Mysterious Ways: Chapter Three
In Phoenix, there is actually a religious television station at the location described. I used to live just up the street from it. I’ve never been inside, but back when I had a TV, I would watch from time to time. They used to run Bob Larson’s old TV show back when I was working on the whole Satanic Panic and gaming stuff. So, what follows in this chapter is my imagined interior and set.
The studio wasn’t bad, if you didn’t mind set-dressing ornate enough to be an embarrassing marriage of cathedral and whorehouse. All the furniture had baroque flourishes, and most were upholstered in satiny cloth. An embroiderer had worked the Trinity Salvation Network logo in gold into the fabric.
It didn’t actually scream bad taste as much as it moaned it pretty loud. Bloodstone winced, but didn’t faint. He did, however, put his sunglasses back on.
A gently sloping ramp ran up to the studio floor, so you entered looking at the bleachers where the studio audience sat. The studio itself opened out to the right, so if you turned to face that direction the stage would be on your right hand, located past a trio of remote controlled TV cameras. The entry ramp had a sister that extended down and into a corridor that ran beneath the bleachers, but from my vantage point I couldn’t see anything save a set of doors in the left wall. Later we found out that was a back way into Thickett’s office. The control booth sat at the top of the theatre-style seating, one story up, and faced the stage with a wall of big windows.
Staying within the dotted-line path painted on the studio floor, we got to the seats and worked our way up to a middle aisle seat. Well-dressed women packed the first three rows. The crowd thinned out as the seats rose toward the dim underbelly of the control booth. I only saw two other single guys, and both of them looked like the proud products of generational inbreeding. The other men were all retirees, there with wives.
Most folks had Bibles on their laps.
Above the camera-line, three large monitors hung over the set. The audience could watch the show and any taped reports in them. A large shield with the TSN logo painted in gold leaf hung above the mantle. The logo consisted of a dove with a halo perched atop a cross. A Bible laid open on the cross, as if it had been crucified, and a lamb with a halo lay at the base of the cross. A scroll along the bottom bore the motto “In God We Trust.”
The left and right wings of the set remained dimly lit. Stage left was set up for music, with a piano at the center, a drum kit in the background. Over on the right side was the preaching arbor, with a podium and some artificial trees surrounding it. Emerald carpeting extended halfway up along the back wall. It made things look very pastoral and T3 tended to use it to deliver the messages that closed the weekday show.
Three people occupied the center stage, with the two seated people greeting the woman who would be that segment’s guest. The big, ostentatious wingback chair that served T3 as a throne had been removed from the set, though the two couches that always flanked it remained. T3’s son, Tommy, filled that vacuum, but positioned himself off-center as if he were seated there on the rightmost couch, next to his wife.
Back when I had been tracking TSN, Tommy had been a firebrand. Tall, slender, very handsome, he would set hearts aflame and was a great draw for the youth ministries. He’d always been attired then as now, in a black suit, white shirt, and electric-blue tie. He was always clean-shaven, with his black hair cut conservatively close. Only now, though he was but five years older than me, he was grey at the temples.
In those days, when he took over hosting for his father, the throne would be removed and replaced with a chair that was not quite so great. Now, two years after the accident that killed his mother, crushed his face and broke his back, Tommy sat in an even smaller chair—a black wheelchair. It wasn’t quite the racing model he used in 10K associated events. Still, it was low-slung and sleek, yet painted a matte black instead of glossy, and had not a trace of gold on it.
Aside from not walking, Tommy had recovered fairly well. The left side of his face had been shattered, and his left eye destroyed. Reconstructive surgery had rebuilt that side of his face, and the glass eye was of a blue that matched his right eye perfectly. When he raced he wore an eye-patch, and that somehow did nothing to diminish his good looks.
Beginning two years before the accident, right after he married Lily, he had started calling himself Thomas, not Tommy, and looked to be emerging from his father’s shadow. Lily, who, it was claimed, had been a survivor of ritual Satanic abuse, had come to know Jesus through Thomas and his ministering to her. Their whirlwind courtship and marriage had carried with it the sort of drama that can only be found in pro wrestling. T3 had initially opposed the union, but had been won over by Lily’s tearful testimony on the show.
After the accident, though, Thomas had been reduced again to Tommy and his meteoric rise had stalled. He still occasionally filled in for his father, and controlled the youth ministry program, but the removal of the throne from the set was as symbolic as it was practical. Whereas he had once been positioned as his father’s heir, his imperfections doomed him.
Lily sat beside him on the couch, the fingers of her right hand entwined with those of his left. Lily looked as if she were a Latina, with dark hair falling in curled waves over her shoulders. Hazel eyes and soft features, with white teeth that shone brightly whenever she smiled, she was a beauty. Her eyes would narrow with concentration as guests spun their stories, then light up as they came to their point. Invariably she would look to the audience and give them a nod, which set them to clapping faster than the applause sign lighting up above the stage.
Lily wore a conservatively cut dress of royal blue, a shade darker than her husband’s tie. Gold earrings, a simple gold chain with a crucifix and her wedding and engagement rings were all the jewelry she wore. More would have been gilding a lily. When she gave her testimony on the air she had been known as Lilith Baxter, but T3 had rechristened her Lily, after the Easter flower, and the outpouring of love for her had been palpable.
The whole deal was not as far removed from pro wrestling as one might want to think, actually.
Tommy waited for the prim and petite woman in a dark skirt and white blouse to seat herself. She wore a gold scarf that was partially obscured by her honey-blond hair. Her light blue eyes dominated a face marred only by an under-abundance of chin, but she was by no means hard to look at. A trim woman, she appeared to be in her late twenties.
Tommy extended a hand to her and she shook it. Tommy looked out to the audience. “You all know our final guest on today’s show, Rachel Carmody. We’ve known each other for a year and a half, isn’t it?”
Rachel nodded solemnly. “You remember, brother.” With practiced ease she turned to face the camera focused on her. “I run in 10K events, or try to, and had pulled a muscle in my leg. I couldn’t go on, I was just limping there, feeling sorry for myself as all these racers in wheelchairs went by. And then there you were, Tommy, you had cut out of the lead and come around to talk to me, see how I was. We talked and talked and later you led me to Jesus, praise the Lord.”
A smattering of applause and Amens rippled through the audience.
Tommy smiled and rested his left hand on top of his wife’s right. “Yes, you did come to Jesus and you have been tireless in His service, sister. I know you’ve recently had a trying time. Why don’t you explain to our prayer family what has been going on in your life.”
“As you know, I teach high school history at Saguaro High School. There I’m teaching the advanced history class for seniors. While we cannot teach religion in schools, it cannot be denied that Christianity is key to world history, so I am able to share that history with my students.”
“Praise God.” Lily rich voice quickly punctuated Carmody’s comment.
“Thank you, sister, yes, praise the most high.” Rachel’s indulgent smile came to her face after a second’s hesitation, suggesting she didn’t like interruptions. “I asked my students to write their theses on the cultural contributions of Christianity to world history, and I got many wonderful papers. I have some Catholic students and they wrote about the Vatican’s preservation of art. Those papers were very good and I think those children can yet be saved. And the little Jews I have, well, their Talmudic tradition is so strong, they are just so smart, their papers were wonderful. But then I had this one girl, well, she’s a witch.
“She wrote such a hateful paper. She accused Christianity of murdering millions, using the Crusades and the Inquisition and the witch burnings as evidence.” Rachel shook her head. “She willfully ignored the evidence of John 8:36 and Ezekiel 18:20.”
Tommy plucked his bible from the coffee table before him and flipped it open. “Praise God, for in Ezekiel he says, ‘The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.’ You’re so right, sister, the sins of the Church from those days do not attach to us because, as it says in John, ‘the Son has freed us, therefore we are free.’”
“Yes, brother, that’s it exactly.” She reached out and patted him on the knee. “I wrestled with what to do, because this witchgirl was to be the valedictorian of her class. Her commencement address… well, you can all just imagine what foul mouthings a Satanist would spew on such an occasion. I came here and prayed with you and your wife. Your father ministered to me and God laid upon my heart what I had to do. I gave the paper an F, which gives her a D for the course and she will not be valedictorian. That will fall to Diana Grant, whom you know.”
Tommy’s face lit up. “Yes, Diana is a young woman who was in the hospital when I was. She came to Jesus and now is tireless in His service. She works with our youth ministry here. It’s clear, isn’t it, prayer family, that God wanted one of His anointed to give that commencement address?”
Gentle applause greeted this idea. Bloodstone refrained from joining in. He frowned, but stopped short of a glower. It’s the same sort of look elders give children who are obsessed with trivial matters.
Tommy waited for the applause to wane before continuing. “So now, sister, you’re facing hardship because of your decision. But there are also some blessings in your life, aren’t there?”
Rachel fairly beamed. “Yes, Tommy, there are. First, I’ve completed a book that TSN is publishing. It’s a look at the role of Christianity in American History and it answers all those questions atheists ask. More importantly, and I am so excited about this, your father is letting me put together a series of half-hour programs to air here on TSN. They will be history lessons, teaching the sacred history of America. Anyone who is home-schooling their children can DVR or download these programs—we’re taping the first next Monday for broadcast on Friday—and use them for their history curriculum.”
“Praise God, sister, for your hard work in His name.” Tommy took her hand in his right and smiled. “I’d like to have our entire prayer family join us now in praying for blessings on our sister, Rachel, and her ministry. Dear Lord, in looking at Your life, in looking at history, we see Your hand in everything. You were born into this world, ignorant of Your true role, but came to discover You were God as we come to discover we are Your children. You knew happiness, as we do. You knew frustration and sadness, as we do. You had friends die, as we have had; and You faced death as we will. And, in You, we will know life everlasting.”
Lily and Rachel whispered, “Amen” in unison, then Tommy hugged their hands to his chest. “And now, prayer family, I get to announce something which Rachel does not know. We’ve gotten the first proof copies of her book from the printers and they are wonderful. We’re going to ask her autograph them. For a love offering of just $25, we’ll send you a copy. We also have a special edition, a leather bound edition, with a foreword by my father, signed, yours, free, with a gift of $100. We need you to support Rachel’s ministry, so she can combat the diabolical forces at work in our school systems today. Don’t hesitate, call the numbers at the bottom of your screen, and help us help her do God’s work.”
Tommy released Rachel’s hand, then pressed his fingers to his right ear. Given the angle I was viewing him at, I missed the earpiece doubtlessly relaying instructions from the control booth. He looked down for a second, then back up, a huge smile pasted on his face. “I’ve just been told my father is ready with his message for you.” He turned his chair halfway around and looked up at the shield above the mantle. “Hello, father.”
We couldn’t see it on the set, but in the monitors above the stage we saw T3’s face superimposed over the shield. “Hi, Tommy and Lily. So good to see you again, sister Rachel. You keep doing God’s work.”
The image bled out to fill the monitor screen, showing the white-haired patriarch of Trinity Salvation Network. He wore a light grey suit, blue shirt and dark tie. The camera pulled back enough to show him sitting at a desk, and behind him was a window looking out at a landscape that seemed connected to that behind the set. Big bushy eyebrows rode over dark eyes that fairly blazed. While not as handsome as his son, mainly because he was carrying more weight, he still had rugged good looks. His skin had that leathery quality of someone who had been in sun a lot, but the resulting wrinkles just gave him character.
“Brothers and sisters, God has blessed me more than you can ever know, but there are times when He lays a burden on me. Last night, well, as the widows and widowers among you know, there are times that the bed is cold in the night. After so many years you half-wake and, feeling chilly, roll over to draw warmth and comfort from your partner. My Doris, having been taken from me two years ago, was not there; but her being in heaven with Jesus and all His angels, that did bring me comfort.
“As I lay there, though, I realized that so many of today’s messages in the media, in movies, on the radio, on the Internets, just emphasize the negative, when what we need to hear is the positive. I would like to invite all of you, this weekend, to join us at the Garden Cathedral in Scottsdale, or to tune into our live broadcast of Sunday services there. We’ll have Mitchell Wilson with us once again—Heaven’s Harlequin—to deliver his own humorous message. His deliverance from evil, his being a Satanic High Priest then his coming to Christ, well, he has seen it all and shares so eloquently…”
T3’s message went from that subtle plug to a series of not so subtle plugs offering videos, books, tape courses, and geegaws of every tacky stripe imaginable. I tuned that out and watched the trio on stage. Rachel was turned away from Tommy, glancing past the music area to the wings where a monitor flickered. Tommy had turned back around to face halfway toward the audience, though he had his eyes closed and his hands clasped in those of his wife. She, likewise had closed her eyes and they sat there, foreheads pressed together, praying silently, but moving their lips in unison.
On the monitor the credits began to roll as T3’s face gave way to the TSN logo. On stage Rachel Carmody began to unclip the mike from her blouse, but Tommy and Lily remained praying even as the lights shut down. The audience began to filter out. I made no move to leave as Bloodstone seemed to be relishing a moment of peace in the cool darkness.
It was not to last.
Ms. Bracken stemmed the tide of the departing audience, and gave us a cold smile. “Come this way, please, Dr. Bloodstone. Reverend Thickett will see you now.”
Mysterious Ways comes in three different editions, with the novel itself running around 90,000 words. If you choose to purchase from Stormwolf.com, you get both the .mobi and .epub files, and don’t have to worry about DRM.
Super Delux Edition: This edition includes not only the novel and the essay about how it came to be written, but I’ve also included a novella and two short stories.
Delux Edition: As with the Delux Edition of In Hero Years… I’m Dead, I’ve included an essay that talks about the writing of the novel, it’s long journey to publication, inspirations for characters and hints at where the series will go from here. You get to read the novel, then peek behind the scenes.
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