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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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?
“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.
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