--- 2015 ---
--- 2015 ---
The northeast Mississippi town of Beneficent, “A Town As Good As Its Name,” had never known a murder until Friday, January 9, 1948. Nor, in the oldest memory of its 479 citizens, had the town known a single felony.
Until the fatal moment, that January day progressed as hundreds had before. The winter dawn came late, struggling through clouds and fog to shed a dull gray light more kin to night than day. Cold rain fell to drench the thrush-brown land, and stolid hardwoods thrust black skeletal limbs upward against an iron-gray sky. Farmers revised work plans in deference to the rain, and storekeepers pondered its effect on weekend sales. But more than rain would be required that night to keep them from the Coosa County basketball tournament, an event as fundamental to their lives as seedtime and harvest. From all corners of the county they came in mud-spattered pickups, the less affluent in mule-drawn wagons, to converge on Beneficent. All brought good spirits to share an experience that came but once a year.
Yet among that cheerful crowd one stranger would come unwilling . . .
In her bedroom in the darkening evening, Lisa Kemper stared at the rain that drummed against her window. She did not want to be there at all. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? The psalmist’s words leaped unbidden into her mind, but she shut them out.
She was not here in captivity, the puddles in her yard were not the waters of Babylon, and she would not sit down by them and weep.
Still, she hadn’t bargained for this. After her mother’s death, last August, she’d postponed graduate school for a year to help her father adjust to life as a widower. Then she would get on with her studies— that is, if she could ever decide what to study. But when she made that decision in August, she never dreamed Stephen Kemper would leave his position with an Indiana corporation to manage the small chemical plant the company was building in Beneficent.
From first sight, she detested this backward town. She abhorred the unkempt fields and unpainted barns nearby, so different from the well-tended farms of Indiana. Most of all, she abhorred the boastful motto “A Town As Good As Its Name” and the complacency of the townspeople who thought they made it that way.
But she would get through this year, somehow. She had promised.
A car’s headlights flashed across her window. That would be Hollis Wilson, the newly elected state senator who would escort her and her father to the basketball tournament. People expected them to attend, he said.
“Are you ready, Lisa?” Stephen Kemper’s voice carried from the living room.
“I’m coming, Father.”
A critical glance in the mirror confirmed that her new gray suit brought out the blue of her eyes and emphasized her trim figure. But not too much. And if the locals thought she was overdressed, that was their problem. With a final pat at her dark brown hair, she scooped up her raincoat and headed for the living room.
Miraculously, the rain suddenly stopped, though low clouds scudded by overhead. Maybe Senator Wilson had fixed the rain as he had so many things to help them fit into the community. Lisa wondered how an insignificant mud hill like Beneficent could produce someone like Wilson. He was handsome as a movie star—a war veteran, she’d heard, and people bragged that at age twenty-five, he was the youngest senator in the state’s history. She didn’t doubt that he was, but she did doubt that anyone had bothered to research it.
You’ll enjoy the tournament,” Wilson said. “It’s one of the great events of the year.”
Lisa answered with a smile and followed him out the door, her father close behind. For her father’s sake, she’d make sure people thought she enjoyed the tournament.
~ ~ ~
2014 © Donn Taylor
Despite the implications of this crime, the town of Beneficent, MS, population 479, tries desperately to hold onto its vain self-image. The young veteran Jack Davis holds that idyllic vision of the town and tries to share it with Lisa Kemper, newly arrived from Indiana.
But she is repelled by everything in town. While the sheriff tries to find the murderer, Jack and Lisa’s contentious courtship reveals the town’s strange combination of astute perceptions and surprising blind spots.
Then they stumble onto shocking discoveries about the true nature of the town. But where will these discoveries lead? To repentance? Or to denial and continuation in vanity?
of the Carolinas
Softcover 330 pages
November 4, 2014
Excerpt from Lightning on a Quiet Night
His historic detail is amazing as he threads us in and out of the eye of the needle until we have no idea where we're headed."
--- Linda Glaz,
The Preacher's New Family
"A unique and intriguing story expertly told, with compelling characters and an ending that left me sighing with satisfaction."
Found in Translation
Website Created & Hosted by Doteasy Web Hosting Canada