'He is a man of God,' Mamie said. 'Only thing he drinks too much of that poison and sometimes it makes him a little crazy.'

'If she's there, let's just hope he ain't too crazy,' Coffin Ed said.

Five minutes later they were tiptoeing through the semidark of the store-front church. The shotgun hole in the door to Reverend Short's room at the rear had been closed by a piece of cardboard, shielding the light from within, but the croaking sound of Reverend Short's voice could be distinctly heard. They crept forward silently and bent toward the door to listen.

'But, Jesus Christ, why did you have to kill him?' they heard a blurred feminine voice exclaim.

'You are a harlot,' they heard Reverend Short croak in reply. 'I must save thy soul from hell. You are mine. I have slain thy husband. Now I must give you unto God.'

'Crazy as a loon,' Grave Digger said aloud.

There was a sound of sudden scurrying inside the room. 'Who's there?' Reverend Short croaked in a voice as thin and dry as a rattlesnake's warning.

'The law,' Grave Digger said, flattening himself against the wall beside the door. 'Detectives Jones and Johnson. Come out with your hands up.'

Before he'd finished speaking Coffin Ed was sprinting down the corridor between the benches to go outside and circle to the rear windows.

'You can't have her,' Reverend Short croaked. 'She belongs to God now.'

'We don't want her. We want you,' Grave Digger said.

'I'm God's instrument,' Reverend Short said.

'I don't doubt that,' Grave Digger said, trying to hold his attention until Coffin Ed had time to approach the rear windows. 'All we want to do is see that you get back safe and sound into God's instrument case.'

The shotgun blasted from inside, without the warning sound of being cocked, and blew a hole through the center of the door.

'You didn't get me,' Grave Digger called. 'Try the other barrel.'

There was a sound of movement inside the room, and Dulcy screamed. The sound of two shots from a. 38 revolver coming from the courtyard in back followed instantly. Grave Digger turned on the balls of his big flat feet, hit the door with his left shoulder and rocketed into the room with his long barreled nickel-plated. 38 cocked and ready in his right hand. Reverend Short was sprawled face downward across the seat of the wooden chair beside the bed, trying to reach the shotgun, which lay on the floor half underneath the table. He was reaching for it with his left hand. His right hand dangled uselessly at his side.

Grave Digger leaned forward and hit him across the back of the head with his pistol barrel, just hard enough to knock him unconscious without braining him, then turned to give his attention to Dulcy before Reverend Short had rolled over and fallen to the floor.

She lay spread-eagled on the bed, her hands and feet tied to the bedposts with clothesline. Her torso and feet were bare, but she still wore the pants of a bright red slack suit. The bone handle of a knife was sticking straight up from the crevice between her breasts. She looked at Grave Digger from huge black terror-stricken eyes.

'I bad hurt?' she asked in a whisper.

'I doubt it,' Grave Digger said, then looked at her closer and added, 'You're too pretty to be bad hurt. Only ugly women ever get hurt bad.'

Coffin Ed was tearing off the chicken-wire screen from the rear window. Grave Digger crossed the room and raised the window and finished kicking it out. Coffin Ed climbed inside.

Grave Digger said, 'Let's get these beauties to the hospital.'

Reverend Short was taken to the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital downtown on First Avenue and 29th Street. He was given a shot of paraldehyde and was docile and rational when the detectives went in to wind up the case. He sat propped up in bed with his right arm in a sling.

Detective Sergeant Brody from Homicide had ridden downtown with Grave Digger and Coffin Ed, and he sat beside the bed and did the questioning. The police reporter sat beside him.

Coffin Ed sat on the other side of the bed and stared down at the chart hanging at the foot. Grave Digger sat on the window sill and watched the tugboats chugging up and down the East River.

'Just a few little questions, Reverend,' Brody said cheerfully. 'First, why did you kill him?'

'God directed me to,' Reverend Short replied in a calm, quiet voice.

Brody glanced at Coffin Ed, but Coffin Ed didn't notice. Grave Digger continued to stare out at the river.

'Tell us about it,' Brody said.

'Big Joe Pullen found out that he was her husband and they were still living in sin while she was supposed to be married to Johnny Perry,' Reverend Short began.

'When did he find that out?' Brody asked.

'On his last trip,' Reverend Short said quietly. 'He was going to talk to Val and tell him to clear out, go to Chicago, get his divorce quietly and just disappear. But before Joe Pullen had a chance to talk to him he died. When I came to help Mamie arrange for the funeral she told me what Big Joe had found out, and asked me for spiritual advice. I told her to leave it to me and I'd take care of it, being as I was both her and Big Joe's spiritual advisor and Johnny and Dulcy Perry were members of my church, too, although they never attended the services. I telephoned Val and told him I wanted to talk to him, and he said he didn't have time to talk to preachers. So I had to tell him what I wanted to talk to him about. He said he'd come and see me in my church the night of the wake, and we made an appointment for two o'clock. I think he was preparing to do me injury, but I was prepared, and I put it to him straight. I told him I'd give him twenty-four hours to get out of town and leave her alone or I'd tell Johnny. He told me he'd go. I was satisfied he was telling me the truth, so I went back to the wake to comfort Mamie in her last hours with Big Joe's mortal remains. It was while I was there that God directed me to slay him.'

'How did that happen, Reverend?' Brody asked gently.

Reverend Short took off his glasses, laid them aside and ran his hand down over his thin bony face. He put his glasses back on.

'I am give to receiving instructions from God, and I don't question them,' he said. 'While I was standing in the room where Big Joe's mortal remains lay in the casket, I felt an overwhelming urge to go into the front bedroom. I knew right away that God was sending me on some mission. I obeyed without reservation. I went into the bedroom and closed the door. Then I felt the urge to look among Big Joe's things…

Coffin Ed slowly turned his head to stare at him. Grave Digger turned his gaze from the East River and stared at him, too. The police reporter glanced up quickly and down again.

'As I was looking through his things I came across the knife laying in his dresser drawer among his hairbrushes and safety razors and things. God told me to take it. I took it. I put it into my pocket. God told me to go to the window and look out. I went to the window and looked out. Then God caused me to fall-'

'As I remember it, you said before that Chink Charlie pushed you,' Brody interrupted.

'That was what I thought then,' Reverend Short said in his quiet voice. 'But since then I've come to realize it was God who pushed me. I had the urge to fall, but I was holding back, and God had to give me a little push. Then God placed that basket of bread on the sidewalk to break my fall.'

'Before you said it was the Body of Christ,' Brody reminded him.

'Yes,' Reverend Short admitted. 'But since then I've communed with God and now I know it was bread. When I got out of the bread basket and found myself unhurt, I knew right away that God had placed me in that position to accomplish some task, but I didn't know what. So I stood in the hallway downstairs, out of sight, waiting for God to direct me what to do-'

'You're sure it wasn't just to take a leak,' Coffin Ed cut in.

'Well, I did that, too,' Reverend Short admitted. 'I have a weak bladder.'

'No wonder,' Grave Digger said.

'Let him go on,' Brody said.

'While I was waiting for God to instruct me, I saw Valentine Haines crossing the street,' Reverend Short said. 'I knew right away that God wanted me to do something about him. I stood out of sight and watched him from the shadows. Then I saw him walk up to the bread basket and lie down as though to go to sleep. He lay just as though he were lying in a coffin awaiting his burial. I knew then what it was that God wanted me to do. I opened

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