The big, black Cadillac nosed into the parking space right next to make-shift basketball court. Young men scattered left and right, shouting and gesturing their protests. A few of the bolder ones tapped the hood of the car but when they recognized Pastor Griffin, they shrugged, threw down the ball and headed for the refreshment table.
Charlotte pushed through the crowd of departing boys, clearly agitated. She reached the car before the engine shut down and jumped into the passenger-side front seat. Mama Lou, Mendoza and Ethel Mae watched as the couple faced each other across the center panel. They spoke for several moments and the Charlotte did the most amazing thing. She reached out to slap Pastor Griffin. He caught her hand before it could make contact with his face. He held it even as he leaned down and spoke into her ear. Charlotte went still as a statue. She snatched her hand back, then scrambled for the door handle.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Charlotte screamed into the car, oblivious to her growing audience. She leaned back in the car, her chest heaved as she struggled for breath. “You won’t get away with this,” she said, her voice hard, implacable. “I’ll kill you first.” She then slammed the door and ran towards the church.
Ethel Mae glanced around at the transfixed group of parishioners. She locked gazes with Mama Lou. Ethel Mae doubted that other than the two of them, anyone else noticed the figure who peeled away and followed her inside.
Pastor Griffin unfolded from the driver’s side, propped his arm on top of the car as he stared after his woman. A small grin tugged at thick, full lips. Pastor Griffin closed his door with a gentle snick. His gaze embraced the gathered crowd and the look in his eyes dared anyone to question him about it. One by one, eyes lowered and people shuffled in placed. Some of the older ones plastered on smiles of greeting, a collective decision to pretend as if they had not seen his wife threaten him.
Pastor Eddie Griffin was a small, spare man, five-foot five or six inches tall, depending on which shoes he wore. He was lean and fit, with thick muscled arms and shoulders and a flat belly. His age was estimated around late fifties or early sixties, however, carefully consistent dye jobs and his youthful style of dress, made him appear, at least at first glance in his forties.
His eyes aged him and revealed the true nature of the man. No amount of cosmetics, working out or apparel could mask that. Though he wore the smile of a contented man, his eyes were shifty and never quite made direct contact.
He stretched his arms wide. “Community Fellowship Church family. What a blessing it is to be gathered together in the Lord’s midst one more time.” In contrast to his stature, he had the heavy rasp of an old time Baptist preacher, the kind that sounds like some ancient chain smoking, whisky swigging hag.
The flood gates opened and the crowd swarmed around him. He shook hands, kissed cheeks, hugged the elderly mothers all the while moving the group towards the tent.
Mama Lou said, “Well, I guess we can serve lunch now.”
Agnes Bradshaw’s high pitched twittering could be heard over the crowd. “Pastor Griffin, we need you to bless the food. I got you and, uh . . . First Lady Charlotte . . . a table set up right over here. I’ll fix you a plate. I’ll just slip a little bit of everything on yours.”
By the time Pastor Griffin reached the tent, most of the congregation had also gathered around. Agnes guided the minister to the front of the buffet table and then gestured for him to take the lead. He gestured for one of the teens to slid one of the folding chairs and he stepped onto the seat, which gave him a bird’s eye view of everyone present. He nodded and waved before gesturing for the crowd to settle down.
“Family,” he said. “Before we pray, I would just like to acknowledge those of you who made this event possible and so successful. My wife Charlotte,” people were careful not to look around, as if to avoid calling attention to Charlotte’s absence. “Y’all know Mama Lou and Ethel Mae. Pastor Jackson was so very kind to lend us their services for the day. You be sure to thank him for me, okay?”
Mama Lou and Ethel Mae nodded obligingly.
Pastor Griffin continued, appearing to search from someone over the crowd. “Oh, and last but not least, I want to thank the Deacon Board for all of your support over the years. This church wouldn’t be what it is without you.” The crowd erupted with cheers and patted the backs of the available members of the board. “What I have to say next, I say with a heavy heart.”
Pastor Griffin cleared his throat. Uncle Frank, Noble Connor, and Kieran moved slightly forward, their attention fixated on the leader of the flock. Ethel Mae searched out for Hanson Perry and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw him at the edge of the crowd.
“Deacon Perry, as president of the Deacon board, why don’t you join me,” Pastor Griffin waited until the two men were side by side. “Thank you for all your years of dedicated service but as of this afternoon, they are no longer required.” Small gasps of disbelief erupted throughout the crowd but the pastor had not finished.
“Effective immediately, the Deacon Board has been disbanded.” Pastor Griffin clapped a heavy hand on Deacon Perry’s shoulder. “Let us pray.”
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