🦋 a short murder mystery for the Christian reader – Part 3 🦋
Sunbeams danced through small clear sections of the stained glass window that stood tall at the front of the church. A young and pretty Cheryl Hoxley smiled warmly and introduced Brenda to a few of the women as they found their way to an empty pew.
Brenda returned her greetings quietly; it wasn’t because she felt awkward. In fact, it almost felt like visiting a long lost relative. Memories of her grandmother holding her tiny hand raced into her thoughts. She had been barely eight-years-old swinging her legs back and forth under a long bench at the rear of Kingsley Chapel with her cousins. There had been a simple wooden cross that hung behind a brass eagle lectern. This was back before her parents had divorced and she moved to the city with her mother.
Peter Hoxley handed Brenda an opened hymn book. Her eyes closed to the familiar tune from the pipe organ that began with vibrancy. Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more. The words seemed to bounce off the ceiling and back down to her. I am weak but thou art mighty... Brenda allowed the words to shroud her like a hug.
Young Cheryl’s sweet voice was almost drowned out by a booming off-key male baritone. Brenda looked passed Cheryl. It was coming from the young police officer. His head was held high and his eyes closed.
‘Strong Deliv’rer, Strong Deliv’rer. Be Thou still my strength and shield…’ He sang with no care of who was watching or listening.
Following Cheryl’s lead, Brenda closed the hymn book and shut her eyes. The minister prayed a prayer of praise and thanksgiving before the congregation repeated his amen.
The service proceeded from Bible readings to prayers and then a solo by one of the choir members. Brenda couldn’t recall the hymn but the words were beautiful. The message the preacher gave was based on familiar Scripture. Ecclesiastes chapter three: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”
When the service was over, Brenda followed the Hoxley’s to the door where they briefly introduced her to Pastor Steve Knox, a pleasant middle-aged gentleman with greying thick hair and a toothy grin. He shook her hand and thanked her for coming, hoping she had enjoyed his sermon. She said she did and smiled as they left.
They descended the steps of the church to the car parking area. Before they got to the car, Hoxley’s cell phone rang. He answered it and then turned to Cheryl and Brenda with an apologetic smile, walked over to a nearby tree and continued his call.
Cheryl opened the car door to allow Brenda into the back seat.
‘Sorry about that,’ Cheryl said, as she settled into the front passenger seat. ‘It comes with the job, but he loves what he does…and he does it well,’ she added, just as Peter opened the door and got in.
He reached over and touched his wife’s hand. ‘And, I have a very understanding wife,’ he finished with a boyish grin.
Turning back to Brenda, Hoxley turned sombre. ‘That was Inspector O’Malley. He needs to see you first thing tomorrow at the station.’ He paused. ‘Sorry’. Then he looked at his wife and smiled again. ‘But now, how about lunch for you two special ladies?’
Brenda didn’t ask why the inspector wanted to see her, but she did ask: ‘Officer Hoxley, would you mind if we drive pass my house? I just need to see it. I think…’
‘Please,’ he interrupted. ‘Call me Peter when I’m not on duty, and of course we can do that. In fact, I think it may help you. That’s if Cheryl doesn’t mind us taking a little detour.’
‘No. That’s fine,’ Cheryl replied with a warm smile.
It was a quiet ride to Brenda’s house. Peter slowed as he turned into her street. He pulled up in front of the gate and turned the engine off.
‘That’s strange,’ Brenda said softly. She looked over the leaf covered lawn and the rose garden by the gate. The dead dried up blooms created an unkempt appearance. ‘I wonder where Carlos is.’
‘Who’s Carlos?’ Peter asked.
Brenda looked at him through a haze of interrupted thought. ‘The gardener. Carlos works every Sunday, rain or shine. No matter what’s going on, he always shows.’
She looked at Peter then added, ‘his reliability is the only thing I liked about him. Charles hired him a couple of years ago. I didn’t like him. He…’ Brenda froze and stared at a spot on the windscreen. She felt suddenly cold and nauseous.
‘Are you all right?’ Cheryl and Peter asked in unison.
‘Brenda?’ Peter turned in his seat to face her. ‘What is it? What about Carlos?’
Brenda suddenly snapped out of her trance. ‘We need to go. I need to get my jacket from the motel before we go to lunch. It’s getting cool.’ She glanced at Peter, then to Cheryl. ‘If you don’t mind.’
Brenda could feel Peter studying her before he turned and started the car.
Once they had turned out of the street Brenda apologized. ‘I remember the thing I couldn’t stand most about Carlos. He smelled. No. He stunk…of garlic. I’ve always hated the smell of garlic. I refused to have anything to do with hiring him. I left the interviews up to Charles. It was the same pungent odour I smelt the other day on the stairs…and that night.’ Brenda grimaced.
Peter braked gently, pulling to a stop in front of the motel. He looked over his shoulder. ‘Are you telling me you could smell Carlos in the house?’
Her eyes met Peter’s. ‘Yes. Yes, I’m certain of it.’
A loud rap on the car window beside Brenda startled them all. It was Frank Davies, Brenda’s lawyer.
Brenda opened the window. ‘What is it, Frank?’
‘What is the meaning of this?’ He directed this question at Peter then turned back to Brenda. ‘Where have you been? Come on. I think you better get inside.’
Peter opened his door and came round to speak to Frank. ‘Excuse me, but Brenda’s bail doesn’t include your twenty-four hour a day surveillance. You were only required to escort her to collect personal belongings from the house after her release and take her to the motel.’
Frank stepped back. ‘Oh…um…sorry. I’m only trying to protect my client.’
‘Protect her from what?’
‘It doesn’t matter.’ Frank apologized again and walked hastily to his Cadillac. He got in and drove off.
‘He’s an odd fellow,’ Peter said, as he assisted Brenda from the car. ‘Do you want me to come with you?’
‘No. I’m fine, thank you. I think the media have given up following me. I won’t be long.’
She dashed into the motel and headed for her room to retrieve her jacket before returning to the waiting Hoxley’s. She wasn’t gone more than five minutes.
Peter took Cheryl and Brenda to a small restaurant. The waitress led them to a quiet table in the back, as Peter had requested. Brenda slipped into the booth first and then decided to use the opportunity to thank the couple for their hospitality and friendship.
‘I enjoyed your church service. Thank you,’ she said, and meant it. Small talk followed until their orders were taken.
‘Brenda?’ Peter’s voice was low and seriousness. ‘You were telling me about Carlos. What else can you tell me about him?’
‘I’m sorry. As I said, I left all the employment details to Charles. I know that Carlos was recommended by Frank Davies…’
‘Frank was Charles’ lawyer. He hired him to do the legal stuff in regard to his contracts. Frank seemed to just appear at the police station and took over my case.’
Brenda hadn’t realized how hungry she was until she saw a server walk by, carrying hot plates brimming with food, but she still needed Peter to answer a few questions of her own before she could think about eating.
‘Peter, why do I need to go to the police station tomorrow? Does Frank know? Will I need him there?’
Their meals arrived at that moment and the next few minutes were spent enjoying the aroma and the presentation of their meals.
Peter placed his napkin on his lap and sighed. ‘I can’t say much more right now but I can tell you that we have Carlos in custody. Apparently he was the person Sergeant McDougal chased the other day.’ He reached for Cheryl’s hand, then Brenda’s. ‘My only suggestion in regard to Frank Davies is we should help you find another lawyer.’
Peter bowed his head and gave thanks.
© Chrissy Siggee