Death On the Church Steps is a novel I just started. Here is a little from the first chapter. Who knows, maybe it will be picked up by Second Wind Publishing.
I have reduced the chapter to about half for this blog, but in it you will be introduced to all the characters who could be the killer. Or maybe it is someone I haven’t met yet. Who will the killer be?
As a writer I do not have everything outlined well in advance. I just sort of let my imagination run wild and let the story go wherever it will. All of the characters introduced are pastors at the church except Radford who is the church janitor. So, is one of them the killer, or someone not yet introduced? I don’t know. What do you think? Tell me who should be the killer and why.
You can make you suggestions either by comments to this blog, or by email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
DEATH ON THE CHURCH STEPS
By Paul J. Stam
She was young, exceptionally beautiful, and except for her sheer lace panties, completely naked, and definitely dead. She lay on the top of the steps that led up to the front of the church. If you stood in just the right place you could see two of her, her real self and her reflection in the large, plate-glass, front doors to the church. Her head was turned to hang over the top step with her long, blond hair cascading down over the next two steps. Her right arm lay stretched out on the second step, and her left arm was thrown back over her head. She looked as though she had been arranged to have a picture taken for an art calendar, or some magazine. It was hard to believe that someone so young and beautiful was dead. But then it was also hard to imagine anyone alive would have been lying naked on the church steps.
Between the church and the office and classroom building, was a large mango tree. It always produced a great abundance of fruit, but the fruit was small, and stringy, and not worth bothering with. Consequently the fruit dropped to the ground staining the sidewalks, attracting flies, and creating a lumpy and slippery hazard for those trying to climb the steps.
Several of the mangoes had bounced and rolled to within a few feet of the dead woman’s left hand. If you had looked down from God’s vantage point it would have looked as though the woman had scattered the fallen fruit with the hand flung back over her head like a sower scattering seed.
Pastor Douglas Bautista discovered her at ten minutes after six when he arrived at the church. A few others, driving by in the morning traffic who glanced that direction at exactly the right moment had seen the body before he did. The glimpse was so fleeting that the only thing they could think of was that someone was playing a practical joke on the church by laying a mannequin on the church steps.
The church custodian, Radford Lee, had also seen the body. He had unlocked the side doors to the church at five-thirty for those who might stop in for prayer on their way to work. After unlocking the side doors he walked through the church to the foyer, and wondered why the foyer lights and the outdoor, front floodlights were not on. He distinctly remembered turning them on the night before. He was about to unlock the front door when looking through the glass doors he saw the woman.
He was startled at first, and stood for a while behind the glass doors, running a hand nervously through his wavy brown hair. He stood just staring at her and wondering what he should do. Under the circumstances he thought it best not to unlock the front door. He thought she was dead, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He didn’t quite know how to handle a naked woman on the church steps. If she was alive and drunk, he thought it best not to be seen handling her. From where he stood he couldn’t tell for certain if she was breathing or not. Maybe she was protesting something. His logical conclusion was that if she were dead there was nothing he could do for her, and if it was a publicity stunt he didn’t want to get involved.
Radford walked back through the church and left by the side door. He used the back entrance to the classroom building, and walked through to the church offices. He went about emptying the wastebaskets. From time to time he would set down the plastic bag full of waste paper and walk to the window. He would part the blinds a little, and look out at her. Each time he looked out at her he became more certain that she was dead and that became increasingly more frightening. It was very unlikely that anyone would get naked to go and die on church steps of natural causes. He was certain therefore that she had been murdered and that he had made the right decision in not discovering a murder victim.
Although Radford had actually seen the body first, Pastor Bautista would take credit for it. He approached from the parking lot behind the buildings. He walked with a swagger as he made his way through the yard glancing to the left and the right looking for something about which he could get righteously angry. He noted that the leaves and fallen fruit had not been raked up from under the mango tree in the schoolyard. Children attending the pre-school would start arriving in half an hour, and the leaves and fruit were supposed to be cleaned up by then. Radford was supposed to rake up the fallen fruit first thing in the morning and it pleased Bautista that it had not yet been done it. It would give him something about which to scold Radford.
Bautista was just about to start up the mango splattered steps to the office when he looked the other direction and saw the body. He went over to it, and walked completely around it once having to go down a few steps and then up again to get around it. From the way her open eyes stared out at the world he knew she was dead, but still he knelt down and put his fingers on her wrist feeling for a pulse.
He stood up, and swaggered up the steps, and into the office. He found Radford vacuuming the reception area. “Go get me a sheet, Radford.”
“What?” Radford asked turning off the vacuum.
“Get me a sheet.”
“A sheet? What kind of sheet? Do you mean a drop cloth?”
“A sheet, Radford. Any kind of sheet. A sheet to cover the body.”
“What body, Pastor Doug?” Radford said pretending complete ignorance.
Pastor Bautista looked at him for a moment and then said, “There is a body of a dead woman on our front steps. Get me a sheet to cover her.”
“There is? Oh, my goodness! Where did it come from?” he said hoping he had accurately conveyed shock and disbelief. “We don’t have any sheets that I know of.”
“Find something. Go to the baptismal room and get me one of the baptismal robes. One that isn’t assigned to anyone.”
“Yes, Sir,” Radford said leaving and Pastor Bautista sat down in the receptionist chair and dialed 911.
By the time Radford returned with the baptismal robe Pastor Doug had finished explain everything to the police. When they went back out to cover the body the news trucks from three television stations were already there taking pictures of the body. He roughly pushed the cameramen aside as he went over, and very piously laid the baptismal robe over the body. When he was through she was demurely covered with only her head, her feet and her arms exposed to the prying eyes of the cameras.
When he straightened up the cameras were on him, and three reporters held their microphones in front of him. “Did you discover the body,” one of them asked.
“Yes, I think so. At least no one reported it to the police before I did.”
In the distance they could hear the sirens of a police car trying to get through the morning traffic.
“Now I think, Gentlemen, that we should save any more questions you might have until the police get here.”
The reporters kept trying to ask him questions and he kept putting them off. It made him feel important to have them all trying to get a question answered, and it made him feel even more important to not answer their questions.
Three squad cars, with blue lights flashing, arrived almost simultaneously congesting the traffic even more than the TV trucks had. Soon after that there was an ambulance, and then two more police cars till the one-way traffic on the two-lane road in front of the church was reduced to one lane of traffic. The police moved in quickly stringing up yellow ribbons that said, CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS.
A detective started questioning Bautista. “Are you the one that covered the body?” The detective asked.
“You shouldn’t have done that, you know. That was disturbing the evidence.”
“I couldn’t just leave her there for everyone to see. This is, after all, a church.”
The detective looked at him as if to say, ‘so what?’ and asked. “Did you touch the body at all?”
“Just to take her pulse.”
“Oh? And just where was that: at her wrist, her neck, her stomach? Just where did you touch her?” he asked sneering.
“I resent the implication of that question.”
“Just answer the question.”
“And then what did you do?”
“I went into the office, and told the janitor to go get the robe, and then I called the police.”
Radford told the police that he had not seen the woman until he came out with Pastor Bautista to cover the body. He too did not remember ever having seen her at the church before. He was certain he had turned on the floodlights at the front of the church, and the lights in the foyer the night before. With the lights on it would have been hard for anyone to walk up the steps and not be seen. With them off the area of the steps would have been almost completely dark.
“Could anyone have turned them off after you turned them on?” the detective asked.
“Lots of people have keys. Anyone could have gone in and turned off the lights.”
“Who, for example has keys to the church?”
“Lots of People. All the pastors, all of the schoolteachers, all ministry leaders. They all have keys because they all have to get into the sanctuary. And there might be people who have keys that we don’t know about.”
Radford shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his wavy brown hair pushing it back from his face. “Someone loans a key out, and forgets who they loaned it to.”
“How many such missing keys do you think there are?”
“I don’t know. A half a dozen or more.”
“Is the sanctuary locked most of the time?”
“No. It’s always opened during the day. People come into pray and there is something scheduled in there almost every day.”
The staff was continuing to arrive. Each, in one way or another learned what had happened, and the detectives informed each that they would all be questioned. Pastor Bell arrived and very graciously, but firmly told the detectives that the staff morning devotions were at eight-thirty and everyone was required to be there. He invited the detectives to join them, but the detectives declined saying that they would be back after nine to talk to the staff. They assured everyone that it was just routine, but since the body had been found on the church steps they had to talk to everyone employed by the church.
“I understand,” Pastor Bell said, and went into his office until it was time for devotions.
Betty Clipper burst into the reception area at 8:25 screaming, “Is it true?… Was there really a dead girl on our steps?… Oh, My God. I can’t believe it… What are we going to do?… Was it anyone we knew?… Oh, Dear Jesus, this is terrible.”
She was a large woman, just over six feet tall, and weighing almost two hundred pounds. She had the title of Music Minister, and was in charge of all the musical groups in the church.
“I can’t believe it. I’m shaking so much I can hardly stand,” she said dropping her bulk into the closest chair.
“The reason you’re shaking, Betty, is because your legs are too spindly to hold up all the weight of your body,” Doug said looking down on her. His dark eyes gleamed with hatred because she was white, a woman, and when standing taller than he was.
She started to cry. “Can’t you see this is a hard enough time for me, Doug, without your picking on me. This thing really has me scared.”
“Oh, stop crying, Betty. You have nothing to be afraid of. No one would want to kill you, or do anything else to you for that matter,” Doug answered.
Pastor Bell walked in just after that and Doug suddenly became seriously pious.
“Betty. Betty. What’s wrong? Nobody’s going to hurt you. We all love you,” Pastor Bell said walking toward her.
Betty stood up, and cried that much louder going over to him like a child that needed to be comforted. He put an arm around her, and let her cry on his shoulder.
“It’s all right, Betty. You go ahead and cry if you want to. This thing has all of us a little upset.”
He comforted her until the sound portion of her crying was on mute, and then sent her back to her chair sniffling, and wiping at her tears with a soggy tissue.
Pastor Bell sat down then, and started the devotion by singing a chorus, and the others joined in. But the singing was not very sincere, and when it came time for the devotional, Don Bjork, who was to do the Scripture reading and bring the devotional message that morning, spoke about how the events of the morning should make them aware of just how uncertain life was, and they should all be living righteously.
The prayers were mostly that the family of the dead girl would know the comfort of the Holy Spirit. None of them knew who the girl was, or who her family was, but it was a safe thing to pray. No one prayed that the police would quickly find the killer of the woman, which surprised Jim Sloan, who although he was a pastor did not really believe in prayer.
By the time devotions were over the police were through with the front steps of the church, and the crowd of spectators separated as the coroner took the body away. The TV cameras tried to focus on the stretcher as it moved from the steps to the coroner’s van. The police started spreading out around the church, looking behind the shrubbery while the detectives went into the church office building to talk to the staff.
Copyright © 2012 by Paul J. Stam
All rights reserved
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Paul’s book The Telephone Killer published by Second Wind Publishing will be out in Oct. 2012.