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The First Rector
Here'ss what the coroner told me.
“It's true, Martha. He died of a massive heart attack. My assistant was here during the autopsy. The little twit must've run out and told everybody in town.”
Word spreads fast in Solo, Mississippi.
Our rector, Pastor David Baddour, was found slumped over his plate at Charlie's Place in Greenlee, thirty miles north.
Mighty young to die of heart failure.
* * *
"Yeah, he'd been in here before," Charlie Parker told the police. "Always sat right there at the counter. The man loved my barbeque ribs. Didn't know he was some sort of priest, though. Never wore one of those white collars… you know?"
None of the locals knew him, or had any idea what he was doing in Greenlee.
I had an idea why he was in Greenlee, and I knew him well.
Goodness, the man was only thirty-two, healthy as a mule—one reason why his death didn't sit right with me. I had my own reasons to believe he was murdered, and my suspicions of who did it. Just not how it was done.
In my newspaper office the next morning, I was ready to write Pastor Baddour's obituary when Oneeda Mae Harpole strolled in. She was my friend and Solo's busiest gossip.
She plopped down in my creaky guest chair and proceeded to stare at me—her usual way of letting me know she wanted to talk. I paused to learn what gossip or opinion she'd brought.
She leaned so close I could smell her Juicy Fruit gum. "Martha, I hope you're not writing some puff-pastry story about the preacher. You should tell the truth. Father Baddour was seeing a married woman."
"What? We don’t have any facts, Oneeda. Only rumors."
"Remember? Betty told us in Bible study. She saw him go into that Alamo Motel with some woman," Oneeda reminded me.
"And you trust everything Betty says? People see what they want to see. Besides, I'm not writing some story about Father Baddour's death. It's his obituary."
Oneeda brushed make-believe lint from her skirt and stood to leave. "Well, I believe he was seeing some woman."
I watched Oneeda walk out, knowing she was right. Betty Crain had told me privately, after one of our Bible studies, she happened to be in Greenlee one Saturday and saw Pastor Baddour drive into the Greenlee Alamo Motel with a woman—a woman who looked like Mary Grater, one of our Bible study regulars married to the wealthy Capp Grater.
"It was Mary, I’m telling you, Martha, it was her," Betty had told me.
Me? I prayed it wasn't Mary. And I couldn't tell Oneeda any of this. The phone line would be jammed for days.
Returning to his obituary, I hit a snag. What title should I give the man? Preacher, pastor, rector, priest, father?
As old-school Southern Episcopalians, we called him "Father" when talking with him. But when talking about him, we used "pastor," or "preacher."
I decided to go with "Rector David Baddour." More appropriate for an obituary.
Close to ten o'clock, not yet finished, I locked the Gazette's doors and walked home to change into something black for the funeral.
I was on the roadside when a car sped past, leaving a whirlwind of dust and cotton lint hanging thick in the air, reminding it was harvest season. It made me think of life in Solo. Slow. Plodding.
Not a care in the world. And nobody cared about us.
We did have one claim to fame. Solo was the closest town to notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary, ten miles south. For our entire lives Parchman remained a mystery. We'd all heard unsettling stories about the hardened criminals there. And their publicized escapes.
Growing up in Solo, I remember the older boys taunting, "Those bad men are gonna break out and come straight for you, Martha!"
Believe me, a young girl can have nightmares from such teasing.