“Boy, you don’t know nothing,” Noble Connor pushed Kieran’s outside of the small circle. “Now get somewhere and cool off. Here,” Noble pressed an aluminum pan in his hands. “Take Loretta’s lasagna over to the table. Frank says it’s plenty warm now.”
Kieran looked as if he would argue but the two men exchanged a glance and much of Kieran’s bluster deflated. He threw one last defiant glare before accepting the pan and heading back to the tent.
Noble watched him leave then said, “I motion that Pastor Griffin is given an ultimatum. Pay off the loan in thirty days or we file criminal charges.”
“Now, hold on,” said Mama Lou. “This is neither the time nor place for that kind of decision. We’re here to fellowship. If y’all do this now, you’ll rip this congregation apart.”
“With all due respect, Ms. Louisa,” said Deacon Noble. “This is Deacon business. Community Fellowship Church business. You might want to just head on back to the tent.”
Mama Lou opened her mouth to protest but closed it when Ethel Mae touched her arm. “Come on, let’s go.”
Mama Lou, Ethel Mae and Detective Mendoza crossed the lawn in thoughtful silence. Mama Lou said, “They’re making a mistake. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“What do you suppose Kieran meant when he said he knew what Pastor G had done with the money?” Detective Mendoza glanced back at the group of men, who still appeared to be in the midst of a heated argument. “How could he know that?”
“I don’t know,” said Ethel Mae. “And even if he did, why involve Charlotte? If he’s got evidence, why not take it directly to the police? The end result would be the same.”
“What are those peacocks up to?” Ms. Earline met them just outside the tent. “I see trouble brewing a mile away.”
Mama Lou brought her up to date on the decision making of the Deacon board. When she finished, Ms. Earline watched her with a thoughtful expression. She seemed to have wrestle within herself. She gave a quick nod. Ms. Earline said, “It’s possible that Kieran may actually know about the money. It may also explain why Charlotte is the focus of his vindictiveness.”
“What is it, Ms. Earline?” Ethel Mae sensed her distress and wrapped an arm across her thin shoulders.
“There’s a rumor, gossip really,” said Ms. Earline, a troubled expression in her eye. “I hesitate to even bring it up except that I know it won’t go any further than you three.”
Mendoza, Mama Lou and Ethel Mae waited, neither of them made an attempt to pull the information from her. Ms. Earline would either share it or she wouldn’t.
“Keiran is a relatively new member of the congregation, just in the past year or so. And he’s young too, twenty-four, maybe twenty-five. A lot of folk were surprised that he was appointed to the Deacon board so quickly. The rumor is that Kieran and Pastor Griffin share a ‘special’ relationship.”
“Rumor?” Mama Lou prompted, sensing more.
“The facts are these,” Ms Earline, drew in a deep breath and started ticking off points on her fingers. “Kieran lives in one of those fancy lofts on the bluff downtown.”
“I thought he worked at Walmart?” said Mama Lou.
“He does. But the church has been covering his rent and other expenses for the past year. Pastor Griffin tried to hide it with some fancy bookkeeping so that the casual observer would see nothing out of the ordinary, but if you know what to look for . . .”
Ethel Mae was just reminded that Ms. Earline had served as the church secretary for twenty years prior to her retirement.
“Fact two,” Ms. Earline continued. “Pastor Griffin has submitted expense reports to various conferences and speaking engagements – plane tickets, meals, hotel rooms, etc over the past year. These trips and expenditures coincide precisely to Kieran’s own absences both from the church and his job.”
Ms. Earline’s expression was defiant and seemed to dare either of them to question her resources. None did.
“And finally, fact three.” Ms. Earline avoided their eyes and focused on the ground beneath her feet. “I saw them. Together. In the pastor’s office, right there in the church. In the same office that my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather served. Pastor Griffin was sprawled back in his chair, head thrown back, quoting scripture while Kieran was on his knees in front of him.” Ms. Earline’s voice cracked and her eyes gleamed with unshed tears. “At first, I didn’t understand. But then Griffin started shouting and writhing and I heard these horrible, gagging sounds from Kieran . . . then I knew.”
UP NEXT: Mama Lou’s M&Ms