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.
We had our fill of football by the beginning of the last quarter—Kensington was slaughtering Kingsbury High. Thankfully, I’d had the time to pick up some cheap tires earlier in the day, so Stephen dropped me off at my bike and I rode over to the radio station; thanks to the headlight the church had purchased for my bike I was able to ride it at night.
The back door was unlocked. I went in and found Jim in the break room watching a little black and white television. The room also held a very old refrigerator, a round table with sturdy old yellow plastic-covered chairs, and a microwave. The microwave was the only thing in the room that wasn’t thirty years old, as the staff had just recently talked Mr. Toews into purchasing one.
“Try not to work too hard.”
Jim looked up and smiled. “Want some coffee, Preacher?”
“Mind helping yourself?” Jim looked planted for the night; his ponytail hanging over the back of the chair he was slumped down in, his feet propped on another chair.
I helped myself to the coffeepot on the sink, then took a seat at the table. “Surely, you don’t spend your whole night watching TV. That would have to get boring.”
Jim’s laugh was deep and hearty. “No, but there is a lot of downtime with no one else here. I’ll be busier later doing commercials and editing local programs after the good TV shows are over. And of course tonight we’re airing the football game, so that makes my job even easier.”
He slipped his feet down onto the floor and half way sat up. “What brings you out here during the vampire shift? Can’t be the coffee.”
“I was wondering if you could offer any insight into Mr. Toew’s murder. I took a sip of the very strong coffee, then set it down on the table. There had to be enough caffeine in it to keep a person up all night and I didn’t need that.
“Didn’t the police arrest that Mexican kid?”
“Yes, but he didn’t do it.”
He turned the sound down on the TV, then leaned back in his chair. “I imagine everyone’s already told you that most of the town hated the man. And of course, I’m no exception. He kept me on this shift out of spite; didn’t like my attitude. But I think I’ve told you that already.”
“Maybe with his death things will change for the better around here. If Cecil takes over, the rumor is you’ll move up to station manager.”
The tall, slender man sat up straight and stared at me with anger in his dark eyes. “You can’t possibly think I had anything to do with his death! Over a lousy job?”
His anger made me a bit nervous so I scooted my chair back from the table. “People have killed for less, but no, I don’t think you did it. You couldn’t have, you were here at the time broadcasting the parade. Unless someone has cloned you, you have a solid alibi.”
He seemed to relax and I let out the breathe I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “Sorry I yelled. I was just shocked at the thought.”
“So, no insight on whom the killer could be?”
“Like I said, everyone had some sort of motive. Apparently even Cecil if he actually inherits.”
“Do you think he’s capable of such a thing?” I decided to be brave and take another sip of coffee to warm me before facing the chilly night air on my bicycle.
“He’d never have the nerve to do it himself, but I suppose he could have hired someone. Hard to think someone you know could kill, but pushed to the limit I suppose most people could.” He shrugged. “Who knows? They did have a pretty big fight a couple of days ago.”
“Didn’t stand around to listen, but it was pretty heated and it was not the first time. Toews always tried to run Cecil’s life, and I guess he’s still doing it from the grave with the inheritance.”
I stood up and tossed the remainder of the coffee into the trash. Maybe Jim really was a vampire if he could stomach this stuff.
“Cecil didn’t want the station?”
“Not really,” answered Jim. “But it is a moneymaker, so I don’t imagine he’ll turn it down now. Wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up selling it though.”
“Will Cecil be here in the morning?”
“Most likely. I can’t imagine him taking time off to grieve.” He stood up. “I’ll walk you out. I could use a smoke right now.”
“That stuff’s going to be the death of you.”
Jim pulled out a cigarette and lit up as soon as we were out the door. I pulled my jacket tighter against the wind that had come up and stopped in my tracks when I recognized a familiar scent. Cloves. This was where I had smelled it recently. But the stranger in the park had to be someone else. Jim was here at the station at the time of the murder. I had to find out who else in the area smoked those awful things. And I needed to know more about this strange man who called himself a vampire. Could he really be out for blood?
After returning home I started a pot of good coffee, then called Stephen and filled him in on my conversation with Jim.
“We have to check him out, even if his alibi is rock solid. Too many questions.”
“I agree, Preacher Boy. What about Cecil?”
“I’m going in tomorrow morning to record my program; I’ll try and talk to him then.” The coffee maker bubbled in the background and the heavenly smell filled the room.
“Meet for lunch and trade notes?”
“Sure.” It was like we were back in school; even then we’d made a great team. Stephen had been a whiz at math, and my strong suit had been English. We got good grades mostly because we worked as a team.
After hanging up, I pulled out my notes and poured a cup of coffee. The warm liquid felt good sliding down my throat and tasted much better than the coffee at KKNG.
Sherlock suddenly appeared and jumped up on the table. He rubbed his furry head against my arm and purred.
“I know what you want you big pig.” I scratched him behind the ears then opened a can of cat food before returning to my coffee. It was lukewarm so I heated it up in the microwave, then sat back down.
My frame of mind was lousy. So far we had learned very little and the longer we took to find the real killer, the longer Eddie had to stay in jail. Patience was not my greatest gift.
Unable to make any more sense out of the notes, I pulled out my Bible and began to read randomly. God led me to one of my favorites—one that had often been a great comfort to me, Philippians 4:6-7:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (KJV)
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (KJV)
I closed my Bible and spent the next several minutes bringing the whole situation before God until I felt the burden of discouragement lift. Somehow, God would help us find the answers because Eddie was innocent.
Morning came too soon. I had been unable to get to sleep until almost one a.m., even after my time of prayer, and I was feeling it. My eyes felt like sandpaper.
I hurriedly started some more coffee and pulled out my travel mug. The only thing I still needed was my notes for the radio program. I often wondered why I had agreed to do this program, but it had brought some new people to the church and served the purpose of reaching out to those who were housebound.
As I wheeled my bike outside, a note dropped to the ground. I picked it up. It was addressed to me. I opened it and gasped. This was not how I wanted to start my day. The note read:
REMEMBER YOUR OWN KIND AND STOP SUPPORTING THE MINORITY TRASH OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.
Naturally, it wasn’t signed, but I was sure it had come from Matthews and his club. If they thought they were going to stop me, they were sadly mistaken.
When I arrived at the radio station I noticed that Cecil’s red Grand Am was in the parking lot, and unfortunately Josh’s Porsche was there was well. I grabbed my notes and coffee and strode in with confidence and a new burst of energy. These people were messing with a man of God! Before getting as far as the studio, I ran into my prey.
“Cecil, I’d like to offer my condolences.” I reached out a hand.
He took my hand in a limp grip. “Thank you Pastor Mike, this has been hard. Here to record your program?”
It amazed me how quickly he went from grieving family member to businessman. No sorrow filled his green eyes. Instead, he seemed quite pleased with his day.
“Yes. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if I may?”
“Well of course. We like to keep our clients happy.” He took me by the arm and ushered me into the break room, which looked a bit different in the light of day. The little TV had disappeared and all of the chairs were neatly sitting around the table.
“Coffee?” he asked, as he poured himself a cup.
I flinched at the memory of last night’s bitter liquid. “No, thank you.”
Cecil motioned for me to take a seat at the table and leaned up against it himself. He was of medium height and very thin. I’d have guessed him to have been a wimp in school, though his money probably made up for it.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’m helping Stephen Carlucci investigate the murder of your uncle and I’m hoping you can provide some insight.”
Suddenly the businessman looked more like a wary fox in the hen house. His reddish, wavy hair helped with that mental picture. “Didn’t they arrest that Mexican kid? It’s not a surprise to me at all, his kind tends to lose it when turned down for a job they’re not qualified to do.”
It took all my self-control to keep from slugging him, but he couldn’t answer any questions if he was unconscious. I wondered if he were following in his uncle’s footsteps with the All American Club.
“I don’t believe he did it.”
Cecil’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Who do you think-” He stopped mid sentence and stoop up. “Oh no, not one of our family.”
I felt at a disadvantage sitting, even though he wasn’t that tall, so I got up before responding. “I heard that you and your uncle were arguing about something recently. Care to tell me what?”
He pulled out a cigarette before answering—the habit seemed to run rampant here although as the boss he didn’t seem to feel the need to go outside. It didn’t appear to be cloves.
“Uncle was always trying to tell me how to run my life. When I came up with ideas on my own, they were never good enough. I had decided to leave Kingsbury and go to Washington. That is what the argument was about.” He took a puff, then laughed. “Funny. By dying it appears he got his way after all.”
It was time to pull my trump card, so I reached into my pocket and showed Cecil the pocket watch. He looked genuinely surprised.
“Where did you find this?”
“Is it yours?”
He took it from me and examined it closely. “So it would appear.”
I took it back and returned it to my pocket. “It was found at the crime scene. After my program, I’m going to run it over to the police department. Care to join me and explain how it got there?”
His pale, gaunt face turned red to match his hair. “I never said I wasn’t at the park that day. The watch could have been dropped at any time.” Cecil blew a puff of smoke my way, then went back to his office without another word. Obviously, that was all I was getting out of him.
It was time to head for the studio. Kevin sat next to a large control panel with knobs and buttons. I’d never understand what they were all for.
I handed him my music. “That was some parade. It must be strange around here without Mr. Toews popping in.”
He scratched his scruffy beard. With his laid back, scruffy appearance, he’d never make it on TV but he had the perfect radio voice. “Most excitement we’ve had in decades. I heard they arrested the Mexican kid.”
Could no one refer to him as anything else? “Yes, but I don’t believe he did it. I was hoping now that you’ve had a little time to think about it, you’d be able to offer some insight into all of this.”
“Me? Shoot, I didn’t do anything but watch the parade and announce what I saw. Each year it’s so much the same I could practically do it in my sleep.” He laughed. “For that matter I probably did.”
“And you were in the booth the whole time?”
“Of course. If you doubt me, take a copy of the CD home and listen.” He pulled a CD out of a basket on the floor. “We always make a few copies for people who missed the parade or have a kid in the band.”
My amazement must have shown on my face because Kevin laughed. I still didn’t get what the people of Kingsbury saw in the Fiesta parade, but took the CD in case it could shed some light on things.
“You don’t get the fascination parade do you?”
I was embarrassed that it was so obvious. “Not really.”
“Don’t stress yourself over it. It’s totally a local thing. Tradition.” He put on his headphones.
I put mine on too and we set about recording my program. An hour later, we were done and I got up to leave, but had one more question. “Where’s Tom?” I was hoping the station manager might have some insight.
“History. Cecil canned him just before you got here. He was so mad he just stormed out without taking his stuff.”
“Did he get along with Mr. Toews?” I asked.
“Oddly, he’s one of the few people who did. Probably why Cecil canned him. Tom made money for Toews, so he was always treated well.”
Yes, that seemed to be the guide by which Toews had lived his life, and possibly the reason for his death.
I gathered up my things and headed out the studio door, nearly running into Josh.
“Sorry Josh, didn’t see you there.”
The boy merely shrugged and flicked his blond hair out of his eyes, much like Stephen was always doing. I nearly laughed. However, when Josh did it, it was just part of his cocky attitude, which was surely running high after the game last night. Josh started to take off for whatever work he was supposedly doing, then stopped and turned to me with a wicked grin on his face.
“You ride a bike everywhere don’t you?”
“Yes,” I answered, curious at his question.
“Better watch out, I hear a lot of tires are being slashed lately.” He laughed as he headed down the hall. It was a hollow, creepy laugh.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003