Test of Faith
Joseph and the man returned to the rest of at lunchtime, with Caine absent. The Pastor seemed to beam with a great energy, and he was quick to explain to us the news. “Caine is not so bad himself- he said that if my campaign were chosen over his own by the heavens themselves, that I stand to take the primaries.”
“Conceding defeat already?” I asked, wary that Caine had actually said those exact words.
“Well, he said that if I get ahead in the primaries, he won’t hesitate to step down. How far away are we, Jude?”
“Just over two months.”
Pastor Sim of the Mega-Church bid us farewell the next morning. With the Oklahoma City rally on Wednesday, we had two days to sight-see. Everywhere we stopped, so did the black sedans with the agents. Joseph was in high spirits that week, and he even allowed us to stop and stay at a proper hotel the first night on the road again. I was lucky enough to get a room of my own, with the family and the man staying in their own suite.
That night when I decided to venture to the lobby to buy something from the vending machine, I couldn’t help but notice the agent standing outside of the family’s room. It was the same man, in fact, who had held me up against the car under detainment before Joseph came to my rescue. He gave me a singular look but didn’t acknowledge my presence any farther than that. On my way back, however, I couldn’t help but talk him up. “Keeping up the hard work?”
The agent glanced to me, nodded, and turned back to face the opposite side of the hallway, but otherwise said nothing else. “I… hope you’re not stuck out here all night.”
“We can’t discuss the nature of our shifts.” He finally spoke up coldly.
I leaned in close and lowered my voice, knowing that the family was just on the other side of the door. “Could I ask about… then… that man… you know? In terms of… me being detained to confirm my identity, while he gets to go about without any sort of suspicion?”
The agent tugged on the front of the dark blazer and straightened his back without another word. I took the long moment of silence and inattention as the cue to return to my room.
Sometime later the next day, during a stop at a gas station, the lead agent, Barth, caught up with me and stopped me as I was stepping out of the door of my car. “Mr. Jackson. Again, I apologize for the events back behind the Church the other day. I ask, however, that at you don’t engage with my colleagues unless you are in trouble yourself.”
“Is this about last night?”
“You know where the problem lies, Mr. Jackson,” he said, beginning to walk away.
“Hold up now-”
Barth stopped and turned his ear back in my direction. “I really must be going.”
“You know more than you’re letting on to, don’t you?”
Without another word, he took up his stride again to the RV at the far end of the lot, from which Jess and her mother were descending.
Oklahoma was as flat as I had always heard. After the long drive staring at the back of the RV, I almost didn’t see the buildings of the capital city rising up around us. It turns out that the contact Joseph had in the city was also the chairman of the city council, and had set us up in a fancy RV park just beside a big outdoor park venue with a stage that would be the place for the rally. The employees that led us to the parking spot in their golf cart weren’t too excited to see me and my car, but I did my best to follow along and keep my head down.
The two spots to either side were empty and were soon occupied by the dark sedans belonging to the agents. A few began to spread out and look ominously about the area, but from what I could tell, they would be hardly under any duress. As the park’s attendants graciously did the duty of hooking up the massive RV to the electricity and other services, I noticed people from all about either walking or riding similar carts to the spot. Joseph was, as expected, the first to descend and greet them, followed by the man. Fearing the judging eyes aimed toward both me and my old beat-up sedan, I grabbed up my laptop and jumped up into the long vehicle. Jess was inside as expected, peering out the windows.
“Those people are here to meet my dad, I guess,” she said, offering me a glance as I sat across from her.
“I imagine they’re not here on accident,” I suggested, opening my laptop in hopes of being able to find a usable wifi signal. “Probably coming here to show support. Lots of snowbirds, though.”
“Old… retired folk who like to get out of the cold weather during the winter.”
Sharon stepped out of the back room of the RV and spoke up. “I guess we’re getting a taste of a life like that for just this little bit of time… before we end up in the White House, of course.”
“Right.” I said, absentmindedly looking at my screen as it connected to the park’s internet. “But I can guarantee as president… first lady, as well… you’ll be going a lot more places than just Oklahoma.”
The Rally was that following evening, just as the late winter sun was setting and the glaring stage lights were coming on. It was almost like a cross between a cookout and a concert, with people gathered about, grilling, playing music and ball games, and generally having fun. The loudspeakers on the stage finally crackled on, garnering the eager people’s attention. They began to migrate toward the front of the stage as Joseph made the last few adjustments to his tie and collar.
Joseph didn’t say anything that he hadn’t said before, and the crowd was indistinguishable from any other we had encountered… that is until the parting of the crowd, caused by a woman convulsing on the grass. The event organizers pushed through and went to aid the woman and her family. Joseph urged calm on the crowd and spoke at them to stand back. I caught sight of the man standing still beside Joseph at the edge of the stage, simply seeming to observe. While attention was off us for once, I stepped forward and grabbed at his shoulder, tempting my luck.
“A heart attack, maybe? How terrible.”
“Yes, Jude.” He said in a low voice.
“If only… we had a miracle to save her…”
The flash of the man’s eyes was unlike anything he had shown me before, a puzzled look piercing through the normal serenity. The sirens in the distance grew closer, and before I knew it, the woman was being brought away on a stretcher.
As Joseph brought the crowd back to attention, he took his wife’s and the man’s hand and urged the crowd to do the same. “Let us pray that she makes it through this, and finds a speedy recovery… amen.”