The Sinners' Garden

The Sinners' Garden

4.7 20
by William Sirls

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In the small Lake Erie township of Benning, someone is at work cultivating a supernatural garden …

Andy Kemp’s young life has been as ravaged as his scarred face. Disfigured by an abusive father, the teenager hides behind his books and an impenetrable wall of cynicism and anger.

As Andy’s mother struggles to reconnect with

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In the small Lake Erie township of Benning, someone is at work cultivating a supernatural garden …

Andy Kemp’s young life has been as ravaged as his scarred face. Disfigured by an abusive father, the teenager hides behind his books and an impenetrable wall of cynicism and anger.

As Andy’s mother struggles to reconnect with him, his Uncle Rip returns transformed from a stint in prison and wants to be a mentor to the reclusive boy, doing everything he can to help end Andy’s pain. When Andy begins hearing strange music through his iPod and making near-prophetic announcements, Rip is convinced that what Andy is hearing is the voice of God.

Elsewhere, police officer Heather Gerisch responds to a late-night breaking and entering in one of the poorest homes in town. She soon realizes that the masked prowler has left thousands of dollars in gift cards from a local grocery store.

As the bizarre break-ins continue and Heather pursues the elusive “Summer Santa,” Andy and Rip discover an enormous and well-kept garden of wildflowers that seems to have grown overnight at an abandoned steel mill.

Soon, they realize who the gardener is, and a spree of miracles transfigures this small town from a place of hopelessness into a place of healing and beauty.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A story of hope, humor, forgiveness, and deep restoration..."
–James L. Rubart, Christy Award-winning author of Soul's Gate

Product Details

Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Sinners' Garden

By William Sirls

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2013 Canyon Insulation, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4016-8738-0



Heather was parked on the far side of St. Paul's Church, half asleep, hoping a speeder wouldn't come by and trigger the radar gun. She'd been there for over an hour, resting her head against the bottom edge of the open driver's side window and staring dreamily at the full moon. Behind her, little puffs of wind came off of Lake Erie, gently blowing strands of brown hair across her cheek while cooling the sweat on the back of her neck.

She sat up and glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was just past four in the morning, and her shift would be over in less than two hours. It had been another slow night, with only a few routine traffic stops, and one that was not so routine. She laughed out loud, thinking about it. She could still see the looks on the boys' faces—not one of them over seventeen—as she made them pour out the remaining nine beers on the side of the road. She had given the three a ride to their homes and then returned to drop a parking ticket under the driver's windshield wiper. It was part of the impromptu plea agreement that he'd graciously accepted. Such were the joys of being a small-town cop. Part peacekeeper. Part village mom.

Heather yawned and leaned forward to rest her chin on the steering wheel for another glance at that moon. Something seemed different about it tonight. It appeared to hover above the tree line that served as the southern border of Benning Township, a harbinger of a long, hot, sultry summer. Heather felt comforted by the peaceful glow it cast over the small town.

Her radio crackled to life, startling her. "Where are you, Heather?"

It was Natalie, from dispatch.

"Relaxing out near St. Paul's," Heather answered, gently tapping the radio against her cheek. "It's the only place in town that doesn't feel like a hundred degrees. Can you believe it's this hot in early June?"

A quick thread of static crackled over the radio and then Natalie's words came so clear it sounded like she was in the backseat.

"Get out to 1252 Old Parker Road, like ASAP!"

"Okay!" Heather said, fumbling to sit up straight and turn the key in the ignition. There were only five cops on the entire force and the department had never made a habit of using official radio jargon. "What's going on?"

"The woman who lives there called in to report an intruder. She and her kids are outside now."

"I'm on my way," Heather said, looking left and right.

"Heather." The tone in Natalie's voice had shifted from concerned to almost motherly.


"She says he may be armed. Be careful."

Heather felt a cool finger tap at the edge of her heart. She closed her eyes and tried to swallow. Her foot felt so heavy she couldn't let off the brake. Her mouth had gone dry and she glanced wildly out the window, finding it impossible not to think about her father.

Her eyes settled on the moon again. But it had changed.

Gone was the soothing glow, the promise of summer. Now it seemed more suited to black cats and trick-or-treaters than the beginning of summer in southeast Michigan. The glow now seemed more like a spooky yellow fog that outlined the tip of the church's steeple into something big enough to poke a hole in her tightly sealed box of bad memories.

She shook it off. You have a job to do, woman. Do it!

Heather slowly pulled onto West Jefferson Avenue, the two-lane highway that ran along the lake. She flipped on the roof lights, pressed on the accelerator, and when the speedometer passed a hundred, all she could hear was the wind and the continuous tapping of bugs dying on the cruiser's windshield.

With no other cars on the road, she made it out to Old Parker in less than five minutes and turned onto the heavily wooded road. The air now felt still and thick, even through her open window. She turned the roof lights off and tapped on the brakes, slowing the car down even more. The cruiser's tires chewed up gravel as she maneuvered around the potholes that littered Old Parker.

Natalie had given her the address, but only one house stood on this dead-end road.

As long as Heather could remember, the one-bedroom cottage had been a revolving door for welfare renters and a routine stop for domestic violence calls. Those visits had never bothered her, though. They normally just ended with someone spending the mandatory twenty hours in a cell to sleep something off before going back home for what would most likely be another round in the ring.

But this call was different. This was the type where a really bad thing could happen, because Natalie had used those four terrible words. Words she'd never heard before, in all her twelve years on the Benning Township police force.

He may be armed.

Heather thought about the new tenants and how she hadn't been to the house since they'd moved in. She had seen them a few times at church and heard they were the latest renters on Old Parker. The young mother kept her head bowed during most of the service, probably praying for a fresh start or enjoying the hour break from her three kids—the same munchkins who had quickly developed a reputation for tearing up the pre-K Sunday school room.

The woman was quiet and wore the same old beige dress every week. It needed a good cleaning and failed to cover the tattoos on her neck and arms that spoke of a past the woman herself seemed to want to forget. Once Heather gave her a smile as she walked into church, but the woman had instinctively covered her mouth to hide teeth rotting from years of drug use.

Most of the church knew the woman routinely collected whatever leftovers were on the punch table come Sunday noon. She waited for most of the congregation to leave before looking around the room to see who was watching. Then she'd stuff cookies, cheese, little sandwiches, or whatever else remained into oversized baggies and head home.

So who'd come after a woman like her? With nothing of note to steal? An ex-husband? An ex-accomplice?

Heather crouched forward, trying to spot the lone driveway that would soon be on her right. As she inched closer, the headlights slid off tree branches that hung over the road from both sides, giving her a tunneling effect that made her stomach turn.

She spotted the mailbox and put her foot on the brake. She paused and looked through the bug-smeared windshield, studying the road, waiting patiently to see if anything moved, then slowly pulled the car over to one side. She unsnapped her holster and ran her fingers across the top of the gun. Even touching it made her mouth dry.

She left the headlights on and stepped out of the car.

Despite the early hour, it was still ninety degrees, inviting what seemed like every insect in the world out for an early morning flight. All she could hear were crickets, and then a ship horn somewhere on the lake.

She took a few steps toward the mailbox and heard something. Whatever it was had run across some fallen branches and then stopped. She raised her pistol with both hands and took a few steps back. She waited and listened.

It moved again. It was closer this time, louder.

And then she saw them.

They looked like ghosts as they came out of the darkness into the tail end of the headlights' beams. They were coming right at her, directly down the center of the road. She lowered the gun. It was the woman from church, carrying a baby, and with her two other children clinging to her sides.

"Is anyone hurt?" Heather asked.

"No," the woman said, breathing hard. It was the first time Heather had heard her voice. It was a tiny voice, one that didn't belong to a rough crowd, but rather to a frightened little girl. It was also the first time Heather had seen the woman without makeup. Her cheeks were pockmarked and tear-soaked against the light, and Heather cringed, wondering again why an intruder would target the poorest woman in town.

"What's your name?" Heather asked.

"Becky," the woman said.

"Becky, I want you to get behind the car and stay put. I don't have backup."

"Okay," she said.

Heather reached through the driver's side window and turned off the headlights. She stepped back behind the car and glanced over her shoulder to the mailbox. She saw nothing. It was now completely black, but her eyes were quickly adjusting.

"Did he leave? Or is he still in the house?"

"I think he's still in there."

"Why?" Heather asked. "After all this time?"

"I don't know," she answered. "And he had something in his hand. I was worried it was a gun."

No, Heather thought. Lord, no.

The little boy on the woman's shoulder looked up at Heather. He was maybe a year old, and his big, round eyes blinked slowly, seemingly unconcerned. The other two kids continued to weep, still gripping at the lower half of their mother's pink pajama bottoms.

"There's a bad guy in our house," the oldest boy said. Heather guessed he was around five. He let go of his mother's leg and wiped tears with both hands. "I don't want him in my house."

"I want you to crouch down and stay put beside your mother," Heather said. "How many doors go in and out of the house?"

"Just two," the woman answered.

"Is there a basement?"


"Okay. Don't move."

The woman nodded obediently and lowered herself to sit down in the gravel. She shifted the baby to her other arm, and the other two kids knelt around her, their heads even with the back bumper.

"It's gonna be okay," Heather said, running her hand across the top of the woman's shoulder.

"I just cashed my check," Becky said. "It's in my purse. It's probably what he wants. What am I gonna do if he takes it?"

"That money is for our grocees," the little boy said. He looked at his sister, probably a year younger than him, and she nodded in agreement.

"Don't worry about that, honey," Heather said.

The little girl leaned against her mother's shoulder and looked at Heather. "Will you tell him to leave?"

Heather stood and turned back toward the mailbox again. She was no longer frightened. Something about the way the little boy said "groceries" had knocked her right off that tightrope of flight or fight.

She looked down at the woman and gritted her teeth, oddly welcoming the heat of rage that ran through her. This poor woman wasn't just some tattooed druggie trying to get her life together. She had been seeking God's help. And now this guy was threatening to send her into a tailspin of fear.

Heather put her pistol back in her holster and quickly opened the driver's side door of the cruiser. She leaned in and snatched the shotgun off its mount. She slammed the door shut and pulled the pump back on the gun. She glanced up at the sky, and that strange moon seemed to be staring right at her.

This is for you, Dad.

She checked the safety on the gun and then pushed the pump forward, sending the first shell into the barrel. She walked quickly, hugging the right side of the road until she passed the mailbox and stood at the foot of the driveway. She could see the house. It was nothing more than a shadow, a black square pressed back in the trees. Heather cut across the lawn toward the front door. She tiptoed behind a bed of shrubs near the front window and then slowly peeked in the house. It was too dark inside, and she glanced back down the driveway, then up at the sky. Her heart beat faster and the shot of adrenaline that went through her body let her know she was ready.

She ducked below the valance of the front window and stepped up on the porch. The main door was open, and the only thing that separated her from her first potential encounter of her career with an intruder—an armed intruder—was a screen door with a softballsize tear in the mesh.

She listened. She waited. She heard nothing.

Okay, buddy, she thought. Game on.

She pressed her thumb on the door handle and held her breath.

Thankfully, it didn't make a sound and she slowly pulled the door open. She leaned against it and raised the gun, its long, dark barrel entering the house before she did. She paused again and then stepped inside, immediately greeted by the scents of mold and soiled diapers. She gently closed the screen door behind her and it clicked, sending what felt like an icy mallet against the side of her heart. She took a deep breath and waited.

It was time to be quiet. It was time to be still.

She couldn't hear anything. The stock of the shotgun was pressed firmly against her cheek, allowing the business end of the gun to follow her head and eyes. In the moonlight that came through the windows, she could see a playpen only a few feet away, directly in the center of the family room. Scattered on the thin carpeting around it were a collection of Barbie dolls, a blanket, and a sippy cup with a missing top. Beyond the playpen, a sofa was pulled a few feet away from the far wall. On second glance, the sofa was the only furniture in the room. There were no chairs, no tables, no decorations. All she could see on any of the walls were three head-high holes just beyond the couch that were about the size of fists.

She scanned the rest of the room and then turned to her right toward the adjoining small kitchen. No one was there. If he was still in the house, he would be down the narrow hallway that separated the family room and the kitchen. It split from the far side and led to what she assumed was the back of the house.

She stepped around the playpen and to the edge of the hallway. She lowered her gun, took another deep breath, and then slowly peeked around the corner.


She raised her gun again, took a step into the hallway, and the floor creaked. Anybody in the house would have heard it and she quickly crouched, waiting and listening.

Silence. Had he left?

She rose and took a few steps. About ten feet down to her right, she could see the outline of the back door. At the end of the hall was what looked like a bathroom, and just in front of it, to her left, was what had to be the only bedroom.

She passed the back door and came to the bedroom, pausing before raising the gun back to her cheek. She slowly looked around the corner of the doorway and once again saw nothing. She sighed and exhaled. He was gone.

Heather backed up into the hallway and faced the bathroom.

That was when she heard the floor creak behind her. She felt her throat close and then turned around.

He was standing right in front of her.

"Freeze!" she yelled, quickly raising the gun toward his chest.

He stood perfectly still.

Heather wondered how she had missed him when she entered the house. He had to have been in the kitchen, or behind the couch, watching her the whole time.

Everything he had on—shirt, shoes, pants, gloves, and ski mask—was black. He was nothing more than a dark silhouette, standing at the kitchen end of the hallway with his arms at his sides.

Heather waited for him to move. Wanted him to move. He didn't, and despite the darkness, she could see something in his right hand.

"Drop it!" she yelled.

He did, and it barely made a noise as it landed on the carpet.

"Put your hands in the air!"

He stared at her for a few seconds and his head leaned toward his left shoulder. And then he slowly raised his hands until they stopped slightly above his head.

Heather could hardly breathe. Her heart felt like a rabbit kicking at the inside of a cage, and what she wanted to yell only came out as a whisper. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

His head tilted from side to side in slow motion, and then it was still. He extended his right arm a little farther above his head, his gloved palm facing the ceiling.

"What are you doing here?" Heather repeated, louder this time. She sensed the desperation in her own voice and it weakened her. "Why them?"

The man just stared at her. He craned his neck forward, allowing the moonlight that came in from the window on the back door to add a shine to his dark eyes behind the mask. He now seemed less human, and as far as Heather was concerned, he was responsible for every nightmare she'd ever had. He took a step toward her.

"Stop right there!" she said, her finger sliding to the thin part of the trigger.

His right arm slowly lowered and he pointed right at her. He was unarmed, yet clearly unafraid. She imagined herself pulling ever so slightly on the trigger. It was the shot she had been waiting over twenty years to take. It was both the reason she always wanted to be a cop and the reason she'd feared being one.

Excerpted from The Sinners' Garden by William Sirls. Copyright © 2013 Canyon Insulation, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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