FALL FROM GRACE

chpater 41

       Ever punctual, Leland in his executive vehicle ahead of a wake of road dust, approached the Willard Motel. The ‘breakfast buffet’ at the hotel was, in a word, heinous, and he looked forward to the simple pleasures of Babby’s fare (without high school football scores and the crop reports) after assignments were delegated and the crews sent out.

         

       Before entering the parking area, Leland’s executive eye told him something was amiss. Everyone was out. No one was in motion and their postures expressed a singular crisis experience.

 

       Clip board in hand, Beth was first to get to Leland getting out of his truck, she being the least likely recipient of Leland’s abrupt and now inevitable wrath.

 

       “What’s going on?” Leland’s tone anticipated the doom that now seemed to surround him.

   

       “Good morning Leland, we have a problem.” Everyone else called Leland ‘boss’ or something like that, because they just did. Only Beth could address him as Leland.

 

       He exhaled and tried to stop imagining. “Show me.” The short walk to the central command vehicle was torture, like running a gantlet. The motionless crew parted as Beth led the way to the back and only door of the trailer. What Leland needed to know was inside that door.

 

       “Oh shit.” Earlier, someone had powered up the systems from an exterior control panel, causing not an explosion but a lot of short circuiting and probably some amount of electrical fire. That acrid kind of smoke particular to an electrical fire was the first spirit to greet Leland when Beth opened the door.

 

       The control booth was completely trashed. Every wire, every cable, and

every headset was destroyed, somehow frayed, some blackened and still

crackling. Wiring from beneath the big mixing board was all yanked out and,

“What’s that smell?” Some kind of animal shit was everywhere and had oozed into everything and even cooked a little. Truth be told, Bo had feasted his furry elves on canned spaghetti just prior to the mission. Celia had told him even great artists sign their work.

 

       Leland backed out of the compartment as he had entered it, closed the door, turned, and sat down directly on the little steps up to the door. He considered whether he might throw up but remembered his stomach was on empty.

 

       The project was over and buzzards circled overhead. This train could not be put back on the rails.

 

       There he sat. Unaware of how many minutes passed. Unaware of the stares from the crew, who now wondered how they might be getting home, and if it would be on their own dime. They knew if told to by the Network, the drivers would simply get into the vehicles and split. Hasta la vista. 

 

       Old man Willard bounced up, still sporting a dinner napkin tucked into his collar. “Heard ya got trouble. Problem?”

 

       Leland’s head came up and lasers shot from his eyes, as Willard wiped his mouth and half stuffed the napkin into his back pocket. Not taking his eyes off Willard, Leland rose slowly and opened the door for the old man. Willard peered in and immediately recoiled. “What’s that smell?” He covered his nose and mouth with the dinner napkin. Now insulated from the aroma, he examined the crime scene.

 

       “Chucks,” Willard said, “Yup, chucks. Had a good ole’ pickup few years

back, and chucks destroyed the wiring. Chewed it all to heck. Just like your ah.., whatever you call it here. Somebody must’ve left the door open. Yup, chucks, um, mm, mm. Sheriff gonna need to hear about this.”

 

       “I calls it a $3 million remote video booth, you Okie half-wit, and I’ll tell the sheriff myself!!” No longer paralyzed by shock, Leland became Vengeance and imagined a necklace of severed heads. “And where, pray tell, might I find the fucking sheriff now?” Leland’s hair was on fire.

 

       Willard was not impressed, and told the raging barn fire before him that the sheriff’s office, or Babby’s, or the church would be the place to start looking. “Yup, that’d be my guess.” 

 

       Leland was now half out of his mind. Swearing and shrieking, he threw his aviator shades on the ground and stomped them. Who knows why? He dashed back to his vehicle and the wheels were spitting gravel before the door was closed.

 

       “Follow him!” Beth’s voice now had command in it, and she and a few

ranking crew people jumped into a couple of the vehicles and tore out after and

into Leland’s trail of road dust.

 

       Leland had parked in front of Babby’s, or rather, just stopped. As the two

cars of film crew pulled up, Leland, held aloft by the collar and flailing, was being ejected from the cafe by Gem Fulton’s mighty hand. Put him right out, no different than he might a cat. Beth stilled her heart and caught her breath. Morrow wasn’t in the café.

 

       Back on his feet and still hysterical, Leland shoved past his subordinates and charged toward the sheriff’s office where the cruiser was parked out front. Without knocking, he almost tore the screen door off the hinges, but all was stillness in the unoccupied office. Again, he shoved through the crew and started a new charge around the building toward the church side. He encountered Miles, who, having heard the commotion, had stepped out onto the steps of the P.O. to investigate the hub-bub.

 

       “Where’s the fucking sheriff?” Leland waited for the troll to answer. Miles considered how familiar this spectacle of rage was. “Couldn’t say, is there a problem?” Miles knew quite well that there was a problem and snorted that awareness.

 

       Leland shoved through again and continued around to the church door. Once in the vestibule, Leland heard Morrow’s oration. He was in good voice. Sincere, sonorous and impassioned, it sounded like he was practicing what he preached. Leland came through the double doors into the empty church of vacant pews, but Morrow, at his pulpit in his Sunday best vestments, ministered away, unaware of his new-found congregation. 

           

                                                        “SHERIFF!!”

       As Morrow stopped and opened his eyes, Leland noticed two spindly legs, a skirt and sensible shoes poking out from beneath Morrow’s satiny robes. Even the flies stopped buzzing.

 

       There was a great fumbling, to say the least. Gwendolyn/Harold was heard

to bang his head against the podium in an urgent and failing effort to stand, as Morrow appeared to scream in abundant pain. Clutching the inadequately anchored podium, all three, Morrow, Harold and the podium, crashed forward and down in a grand contrapuntal fall from grace. The spectators, standing behind the last row of pews, and even the flies did not breathe, in awe of that which they beheld. Didn’t even move.

 

       Though grimacing in pain and now clutching his wounded manhood,

Morrow was up first. Then Gwendolyn stood, but her wig was kind of hanging off one ear. And thus, God’s will was revealed to Douglas Morrow.

 

                                                             Harold.

       And the crooked places were made, ah...less crooked, and the glory of the

Lord was revealed, and Morrow shrieked like a banshee straight outta hell. Harold shrieked and then Leland shrieked and Morrow shrieked some more. Everyone shrieked. The wonderful church was shrieking. Flies don’t shriek so they just resumed buzzing. 

 

       Miles and a few folks from the café ran in. Miles started into shrieking

almost immediately, but his shriek was one of laughter. The others didn’t know what the hell was going on. Miles knew.

  "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."