Anger and murder

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

All religions regard human life as sacred. All religions regard murder as a sin against the Source of life. Granted: exceptions can be found to this command. Killing in self-defense is not called murder. Soldiers killing enemy soldiers in wartime, and executioners killing convicted criminals who have been sentenced to death, is not murder. (Religious people, including Christians, sometimes debate these examples, and differing opinions are possible.) Some people distinguish between the value of a human life and the value of an animal life; others make no distinction. Some consider it sinful to kill an animal for any reason, while most people accept killing animals for food and for clothing—and many feel that hunting or fishing for sport is not sinful.

Jesus does not address these matters in this sermon. He speaks of the commandment not to murder, and he carries it a different direction. Any harm we cause to another person—even the emotional harm of an insult—is a sin, violating the commandment not to murder, according to Jesus. He even seems to equate anger with murder—but we must be careful to understand Jesus correctly. Jesus himself expressed anger against people who were doing wrong. At times he used the energy of his anger to overturn the wrong. Anger in itself is not sinful. Anger is a temptation to sin. Anger offers opportunities to sin. Anger becomes sinful when it results in other sins. Anger is sinful also when we become angry for selfish reasons—because something has hurt us or has been inconvenient to us. On the other hand, when anger comes from seeing sin, from seeing that God’s will is not being done, from seeing others suffer due to sin, that anger is not necessarily sinful.

Jesus offers two examples of sinful anger. First he uses the general term “insults”; then he quotes a specific insult. Jesus says that people who are angry enough to insult one another deserve punishment; God will regard them as murderers, both at the time of the insult and at the Last Judgment.

This teaching is a frightening teaching. Only a few people of the world are guilty of murder under its narrow definition. All people have been guilty of selfish anger and even guilty of insulting the people who made us angry. We can hardly live a week among sinful people without sinning this way several times. We might even accuse Jesus of going too far. The best of us is not good enough to keep our tempers at all times. The best of us is in danger of the fires of hell.

Jesus wants us to understand that point. He is quite serious about this teaching, about this interpretation of the commandment not to murder. Even the smallest harm we cause to another person is a sin against God. Despite our good intentions and our best efforts, we cannot escape our guilt. For this reason, we need a better righteousness, the perfection of Jesus, credited to our account. Only through his blessing, his gift, can we escape the judgment we deserve. J.

Remembering John Lennon

John Lennon was the first Beatle.

He was leading a skiffle band when he was introduced to Paul McCartney. Skiffle is English folk music—Beatle fans have heard skiffle-sounding songs such as “Baby’s in Black” on Beatles for Sale and “Maggie Mae” on Let It Be. John and Paul became musical partners, and George Harrison soon joined them. Other musicians came and went, including Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the Beatles were preparing to make their first hit record. The rest, as they say, is history.

Older baby boomers know that “the day the music died” is February 1, 1959—the day Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. For late boomers like me, the day the music died is December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was shot and killed in New York City. I was a college student at the time. I was sitting in a friend’s dormitory room that night when Dan Rubens noticed the open door and called into the room that Lennon had been shot. Dan didn’t know any of us in the room, but he had just heard the news and wanted to share it with someone.

Stereotypes about the Beatles include the thought that Lennon was more adept with lyrics and McCartney was more adept with melodies. This overlooks the fact that Lennon penned some admirable melodies, from “If I Fell” to “Across the Universe,” not to mention his post-Beatles hit “Imagine.” But Lennon definitely had a knack for words, which he demonstrated especially in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I am the Walrus.” The music of the Beatles has remained popular for decades and has reached several generations. In many ways, it defines the popular culture of the 1960s.

John Lennon was the first of the Beatles to marry and the first to father a child. He was also the first to divorce and remarry. Lennon’s own childhood was difficult—his father abandoned the family, and his mother died while Lennon was young. (Paul’s mother also died while Paul was young.) He was raised by an aunt. Although Lennon sang about love, he was distant and cold toward his own family members, as he admitted himself in interviews toward the end of his life. Like most musicians of the time, the Beatles experimented with drugs—first pills to keep them awake and energized for their hours on stage, then later marijuana and LSD. Lennon even had to break a heroin habit in the 1970s.

In 1966, John Lennon commented to a reporter that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. When this remark was printed, it caused considerable controversy. Lennon half-apologized, explaining that he was only stating a fact about the Beatles’ popularity in England and was not claiming to be better than Christ or to deserve to be more popular. Lennon’s own views about Christianity (and religion in general) were well-known even before he wrote and recorded “Imagine,” in which he pictures a world of peaceful cooperation without politics and religion to divide people from one another.

In 1980 Lennon returned to the recording studio after several years of retirement. His single “(Just Like) Starting Over” was rising in the charts when Lennon was killed, eventually reaching the number one spot. Lennon’s last album, Double Fantasy, also made it to number one after Lennon’s death, and it won a Grammy award as Album of the Year. It is difficult to imagine how John Lennon’s career would have continued had he not been killed. Two of his songs were included in the Beatles Anthology of the mid 1990s; Lennon was accompanied by added tracks of Paul, George, and Ringo, making the songs the closest possible approach to a reunion of the Beatles.

The walrus is sadly missed. J.

Protecting lives

God says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

Salvageable adds: This commandment prompts discussions in many controversial areas: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and just and unjust wars, to name a few. Christians should seek God’s will in these extreme cases, but too often Christians become absorbed with these cases and overlook the everyday ways in which we are tempted to sin against this commandment.

This is the first of four brief commandments which protect, in order, lives, marriages, property, and reputations. (They are so brief that three of them are tied for shortest verse in the Bible, if we count letters in the original languages rather than in English translations.) Luther indicates that we not only are forbidden to kill our neighbors, but we are not to hurt or harm them in any way. Jesus goes even further, indicating that rage and insults against a neighbor also trespass this commandment.

Obedience to this commandment involves attitudes as well as actions. All human life is to be respected and even treasured. We should not even want to harm a neighbor. This includes deliberate acts of violence, and also carelessness. When we carelessly risk harming a person’s life or health, we break this commandment. That applies to our own lives as well. We are to be good stewards of our bodies—neither obsessing over our health and fitness to the point of idolatry, nor engaging in unhealthy habits that can shorten our lives or reduce our ability to serve God by helping our neighbors.

Even neglect is sinful. Not only are we to avoid hurting and harming others, but we are to help and support others. Both Old and New Testaments call God’s people to care for widows and orphans and all that are poor and vulnerable. Deuteronomy 15:4-5 says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” But Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will never cease to be poor in the land.” God knew that his people would sin, failing to honor and protect the lives of their neighbors, allowing selfishness and greed and cold-heartedness to keep them from caring about the lives of their neighbors. Those sins continue today. Enough food is produced in the world each year to feed every person alive, preventing starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition. The food is not distributed evenly, though, so that those who have more than enough can share with those in need. Politics, waste, and greed all play a part in the inequities of the world. We could be doing better.

Special circumstances call for a lifting of this commandment. Soldiers on a battlefield behave in ways that would be inappropriate anywhere else. Medical and religious professionals help families make difficult decisions about care given to the terminally ill. Many Christians believe that it shows respect for human life to deprive a murderer of his or her life. Even Jesus laid down his life as a sacrifice, dying so his people can live, purchasing forgiveness for all of our sins, including sins against the lives of our neighbors. J.

An ancient Persian puzzle

From ancient Persia comes a historic mystery that is as compelling as questions about who planned Watergate or who shot President Kennedy. This Persian account contains conspiracies, lies, murder, and—best of all—more than one plausible interpretation of the facts. Historians still debate one another about what really happened.

Persia is located in the mountains and plains of modern Iran. It was a small kingdom for centuries before Cyrus made Persia great. He expanded in various directions, eventually capturing the wealthy kingdom of Lydia in Anatolia, where Turkey exists today. With new wealth to hire and equip soldiers, Cyrus then turned south, sacking the city Babylon (which is also a fascinating story) and claiming the Babylonian Empire for the Persian government. He had to continue to fight to maintain control of the various nations conquered by the Babylonians. Cyrus died on the battlefield July 530 B.C. at the approximate age of seventy.

Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, inherited the empire. He also inherited the struggle to keep all the pieces together as one empire. The biggest prize was Egypt, that ancient civilization in the northeast corner of Africa that had been conquered by the Babylonians. After Babylon fell, Egypt declared its independence. Cambyses took his Persian armies to Egypt to show the Egyptians that they still belonged to the Persian Empire.

After much fighting, the Persians were successful. While they were still mopping up the campaign, though, word came from Persia that Bardiya—the younger brother of Cambyses—had seized power. Reportedly, when Cambyses heard this news, he exclaimed, “That’s impossible! I had Bardiya killed before I left home to keep this kind of thing from happening!” Cambyses began to return to Persia with his army, minus those troops left in Egypt to keep law and order in Persian hands. But Cambyses did not return home alive. Injured in the leg by his own sword, he developed gangrene and died of the infection.

One of the generals who had fought with Cambyses in Egypt was a cousin to the royal family, a man named Darius. When he had returned to the Persian homeland, Darius announced that Bardiya was fake. Darius even named names. He declared that the phony Bardiya was actually a mage named Gaumata, and Darius also named the six magi who had conspired with Gaumata to seize the government. (Magi were scholarly experts in all important matters: biology, chemistry, astronomy and astrology, history, religion, languages, and more. They were advisors to royalty. The Magi were like a combination of a university faculty of professors and the American President’s Cabinet.) With the support of the army, Darius revolted against the new emperor. In his inscriptions Darius merely says that he slew Gaumata; later historians told an exciting tale of hand-to-hand combat between Gaumata and Gobyras, a mage who was loyal to Darius and was, in fact one of his friends. Darius had to choose whether to interfere, risking the life of his friend, or to let them fight. With a lucky stroke of his sword, Darius managed to kill Gaumata without harming Gobyras.

Both sons of Cyrus were dead, and Darius had the support of the Persian army. Since he was of royal blood, he was crowned emperor of Persia. No one at the time questioned his identification of the supposed Bardiya as the mage Gaumata. At the same time, apparently no one but Darius had heard the claim of Cambyses that he had killed his brother.

Was Darius a hero who rescued the empire from conspiracy? Or was he a liar who struck down the true son of Cyrus to claim the throne? During his lifetime, no one challenged his claims. No one would have dared. Today historians are not so sure. For some, the official version of the story as told by Darius (and carved into rock in Persia) is as believable as any other possibility. To others, the official version is highly suspicious. No one expects to find a signed confession from Darius countering his original version of the story. More than likely, we will never know the truth. J.

Christ in Genesis: Raising Cain, Raising Abel

Because of their sin, Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden and were not allowed to return. Yet they left with a promise that they would be rescued by a descendant of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head and would reconcile them to God. Adam and Eve’s children faced the same burden of sin that their parents had brought into the world, but they also inherited the same promise of forgiveness and reconciliation.

When Eve gave birth to her firstborn, a son, she uttered a sentence which consists, in Hebrew, of three words: “I-have-gotten, a-man, the-LORD.” Most translations add helping words to her sentence, rendering it as, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Even the Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek more than twenty-two centuries ago, adds the proposition “apo” in front of the Name of the Lord. A few Bible scholars believe that adding words to this sentence is a mistake. For example, Martin Luther taught that Eve had said, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.” Luther believed that Eve understood the promise of her descendant, who would crush the devil’s head, would be God taking on human form, as Jesus took on human form from his mother, Mary. If indeed Eve thought that her firstborn son was the promised Savior, what a dreadful disappointment occurred when Cain instead became history’s first murderer.

When they had grown to manhood, Cain and his brother Abel both offered sacrifices to the Lord. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel but rejected the sacrifice of Cain. Much needless speculation has tried to discover the difference between the two sacrifices. The answer is found in Hebrews 11:4. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice “by faith.” Cain evidently did not offer his sacrifice by faith. No sacrifice to God has any value if it is not offered by faith.

All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were pictures of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, having his heal bruised as he crushed the head of the serpent. No sacrifice, other than Christ, ever purchased mercy and forgiveness from God. No human act, other than the work of Christ, can purchase God’s forgiveness. God hates the times when people go through the motions of worship or sacrifice apart from faith in him. (See Isaiah 1:14, Amos 5:21-23, and Psalm 50:7-11.) He wants these things to be done by faith. When people do these things without thinking about what they mean, God is displeased. When people do these things thinking that they are earning something from God, putting him in debt to them, God is angered.

The animals that died so Adam and Eve could be clothed were pictures of Jesus. Likewise, the firstborn animal offered by Abel—and the countless animals offered to God by his people over the centuries—were pictures of Jesus. It appears that Cain forgot this important truth. He offered a sacrifice to God, but not by faith. Therefore God did not accept the sacrifice Cain offered. The fact that Cain was angry to have his sacrifice refused shows that he expected to gain something from God by that sacrifice.

Jesus warned Cain of the dangerous temptation lurking in his anger. Cain ignored the warning. Instead, he acted in violence, murdering his brother. He thought that his crime would be secret, but no one keeps secrets from God. As God had given Adam and Eve the opportunity to confess their sin, so Jesus also asked Cain about Abel.

Cain lied to God. He said that he did not know where Abel was. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked. The answer to that question is “yes.” We are all commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and a brother is a very near neighbor. We are all expected to help one another, to bear each other’s burdens. Obeying God’s commandment not to murder is not as simple as never violently taking another’s life. We are not to hurt or harm our neighbors, but we are to help them and care for them. Neglecting a neighbor in his or her need is sinful, just as violently striking him or her is sinful.

Jesus challenged Cain’s lie. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground,” Jesus said. Other Bible verses also describe the blood of victims as crying for justice. Because God loves each of us, God is angry when any of us are hurt by a fellow human being. All the blood of all victims in history cries for justice, and God hears those cries. On the Day of the Lord, the justice of God will be revealed. Those who have harmed their neighbors will finally receive what they deserve.

Cain knew what he deserved. He had taken away his brother’s life; now he deserved to be killed. His parents, his other brothers and sisters, his nephews and nieces all had the right to take vengeance on the killer of Abel. Yet God did not give Cain what Cain deserved. Instead, Cain was marked by God so that no one would kill him, even though he deserved to be killed.

The firstborn animal offered by Abel was a picture of Jesus. Abel himself became a picture of Jesus, innocent before God and yet killed by his brother. Jesus was rejected by his own people and sent to his death. Yet the blood of Jesus does not cry for vengeance. Instead, in his death, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them.” His blood is more powerful than the blood of Abel. Our sins caused the suffering and death of Jesus, but now he washes us in his blood to redeem us as God’s people. Because of the death of Jesus, we will not receive what we deserve on the Day of the Lord. Instead, we will receive what Jesus deserves—eternal life in God’s perfect new creation.

Like Cain, we have been marked by God so we will not receive what we deserve. He has marked us with the blood of Christ; he has marked us with his own Holy Spirit. On the Last Day, Jesus will see that mark on us and claim us as his people. He has already paid to purchase us. Now and forever we belong to him.

First Friday fiction: Alibi or Lie?

For the next few months, I’ll be posting original, unpublished short stories on the first Friday of the month. Reproduction of any of these stories, or any part thereof, without permission of the author is prohibited.

Officer Kowalski sighed. With the back of his left hand, he rubbed his forehead, just above his eyebrows, “Bring him back to the desk,” he said. Kowalski would have preferred to have said, “Show him to my office,” but he had no office. All he had was a desk, surrounded by other desks, in the middle of a busy police station.

Kowalski would get an office with his next promotion. It would have glass walls rising from the floor to stop four feet below the ceiling, but at least it would be an office. Kowalski deserved that promotion. Everyone in the force knew it. His superiors had told him so several times. Barring a tragedy that he wouldn’t wish upon anyone in the force, Kowalski would have to wait at least three years for a position above him to become available. The City of Memphis had its share of turnover in the police ranks, but mostly turnover happened at the lower levels. Officers with Kowalski’s amount of skill and experience tend to stay at their jobs for as long as they can. No private job will offer them the same benefits, both material and emotional, that they find in big-city police work.

Casey led the witness to Kowalski’s desk. Pretending to study paperwork, Kowalski had a few seconds to measure the man. He was of average height, very well dressed, with pitch-black stylish hair. For a second Kowalski thought that the man was wearing make-up. Then he realized that the witness merely had sharply-defined features, including dark deep-set eyes and lips that, at first glance, seemed to have been painted. Kowalski caught the scent of cologne. He noticed the expensive watch on the left wrist, and he also observed that neither hand sported any rings.

Kowalski stood and shook the man’s hand. “Mr. Haven?” he asked. The man nodded. “May I call you Tom?” Another nod. “Please have a seat, Tom,” Kowalski said. Haven’s hands shook slightly. Kowalski knew that Haven was nervous, but that fact did not mean anything. Most citizens are unnerved by their first visit to a police station. He had come in on his own, though, not as a suspect. He said he had important evidence about a murder that had happened just a few hours earlier.

Kowalski was the investigator covering the case. He hoped that Haven’s statement was going to make the case easier to solve, but he doubted that would happen. In all his years of investigating crimes, Kowalski had secretly formed a rule based on Murphy’s Law—that bit of folklore which says that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Kowalski’s Corollary says that every new piece of evidence makes an investigation harder to solve.

Still, Haven was a witness and not a suspect—not yet, anyhow. Kowalski smiled, hoping to put Haven at ease, and then he gently said, “What did you want to tell me, Tom?”

“I’m here about the murder of Brad Greene,” Haven said. “You’re the one who’s looking into that, aren’t you?” This time Kowalski nodded. “Well, Jess phoned me at work and said that you’re keeping her at the station as a suspect in the murder. I’m here to tell you that she couldn’t have done it. She was with me all of last night.”

Involuntarily, Kowalski raised his eyebrows in surprise. Brad Greene had died some time between midnight and six a.m. The coroner was likely to give a more precise time of death after further study. Greene had been murdered in his own home, on Poplar Street—not in the rough part of town, but further south, where things generally were quiet. Naturally, Brad’s wife was the first person the police had wanted to question. Two officers had gone to her office downtown and had driven her to the station. Kowalski had already questioned her that morning. She acted stunned by the news of her husband’s death. She had insisted that she had not been home at all last night, but then she had held back from saying where she had spent the night.

Her reluctance to answer that one important question was the principal reason Kowalski had decided to keep her detained for further questioning. He had not yet charged her with the murder of her husband, but the paperwork was already started on his desktop computer. Narrowing his eyes, Kowalski peered across the desk at Haven and asked, “What time did Ms. Greene phoned you at work?”

Haven looked at his watch. “I guess it was about twenty minutes ago,” he said. Kowalski grunted. Jessica Greene had indeed used the phone twenty minutes earlier, as was her right. He had assumed that she was calling an attorney, or perhaps letting her parents know where she was and asking them to find an attorney for her. Tom Haven was dressed like a lawyer, but Kowalski knew that no lawyer would walk into a police station and announce, “The suspect was with me at the time of the crime.” At least not when the suspect was a pretty young woman, the victim was her husband, and the crime had happened at night.

As Haven fidgeted nervously, Kowalski decided to press his advantage. “What were the two of you doing all night long?” he asked, a blank look held on his face. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he added, insinuating that Haven might have secrets he would rather keep hidden.

“We were talking,” he replied. “Actually, she did most of the talking. And a lot of crying too. I sat there and listened. She was telling me how Brad had locked her out of the house. And she was talking about the years they were married and the kind of life they had together. Eventually she wound down and started to fall asleep. I got her a pillow and a blanket and let her sleep on the couch. And I fell asleep in a chair, so I would be there if she needed anything during the night.”

“So you two…slept together,” Kowalski said, his fingers poised over the computer keyboard.”

“No, not at all,” Haven vehemently objected. “We were asleep in the same room, but there was nothing sexual about it. Don’t put down that we slept together, because that isn’t true.” Kowalski typed nothing, and Haven continued, “In the morning we woke up, Jess got a change of clothes from her car and took a shower, and we ate breakfast together. We drove our separate cars to work but arrived at the same time. She could not have been at her home any time since eight o’clock last night.”

Kowalski had never planned, of course, to record that Haven and Ms. Greene slept together. He just wanted to gauge Haven’s reaction to the expression. Already he could see that Haven was deeply fond of Ms. Greene. He wondered if Haven was fond enough to lie on her behalf. “Can you think of any witnesses who can back up what you say, that she spent the entire night at your house last night?” he asked.

“I don’t know. The neighbors might have seen her car in the driveway. We have a good crime watch in our neighborhood, so that’s something that might have been noticed.”

Kowalski mused about a good crime watch. The Greenes’ house was in a part of the city protected by a good crime watch. Their neighbors called the police that morning. They reported that the back door of the house was wide open and that the place was unusually quiet. The first officers to respond walked carefully into the house through the open door, their guns drawn. Brad Greene’s body lay in the kitchen, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. He had been attacked by someone wielding a large knife from his own kitchen. Clearly there had been a protracted struggle. Apparently no neighbors had heard the sounds of the overnight attack. After calling for back-up, including someone from the coroner’s office to take charge of the body after the search was completed, the officers searched the rest of the house. No other person was present. So far as they could tell, nothing had been stolen: expensive electronics, jewelry, even money were sitting out in plain sight.

While other officers continued to examine the evidence in the kitchen, Kowalski spoke with the neighbors that were still at home. He had always considered it a quiet neighborhood, older houses on small lots, not far from the University of Memphis. He learned that the Greenes had moved into the house about six months ago and had been busy nights and weekends fixing up the place. They both dressed nicely, and they seemed to have plenty of money to spend, but they had made no effort to get to know anyone from the neighborhood. Kowalski could find no one who had heard any strange sounds during the night. He could find no one who knew whether or not Brad Greene had any enemies or was involved in any kind of activity that might lead to a sudden violent attack.

“You say that she talked with you about her marriage. Was this the first time she ever confided such details to you?”

“Well, I guess it was the second time, but the first time was earlier yesterday. When I got to work yesterday morning, she was on the phone and she was crying. I tried not to pay attention, since her personal life is none of my business. No one else was at the office yet, but it wouldn’t be long before the place filled up, and then our clients would start arriving. When she hung up the phone and she was still crying, I walked over to her desk and asked if I could do anything to help. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I guess I do need to talk to somebody.’

“Two of our coworkers got off the elevator just then, so Jess and I went into one of the meeting rooms and shut the door. That’s when she told me that she had gone home for lunch on Friday and caught Brad in their house with another woman. The three of them had a long argument—she called it a shouting match—until Jess left. She got in her car and drove to her parents’ house in Brownsville. She spent the weekend there. When she got home Sunday night, her clothes were on the porch. Loud music was playing inside the house. When she tried to get in, she found that the locks had been changed. She tried banging on the door. She tried calling him on her cell phone. She got no answer. Eventually, she went to a motel and spent the night there. Then she came to work in the morning, but she was still trying to get hold of Brad from work.”

Haven’s account matched in every detail what Ms. Greene had already said to Kowalski. She might have been telling the truth. She might have said all those things to Haven the day before. On the other hand, the two of them might have invented that story together any time in the past. If they were really clever, they could have arranged for every detail to check out as true—new locks in the doors of the house, and her car left in his driveway all night. Kowalski needed more information, and he needed to measure what kind of ties Haven might have to the accused.

“Before last night, had she ever visited your house before?”

“Once or twice before. I hosted a Christmas party for the whole office last year, and the summer before that, I had a cook-out. No, wait… She and Brad couldn’t make it to the cook-out. But she was there for the Christmas party.”

“Tell me, Tom: how long have you known Mrs. Greene?” Kowalski put a slight emphasis on the “Mrs.” just to see if Haven reacted, but he did not seem to have noticed the title.

“She joined the firm about two years ago, and we met on her first day on the job. So, about two years.”

“And what kind of work do the two of you do?”

“We’re investment counselors. We help people take care of their money.”

“And you must charge them a good amount for your advice,” Kowalski added, eying Haven’s nice clothing and remembering the outfit Ms. Greene was wearing. Kowalski wondered briefly what all the rich investment counselors had thought about one of their peers leaving the office escorted by two uniformed cops. Of course the officers had not told her that her husband was dead, not in front of her co-workers. That news had been given at the station. Glancing again at Haven’s nice suit, Kowalski pictured the downtown office, high in a glass and steel building, filled with counselors and clients all nicely dressed like Haven and like Ms. Greene.

“They seem to think that we’re worth it. No one takes advice about money from people who dress as if they don’t have much money.”

“Probably true. And once she started at the firm, and you got to know her, you got to like her pretty well?”

“We all got to like her. She’s a very likeable person. And she’s very professional. She does her job well, and she gets along well with people. Every one of the guys in the office likes visiting with her. If we can get her to smile, or to laugh—which isn’t hard to do, most days—it’s like a ray of sunshine in the office.”

“And she’s quite beautiful.” Kowalski was not being sarcastic; though she was a bit short and slender to suit his tastes, he had to admit that Jessica Greene was lovely. He had hesitated in his report, unsure which drop-box to select for her hair color: blonde or red. The computer didn’t allow him to choose a color in-between the two choices. Her eyes he had recorded as gray. He could well believe that on a better day they might sparkle charmingly.

“She is beautiful,” Haven agreed, “but what makes her even more attractive is that she doesn’t act like she knows that she’s beautiful. She’s a real person. There’s nothing phony about her. She’s genuinely kind to people. She doesn’t have to fake interest in anyone, because she really is interested.”

“How long have you been in love with her?”

Haven didn’t flinch at the challenge. “I don’t know. Maybe six months. Maybe a year. It all happened kind of gradually. I wasn’t really thinking about it when it happened.”

“Are you married, Tom?”



“No, never married.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Are you even interested in ladies—apart from Mrs. Greene, of course? Or do your tastes run to men instead?” Haven shook his head, so Kowalski continued, “Little boys? Little girls? Farmyard animals?”

“No, none of that.” Kowalski had not managed to make Haven lose his temper, a fact which told Kowalski a great deal of what he wanted to know.

“Listen, I know nothing of this has anything to do with the murder last night, and you don’t have to answer any more of my questions. But if I’m going to take your word that Ms. Greene was with you all night long, and if that information is going to be given to a judge and a jury, the prosecutor is going to ask these kinds of questions too. In all your life, before you met Ms. Greene, haven’t you ever been in love?”

“I was in love. Once. It didn’t turn out well, and I’ve tried to stay away from it ever since.”

“I’d like you to tell me about it.”

Haven looked down at the floor for a few seconds. “Well, OK,” he said. His voice was even, almost monotone, as he shared his intimate account with Office Kowalski. “Jane and I knew each other as kids. We lived in a small town—Victoria, Mississippi. We went to the same schools for twelve years. Our mothers were friends, so we played together outside of school. We even went to the same church, so we saw each other pretty much every day. In eighth grade we started going steady, and in high school we were voted the ‘cutest couple.’

“Then she got a scholarship to Agnes Scott College, and I went to Mississippi State. We promised to be faithful, and we wrote a few letters back and forth, but mostly we waited for Christmas and for summers. The first couple of years were OK, but whenever I hinted that I intended to ask her to be my wife, she said she didn’t want to hear anything about it. The first big fight we had was the night before Christmas, our junior year. She told me that she was going to spend the summer in Georgia and not come home to Victoria. I begged her not to stay away, and I shouted at her and threatened her, and we ended up breaking up that Christmas.

“After that, I dated a couple other girls I knew at Mississippi State, but it wasn’t the same. It was almost like I was being with them only to get revenge on Jane. Mostly I hung out with the guys and concentrated on my studies.

“Jane was home again for Christmas, and we spent time together. It was almost like the last year hadn’t happened. The night before she went back to Georgia, I told her again that I wanted to marry her. She thought a little bit, and smiled, and said I would have to wait just a little longer. ‘Melanie is getting married next year,’ she said. Melanie is Jane’s younger sister. ‘Let’s wait until we’ve both graduated and wait until the wedding in June, and after that we can talk about us.’

“Well, I lived the winter and spring full of hope. Graduation happened—Jane and I graduated the same day, so we couldn’t be together—and then I made plans to drive to Alabama for Melanie’s wedding. Jane’s family lived in Alabama for a long time, for generations, so all the family weddings had to be at the same country church.

“I got up on a Saturday morning and drove for three hours into Alabama, and I found the church. It was a few minutes before noon. A lot of people were standing outside in the shade, including an elderly couple. I had only met them once before, but I had seen their pictures in Jane’s house plenty of times. I got out of the car and, more to make conversation than anything else, I walked over and asked them, “Is this where the Butler wedding is happening?”

“The old lady smiled and said, ‘Oh, yes, our oldest granddaughter, Jane Butler, is getting married this noon.’

“’You mean Melanie Butler, don’t you?’ I asked her, still smiling, sure that she was mistaken.

“She looked at her husband, a little bit confused, and I was still convinced that she had just mixed up the names of her granddaughters. But he didn’t look at all confused. ‘No, it’s Jane who’s getting married today,’ he said. ‘Melanie’s wedding isn’t until the fall.’

“Well, I didn’t know what to do. I realized that Jane hadn’t promised me anything. She only said that we’d talk after the wedding. I got back in my car and drove back to Victoria, Mississippi, and in the fall I went back to school and started working on my MBA. When I had that, I looked for a job, and I found one in Memphis. I’ve been working there five years, and for all that time, I didn’t worry myself about Jane or about any other woman.

Haven was still looking down at the floor. He didn’t see that Casey had come up behind him and was respectfully waiting to speak to Kowalski. “Then, two years ago, Jess joined the firm,” Haven continued. “Every day I noticed her—her walk, her smile, her laugh. I dreamed about her at night. But I couldn’t do anything, because she was already married.” Both his hands balled into fists as he repeated the last four words, pausing between them. “She was… already… married.”

Casey didn’t look as if he could wait much longer. Kowalski knew that Casey wouldn’t interrupt if he didn’t have something terribly important to say. “Excuse me a minute, Tom,” he said. He and Casey walked a few steps away from the desk. Haven did not look up at them. “What is it?” Kowalski asked.

“You can stop questioning him,” Casey said, gesturing at Haven. “We have got a confession.”

“Jessica Greene confessed to the murder?” Kowalski asked.

“No,” Casey answered. “It was a different woman. She just came in a few minutes ago, with her mother. She says that she was Greene’s girlfriend, that they had a big fight about midnight, and that it got out of hand. She says that he attacked her first. She has cuts and bruises that back up what she’s saying. Both women are pretty emotional.”

“I’ll talk with them in a minute,” Kowalski said. “Before I do, I need to finish up here.” He returned to his desk and sat down. “Well, Tom,” he said, “it looks as though I made you tell me more than I have any right to know. It appears that Ms. Greene is not an active suspect, and we’ll be able to let her go. She will have to stay in touch with us, of course, and probably testify at the trial. But in just a few minutes, we’ll be releasing her.

“Now, Tom, I usually don’t give advice,” he continued. “I’m not any good at it, and it’s not my job. For you, though, I’m going to make an exception. That young woman has been through hell several times over the last five days. She needs someone to look after her, someone who cares deeply about her, someone who is going to support her emotionally.” Haven looked at Officer Kowalski. His face was still expressionless, his eyes almost glazed. “Listen,” Kowalski said. “Don’t try to take things too fast. It’ll be a long time before she thinks of you as anything more than a friend. But don’t be too distant either. Be the friend that she needs. Be there for her now, and I wager that the two of you will be together for a good long time. Probably the rest of your lives.”

Tom Haven stood. He reached out to shake Officer Kowalski’s hand. Kowalski stood and accepted the gesture. They looked into each other’s eyes, their hands firmly gripped. Though he didn’t like to do it, Kowalski let go first. “You wait outside,” he said gruffly. “I’ll have the papers signed and send her out the door just as quick as I can.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Tom whispered.

“You take care of that girl,” Kowalski replied. “That’s all the thanks I need.”