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Authors: Lorraine V. Murray

Death in the Choir

BOOK: Death in the Choir
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D
eath in the Choir

by

 

Lorraine V. Murray

 

Tumblar House Books

 

Arcadia

MMIX

 

Printed in the United States of America

 

ISBN 978-0-9791600-7-3

 

Death
in the Choir. Copyright
 
©
2009 by Lorraine V. Murray.

 

All rights reserved.

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations,
places, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental.

 
 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical reviews or articles. For information, write to
Tumblar
House, PMB 376, 411 E. Huntington Drive, #107,
Arcadia, CA 91006.

 

Visit our Web site at
www.tumblarhouse.com

 

Cover illustration and design by
Jef
Murray

(
www.JefMurray.com
)

 
 
Chapter 1
 

The sound was ungodly – and
it was coming from the soprano section, as usual.
Patricia is
definitely on the
edge tonight
, thought Francesca
Bibbo
.
Sounds like she’s calling the cows home.
The stream of tortured notes continued until the choir director, Randall Ivy, a
tall man in his late forties and impeccably dressed in a pristine white shirt
and beige slacks, slammed his hand down on top of the organ. The angry sound
reverberated throughout St. Rita’s Catholic Church.

St. Rita’s was located in
the heart of Decatur, Georgia, a town of about 16,000 people just a cat’s
whisker away from Atlanta. Despite its proximity to the big city, Decatur
remained a heavily wooded area with somewhat of a small-town atmosphere.
Residents weren’t that surprised when raccoons and possums wandered into their
backyards looking for handouts, and there were occasional sightings of
red-tailed hawks swimming through the sky.

The church, along with a
rectory, convent, and school, was situated on five acres near the town square.
St. Rita’s had a stunning interior with glossy oak pews and stained-glass
windows that glowed like jewels. In the afternoons, the sun radiated through
the glass to paint colorful images on the floor. Unlike many newer Catholic
churches that had banished kneelers and statues, St. Rita’s was more traditional.
 

Parishioners still got down
on their knees to pray and could frame their prayers by gazing on a towering
marble statue of Mary in the front left of the church or St. Joseph on the
right. But, as was fitting with Church doctrine, the marble crucifix occupied
the highest point over the altar. Francesca
Bibbo
, an
uncertain alto, often glanced at the crucifix during choir practice and shaped
a silent prayer, especially when things started going awry, as they were now.

“No, for heaven’s sakes,
no!” Randall Ivy fumed. His well-tanned face was now a dangerous shade of red,
and as he ran his fingers through his blonde hair, Francesca noticed little
furry horns appearing on his scalp.


Someone
in the soprano section is flat
and
loud, a deadly combination.”

Five of the six sopranos
cast uneasy glances at each other, while the sixth one, Patricia Noble, stared
at her glossy fingernails, looking unconcerned. All the other choir members
seemed to know who the offending party was, despite an unwritten law that the
director didn’t use names when correcting the singers, all of whom were
volunteers.

The choir consisted of 20
parishioners ranging in age from 25 to 80. The group sat at the back of St.
Rita’s near the organ on Sunday mornings, a fortunate arrangement in
Francesca’s opinion, since this meant the congregation couldn’t stare at the
singers during Mass.

She was somewhat
self-conscious about singing in the first place, and she dreaded being the
center of attention. Besides, it was just as well that the parishioners
couldn’t see Randall, she reflected, because he often looked like he might
explode from rage when choir members hit the wrong notes. During rehearsals, he
tried to contain himself, usually issuing a general warning to the entire choir
in his efforts to shame the perpetrator.

Patricia, a curvy bleached
blonde of 40, was a bit of a special case, however. As he continued berating
the soprano section for errors, she went on studying her pointy red nails as if
testing them for sharpness. Flawlessly dressed, the five-foot-ten-inch Patricia
was reputed to have taken her ex-husband to the cleaners and now devoted her
life to shopping.

Francesca shifted
uncomfortably in her chair. Thirty-eight and widowed for two years, she
admitted to herself that she had ulterior motives for joining the choir. Her
voice on the very best of days was only average, but she was tired of living
alone in the house that she’d shared with her husband. She was ready to start
dating, but dreaded facing the dreary bar scene. And the choir seemed as likely
a place as any to meet a man.
 

Last month she had attended
her first meeting of the “Feisty Forties,” St. Rita’s singles group for
parishioners, but it had been woefully disappointing, since ten women and only
four men had shown up. One of the men had a terminal case of bad breath, two
seemed to be exceptionally heavy drinkers, and the fourth had prefaced too many
statements with “as my mother always says.”

Still, she didn’t want to be
cruel. She was aware that her standards were impossibly high, because her
husband, Dean, had been both a friend and a sweetheart, a rare combination.
Also, as she found herself telling friends now and again, repeating something
her aunt had said long ago, she herself was no “spring chicken,” so who was she
to be casting the first stone?

Sitting at home alone wasn’t
good for her; that was certain. Father John, the pastor, was always urging
parishioners to get involved in various ministries, running the gamut from
helping at homeless shelters to visiting the sick and homebound, and when he
had described singing in the choir as a ministry to the congregation, she had
decided to try that.

Maybe the choir would work
out. There was the slightly balding, somewhat introverted Gavin Stewart, who
was a widower. He sometimes toted a small taciturn son with him to rehearsals,
and Francesca, who had no children, at times fantasized that she would become a
mother to someone else’s child late in life. She would finally have someone
call her by that beautiful term “Mom.”

Then there was Thomas White,
a short, well-built man whose outstanding feature was turquoise-blue eyes. He
was a real music buff who often shared musical scores with Randall. A bachelor,
Thomas sometimes showed up at church with a girlfriend, but since he never
brought a date to choir parties, Francesca suspected the relationship was
probably quite casual.

The choir director himself
was somewhat of a mystery. Randall Ivy had sandy-blonde hair and an athletic
build with skin that turned the color of pale honey in the sun. His
yellow-green eyes reminded her of a cat. In her estimation, he was very
handsome. He had been the director for about three years, and she knew little
of his past. Rumor had it that Randall was gay, but Francesca wasn’t so sure.

Usually she could detect the
telltale signs immediately, but his sexual identity seemed somewhat murky.
Sometimes, when he smiled at her, his catlike eyes lightly flickering over her
figure in a distinctly heterosexual fashion, she had the definite impression he
was interested.
 
Other times, when he was
flailing his arms directing a piece of choral music, he looked foppish,
although Francesca imagined it would be impossible for even a linebacker to
appear anything but effeminate in similar circumstances.

“Let’s give it another try,”
Randall said. “And remember the enunciation. It’s not
foreverrr
,”
he growled, rolling his
r’s
in a particularly grating
fashion. “It’s
fah-evah
. And it’s not
spirrrit
, it’s
spihdit
. Remember,
in choral music,
r’s
are ugly.”
 


Spihdit
sounds like ‘spit it,’” Rebecca Goodman muttered under her breath to Francesca.
A plump, friendly woman who sat to Francesca’s left and described herself as
“fortyish,” Rebecca was the lead alto and had a strong, beautiful voice.
 

Randall returned to the
organ and began pounding out the opening notes to “If Ye Love Me.” By the end
of the first measure, Patricia’s sour notes had filled the sanctuary faster
than smoke from burning incense. And
r’s
were peppering
the air like gnats at a South Georgia picnic. The blood rose in Randall’s face
once again. He retracted his fingers from the organ as if the keys were on
fire.

“Sopranos, step up to the
organ,” he snarled. “Everyone else, take a break.”
 

Francesca genuflected as she
faced the tabernacle on the altar before heading out the back door into the
vestibule. She often wondered what God Himself must think as He surveyed this
motley crew, trying their hardest to churn out decent music for the
congregation. It was hard to tell if the people in the pews cared one way or
the other. Sometimes, when the choir fell flat on its face, someone would stop
by the organ to congratulate Randall for a stunning performance. Other times,
when the notes flowed as sweetly as maple syrup, no one said a word. As for
God, He remained stubbornly silent on the issue.

The men had gathered in the
vestibule and were discussing the latest football scores. Francesca yearned to
join in, but she kept her distance because she rarely even knew which teams
were playing. Usually, if anyone mentioned basketball, football or baseball to
her, she had a standard reply. “When it comes to sports, I have an advanced
case of attention deficit syndrome.”

Tonight she decided to stick
with the other altos, since it was too much of an effort to pretend she found
touchdowns fascinating.
Besides,
she
thought,
I’m not looking my best.
She
had spent the day answering the phone in St. Rita’s rectory, and she’d arrived
home late with barely enough time to grab a sandwich and feed Tubs, her
10-year-old arthritic cat, before heading to choir practice.

There’d been no time to
scrub off the day’s make-up and reapply a fresh coat, so she felt grubby and
unappealing. To make matters worse, she could feel a blemish doing its best to
blossom on her chin.
Despite my mature
age,
she reflected dismally,
my skin
persists in believing I’m still an adolescent.

“Do you think he’s gay?”

Francesca was shaken from
her self-deprecating thoughts by the question Rebecca Goodman had whispered to
Shirley Evans, the youngest choir member. Shirley, 25, had an upturned nose and
a round face haloed with auburn curls. She also had been blessed with a
curvaceous figure that she showed to best advantage in snug jeans and sweaters.
Francesca was often grateful to God that Shirley was married and the mother of
a fetching two-year-old girl.

Who needs more competition in the dating department?
she thought, edging her way
closer to the two women to join their discussion.

In the background Randall
could be heard pounding the top of the organ and emoting loudly, “No, ladies,
you hold that note for two beats, not one. And I don’t want to hear those
r’s
! Let’s try it again.”

Shirley giggled and a few of
the men looked her way longingly before returning to their discussion of a
particularly memorable touchdown.

“I think he probably is,”
she said.

“What makes you think so?”
Francesca asked.

“Well, just look at the way
he plays the organ. Isn’t it obvious?”

“I don’t know,” Rebecca
chimed in, “sometimes I get the feeling he’s looking at me – and he’s not
always staring into my eyes, if you know what I mean.”

Shirley and Francesca
laughed in unison. Just then, the door to the vestibule opened, and Randall
rushed out. Was it Francesca’s imagination or was he looking directly at her?
And he had the nicest yellow-green eyes.

“OK, everyone, let’s try the
whole piece from the top one more time.”

The men and women filed back
into the church and took their places.

“And if anyone says ‘
spirrrret
,’” Randall warned, seating himself at the organ,
“I will personally excommunicate them.”

“I didn’t know choir
directors had that power,” commented Andy Dull, an older man in the bass
section.

“The pope has given me a
dispensation.”

This time the singing went well.
Evidently Randall had said something to silence the shrill flat notes that were
Patricia’s calling card, and all the other sopranos were singing at top lung
power in an apparent attempt to drown out any possible errors on her part.

“OK, it’s a wrap,” Randall
said finally. “Thank you all for coming tonight. See you on Sunday.”

Francesca picked up her
music and her purse and was about to leave the church when she heard Randall
call her name.

“Mrs.
Bibbo
,
will you stay after for a moment or two?”

Be still my beating heart,
she thought, as Shirley and Rebecca cast her amused
looks.
  
“Be sure to give us a full
report,” Rebecca whispered, gathering up her music. “See you tomorrow
night.”
 

One by one, the choir
members drifted out into the brisk November night. Now it was just Francesca
and Randall. As he gathered up his sheet music from the organ bench and headed
toward her, she mentally began reciting a familiar litany of
self-recriminations.

Why didn’t I take the time to apply a fresh coat of war paint?
Why did I wear this baggy sweatshirt? And why did I gain two pounds last week
when I was trying to lose five?

Francesca, who was only five
foot three, had to diet furiously to keep the extra pounds at bay. As a chubby
child she’d been taunted by her classmates and had developed a mental picture
of herself as obese. She knew it wasn’t healthy to compare herself to the
grinning skeletal figures gracing the front of women’s magazines, but she often
did it anyway.
  

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