Tuesday, February 23, 2010
NIGHTS OF THE RED MOON
Slated for fall release by St. Martin's Press, New York, NY.
My name is Bo Handel, and I'd been sheriff of Caddo County, Texas, for almost thirty years when Amanda Twiller was slaughtered and then dumped in front of the Methodist parsonage shortly before sunup on a hot, dry morning in early September. I was enjoying a third cup of coffee and trying to dig my way through the Houston Chronicle when I heard a loud knock at my front door. I padded up the hall barefoot and in my bathrobe to find my Chief Deputy, Toby Parsons, standing on the porch. Toby is a mid-thirties African American ex-Special Forces sergeant with a keen mind and a calm, even temperament. But he looked anything but calm and even that morning.
I motioned him inside. "From your expression I conclude that either the courthouse has gone missing or we have a body on our hands. Which is it?"
"Any idea whose?"
He nodded. "Afraid so, Bo. It's Reverend Twiller's wife."
I shook my head sadly, not overly surprised. I didn't know the woman, but I knew that she was the wife of Reverend Bobby Joe Twiller, pastor of Sequoya's First United Methodist Church, and that they'd been in town about three years. The morning he preached his first sermon, Twiller stressed that he hoped to become a refuge and safe harbor to anyone in spiritual need. How successful he was in this endeavor is for others besides myself to decide, but it is a matter of public record that after ten years of marriage, his wife had found his gentle presence in her life so burdensome that she'd begun an affair with the owner of a local liquor store, and then run off to Houston with the man a few weeks later.
Initially the Twillers' arrival in town had generated quite a splash with the congregation. As time wore on, they had come to be well liked in the community, and with Reverend Twiller at the helm the membership of the old, almost moribund church quadrupled. Along the way a full-time educational director had been hired, and a large and popular Sunday school class for adult singles was added. Then at the beginning of the summer, Twiller announced the creation of a youth ministry that featured a week's encampment on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
Yet his accomplishments must have seemed meaningless to him that Sunday morning back in late July when his conscience compelled him to reveal his wife's adultery to his congregation, something he saw as rooted in his own failures as a husband. The clear-eyed businessmen on his board of stewards were aware of one fact that was lost on their pastor: Amanda Twiller was a nervous, erratic individual who had been a very poor choice as a minister's wife. They refused to accept his resignation and asked him to stay on. He did, though only as a shadow of his former self. But if the church hadn't given up on Reverend Twiller, then neither had he given up on his wife. At least not until this grim morning.
"This would be a murder, I assume?" I asked Toby.
"Unless she found some way to shoot herself three times in the back. Her husband found her in their front yard just a little while ago, but it looks like she was killed somewhere else because there's hardly any blood at the scene."
"It's inside the city limits. Doesn't the Police Department want primary jurisdiction?"
"No. Chief Ogilvie and his wife are on vacation up in Virginia. With him out of town, the city PD doesn't have anybody with homicide experience except Clyde Kraft, and he's filling in as acting chief. He requested that you take over the investigation since he's busy with administrative duties."
"Of course he would," I said, shaking my head with mild exasperation. "Clyde's too damn lazy to cast a shadow." I led the way back to the kitchen and motioned to the percolator. "Go ahead and have a cup of coffee while I get dressed."
I went upstairs to the bedroom I had shared with my wife until she died of cancer five years earlier. I pulled out a fresh pair of dark Wrangler dress jeans and a starched white western shirt and climbed into them. Once I got my Tony Lama boots situated on my feet and my cream-colored western summer hat mounted on my head, I went down the stairs. I didn't bother to take a look in the hall mirror before leaving the house the way I always did in my younger years. By now I was reconciled to what I'd see looking back at me--a weathered, sun-darkened face that would never make women swoon. But neither would it make little kids run screeching for their mothers, so I knew I could live with it one more day, just as I'd done for the past sixty-two years...