We all seem to have different opinions these days, but what happens when people on different sides of an issue have to come together to find a killer? The issue? Pro-choice and pro-life. I love the idea of any story that promotes unity to achieve a common goal. It’s what the world needs now.
An aging priest in rural Wisconsin gives an impassioned Christmas homily condemning abortion as murder and exhorting his parishioners to stop it. A former mayor responds by starting a hunger strike in city hall, and the editor of the local weekly newspaper begins running a counter at the top of each edition that estimates the number of abortions performed since Roe v Wade. A third member of the congregation takes a more lethal approach and begins to target reproductive rights physicians for murder. Cole Huebsch is a pro-life leaning Milwaukee FBI agent. Michele Fields is a pro-choice leaning reporter. They need to set aside their differences to catch the killer before the country is torn apart. The Killer Sermon is a fast moving thriller that reminds us that our words matter, and that regardless of how big our differences on divisive issues, we can still find respect, and maybe more…
Excerpt: THE KILLER SERMON
“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning…” — Joel 2:12
John Lawler sat in the lobby of the small, three-story painted-white brick building on Blackhawk Avenue that served as Prairie du Chien’s City Hall. He’d been there three days and the city employees worried about him. The former mayor was eighty-six. His thin, white hair was cropped so close to his scalp it mirrored the three-day stubble that covered his chin and sagging cheeks. His eyes were slate gray and had a depth to them that spoke of wisdom. His heavily lined face showed the wear and tear of hard battles with prostate cancer and a heart attack, combined with deep laugh lines carved by raising four children to adulthood in the best possible way.
The oldest of Lawler’s four children burst through the doors of City Hall just then. Matthew was at his father’s side in six long strides. “Dad! What the hell are you doing here in your pajamas?” he said, looking down at his father snuggled into a sleeping bag on the floor. “The mayor said you’ve been here haunting the place for days.”
“I’m on a hunger strike,” the old man said in a quiet, dignified voice. He wasn’t used to one of his kids towering over him with his voice raised. He felt somewhat intimidated, but wasn’t about to show it.
“Against what, for Pete’s sakes?” Matthew demanded loudly. All around them, in the rooms that faced the lobby, people could hear at least the son’s side of the conversation. Some of those people listening had worked for the old man and loved him greatly.
The father’s voice was steady and firm, but low. “I’m not eating again until people in this country stop killing their babies. I’m fasting until we outlaw abortions.”
“What? Does this have anything to do with that Christmas sermon Father Wagner gave?” The son was worried. When his father made up his mind about something, when he felt he was right on something important, he wasn’t easily deterred. If he was serious about this, then he’d just told his eldest son that he was going to kill himself, slowly, here in the lobby of City Hall. Matthew slid down the wall and slumped into a sitting position near his father’s head. His voice lost its bravado and came out soft and scared. “Please, Dad,” he whispered, “come home with me. You’ve got kids and a wife who need you and love you. Grandkids, too. If you won’t reconsider for me, then do it for Mom. Have you thought about how this will affect her?”
“It was her idea,” his father said, a broad smile lighting his face. “I told her I wanted to do something, to tilt at one more windmill before I die, and she suggested this. She said, ‘If it worked for men like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, then why not me? And why not now?’ She’s wonderful. Almost seventy years I’ve been with her, and she still surprises me. Oh, how I love her, and you kids. You’ve been my greatest gifts.”
Matthew shook his head. “I appreciate your commitment, Dad. But I can’t let you go through with it. The mayor has called a special meeting of the common council tonight, and I’ll be there to tell them that your sons and daughters want you home, even if you have to be dragged out of here in handcuffs by Prairie’s finest.” He started to get to his feet, but his dad caught his shirt in surprisingly strong fingers and pulled his son back down to him.
He leaned in close. “Listen, son,” he began, tears pooling in his eyes, “I’ve tried to do the best I could for you. There’s no book that teaches a young man how to be a perfect dad, but I did my best. The one thing I always wanted you to know was that I would love you…come hell or high water…forever. Like with your mom, in good times and in bad. People with better educations than mine call it unconditional love. Well, that’s the only kind my parents taught me, and the only kind I ever wanted you to know.”
“But, Dad. I can’t walk out of here and come back in a few weeks to bury you. That’s not love.”
“I’m not asking you to turn your back on me, Matty. I want you to go to that meeting tonight and fight for me. You’re the best damn lawyer in La Crosse. Make sure they don’t forget that! Tell them your dad’s not crazy, and that his entire family stands behind him. Tell them there’s still something called free speech in this country and something else called civil disobedience. Tell them your old man’s willing to die trying to save the lives of kids who haven’t even been born yet. And get Grant Grae from the Courier Press there; make sure he gets it all down. We may not change any laws before I die, Matty, but we could sure raise some awareness on this issue. We need to move this sick business into the bright light of the truth. I don’t think it will survive that, not in the end.” His father held Matthew’s hand and spoke to him in a voice swirling with emotions. “All my life I’ve wanted to be there when you and the rest of my family needed me,” he said, squeezing the hand more tightly. “Now, I’m depending on you to be there for me.”
His son broke down and grabbed his dad, burying his face in his father’s pajama top, staining it with his tears.
Kevin earned both a BA in journalism and later an MBA from Marquette University. He has worked as the outdoor writer for a daily newspaper, taught marketing and management classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and served as an administrator of an urban safety net hospital.
The Killer Sermon is Kevin Kluesner’s debut novel. It introduces FBI agent Cole Huebsch and a thriller series set in Wisconsin and the Midwest. He might be the only person to claim membership in both the American College of Healthcare Executives and the International Thriller Writers. Kevin live in New Berlin, Wisconsin, with his soulmate and wife Janet.