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I Shall Not Want - The Psalm 23 Mysteries #2
By Debbie Viguie
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCindy Preston loved Fridays. Anything-can-happen Fridays was how she liked to think of them. As they neared the holidays and First Shepherd church became a center of activity, Fridays became even more deserving of their name. Being a secretary at a church was a far more chaotic job than most people imagined.
For Cindy, the job had turned even more exciting several months earlier when she had stumbled across a dead body in the church sanctuary. The week that followed had seen many people murdered by a serial killer, one whom Cindy had helped stop.
For a couple of months afterward, the church had seen a large swell in attendance as people wanted to come gawk at the woman who had survived attack by the Passion Week killer and had helped the police turn the tables on him.
Their interest had gradually waned, and aside from three new members who had actually joined the church, things had pretty much returned to normal.
The one unfortunate thing was that her friendship forged in shared danger with Jeremiah, the rabbi at the synagogue next door, slowly faded as well. They still exchanged pleasantries over the shrub hedge that separated the parking lots of the church and the synagogue, but not much else. It made sense, really. They had nothing in common.
At first the return to normalcy had been a relief, a sanctuary from the days of terror she had lived through. Lately, though, she had felt a growing restlessness. In a fit of what could only have been insanity she had actually decided to do something daring with her weekend.
Of course, as daring went, participating in a speed-dating event would rank low on most people's scales. To Cindy, though, it seemed bold and risky. She was always so selective about who she dated, thoroughly getting to know a guy before even considering spending time alone with him. Many people had told her she was paranoid, but it wasn't like she didn't have a reason. After all, the last man she ate dinner alone with turned out to be the very same one who killed the man whose body she found. A girl didn't get over that quickly.
No, anything-can-happen Fridays constituted her idea of big excitement. The most risk she normally wanted to take was showing up for work that day.
It was the week before Thanksgiving, and people were starting to get that crazed look in their eyes that said Christmas was coming.
Poor Thanksgiving had been relegated to the position as herald of Christmas—not even allowed to stand on its own as a holiday. What a shame. It was such an American custom, and in a world that seemed on the verge of constant chaos, people needed that oasis of time to contemplate what had gone before and to be grateful for having survived it one more year.
Geanie, the church's graphic artist, flopped down in the chair next to Cindy's desk. Her red leather mini-skirt and black silk blouse might have looked odd on someone else, but on Geanie the look was almost elegant. By contrast, dressed in a long black skirt, white sweater, and sensible shoes, Cindy felt boring.
The front door to the church opened, and Joseph, one of the church's most prominent members and Pine Spring's most eligible bachelors, walked in. Clarice, a large white poodle, paced beside him. Joseph walked right up to her desk without hesitation and sank into the chair across from her. The dog lay down next to her master.
"How's it going?" Cindy asked.
Joseph looked bone-tired but smiled in that way people did when the answer was "crappy" but they were too polite to say so.
"Are you all set for the big event?"
He nodded and closed his eyes. "You're still coming tonight, right?"
"I wouldn't miss it," Cindy said. "This is huge, and I want to support it."
"I knew you wouldn't let me down."
In addition to all of his church activities and owning his own media empire, Joseph kept himself busy with charity work. His latest project, targeted at helping the homeless improve their lives and find the inspiration and help to get back on their feet, was ambitious. Many critics said he was crazy, but Cindy believed in his idea. The church, along with all the others in the area, supported a local homeless shelter, and Cindy had frequent dealings with several of its regulars. After weeks of preparation, the program would be launched that evening on the lawn outside of Joseph's family mansion.
"How's it going, Clarice?" Cindy said to the poodle. "I haven't seen you since you had your puppies."
Clarice looked at her and gave a slight shake of the head, rattling her dog tags.
"She needed a break, so I brought her with me. Seven poodle puppies are enough to drive anyone insane. They're fast and clever. She and I have been chasing them all over the house this morning trying to corral them into one room."
Cindy bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud at the image. Instead she changed the subject back to the event. "Six o'clock, right?"
"It starts at six. Please tell me you'll be there before that." "I'll head straight to your house from work. It should only take me about ten minutes."
"You're an angel," Joseph said.
"Do you need me to bring anything?"
"A sense of humor. Somebody needs one tonight, or this could get depressing really fast."
She couldn't help but laugh. "I'll do my best."
He stood abruptly. "That's all anyone can ask. Thanks, Cindy."
He waved to Geanie and then left the office.
"You should totally go out with him," Geanie said.
"Not my type."
"Yes, because tall, dark, and rich are sooo unattractive."
"Why don't you go out with him? You're not seeing anyone, right?"
Geanie made a face, and Cindy bit her lip. The younger woman was once again between boyfriends and didn't like it one bit.
* * *
When five o'clock rolled around, Cindy chased everyone out of the office, locked the door, and headed for her car. Ten minutes later she was driving up the hill to Joseph's house.
She rounded a curve and was surprised to see a dozen people lined up on either side of the road holding up signs.
Pets Deserve Safe Homes.
Keep Dogs Safe.
Don't Jeopardize Lives for Your Ego.
Stop Being Part of the Problem.
Born Free, Live Free.
Collars Are Cruel.
Free All Captive Animals!
A homeless man who wore a ripped coat and sported dreadlocks jumped in front of her car waving a sign that read Food, NOT Frivolity! Cindy slammed on her brakes. He pounded on the hood of her car before a private security officer dragged him away.
Shaken, Cindy cautiously edged the car forward, eyes darting right and left and wondering who else would try and stop her. If the road had been wide enough, she would have turned around and fled. It wasn't, though, so she kept inching forward until she made it to the designated parking lot. She wedged her car in between a Humane Society vehicle and a news van, and turned off the ignition.
Odds were good that once the event ended, the protestors would leave. After they left, she'd leave. Until then she was sure Joseph would need a hand cleaning up his mansion.
Reluctantly, she slid out of her car. She spotted more people milling about, but none of them held up signs, although quite a few of them appeared homeless. Half a dozen large tents, illuminated by outdoor lights, had been erected on the lawn. Several small paddocks, surrounded by portable wire fences, held a variety of dogs that napped, ate, or played with each other.
Joseph stood on the lawn with Clarice beside him. Cindy walked up and tried not to interrupt as he issued orders to a caterer. After the woman hurried off, Cindy asked, "How are you holding up?"
Joseph turned and hugged her impulsively. Surprised, Cindy hugged him back but pulled away when she saw a flash from someone's digital camera.
"What do you need?" she asked. "I'm your go-to girl just so long as it has nothing to do with protestors."
"Agreed. Actually, if you could go inside and tell my assistant, Derek, to bring out Buford Augustus Reginald the III, that would be great."
"Who?" Cindy asked.
"It's a puppy."
"Oh. Buford ... August—"
Joseph stopped her with a raised hand. "Just ask him to bring out Buff."
"Okay, I think I can handle that," Cindy said. "Any idea where I can find Derek?"
"No, I've called his cell twice, but he's not picking up. His car's here, though, and he's not outside, so he must be in the house. Try my office—second floor, third door on the right."
"Got it." Cindy headed for the house.
She knew the massive mansion had been built by Joseph's grandparents. She had been in it twice before for church functions. The foyer was empty.
"Derek?" Cindy called. It wasn't dignified, but it would be a lot faster than searching the house. She headed up the stairs, listening.
"Derek!" she called again as she reached the landing.
Suddenly, she heard the sound of smashing glass, like somebody had dropped a water goblet. It came from the right side of the hallway. She walked down its long length, hoping she hadn't startled Derek into dropping something.
The third door on the right stood ajar.
"Sorry to startle you," she said, swinging the door open. The room was empty. "Derek!"
Then she saw a cell phone on the desk and wondered if it was the assistant's. Joseph had worn his on his belt, and he had said he'd been trying to call Derek. She moved toward the desk to grab the phone and then turned. Her shoe crunched on broken glass that had been scattered to the left of the desk. Some shards had landed several feet in all directions.
Behind the desk that stood in front of a balcony, the sheers fluttered in the breeze. Cindy walked around to the right of the desk and sucked in her breath.
Derek. He was lying on his back, a pool of blood beneath his head, and his eyes fixed at the ceiling in a death stare. In his fist he clutched a dog's leash.
Cindy screamed and leaped backward. She dropped the cell phone on the floor, dug through her purse, and hit the speed dial button on her own cell that still had Detective Mark Walters's phone number programmed into it.
"It's Cindy Preston," she said as he answered the phone.
"Cindy? What's up?"
"I'm at Joseph's house. Remember? The guy who lives on the hill who loves dogs? Someone's been murdered."
"I'm on my way. I'll call it in. Make sure nobody touches anything."
She heard footsteps racing up the stairs and down the hall. "Are you okay?" a familiar voice asked behind her. She spun around and stared at Jeremiah in shock. "What are you doing here?"
"The charity event. The synagogue is supporting it. What are you doing here?"
"So is First Shepherd. Joseph asked me to come."
Jeremiah moved slowly into the room, his eyes roving over the scene. "Did you scream?"
"Yes," she said, coming to her senses after the surprise of seeing him there.
"Well, it seems you've come to my rescue again," she said, her voice starting to quiver.
"I don't follow."
She nodded to the floor behind the desk, and he moved closer. He stopped and she watched him as he looked the body over. At last he turned his eyes back to her. "You just found him?"
"You've got to be kidding me."
She shrugged her shoulders as tears spilled down her cheeks. "It's anything-can-happen Friday."
* * *
Jeremiah stared at her and fought the urge to laugh. It wasn't funny—none of it. Not the dead body, not Cindy's tears, not the fact that the police would be there any minute. So much for keeping a low profile. He'd worked hard to not draw too much attention to himself during the whole Passion Week killer fiasco.
"Have you called the police?" he asked.
"Yes. I called Mark."
Great. He moved toward her as he thought about how much better she was handling the situation compared to the last time she found a body.
He got a good look at the corpse: late twenties, blonde with a goatee, blue eyes. Broken glass mixed with the blood that pooled around his head.
Glass and blood sprayed out for a couple of feet. A cell phone lay on the floor next to the man's foot. In his hand he held a red leash, but there was no sign of a dog or a collar.
Jeremiah's eyes were drawn to the balcony.
"I heard the glass breaking when I was in the hall," Cindy said.
"And no one ran past you?"
Jeremiah approached the balcony, crouching down slightly. The sheers were moving gently, and he could feel a breeze. Wait for the police, he urged himself. But he knew there might not be time for that.
He pushed aside the flimsy material and saw a large, half-circle balcony that held a small wrought-iron chair and table. He stepped outside and looked around, and then he walked to the edge and looked down. It was about a ten-foot drop to the lawn on the side of the building facing away from the area where the festivities would be held.
He turned back and saw Cindy staring at him with wide eyes. "Is it possible it was an accident?" she asked.
"Not likely since those aren't mine," he said, directing her eyes down to the bloody footsteps on the balcony.
She sucked in her breath.
Jeremiah took one last look at the balcony and also turned to look at the face of the building to make sure there wasn't a window the killer could have reached. Convinced that the killer had jumped, he turned and walked back inside, careful not to step in the blood.
He crouched down and stared intently at the body. "Do you know who he is?"
"Derek Anderson. He's Joseph's personal assistant."
Jeremiah heard footsteps in the hall. He stood and took a step back.
"You've got to be kidding me," a familiar voice groaned.
Jeremiah turned and saw Mark standing in the doorway. The detective stared from him to Cindy and back again.
"Detective," Jeremiah acknowledged him.
"Samaritan," Mark baited him.
Jeremiah refused to let the man get to him. He had been referencing Jeremiah as a good Samaritan since their first meeting, despite Jeremiah's protests and despite the fact that he was Jewish.
Mark's partner, Paul, followed him into the room and behind him was Joseph, worry filling his eyes.
"What is going on here?" Joseph said.
"He's over here," Cindy said, gesturing to Mark.
The three men moved closer, and Jeremiah stepped back to give them room.
"Would someone please tell me what this is all—" Joseph stopped in mid-sentence. He gasped and swayed for a moment, grabbing the edge of the desk for support.
"I'm sorry, Joseph, I should have called you right after I called the police," Cindy said, flushing. "I found Derek." She took a deep breath. "Someone killed him."
"Why?" Joseph asked.
* * *
Cindy's heart ached for Joseph as he turned his pain-filled eyes on her. She wished she knew what to say. She reached out and took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
"That's what the police are going to figure out," she said.
Mark cleared his throat. "I need you to all move away from the crime scene. Is there a room nearby where we can talk?"
Joseph nodded woodenly. "Across the hall is a guest room."
He turned to lead the way, then stopped and twisted back, eyes locking on the body. "Where's Buff?"
Excerpted from I Shall Not Want - The Psalm 23 Mysteries #2 by Debbie Viguie Copyright © 2010 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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