Five lay dead. It was a miracle the assassination attempt hadn’t been worse. Divine Fury.

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A VG Serial: Divine Fury

Chapter 74

Sunday, June 20, 2004

THE MORNING SERVICE at Trinity Cathedral had a new significance in the aftermath of the bombing and assassination attempt the day earlier.  The final toll was five dead, including Tina Valdez, three others watching the parade and Walberg himself.  Another six were badly injured.  It was a minor miracle it hadn’t been worse.

The tragedy not only forced the cancellation of the Pride Parade, but also cast a pall over the remainder of the week’s events.  A celebration had become a time for mourning.

Walberg’s death eliminated the need for a full-fledged criminal investigation and the legal niceties involved in a prosecution.  Even the fact that no one recovered his handgun – it mysteriously disappeared in the commotion – caused only mild consternation.  Instead, the media’s focus turned immediately to Bliss, Montana as it tried to piece together the events and forces that had led Walberg to San Francisco armed with guns, explosives and a plan to assassinate Andrew Harper.

Trinity’s flamboyant and progressive history dated back to the California Gold Rush. Its Methodist pastors were among the first religious and community leaders to welcome the gay and lesbian community in San Francisco, performing same-sex marriages in the 60s against the policies of the church hierarchy.  The church’s grocery giveaway and HIV testing programs were  as famous as its legendary choir.  The cathedral’s impressive French gothic architecture and location atop Nob Hill where California’s rich and powerful built their mansions in the city’s early days contributed to its status as a bona fide San Francisco institution.

The mayor, most of the city supervisors, two U.S. senators and a good representation of San Francisco’s business leaders were in the pews, recognizing the service would be both an impromptu memorial for the victims and a ceremonial first step of healing for the city.

The packed church fell silent as Rev. Albert Sloan, Trinity’s longtime leader brought out of retirement for the occasion, walked to the pulpit.  His white satin vestments matched the color of his close-cropped hair.  Even on a raised platform, he was dwarfed by the two rows of huge columns running the length of the cathedral which supported the ornate vaulted ceiling far above him.  Immense stained glass windows lined both sides of the cathedral.  Rainbow-hued sunlight streamed into the darkened interior.

“A tragedy has befallen our fair city,” Sloan began in his deep, booming voice.  “At a time of its greatest celebration of our people, our diversity, our tolerance.”

“A shadow of intolerance, of hatred, of darkness, entered our midst,” he continued.  “It missed its main target.  But it did damage enough.  It took four from us and severely wounded six more.  And, it reminded us of what evil still exists in the hearts of too many.”

Sloan paused for effect.

“But, let’s not forget fear,” he said in a low voice that was almost a whisper.  “For fear is the real motivator.  The fear of the unknown, the different.  It is that which blinds people to the real truth.  There is far more binding us to each other than keeping us apart: Our human hopes;  our love of family; our love of each other; our love of God.

“As we begin the traditional part of our service, let us open our hearts and our minds to those who hate.  Let us always have in our minds a simple message: ‘Know me.  Do not fear me.  Get to know me.’  Because the knowledge will erase the fear.”

Sloan stepped away from the pulpit.  A middle-aged woman dressed similarly in a white robe took his place.  She introduced the choir which stood behind her and, on the count of the choir director, launched into a beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace.’

Enzo Lee was technically at the service to cover it for the News.  But he was interested in what Sloan had to say as well as Harper who also was on the program.  He wondered what sense they could make of the previous day’s violence.

He’d come in late, having interviewed both well-known and average citizens on their way into the cathedral.  Sloan was already talking when Lee walked to the back of the pews.  They were packed, except for a few scattered openings.  He elected to stand in the back and take in the service from there.

After the choir started up, Bobbie Connors sidled up next to him and gave him a nudge with her elbow.  Lee nodded his head toward the back and they stepped toward the back of the church where they could talk quietly.

“So, have you learned anything new about this guy, Walberg?” asked Lee.

“Not much that we don’t already know,” said Connors.  “We still don’t know where all he’s been since he left Montana.  I mean it’s not that high a priority at this point.  But, we’ll find out more.  Information will start to trickle in – a deal as high profile as this.

“I tell you, though,” she continued.  “I think the guy was a sugar addict.  Maybe that had something to do with it.”  She chuckled.

“What do you mean?” asked Lee.

“Well, he had a half-dozen packets in his pocket,” she said.  “You know.  Those small ones they hand out with your coffee.  These were from Burger King.”

“Burger King,” thought Lee.  “Chet.  Sausalito.”  So, the kid – the Giants fan – had been right after all, not that it would have helped stop Walberg if Lee had known earlier  that the tip was good.  But, there was something else the kid had said.

Lee tried to remember.  What was it?

Then, it came back to him.  Chet had said, “They ordered Whoppers…they  drove off.”

“Oh, crap,” said Lee.

“What,” said Connors, with a smile at first but losing it when she saw the expression on Lee’s face.

“One of the tips I got,” said Lee.  “You should have gotten it, too.  A Burger King employee in Sausalito thought Walberg came by his drive-through.  Even had the order.  Whoppers and coffee, extra sugar.

“I’m pretty sure he said there was someone else with him,” Lee added

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.

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