|Patrick C. Crowell
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AN EXCERPT FROM
It happened at a religious theme park called "The Pathway to
The Christian evangelist stole a moment to give a surreptitious nod to a sexy,
short-skirted blonde standing to the side of the crowded plaza. He was proud
of his knack to pick out, acknowledge, be acknowledged, and flirt with beautiful
women, all without being detected. The vixen was finishing a cocktail next to
her friend, a tall brunette with streamlined, muscular legs, who was clad in
a tight, lime-green mini-dress.
He turned away and shook hands with a guest, smiling. Then, when no one was looking,
the evangelist mouthed, "not much longer," to the blonde. Seeing her
wink in response was exciting, and the fact that no one else knew thrilled him
The blonde studied the evangelist as she sipped her drink. I dig this dude, she
thought, watching him in action as he schmoozed the plaza. Isaiah Davila … leader
of The Christian Flock. Who would’a thought?
He was the CEO of Righteous Minds, Incorporated. He was 55, tall, still athletic,
square-jawed and handsome. Thick eyebrows peaked on his rugged face, but there
was something about his piercing blue eyes that riveted her to his gaze, near
to the point of being hypnotic. If he were not perpetually smiling, he’d
appear downright evil. She thought of the line from the Sly Stone song—“gonna’ take
you high … er.” She knew he was going to take them.
The “Flock” was the nationwide following from his television and
radio shows—an appellation given them by a liberal political think tank,
and, thanks to the media, it stuck. Instead of shunning the name and its conjured
implications, the evangelist urged his followers to embrace it—turning
the other cheek. It had become a matter of Christian pride to say that one was
part of the Flock, especially in the South.
Davila surveyed the scene. The marketing department of Righteous Minds had thrown
a gala press party in order to advertise the opening of its long-awaited main
attraction—a monumental ride called "The Christian Way”—and
throngs of reporters were there. Even as the blonde continued watching him, he
focused in on a different one of his guests—one of the reporters, a female
freelancer named Nolé Reynolds. She was checking the ride’s superstructure
shaped like a mammoth, golden crucifix, rising six hundred feet in the air and
housing fifty stories. As intended, it was now the highest building in the State
of Alabama. Notwithstanding the attraction's official name, it had already become
known simply as "the Cross.” He admired the young woman’s own
form, as she craned her neck to see the top.
He approached her, smiling. “Wayell, hello there, young lady. Awesome,
“Oh, Mr. Davila, it’s spectacular.” She glanced at him quickly,
and then looked back upward.
“It was constructed similarly to the World Trade Center, but has far more
centralized-steel cross bracing,” he said. “You see, we’ve
anticipated those Islamic bast … uh, brothers. They’d love to topple
our Cross ovah with an airplane, or something. There are colossal structural-steel
posts in the four corners of the building, the bases of which were pile-driven
into a humongous concrete foundation more than two stories below ground level
and three hundred feet across.”
He could tell she was fascinated. He wondered what she was like.
“Have you ever been pile-driven? Ah mean, seen pile-driving? It’s
really a marvelous process. The power it takes is just … just … tremendously
“Well, of course Ah have, Mr. Davila. Mah father was in construction.”
“Of course he was, yes. … The steel posts were sectionalized all
the way to the top of the structure—put together like a giant erector set.” Just
like you, he thought, checking her over again. “The arms of the Cross extend
two hundred feet from either side of the post, and are one hundred feet wide,” he
said. “The post itself is two hundred fifty feet square.”
Reynolds studied the thirty-foot sections of stained glass mosaics stacked from
top to bottom on the building facade. “How marvelous! Is the stained glass
“Of course, mah dear.” He couldn’t resist this little deception.
It was real after all—real resin. But no one would know. “All in
all, the Cross cost more than one hundred and fifty million dollars to construct.”
He didn’t explain that it had come in over budget and behind schedule;
and that the contractor had submitted a claim to Righteous Minds for increased
costs as a result of being "change ordered" and delayed to death. Litigation
was still ongoing, and lawyers for Righteous Minds were attempting to bury the
contractor's lawyers in paperwork and expense in order to achieve a more favorable
settlement. The evangelist’s company received far more than it bargained
for, but verily … didn’t want to pay for it.
Regardless, Isaiah Davila’s management team hoped the Cross would become
a new pilgrimage destination for Christians worldwide, like Mecca for Muslims
and Jerusalem for Jews. Now claiming the tallest building in the center of the
Bible Belt, it stood an excellent chance. It would all depend upon the best marketing
and publicity the debt-ridden contractor’s money could buy.
“Were you impressed by the entrance?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, it’s magnificent,” she said, recalling the landscaping
with grassy knolls, massive willow trees and splendiferous rose gardens. “The
peaceful images inspired overwhelming serenity.”
He envisioned what he liked out there—the cash-collecting ticket booths.
After forking over substantial mullah, the tourists beheld a gigantic, wrought
iron set of "Pearly Gates.” Next to them, marking entry to the park,
was a thirty-foot limestone sculpture of St. Peter in flowing robes, studying
massive books and a checklist, silently guarding access to Heaven. Patrons then
had to circumnavigate a large, oval planter to approach St. Peter. Centered within
the Bermuda grass planter was a flower garden spelling out “The Pathway
to Heaven” in colorful varietals, symbolically conveying that the way to
get to Heaven was through The Pathway to Heaven Pearly Gates.
Reynolds re-ran what she had thus far witnessed. When she had entered with the
other reporters, they all viewed a long, cobblestone main street called "The
Way to Calvary." It was lined with numerous shops, restaurants, and places
of amusement, all constructed to resemble the architecture of Israel circa the
time of Jesus. The shops included Christian books, Christian clothing and plenty
of souvenirs—something for everyone. Mostly young persons manned the stores.
Some were elderly—obvious retirees looking to supplement their social security
income. All wore homespun earthen-colored tunics, matching headdresses and rugged,
clunky, brown leather sandals.
From the beginning of The Way to Calvary, the press members took hurried notes
as they had walked down the centralized avenue and beheld the grandest vista
of the Cross at the end of the road. Before the Cross, they discovered ports
of entry to the four main “lands” in the park. "Bibleland Old
Testament" on the left offered rides, shops, restaurants, and themed exhibits
inspired by stories of the Old Testament. Similarly, "Bibleland New Testament" on
the right, symbolically guarded by a statue of Emperor Constantine II, was based
upon New Testament places and events and the gospels that Constantine’s
Counsel of Nicea had voted on and selected. "Jerusalem" was accessed
on the left just after Bibleland Old Testament, and, finally, "Bethlehem" was
on the right, just beyond the entrance to Bibleland New Testament.
After passing the four themed ports of entry, The Way to Calvary led the reporters
to the Cross and circled around the structure’s mammoth base. Reynolds
had stifled laughter when she reached the large plaza at the base of the structure
interspersed with "baptismal drinking fountains." They were equipped
with glistening stainless steel crucifixes spouting water from their long, slender
arms and tops. When guests would step near a fountain, a recording was triggered
and a deep, fatherly voice would say, "Tread lightly upon this holy ground.
Drink and be baptized.”
Normally, this plaza was the staging area for guests gathering their children
or deciding what to do next, and they could garner a drink of the refreshing
holy water, or even purport to baptize themselves. However, for the gala, two
lavish bars for alcoholic libation had been placed on either side of the entry
to the Cross, along with tables and chairs for the press; and the Baptismal fountains
drizzled rivulets of dry cabernet sauvignon, lending to the ceremony a distinct
After all, Davila had reasoned, Jesus drank wine.
“Well, darlin’, if you’ll excuse me,” he said to Reynolds. “I’ve
got to do mah duty.”
All eyes were upon the evangelist as he led prayer in his Southern drawl and
addressed the VIPs from behind a hand-carved, wooden lectern.
“At this theme park … this monument to JEEsus,” he concluded, “we
will spread the Word and teach the Gospel like nevah before, and our mission
will be fulfilled!”
Afterward, his staff led the media on a tour of the Cross and then … the
Later, as the festivities were winding down, the evangelist watched the departing
reporters with satisfaction, observing that they were inebriated and appreciative.
Newspapers, trade journals, magazines and television stations would now run stories
about the Cross in the local, national, and international press. Anything Righteous
Minds did was big news, and this was the biggest—the architectural structure
itself already becoming an iconic landmark. The free advertising would kick-start
the new campaign.
Davila was shaking hands with the last of the media to leave, disappointed that
he’d lost Nolé Reynolds in the crowd. Oh well, he thought, as he
saw his aides across the plaza attending to a powerful political candidate who
had graced the event with his presence. The politician was a yet-unannounced
presidential hopeful from the Christian right. Now scanning the field for feminine
solace, Davila disguised a glance at a sure thing, and treated himself to a veritable
feast of eye candy—the mini-skirted bombshells.
Oh, my, the evangelist thought. We're going to get our kicks tonight.
The party-girls were making quite a spectacle of themselves at the Baptismal
fountains. He tried to mask his pleasure at watching them on either side of one
of the fountains with their hands bracing themselves on the stainless steel basin.
Their spandex-covered hips were thrusting backwards like NFL cheerleaders as
they bent and straightened alternating legs, while leaning forward and drinking
the cascading wine. The taller of them was even so bold as to encircle her mouth
over the cross arm, as though it was a phallus, just when she knew the evangelist
would see, and she giggled as red wine dripped from her delicious cheek.
The executive editor of a local rag suddenly grasped Davila’s hand, and
Davila realized the man had caught him gawking at the un-Christian demonstration. "Mah
word,” Davila said. ”Something should be done about those two." He
smiled like a crocodile and bid his guest good-bye, fully intending to carry
out his own suggestion.
Someone else had caught the sexpots’ little demonstration. The political
candidate was talking on his cell phone when he saw the girls' antics and felt
a distinct disturbance in his loins. Striking he was, his tall physique clad
in a gray, pinstriped Armani. His handsome and masculine face and cobalt-blue
eyes were framed by healthy, neatly cropped gray hair. Fortunately, it was apparent
to no one just how eager he suddenly was. He reached into his pocket to double-check
the presence of his little blue pills—after all, he had a reputation to
Eventually, the candidate bid adieu to the evangelist, thanking him properly.
He left with his entourage for The Manger of Bethlehem Hotel where he was a guest
in the Presidential Suite, anticipation charging his gait. Only he and the evangelist