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Difficult beginnings, U.S. Senator Mildred Folsom knew from her experience, often shaped a child's worldview in ways that remained unrecognized far into adulthood. Ways that were permanently unhealthy, that could stunt a child's emotional maturity and hinder her from becoming a responsible, God-fearing, conservative adult. It wasn't much different today, the senator told her audience, than it was twenty-five years ago, when she herself was still in the system. A small lamp on the podium illuminated the senator's speech, the light reflecting onto her face, her platinum hair.
"Many displaced children, if they age out un-adopted, will forever feel hungry and alone," the Texas senator said. She was the last speaker for the evening, her speech a voice-over for a slideshow that to this point had only shown images of proud parents with their smiling adopted children.
The tone of the slides changed. The images shifted, became interspersed with pictures of twentieth-century group home despair. Children in dignified poses but with no individuality, at attention at the foot of their beds, lost and frightened, or in foster home kitchens seated stiffly upright, their adult caregivers smiling but the children rigid, with severe faces.
"Many, regardless of their achievements as adults, will feel colder than you in winter, or uncomfortably warmer than you in summer. Many will feel sick their entire lives. And many children ..."
Three hundred moneyed Texan benefactors were in attendance at the senator's fundraiser for the agency. By the end of the slideshow she expected their eyes to be moist, and their noses to be sniffling. Her voice caught in her throat. She tapped the podium lightly and pursed her lips, both meant to pull her out of some maudlin personal memory the audience was expected to conjure up for themselves.
She was good at this. She had them.
"... so many children will feel perpetually unloved, perpetually unlovable. I'm sure our guests of honor have all had similar feelings on some level. But their adoptions, and mine, served to mitigate them, and our adoptive parents rescued us either from well-intentioned shelters, the foster care merry-go-round, or from much more compromising situations, and paved the way for us to realize our potential as productive citizens. Generous folks like you have helped defray the costs of adoption allowing state and county adoption agencies to provide homes for children so deserving of them. Please give with your hearts tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Your honorees and I are proof that your gifts can and do make a difference. Thank you, and may God bless you."
A round of applause erupted for the four guests of honor, all women: a heart surgeon, a homemaking mother-of-three, a kindergarten teacher, and a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, all assembled for the black-tie event by this popular first-term U.S. senator. After her speech the senator worked the gathering, on the stump as much for her campaign as she was for agency donations. She pulled aside Darlington Beckner, the local county adoption agency's director, who was also a practicing minister. She had him light her cigarette.
"How do you like your new pen, Pastor Beckner?"
He patted his vest pocket. In it was a diamond-encrusted Montblanc, a gift from the senator's pro-life campaign contributors, inscribed with his initials and the group's slogan: Let them live, and we will help them thrive.
"I like it very much, Senator. Thank you."
She clinked her drink glass with his. "I've been told someone wants to thank you personally for all your hard work this year, Pastor."
"How wonderful. Who?"
"I don't have any details. The hotel concierge will be along in a minute to fill you in. Now, if you'll excuse me ..."
Upstairs in one of the hotel's luxury suites Mitzi, fundraiser honoree number four, the alleged former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, was performing an act that Pastor Darlington Beckner knew broke at least one Commandment and countless other Bible admonishments. Influential religious leader, community organizer and adoption agency head, the forty-two-year-old devoted father of four was going through a tough stretch, his wife estranged, a divorce in the offing. Mitzi, naked from the waist up, was thanking the hell out of him. Seated on the edge of the bed, his tux pants off and out of the way, he had a close-up view of her bobbing head, her hair a soft, ash blonde, just like the hair of his lovely wife. At best, Mitzi had been a Cowboy cheerleader from the early seventies. At worst, she'd been a Cowboy cheerleader never, more likely a high-priced whore who filled out the formal gown nicely. Against his better judgment, a judgment significantly more impaired than it was an hour ago, Darlington had succumbed to the temptation and was along for the ride. Just a few more seconds.
The closet doors burst open; Mitzi didn't flinch. Two cameras flashed, then the photographers behind the cameras spilled out from their hiding place. Darlington recoiled, Mitzi disengaged herself. She pulled up the top of her gown and stood to leave.
"They want a name, Reverend," Mitzi said. "An adoptee who came through one of the county's agencies. She'd be about fifteen now. Someone will be in touch."
Thirty-one years later September 2016
T. Larinda Jordan stepped inside Shiloh Southwood Tabernacle United, a white stucco one-story church that pastor Darlington Beckner had led for the last thirty years. The locals called the church "Shoebox Methodist" because of its low, rectangular stature, with no steeple, only a small cross nailed to the wall above the front door. Larinda wasn't local and wasn't Methodist. She'd been raised an Oklahoma Catholic. One time not too long ago she'd been a cloistered nun. She entered the morning church service late, and she intended to leave early.
Larinda slipped into the last row of folding chairs, joining two other patrons. She was going for invisible in a high-necked white blouse and an eggshell white skirt of respectable length with embroidered white flowers. A short, unbuttoned denim jacket hid her toned, athletic upper torso. Flats lessened her height, makeup lessened her freckles, transitions lenses suggested dull gray eyes, and a blonde ponytail sold her as a college undergrad, reducing her age by ten years. The only thing difficult to hide was her bandaged left palm; the scabbing itched. A light fingertip massage provided relief until she was able to will the discomfort away.
She mouthed the words of the hymn in progress because she knew them, but she didn't sing. She scanned the congregation. It was mostly Native American parishioners, many elderly, a few children, all dressed in light jackets, sweaters or pullovers, geared to ward off the autumn chill. But she cared little about the parishioners; her focus was the church's pastor, now at the podium. A white male in his seventies, thin and vulture-like with a hunched back and a black comb-over, his eyes were a radiant light blue, their sparkle noticeable even at this distance. His hands rested flat on the lectern as he delivered a reading from the New Testament.
He matched the picture they'd given her.
A boy two rows ahead, a fidgeting pre-teen, scanned the congregation. Larinda lowered her head and tucked her face into a hymnal to blend in. After a moment she risked a peek to find him staring at her, his look judgmental, effeminate, with batting eyelashes. His mother whispered to him until he faced forward. The mother left behind a self-conscious smile for Larinda as an apology.
This was the kind of kid who saw more than he let on. The mother or the son or both could be a problem, but she wouldn't worry about that now.
Larinda waited in the church parking lot in a forest green, older model Ford Explorer, her binoculars raised. The midafternoon sun heated the car, forcing her to remove her jacket. Visible through the church's barred windows, Pastor Darlington Beckner flipped through hymnals in a sparsely furnished sunlit anteroom behind the altar, smoothing out the rabbit-eared pages, straightening the piles. This was taking longer than she'd expected. Regardless, she would not sully the sanctity of a church.
Pastor Beckner hobbled to the door on aged legs. He exited the anteroom, her binoculars following his progress down the center aisle on his way to the back of the church now empty of parishioners. Window to window, pew to pew, she had an unobstructed view of the small church's interior because there was no stained glass. He reached the vestibule at the church's entrance.
The Bible passage he'd read at the morning service had stayed with her, as had his grandfatherly demeanor while he delivered it. Matthew 19:14: "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me.'" The passage was a sign that this was right and just.
A dirt parking lot separated the church's entrance from her SUV. Shoebox Methodist was a repurposed municipal building, the stucco exterior whitewashed but not adequately, some fluorescent colored graffiti showing through. Rust stains dripped from the corners of its ancient iron window frames. One other car was in the lot, a late model Dodge sedan. The pastor exited the church, pulled the heavy front metal door closed behind him, making sure it latched. He paused, lifted his face skyward, breathed in the sunlit September air.
Old age and the recent passing of his wife had softened Pastor Beckner's conservative leanings, The Faithful had explained to her. He was now on the wrong path. His recent actions said he'd lost his own gospel, and this made him dangerous. The timing wasn't a coincidence. A new Texas law now forced women to view an ultrasound of their fetuses before they were allowed to have legal abortions. Planned Parenthood appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. In two weeks, on the first Monday in October, the new Supreme Court term would begin, and the Texas case Babineau v Turbin would be argued. If The Faithful had anything to say about it, the Court would validate the original Texas decision, and this validation would eventually be used to leverage overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision in its entirety. The Court's opinion was in the process of being reshaped, considering the recent confirmation of a new Supreme Court associate justice.
For the past thirty years The Faithful had followed Darlington Beckner's every move. He'd never tried to contact anyone of political, municipal or jurisprudence consequence in all that time. Not the liberal politicians, not the police, not the media. His marriage was dead back then. Over time it resurrected itself to become rock solid. And if he'd felt the urge to confess to his wife his one and only extramarital transgression, The Faithful was fairly sure he hadn't done so. He'd been a good Christian, and they'd seen nothing that merited his elimination. Until now.
His wife's passing had been sudden. With it, apparently, came a need for him to divulge his miscarriage of duty when he was county adoption agency director. His sin.
His first misstep had been to contact the FBI. The Faithful had the reach and the resources to know these things. His second misstep was booking tomorrow's flight to D.C., where they expected him to fess up to his dereliction, his betrayal of the peoples' trust: he'd provided stolen information, from records sealed by law, about a certain closed adoption.
The Faithful had explained this to Larinda without volunteering other specifics about their agenda, to provide the context she needed to understand that if his confession reached the wrong people, it would be a bad thing. Pastor Beckner was now a new threat to the war on the unborn, a war that was close to being won. Eliminating him would neutralize this threat. Exactly how and where he fit into this equation, Larinda didn't need to know, and the good Christian that she was, she hadn't pressed them on it.
The Faithful. Her confidants and spiritual guides for most of her life in Texas, composed of ministers, town elders, captains of industry, televangelists, congressmen, and a senator. They were also her clandestine employers, on a contract-by-contract basis. Their text message to her that morning: "C.H.: Your new penance is to fix this. The Lord be with you."
C.H. "Church Hammer." Larinda's handle. She was a soldier, a righter of other people's wrongs, in the name of Jesus Christ.
The pastor unlocked his car. She waited until he climbed inside. The mess would stay contained that way.
"Pastor Beckner," she called, approaching his car on foot, her dimples accenting her warm smile. "Hello! A moment of your time, please." Her smile widened as she speed-walked her way closer.
He powered his car window down, her smile contagious. "Of course, miss. What can I help you with?"
At ten paces from the car she raised her arm, ready to shake his hand. Traffic coasted by on the street next to the lot. He made eye contact, was still smiling. He reached his hand through the window to clasp hers. At three paces the small ballistic knife strapped to her wrist inside her denim jacket sleeve ejected from its compressed air sheath with a quiet thokkk, the short blade entering his neck above his Adam's apple like an arrow, severing his vocal chords. He gripped his throat, a gurgling crimson leak springing from his neck and gushing through his fingers onto the steering wheel and windshield, asphyxiating him in his own blood. She clapped his shoulder like an old friend and scanned the empty parking lot for inquiring eyes, satisfied there were no witnesses. She removed the knife from his neck and wiped the blade on his shirt.
"That was a wonderful reading today, Pastor. Thank you, and may you rest in peace."
Before turning away, she reached into his front shirt pocket for the jeweled pen she noticed during his sermon. A trophy, or it would be, as soon as she wiped off the blood.
The police found her six days later.
Teresa Larinda Jordan, in jeans, track shoes and a loose pullover sweater, sat in a holding cell waiting for someone to post her bail. The charge for now was possession of prescription drugs in other people's names. She no longer considered herself a Teresa, answered instead to Larinda, not a saint's name, because she was no longer worthy of a saint's protection. She made the change when she was twenty-one, not long after agreeing to the decision that could send her soul to hell: to abort a child, an abominable wrong. There had been intense pressure from her grad student boyfriend, but this was no excuse. For her, the impact of terminating the pregnancy had been overwhelming. The impact to her boyfriend: nothing whatsoever, far as she'd been able to tell, that is until she killed him for being so cavalier, and fed his body to her parents' hogs. Her first execution.
It stank in the jail cell, pungent as urine-soaked rotting meat. Most of the questions they'd asked her were about Pastor Beckner's murder, her arrest prompted by statements from the boy in the Shoebox Methodist congregation who'd taken an interest in her. That Indian kid. In an interrogation room, her court-appointed attorney read her the boy's statement.
"He said to the detective, and I quote, 'You don't wear white after Labor Day.' He busted in on his mother and the detective interviewing her at home, did the whole finger wag, no way girlfriend urban thing for emphasis. Then he added, 'I don't care what Emily Post says is acceptable now. Wearing white after Labor Day is abhorrent. If you take notes on anything, Detective, take a note on that.' The kid's a little different."
A twelve-year-old Indian kid who sounded like a queer socialite from Manhattan. Where did these kids learn this behavior? From the atheist liberals, of course.
No evidence could place her at the pastor's car, and no murder weapon had been found yet. They knew what it was, the police told her attorney. A knife or some other sharp projectile, based on the puncture wound to the neck. The cops did have an interest in the back of her hand and her palm, which showed scabbing in both places. They took a blood sample.
"From a nail gun," she'd told them. "I'm a journeyman carpenter." Closer to the truth than they needed to know.
All interesting stuff, her attorney had commented to her accusers, but how did any of it attach his client to the pastor's murder?
Excerpted from "Jane's Baby"
Copyright © 2013 Chris Bauer.
Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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