Assistant Pastor Francisca Cortez watched the nearly two dozen yelling protesters stomping within the church yard of her new job. Her heart began to accelerate with concern. A surge of adrenaline mobilized through her bloodstream. Her hands trembled on the steering wheel and her stomach tightened as she watched them against her rear view mirrors. No one had prepared her for what she witnessed. The group of provoked adults carried signs displaying JEZEBEL GO HOME, 1 TIMOTHY 2:12, WOMEN AREN’T LEADERS among other hand made displays on all colors of store bought poster board, many affixed to wooden handles. The current scene felt in savage contrast to the loving church leadership position that she had worked so diligently to achieve.
She watched as her new boss hurried out of the 1st Lutheran Revival Church front doors waving at the protesters to leave. Their booing and verbal harassment became louder as Senior Pastor Jason approached the unholy congregation. Francisca gripped her phone, ready to dial 911. The idea that law enforcement would possibly needed to quell a violent incident at a church on a lazy Saturday dumbfounded her. This wasn’t the version of Christianity that she had ever witnessed. A siren blared out in the distance.
The group and Senior Pastor Jason continued to verbally engage each other as Francisca cautiously opened her car door. Her shaking became more intense knowing that she would have to face her detractors in order to access the main entrance. A single police car sped into the parking lot as she began her first steps across the empty, church parking lot. The blue and red lights momentarily splashed against everything in their vicinity. Francisca backtracked to the trunk corner of her car, preferring the role of bystander. She watched as the municipal car took an irregular parking spot.
A portly peace officer opened his door and lurched himself out of the local cruiser. His exit clearly covered in annoyance. He ushered Francisca to stay back. The door shut showing Francisca the Arkham City police crest. This represented a symbol of her new home town she had hoped to never encounter. The officer strode to the increasingly agitated scene. He put his hands up to underscore that their actions had now involved law enforcement. Francisca wondered what mundane activity he had been interrupted from or if, perhaps, he had been on the way to an end of shift.
The sign carrying agitators appeared unfazed as the bulletproof vest laden officer stopped within several yards of them. Francisca watched his interaction from the safety of her distance. She could interpret his body language as being assertive but not aggressive, a clear authority presence that needed to be listened to. He stood against the angered mob with his feet shoulder width apart, arms now open by his sides as if ready to either physically defend himself or draw his sidearm though not committing to either. The crowd’s attention metamorphosed solely against him, rejecting the presence of the church pastor. She could hear the increasing sounds of fresh sirens from afar.
Several more Arkham police cars swerved into the lot. Their drivers breached the parking lines with granted immunity. Colored lights of authority flashed in all directions. Three peace officers scrambled out of their parked cruisers to the vicinity of their lone comrade. Francisca could hear the rattle of their gear in the foreground. She wondered if their presence would be enough of a deterrent for the crowd to leave. Escalated yelling commenced across the lawn. Threats of jail were met with threats of hell, each side believing their cause to be most just.
The pastor part of her considered going to the crowd as an unarmed mediator to work out a peaceful solution. An ambassador of her savior. The angry signs quickly reminded her that she had been the commotion’s impetus in the first place. The crowd’s visual messages read clear that they did not want her involvement now or later. The billboard reading 1 Timothy 2:12 in apple red letters on a white board reiterated their point. She recalled, But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. Francisca took a much needed breath through a self-calming prayer. She contemplated to herself how such a divine manuscript could be filled with scriptural ammunition for other Christians to use against her. Senior Pastor Jason backed away from the deteriorating scene as the competing voices became more agitated.
The crowd continued to stand their ground, pistoning their signs up and down with no regard for their impending incarceration. She listened to protesters scream at the steadfast police officers. Each authority figure placed himself like a chess piece in proximity to the offenders, with steady hands becoming closer to their service weapons. A white capped officer in the background engaged her shoulder mounted CB for what the young pastor assumed to be a request for additional support. Francisca assessed her to be the lawful supervisor. The almost imperceptible call of additional sirens carried through the summer air.
A robust woman in front of the crowd dropped the handle of her large lettered Jesus Don’t Want You sign. She rushed the closest officer while screaming a personal battle cry, In Jesus's Name. Her closed-fisted initiative prompted the others to simultaneously drop their signs. They angrily aggressed upon the officers like a swarm of fanatical bees. The sentinel cops had little time to access their tools of defense before being quickly overwhelmed. Indistinguishable cries of pain and aggression competed against each other. Their supervisor in back rushed towards the fray. A woman who had been waiting for the supervisor’s inclusion tackled against the officer’s ribs from a blind side. Francisca brought her hands to her mouth. A fresh wave of panic polluted into her as she realized that her life could be in immediate jeopardy if the blue wall failed. Several of their parked police cars blocked her direct line of sight as the combatants knocked each other down to the ground. Sounds of the fighting were her only indication of what continued to happen. She watched Senior Pastor Jason flee into the safety of his building.
Francisca took note of the silhouette of a bloodied man’s head cresting beyond a police car’s trunk. The siren sounds edged closer, though she estimated the additional officers to be a minute away. She watched as the bloodied man stood up with legs spread as if standing over an obstruction. Fighting continued beyond the bloodied man. He raised both arms at once downward to his front. She could see the back end of a black, semiautomatic pistol in his grip. Francisca felt compelled to witness what she knew would come next. The bloodied man’s stiffened arms rose and fell with recoil. A gunshot split the morning’s potential. Time slowed to a crawl. Everything around her became ultra heightened. Groups of brown feathered birds took to flight from nearby trees. Francisca wished she could fly from the evolving mayhem. The sun’s refraction through the police cars' hood mounted lights crystallized in her memory. The smell of ingenious summer air became its own experience. Her heart broke. The siren sounds became clearer, only seconds away.
The bloodied man’s arms reenacted the initial gunshot several more times. A smile of absolute satisfaction crested on his expression as if living out a personal fantasy. Francisca became witness to the unceremonious execution of someone sent to protect her. She watched as several of his group stood up across the church lawn. Sounds of wailing and liquid coughing peppered the air. Each person wore the blood of their aggression. An older woman in the far background aimed a firearm downward with one hand. Her intent focus said everything. Francisca felt frozen in reoccurring shock. A single gunshot ripped through the background of approaching sirens. She spat on her target with absolute disdain. The older woman turned her head downwards to her left. The gun swiveled to meet the direction of her eyes. Her hand recoiled upwards. A new round replaced the old as another gunshot attached its presence to the morning. She shifted her attention towards Francisca. Their eyes met. The woman's smile turned to a scowl. Time stopped. The two women connected in the moment. One the huntress, the other her prey.
Three police cars heaved through the parking lot to an abrupt stop, their tires leaving obscene marks on the asphalt. Loud screeching of rubber against warm asphalt competed with the commotion. Each officer threw open their door. They immediately pulled out their pistols and used their vehicles as makeshift barriers as they aimed over the vehicle’s roof. The older woman screamed as she turned her gun’s barrel towards Francisca. A volley of gunfire cut the older woman down in place. Francisca could see cherry tainted smoke puffs pull into the air around her Jesus Loves Peace shirt. The aggressor’s body staggered backwards potmarked with fatal injuries, falling onto the manicured grass. The bloodied man dropped his firearm, rapidly throwing both hands up against the softly clouded sky. The remaining protesters followed suit. A second wave of police cars arrived en masse. Their screams for compliance in the distance began to register less to Francisca. Her mind's balloon of sanity slipped from her numb fingers. Bystanders watched the commotion from across the street behind living room glass.
Pastor Francisca slumped against her car onto the asphalt, staining her new, egg white skirt. She looked at nothing in particular from her distressed seated position. Waves of numbed disbelief carried through her as if in a tide pool of despair. Sounds walked into her ears on cotton covered shoes. An officer leaned over her. Ma’am? Ma’am are you ok? Can you hear me? Francisca gazed through her broken world towards the faded yellow stripe of a simple parking line without responding. She would later have no recollection of the multiple ambulances that showed up, including the one that shepherded her to Arkham Municipal Care.
Pastor Francisca hung up her religious collar to start a new life as a nursing student six months later. The images of that morning stubbornly clung to her dreams each night, like the uncleansed stains against her skirt. Her only reprieve for a peaceful sleep became secured through an orange bottle filled with off white, oblong pills. She spent much of her free time rocking herself in comfort while nursing a bottle of whiskey or finding solace within the green buds of nature’s medicine. Nursing student Francisca clawed through the empty hours in hopes of becoming farther from the memories of her first day at a job she hoped would have been her own piece of heaven.