The heavy oak doors that marked the front of the church slammed inward, followed by a rush of booted feet. MPD cops as well as Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies swarmed the vestibule. Mama Lou and Ethel Mae watched from the doorway as Detective Giancarlo Mendoza directed them to cover the exits.
No one would leave that building without his express say so.
The detective caught sight of them standing in the doorway and gestured for them to follow. An armed officer immediately took up their post outside of the classroom. Ethel Mae could hear the outraged protests as several of the congregation were herded out of the hallways and into the sanctuary.
Detective Mendoza observed Delilah and Izzy, Charlotte, Deacons Kieran and Perry and finally Uncle Frank, perp-walk out of the classroom into the sanctuary. “My orders were for everyone to wait in the sanctuary.” He stared pointedly at Mama Lou.
“I’ll have you not use that officious tone with me, young man,” said Mama Lou. “I knew you back when you still had trouble adding two plus two.”
Giancarlo took a quick peek over his shoulders to assure himself they had not been overheard. “Aw, Mama Lou, why you got to bring that up now? Besides, you know I had a specific learning disability in math.”
“What you had was your head wrapped up in every pretty girl in the school that you had not room left for anything else.”
“But . . .”
“How ’bout you go easy on those folk in there? They just lost the leader of their flock in the most horrific way possible. And don’t forget the children.”
“Okay,” Giancarlo sighed heavily, then swiped a hand across his mouth. “You win. I don’t even know why I argue with you. Give me a minute.”
The detective stepped away to confer with two of the uniformed officers. After a series of bulleted directives, he dispatched the patrolmen into the sanctuary before rejoining Mama Lou and Ethel Mae.
“They’re going to find Mrs. Bradshaw, along with a small group of her choosing, to prepare the lunch for everyone. Food will help, right?”
“That’s a start,” agreed Mama Lou.
Ethel Mae said, “I saw a half dozen watermelons piled up outside the tent. Maybe your guys can bring them in? Agnes can carve them up and serve the people which might hold them until you’re done with them.”
Mendoza signaled to a third patrolman to go outside the retrieve the watermelons. “Done.”
Mama Lou sighed, “He’s really dead, isn’t he? I don’t suppose there’s any chance that it was just a flesh wound?”
“No, afraid not,” said Mendoza. “The weapon of choice was a carving knife, most likely taken from the barbecue pit. We’ll try to pull prints but I’m not holding out much hope. Anybody could have removed it, at any time. And you saw them – there were at least a dozen men hovered around that pit all day. Looks like someone just came up behind him. There was no sign of any kind of struggle. The poor bastard never knew what hit him.”
“So, someone rammed a knife in his back and no one heard or saw anything?” Mama Lou and Ethel Mae exchanged a glance. For a moment, neither said a word, and then as one, “Quanisha!”
“What? Who?” Detective Mendoza appeared confused and then his brow cleared as he too remembered. “The late arrival, the young woman who came in on her motorcycle. The whole picnic was focused on her and that fancy bike of hers.”
Mama Lou said, “That would have been the perfect time. As I recall, even Pastor Griffin was distracted by her arrival.”
“Of course,” said Ethel Mae. “He was far enough away that no one would’ve even noticed until they were right upon him. I watched Delilah deliver his plate. She didn’t seem to recognize anything was wrong until she set the tray down.”
“Okay, so we got how and when. Let’s see if we can’t figure out who.” Mendoza gestured towards the classroom. “What did you get out of that crew?”
Mama Lou and Ethel Mae filled him, including Kieran’s love affair and his jealousy of the women in the pastor’s life, Charlotte’s past and the leaked sex tape, Izzy’s “alleged” business deal with Pastor Griffin, the attempted rape of Delilah, the firing of the deacon board and finally, the pastor’s plan to swindle the land from the congregation.
“What a mess,” exclaimed Detective Mendoza. “It’s a wonder someone hadn’t taken a shot at him before now. But that’s just it, isn’t it? Why now?”
Mama Lou said, “I think that’s the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking why was Pastor Griffin so hell-bent on destroying this congregation?”
“That’s an excellent point, Louisa,” said Ethel Mae. “This wasn’t just about money. He could’ve done the loan swindle and disappeared. Instead, he systematically destroyed lives: his wife’s, Kieran’s, Delilah’s, Hanson’s . . . and the hope of his parishioners . . . an even greater insult, if you ask me.”
“Right,” agreed Mama Lou. “So, we’re agreed. Find the answer to why, and then we’ll know who.”