She hated pictures of Herself. She had learned to accept He wanted them and took far too many.
They had been having a wonderful time together. He had been spending more time at Her’s than His for the last couple months. But it was time for them to miss each other.
They had said a wonderful good-bye, both travelling for the holidays. They were looking forward to missing each other.
This morning He opened up the “Waco” folder on his computer and paced through pics of Her. Her eyes. Her smile. Her kids. Benz. That pic She made for him on a dare. Her with friends. Ugly Christmas sweaters. Joe Bonamassa. Kayaks. Texas A&M. Troy. Renewed deck furniture. Rain.
Over a year of memories now.
Missing Her this morning felt good. Anticipation. Looking forward to a special event you know can’t come fast enough, but in the anticipation is joy.
He was happy. For Her. For Them. For the pictures.
Suzanna looked down at little Claire as she nursed. It hurt. They had told her during birthing classes her nipples would “toughen up.” Nine weeks in, she knew they lied. But there was joy in it as well. A special closeness she felt with Claire, an intimacy only a mother and child could experience. She smiled in the dark nursery.
She detached Claire and gently flipped the babe to her left breast. She felt exhausted. The breast pump helped when John was home, but he was gone for District Conference this week meaning she slept only for the 4 hour or less spurts Claire did. The messy parsonage yelled at her every time she entered a room. There was some unidentified smell emanating from the kitchen she was too weary to hunt down.
Suzanna grew up in the small town of Vanceburg, in Lewis County. Vanceburg sits on the Ohio River, 100 miles east of Cincinnati. When she was a girl, it was remote. When the AA Highway was finally finished in the ’90s, access to civilization became easier.
She grew up poor but never knew it. It was true for many in Vanceburg. Her father worked at a saw mill, sometimes felling timber for extra money. Her mother worked at the nursing home.
She spent her teenage years between Druther’s, DQ and Chiggers, the local burger joint owned by the ever widening Bill Tom Cooper. Friday nights were Lion’s football. Wednesday and Sunday morning were church. Sunday night was United Methodist Youth.
At UK she had majored in Elementary Ed. She planned to teach kindergarten or primary students. She loved working with children and it seemed a natural fit. She looked forward to changing lives.
When she first met John, she thought he was a bit of a show off. A frat boy. Sure he was cute, and funny, but in a crass sort of way. Sarcastic. Over time he had grown on her and she had seen his gentleness, his kindness and the sincerity of his faith.
When he felt the call to ministry, she was there. It stirred her. She was proud and her love for him grew.
Now, seemingly moments later, they were through college, and had a pastorate and a new family. Though it hadn’t been her plan, she knew it was everything she had ever wanted in life.
Finally, Clair was falling asleep, her eyes closed and her lips detached, still occasionally sucking the air. Suzanna moved Clair to her shoulder, burped her, then placed her back in her crib.
As she reached her own bed, she thought about John. He had called earlier when he had a break between sessions, but it was a brief “I love you, bye” kind of talk and she craved a real conversation with him. Right now her bed seemed empty and cold. She grabbed her phone and texted him “I really miss you tonight. I love you.”
She fell asleep with her phone in hand, hoping for a text back.
What woke her was not a text, nor was it Claire. It was a loud knock at her door.
Chief Dalton took a long drag on his Marlboro, squinting his eyes as if he were in pain. “Do you think it’s the preacher?” His words came out as puffs of smoke, made all the more obvious in the lights from the patrol cars.
“I’ve only met him once, but he looks like him. If he has any ID we’ll know in a second. I hope not, he’s got a new kid.” Tom looked back at the body as Officer Jeff Harlan rolled it to its left so Danny could check the back pocket of its jeans for ID.
Dalton’s mind wished against what he already knew to be true–that the body was almost certainly J.W.
White County had 438 deaths in the last year. Most were from natural causes. 23 were traffic accidents. 12 were homicides. 8 suicides. Of the homicides 3 were domestic and 9 were drug related–Crystal Meth mostly.
If this was J.W. that meant a good young man, a man just starting his family, the minister of a leading local congregation, had been murdered. Not a drug dealer. Not a meth head. Not someone who robs, steals or attempts to harm others. Not a drunk or a wife beater or a child molester.
Danny lifted out the wallet, placed his flashlight in his left arm pit and used both hands to remove the driver’s license. “John W. Reeves.”
“Damn” Dalton exhaled. “Harlan, call Plummers’ and have them pick up the body. Make sure to tell them to be careful, we’ll need everything for evidence. You stay with the body until you’re relieved, you, Truesdell or Canada will have to ride along to Frankfort.”
In Kentucky all autopsies are handled by the Chief Medical Examiner in Frankfort. To maintain a chain of custody the body has to be accompanied by an officer in transport.
“I know where the parsonage is Doc, you want to come with me for the notification? It won’t be easy. He and his wife just had a baby.”
“I need to stay here until Roger gets here. I want to make sure the body is bagged and I sign for it.” Roger Plummer owned one of the two local funeral homes and one of seven in the county.
“OK, I’ll take Truesdell.” Wayne Truesdell was the fourth of the officers and was sitting in the driver’s seat of his Black and White Crown Vic, filling out paperwork. He was the only one who actually liked keeping up with the paperwork. “TRUESDELL!,” Dalton raised his voice to grab his attention. The Officer looked from his paperwork, jumped up, and jogged over to Dalton.
Dalton opened the driver’s door to his black Explorer. “Get in, we’re going to go see Mrs. Reeves.”
Truesdell stopped dead for a heartbeat. Fear shot through him, he had never done a notification before. “What are you waiting for? Get in dammit!” Truesdell took a deep breath as he jumped into the Explorer without saying a word.
Truesdell wanted to ask all kinds of questions as they drove. “What do I say?” “What do I do if she cries?” But neither of them spoke as they drove the few short blocks to Front Street.
They turned onto Front Street and the dark 150 year old edifice of the First United Methodist Church dominated the block. Dalton pulled up in front of the two story, red brick parsonage next door and parked in front of the wrap around porch. As he placed the SUV in park he broke the silence.
“Look, I want you to keep quiet. I’ll handle it.”
“Sure Chief,” Truesdell was relieved.
With that Dalton got out of the truck and approached the dark porch, Truesdell padding behind.
This is chapter III. To read from the beginning, go here.
John Wesley Reeves came home to a devout Methodist mother and a much less devout father a few weeks after he was born May 22, 1978. His birth mother was a girl of 16 from a generationally impoverished Appalachian family. She never identified the father.
It was his adoptive mother who had insisted on naming him after the founder of Methodism over his father’s objection—Magnolia Reeves can be a formidable presence when she chooses. She had decided the day he arrived he was to be a Methodist minister.
Consistent with that goal she always referred to him as “John Wesley”: “John Wesley it’s time for dinner.” “You go right up there and clean your room John Wesley.” It was her way of keeping the ministry always before him.
He hated his double name growing up. At 6 he announced at dinner he would no longer be referred to as “John Wesley,” but as “J.W.”
“Now John Wesley you have a proud, respectable, Christian name and you will be called by it, do you hear?” Maggie’s finger punched the air a few inches from John Wesley’s nose, punctuating each syllable.
“Yes ma’am.” At least at school he could be “J.W.,” even if he couldn’t at home.
As a teenager in Silerville, he couldn’t wait to get out. The last thing he wanted was to be another “John Wesley.” He began packing his bags for the University of Kentucky almost as soon as he got the acceptance letter. Major in business, minor in Poly Sci. His life was planned—he was going to start a successful business, make a pile, retire at 40, become active in politics. Maybe state senate.
This boy from Silerville was going to shake off the dust and show that little town he could be somebody.
But that was before he heard The Call.
The Call for him came at the United Methodist Student Union. It was Suzanna’s fault. Well, to be more specific, it was her hips. She walked past him one day in the cafeteria and somehow the way she walked, the way she moved, captivated him.
He jumped up from the table, almost throwing his tray at the thick woman manning the dish sprayer, and took off after Suzanna, hoping he hadn’t lost her. He spotted her just as she hopped up the stairs to the UMSU.
The next day he joined the union. “After all,” he reasoned, “it would make Mom happy.”
But something in John Wesley Reeves began to change that first semester. He began to look forward to Tuesday night 8:15 Bible Study. And not just because of Suzanna. He began to get more serious about his faith. He read his Bible for enrichment. He prayed.
When the April Student Crusade came around, he was ready to hear The Call.
Today J.W. can’t remember the name or even picture the face of the preacher that night. What he does remember is responding to the altar call and finding himself walking the aisle weeping uncontrollably.
He knew in his heart God called and he responded. That was more than 10 years ago. He finished at UK, married Suzanna and together waded through his M.Div. program at Asbury.
This is chapter II. To read from the beginning, go here.
“Isn’t he the Methodist preacher?” asked Danny Canada, shining his flashlight over Tom’s shoulder at the corpse’s pale face. “I been there to church a couple times, I think it’s him. J. W. somethin’.”
“Just a minute Danny, and I’ll let you check him for ID.” Tom’s tone was barely kind. Everything Danny said went through Tom like a bolt–and he wanted to slug him. Tom wasn’t sure why, but he hated Danny with a passion, and that created an ongoing problem. Each time there was anything from a traffic accident, to a domestic dispute, to a homicide (rare though they were) every “officer” in Silerville turned out. So Danny was there each time Tom was called in.
Danny was one of the four Silerville police officers, counting chief Dalton. Danny was 32 and still slept in the same room, in the same house, on the same street he had lived in since he was born. His bed frame was the same one he had received on his sixth birthday–a dark walnut with a low bookcase headboard. The mattress and springs were, of necessity, newer. The walls were originally painted white, though were now grey and pocked from years of tantrums, posters taped up, posters torn down, and spilled beer.
The entire house was in much the same condition. It sat on the street as a tired reminder it had once been bright and new. It had once been loving built and cared for. It had once been a place of hope. Now it watched exhausted as cars drove past it on Straight Street, a weary monument to waste lives.
Danny’s mother Agnes Canada slept in the room just next to Danny’s. She was a frail looking woman of 74, and played the part of wounded oldster to her advantage. Her husband died of stomach cancer when Danny was 20 and was missed by neither.
Danny was a small, doughy man. He had a round middle and spindly arms and legs. With his flat-top he looked somewhat like a dummy made from a large pillow, four sticks with a bucket for a head. In every way Danny was a weak man.
Danny longed for greatness. All through his childhood his mother had told him he would be great. He was her “special boy,” her “prince” and, after his father’s lingering death, her “big man.” Each picture he painted in grade school was a masterpiece. Though he got mediocre grades, his mother assured him it was the jealous teachers who wished he were their son. He was Adonis, Einstein and DaVinci.
Of course this constant praise did not enable Danny to become great, it only weakened him. The hard lessons of life were never learned. The hard emotions were never allowed to develop and mature. Danny was a spoiled 5 year old in a bloated 32 year old body. He had all the fears of a 5 year old. He was petulant. He whined. He cried–in private often and in public more than rarely.
Though he would never confess it, he knew he was weak. Whenever there was the potential of physical labor on the horizon, he made a determined effort to go somewhere else. Everything filled him with fear and dread.
Tom didn’t really like Danny, but as coroner he had to tolerate him.
Tom got up from his squat next to the body and purposely turned away from Danny as he talked to him, moving toward Chief Dalton. “Get pictures of the body from every angle and bag the hands for Frankfort, then you can roll him for ID.”
The story continues here.
First chapter of a short story or long story (not sure which.) I haven’t gotten much further on it, but I likely will one of these days.
Tom Sibley’s Watch
Tom Sibley loved his watch. His father, a physician of no small reputation in the “hills and hollers” surrounding Silerville, Kentucky, had left it to him. After 25 years on his father’s wrist and then almost 15 on Tom’s, the watch body had it share of marks and scratches. Upon close inspection, one could see the crystal also had a tiny fracture, visible as a small line between the Roman “X” and the tick mark representing “XI”—in 1967 the Rolex “Bubble Body” face only had room for the even numbers.
Jim Helton, Tom’s across the road neighbor and local jeweler, had more than once offered to replace the cracked crystal. “Tom,” he would say in his perpetually and inexplicably jubilant tone, “when ya gonna let me fix up that watch fer ya? It’s probably worth near on three or four thousand. You oughta take care of it.”
“One of these days, Jim, one of these days.”
The truth was Tom didn’t want to replace the crystal. That hairline fracture meant almost as much to Tom as the watch itself. The watch received that injury the day “Doc” Sibley took his 12 year old Tom out to the garage to show him how to change the oil in Doc’s new fire-engine red 1972 Chevy Impala convertible.
Huddled beneath the huge crimson hulk which was securely elevated by two bright orange ramps, Tom held the “trouble light” while his father ratcheted free the drain plug.
Being a new car, and this being its first oil change, the plug was putting up solid resistance. Doc lay on his back, his right hand on the wrench and left lying motionless on his chest.
Doc was just instructing his son saying, “No need paying someone to do something you can do…” when the bolt suddenly gave way, causing Doc’s typically nimble hand to lose grip of the wrench, which predictably landed smack dab on the watch crystal.
It was one of the few times Tom heard his father offer a profanity.
Doc quickly slid out from under the vehicle, carefully inspecting his watch for damage. Tom scurried out as well, “Are you OK dad?”
“I think I cracked my watch. Shoulda taken it off before we started. Oh well, what’s done is done. Let’s get back to work.” With that Doc placed the wounded watch on his workbench and crawled back under the car, placing mom’s old roasting pan beneath the drain plug to catch the oil.
That was the first day Doc had ever treated Tom like a man. He explained to Tom everything he was doing, imparting seemingly ancient masculine wisdom. Dipping your finger in the used oil to lubricate the seal on the new filter. Checking the timing using a strobe. Revving the engine by pulling on the little rod next to the carburetor. Checking, “gapping” and replacing a spark plug.
Things men must know.
In Tom’s mind that was the day he became a man. There would be many days where he would learn “man” things, but that day Tom knew his father no longer saw him as an awkward boy, he saw him as a man.
That tiny, barely visible line in that 40 year old Rolex meant everything to Tom. It meant manhood. It meant his father’s love.
At precisely 11:58pm Tom looked down at his watch and pronounced me dead. A single stab wound to the chest the obvious cause.