Sex, Love & Murder
Prologue to Sex, Love & Murder
If you had seen me on that day you would have said I was a hyper child, not the mother of a teenager. I couldn’t sit still, much less find a comfortable position in an unforgiving church pew.
I was nervous about meeting the President and the harder I tried to focus on the questions I wanted to ask, the more fidgety I became.
I don’t recall how many times I checked myself in the mirror and redid the hair pins on my French twist. I do remember thinking how my life had changed since Martha–the cemetery psychic–gave me the crystal necklace.
At that moment, the large, tear-shaped stone refracted green and gold, party yellow, electric purple, blood red, and sad blue. A Jackson Pollack impression of St. Louis Cathedral if ever there was one.
“Costume congregation–eerie carnival aura,” I scribbled in my reporter’s pad while struggling to describe what I was seeing. “A comic contrast to the rich murals and stained glass windows of Louis IX, Christian King of France .”
The Cathedral was standing-room only. Several people wore masks. They’d fit right in at the Voodoo Lounge, but not in a place once sanctioned by the Pope. I couldn’t relate. I had no reference point.
I thought of the church I was forced to attend as a child. It was an outhouse in comparison to this. Yes, Gerry First Baptist in Gerry, Alabama was functional, but not much else.
I often wish I could escape my memories of back then. They’re reborn whenever I smell oak or a certain mustiness I came to associate with Jesus on the Cross. The smell would have been pleasant if not for the Reverend Barker’s sermons on hell-fire and damnation.
Mother made me go to church, sick or not. She provided the organ and piano music. Without her, Gerry Baptist was sadder than a funeral in Seattle . I don’t think I’d be wrong to say, Mother was the main attraction. Many in the congregation would agree, with the clear exception of Ada Bell Fletcher. Mrs. Fletcher frowned and went “humph,” every time Mother played hymns in that boogie-woogie style of hers.
Mother said Mrs. Fletcher had no room to judge. She and the Reverend Barker did a lot worse than the boogie-woogie at the Nightly Stay Motel–or as we used to call it, the Hourly Lay.
Wishing I could push back the memory, I finger-combed an unruly strand of blonde hair into my French twist. A tall Secret Service man in black walked down the center aisle, blocking my view. He seemed more fitting as a pall bearer than as guardian for the President.
This agent was quite handsome, a Richard-Gere type. He reminded me of Jay, the way his wavy, steel gray hair framed his face. But Jay was more casual. He’d never be caught dead in a suit like that, though I had to admit it was lint free and immaculate.
Unlike my own attire, a crocheted dress I’d ordered from some catalog because it was on sale, and I loved the color, a rich burgundy. I’d worn the dress a number of times without having it cleaned. Oh well, so what. I was a seasoned reporter doing a job. At least I’d washed my hair that morning and dabbed on a bit of makeup. Quite a feat, considering the events of the past week, two murders and precious little evidence.
I thought of the diary I’d found. It pointed to the guilty party, but like a complex news story with no lead sentence, left more questions than answers.
My personal life was even more confusing. I, Lilah Sanderford of all people, had become entirely too hormonal: like a teenager in love, too much, too fast. I needed a break, needed time to clear my mind, consider the evidence.
Fat chance on this Fat Tuesday. My mind was mush. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything for long, except superficial stuff like my appearance. I took a mirrored compact out of my tote to check for lipstick teeth and smeared mascara but promptly dropped it when the pipe organ thundered out Hail to the Chief.
Katherine Georgia Wilson entered the back of the church dressed as a glorified Mardi Gras queen. “Resplendent in her golden crown and cape ~ Gold for power.” I wondered if I’d be able to decipher my scratchy handwriting. “The President’s cape is laced with green and purple ribbons, traditional Carnival colors.”
Always the campaigner, Wilson worked her way through the crowd, shaking every extended hand until she came to the altar where she turned and waved, crisscrossing her arms above her head.
“What an honor it is to speak to you in this beautiful Cathedral the final Tuesday before Lent.” Wilson ’s deep, velvet voice assaulted the pin-drop silence. As if savoring the moment, she paused, smiling serenely from behind the miked podium. Picture perfect.
I grabbed my camera and jockeyed with other journalists for position. Finally capturing the moment with my lens, I imagined my photo of the President adorning magazine covers around the world.
Pop. It sounded like a fire cracker and startled everyone, even the transfixed mime wearing yellow spandex.
Pop. I inhaled a peculiar odor, a combination of cotton candy and burning incense.
Pop. I watched the gold crown fly from Wilson’s head and heard the deafening cries of the crowd coupled with my own.
Pop. I felt a numbing sting, and realized I’d been shot too as I swirled downward inside the black wash of unconsciousness.