Sunday, February 28, 2016

Blood Cries Chapter 27

June, 1977

Jim and Marvin

A camera’s flash lit up the chapel as Marven Rosenbush captured the Reverend Baxter’s final pose.

“That’s it,” he said, looking past his Nikon at the corpse. “That’s the money shot.”

The Reverend’s eyes opened wide and his head flopped over the back of the pew. From the side where he was standing, it appeared to Marvin that a stream of tears ran down the side of his face, almost like the Reverend had been moved emotionally by the architecture of the cathedral ceiling.

Closer inspection, however, revealed the source of the liquid to be a puncture in his right cheek bone. A steady trickle of blood flowed down the side of his face, pausing at the edge of his chin before falling in drops onto the collar of his tan suit jacket. Down on his chest, two red splotches slowly expanded across the front of his light blue button down shirt.

“I can’t believe the old son of bitch finally got what was coming to him.” Marvin said. He turned to Jim, who was standing a few feet away, still contemplating the situation. All he could do was shake his head.

The church doors opened and a pair of paramedics strolled down the aisle, followed by a new contingency of police officers. “Looks like you called me in the nick of time,” Marvin said.

“Sorry, Marvin,” said one of the officers. “You guys can’t be here.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Marvin said. “We got what we came for, right Jim?”

“What? Oh, yeah of course,” Jim said, though he wasn’t sure why Marvin had wanted a photograph of the body. No one would ever publish such a gruesome image, certainly not the Sentinel.

He wandered to the back wall of the chapel where the small stained glass window hung. Once again, he looked at the chapel from the vantage point he had used during the service. Now that the room was nearly empty, he had an unobstructed view of the Reverend’s body lounging with one arm draped across the back of the pew with his head tilted back, like he’d fallen asleep during the services and no one had bothered to wake him.

Marvin strolled over, still fidgeting with his camera. “Please tell me you saw the whole thing,” he said.

Jim shrugged.

“You’re killing me, Jimmy.”

They headed out of the chapel doors and into the blazing heat of mid-day.

“It was over,” Jim said. “The service was over. I wanted to beat the rush.”

“Oh Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. What have you done? You may never get this close to the action again.”

“I’ve got the story,” Jim said. “I’ve got the description of the scene. I picked up some quotes while I was waiting for you to get here. I have all I need.”

“Yeah, and we’ll run your story on the front page, but Jesus man, you could’ve seen the hit first-hand. I would have given a month’s salary to have seen that.”

“You could’ve come.”

“I know it,” Marvin said. “Damnit, I should’ve been here.”

“Well, there’s always the Reverend’s funeral.  Maybe someone will got shot at that one too.”

“Maybe so,” Marvin said hopefully. “There’s always a chance.”

As they moseyed down the sidewalk toward Marvin’s car, they noticed a lone patrol car parked on the street by the funeral home. Two police officers sat in the front seat. One, the driver, was filling out information on a clipboard balanced on the steering wheel. The other officer leaned over the back seat talking to someone. Marvin and Jim shifted their gaze to the man in custody, Lester Woods.

“Hey, that’s the shooter,” Marvin said. “He’s still here.” He slapped Jim on the shoulder with the back of his hand. “Hey, knock on the window. Make him look this way.”

“Are you serious?” Jim asked.

“I want to snap his picture,” Marvin said. “You have to seize these kinds of opportunities, Jim.” He crouched down to line up a shot of Lester through the window, but before Jim could knock, the officer in the passenger seat noticed the two reporters and shifted back into his seat. He motioned to the driver, who dropped the clipboard and turned the key in the ignition. A second later the siren whined and the car sped down the road. Lester never even turned his head.

“Damn it,” Marvin said. “We’re a split second behind on everything today.”


It was all a blur. As Lester sat in the squad car, his mind replayed the shooting over and over again, but the images refused to appear in any kind of logical order. More than images he remembered the anger, the hatred, the whirling around and seeing the face of that man who never bothered to look him in the face. But he looked up this time.  Lester saw his weasel face and this time he was the one with fear in his eyes. Surprise too. Then a spark from the barrel and him pinned down to the pew, with blood pouring out of the holes in his face and chest.

It was different than the other times, the other lifeless bodies he’d seen in Vietnam. It wasn’t as bad really. It was cleaner. Less damage. And this time he knew for sure the person he was killing deserved what he got.

He didn’t notice the people running away.  The pews just seemed to empty all at once. Laverne remained by his side, but only for a moment, just long enough to lean forward and spit on the Reverend’s suit. Then, she was gone too and the two policemen were running toward him.

The gun slipped out of his hand and banged down on the floor and still he kept staring into the Reverend’s lifeless eyes and he knew he’d finally done what he’d set out to do. He felt compelled to deliver the message he’d intended to give the Reverend before he’d fired the first shot, but that had somehow gotten lost in the rush of adrenaline.

“You are done hurting my family.”

The next thing he knew, the police had his arms behind his back. At first he didn’t notice the handcuffs biting into his wrists. He fixed his stare on the dead man in the pew.

What did he expect to see? He wondered later as he sat in the back of the police car, staring out the window. Did he think evil spirits would rise up out of the bullet holes? Or would the Reverend himself rise up like the anti-Christ? In Lester’s experience, ghosts only haunted a man in his dreams.

The police officers led him out of the chapel, leaving the corpse in the pew. Lester willed himself not to look back, but his eyes would let go of the Reverend and his head turned and he watched him all the way to the chapel door. Then Lester remembered Lucy and his focus shifted to her coffin at the front of the chapel. She was all alone up there now, and tears came into his eyes.

They walked out into the heat of the day toward the vehicle that awaited them. It was more of a stagger than a march. A few people were still running around on the lawn like they didn’t know where to go, like they didn’t know what to do. So, they just stood their gawking at him.

Let them gawk, he thought. Get a good look at the man who killed the Reverend.

“What about the crime scene?” One of the officers spoke for the first time.  “We can’t leave the body unattended can we.”

“Get him in the car while I call it in,” the other man said. “Then I’ll go back and guard the body until the support team gets here.”

The officer who spoke first helped Lester into the back of the waiting vehicle. It wasn’t like the other times he had been thrown into the back of a police car. The last time, he’d been beaten bloody after he was in cuffs and the cop deliberately smashed his head against the roof of the car before he was pushed into the back seat. This time, the guy handled him as gently as a baby. He even put his hand over his head to make sure he didn’t bump his head. Looks like I’m getting the star treatment, he thought.

The door shut and he was alone with his thoughts. He could hear a cop in the front seat speaking into his radio set and then he went outside again and the other one climbed into the passenger seat and looked at Lester. “You okay back there?”

Lester shrugged. “Cuffs are a little tight.”

“Turn around. I’ll loosen them for you.”

Lester looked up in surprise, but did as he was told. He looked for the first time at the face of the man who had him custody, a man whose face he recognized from high school.

“Hey Ellis, how have you been?”

The officer smiled and shook his head. “Better than you, I suppose.  Listen, I’m going to leave these cuffs off you for now, but I’ll have to put them back on when we get to the station.

“Okay,” Lester said.  He rubbed his wrists. “Thanks.”

“What happened back there, Lester?”

“Shit. I guess I shot the Reverend.” He could already hear sirens in the distance.

“Yeah,” Ellis said. “You shot him alright. You’re gonna need a lawyer.”

“Don’t got one.”

“That’s okay. I can tell you who to call. There’s only one man in town for a black man to call when he’s accused of murder.”

“What do you mean, “accused.” I shot him in the face.” Lester said, smiling. He leaned forward and rested his arms on the back of the seat. “And, do you know what, Ellis? I’m glad I killed him. I think if I had it to over, I’d shoot him again.”


The lawyer waited in the same room where he’d met so many other of his clients, the same room where he’d first me with the Reverend and before that Ernie Smith. 

The cage door opened and Lester shuffled in wearing chains and an orange jump suit.  He wore an expression of resignation on his face and more creases than should exist on a man of thirty six. He took a seat across the table from Melvin, saying nothing even after the guard removed his handcuffs and left the room.  

“Aren’t you gonna say something?” Melvin asked.

“Ain’t got nothing to say.”

Melvin chuckled. “Those are beautiful words to hear coming from one of my clients. Too bad you already did too much talking.”

“Who said I was your client? I already have a lawyer.”

“You mean that Yahoo from Davis and Campbell? He’s trying to cash in on your fame. You need a criminal attorney.”

“Ain’t you trying to cash in on my fame?” Lester asked.

“Well…” Melvin shook his head. “That’s beside the point. The problem for you is you just executed a man in a chapel in front of 300 witnesses. You’ll be lucky if you don’t get the electric chair. You need the kind of lawyer who can get you out of it.”

Lester shrugged.

“Now, it just so happens that I have developed a strategy that will not only keep you from frying up like a nice piece of bacon, but that will allow you to walk out of here a free man.”

Lester puffed out his lips and furrowed his brow. “Weren’t you the Reverend’s lawyer?” he asked.

“I was until you shot him. His death cleared up any conflicts of interest that I might have had. I checked with the bar association and they agreed.”

“And how are you going to use me if I don’t have any money and my other lawyers are going to get anything else that comes in?”

“Are you kidding? Publicity. If I get you out of this, they’re liable to make a movie about me.”

“Why would they do that?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m going to do something that I almost never do for anyone. I’m going to represent you pro bono. Now don’t tell anyone about this, now. I don’t want all your relatives running down to my office trying to get me to work for free.”

Lester shrugged.

“Of course,” Melvin said, “You can’t do any more talking to the police unless it’s through me. It’s going to be all I can do to get that little statement you made to Ellis Burkey thrown out of court. As far as I’m concerned, you were illegally detained out of the presence of your lawyer. Did he read you the Miranda?

“Who’s Miranda?”

“Your rights, did he read you your rights?”

Lester shrugged again.

”What the hell were you thinking talking to the police? Don’t you know the spot that puts me in?”

“I don’t even remember what I said.”

“Good. That’s more like it. That’s the kind of thing I want you to tell the psychologist. I’ve got an appointment all set up.”

“I don’t want to talk to a psychiatrist.”

“Well, good, because this guy doesn’t have a medical degree, but if you want to get out of jail you’re going to talk to him.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter at this point. Whatever happens is going to happen.”

“Good,” Melvin said, pushing his chair back and standing. “I like your spirit. It makes things easier for me when my client doesn’t have any expectations.” He banged on the cell door. “I’d rather you feel pleasantly surprised after we win than to try and to kill me if we lose.”

The door opened and Melvin slipped past the guard and left the room. 

Go to Chapter 28.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Blood Cries Chapter 26

Transcript of Interviews conducted by Louella Harper 4/30/80 - 5/11/1980


Hannah: Tea?

Louella: No thank you.

(The clink of cup and saucer is audible on tape)

Louella: Can you tell me what happened?

Hannah: Well, we were sitting in our pew and then Lester shot Will Baxter.  That’s about all I know. 

Louella: Was there any indication beforehand that Lester might take matters into his own hands?

Hannah: Well, he was sad of course, but he certainly never said anything about it to me.  I was as surprised as anyone.  Are you sure you won’t have a cup?

Reverend Tisdale

Louella: Did you know Lester Woods was going to shoot Reverend Baxter at the funeral?

Tisdale: If I had known, I would have told the police.

Louella: It’s strange. Your eulogy was more about the Reverend than it was about the girl.

Tisdale: I wanted to celebrate Lucy’s short life and mourn her death, but in my mind, funerals are for the living.  They are about offering comfort and, in this case, soothing angry spirits.  I knew people would be angry.  People get angry when someone close to them dies, especially a young person.  Some lash out.  I’d heard rumors over the years (about the Reverend).  I knew he was being blamed.  It did not take a genius to realize that someone might be tempted to seek retribution.

Louella: That’s why you picked the story of Cain and Abel?

Tisdale: It seemed appropriate. Unfortunately, it did no good.


Louella: At the funeral, Cassandra was very upset.  I heard she tried to crawl into the casket.  I was wondering, though, why you escorted her out of the chapel instead of back to her pew.

Jan: If you knew Cassandra, you would know she wasn’t going to stop screaming and moaning any time soon, not while there was an audience. I figured it was just better for everyone.

 Louella: By moving her, you may have saved her life. She was taken out of the line of fire. 

Jan: Lester never would have hurt Cassandra.

Louella: So, in a way, you removed the last obstacle, allowing Lester to kill the Reverend.

Jan (shaking her head): The woman was crying. Her daughter had just died and she was in hysterics.  I used my best judgement.  What would you have done?

Louella: I don’t know.  I might have felt like murdering Reverend Baxter.

Jan: Lester wasn’t acting. He can be a very emotional man, especially since the war.  He just got carried away in the moment.

Louella: He brought a gun to the funeral home.

Jan: That doesn’t prove anything.


Laverne: Do I need my lawyer?

Louella: I’m a writer, not a prosecutor.  I just want to know the truth about what happened.  My readers will want to know the truth about what happened.

Laverne: I don’t know what happened.

Louella: I thought from your vantage point—right beside Lester—you might have seen something.

Laverne: I don’t remember.

Louella: Did you know Lester brought the gun to the funeral home.

Laverne: I’m done answering questions.


Once again, Louella found herself in the passenger seat of “the mystery machine,” as Jim had begun referring to his van.  She spoke of the difficulty of getting people to tell the truth due to the fear of prosecution.

“Sometimes I can’t tell if people are playing dumb, or if they’re just plain dumb.”

“Maybe a little of both,” Jim said.

“Who am I to judge, though?  I am, admittedly, the person who wants to blab all the gory details to the world.  I don’t suppose I can blame them for wanting to protect themselves.”

“You suspect a conspiracy?” Jim asked.

“I don’t know whether or not a group of people met and discussed a specific plan, but I do think there was an understanding that someone had to stop the Reverend before he wiped out the rest of the family.  If that’s the truth, I think society or my readers at least could be made to understand that they did what they thought they had to do.  But I can’t make anyone understand anything if I don’t know the whole truth.”

“What about this next interview?” Jim asked. They were on the way to the law offices of Davis and Campbell in Dadeville, about thirty minutes outside of Jackson City.  After weeks of playing phone tag, Louella would finally be allowed to interview Lester via a phone call that would be closely monitored by his lawyers.

“He’s already been to trial.  In the eyes of everyone, justice has been meted out.  I hope that means he will engage me in meaningful discussion.”

“You think he’s going to suddenly open up and tell you exactly how he planned and executed a man in front of 300 witnesses?”

“It may take more than one meeting,” Louella said.

That sat for a moment in silence.  Jim watched the road while Louella looked out her window at the buildings and parking lots flashing by her window.

“Do you think,” Jim began, “that they did it in the chapel to send a warning to Ernie Smith? You know, “This is what happens when you keep messing with us.”  I mean, you can only push people so far before they break, and from what I can tell, he’s cleaned up his act since that day.  He’s focusing on his one legitimate business, the funeral home.”

“Whether it was intended or not, they certainly sent him a powerful message,” Louella said.

A few minutes later, they entered the law offices of Davis and Campbell.  A receptionist ushered them into a conference room, where three men in business suits were already sitting on one side of the longest glass table Louella had ever seen. 

The men stood and greeted them cordially.  One of the partners, Lee Davis, a stocky man in a white suit with a head full of straw blonde hair, introduced himself as well as two younger men: an associate and a paralegal.  Mr. Davis apologized that his partner, Steve Campbell, was off on a fishing trip.

“And what about Melvin Little?” Jim asked.  “My understanding was that he was one of Mr. Woods’s lead attorneys.”

“I did speak to Melvin, and invited him to attend this meeting, but unfortunately he had other business today.  You have to understand, however, that this was merely a courtesy. Although Melvin represented Mr. Woods at trial, he is primarily a criminal attorney. Here at Davis and Campbell, we have other specialties.”

“Such as?” Louella asked. The fact that Melvin was absent indicated to her that she would not be receiving good news. The little weasel tended to appear only when there was an opportunity to take credit or glory.

“We offer an array of specialties here at Davis and Campbell from personal injury to estate planning,” Davis said, “but recently we have begun a shift into contracts and entertainment.”

Louella sighed.

“Uh oh,” Jim said, “Here it comes.”

“And in what capacity are you representing Mr. Woods?” Louella asked.

“Excellent,” Davis said. “We’ll get right to business.  As you know, recent events have transformed Mr. Woods into something of a local celebrity.  We intend to see that he is able to monetize his fame to the maximum extent possible.”

“How have you done that so far?” Louella asked.

“Well, we are still in the beginning stages, but we have had a lot of interest coming from local businessmen wanting him to be a spokesman for their companies.  Just yesterday we heard from a business that specializes in home defense and from several gun and pawn brokers.”

“Let me get this straight,” Jim said. “You’re going to put him in TV commercials?”

“Television is certainly one aspect of it, yes, but I’m talking about various media campaigns, including print ads and, of course, personal appearances, grand openings and so forth.”

Louella put her elbow on the table and rested her chin on her fist.  “And how do you think we fit into all this?”

“Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. We understand you wish to talk to our client, that in fact you need him to give you his side of the story, or else you don’t have a book.  We’re here to discuss the terms of that deal.”

“There seems to have been some sort of miscommunication,” Louella said.  “My understanding was that I would be allowed to speak to Mr. Woods today.”

“Oh, you will. You will,” Davis said.  “Just as soon as we have come to a satisfactory arrangement.  My client feels fifty thousand dollars is an appropriate amount of remuneration for his full cooperation.”

Louella looked at Jim, who could only shake his head.  “Mr. Davis,” Louella said.  “I don’t pay people for information.”

“I can assure you that Mr. Woods is willing to offer his full cooperation.  And this, I might add, comes at much personal risk and against the advice of his attorneys.  My understanding is that double jeopardy may not apply in this case.”

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Louella said in a much louder voice.  “I do not pay for information.”

“Ms. Harper, you stand to make millions from this book.  I don’t think it’s unfair…”

“I stand to make millions or I stand to make nothing, but what I certainly don’t stand for is going around paying people for stories that may or may not be true.  If I start doing that, then I don’t stand for anything. Now, I think our business has concluded. Thank you for your time.”  She stood up, flung her purse over her shoulder, and was walking out the door before Jim realized what was happening.  He raced to catch up with her. 

So did Lee Davis, who left his flunkies at the table staring at each other.  “Wait,” he called. “I’m sure we can work something out.”

Louella wheeled around on him so fast he almost ran into her.  “I don’t want some paid-for, lawyer-approved version of the truth, Mr. Davis.  The truth is not something I am willing to pay for at any price.  That’s not how this is going to work.  If your client doesn’t wish to speak to me freely and without payment, then his side of the story will not be told.  Now, you tell your client that I am still willing to hear him out, but my business with your office is done.  I hope never to see you again.  Good day.”

Jim ran ahead to push open the door for her, and she walked out, leaving Davis in the lobby, speechless for the first time in his life. 

Transcript of Interview conducted by Louella Harper 5/13/1980

Mary Alice Waverly (Friend of the Family)

Mary Alice: I almost went to that funeral.  I thought they were going to kill him at the cemetery.

Go to Chapter 27

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Blood Cries Chapter 25

Except for his forest green suit, Lester remained indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd.  He sat hunched in the first pew with his elbows propped on his knees, holding his face in his hands, and gazing down at the stained hard-wood floor.

Jan sat next to him, closest to the narrow aisle between the pews and the plastered wall, fanning herself with her memorial bulletin.  The preacher’s eulogy was late starting, and she stared up at the empty pulpit as if she could will the service into action.  The sooner it started, the sooner it would be over, and they could all escape this furnace that they called a chapel.

Laverne sat on the other side of Lester, closer to the center aisle.  With her arms crossed over her chest, she reminded him of a coiled snake.  She looked around at foreign faces with an expression of utter contempt, while muttering her judgements.

“Look at all these people.  They don’t even know Lucy.”

“This is a good turnout,” Jan answered across Lester’s hunched back.  “They came to show respect to Lucy and to the family.”

Laverne blew a puff of air threw her lips.  “That’s not why they came,” she said.

The women’s attention was drawn to the front of the center aisle as the last among the viewing line made their way to the casket, including Cassandra, who let out a great mournful howl.

“My baby.  Oh my poor baby,” she wailed.  “I’m not gonna let you go.”

Even Lester turned his head to watch as Cassandra crawled into the coffin.  She was bent at the waist, her top half enveloped in satin, her arms wrapped around her dead daughter’s torso, while her legs kicked the air.  Wilson and another man stood on either side of her, grasping her elbows and trying to pull her out again. 

“No, I won’t go.  I won’t go,” Cassandra cried.  “I have to stay with my baby girl.”

Jan ran over and helped coax her out of the box.  She wrapped her arm around her shoulders and soothed her with quiet words.  Rather than leading the hysterical woman to her pew, she led her back down the aisle and out of the building.

Lester observed the commotion without expression.  He had already paid his official respects to Lucy.  He had looked down at the little girl’s face, swollen with death and whatever chemicals Ernie’s people had used to preserve her for viewing.  He had reached into the casket to caress the turquoise scarf Jan had given her last Christmas, now used to camouflage her damaged neck.  He had felt a flood of anger at the thought of the car coming down on her and he had gripped the sides of the casket so hard that the blood left his fingertips. 

Beyond the open coffin lid, he had seen the object of his rage.  The Reverend was sitting at the end of the second pew, dabbing his forehead with a cotton handkerchief.  The man hadn’t bothered to show respect for yet another disposable member of his family.  He hadn’t bothered to view his handiwork.  But he’d had the nerve to show up at the funeral in yet another flagrant disregard for basic human decency.  He’d come to flaunt his freedom from the tendrils of the American justice system and to thumb his nose at the community that saw fit to judge him.

Lester’s eyes locked onto him as he made his way back to his seat—a seat almost directly in front of the Reverend.  He watched him dab the side of his face with the handkerchief and some part of Lester hoped it was more than just the temperature that made him sweat.  He hoped it was panic akin to that of a rat trapped by a pack of hounds, but sadly there was nothing in the Reverend’s eyes that indicated fear.  He was just hot.  And bored.  And he knew that there was nothing and no one in the chapel who could, or would, touch him.

As Lester sat down, he could feel the evil presence against his back.  It was the reason he leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, and stared at the floor.  He had to keep himself together, for Lucy’s sake.

The minister, Reverend Tisdale, rose in the pulpit to deliver the eulogy.  “Good morning,” he began.

The congregation murmured a response.

“Today is a sad day,” Reverend Tisdale said.  “Nothing can be as sad as the death of a child, but we must remember to allow some joy into our hearts because today the Lord calls another angel up to Heaven.”

A sprinkling of “Amens” emerged from the congregation, but the words sank into Lester’s belly like a dagger.  Joy was not an emotion he could feel, only the pain of loss.

“It wasn’t the Lord that sent Lucy to Heaven,” Laverne hissed. 

Only Lester and her mother Hannah, sitting on the other side of Laverne, heard the remark.  “Quiet girl,” Hannah said.

“How can I stay quiet when he’s sitting in this room?  Sitting in the pew right behind us?”  She looked at Lester.  “At the end of the pew, with a cushion of space between him and anyone else.”

“You’re interrupting the sermon,” Hannah whispered.

Lester tilted his head to the right, tried to see the Reverend with his peripheral vision.  He could see the man had his arm stretched across the back of the pew, just as relaxed as he could be.  He tried to shift his focus back to the preacher in the pulpit, but all he could think about was the man sitting behind him, the man who called himself a preacher, but who adhered to principles other than those espoused by Christianity, to selfishness and personal enrichment.

“I know we aren’t in regular services,” Reverend Tisdale continued, “but today I’d like to share a lesson from Genesis.  We are all familiar with the story of Cain and Abel…”

A mild restlessness seemed to pass through the congregation as individuals looked around at neighbors and shifted in the pews.

“We know that both Cain and Abel had delivered offerings unto the Lord.  We know that Cain had offered a share of his crops and Abel offered meat from his flock, and we know that Cain became very jealous when the Lord preferred Abel’s offering.  The Lord saw this and said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? If you only do what is right, will you not be accepted? Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”  Reverend Tisdale paused to allow the last sentence to sink in, before he repeated it.  “Sin desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Lester had known Reverend Tisdale for many years.  He had started as a youth pastor at his church when Lester was a young boy, back before he started running around with friends and broke free from the routine of regular church attendance.

Tisdale, Lester recognized, was the type of pastor to use the Bible to try to influence his congregation in a very real way.  He sought not to teach general lessons or trumpet abstract ideals, but instead to apply a sermon to a specific person or problem within the community.  Lester felt as if the man was speaking directly to him.

If Tisdale was the angel on his shoulder, what did that make Laverne? Lester glanced over and saw her mumbling her argument under her breath.  He could see the muscle movement beneath her lower lip as she leveled her eyes at the man in the pulpit.  If Tisdale hoped to influence her, then she was having none of it.

“But we know how Cain responded.  He was a petty and jealous man, who wanted to Lord’s attentions all to himself, so he invited Abel to the fields and murdered him.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel?’ and Cain replied, ‘I do not know, Lord.  Am I my brother’s keeper?’”

Reverend Tisdale gazed down to the second pew, where another Reverend was sitting.  Lester turned his face to the side and peeked back at the next pew.  He knew he couldn’t look at the man directly, but he had to see the reaction on Baxter’s face when he was called out in the sermon.  But Baxter only sat there, his arms draped across the back of the pew, looking up at the preacher—a real preacher—and wearing the same smug look on his face.

“The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  The ground will no longer yield your crops and you will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’ 

“Now Cain could not bear this punishment.  He was scared.  He begged the Lord to let him stay.  He thought people would seek revenge and come and kill him.  But the Lord said to him, ‘You are safe.  Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over,’ and he put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.”

Tisdale reached out into the air, directing his hand at Reverend Baxter. He made an x in the air with the pad of his thumb, delivering unto the Reverend the mark of Cain.

“So that’s the way it has to be,” Tisdale continued.  “That’s the way it always has to be.  Any man who kills his brother will be made to suffer, but it is not man’s judgement to give but God’s.  God will deliver his judgement.”

“That’s not good enough,” Laverne said.

As Tisdale moved on to the benediction, Lester turned to Laverne.  “What have you got to say?”

“How many more of us will die while we wait for the Lord’s judgement?  Maybe the Lord will act through one of us.”

“I suppose that’s possible,” Lester said.  People were standing now, moving out of the pews.  Lester shook his head.  “What is seven times vengeance?”

“What?” Laverne asked.

“Nothing,” Lester said, “Let’s go.”

They stood then, and Laverne turned to Baxter, still lounging in his pew, waiting for the crowd to thin, so he could stroll out of the chapel and into freedom.  The look of contentment on his face was more than Laverne could bare.  Tension entered her face and neck and she pointed down at him and cried out, “You killed my sister and you’re gonna pay for it.”

Baxter didn’t even look at her.  There was a slight shaking of his head, and he smiled. 

He never saw anything else, maybe a flash of movement, the blur of Lester’s green jacket, the glint of gun metal, and then nothing.  He never heard another sound.  The first bullet passed through his brain before sound could reach his ears, and he was already dead when the next two rounds entered his body.

Go to Chapter 26