14) Monday, January 28th – “Big Rat… Big Cheese!”
In Feargal’s, Reverend Godwin was shaking his own cellphone, trying to get decent reception while a cold and sullen crowd crowded around the generator-powered heater and warmed its tonsils with Leo’s various higher-proof concoctions…
“Mr. Lee? Mr. Lee?”the Reverend screeched. “Godwin here… I wasn’t sure you folks would even be open, I couldn’t reach Trent. Uh huh?… just a moment, I…”
His companions in one of Feargal’s booth were Westy Soames, his Uncle Raoul and another eminence from the neighborhood, Cuss Lightner, a retired bus driver and veteran of civil rights struggles dating back a half a century. A man who, it was rumored, had sent and received correspondence to and from Dr. King and President Kennedy. Godwin, accordingly, covered the mouthpiece and informed his distinguished companions…
“They’re open! Mr. Lee… he even got the boss there, not that big boss on TV, but somebody important…” and then he drew back as David began talking, replying, into the cell… “uh huh?”
From the FCC Research building, David explained: “Well, I’ve submitted my findings and, uh… the powers that be seem to be of a differing opinion…”
“Well, I understand that you’re not the policy maker,” Reverend Godwin replied with an icy politesse of his own, “but this is gonna hurt people my people out here and…”
A sharp, electronic squeal followed by sounds of shouting and scuffling impelled Godwin to hold the phone away from his ear as the other three… and, even, a few nearby freezing patrons bored with the replay of Super Sunday XXVIII on ESPN-Classic or the Congressional impeachment hearings of hedge-fund manager appointed Vice President Fred Meldrim… strained to listen…
“Best I can do,” David ventured, “the Research Manager is here and she’d like to speak to you direct…”
“Well fine. Fine!” Godwin beamed. “Put the lady on!” And he winked to the others… the Reverend was well known around Purley as a staunch enemy of adultery… but rather more broadminded if the Sixth Commandment was not at issue, “ …talkin’ to the big cheese here, man n’ God to woman…”
“Takes a big rat to rap with big cheeses…” Uncle Raoul muttered to the rest of the table, satisfied with earning a slight trembling on the lip of the straitlaced Lightner that might… by an elaborate stretching of parameters… have been dubbed a smile.
“Is this that Ellsworth Godwin who calls himself a minister?” Kristi demanded to know. “One of those agitators stirring up trouble about next month’s telecommunications transition?”
“This is Reverend Godwin, yes…”
“So you say,” the Research Manager challenged him, “but do you have a seminary degree? We do all kinds of research here, so it won’t do any good to lie…”
“And our research implies that, no, you are not a licensed seminarian. You’re one of those streetcorner preachers with an Internet diploma, or maybe you’ve graduated to some shabby storefront in Purley…”
Godwin replied with barely concealed outrage. “It’s a people’s church, ma’am, the premises are clean and we are affiliated…”
“But you’d like something bigger?” Kristi overrode him. “Right? You’ve got it burned into your walnut brain that you’ll be the next Al Sharpton or Reverend Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters or Obama’s nutcase Wright… especially with the prospects of a new administration that might see things more your way? Well, let me say that you people…”
“My people?” Cupping the mouthpiece, the Reverend glanced piously at his audience. “One of them ‘you people’ people…”
“Uh huh!” Raoul seconded. “Which is eggs-ackley why us people ought to be paying more attention to the private sector…”
“Don’t try to make this some sort of racial issue when it’s not,” Kristi Chaine warned. “There has been plenty of warning that this was going to occur… plenty of time for people to save up for a new set or converter…”
Godwin held the cell away from his ear at an increasing distance as Kristi’s voice… high enough and loud enough to be heard across the table… grew increasingly screechy. “I just wondered if you knew, or cared,” he finally replied… with the receiver still a good four inches away, “that a hell of a lot of people didn’t plan on havin’ to lose out on the Superbowl. Now if the ‘Skins got in…”
“Are you threatening violence?” was the Manager’s reply, shrill enough for Godwin to hold the phone even further away, as if it was a dead rat. “It sounds like you’re threatening violence if you don’t get your way – and that is a Federal offense. And if you… if people really need their little game of throwing and catching their little balls, go visit a neighbor. Or do as you do now, Reverend, hang out in some sleazy bar…”
Which motivated Westy to holler, across the room: “Hey Leo, lady here says you run a sleazy bar!”
“Who ‘dat?” the publican scowled. “This is a clean place… no rats, no dope, who sayin’ ‘dat?”
“Lady onna phone…” he pointed to Godwin.
“People already know what’s goin’ down…” the Reverend answered, “they don’t need nobody to tell them what and what not to do. As for the premises, well, it’s not as if Jesus Christ did his witnessing on Embassy Row or at one of the President’s golf courses…”
“Tell ‘dat bitch she come in here, she can lick beer offa counter an’ not catch a solitary disease…” Leo called out, “not one.”
“Long as she don’t bite into one of those leftover right wings…” Cuss growled.
“Cold as it is here, ain’t never gonna go bad…” Raoul disagreed
“Are you still there?” Kristi demanded to know. “Mister Godwin! Reverend…”
“Well, at least you could hold off tinkering with your machines until after the game,” Godwin finally said, “or use your government connections to have ‘em go back and play on the 10th, seein’ as…”
“What happened the other day in Green Bay was an act of God, something which… which…” the Manager sputtered, “…which, if you were a real minister, you would be in church, pondering, instead of hanging out in a saloon…”
whistled Uncle Raoul.
“And the first postponement – well, that was consequential to an act of men who stand against God and America… yours and mine…”
“And movin’ the transition date up to Friday the fifteenth… was that an act of God, too?” the Reverend gave in to an irresistible urge to needle this impossible woman. “Or of terrorists…”
Kristi closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and willed the pitch of her voice down to the growling cadences expected of Vern’s Ice Queen. “The Commission has been working on this matter for a decade, and we are not going to back down now,” she said. “If the NFL wants to move their game up a week, well, that’s their choice, their prerogative, and if you keep on calling Mr. Lee, with more troublemaking schemes, well, that will only hurt his already-dubious standing…”
And then, without awaiting a reply, Kristi handed David back his phone… but he met her glare with an icy squint of his own.
“Ells, yeah… don’t worry, call any time,” he defied his boss. “She… all these people, they’ll be history soon as the new Prez gets her ducks in a row, so to speak. I ain’t goin’ anywhere, and if I was, I’ll be back… probably win a nice, juicy settlement, in the process…” he added, glaring at Kristi over his shoulder.
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