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The Lord's Press


Harry Buschman

The offer came unexpectedly from the Beesville Trumpet. Warren Davidson was out of school six months and growing more disillusioned every day. Jobs of any kind were as scarce as hens teeth in Beesville, so he took a job in Mason's car wash to earn enough money to buy a train ticket to New York where the big newspapers were.

Then, out of the blue, came a letter from Babylon Kingston, publisher of the Beesville Trumpet. It seemed too good to be true. Warren grew up with the Beesville Trumpet, it was the only newspaper in Limestone County that had a Sunday edition with two full pages of comics.

Warren got his mother to wash and starch his newest white shirt. He wore his father's Sunday shoes and he found a Christmas tie he hadn't worn before. The letter from Mr. Kingston said to be in his waiting room at ten o'clock, Warren was there when the building opened.

"My, you're early Mr. Davidson. What time was your appointment?" The secretary was an elderly lady in a flowered dress, with bright apple red cheeks. She wore tiny eyeglasses attached to a long black ribbon which was tied to a cheap looking pin on her shoulder. She gave the impression, to Warren at least, of a poor relative of the Kingston family -- a widowed aunt or a stepmother.

As early as Warren was, he was barely earlier than Emil Arnsacker who burst red-faced into the waiting room just as Warren sat down. Warren knew Emil from Limestone State College, Emil graduated a year ahead of Warren. It should have been two years, except he had to make up math after a disastrous semester trying to deal with advanced calculus and a forced marriage to a town girl who worked in the school cafeteria. Warren hoped he wasn't going to be the competition.

They greeted each other nervously, like gladiators waiting to enter an arena. After a quick once over they ignored each other and concentrated on the birdlike actions of Mr. Kingston's secretary. She fiddled with the things on her desk, straightened her papers and sharpened her pencils. She suddenly jumped up and pulled the window blind up to let in the early morning sun.

"I'm sure he'll be in any moment," she said. "If you boys would like to freshen up there's a wash room down the hall."

Emil was on pins and needles since he arrived and seemed to grow more fidgety as he waited. He leaned over to Warren and said he had a touch of diarrhea, and he thought he'd sit in the john awhile. "Come get me please when Mr. Kingston gets here? I need this job so bad, you have no idea."

Warren had a pretty good idea. From what he'd heard, Emil's wife was due any day now, she was on maternity leave from the cafeteria and Emil was walking on eggs. Warren sat thinking of Emil in the toilet stall, probably rehearsing what he planned to say -- as he slowly dehydrated. "Thank the Good Lord," he
thought, "I come from a family of strong stomachs."

But then again, it was probably due to his genes more than the grace of God. His father, worked all his life in the strip mine, and his mother, who took in washing, were blessed with iron stomachs -- and a rare tolerance to people in all walks of life. Neither of them objected to Warren's youthful wish to be a newspaper man.

Warren's thoughts drifted far from the Publisher's office of the Beesville Trumpet and he thought back to his family and their small house on Maple Road. Life, until now at least, was smooth and simple from childhood right up to graduation from Limestone State. The tender years in public school, county fairs and Saturday morning fishing trips with his father at Waloon Lake. There were the teenage years; he thought back to the night he went to the movies with Dorothy Lowder. She impetuously kissed him goodnight at her back door. He was so surprised he never got a chance to kiss her back. He stood there, he recalled, like a deer caught in the headlights. Now, this part of his life was over. They were years he would remember with pleasure as an old man. He was entering a new and serious phase -- his career as a newspaper man for the Trumpet. It scared him a little.

He was startled awake by the sound of someone gargling in Mr. Kingston's office. Was it Mr. Kingston? How did he get in there with passing Warren?

He glanced quickly at the elderly lady who was in the process of arranging a tiny bouquet of lilies of the valley. She smiled knowingly at Warren ... "He often comes in the back way -- to avoid ... you know ... people sitting in the waiting room."

The gargling continued. It reminded Warren of feeding time at the zoo over in Myna County. It was suddenly amplified a hundred fold when Mr. Kingston switched on his intercom. "You out there, Becky Mae? Aaaaargh -- Aaaaargh. Hear me? The King man needs his coffee!"

So that was her name, she must certainly be an aunt ... an old one ... one on his wife's side maybe. She hurriedly turned the intercom off and leaped to her feet, ran to the percolator in the corner and poured a cup of coffee with trembling hands. As she passed Warren with the steaming cup she mumbled nervously, "He'll be wantin' to see you and the other young man soon's he gets his coffee down. He ain't a bit of good without his coffee."

"I'll tell Mr. Arnsacker."

Warren got up and walked down the hall to get Emil. He peered into the newsroom on the way, it was nearly empty. Well, he thought -- it's early. Yes that was true, but he could also see that even if every desk were occupied there wouldn't be many people there. Weren't newsrooms always humming with people -- phones ringing -- copy boys running from desk to desk? That's the way it was in the movies.

Emil was alone in the men's room. His heavy breathing and stifled groans were unsettling. Warren tapped on the door of the stall and told him that Mr. Kingston was in -- "Take deep breaths, Emil. It's now or never." He wanted to be fair, but after all, Emil was competition -- baby or no baby. He didn't bother to wait.

Back in the waiting room, Becky Mae was at her desk. "Where's Mr. Arnsacker?"

"He's on his way, ma'am. Will he see me first, ma'am -- after all, I was
here first?"

"Oh, I'm sure he'll want to see you both together."

Again, gargling came from the intercom, mixed with a general growling and clearing of the throat. Finally, the unmistakable sound of a snort and a spit ...

"Them young whippersnappers here yet Becky Mae? Send 'em in together, I ain't got all day ... God's a-waitin'"

Emil returned from the wash room mopping a film of perspiration from his brow. Warren stood up and waited for Becky Mae ... "Should we wait for you Ma'am?" Warren asked.

"Oh, no. No. It's you fellas he wants t'see. I ain't goin' in there lessen I has to. Jes' march y'selves right on in."

In spite of his disability Emil managed to get to the door before Warren. He twisted the knob but the door wouldn't open. Becky Mae shouted, "He must have the lock on. You'd best ring the buzzer." It seemed to Warren their entrance to the inner sanctum of the Trumpet was off to an awkward start.

"The first one in gets shot at," Mr. Kingston laughed. "You fellas seem a little anxious. Whyn't'cha pull yerselves a couple of chairs over here and sit down 'fore y'break somethin'."

The room was dark. Heavy green blinds were drawn against the morning sun. Light crept in around their edges and sent shafts of dusty light across the room. Warren could catch the scent of hard liquor somewhere in the room, and wondered if it came from Mr. Kingston or some hidden cache in a closet or perhaps in the bookcase behind the desk.

Mr. Kingston was a huge man, nearly bald, with eyes set very close together and he held an unlit cigar between his teeth and in the very center of his mouth. He stared at the two boys as though measuring them for a suit -- after a long look, he removed the cigar and leaned forward with both elbows on the desk.

"My name is Babylon, boys. My father was a man of God, and so, by God am I." He drank the last of his coffee and sat his cup in his saucer upside down. Next to the saucer was a freshly opened bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. Neither Warren nor Emil had introduced themselves.

Mr. Kingston poured himself a Bourbon, then squinted at both young men. "Y'ain't much t'look at boys. Who's who, or what's what is more like it -- I assume both you boys were baptized -- I mean, y'do have names don'tcha?"

"I'm Warren Davidson, sir." Warren turned to Emil, who still looked under the weather.

"Emil Arnsacker, sir." His voice was slightly strangulated.

"Whyn't you sit closer to me -- over here," he pointed to two chairs at the side of his desk. "You look sick, Arnsacker -- sumthin' gnawin' on'ya?

Emil was more than eager to explain. He went on about the sleepless nights -- his wife's discomfort -- living with her parents, and not being able to
afford ... etc ... etc.

Mr. Kingston poured himself a shot of Bourbon and downed it quickly. "Payin' the price for it, huh Arnsacker? Who would'a thought a little thing like a dick could get'cha into so much trouble." He picked up a paper and read, more to himself than anyone, "Warren Davidson, huh?"

Warren nodded.

"You look like you got it all together, boy. No strings on you I bet -- fancy free."

"I'm single sir."

"Like to write, boy?"

"Yes sir."

"It's a gift. I ain't got it. I know what I wanna say but I can't say it."


"What's that mean?"

Warren reddened. "Oh. I mean ... when you can't say what you want to ... it must be ... well frustrating."

Kingston sat behind his desk, his brows knitted in thought. He polished off his glass of Bourbon and stood up and bellowed, "Arnsacker! I want you for the newsroom. It's a good job, you'll like it. Go out there and ask for Joe Willie Keefer."

Emil, after listening to the conversation between Mr. Kingston and Warren, had just about given up all hope of landing a job with the Trumpet. He nearly stepped on his own feet getting to the door ... "Thank you, Mr. Kingston ... you won't be disappointed ... I promise." He cast a quick triumphant glance at Warren. "Sorry Davidson, that's the way it goes."

Mr. Kingston waited for Emil to leave. His eyes following him much as a cat's eyes would watch a mouse going into its hole. When the door clicked behind Emil, Mr. Kingston turned to Warren and smiled. "A kid like that don't know when he's been had. Twenty years from now he'll still be wanderin' around the news room takin' shit from Joe Willie." He lit his cigar and poured himself another Bourbon. "I know y'kin' write kid; I got friends at State and there ain't much they know that I don't ... trouble with me is I never had no formal
education. I know exactly what I want to say, but I have this thing you called ... what was it? ... festation." He held his cigar in front of him and contemplated the growing ash, then he tossed off the second Bourbon. "I think. You talk, get me?"

"Not entirely. Mr. Kingston."

"I want to send my message out to Beesville ... every day ... an editorial page devoted to God Almighty." He blew a perfect smoke ring which drifted across the room; Warren watched it chang color as it passed through a shaft of sunlight.

"In our schools I wanna see a Bible on every teacher's desk. A Bible laid out so all the kids can see it. I wanna see -- spread out from wall to wall on the proscenium arch in the auditorium -- right across the whole of the stage, so every one of the 400 people sittin' out there in the audience can see it."

"See what, Mr. Kingston?"

"Jesus is my Lord!"

"It's unconstitutional Mr. Kingston."

"What is?"

"To mix religion in the school curriculum, Mr. Kingston."

"Bullshit! That the way God wants it to be!" There was a hard edge in Mr. Kingston's voice and Warren wished he hadn't brought it up.

"It's like this, Davidson ... " The hard edge in Mr. Kingston's voice softened somewhat, but now there was a feverish look in his eyes. "He talks to me, y'know?"

"God does?"

"Betch yer ass, He does."

"He doesn't talk to me, Mr. Kingston."

"Course He don't! You don't run the newspaper, I do! Why the hell would He want to talk to you? Every afternoon about about quittin' time I set back in my chair and put my feet up here on this mahogany desk and have a word with the Lord."

Warren had to face his first problem as a man. It was the first time in his life that he could remember a still small voice within him, telling him that this man in front of him was unhinged. He had seen a few nuts in his experience, harmless nuts -- the kind who walked through town waving their arms and talking to the air. There was Clemens who used to surprise everyone by running through the car wash before anyone could stop him. But here was Mr. Kingston; the publisher of the Beesville Trumpet, with the power of the press behind him! God dropping in every afternoon to whisper in his ear while he sat there with his feet up on his desk..

It could be his first job on a newspaper. Just what he always wanted! All he had to do was go along with Mr. Kingston -- kid him along -- maybe he would change his mind. Maybe today was just a bad day-- a hangover maybe. Tomorrow might be a better day ...

"There's somethin' special about me ..." Mr. Kingston went on. "The Lord knows I can get His holy word out to the people of Beesville. Get His word back into the Constitution ... you know about evolution, dont'cha?"

"Yessir, I know."

"The hell y'do! It's poppycock! The Devil's work! Look at me, Goddamn it! Do I look like I got monkey blood in me. God told me -- personal mind you, that He made me, and you too, Warren -- fresh outta the mold. Just like he made Adam." Mr. Kingston put his cigar down and raised his pig-like eyes to Heaven. "I wanna get that message out to every man, woman and child in Beesville. Whadd'ya say m'boy?"

Warren stood up. His knees were quavery and the room swam before his eyes. "I don't think so, Mr. Kingston ... I don't think God talks to you." He reached out for the back of his chair and steadied himself. Mr. Kingston lowered his eyes to stare at him, and Warren could see their bloodshot rims. He could also detect a nervousness in Mr. Kingston's hands as they reached for the Bourbon bottle.

"Git'cha ass outta here, y'little punk." Warren started for the door. "Y'missin' out on the chance of a lifetime -- a chance t'speak for the Lord -- fuck off!"

He hadn't realized how dark it was in Mr. Kingston's office; the light was blinding in the waiting room. Becky Mae looked up at him sweetly -- "Well young man. How did it go ... are you with us?" She smiled at him like a doting aunt. "I knew it was going to be you but I didn't want to say anything while the other young man was with you. Mr. Kingston's had his eyes on you for some time."

"He must have thought I was somebody else, Ma'am." Warren looked in the newsroom as he walked out of the building. Emil was in there talking to an old man in a vest wearing a green eye shade. Emil already had his coat off and his sleeves rolled up.

Before walking over to Maple Road and heading home, Warren stopped at the car wash on the edge of town and told Mr. Mason he'd be in after lunch.

©Harry Buschman 2003

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