“Please tell them, Ms. Earline,” Delilah continued to sob, her hand rested on Izzy’s boot but she was no longer trying to hold him to her. Her face was turned into the floor, as if she did not want to face the consequences of her words.
“Take your hands off that boy.” Ms. Earline’s voice was strong, commanding. She pushed herself off the pew and faced her congregation with her head held high. “I killed Pastor Griffin.”
“Oh, no,” said Mama Lou, tears gathered in her eyes and she reached a hand towards Ms. Earline. For just a moment, Ms. Earline’s facade faltered and she grabbed her friend’s hand. But then she released it, stood at her full height then stepped out into the middle aisle. She glanced neither left nor right as she made her way to the rear of the sanctuary, her eyes focused only on Detective Mendoza.
“Agnes sent me over to the pork pit for one of the carving knives. We needed it to shave the shoulder for sandwiches. I was on my way back to the tent when Quanisha arrived.” Her eyes flickered for a moment but then snapped back to the detective. “Pastor Griffin called me over. He kept calling me Aunt Earline. I asked him, why you keep calling me that? The look he gave me was vile. I was seeing his true nature for the first time. He said, ‘aw c’mon Auntie Earline, surely you recognize me? Folk tell me I’m the spitting image of my granddaddy.’
“Granddaddy? I said. I don’t know anything about your people. Then he laughed. He said, ‘that’s one of the things I can’t stand about you so-called Christians. You do all kinds of dirt Monday through Saturday and then come up in the church on Sunday morning, as if the doors of the church’ll wash you all clean. Y’all ain’t holy, he said. Ain’t nothing holy about this place.”
Ms. Earline leaned against one of the pews. Tears fell from all points of the sanctuary. Delilah’s sobs were joined by more than a few parishioners. Ethel Mae wondered about the grief she heard in their tears – were they mourning their leader’s death or the death of their own innocence?
Ms. Earline pushed herself upright again and continued her walk down the aisle. “He said he had papers proving he was daddy’s grandson from Eugenia Graves. He was going to sue the family and then set himself up as rightful heir of daddy’s estate.” She looked heavenward. “I’m eight-seven years old. I didn’t care about the money, God has blessed me with a good life. My children and their children are established on their own. But the idea that he would threaten me. I knew what he’d done to Charlotte and Delilah, knew that he’d debased daddy’s office with his goings-on with Deacon Kieran, I’d also figured out that when he bought the loan from the bank, he was not going to do right by us.”
She shook her head and the movement seemed to challenge her balance. Mama Lou ran towards her and grabbed her left arm, Ethel Mae took her right. Several of the other ladies fell into step behind them. Deacon Hanson, Uncle Frank and the remaining deacon board brought up the rear. The procession halted several feet from Detective Mendoza.
Ms. Earline said, “I had to get away. I didn’t want to face everybody at the tent and so I turned towards the woods. He started laughing, taunting, as he settled himself back into the lawn chair, ‘C’mon, auntie’ he said, ‘Don’t be mad,’ he said. It’s about time I got to know the rest of the family, especially that sweet Amelia.'”
“Something real dark came over me. That dog was rabid and before I knew it, the knife I’d held in my hand the whole time was in his back.”
Ms. Earline sent Delilah a soft, sad look. “I’m sorry you had to see that, baby, that you had to be the one to find him.” She squeezed Izzy’s arm. “You’re a good man. Take care of her and those kids. I never would have let anyone else take the blame for what I did.”
“I’m ready, Detective Mendoza. Let’s get out of here so these people can heal.”