Chapter One

 

     “You called about a body?” Marmaduke asked the reverend, waiting under the covered porch of a small, wood framed church, when Detective Chennault and he arrived.

     “That’s right, I did.” His voice trembled. He fumbled through a large ring jingling with all manner of keys. “I’m still trying to figure out which one opens which door. I locked this—I didn’t want anyone disturbing . . . .”

     Finally Reverend Gainer, pastor of Bethel Primitive Baptist Church, found the key. He flung open the two wooden double doors and led the detectives into the sanctuary. Dim light filtered through the stained glass windows lining the grey walls. One wall, streaked with white paint, screamed through the sanctuary with images and symbols in red; along the floor of the chapel, the names “Zeus” and “Antiochus” blazed across the weathered wood.

     “This is some mess,” Detective Chennault said.

     “That’s not all.” The reverend led them farther into the sanctuary. His bent back and limping gait, unstable like a rickety chair, slowed his pace to the podium. “I knew something wasn’t right soon as I got the door to my study unlocked. Wasn’t no power. No lights anywhere. I thought for sure it was that storm last night, took our power out. I was heading for the fuse box—right over there,” he pointed to the back wall of the sanctuary. “Sure enough, there was a bad fuse. So when I got that all fixed and the lights came on . . . well, that’s when I saw that . . . that evil coming out of the dark.”

     Behind the podium lay a gray trench coat draped over a large wooden chair. The reverend grabbed the coat’s collar, lowering it enough to expose the face of a young man—dead. He looked back at Marmaduke and Chennault, their eyes locked on the body sitting in

the chair.

     “Are y’all praying men, Detectives?” He reached his dark, trembling hand back to remove the entire coat. His jaundiced eyes stretched wide at the sight. He perspired in a biblical way, grabbing a readied handkerchief to dry the sweat from his face. “I placed my coat over it. I didn’t want anyone from my congregation seeing this by mistake.”

     The body wore a white sheet with one end tied across the left shoulder. The head glistened with gold paint and was adorned by a laurel leaf crown.

     “Shit! What is this?” The reverend cut Marmaduke a harsh stare. “Excuse me reverend.” He waved a flashlight over the silver painted arms and upper torso and the brass painted lower torso and thighs. The body’s slit belly exposed the innards which spilled onto the floor. The smell overpowered the space. They pinched their noses together and breathed through their mouths. The feet pointed away from each other, twisting the legs in a strange way. An iron material encased the legs and part of the feet. The other part of the feet crusted over in red Georgia clay with spikes protruding from the ankles.

     “What are those things where the arms should be?” Reverend Gainer asked.

     Marmaduke shined the light where he pointed. “They look like pig feet. And this . . . ,” he flicked the light to a stick with a hooked end, “some kind a makeshift staff.” The arms were sewn onto the back like wings flapping. Written in the palm of  the left hand was the word, “Sieg” and in the right, “Lieh”.

     Marmaduke saw Chennault’s mouth agape—poor sap. “Bet you didn’t see anything like this in Vice. You’re sure you don’t want to rethink that transfer to Homicide?” They stood, startled. Water dripped from their rain-soaked clothes, forming small puddles at their feet.

     “So what do you think?”

     “No idea. Been in Homicide for years and never seen anything like this.”

     “I been a pastor here near on thirty years and I ain’t never seen nothing—nothing like this.”

     “Well, just leave it. We’ve got to get a crime scene team and the Medical Examiner in here.” Marmaduke didn’t look all that settled. He sweated like the reverend and squinted when gazing at the body.

     “I’ll make the call,” said Chennault, dashing from the church. He disappeared behind the weathered doors, back out into the rain.

     Within minutes, an army of uniformed officers and Homicide Detectives descended upon the small church, along with parishioners. They arrived for the morning services, a slow steady stream of gray-haired, half-bent, cane-bearing old folk, the stuff of this small church.