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.
Deadly Discrimination was originally published as a novel
. The story takes place around a fictional version of the Reedley Fiesta and is being serialized here at Kings River Life Magazine
in weekly installments. Be sure to start with Chapter 1
Chief Harmon didn’t waste any time in taking down Chuck’s statement after we arrived. He wasn’t sure what could be done with the information, but he could at least use it to start building some sort of case. I suggested he call Paul Unruh to see if he could help them figure out how they could get a group together to sue the Club leaders for discrimination if nothing else. But Harmon was pretty certain he could at least get them on charges for threatening me. I was willing to do whatever I could, even if it meant losing half my church or even my job.
Before I left, Harmon received a call and left the interview room for a moment. “Pastor Mike, can you wait just a minute?” he asked as he headed out the door.
I didn’t have to wait long before he came trotting back into the room. “I need you to come with me. I’ll explain on the way.”
We got into an unmarked white car and it was a few minutes before he started talking. “Gabby Lopez was severely beaten last night.”
His words gripped my heart with fear and guilt. Whatever happened to her might have been my fault. “What happened?”
His hands gripped the steering wheel so tight his knuckles turned white. “One of her workers found her inside the shed office this morning. She was still alive, but not in very good shape. We’re on our way to the hospital to see if we can talk to her. Since she knows you I thought it might help if you were there.”
We drove the rest of the way to the Kingsburg hospital in silence. This day had become a roller coaster ride.
After parking at the hospital, I followed Harmon as he set off at a trot again. The nurse at the front desk directed him down the hall. The doctor was leaving Gabby’s room as we walked up.
“Is she going to be okay, Bob?” asked the chief as he pulled out a notepad and pen.
“She took quite a beating, but she’ll live. If you want to talk to her, please make it brief. She’s in a lot of pain and needs to rest.”
Harmon nodded and I followed him inside. I had to steel myself from visibly reacting to her appearance. The parts of her young body that were visible were covered in bruises, her eyes were nearly swollen shut, and there was a cut across her forehead.
“Pastor Mike, Chief,” she whispered, her voice raspy.
I reached out for her hand and gently held it. “I’m so sorry, Gabby.”
She tried to smile. “It’s not your fault, Pastor Mike. You were right. Someone has to stop these people.”
Gabby stopped to swallow, which seemed to take some effort.
“Gabby, I need to take your statement. Do you know who did this?”
“Yes, I do. But can I prove it? No.”
The chief seemed confused. “Can you explain that statement?”
“I was trying to organize the workers to make a stand against the All American Club. I know they got word of this somehow and came to give us all a message to stay quiet.”
“Did you recognize the people who beat you? Did they say they were from the Club?”
She shook her head slowly. “They were wearing ski masks. All they said was, ‘This will teach your kind to keep quiet and stay in your place.’”
“What else can you remember about them? Height, build?”
Gabby’s beaten body shook with her sigh. She did the best she could, but was able to tell him very little. “I’m sorry I’m not much help. Is there anything you can do?”
“We will try, but I can’t make any guarantees. Honestly, I believe you’re right, but without proof …”
A tear slid down her cheeks. “I understand.”
Chief Harmon pulled a chair up to the bed and Gabby pulled her hand from mine and took a tissue Harmon handed her. “Is there anything else at all you can remember? Any jewelry, tattoos, anything unusual?”
For a moment, I thought she was going to fall asleep, but she must have been trying to remember. “Yes! The one who talked to me had a ring.” Gabby pulled back her hair and showed us a round mark on her cheek.
“He hit me with his fist and left this mark with something hard. I think the ring had a knight on it.”
Harmon gently squeezed her hand and then stood up. “Thanks, Gabby. I’ll let you know what I find out. In the meantime, I’m going to post one of my men at your door.”
She seemed relieved, and I had to admit, so was I. I hated to think these people could get her again.
Once outside the room, Harmon told the officer that had arrived to stay at the door, and then had me follow him to the cafeteria for coffee. “Do you recognize her description of the ring?”
I shook my head. “No, sorry.”
“Guess you’re too new to the area. It’s a Kensington High School ring. Only their seniors wear them. Specifically, seniors on the football team. Know anyone who might fit that description and have a connection to the Club?”
I had a feeling he already had someone in mind, but I answered, “Josh Matthews.”
He nodded. “My thoughts exactly.”
I groaned. “This really may be my fault. Josh and his gang were at the Happy Mouth when I was telling Stephen about talking to Gabby.”
Harmon scribbled a few more notes. “Did he overhear?”
“I can’t say for sure, but he certainly could have.”
“That’s a start. I’ll get our photographer over here to take a picture of her cheek. Maybe we can match the ring to the mark it left. Thanks. Do you need a ride anywhere?”
“It’s not that far; I’ll walk back to my bike.”
I needed to find Glenda. I didn’t feel good about the info I might end up having to bring to Harmon next, but I prayed I was wrong.
The big man I had once compared to a big bear took a sip of coffee then stopped me from leaving. “With everything going on I forgot to tell you that just before you got here I got an interesting call from Miguel.”
I waited for him to continue, afraid of what he was going to tell me.
“He told me about the cyanide that he kept in the shop and that it was missing. Miguel didn’t feel right keeping that from me. His own admission of this could go against him. It proves he had the stuff that killed Toews right there in his shop, handy to put in the ice cream. I only wish we’d found a batch of that stuff so we could have proven the cyanide wasn’t in there.” Harmon shook his head, a frustrated frown on his face. He didn’t like where the evidence was taking him, and I was afraid he wouldn’t like the rest of the trip any better.
“I wish there was something I could say to make this better, but I knew about the cyanide as well.”
“Oh great, now they can call you as a witness to the fact. I’m afraid I have to go back to the Happy Mouth and bring Miguel in for questioning. I have no choice. But I want to do it personally, so I’ll wait until I’m done with this. Do you want to go along?” he asked as his cell phone rang.
“I’d like to, but I have an errand to run first. I’ll head over to the Happy Mouth after I’m done.”
He seemed satisfied with that and waved to me as I took off to pick up my bike, busy now answering the call.
Since it was lunchtime by the time I made it to the school, I looked for Glenda in the cafeteria. I found her amidst a group of pretty girls, chatting and giggling and just being teenaged girls. I hated to interrupt but I had no choice.
“Glenda, can we talk?”
She looked up and a cloud crossed her pretty face, but she nodded and rose from the table. “Let’s go outside.”
I followed her to a bench in front of the cafeteria doors. “Glenda, did you get rid of the cyanide at the Happy Mouth?”
“Yes. I didn’t want it to look bad for them. They didn’t do anything, but that could have gotten them convicted anyhow.”
Before I could speak, my cell phone rang. I was beginning to wish I didn’t have one, and again, I wanted to ignore it but knew I couldn’t. “Pastor Raffles here.”
“Hey, Pastor Mike. The call I got as you were leaving was about the toxicology report. They kind of hurried it along for me, said something about owing you a favor?” Harmon sounded curious but didn’t push it. Good old Kevin Smith.
“It was definitely cyanide. Just like the kind in the rat poison,” he said, sadness in his voice.
“Thanks. I need to talk to you in a bit. Can we meet somewhere?”
“I’ve got Paul over here talking to Chuck along with one of my detectives, so I could meet you at Main Street in about twenty.”
“I’ll be there.” I slipped the cell phone back into my pocket, for once not looking forward to going to Main Street.
“Glenda, is there something you want to tell me?”
She looked at her hands. Why did people have such a hard time looking me in the eye lately? “Like what?”
“I saw you mixing the special ice cream for your grandfather the night before the
Fiesta. And you were the one to bring it over from the shop that morning.”
Glenda didn’t look up, but a big sigh wracked her petite body. “I had to stop him. He was hurting too many people. He killed my baby.” She buried her head in her hands and her body began to shake with sobs. I put my arm around her; she grabbed hold of me and cried into my shoulder. She held on so tight, it was as if she was drowning and I was her life preserver. I wished I really could save her.
This poor child had suffered so much. I just let her cry it out. When the last whimper died away, I moved her back so I could look at her face. Then I handed her a handkerchief and she wiped her face.
“Let’s go talk to your father.”
She shook her head and backed away. “No! He can’t know about this, he can’t.”
“Glenda, Miguel told your father about the cyanide. If you don’t come forward and tell him the truth, they’ll blame Eddie or his family again. They’re already planning to take Miguel in for questioning. Do you want that?”
“No.” She stood up and followed me to Main Street without another word.
Chief Harmon was already sitting at a table in the back, a grin on his face until he saw the look on Glenda’s. We slid into the booth, and before I could say anything, the words were tumbling from her lips. He slipped his arms around her and held her tightly. I hoped his new faith was going to be strong enough to see him through this.
“God help them through this,” I whispered, as I quietly slipped away and unlocked my bike. Glenda had done a terrible thing in taking another life, but she was a confused young woman due to all the things she had suffered. I had to believe there was still hope for her. I knew God would forgive her. I only hoped she’d turn to Him.
Anger bubbling inside my gut toward Josh and Marvin Toews was so strong I had to take a deep breath. These men had hurt her tremendously. But God had said vengeance was His.
I went to my office. Inside, I switched on the light, went to my desk, and just sat there, drained. I was glad we had found our killer, but not glad about whom it turned out to be.
Now I had to finish my battle with the Club and wondered if I would still have a job. I really wasn’t sure there would be much the police could do about the threats, and putting together the lawsuits could take time. Too long for me. I looked at my watch and realized my program had aired about two hours ago if Cecil hadn’t pulled it.
I called Stephen, told him the case had been solved, and clued him in to what was going on with Chuck. He had the same mixed feelings that plagued me. We agreed to meet for pizza later at his place; maybe by then I’d have an appetite again.
Before I could call Lola and fill her in, my board members burst through the office door. Minus Henry once again.
“I hope you came here to pack up your things,” said Matthews.
Not wanting to face this sitting down, I stood up. Lord, help me, I prayed.
“No. If you want me out of here you’re going to have to bring it to a church vote. Lola checked the church constitution for me, and it states that the board alone cannot fire a pastor without a church vote.” I was sure I’d still be history, but at least this would stall it off until Sunday.
Matthews looked to Mrs. Jacobs and she nodded. “I’m afraid he’s right.”
He turned back to me, his eyes filled with such hatred I took a step back. “Just gives you a few more days to pack. Don’t start thinking you’re staying.” Matthews turned to leave, but then stopped.
“And don’t bother returning to KKNG. Your program is history. If not for that loser Kevin it never would have gone on the air today. Soon you can join him in the unemployment line.”
The group stormed out, leaving me with a spinning head. A lot of lives were being shaken by this group. I only hoped their lives would soon be shaken as well in one way or another.
But I wasn’t finished with Matthews, so I followed him out and caught him as he was getting into his truck. “You’re not leaving yet.”
He turned to me, a deep frown creasing his forehead. “Come to give up? Sorry, too late.”
“I came to talk to you about Josh.”
“If you’re going to claim he got that cop’s girl pregnant, I’ll blame it all on her. Since she’s a killer, it won’t be hard for people to believe the pregnancy was all her fault, too.” News traveled fast in a small town.
I shook my head. “I don’t plan on saying a thing, but you need to do something about him. Did you know he beat up a young Hispanic girl last night?”
The look on his face gave me my answer. “You sent him, didn’t you? You sent him to beat up a helpless girl.” I shook my head and walked away. There was nothing left to say. If Josh were ever going to change, his father wouldn’t be any help.
For the next several hours, I worked on my Sunday sermon. It had to be a good one. When I finished, I felt some of the burden taken from me. God would make things work out for the best, whatever best was.
When I arrived at Stephen’s, Lola and the pizza were already there. It smelled great, especially since I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast. Lola hugged me. “I’m sorry, Mike. It’s been a rough one.” In the midst of my writing, I had called Lola and shared the entire mess with her.
“It’s going to be okay, Lola. Whatever happens, happens.”
Stephen handed me a slice of pizza and we sat on the couch munching in silence for several minutes. Then his phone ran, breaking the silence. I was glad for the disturbance.
“Thanks for taking care of that for me. Yeah, I’ll tell him, thanks Paul.” Stephen returned to the couch as we watched him anxiously hoping for some good news. We were due some.
“Well?” Lola and I asked in unison.
“Paul says he’s going to represent Glenda.”
I waited, knowing Heathen Boy well enough to be able to tell that something else was going on here, but he wasn’t talking. I returned my attention to the pizza, glad Glenda was going to have a good lawyer.
Before I could change my mind and push him for more information, my cell phone rang. It was Detective Reagan.
“Hi Bill, what’s up?”
“The chief though you might like to know that we got a warrant for Josh Matthews’ ring. It’s a perfect match. Also, we found ski masks in his Porsche that match the description give by Miss Lopez. Unfortunately, Josh was nowhere to be found, but we’ll track him down. Oh yeah, and he said to tell you thanks for your help, and not to worry.”
“Thanks, Bill. Tell him I’ll be praying for him.” I hung up, my heart heavy despite being glad they now would be able to bring Josh in. But would they be able to keep him? And would he turn in his father?
Stephen’s avoidance didn’t bug me again until later that night when I was trying to sleep. I knew Stephen was up to something, but my brain wasn’t up for another mystery at the moment. I’d tackle it later. It probably had to do with some other case Stephen was working on and wasn’t able to talk about. I rolled over and finally slept, having no idea what the next week would hold for me, and not certain I wanted to know. Sherlock curled up at my feet, vibrating them with his purring.
Check back here next week for the final chapter of this story.
Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003