We arrived in Atlanta late in the afternoon, an easy trip considering the graces of having two people to switch off on the driving. We stayed in the RV that night in a park that Joseph had reserved for us. Due to the winter weather keeping the park mostly empty and the proximity of the Secret Service sedan, nobody bothered us that night, despite having Joseph’s face plastered on the side of the massive vehicle.
I found myself barely able to find sleep that night. Maybe it was knowing that the man was just beyond the thin privacy curtain, ostensibly awake, doing whatever he did during the times when everybody else was asleep. I couldn’t also get the worry out of my head that my plans for that following day would be the best for me, the Agent, and the country in general.
I peeked my head out beyond the curtain for a short moment, simply out of curiosity. The long-haired man was sitting in the kitchenette, head turned out the window and looking up at the bright moon shining through the dark cloud cover. He didn’t seem to blink, but so late in the night, I didn’t care to confirm whether such a thing was true or not.
The Pastor was up earlier than myself that next day and had already ventured out to bring back a box of donuts and two steaming cups of decaf. “Good town here,” Joseph announced energetically. “Good people.”
I picked at my hair and brushed the sleep out of my eyes to appear as proper as I could at a time like that for the man who was still technically my employer and boss. “You didn’t go alone, did you?” I asked, making sure the man was still about. I noticed him outside, still looking up to the sky.
“Oh, no. Agent Barth came with. I actually hadn’t gotten much talk out of him until now.”
“I see.” I focused on the conversation and attempted to ignore my desire to dig into the sugary box of pastries.
“They’re sending out a shuttle at about 2 to bring us to the station. Eat up, Jude.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
As he foretold, the shuttle bus with the TV network’s logo on it pulled up in the neighboring spot just on time. In the hours previous, Joseph, myself, as well as the man had finished going over the questions and the particular ways he could answer them. We had also made ourselves presentable, with the Pastor dressed in the same manner he had appeared on the rally stages and sermons many times previous.
It was the first time that anyone outside of our regular group had come into contact with the supposed holy man. The driver, a young intern-looking woman, wavered between staring at him and being fixated on the floor while she helped us into the vehicle. On the drive, I caught her eyes several times in the rear-view mirror looking at him possibly more than the road. Despite her inattention, we arrived at the station’s parking garage in one piece.
Just as we were going to enter the building, her voice echoed about the wide, dim space. “I must ask something of you, your holiness!”
Joseph turned with the man toward her. He maintained a straight face. “Of course, my dear. Speak.”
She approached us again, hands on her stomach. “I am… not able to have a child… to conceive with my husband. I ask of you… please make my womb fertile.”
Joseph’s eyebrows twitched, and his gaze trailed toward the man. Before he could speak, the long-haired man stepped forward and placed his palm toward the young woman’s stomach. As he held her, everyone seemed to be holding their breaths. The moment lasted for longer than anyone would have liked, but separation finally came. “Go now with more ease, child.” The man said.
Tears formed in her eyes, but before the exchange could go on any longer, a man in a headset popped out of the nearby elevator doors. “Joseph Cummings and party? May I ask you to proceed with some haste?”
While Joseph and the man went off to makeup, agent Barth caught up with me. “Interesting show.” He murmured.
“On this station? Or…?”
“The one down in the parking garage.” He corrected.
I leaned in close to him and spoke lowly. “Do you really think… he did anything at all?”
“Whether he did or not, it’s not like the girl will know anytime soon, or if what happens is a result of anything he did.”
From there on out, I didn’t have any further contact with Joseph or the man. First was lights, then soundcheck, and then the host came out to meet and chat with the both of them. Mark Pilatus was his name, fairly famous in the area, and although I had never watched the show before, my quick internet search revealed he had decent ratings across most of the midwest. Barth and I moped around backstage until the camera operators began to turn restless. A loud call for quiet on the set went out, and the lights fell.
The stage we set up nicely with a long desk with two opposing chairs and fancy microphones which were likely there just for show. Joseph was already sat at one, with the holy man just off-camera. The crew directed us to a screen from where we could see what was being broadcast at that moment. The energetic middle-aged tan fellow jogged out and rubbed his hands before the camera, launching into his spiel. “Good evening Ladies and Gentleman at home, and welcome to Cross the T’s, with I- Mark Pilatus. We’ve got a unique show for us tonight indeed. First off tonight, speaking with us is the talk of the town- no- the entire United States. Joseph ‘The Pastor’ Cummings.”
Pilatus restrained himself a bit as he found the seat across from Joseph, and the camera pulled in to frame both of them.
“Welcome, Mr. Cummings,” Pilatus said, shaking hands across the table.
“Good to be here, Mark,” Joseph replied, reciprocating the shake. “Just Joseph or Pastor is fine.”
“Is that so?” Pilatus nodded with a smile. “I’ve never actually addressed anyone as Pastor before, or Priest, or Father for that matter- not even my own!” He joked loudly.
Joseph sat back and audibly breathed out his nose. “Well, whatever you’re comfortable with.”
Pilatus rubbed at his face and fine, dark whiskers. “No worries, no worries. Perhaps I should be worried instead with the man you’ve brought with you today. How should I call him? Mr. Christ?”
“His holiness, I prefer to use, but he goes by many names.”
The caster nodded emphatically and waived for the man to come into view from behind the set curtains. A stagehand stepped in hurriedly after with a matching seat, and the supposed holy-man sat down at their level.
“Well, never would I have-” Pilatus paused. “No, perhaps down to business. In case anyone at home has been living under a rock, Mr. Joseph Cummings is running for President of the United States. You’re planning big changes here in the U.S.”
“That’s right,” Joseph answered officially.
“With this man’s help.”
“Well, Mark, such was the plan, in fact, from the beginning,” Joseph said, leaning confidently across the table at the host. “I’ve had the Lord on my side ever since I accepted him into my heart. When I first decided to run, it was with his strength I was going to do so. But it just so happened that he appeared to me in the flesh and blood.”
“And you’ve taken that as a sign?” Pilatus asked expectantly.
“Oh, yes, quite. There is no greater sign than the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”
“Quite interesting. I’ve been following your interactions about the country so far, the Bible Belt for a good part of it. Obviously, you had nothing but good turnouts in those parts, correct?”
“And what about the rest of the country?”
Joseph shrugged. “There are plenty of believers out there, and more who will open up to believing when they see the light.”
“I see, I see. We haven’t heard much from this man over here- excuse me, his holiness.” Pilatus leaned to the side, finding the eyes of the man. “May I ask you what you think of this? Perhaps… perhaps give us a message that can be cast all across the country, for all to hear- from the blessed one himself.”
Joseph bit at his lip, but it didn’t seem like he was going to stop the man. He took a breath and began to speak, vaguely able to find the lens of the camera. The words that came from him were the very same I had coached him on: “In good time, all shall come to believe and trust in us, and have faith. If they want to be saved, they must follow.”
“Everyone, huh?” Pilatus hummed, mouth twisting up. “I realize you may not have been on modern-day Earth for that long, but of course The Pastor, or your campaign manager, or anyone else working your team could have told you this: in our government, we have this thing called ‘separation of church and state.’”
Joseph cleared his throat. “That is a given, Mark.”
“Well, then, you should know that plenty of people out there may be… turned off by your rugged religious views. Especially those who practice other religions, or choose to not practice at all. So far, in my humble amount of research, mind you, I haven’t seen much of any policy from you that would attract those not immediately drawn to your character or specific views.”
Joseph leaned back, nonplussed. “That’s a lot of words just now.”
“No, I don’t mean to muddle the issue, Pastor. Can I pose it another way?”
Joseph crossed his arms and leaned into the table, eyes locked to the host. “If they don’t support me, others will. It’s as simple as that.”
Pilatus pursed his lips and nodded slowly. “You know, Joseph, Mr. Christ. You mentioned earlier this idea of a Second Coming. I’ve just heard back- my manager pulled up the verse- King James Version if that works for you-”
“-and it says that he will claim Earth as his kingdom. That it will be fearful and mournful for the wicked. Who would you call the wicked in your mind? Or perhaps, his holiness’ mind? And claiming the whole Earth- that must be only figuratively, of course?”
Joseph’s face twisted up like I hadn’t seen before. He looked to the man, who similarly didn’t seem able to respond. “May we… take a pause? Edit out this part? I’d like to change the topic.”
Pilatus flapped his mouth, and then looked to the camera. “I, uh- let’s go to a commercial break, shall we? We’ll be right back with our two expectational guests… Okay, we’re off? Mr. Cummings, I’m afraid this is live.”
Joseph jerked the chair back and stood. The man followed suit, leaving the host silently in his spot. Barth and I rounded the set stage and caught up with him, his back hunched over. “What sort of a man does he think he is?” The Pastor fumed.