Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 5, Scene 1

TOC page here.

Diana and Mustapha have investigated a great deal, but they’re still fundamentally at Square One as far as solving Alex Dawson’s murder goes. In the absence of other leads, they go back to looking at his family:

Reverend Andre Carter of Cascade Road Baptist Church probably had the mayor on speed-dial, thought Mustapha. And the two-thousand-dollar suit didn’t really work with the whole sell all you have and give it to the poor thing. “The Dawsons are part of the backbone of our church,” said Carter in the sing-song preacher voice. “What happened to Alexander was… well, let’s just say it isn’t always easy to accept God’s will.” Carter opened a hand to indicate his powerlessness. “Or understand it. Alex was loved just as much as his other brothers, maybe more. When I was younger, I used to think that Alex lost control because he turned away from God and the church. But that’s the sin of pride, Detectives: it might be better, as well as truer, to say that Alex had the gene that made him keep drinking even on the rare occasions when he wanted to stop.”

Carter closed his fist; Mustapha noticed the guy had a perfect manicure. He said, “So, Reverend, you see Mr. Dawson around here much?”

“Almost never. The homeless tend to stick within a very small range.”

“Yeah? You feed a lot of them, here?”

“Not here. We have an outreach ministry downtown. Bring the mountain to Mohammed–” Carter grimaced; Mustapha looked closely for signs of a facelift, but got nothing, felt cheated. “Sorry,” said Carter. “I was mixing up religions for comedic value, and momentarily forgot about the circumstances of the poor man’s death.”

Diana said, “So you haven’t seen him lately? His dad sounded real broken up. I thought maybe he was trying to get Alex to start over.”

“Alex’s brothers had accepted that Alex had chosen that life, but Lamar kept Alex in his prayers.”

Mustapha said, “Do prayers include maybe sending Alex to rehab?”

A big, embarrassed smile: teeth white, but just shy of perfect. “Oh, it did. Twice. Cost a fortune: we passed the plate. He lasted about two weeks the first time; the second, he made it through the program, but was passed out in a gutter a month later. Lamar is a loving father, but even he wasn’t enough of an optimist to think a third time would be the charm.”

Diana said, “They said they do the sound and light for your church?”

“… Yes. You can’t suspect them–”

“I’m really just curious. Do you have a video we can watch?”

“We have our own YouTube channel.”

Ten minutes later, Diana shut down the tablet. “Wowie. That is some real pageantry.”

“All glory to the Lord.”

“Where did those kids get the angel costumes?”

“Er… I could ask. There’s a committee.”

“It’s nothing. Brought me back to school plays, was all. Well, thanks for your time.” She handed him a card. “You hear anything?”

Carter took it. “I’ll keep an eye out here out. Come on over this Sunday, if you want to see the show.”

Mustapha said, “I’d scare the poor little angels.”


Back in the car, Mustapha said, “I think he likes you.”

“Seemed like a reflex to me. You know Martin Luther King slept with pretty much every woman who came near him?”

“He had a dream. I thought our reverend was hinky as hell, but maybe after my encounter with David the guy who reminded me how far I’ve gone from my heritage, I’m more cynical than normal about religion and preachers.”

“Well, I’m maybe not the person to judge the appropriate level of cynicism. I’m assuming someone who runs a big church is corrupt—especially when they spend that much on angel costumes. But murder Alex, or cover it up?”

“Yet. That guy’s got smaller fish to fry.” He watched her stare off into the distance for at least a minute, then, “Hey, I expect at least a chuckle for a joke that stupid. Don’t tell me those reporters got you down.”

That got a smile. “No. Andrew’s getting remarried.”

“And that makes you Emo Girl? I figured you’d be jumping for joy, get him off your back.”

A shrug. “Yes. He’s doing it because he wants more kids.”

“Right, because he’s all warm and fuzzy.”

A giggle. “Think establish a dynasty. He had a contest, Grace said.” She told him the story.

“I’m surprised it took him that long to think that one up.”

“That’s what I said. I guess… maybe in the back of my mind I always thought I’d get married again, have more kids. But I really have aged out.”

“Didn’t you break up with that hunky ex-Marine because he wanted just that?”

That got him a smack on the arm. “Don’t you dare demand consistency from me. It’s just strange, that’s all.” A sigh. “Let’s go talk to homeless people; that will cheer me up.”

Now we’re back to Mustapha’s POV. He’s an experienced homicide detective: he knows that his skepticism toward religion is mostly driven by his own feelings. While Reverend Carter fits the mould of flashy, corrupt preacher, he’s not obviously dripping with corruption, and at any rate he has no remotely clear motive to kill Alex. Spending money on angel costumes and pageantry has little to do with the actual message of the gospels, but it’s implausible to think that there’s a plot by Alex to expose corruption and that Reverend Carter would choose Islamic murder as his response.

We also loop back into Diana’s personal life, and this reinforces her general alienation. She’s not single due to lack of opportunities; she’s single because on some level she wants to be. This is practical, in that in each novel it enables a new romantic interest that can then not work out, but also intended to be a central part of Diana’s character: she’s just not the marrying kind, and this causes her problems.


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  1. Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 4, Scene 3 | Julian Cage

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