Patrick C. Crowell
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It happened at a religious theme park called "The Pathway to Heaven."
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 to death.

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, isn’t it?”
“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 exciting.”
“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 real?”
“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 Dionysian ambience.
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 party began.
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 uphold.

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 knew why.



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