By Kevin Reigle
Red and blue police lights reflected off the frosted store windows. The snow glowed from the moonlight as it fell on the city park. Onlookers stood behind the yellow police tape near the gazebo, intently watching the officers examine the body.
Flashes from the crime photographer’s camera made the crowd uneasy as mother’s ushered their children closer to the rows of parked cars. The mayor stood in the gazebo trying to reassure the gathering crowd of the park’s safety.
Detective John Mason stood behind the kneeling coroner looking over the stab wounds on the body. He wiped at his brow and looked at Officer Tad Miller and Detective David Connor. “Let’s start going door to door. We’ll see if anyone saw anything. Hey Miller, get the officers together and go up and down Vine Street. I know it’s late, but there’s a few bars over there. Make sure and talk to everyone. Also, check the apartments that overlook the park. Let’s not miss anything.”
“Yes, sir,” Officer Miller said as he stepped away to relay the orders to the other uniformed officers.
Mason waited until Miller left and then moved to the gazebo with Connor. “Most of the stores over here are closed, but I want you to check them out anyway. There’s also the Lutheran Church on the corner and a diner over that way as well.”
The Shadow Hills Emmanuel Lutheran Church set on the edge of downtown, a block from the city park. The red brick building featured two large steeples and a small statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus. The main section of the church was over a hundred years old with stain glass windows, white trim and two sets of heavy wooden doors.
After not getting an answer at the ornate wooden doors, Detective Connor walked around back. A wheelchair ramp led to a set of double glass doors. Through the doors, Connor could see a lighted entryway and an elevator at the far end.
Behind Connor, the parking lot was empty except for one car. Connor kept knocking until he saw a figure step from a darkened hallway into the entryway.
After a few steps, Connor could see her clearly. She approached the glass doors and unlocked them. Detective Connor held up his badge. She nodded and opened the door.
“Please come in,” she said. “It’s cold out there.”
Connor stepped into the entryway. “Yeah, just a little bit. It’s nice and warm in here, though. It looks nice,” Conner said as his eyes wandered around the all-too-modern hall.
“Have you never been here before?”
“No, I’m a Methodist.”
Her eyes flickered to the floor and her hands raised to the ceiling. “I guess someone has to be. I’m Pastor East. It’s nice to meet you.”
He shook her hand while staring at her fiery red hair. “Thank you. I’m Detective David Connor. I wanted to check and see if anyone here noticed anything strange tonight.”
“I’m the only one here. I’ve been in my office working on a few things. Is something wrong?”
“There’s been a murder in the park. We’re canvasing the area to see if anyone saw or heard anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Pastor East said. “Like I said, I’ve been in the office for the last hour.”
Connor looked back at the glass doors. “Are all the doors locked?”
“We have so many entrances here. I’m not sure if they’re all locked, or not.”
“I think you should double check and make sure that they are.”
Pastor East’s eyes widened. “Oh, you mean you haven’t caught who did it?”
“No, not yet. We think they left in a car, so you should be fine. But, it’s better to be safe. Here’s my card,” Connor said as he pulled it out of his wallet and handed it to her. “Call me if you hear anything later from one of your parishioners.”
“I certainly will. Thank you for checking in on me.”
“No problem. Have a good night, Pastor East,” Conner said as he pushed open the door and stepped outside. He waited until he saw her lock the door.
Pastor East put the card in her pocket and double checked the doors. She turned left before the elevator and went down the narrow hallway. As Pastor East approached her office, she heard the banging of desk drawers. When she opened the office door, the man standing behind her desk froze. He stepped back and threw up his hands.
“If you’re looking for money you won’t find any,” Pastor East said in a stern voice. She stood in the doorway showing no fear.
The man stepped away from the desk until his back pushed against the bookshelf. “Just stay away from me and I won’t hurt you.”
She took a step into her office. “You know the police were just here.”
“What? Why were they here?”
Pastor East exhaled slowly and shook her head. “I think you know why.”
The man straightened up. “I do?”
“They are looking for a murderer,” Pastor East said as she looked him over.
He pointed at himself. “What? I didn’t kill nobody.”
“Of course, you didn’t. You’re just trying to rob a church. What’s your name? Mine is Pastor Emily East.”
“I’m Bobby,” he stuttered.
She started to circle the desk. As she did, he moved the opposite way. After a few steps, she was behind the desk and he stood in front near the office door.
Pastor East pointed at the visitor’s chairs in front of the desk. “Why don’t you have a seat. I’ll join you.” She sat down in her mid-back padded chair.
Bobby looked at the metal folding chair. He slowly lowered himself onto it. “I didn’t kill nobody.”
“Is it drugs? Is that what you need the money for?”
“Maybe,” he said looking around the office. He noticed a framed photograph of an old man huddling around a group of children. They appeared to be standing in front of a bamboo hut.
“You know I can help you,” she said reassuringly.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Of course, you don’t. But, why did you hurt that person tonight in the park? Was it a drug deal gone bad?”
Bobby reached a hand into his jacket pocket. “I told you, I didn’t kill anyone.”
“Of course,” Pastor East said patting at the air. “You do know that I can help you out of this situation that you’re in, right?”
“I don’t think I’m in any situation.”
She motioned at the window behind her. “The police are out there right now looking for you. I would call that a situation.”
“You keep saying that you can help me, but you’re not helping me at all.”
“I am trying to help you. But first, I need to understand why you did it? What made you risk your mortal soul by killing someone? Does eternal damnation not frighten you?”
Bobby shifted in the folding chair. “It wasn’t me.” Bobby slipped his hands out of his jacket pockets. He looked down and started to rub them together.”
“What’s wrong?” Pastor East asked studying his hands.
“I got something on them,” Bobby said without looking up.
“There’s a bathroom right across the hall. You can clean up there if you’d like and then we can continue our conversation.”
Bobby nodded. “Okay, I’d like that. Don’t do anything stupid like call the police while I’m in there.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. What’s on your hands?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Bobby stood and stepped backwards through the office door. When he reached the hallway, he turned quickly and looked for the bathroom. A door was partly open a few feet away on his left.
Detective Connor returned to the park. He ducked under the yellow tape and approached Detective Mason. Mason pulled a cellphone away from his ear and ended the call.
“Anything?” Detective Mason asked.
“No, nothing. No one in the diner saw anything and the pastor said she didn’t see anything either.”
Mason looked at him quizzically. “She?”
“Yeah, Pastor East at the Lutheran Church. She didn’t see anything.”
Mason ran through his mind what Connor had said. Then he pointed at the far end of the park where the church steeple peeked over the trees. “You’re talking about that Lutheran Church right there.”
“Yeah, the one you told me to check out. I told her to make sure that all the doors were locked just in case the killer hadn’t fled the area.”
“Mason, I’m not sure who you spoke to, but Pastor East is not a woman. He’s a man. I’d say Pastor East is at least in his sixties.”
“What?” Conner asked. “But, that’s impossible. I just spoke to Pastor East and she’s a woman in her thirties, I’d guess. She has long red hair curly hair.
”Officer Miller approached them interrupting their conversation. “I’m sorry to cut you off, but we found someone who says they saw a red headed woman fleeing the park.”
Detective Mason took in what Miller said. “Jesus Christ.”
Bobby opened the bathroom door. He reached inside and found the light switch. He flipped it and as his foot brushed against something. Bobby looked down and saw the body of an old man holding a cross.
His silver hair and black shirt were stained with blood. A white priest’s collar wrapped around his neck. Bobby recognized him. It was the old man with the children in the photograph on the desk. Before he could react, Bobby felt a sharp pain. His knees gave way and he collapsed onto the floor. When he looked up, he saw the red headed woman standing over him holding a knife.
(Bio: Kevin Reigle has previously been published in the Pensworth Literary Review, TDR Daily and the Dillydoun Review. He works at the University of the Cumberlands.)