Chapter One of “When Sunday Comes Again”
The white lace curtains in Hattie Williams’ open bedroom window quivered gently in the evening breeze barely shielding the dark room from the glow of a full moon. The room smelled of talcum powder mixed with the sweet fragrance from a bouquet of roses picked from her garden that day. A cherry brown antique vanity balancing a towering oval beveled mirror served as the centerpiece of the small room. Crystal atomizer perfume bottles were symmetrically arranged on its surface, each containing the lilac, rose, and lavender scents that gently announced her arrival moments before she would enter a room. Three tubes of her favorite hand cream and a fabric covered box filled with her Sunday gloves occupied the lowest shelf. A vase holding the red roses sat on the highest.
The sheets on the bed were the crispest of white. A true white achieved only from the addition of bluing poured by an experienced hand. Pillow cases printed with yellow and pink flowers and a patchwork quilt sewn so many years ago by her mother were tangled and strewn across the disheveled bed. Beads of perspiration gathered on Hattie’s lip as she tossed restlessly in a fitful sleep. It was 2:00AM in the morning.
“No. No not the pastor. Not Pastor Cleaveland,” Hattie sputtered as her gray hair thrashed from side to side.
The image of a man wearing a tailored black suit filled her dream. His eyes were wide open and staring straight at her. But there was no life, no sparkle, just an empty shell. He was lying in a pool of glistening blood. She could hear screams in the background but no one was there except the lifeless body of her pastor, Hezekiah T. Cleaveland.
Her body convulsed as she tried in vain to revive the lifeless man in her dream. And then it happened. She felt the distinct presence of two people just beyond her dream’s reach. One was familiar but the other she did not know. Hattie could feel waves of hate and anger weighing down on her as she knelt over Hezekiah. Gradually the source of the feelings moved closer and closer. The pain was almost unbearable. Hattie knew the source of this energy. It was one she had felt on so many Sunday mornings.
A second unrecognizable force vied for her attention. There was warmth but she couldn’t see the source. The person hovered timidly in the background. Afraid to move in closer. Afraid to come into view. Hattie could clearly discern the emotions. There was an overwhelming sorrow but permeating through it all, there was love.
She felt a cold hand on her shoulder. The touch sent a shudder through her sleeping body. She fought the urge to look over her shoulder, but she had no choice. The woman smiled down on her as she looked up. The bright glow from her white teeth covered Hattie and Hezekiah’s body in light.
Hattie bolted upright in her bed and screamed out loud. “Oh Lord! Why Samantha? Why?” Her body was drenched in perspiration as her eyes fixed on her trembling reflection in the vanity mirror across the room. Her silver hair was tangled and tossed. Her hands shook as she cried out, “Hezekiah loved you so much Samantha.” Hattie prayed that it wasn’t true. She hoped that this would be the one time her empathic gift had failed her.[Page Break]
Samantha Cleaveland stood in the floor to ceiling window of her office at the Cleaveland estate wrapped in an aqua silk robe that caressed every curve of her long graceful body. A carpet of green rolled over the grounds and palm trees lining the exterior of the property bristled in a gentle breeze rising from the Pacific Ocean below. Samantha stared at the vast blue void in the distance that seemed to spill off the edge of the earth. A strand of velvety black hair tumbled over her chiseled cheek as she reached for a burning cigarette in an ashtray on the glass desk. With perfectly manicured fingers she moved the stray lock from her view and took a long deep puff from the cigarette. At 39 years of age she looked more the part of glittering Hollywood starlet than the grieving widow of Pastor Hezekiah T. Cleaveland.
Her thoughts ebbed and flowed with each rhythmic wave of the ocean. Feelings of accomplishment over her recent appointment as Interim Pastor of New Testament Cathedral washed through her with every gentle beat of her heart. As the waters receded from the shore, memories of late husband Hezekiah replaced her jubilation with loathing. She pondered the question of how she had come to hate the man she had once loved so deeply and chastised herself for waiting so long to take fate into her own hands.
“I should have killed him years ago,” she thought as she took another puff from the cigarette.
Hezekiah and Samantha Cleaveland had been ecclesiastical royalty. The Cleaveland dynasty was known to millions of loyal viewers and contributors. Five dollars from the widow in Jackson, Mississippi. Twenty dollars like clockwork each month from the retired couple in Atlanta, Georgia. The one hundred thousand dollar anonymous ‘gift’ that arrived each year from New York on Samantha’s birthday. Pieced together, the money that poured in each week ranked New Testament Cathedral at number six of the ten wealthiest churches in the country and allowed the Cleavelands to live in the cradled arms of luxury. A private jet was available at their beck and call. Drivers in black suits and a fleet of luxury automobiles stood at the ready twenty-four hours a day. Two Picassos hung in places of honor in their ten bedroom mansion in Bel Air. The finest couture gowns, suits and shoes, and sparkling jewelry were available to them, often only in exchange for the honor of being worn by a Cleaveland.
Their glowing smiles were aired somewhere in the world 24 hours a day. Hers was the beautiful face standing lovingly behind the flawless man. “Can’t you be more like Samantha Cleaveland,” was a common request made by lesser known pastors of their wives on every Sunday morning.
Together they had built the multi-million dollar media empire and reined over the world famous headquarters of New Testament Cathedral in Los Angeles. They were the perfect couple. But in the quiet of their limousine or behind the wrought iron gates of the estate their lives didn’t resemble the one on the television screen. Over the years and as the ministry grew Samantha’s resentment toward Hezekiah soon eclipses the love she once had for him.
And then came the revelation that threatened to topple the entire ministry. She could have easily put the right spin on Hezekiah having an affair with another woman, as she had done many times before. But a man? Even her highly evolved public relations skills and heart melting smile couldn’t convince the ten dollar a month donor from Tulsa to keep sending in her “Love Offering” if she had learned that the great Pastor Hezekiah T. Cleaveland was in love with a man.
“He gave me no other choice,” Samantha reasoned looking out over the horizon. “It was either him or New Testament Cathedral. I know God would have wanted it this way.”
A gentle tap on the office door drew Samantha back from the hypnotic spell of sea.
“Come in,” she said without turning from the window.
Etta Washington, the Cleavelands’ housekeeper, entered the room carrying a tray with coffee, a freshly baked scone, and the morning paper. She wore a simple black dress and sensible shoes. The lower half of her body was covered by a white apron. “Good morning Mrs. Cleaveland,” Etta said as she walked toward the desk. “I thought you might like a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.”
Although there were other staff on the estate, Etta was the only one who lived in the house. She had seen the Cleavelands at their best and at their worst. Over the years the family had become the center of her world. Was the thermostat set at the right temperature? Are all the flower arrangements fresh and to their liking? Do the sheets on their beds have the proper thread count? Did the cook make enough of the fresh scones Mrs. Cleaveland likes so? These and all other concerns pertaining to the comfort of the Cleavelands were her domain and she took pride in anticipating their needs long before they even knew themselves.
Etta had learned early on that all she observed behind the double oak doors of the mansion were never to be discussed with anyone. Samantha’s penchant for European cigarettes, their daughter Jasmine Cleavelands’ frequent morning hangovers or Hezekiah’s occasional bouts with depression that would leave him in a fetal position in his locked bedroom for days. They were all Cleaveland family secrets that Samantha had repeatedly warned Etta, ’If you ever mentioned this to anyone you’ll regret it.”
“Put it on the desk,” Samantha said to Etta as she extinguished the cigarette butt in the ashtray. “Is Jasmine awake yet?”
“No Mrs. Cleaveland.”
Samantha’s body tensed when she heard the response. She looked up at the woman pouring the cup of coffee and asked, “Etta, how did you address my husband when he was alive?”
Etta’s hand shook when she heard the question. The tremble so slight it was only apparent in a ripple in the cup of coffee. “I’m not sure what you mean Mrs. Cleaveland,” she said softly.
“It’s a very simple question Etta. What did you call my husband when he was alive?”
“I believe I called him Pastor Cleaveland.”
“That is correct. You always said, ‘Good Morning Pastor Cleaveland’, or, ‘Can I get you anything else Pastor Cleaveland?’ Now that I am the Pastor of New Testament Cathedral,” Samantha continued as she casually picked up the freshly poured coffee, “I think it only appropriate that you address me as Pastor Cleaveland from now on. Is that understood?”
Etta looked stunned. She averted her eyes away from Samantha’s gaze. “You are not my pastor,” she fumed silently.
Etta’s hand trembled again but she gripped the tray firmly to hide any sign of fear from Samantha. She knew her life at the Cleaveland estate would never be the same now that the man she admired and respected so deeply was gone. Hezekiah had over the years acted as a buffer between her and Samantha.
He comforted her when Samantha’s wrath, which always simmered just below the surface, was directed at Etta. “Don’t take it personally Etta,” Hezekiah had said on many occasions. “Samantha is under a lot of pressure. You know she didn’t really mean what she said.”
Hezekiah would also remind the impatient Samantha that, “Everyone makes mistakes,” on the rare occasions that Etta had not served a meal in the exact way she had requested or if the spot light that pointed to the Picasso hanging in the foyer was not turned on at exactly 6:00 each evening. Who would protect her now?
“Is that understood?” Samantha repeated in a sterner tone.
A wave of fear was followed quickly by revulsion. As Etta raised the tray she straightened her back, looked Samantha directly in the eye and with a slight nod of her head replied, “Yes I understand… Pastor Cleaveland.”
Etta turned on her heel and walked to the door.
“Oh and Etta,” Samantha called out to the retreating woman, “Tell Dino to have the car ready in one hour. I have a meeting at church this morning.”
Etta stopped in her tracks without turning around and said, “Yes Pastor Cleaveland,” and then quickly exited the room.
The Los Angeles Chronicle lay where Etta had placed it on the desk. It had been three weeks since Hezekiah’s murder and every day the front page of the paper carried the latest update on the investigation and state of affairs at New Testament Cathedral.
“Pastors’ Murder Baffles Police. Grieving Widow Takes Helm of the Church Sixth Largest Church in the Country,” Read the headline. Samantha glanced down at the paper. A somber color photograph of the widow occupied a fourth of the page. Her memorizing smile gave curious readers no hint of what lay beneath the perfect skin, warm chocolate eyes, and sparkling white teeth.
“Of all the pictures they have of me on file at that rag they chose that one,” she thought. “I look like a God-damn nun.”
Samantha sat at the desk and unfolded the newspaper.
“It has been three weeks since the brutal assassination of Reverend Hezekiah T. Cleaveland in his mega church in front of fifteen thousand stunned parishioners and television cameras. The police still have no suspects or leads as to who was responsible for the murder which sent shock waves through the American faith community. On Sunday July 18th Pastor Cleaveland was shot in the head and chest by an unknown assailant who fled on foot from the downtown Los Angeles mega church.
California State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Mandy Tidwell told CNN’s Gideon Truman that Cleaveland had trauma to his head and body but declined to elaborate. ‘We don’t have any leads” she told the Chronicle on Sunday.
Officials have spoken with trustees and members of New Testament Cathedral where Cleaveland had served as pastor for the past eleven years. ‘Pastor Cleaveland was loved by everyone who met him,” said a longtime member who preferred not to give her name. ‘He was a loving father, husband and Pastor who…’
Samantha stopped reading and quickly scanned the rest of the article in search of her name.
“Cleaveland is survived by his daughter, Jasmine Cleaveland and wife the Reverend Samantha Cleaveland.” Shortly after his death Reverend Samantha Cleaveland was installed as the interim pastor of the multi-million dollar church and television ministry. Mrs. Cleaveland has yet to speak to the press about the circumstances surrounding her husbands’ death. It has been rumored, however, that she will give an exclusive interview to Gideon Truman in the coming weeks.”
The article went on to tell of her courage, strength, and commitment to her husband’s dream of completing construction of the church’s new twenty-five thousand seat glittering crystal cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.
Samantha had been hounded by the press since her husband’s death. Local, national, and international news stations, talk shows and newspapers from around the world had been covering the investigation from day one, but she had skillfully avoided any contact with the media. Her silence only served to increase her fame. Just as she had planned.
Samantha closed the paper and walked back to the window. She looked out at a flock of salty white seagulls skimming the ocean surface, trees dancing in the wind, and clouds drifting leisurely by.
“Gideon Truman,” she thought silently. “I wonder if it’s true what they say about him. If it is I’m sure Hezekiah would have liked him.”
[Page Break]Cynthia Pryce paced the living room floor in the twenty-third floor penthouse. The blue sky dotted with clouds and the sun rising over rolling green hills in the distance demurred in her presence. The glow of her morning skin rivaled the splendor of the panorama outside her window. Luxurious strands of burnt caramel hair responded obediently to every tilt of her head. A creamy peach satin robe swirled around the calves of her long legs as she made a series of sharp turns in front of the windows. The face of Samantha Cleaveland on the front page of the Los Angeles Chronicle taunted her from the coffee table.
“Interim Pastor,” she muttered softly as she continued her march. “This isn’t over Samantha. Don’t get too comfortable.”
She felt a sharp snap of jealousy as she silently recalled the events of the last three weeks. “If only those idiots, Hezekiah and Lance Savage, hadn’t gotten themselves killed Percy would be the pastor of New Testament Cathedral today.”
She pushed the image of Samantha standing at the center of the pulpit before the entire congregation and all the cameras from her mind. A rage that she could hardly contain swelled in her stomach. “Pull yourself together girl,” she thought. “This isn’t over. You almost destroyed Hezekiah. You can do the same to Samantha.”
The slight glimmer of hope that her husband could still one day become pastor made the sight of Samantha’s smiling face on the front page of the newspaper hurt a little less. She reached down and without looking at the paper turned it over on the coffee table.
Just as she stood up her husband, the Reverend Percy Pryce entered the room. His tall frame was dressed in a smoky grey suit, butter yellow shirt, and a tie that picked up the hues in the suit, shirt, and his rich almond skin. “Is the paper here yet?” he asked coldly without greeting her.
“It’s on the coffee table. Of course she’s on the front page again.”
“Why does that upset you so much?” he snapped.
Cynthia turned sharply toward him and said, “It upsets me because you should have been appointed pastor not her.”
“The trustee vote was unanimous. It’s over Cynthia. Samantha is the pastor. We just have to just live with it.”
“Wrong, they voted unanimously to appoint her as interim pastor. If everyone was so convinced that she was the best successor for Hezekiah they would have made her permanent pastor. So it’s not over. There’s still a chance for us… for you to prove to them that you are the best person for the job. Hezekiah would have wanted it that way and you know it.”
“It doesn’t matter what Hezekiah wanted at this point. If God wanted me to be pastor he would have made me pastor. We have to live with the decision.”
“Why are you so naïve? It was Samantha’s scheming that got her the position. God didn’t have anything to do with it. The only thing we have to do is expose her for the conniving greedy woman she is. If you would only do what I tell you and let me…”
Percy walked rapidly toward her at the window and cut her off. “You’ve done enough already. Lance Savage is dead because of you,” he interrupted.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t have anything to do with his death.”
The image of the Los Angeles Chronicle reporter, Lance Savages, lying dead on the floor of his home on the canals in Venice flashed in Percy’s mind. “If you hadn’t leaked the story about Hezekiah being gay to Lance he would still be alive,” he replied barely containing himself.
“The police don’t know who killed Lance, and they haven’t said anything about his death being linked to the story he was writing. Besides, who would kill him because of that?”
Percy looked away when he heard the question. No one knew of his visit to Lances’ home on the day he was murdered. No one knew he had pushed the reporter to the floor when he refused to accept $175,000 in exchange for not running the explosive story detailing Hezekiah’s homosexual affair. No one knew that he had fled the home leaving the reporters’ lifeless body on the floor only to be discovered the next day by his housekeeper.
Cynthia continued, “Look at me Percy. You have to be a man and fight for what is rightfully yours.” Cynthia walked to him and put her soft hand on his cheek. “Darling,” she whispered, “you were born to be Pastor of New Testament Cathedral. We can make that happen. You just have to listen to me.”
Percy bowed his head and tried to look away but the soft touch of her hand caused him to gradually, and unwillingly, succumbed to her breathless commands.
Cynthia was relentless. She raised his head and looked directly into his eyes, “I have it all figured out baby. You have to trust me. Do as I tell you and everything will work out in our favor.”
She drew him closer and placed his head on her soft shoulder. He could feel the warmth of her sweet breath on his ear. She tenderly and expertly kissed his neck and lips. The intoxicating smell of her body replaced the fear and guilt that taunted him with longing.
“I love you Percy,” she whispered. “Make love to me baby. I need to feel you inside me.”
As she pulled him closer she could feel the rigid evidence of his desire. His hands grudgingly tugged at the cord of her robe. He slowly removed it from her bare shoulders and let it drop to the floor in a puddle around her ankles exposing her naked body. Percy caressed every inch of her creamy skin and felt her moistness as they panted in unison and pressed their lips passionately together.
With nimble fingers she unzipped his pants and released his throbbing member. Cynthia raised her leg and rested it on the leather belt above his hip. With one hand she guided him into her and released a gasp when he thrust deep inside her.
“Just do as I say baby,” she repeated over and over as he made love to her in front of the floor to ceiling window of the penthouse apartment. “Just do as I say.”
[Page Break]Mondays were the hardest for Danny St. John. For him the day marked the beginning of another week without Hezekiah. Another week he would not hear his voice whisper, ‘I love you Danny’. Another week he wouldn’t feel his strong arms around his waist or taste the sweetness of his kiss.
Danny had rarely left his apartment in the three weeks since Hezekiah’s murder. The air was stale and musty. All the shades were drawn and the curtains closed tight. At times he found himself stumbling through the house, wearing only baggy shorts, to the refrigerator for orange juice or the cupboard for saltine crackers and canned soup. He had no appetite for anything more substantial.
Parker never let Danny out of his sight. The scruffy gray cat followed his master from room to room. He sat on Danny’s lap on the couch and curled next to him when he lay crying in bed.
The television in his bedroom had been on for three weeks. It was always tuned to either the local news or CNN. Whenever he heard Hezekiah’s name mentioned he turned up the volume. The CNN reporter Gideon Truman offered the most comprehensive coverage of the killing. Although much of the information he reported was inaccurate Danny found it difficult to not listen to the handsome journalists’ account of the life and death of the man he had loved so deeply.
Newspapers were piled in stacks on the floor next to the couch in his small apartment. Each day the articles served to remind him that he would never see Hezekiah again.
The headline on the Monday after the murder blazed, “Prominent Los Angeles Pastor Gunned Down In Front Of Horrified Congregation.”
Wednesdays’ announced: “World Mourns the Death of Pastor Hezekiah T. Cleaveland”.
Hints of scandal surfaced in Fridays’: “Slain Pastor To Be Laid To Rest. Millions Expected To View Televised Service”.
The stories never seemed to end and they all landed with a thud on Danny’s door step each day courtesy of the Los Angeles Chronicle. The telephone on the nightstand next to his bed rang several times a day but he never answered. The most frequent calls came from his friend Kay Braisden. “Danny, it’s Kay again,” her messages would say. “Honey I know how you must be feeling right now. Please pick up the phone.” When there was no response she would continue, “Danny I know I hurt you the last time we spoke. I’m sorry. I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I was just so surprised when you told me you were involved in a relationship with Hezekiah Cleaveland. I didn’t know how to handle it. I was wrong.”
On another day the message was, “You are my best friend Danny. I should have been there for you and for that I apologize. But I want to be there for you now. Please call me. I’m going to keep calling for as long as it takes for you to forgive me. I love you Danny, and I’m praying for you.”
Danny’s eyes filled with tears each time he heard a message from Kay. He wanted to speak with her but the right time had not yet come.