X-mas N July
“I’m probably going straight to hell for this, ‘specially with all these holy-rolling Christians running around but I need a little Christmas In July.”
Mama Lou said, “Xavier, what are you going on about?”
“Oh, a little Midori, Hpnotiq, Coconut Rum, Blue Curacao with a splash of orange juice and lemonade. Um-mm, I swear that would make all of this go down so much easier.”
“Man, if you don’t get out of here with all that foolishness.” Mama Lou swatted his arm before pushing him towards his seat. At the last moment, she clasped his sleeve. “But if you find any of that Hpnotiq, you let me know, hear?”
“Louisa!” Ethel Mae chastised, trying to hide her own sly grin. “I feel a little ghoulish making jokes at a time like this but it’s either laugh or cry.”
“I know what you mean.”
“What are you two over here plotting up on?” Ms. Earline had eased up behind them, a hand placed gently on the smalls of Mama Lou and Ethel Mae’s back.
“Ms. Earline, how you holding up, baby?” Mama Lou wrapped arms around her thin frame.
“Bout as well as can be expected,” she said. “Under the circumstances. What happens now?”
“The police are going to start their interviews, to see if anyone may have witnessed the murder. I don’t hold out much hope for that though since I’m sure someone would have said something by now.”
“And if there are no witnesses, then what?”
“They’ll focus on who had the most to win or lose by Pastor Griffin’s death.”
“Well, that pretty much includes the entire congregation, don’t it, with the possible exception of the children. He had stolen our land, destroyed a centuries-old tradition of stability, praise and worship. And for what? Money?”
“That’s all true,” said Mama Lou. “But barring a confession, that’s all the police have to go on.”
“I had been against Pastor Griffin’s hiring from the start,” Ms. Earline clasped Mama Lou’s hand for support as she lowered herself onto the pew.
“I don’t know, just a feeling I had, really.” Ms. Earline massaged the top of her thighs before leaning back against the seat. “Some of his people had been members here years ago. I was somewhere in my teens, daddy was still in the pulpit. I don’t really know the details but they left under shady circumstances. For the years they were here, there was always some kind of confusion going on – backbiting, gossip, arguments about money. They even started a campaign against daddy, saying he wasn’t fit to lead, that we needed ‘young blood’ to get us through the bad times, to come up with ‘fresh’ ideas for building membership.”
“That kind of thing always goes on in the church,” said Ethel Mae.
“True,” agreed Ms. Earline, her eyes were glassy with unshed tears. She kept sucking in her lower lip to control a sudden tremor. “But the congregation was tearing itself apart. Eugenia Graves, I believe that was Pastor Griffin’s grandmother, kept so much stuff going all the time that the congregation was on the verge of collapse.”
“What happened?” Mama Lou grabbed her hands between her own, rubbing the fragile skin with her thumb.
“She’d gotten folk all fired up about removing the pastor from the pulpit. I remember daddy sitting down with the deacon board and other prominent members of the church to figure out some way to settle things down. I don’t know what was decided but suddenly, there was no sign of Eugenia or any of her people at the Fellowship Community Church from that point on. Leastways, not until Pastor Griffin interviewed for the position seven years ago.”
“Did he say anything about his family connections to the church?”
“Not as I recall,” said Ms. Earline. “There aren’t that many of us still around from back then to recall that period of church history . . . maybe Uncle Frank? But, I don’t think Griffin mentioned anything about it. I would have thought he might have wanted to cash in on his family’s membership, if only to set himself apart from the other applicants but he didn’t.”
“When did you find out he was Eugenia’s grandson?”
Ms. Earline was quiet for so long that for a moment, for a moment, Ethel Mae thought she wasn’t going to answer. She opened her mouth as if to speak but was interrupted by a disruption in the rear of the sanctuary.
Izzy, the Ice Cream Man struggled with two uniformed patrolmen, who were trying to drag him towards the vestibule. Delilah ran behind them screaming; the three-year old perched on her hip joined in.
“Mane, I ain’t killed nobody,” Izzy protested. “I could’ve popped a cap in his ass any time I wanted. I ain’t kilt that man, you got the wrong one.”
“Let him go,” Delilah cried, she fell to her knees, clasping Izzy’s leg at the knee, as if that would prevent the officers from taking her lover. The four of them struggled on, Delilah was dragged a few feet before Mendoza’s commanding voice rang out.
Hearing her name seemed to release her from her spell, and Delilah collapsed at the men’s feet. One of the mothers hurried over and removed her child before she crushed him beneath her. Delilah’s sobs echoed off the hardwood floor before floating into the rafters. “Please don’t take him,” she said softly. “He didn’t do anything. He was only trying to help.” She pushed herself off the floor, her tear-soaked eyes implored Detective Mendoza. “He didn’t kill anyone.”
Her scream raised the hairs on the back of Ethel Mae’s neck.
“Tell them . . . Ms. Earline!