On the day the Reverend lay in state, a rolling thunderhead blotted out the sun. The temperature dropped ten degrees. The wind picked up as the sky darkened. Some of those who had gathered on the lawn of the funeral home to chat and smoke cigarettes before the viewing turned their faces skyward. Women held the tops of their heads to prevent their hats from blowing away. Others commented on the sudden change in weather.
Most had made the pilgrimage out of a morbid sense of curiosity. Others were young people, friends or acquaintances of Lucy Woods. Some wanted to pay their respects to the Reverend. Some just wanted to be sure he was dead.
Lightening flashed in the distance and, a split second later, witnesses heard a tremendous cracking sound across the street. An ancient pecan tree, swaying in the wind, dropped a heavy top branch into the layer of limbs beneath. The limbs seemed to want to catch their fallen comrade, but sagged under the heavy weight and dropped it once more into layer below. The happened again and again as the broken limb slowly dropped to the ground, where it jackknifed and rolled into the street.
While a contingency of menfolk climbed down the embankment to clear the road, one man who remained on the lawn told a circle of people, “The Reverend did that,” relieving the tension with a burst of laughter.
One woman maintained her concerned look. “You joke,” she said, “but that was no coincidence. That was a sign. You all saw it.” A few heads nodded while they watched the men clear the road.
“It was just the wind,” said the first man. “We’re past due for a summer storm.”
“Do you think something like this just happens by accident on the day they bury…” the woman’s voice dropped to a whisper, “the Reverend?”
The first speaker’s eyes widened in comic exaggeration. He grabbed the lapels of his friend standing next to him. “She said his name! She said his name! Now he’s going to come for us too!”
There was more laughter among the young people, but the woman looked worried. Maybe what he said in jest was true. Maybe calling the Reverend’s name portended a terrible fate.
The funeral took place the next day at the church in Locust Grove where Reverend Baxter had once preached sermons and was presided over by Reverend Martin, the man who had replaced him in the pulpit.
A sense of excitement permeated the church as men and women filed in dressed in their finest mourning wear, with hair freshly cut or coifed just in case they happened to enter the shot of one of several photojournalists documenting the event.
Television crews set up at the edge of a cemetery across the street from the church and filmed people walking into the church. Newspaper journalists fanned out and took positions both inside and outside of the building. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department made its presence felt both in the streets directing traffic and in the parking lot where they smoked cigarettes while leaning against their vehicles.
Inside the church, a packed congregation sat and watched as Reverend Martin began his eulogy with a question. “Who was Will Baxter?” he asked. “I believe I knew him as well as anybody, but I still don’t know the answer to that question. I still don’t know what made him do the things he did. I could stand here and state a list of characteristics about the man: he was tall, always sharply dressed, a pretty good-looking guy, who seemed to do well with the ladies.” It was a laugh line, but instead it conjured up thoughts of his first two wives, sending a murmur through the crowd.
Sitting on the front row, underneath a black veil, his third wife Cassandra wailed, “Oh no, it’s not true.”
Reverend Martin cleared his throat and continued. “He was a business man and a preacher…” He paused, as if considering whether or not he wanted to continue, “… and many among us suspected that he was a murderer.”
Again, a wave of murmurs passed through the crowd. Cassandra cried, “No, no no.”
“I know I’m not supposed to say that. And I apologize to his widow. I am not here to disrespect the Reverend, but I felt I owed it to the man to try and reckon with his legacy, and what I’ve discovered is that try as I have—and I have thought about it for many hours—I can never know truly what was in his heart, and I could never have eyes to follow him wherever he went. None of us can.” Reverend Martin smiled and pointed toward the ceiling, “But there is someone who knows.”
A sprinkling of “Amens” emerged from the congregation.
“God knows who the Reverend was. God knew what the Reverend was doing. No matter what else we think, we have to know that God has a plan, and we are all instruments in His hands.”
“Moses himself was a murderer, forced to flee after killing an Egyptian who had been mistreating one of his people. His own people judged him. They said, ‘Who are you to lead us? Are you going to kill us like you killed that Egyptian?’ And maybe they had a right to ask that question, but God still had a purpose for Moses. Moses was an instrument in God’s hand.”
“Now I don’t know if everything they said about Reverend Baxter was true…”
“No. No No.”
“I don’t know whether he did everything people said he did, and you don’t know if he did all those things. We may never know the truth about all of it. That’s the way the world is. We don’t always get to know.” Reverend Martin smiled. “But that’s okay. That’s okay because God knows what He is doing. And that’s all we really need to know.”
Go to Chapter 29
Go to Chapter 29
About This Novel; Chapter 1Chapter 2; Chapter 3Chapter 4; Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7; Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11; Chapter 12; Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16; Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20 Chapter 21; Blood Cries at the Half-Way PointChapter 22; Chapter 23Chapter 24; Chapter 25Chapter 26; Chapter 27