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.
After a restless night I got up and headed for Main Street to meet Stephen, with an hour to spare before the police arrived at the Happy Mouth. After chaining my bike at the bike rack outside, I found my old friend at our usual booth reading this week’s Kingsburg News. I slid into the seat across from him and couldn’t help feeling we’d gone full circle.
“What’s new, Heathen Boy?”
He put down the paper. “Too much.”
“I’m inclined to agree. Chief Harmon called me last night after I talked to you. They’re going to the Happy Mouth with a search warrant at nine. Thought I should be there for the Martinezes. Not looking forward to what they might find.”
Cindy came walking over with a cup of coffee in hand and placed it in front of me, along with a bowl of creamers. “What can I get for you this morning, Pastor Mike?”
“How about scrambled eggs and toast? Thanks.”
She trotted off to place my order and I sighed. “I just can’t believe they are responsible for Toews’ death; there has to be another explanation.”
Stephen again pulled the paper from in front of his face. “A lot of people wanted him dead, but not a lot of people could have poisoned him at the Fiesta. They say anyone is capable of murder if pushed far enough.”
I frowned. “I don’t choose to believe that. Let’s go ahead and continue eliminating suspects. Maybe we’ll find something we didn’t think about. I wish I could put Scott Matthews and his club on the list, but they are probably some of the few people who like him.”
Giving up on his reading, Stephen put the paper down on the table. “Did something happen that I don’t know about?”
Not wanting him to do anything drastic, I hated to tell him. But I wasn’t going to lie. “Matthews came by to visit me last night. He apparently hired one of your business rivals to dig things up on my past. He dug up my slight brushes with the law, and Cynthia.”
He leaned forward. “He didn’t actually go see her, did he?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Stephen slammed his fist down on the table and the silverware did a dance. “Why don’t I see what I can dig up on him? Someone like him has to have a few skeletons in the closet.”
I shook my head. “That’s not the right way to go about it. You can’t right a wrong with another wrong. Besides, I did bring up his son’s past to him. I’m pretty certain now that Josh was the father of Glenda’s baby. We need to find out if there was any way Josh could have killed Toews. Assuming he’d even care.”
“I suppose we can go back and ask if anyone saw him around the ice cream booth that day. So you’re going to use his son’s indiscretion against him?” Stephen grinned. “Didn’t think you had it in you, Preacher Boy.”
“I don’t. I lost my temper last night, but I’m not going to use that information to shut Matthews up. It would be wrong.”
Stephen didn’t appear satisfied with that, but I was through discussing it. Pulling out my notebook and pen, I checked out our list of suspects. We still hadn’t checked Stanford’s alibi. “Could you check on Stanford’s alibi while I go to the Happy Mouth?”
A grunt was my only answer as he had picked up the paper again to peruse the sports page, probably checking out the latest hockey results. A hockey game sounded like fun. Nothing like a rough and tumble sport to take your mind off things, and I’d heard the Fresno Falcons were pretty good.
“After this mess is over why don’t we go to a Falcons game? That is if I still have a job and money to buy a ticket.”
“Sure thing,” said Stephen, without putting the paper down.
Cindy brought my food and I began to eat, suddenly realizing that the soup hadn’t gone very far in satisfying my appetite last night.
“Speaking of your job, I’ve been doing some more snooping around about the club, though not looking at specific members, of course.” He paused as if to emphasize what he had said. “It’s thankfully not as widespread as I feared, just about fifty members around the area. Mostly white businessmen and farmers. Could have been a lot worse. Of course, no one has ever filed charges against them since they own most of the property in town and control most of the jobs. I think you’ve got your work cut out for you, Preacher Boy.”
Stephen began eating his breakfast as well, the paper finally laid aside again.
This wasn’t making me feel any better, but I wasn’t going to back down. I swallowed a mouthful of eggs and took out my cell phone. I dialed the station.
“KKNG,” said Kevin.
“Hey, Kevin. I want to make some changes to my program this week. Is it too late?”
“Naw, come on over when you get the chance. I’m not that busy today.”
“Thanks, I will.”
We finished our breakfast, then parted ways to pursue the tasks that awaited us.
Since the Happy Mouth was just down the street, I didn’t bother unlocking my bike. When I arrived, it was only minutes before nine. I went in with a feeling of dread knotted in the pit of my stomach. The place was completely empty since they didn’t open until ten. Which was probably why the chief had picked this time of day; he wanted to cause them as little heartache and embarrassment as possible.
Miguel sat at the counter going over some papers; he looked up as I walked in.
“Thank you for being here, Padre.” Chief Harmon must have warned them.
“Hello, Miguel. I can’t believe we’re back to this again.” I took the seat next to him.
“Glenda told us this morning that her father was coming with a warrant. I don’t think she was supposed to, but she hated for us to be surprised. It is not like I have something to hide.” He shook his head, and the look in his eyes was one of defeat. I wished that I could invite his family to my church so they could find an eternal hope, but at this point I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I feared it would turn them again church instead.
“I wish I could offer something positive to you. All I can say is that God is there for you, and so am I. I have you in my prayers.”
He reached out a slightly trembling hand and squeezed mine. “That does help, Padre. I think we need all of the prayers we can get.”
Harmon walked in with a handful of officers and went up to Miguel, giving him the warrant. “Miguel, I am sorry about this, but I have to serve you with a search warrant. We’ll try and be as careful as we can.”
Miguel took the warrant and nodded. I hopped down off the stool and followed the chief to the back where the ice cream was kept in a large freezer. I had quickly glanced at the warrant and knew they were specifically searching for the special blend that Toews had always eaten and any mixing tools that might have been used in making it. Miguel followed me and stood watching his place being taken apart.
All of the equipment looked clean, no doubt from the night before when they had closed. Common practice, nothing suspicious there even if they had been warned. After an hour, the men came to the chief with nothing.
“We can’t find any trace of Toews’ special ice cream, or of any cyanide in the entire place,” said a uniformed officer.
“Look in the back, in the garbage bins,” instructed Harmon.
The officer frowned a bit, but nodded and went to do the ugly task.
Harmon turned to face Miguel. “Why is there no trace of that ice cream?”
“No one ate the disgusting blend except Mr. Toews. There was no reason to let it take up valuable freezer space. You know me, Chief, I am not hiding anything, and I did not kill anyone.”
I felt for these men, who had a turbulent yet respectful relationship due to their children’s involvement with one another. “I believe you, but I have to do my job. I’m afraid this doesn’t give us evidence to the guilt of anyone here, but it doesn’t clear you either. It would have been better to find the ice cream and have it found to be free of cyanide.”
After a few minutes, the officer returned and shook his head. “Nothing, sir.”
Harmon nodded. “Thanks for your cooperation, Miguel.”
When the police left, I asked Miguel a question that had been on my mind after hearing the search results.
“Miguel, where is the special poison mix you make for the rats?”
“Miguel, where is the special poison mix you make for the rats?”
“Where it normally is I suppose,” answered Miguel, with a confused look on his face. I believed him. He headed straight for a normally locked cabinet in the back of the room that stood open after the police search. He searched through every shelf, then stepped back.
“The Parmesan is there, but the cyanide, the jar with it mixed together, even the bowl I use to mix it—all gone. This is very odd. I did not even think of this when the police were here. Padre, is it possible … .” He couldn’t even finish the terrible sentence, but I knew what he was thinking.
Could it be that Eddie really was responsible, and with Glenda’s warning had been given time to dispose of any evidence? This was not a thought either of us wanted to entertain.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003