Authors: Mike Addington
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Thriller, #Teen & Young Adult
“Never mind. Yeah, I’ll give you a call.”
Reverend Holcomb stepped back relieved, blessing Marie under his breath.
Marie liked her status in the church and community and would make sure
Jessie came by. Jessie always came through with the “special” gifts the
reverend asked of him from time to time, except for the one time the reverend
approached him without Marie present. Holcomb made sure not to repeat that
“Will y’all be here for the concert tonight?” the reverend asked, still clutching
Jessie pulled his hand away and grumbled something unintelligible.
“We sure will. Caroline and I enjoy them, but I don’t think Jessie
appreciates the cultural events that much,” Marie said, finishing the last part
of the sentence with a dour look at Jessie. She made the most of his hangovers.
It was the only time he wasn’t abusing her.
Her voice carried like a drone to Jessie. He paid little attention to
what she said and cared even less.
A group walked through the doorway to the left of the pulpit, most of
them coming from Sunday school. A well-dressed, classically handsome woman in
her mid-thirties came through and caught Jessie’s attention. She was followed
by an athletically built young man who held open the door. The expression on
his face left no doubt he felt uncomfortable. Part of it was the lip. He had a small
but noticeable cleft palate on the right side, and he tucked his chin low as he
walked up the aisle.
Caroline waved and the young man looked their way. The self-conscious
expression disappeared as he grinned from ear to ear.
Jessie leaned across Marie and glared at Caroline, furiously jabbing a
pointed finger in her face. “You, you, . . .” he sputtered.
Caroline lowered her eyes.
Jessie jerked his head back around to glare at the young man, but he’d
already seen what happened and turned away, following his mother up the aisle.
The only reason he was here today was because it was his mother’s birthday and
he’d promised, which was something he swore never to do again.
“That son of a . . .,” Jessie sprang to his feet and crossed the
three-aisle difference between the preacher and himself in one step. He grabbed
Holcomb by the arm and almost dragged him to the foyer.
The preacher was too startled to speak.
Hand trembling, Jessie pointed to Danny. “I want that boy out of here,
and I mean right now.”
Holcomb looked and saw that “the boy” was Belinda Taylor’s son, whom he’d
met when visiting Belinda. His face blanched. “Jessie, I can’t ask anyone to leave
the Lord’s house, to leave a church service. Belinda’s been a member here for
years.” His face regained some of its color. “What has the boy done to make
“Don’t you worry about that. If you want anymore donations from me,
,” he added with raised eyebrows, “you’ll get that hair-lipped boy
outta here. I don’t care about the woman—”
“No need referring to the young man that way, Jessie. And that’s his
mother, formerly Belinda Hathaway, lawyer Stuart Hathaway’s daughter, you’re
talking about,” Holcomb said, assuming that the name would impress Jessie and
soften his demands.
“I don’t care if she’s Queen Elizabeth; get the boy outta here.” Jessie leaned
toward the preacher until he was almost nose to nose. Holcomb could smell the
stale whiskey. “I ain’t tellin’ you again.”
Jessie strode back to his pew and glared at Caroline.
Reverend Holcomb ignored the condemning eyes of the greeting committee,
who passed out service programs in the foyer. He paced while he thought and
tried to swallow but had no saliva. Rising anger and pride fought with ambition
and duty, the latter two dependent on Jessie’s donations.
An irreverent curse crossed Holcomb’s mind, then he walked halfway down
the outer aisle to where Belinda and Danny were sitting, oblivious to the fact
that a third of the congregation was staring at him because of the grotesque
expression on his face, caused by the turmoil racing through his mind.
He leaned across the couple sitting next to the aisle and spoke as low as
possible. “Belinda, would you and your son come with me, please?”
Belinda hesitated, but the reverend had such a strange expression on his
face that she was concerned about him and didn’t want to draw any more
attention than she was sure had already been drawn.
A bewildered expression on her face, she turned to Danny, who glared at
Belinda patted Danny’s hand. “Come on. Let’s see what he wants.”
Holcomb stood aside to usher them out, and, in gentlemanly fashion,
gestured back down the aisle to the entrance foyer.
“Belinda, I don’t know what to say,” Reverend Holcomb said, obviously
flustered. He glanced at Danny, then back to Belinda. He sighed gravely.
“I’m late for the service as is, and all I can really say at the present
is that one of the um, um, more influential members who the church depends on
heavily for contributions has, well, there’s no other way to put it, I suppose,
has objected to the young man’s presence and demanded he leave. I find it
tremendously objectionable myself. The request that is, and, if there were more
time, I’d get to the bottom of it. But would you do me the huge favor of . . .”
Holcomb could not bring himself to ask someone to
“Come on, Mother. You’re too good for this bunch anyway,” Danny said,
glaring at Holcomb with a murderous expression.
The shock was too much for Belinda. Her knees buckled, and she sank to
Danny grabbed his mother before her head hit the floor and lowered her
The men passing out programs rushed over. “Call 911,” Tommy Brake told his
Members of the congregation sitting in the back pews saw Belinda collapse
and rushed out to see what was happening. The rest of the congregation followed
Jessie jumped up. He slapped Caroline’s hand away as she grabbed his coat
and bulled his way through the crowd until he was standing next to Reverend
“What’s the matter with her?” he said coarsely. “Stay out too late last
night,” he added with a sneer and contemptuous look at Danny.
Danny dropped the damp cloth Tommy Brake had given him and stepped over
Belinda’s body. His sky-blue eyes turned icy, and his fingers closed around a
handful of Jessie’s shirt collar. “You’re the cause of this,” he said, then
drew back his other hand.
The shock in Jessie’s eyes made Danny pause. He shoved Jessie backwards
and lowered his hands. “You’re a lucky man. My mother wouldn’t want me fighting
in church; otherwise, you’d—”
Jessie regained his composure. “You’d better stay away from my daughter
is what you’d better do, buster. Lucky man? Lucky man, my ass. I’ve had it with
you. Told you for the last time to stay away from Caroline. Not going to listen
though, are you tough guy? Somebody needs to teach you some respect. Don’t look
like your mother’s doin’ too good a job.” Jessie sneered and looked around the
crowd as he said the last part.
Big Tommy Brake was ready and grabbed Danny in a bear hug. “Ignore the
idiot,” Tommy whispered. “Take care of your mother.”
Danny’s eyes blazed, and he struggled to free himself, but Tommy had a
“C’mon, kid, that’s what he wants,” Tommy said.
The words took a moment to work their way through Danny’s rage, but then
his head cleared. He looked at Tommy appreciatively and nodded. Tommy released
his hold, and Danny knelt beside Reverend Holcomb, who was keeping a cold wet
cloth to Belinda’s forehead while wiping her face with another.
The paramedics arrived and cleared the foyer. After they worked on her a
few minutes, Belinda woke from her faint.
Jessie strode back down the aisle. “Where’s Caroline? We’re leaving.”
“She left . . . shortly after you slapped her hand away,” Marie added
with a distasteful expression.
“Her butt better be at the car. I’m not waitin’. Let’s go.”
Marie followed him to the car. No Caroline.
Jessie banged the roof. “Damn it. What’s got into that girl?”
“Nothing has gotten into
. What’s gotten into
possessed you to intimidate Reverend Holcomb into asking Belinda to leave
church? That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen you do. And that’s
saying a lot.”
“It wasn’t the woman. It’s that kid. He’s trouble, and I’ve told Caroline
a thousand times I don’t want her hanging around him. Then he comes sashaying
down the aisle like he’s somebody. He’s trash, and I won’t stand for it.
Caroline waving to him. Him, with that deformed lip. Ugh. That took the cake.”
“He can’t help that his lip is abnormal, and she’s too old for you to be
telling her who to associate with.”
“Damned if that’s so. Not as long as she’s under my roof. She ain’t
ruinin’ my reputation, gettin’ herself all messed up too. Hanging around with
the likes of him ain’t gettin’ her nowhere but trouble.”
“What has he done? I’ve not heard one single thing bad about him. He’s
never been arrested or anything, has he?”
“Hell, I don’t know. No, not that I know of. But, if he ain’t, he should
have. I’m sure he’s done plenty. Just ain’t been caught is all. Just ain’t been
“Caroline might’ve started walking home,” Marie said.
“Seven miles is a good-sized hike, but she’d do it just to spite me,”
“It wouldn’t be to spite you, Jessie, but because of you.”
“You’d better watch that smart mouth of yours too. I’ve about had enough
for one morning,” Jessie snarled, along with a look that implied he wasn’t
above physical abuse if she continued.
Marie averted her eyes and looked out the window.
Two miles from the church, Jessie pulled the car alongside the familiar
Caroline gazed straight ahead without breaking stride.
Jessie stopped the car. “Get in, Caroline, and stop this crap.”
Caroline continued walking.
The Lincoln rolled slowly beside her for a few moments then stopped.
Jessie leaped from the car, ran to Caroline, and grabbed her arm. He
opened the back door and, with a strong hand gripped around her upper arm, practically
slung her into the back seat.
“I hate you. I hate you,” she screamed.
“Maybe now you do, but you’ll thank me one day.”
“For what? Bullying everyone and everybody? You’re an asshole, Daddy. An
Jessie leaned into the car and stuck a finger in her face. “You started it.
If you’d listened to me in the first place, none of this would’ve happened.
That scum walking into my church like he owned the place. And you waving at
him. For everyone to see. How do you think that made me look? Everybody in
church thinking you and that freak are friends. And me just sitting there.”
“Me. Me. Me. It’s always about you, isn’t it, Daddy? If you feel that
way, what about Mother? Shouldn’t she be included? But, no, it’s how would
Jessie Whitaker look? What would people think of Jessie Whitaker?
“Why do you hate Danny so much? He’s never done anything to you. . . .
Oh, that’s it though, isn’t it? He and I are friends, and he won’t bow down
like everyone else, and you can’t stand it. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Jessie wiped his sweaty forehead with a trembling hand. If anyone, anyone
at all other than Caroline talked to him this way, he would have beaten them to
“He’s from the wrong side of the tracks, always in trouble, and he’s
trash. And that hair lip of his makes him a freak in my book. I won’t have my
daughter sullying her and her mother’s and
reputation by hanging
around with trash.”
“He is not a freak,” Caroline screamed. “He’s the nicest person I know
and would make a hundred of you. You have no idea what he’s like. When we first
moved here, when you first started making all your precious money and bought
the new house and I had to change schools, I was scared to death the first day
of class. Danny was the first person I met. The only one who was kind to me.
The others were saying the same thing to me that you are saying now about Danny.
‘She’s trash. She’s from West Benton. Look at those shoes, that dress, and,
uugghh, that hair,’ ” Caroline said in a mocking tone. “All those highfalutin
people you think so much of were the very ones whose sons and daughters were
making fun of me. Then Danny came over and talked to me. He was so sweet and helped
me stop crying. Then he called Lois Sims—you know,
Mr. Sims, the
mill owner’s daughter—over and told her if she didn’t start treating me like
her best friend right then and there he was going to tell everybody what he saw
her doing in the auditorium dressing room the week before.
“I was in the third grade, Daddy. Can you remember how scared you can be
when you’re all by yourself and everyone is making fun of you when you’re that
age? I doubt you can. You probably fixed things so that you’re always the big
“And for your information, his grandparents have money too. How do you
think Danny went to Lee Grammar School when he lived in another district?”
“Shut up,” Jessie thundered and raised his hand. “I don’t need no lecture
from you. I know his grandparents have money, and I know they cut his mother
off without a dime. That ought’a tell you something right there. They think the
same way I do. His momma married trash, and they cut her ass off just like I’ll
do you if don’t stay away from that boy.”
Caroline’s demeanor became steely. “Take a look at me, Daddy. Forget
you’re my father for a minute, and take a look at me.”
Puzzled, Jessie looked at his 18-year-old daughter. She was pretty, but,
being her father, he didn’t really
the alluringly beautiful young
woman Caroline had become. Fairly tall at five foot nine; her honey-colored hair
with natural blond highlights framed a full face with high, rounded cheeks and
strong jaw line. Long hours swimming sculpted her firm athletic body.