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.
It was only one block from the Happy Mouth to the offices of the Kingsbury News. I locked my bike in the rack out front and went in. Our receptionist, Mary Miller, Bill’s daughter, was on the phone and waved as I went past.
As usual, I found Bill in his office yelling at someone. I took a seat and waited. He was screaming through the phone about an overdue story. I felt bad for the reporter on the other end, but hoped he knew Bill as well as I did. Bill was all bark and no bite. He hung up and turned his glare on me.
“I’m assuming you have a story for me?”
“Not quite, but I will by the end of the day. I have another story I want to write as well.”
Bill put his hands behind his baldhead and leaned back in his chair. “Shoot.”
“I want to do an article about discrimination in Kingsbury.”
He sat up so fast his chair nearly went out from under him. “What do you have?”
“The All American Club.”
He jumped up and began pacing in front of me. “I’ve been wanting to get something on them for years. Do you have proof of something?”
“I know of a lot of things, but I can state one from personal experience. Nothing like being your own source.”
Bill leaned back on his desk, folded his hands, and looked at me. “Give.”
“They told me if I didn’t quit preaching about discrimination and helping out minority teens they’d fire me. And that Matthews boy has been slinging thinly veiled threats at me for a couple of days now.”
“They’re dangerous people. Are you sure you want to take this chance?”
I got up and pushed my chair back. “Yes, I’m sure. Are you behind me?”
“Of course. Keep me posted.” He returned to his desk and picked up the phone. “And get that other story to me by the end of the day or you’re fired,” he said while dialing.
Firing people seemed to be Bill’s way of trying to seem gruffer than he was. More than once he’d fired someone and the next day they just showed up back at work as if nothing had ever happened. It only took a few weeks on the job to learn not to take being fired very seriously.”
Before I could unlock my bike, my cell phone rang. “Hello.”
“Pastor Mike, this is Chief Harmon. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
I leaned back against the bike rack. “What?”
“Jim Barrows didn’t kill Toews. The stabbing isn’t what killed him. We can still hold him on attempted murder, but Toews was already dying when he was stabbed.”
“How? Was it natural causes? A heart attack?”
I heard the shuffle of papers. “Coroner’s not sure yet, but he thinks he was poisoned. He’s thinking perhaps cyanide due to the color of the blood.”
My heart sank at the thought of starting all over again with the investigation. But as long as Eddie wasn’t a suspect, perhaps I could just leave it to the police.
“Any suspects? Any thoughts on how he could have gotten it?”
“What about the contents of his stomach?” I asked, though I knew I was pushing it a bit. The chief had no reason to tell me.
“Standard Fiesta fare. Verinica, ice cream. Nothing out of the ordinary. Since you’ve been involved in this, I’ll keep you posted. Gotta go.”
Wow, cyanide. How or why would anyone poison him with cyanide? I knew I needed to talk to Lizzie again, see exactly where Toews had gone and what he’d done that day. I was pretty certain cyanide killed quickly, unless it was a small amount. I called information for the Toews residence and dialed.
“Hello,” answered Lizzie Toews, her voice so soft I almost couldn’t hear her.
“Mrs. Toews, this is Pastor Raffles. I was wondering if I could come by and see you.”
“You heard from the chief didn’t you? Sure, come on over. I’m just stuffing envelopes for a mailing for Love INC. I can talk at the same time.”
I hung up and hopped on my bike. It took me about twenty minutes to get to the part of town where the Toews’ lived. The homes in this area were older but very nice. Nothing I could ever dream of affording on my salary—tall, grand, two-story homes with perfect yards bordered by bushes and flowers delicately cared for by gardeners.
The Toews’ home was no exception. Toews might have been a cheapskate, but it apparently didn’t apply to his own comforts. His was a two-story, baby blue, stucco house with a large front porch. Shrubbery lined the walk and rose bushes surrounded the porch. Good thing my allergies weren’t as bad as Stephen’s, or I’d be a mess.
I walked up the steps, then rang the doorbell. Lizzie answered the door almost immediately, wearing black slacks and a blue silk blouse that matched the color of her house. Her long gray hair was pulled back in a ponytail, which generally would have looked odd on a woman her age, but it suited her. A smile lit her blue eyes and showed off her perfect teeth. Cultured and perfectly put together just like the local landscape. I had little doubt that her clothes all bore famous designer labels.
“Come in, Pastor Mike. I’m set up on the dining room table.” I followed her through a well-stocked library into a dining room that was larger than my entire apartment. Envelopes and letters covered a fine oak table about six feet long.
“Do you do a lot of volunteer work, Mrs. Toews?” I asked as I carefully sat in one of the chairs that looked like it cost more than my monthly salary. It had a wood back with beautiful carving, and a flowery, embroidered cushion, which Lola would have loved.
Noticing my caution, she laughed. “They won’t break. And please call me Lizzie. Everyone else does. Yes, I do quite a bit of volunteer work. Keeps me busy and feeling worthwhile. Of course, now I’m going to have to decide what to do with all of my husband’s investments and business ventures, so I may have to cut back. Can I get you some iced tea?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
She took a seat across from me and began folding and stuffing. I decided to be of help and joined her. Love INC was indeed a worthwhile cause. They helped many needy people in the community with food and other services. I wondered if her husband had approved of her generosity to the needy, which in our area often included many minority farm workers.
“What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if you could give me a rundown of your husband’s activities on the day of the parade if it’s not too painful for you to talk about,” I said as I stuffed an envelope.
Lizzie sat back and folded her arms, thinking. “We got up early so we could get to the park in plenty of time to get on the float. On our way, we picked up breakfast at Main Street. Then, after our float got to the end of the parade, Marvin didn’t really want to sit and watch the rest of it go by. We haven’t actually watched a parade since our kids were little. So we began wandering around on a mission to stop the skate park, which he thought would bring down property values in our neighborhood, so he was out trying to drum up support.” She shook her head, obviously not approving of her husband’s quest.
“Since we had eaten early, Marvin was hungry so we stopped at the verinica booth. Then we wandered around while we ate.” She paused, deep in thought. I didn’t say a word for fear of breaking her concentration.
“Can’t think of anything out of the ordinary. He talked to a lot of people. After we ate, he wanted dessert, so we went to the ice cream booth. He got a cone of the special ice cream they make just for him. Did you know they made a special flavor just for Marvin?”
She smiled. “He always loved ice cream. He began eating his cone and headed back out into the growing crowd. Only moment later, he began complaining of not feeling well. I assumed he had just eaten too much. Then suddenly he fell forward and I screamed.” Lizzie shuddered and I could tell this was hard for her, but she was a strong woman.
“If it’s too hard for you to go on…”I offered.
But she shook her head. “No, we have to solve this. There was this knife sticking out of his back. It was impossible to tell who had done it with so many people milling around. But now the police say the knife didn’t kill him. I just wish this thing would be over.”
I reached out and squeezed her hand. “If you need to talk, or need anything at all, just call me. I’m sorry to put you through this again.”
When I got up to leave, she followed me to the front door. “Thanks, Pastor Mike, for all you’re trying to do.”
“You’re welcome. But remember, I’m also a reporter, so some of this is selfish.”
The smile returned. “You’re doing a job. That’s what my Marvin always did, his job. Thanks.”
Now that we were back to the same list of suspects, I wondered about asking her about Glenda and Josh. I had hoped to just forget about it, but once again, it seemed important. “Lizzie, one more thing.”
“Do you know who was the father of Glenda’s baby?”
The woman blushed like a schoolgirl and looked down at the floor. “She wouldn’t tell anyone, but she was dating the Matthews boy at the time. I’ve often wondered if his father and Marvin didn’t plan the abortion together. He wouldn’t have wanted anything to hurt Josh’s chances at getting into a really good college.”
“Thanks. Someday I hope I can visit you without causing you pain.”
“Pain is just a part of life, dear. It reminds you you’re still alive.”
I hugged her and suddenly she seemed very frail. As I hopped on my bike, my mind was spinning. The poison almost had to be in what Toews had eaten, and unfortunately, the best bet was the ice cream. This was once again looking bad for the Martinez’s. But I couldn’t get Josh off my mind either.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003