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 would be getting dark soon, so I peddled on home, feeling much deflated since this morning. The day had started with a killer in jail and things looking up. Now I was just about out of a job at the church and minus a killer to boot.
In need of some peace, I pushed my bike over to the river for a while and sat on its banks. It was a bit chilly, but I didn’t care. I closed my eyes and just listened to the sound of the water as it flowed by—there was something soothing about the swoosh of a river or ocean. God’s great creations were all around me as I looked up at the stars in the sky, glad as only a night person can be that it got dark so early. All of the wonder of God’s creations acted as a salve to my aching heart. Time seemed to stand still. Only my growling stomach clued me in.
Feeling a little better, I carried my bike up the stairs to my apartment and went to the kitchen to find something to eat. The light on my answering machine was flashing, but I wasn’t in the mood to answer it. By the time I had heated up a can of soup and settled into my easy chair in front of the TV, there was a knock at my door.
I almost ignored it, but as a pastor, I couldn’t. I set my soup down on the coffee table and went to the door. I was surprised at who I found.
“Hello, Henry.” I stepped back to let him inside. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Thanks, that sounds nice. It’s getting pretty chilly out there.” Henry followed me to the kitchen and I poured him a cup. Then I returned to my soup. I was too hungry to be polite and wait, and it had been a long day.
Henry took a seat on the worn-out couch across form me. “Pastor Mike, I’m sorry I didn’t come to you sooner. This isn’t right.” He sighed and I looked up. His eyes looked tortured.
I swallowed before speaking. “You warned me. There’s not much else you could have done.”
“Yes, there was. I could have stood up for you and for what’s right. It’s just…well, this old church has been a huge part of my life ever since Mary died ten years ago. It’s important to me, and I guess I was afraid of having to leave.”
I put down my spoon. “It’s all right. I understand.”
He slammed his fist down on the table sloshing what was left of my soup. “No, it’s not all right. Mary would be fit to be tied if she knew I wasn’t fighting for you and what’s right.” He stood up and put on his hat, which was a bit worse for the wear from his nervous twisting of it since arriving at my apartment.
“If they try and kick you out they’ll have to get rid of me, too.” He held out his hand and I gripped it with both of mine.
“You’re a good many, Henry, and I’m proud to have you on my side.”
A weight seemed to fall from his shoulders as he headed for the door. “If I hear anything important I’ll let you know, but they’re pretty much keeping me out of the loop.”
When Henry left, I was more depressed than ever. This poor man was possibly going to lose all he really had left other than God—his church. And others were hurting because of the awful prejudice some people spread. Something had to be done, I just wasn’t certain what. No longer hungry, I took my half-empty soup bowl into the kitchen.
Before I could get some coffee, there was another knock at my door. Apparently, this was my night for visitors.
When I opened the door, I realized I should have asked who it was first. Standing on my welcome mat was Scott Matthews, the last person on this earth who was welcome. He brushed by me without a word, then turned to face me.
“Have a seat, Raffles, we need to talk.”
Against my better judgment, I sat at the kitchen table where Matthews had now seated himself. “It’s kind of late, Mr. Matthews.” I no longer felt a reason to call him by his first name.
“This is important. Apparently, you’re continuing to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong so you’ve left me no choice.” He handed me a folder with my name on it.
I didn’t take the folder. “What is it?”
“Open it.” It was an order.
Never one to take orders, I fought the urge to throw the folder in his face. But my curiosity won out and I opened it. I was shocked as I began to read the report that had apparently been written by a private investigator. The report detailed my brushes with the law while playing sax at a club in New Orleans, and he had even managed to dig up the abortion. I was finding it very difficult to keep from slugging him as I read on. I couldn’t believe that they had tracked down the girl and questioned her about the incident. How dare they bother her! I pushed the folder over to Matthews; I had read enough.
“How dare you.”
Matthews looked smug. “How dare I? How dare you deem to call yourself so almighty righteous with this kind of sordid past? I’m sure the rest of the congregation would be very interested in learning about this, as well as the rest of the community.”
I stood up, walked to my door and opened it. “Get out.”
He just sat there. “I’m not bluffing. You’ll lose everything if you don’t stop now.”
But I wasn’t backing down. “I’m sure they’d be interested to know about your son’s past as well.”
It was clear by the look on his face that Matthews hadn’t expected this. He had thought his son’s sins buried with the unborn, murdered baby. The look on his face confirmed that Josh had been the father.
His smug look returned, but it was too late. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. If you mean the Youth Center fire, that was just youthful exuberance, and everyone already knows about that.”
Returning to the table, I took my time before speaking again. I leaned back in my chair as if I wasn’t the least bit concerned about his threats. “I mean about the baby.”
Matthews turned as white as the sheets his kind used to wear. “You can’t prove anything,” he stammered.
Finally, Matthews left, his face red with anger. He wasn’t going to scare me. I was going to do the right thing no matter what the consequences were, but I felt bad that he had involved poor Cynthia. I promised myself when this was over I would call her and apologize. For a lot of things.
But I also had no intention of using the information I now had about his son just to keep my job. The only way anyone would ever hear about it from me would be if it proved that Josh was also guilty of killing Toews. I knew past sins could be forgiven. Josh deserved the chance to grow and hopefully learn someday from his mistakes. And unfortunately, the murder of an unborn baby wasn’t against the law. But killing someone else was, and if he were guilty of that he’d have to pay the penalty.
It was past time for some coffee, so I poured myself a cup and finally punched the button on my answering machine.
“Hey there, Preacher Boy. I tried to call your cell earlier but kept getting a busy signal. Call me.”
I looked at the clock. It was only eight, so I called him.
“Hey there, Heathen Boy. Did you hear the news about Toews’ death?”
He hadn’t. He’d been busy most of the day wrapping up a cheating spouse case in Fresno. So I filled him in.
“That just stinks. I’m on the 99 headed for home. Do you want me to swing by so we can brainstorm about this?”
My body told me I was too tired to think anymore, and I wasn’t about to tell him about the visit I’d had from Matthews. “Naw, let’s get together for breakfast instead. I need a break from this whole thing. I doubt one night will make much difference.”
“Okay, Preacher Boy. I must say though, it doesn’t look good for the Martinez family. Best bet for the cyanide had to be the ice cream. I wonder what happened to the rest of it?”
I heard the rumble of his car engine in the background but my mind was going elsewhere. I hadn’t even thought about that. Could it be that the ice cream was still around somewhere? That would be awfully clumsy on the part of the killer.
“See you at Main Street in the morning,” I said, and hung up. But instead of going to bed, I made another call.
“Chief, sorry to disturb you, but I have a question.”
I heard the rustle of papers on his desk and wondered when this man rested. Perhaps his constant absence had contributed to Glenda’s problems.
“What do you need, Pastor?”
“Did you test any of the ice cream from the scene?”
“’Course not. We didn’t know we had any reason to since he was stabbed. But we’ll be going out to the Happy Mouth with a search warrant in the morning if you would like to join us.”
This wasn’t good, but it was expected. “What time?”
“Nine a.m. We should have the warrant by then. Not sure it will do any good at this late date, but it’s worth a shot.”
“I’ll be there.”
I hung up, my mood even worse now. Right after meeting Stephen for breakfast, I would head over to the Happy Mouth and pray the police wouldn’t find anything. But I was very afraid they would. And yet, I couldn’t help thinking that surely the ice cream would be gone, unless the killer was either stupid or wanted to implicate the Martinez family. Only time would tell.
Overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness, I knelt beside my chair and prayed for guidance, strength, and wisdom. I also prayed that God would look out for the Martinez family and for Glenda and her father. My instincts told me that the chief was getting very close to accepting Christ, and I hoped that Glenda might follow.
After a long time on my knees, a position I had been greatly neglecting, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders. Rejuvenated, I took out my laptop and began to work on a new radio program, on the All American Club was not going to like. Which was the point. It no longer mattered whether they were involved in the murder or not, they needed to be stopped, and I was going to do it or die trying. I only hoped that wouldn’t be literal.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003