never get this pretty lady to marry you,” offered Stephen with a grin as he slapped me on the back.
This time I blushed.