Chapter One

Chapter One

The engaged couple huddled together on the truncated pew outside the pastor’s office. They were unusually subdued. It could have just been the cold. To save money, churches in the winter were kept just warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing, barring a church service or special event. Since it was January, the church calendar was between Christmas and Lent, and so there wasn’t much going on between Sundays. This was a late Tuesday evening.

Normally, the pastor would have arrived in their stead and prepared for this meeting, such as it was. But the pastor was obviously late, and a neighbor and council member had noticed their car idling in the parking lot and let them in, turning up the thermostat before leaving them alone again. Now they were just waiting for the furnace to catch up.

It could have also been because the environment of the dark hushed church drove home the stark reality that they were embarking upon a serious endeavor that had nothing to do with overtures of love and everything to do with moral and legal commitment.

That particular point had been struck home under no uncertain terms by this pastor at their last meeting. Perhaps there was a preconceived expectation of ease when the couple had approached this particular juncture of their wedding plans. After all, it was a Lutheran church, the bride’s family church no less.

“He’s late,” Evan grumbled.

“Yep,” Bernice responded.

The conversation stopped there for a few moments. They should have been thrilled. They were planning their wedding, a usually happy occasion, even if it was January. But life was getting in the way. Bernice Hordstrom was busy looking for a farm to buy. Evan Wyatt was busy trying to set up his newly acquired DCI field office in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Neither task was going smoothly. Meanwhile, both sets of potential in-laws were turning up the heat on making actual wedding plans.

Which is why they were sitting in this particular church on this particular evening. It was to appease the loudest potential in-law with the most access to apply guilt. Namely, Darlene Sparks, with whom they presently resided on Bernice’s family Farm, Lollygagger’s Acres, along with Cameron Sparks, Darlene’s husband and Bernice’s long-time friend.

Darlene’s philosophy was stated to them quite clearly. “Just have the ceremony at the church and be done with it. You can always have the reception at some fancy shindig later.” They suspected Darlene was hoping to put herself back into the congregation’s good graces with Bernice and Evan’s wedding, seeing as how she and Cam had gotten married at home with a different pastor.

After the first meeting between the newly engaged Evan and Bernice and this pastor, they understood why. Saying he wasn’t the “open minded” or “outdoorsy” type was being generous. Bernice secretly decided she’d even have Agent Determyer officiate their ceremony over this pastor, because Determyer would actually cast a more cheerful demeanor over the proceedings in comparison.

Of course, there could be other reasons for the couple’s present and quiet contemplation. Where were we?

“He’s late,” Evan grumbled.

“Yep,” Bernice agreed. “Good thing too, considering what the neighbor found us doing.”

“They couldn’t see anything,” Evan pointed out, smirking.

“Not with the windows all fogged up, no.” Bernice shook her head. “No doubt the pastor’s gonna hear about it.”

“So what?” Evan argued. “I’d let Determyer do our wedding before that self-righteous ass-clown.”

Bernice gasped, more astonished at their intellectual compatibility than the insult to the pastor. “You would not.”

Evan leveled Bernice a challenging gaze. “Try me.”

Bernice crossed her arms at that point. “No thank you, that’s how we ended up fogging up the car.”

Evan just smiled and kissed her cheek. “Most action we’ve had in two weeks.”

Bernice shrugged. “We’ve been busy.”

Evan’s smile remained, but there was a new crinkle between his eyebrows. “Should I be worried that you’re more interested in trekking across frozen barnyards than wedding dress shopping?”

Bernice’s reply was interrupted by the suction of the entry door filling the empty sanctuary with noise and removing what little heat that had accumulated.

“I apologize for my tardiness,” the dour, looming shadow informed them right before he forcefully shoved the entry door shut again. “I had to visit someone in hospice.”

“Oh, we’re sorry to hear that,” Bernice remarked automatically.

“Well,” the pastor encapsulated his opinion on the entire matter. “It’s God’s will.”

The pastor turned to face them at this point. He wasn’t a bad looking man. There were no sharp angles or unfortunately shaped facial features to instill any instinctive empathy. I was the clergyman’s attitude which he wore in a very physical sense upon his countenance that made him appear unappealing. Both Bernice and Evan had made it their livelihoods to study the body language and facial expressions of others. The pastor never failed to disappoint.

“I hope you took this time to reflect upon the severe shortcomings of your relationship and seek the Lord’s guidance in coming to real terms about whether or not they are repairable.”

“We sure did,” Evan retorted happily. “It took some exploratory soul searching, but I think with some renewed practice, we can dig down deep and get to the real bone of our issues.”

Bernice clamped her jaw so tightly, she was afraid a tooth might crack, but she maintained her sober look.

The pastor still looked judgmental, so whether or not he suspected doubletalk could not be determined. “Well, we’ll have to see about that,” he proclaimed forebodingly and marched past them to unlock his office door.

Following him in, the couple could feel the heat hit them. The smaller, closed space had accumulated some warmth while they were waiting. Bernice quickly closed the door again.

For being such a dour and formidable man, the pastor’s office was comfortable. The old-fashioned paneled walls made the office seem warmer if a little dark. Framed photos of confirmations took up an entire wall and covered more than a century of affirmed church membership. Bernice knew which photos displayed Darlene, her mother, and her grandparents.

On another wall was a large painting of the original church before size and mechanical upgrades required a new building to be built in the 1970s. The older building still stood a few miles down the road. It was a residence now, although a few decades of bad additions and the removal of the bell tower made it almost unrecognizable as an old church.

Bernice did like this church. She had fond memories of this place, and a few melancholy ones as well. Bernice would always feel the spirit of her grandparents here, though not nearly with the same depth as Lollygagger’s Acres. Still, she wouldn’t mind having the ceremony in this church. It would seem like her grandparents would be casting their blessings over the proceedings from the hereafter.

Bernice’s romantic musings were interrupted by the chimes of the pastor’s computer operating system coming to life. “I believe we left off on the issues of your lack of mutual fidelity. I think we need to review scripture regarding these transgressions. Then we can move on to your casual living arrangements. All these things can be symptoms of a lack of real commitment. And it would be helpful if we could nail down a Saturday for the ceremony, so I can work it into my schedule.”

Evan’s phone squawked that he had received a text message. The pastor was clearly annoyed. Evan showed no emotion. He simply stood and addressed Bernice. “We have to go.” He gave a more pointed explanation to the pastor. “Duty calls, I’m afraid. We’ll have to reschedule.”

The pastor pursed his lips bitterly as he shut his computer back down. “Kindly leave an email with my secretary as to when your schedule will allow you to take this process more seriously.”

All Evan did was to respond with a cheerful, “Will do.” He gestured to his fiancé to precede him out the door of the office.

Once they shuffled back to the car and got the engine running and the heat hiked up, Bernice asked, “what’s up?”

“That was ME Hildigaard,” Evan informed her.

Bernice nodded and looked out into the black. “That can’t be good.”

“Nope,” Evan agreed. “I need to drop you off and get my Carharts. The crime scene is out in the middle of some guy’s field.”

Enjoy Book 7 for FREE HERE

I’ve decided, instead of going through all the hullabaloo of writing the whole book, editing it, formatting it, sending it out to the self publishing venues I usually send it to, and wait for my five bucks a month to come back in the royalties, I’ll just post Diaryland Murders, Book 7, Pastor in a Pasture right here, a little piece at at time. Hopefully, it will get my creative juices going again. It’s been a while since I’ve written. So here goes.

 

Holy Cow, it’s been a while

I don’t know if anyone is still reading this blog. My life has gotten pretty hectic since the last post, if that’s any excuse. I got a new full time real job. I sold a house and moved. My other full time job just started school. It’s nuts.

I guess the folks at Lollygagger’s Acres are hibernating until I can give them some proper attention. They’re not banished from existence, not yet, just in a kind of stasis. It’s hard after ten years to keep them vital, growing, interesting.

Part of that process is allowing my characters to change and grow. I don’t know if readers appreciate that or not. Some of of the more popular suspense heroes and heroines I’ve witnessed in the last decade never really seem to do so. They just soldier on from one crisis, one dead body, to the next, no residual repercussions, no great psychological changes, just keep your head down and wait for the next blood bath.

Does that seem logical? Does it matter? Is the expectation of the reader so tempered into acceptance, that no emotional investment is required any longer? I wonder. I know the publishing houses don’t seem to care. “Just crank out what we pay you for, please.”

I hope I’m not doing that. I hate to be formulaic. I guess we’ll see.