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Lie Down in Green Pastures
The Psalm 23 Mysteries
By Debbie Viguié
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Debbie Viguié
All rights reserved.
Jeremiah Silverman never quite knew what to do with himself on Thursdays. Thursdays were technically the second day in the week that he had off. Sundays were the first. He hadn't had two consecutive days off since he became rabbi of a synagogue. He had toyed with trying to take off Mondays, but too much seemed to happen on that day. So he took off Thursdays, but usually ended up going in to work at some point anyway. His secretary, Marie, often accused him of being a workaholic. It wasn't true, but there was no telling her that.
At ten in the morning he found himself driving down the street toward the synagogue. He slid into the left-hand lane, preparing to turn into the driveway just past First Shepherd, the church next door.
Seeing no oncoming traffic, he began to make his turn. The hair on the back of his neck raised suddenly, and he twisted his head around just in time to see a car as it slammed into him from behind.
Jeremiah's black Mustang skidded, sliding in a circle as the sickening crunch of metal filled his ears. He saw the face of the man in the other car, eyes frozen wide, head tilted. That man is already dead, he realized as his car twisted and then flipped upside down onto the lawn outside the church.
In a moment it was over. Carefully Jeremiah unlatched his seat belt and eased himself onto the ceiling. He kicked the remaining glass out of his side window and maneuvered himself out, cutting his leg on a piece of jagged glass as he did so. He collapsed onto the grass, felt it tickling his cheek, and took several deep breaths. He straightened slowly, checking each bone and muscle as he did. Everything seemed to be okay despite the fact that he had been in a terrible position when struck.
A shadow fell over him. He glanced up, squinting.
Cindy Preston stood there, her long, light brown hair flying around her face, out of breath. Her eyes were wide in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
It seemed like a ridiculous question, as if the answer should be self-evident.
"Recovering from an accident."
"Are you hurt?"
"I don't think so. What are you doing here?"
She blinked rapidly and then the corners of her mouth turned up. "I guess I'm here to rescue you."
He wanted so badly to laugh. The thought was ludicrous, especially given all the times he had saved her. Still, there was a dead man in the other car and he thought better of expressing himself. "Thank you," he said instead.
"Yes, I guess that is the word," he answered as he struggled to sit up.
She dropped down next to him and put an arm behind his back to help support it.
"The other driver is dead."
"Dead?" she asked, jerking and turning pale. "How do you know?" She glanced anxiously toward the other car and for a moment he thought she was going to leave him to go check.
"I saw his face through the windshield right after he hit me. He was dead before it happened. I'm sure of it."
"A dead man crashed into you?"
"A dead man was driving that car?"
"That's what I said."
She hit a button on the cell phone that she had been clutching in her left hand and raised it to her ear. "Hi, Mark. It's Cindy. There's been an accident in front of the church and I think the one driver was dead before it happened."
She listened for a moment and then continued. "No, I don't know what killed him."
Another pause. "All right, we'll be here."
She hung up.
"You didn't just call Detective Walters, did you?" Jeremiah asked with a groan.
"I did," she said, raising her chin defiantly. "And what's wrong with that?"
"There hasn't been a murder."
"You don't know that."
"The guy probably had a heart attack while driving. It happens."
"And what if it didn't happen today?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Do you want to take the chance that this guy was murdered and the killer wouldn't be caught because it seemed like an accident?"
Actually he would rather a killer walk free than expose himself or his synagogue to the scrutiny of the police any more than necessary. He squeezed his eyes closed. There was no way he could explain that to Cindy. No easy way, at least. No, whether he liked it or not, he was going to have to play the helpless victim this time and hope that it all went away quickly.
"Can you help me stand up?"
"Not until a paramedic looks you over. Mark's calling an ambulance."
"Let's leave that decision to the professionals."
He acquiesced and lay slowly back down on the grass, staring up at the blue of the sky. It was March and the weather was starting to get a little warmer. A month before, it would have been too cold to lie on the grass waiting. It got colder in Southern California during the winter than it had in Israel.
He heard the sirens of the ambulance and a moment later he heard Cindy gasp.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I know him," she said.
He twisted his head slowly to the side and saw that she was staring through the windshield of the car that had hit his.
"Who is he?"
"It's Dr. Tanner. He used to be a member here."
Of course he did, because that's my luck, Jeremiah thought. As the siren grew louder he began to feel some of the aches and pains caused by the accident. The shock was wearing off and he could already tell he was going to be stiff in the morning.
I'm getting soft, weak, he thought, closing his eyes.
"You're slipping," a male voice said.
Jeremiah opened his eyes and saw Detective Mark Walters staring down at him. "You think so?"
"I do. You're supposed to be the one playing good Samaritan, not her." He nodded toward Cindy.
Actually she's a Gentile, Jeremiah wanted to say, but he was just grateful Mark wasn't calling him Samaritan for once. "I must be getting old," he said instead.
Mark snorted derisively, then got down on one knee. "Seriously, you okay?"
"I'll live," Jeremiah said. "I just won't be happy about it in the morning."
A fleeting smile crossed the detective's face before he stood and turned toward the other car. "Let's see what we've got."
* * *
Cindy felt strange. She had been so confident that calling Mark was the right thing to do, but now that he was there she felt a bit foolish. Jeremiah was right; Mel Tanner had probably had a heart attack. The man was in his upper sixties and it would be the most logical explanation for what had happened. How could a murder victim even be driving in the first place?
Maybe he was poisoned, a small voice inside her head whispered. She bit her lip and wished that her deck of cards wasn't in her purse inside the office. She fidgeted with her fingers while she waited for Mark to look over the body.
I'm beginning to see murder victims everywhere. She wondered if she was suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress. The last year she had seen so much death. First there was the Passion Week serial killer. Then there was the string of murders around Thanksgiving. Maybe she thought "murder" because subconsciously she kept expecting to stumble upon another crime scene.
While she waited she watched the paramedics as they checked out Jeremiah. They had ripped open one of his pant legs and were treating a nasty-looking cut. Other than that he looked fine. They insisted on taking him to the hospital for X-rays, and he protested strenuously. To her surprise he lost the argument. With a grimace he climbed into the back of the ambulance and lay down on one of the gurneys.
"Do you want me to come to the hospital?" she asked.
"No. I don't plan on being there more than ten minutes. Besides, with our luck the nurse who thinks we're married will be on duty."
Cindy smirked at the memory of how he had lied to be allowed to see her after she was attacked by a serial killer. The thought of a little payback appealed to her. "That's precisely why I should come. Otherwise she might be concerned that our marriage is in trouble."
"I'm glad one of us can laugh."
The driver closed the door with an apologetic glance at her, then climbed into the front and drove away. Cindy felt oddly reassured that he drove up the street at a reasonable pace without the use of lights or siren. That had to mean Jeremiah was okay.
She turned to find Mark watching her. She gave him a fleeting smile before asking, "Did you find anything?"
He shook his head. "I'll have the coroner examine him, though, nail down actual cause of death. Something like this is usually a heart attack, aneurysm, something like that."
"Thank you. That's what Jeremiah said."
He took out a notepad and pen. "Anything you can tell me about the other driver?"
"His name is Dr. Mel Tanner. He used to go to First Shepherd but now he goes to another church downtown. He's a retired physician. He's still active in the community, though." She flushed and looked away. "I mean, he was."
"Any idea where he might have been headed this morning?" Mark said, ignoring her slip of the tongue.
"Do you have a current address?"
"No, but he had a lot of friends here. I'm sure I can find someone who has it."
"Thanks. I'll let you know if I need anything else." He glanced at the twisted wreckage of the two cars and then back at her.
"Jeremiah got lucky."
"Yes, he did," she said, trying not to picture him being the one dead behind the wheel. Her breath caught in her throat as the mental image filled her mind anyway.
"And I thought you were the one with nine lives," Mark said.
"You're not heading to the hospital?"
He made a tsking sound. "Sounds like divorce court time to me."
She shook her head and rolled her eyes before turning to head back into the church.
As Cindy walked back into the office and took her seat Geanie hopped up out of her chair and walked over. "What happened?" Geanie, the church's graphic designer and webmaster, saved her most creative and flamboyant work for her own wardrobe. True to form she was wearing a fuchsia satin blouse, black leather skirt, pink tights and black boots. Roy, the head pastor, was perpetually dismayed by Geanie's style but church members usually made a point of stopping by the office when they were on site just to see the day's ensemble.
Next to her, as always, Cindy felt extremely conservative even though the sheer sleeves of her cream blouse had seemed so risqué at home.
As Cindy filled her in, she watched in satisfaction as Geanie registered the same shock she herself was feeling.
"I know. At least Jeremiah wasn't hurt, but poor Dr. Tanner."
"Going in a car crash, that's one of my nightmares," Geanie said with a shiver.
"Jeremiah told the officers that he thought Dr. Tanner was already dead," Cindy said, more to herself than Geanie.
"That's just weird."
The front door opened and the youth pastor walked in, wearing his almost-perpetual blue jeans, paired today with a green polo shirt. Because of his position he got by with the casual Friday look every day of the week except Sunday. "Wow, did you guys see that accident out front?" Dave asked.
"Cindy did," Geanie answered.
"What a nightmare."
"Dr. Tanner is dead," Cindy said.
Dave turned pale and sat down in one of the chairs reserved for visitors. "Are you kidding?"
"No, why would I kid about something like that?"
He buried his face in his hands and his shoulders heaved. Geanie gave her a puzzled look as the implication hit Cindy. "He drove the bus to camp every year," she realized. "Even after he moved and changed churches."
"Summer camps and winter camps. He was a wonderful man," Dave said. "So good with the kids, so patient. I never knew how he could pay attention to the road with all the noise and chaos around him."
"He was a very nice man," Cindy said, going over and awkwardly patting him on the shoulder.
"I'm going to call Joseph and let him know," Geanie said. "I think the two of them sat on a couple of boards together."
"Why don't you go tell him in person," Cindy suggested. Joseph Coulter was the church's most affluent member. He and Geanie had been dating since Thanksgiving and she was sure he'd rather hear the news from his girlfriend than from someone else.
"Thanks, I'll be back before your lunch meeting," Geanie said, grabbing her purse and heading for the door.
"I'd appreciate it."
Geanie waved as she walked out the door.
After Geanie left, Cindy turned to Dave. "We've almost got a full slate of kids for next weekend. I'd better work on finding you another driver."
"Thanks," Dave said, dragging himself to his feet. "A couple of other churches are having retreats at the same time. I'll call around and see if any of them have room on their buses."
"Do you have Dr. Tanner's address? The police were asking for it."
Dave nodded. "In my office, I'll email it to you."
He shuffled to the door, then turned. "How are we doing on food for the drive up?"
"Lunch bags will have corned beef sandwiches, courtesy of O'Connell's Pub, and shamrock cookies from Safeway."
"You're a genius."
"Hey, the second day of camp is on St. Patrick's Day. It was a no-brainer."
He smiled slightly. "You've been hanging around the kids too long. You're starting to sound like them."
"There are a lot worse things to sound like."
* * *
Detective Mark Walters was not happy. Ever since his dog, Buster, had woken him up that morning he'd had a feeling in his gut that the day was not going to go his way.
Being a homicide cop was challenging on the best of days, nightmarish on the worst. In the past year the worst days he'd had all involved Cindy and Jeremiah. Seeing them together, even though it had been at the scene of an accident, had made his blood run cold.
He called his partner, Paul Dryer, on his cell phone.
"Accident or murder?" Paul asked.
"Accident, so far as I can tell. If it wasn't, though, we'll know soon enough."
"What are the odds, huh?"
Mark snorted. "You ever meet civilians who got mixed up in stuff as much as these two?"
"Once," Paul admitted.
"Really? What happened?"
"It didn't end well," Paul said, voice suddenly devoid of emotion.
There's a story there. Out of respect for his partner, Mark didn't push. "Cindy just called me with the doctor's address and I'm going to have a couple of guys go to his house and reach out to the next of kin. Then I'm heading back to the station."
"Good. We've got actual homicides to investigate."
Mark hung up. Paul was acting touchy. Mark wondered if it had anything to do with the story he wasn't telling.
When he arrived at the police station, he found Paul waiting for him in the lobby, arms crossed.
"What do we have?" Mark asked.
"Randall Kelly, environmental activist. Died ten miles outside of town."
Once they were in the car Paul explained. "Apparently he was protesting the misuse and destruction of the forestland. Fire department did a controlled burn in the area early this morning to clear out a lot of the dead trees and dry tinder."
"And they cleared out a little more than they bargained for," Mark said.
"Sounds like an accident."
"Yeah, but the captain wants us to check it out anyway."
"Why not? I've already been to one accident today," Mark said with a sigh. "So, exactly what homicides were you referencing when I called?"
Paul shrugged. "We've still got a couple older cases to work, like that art dealer from a few months back."
"Or the Iranian student from last year. I know. Trust me, I don't forget a victim," Mark said.
"Hopefully Kelly isn't one of them, just a poor slob who was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Like Jeremiah this morning.
They reached the burn line and were waved through by fire- fighters. A minute later they were pulling up a few hundred feet away from the scene of the accident.
Randall Kelly, or rather, what was left of him, was still handcuffed to a charred tree, half of which was little more than embers and ash. The flesh had been burned off the majority of the body with part of the face and arms more intact than the rest.
"Terrible way to die," Paul said.
"You're preaching to the choir," Mark said. "I'd rather be shot any day."
"Can you imagine seeing it coming and not being able to escape?"
"Makes you wonder what he did with the key, why he couldn't free himself."
"Maybe he dropped it? Swallowed it?" Paul said.
"Maybe, or maybe someone was supposed to come over today and let him go, friend or family member maybe."
The fire chief was standing at a respectful distance and Mark finally turned away to engage him, catching sight of the coroner arriving on scene out of the corner of his eye.
Mark had met the chief half a dozen times but he introduced himself anyway.
Jim shook his head. "One of these days we'll have to have a barbeque or something, meet under happier circumstances."
Excerpted from Lie Down in Green Pastures by Debbie Viguié. Copyright © 2011 Debbie Viguié. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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