His offices in the ten-story church building are always crowded with supplicants of every kind seeking favors. Like an old mafia Don, he dispenses the influence given him by the millions of his congregation. His weekly televised Sunday Sermon Service is a bully-pulpit of the first magnitude. He becomes the powerful man the southern part of the country.
It began with a simple concept, divinity of human consciousness that once voiced, grew into a world-wide religion. The nation's yuppie population, jaded and totally invested in a material world finds new hope. One after another, Rawlins' male offspring takes control of the global internet church, until the last one in the long line rejects it, until forced to embrace it to save his own life.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.01(d)|
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By Richard C. Russell
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Richard C. Russell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLonnie Parker threw the small red bikini bra on the bed. Then she slipped off the bottoms and dropped them. She stood up straight. Through large warm green eyes, she critically assessed her naked body reflected in the mirrored-wall behind her bed. Her eyes moved slowly down over her image from the top of her head covered in long golden blonde hair, which flowed in soft glossy waves over her shoulders to her breasts, to her feet. Her breasts, which had blossomed at the age of thirteen, were large, still firm, and high.
She compared her blond hair to the narrow strip of closely cropped, reddish-black pubic hair on her lower belly. "The carpet doesn't match the drapes, Lonnie," she said aloud and chuckled. She had always been able to poke fun at herself and tried never to take herself too seriously. She was a bottle-blonde having changed her natural hair color years ago hoping it would improve her chances of getting more film work.
She practiced her professional smile. Her teeth were as perfect and as white as money could buy. She put the palm of her right hand on her lower stomach and pushed. "Baby factory," she said aloud. Nothing she could do but continue the setups. Might as well not have a baby factory, she told herself sadly.
At twenty-seven, the clock was running out on her childbearing-years. She did want children but not with her long-time live-in boy friend. He was becoming more insufferable every day, she thought, as she frowned in the mirror.
Lonnie rose on her toes and turned from side to side. Yes. Her thighs and lower legs were still in good shape. She was five feet, ten inches tall and most of it was in her long legs. She had found her height a real handicap in the movie business. Most A List leading men, vertically challenged, demanded and got female co-stars that made them look good and not like dwarfs. She had lost many good movie roles in the past because casting people had considered her too tall.
She turned from side to side to check her ass. All the dieting and grueling daily workouts with her personal trainer had started to pay off. She had almost died from mortification in the screening room on her last movie. In the dailies, she had watched as she ran away from the camera. Her ass had looked like two pumpkins bouncing around in a burlap bag. She'd live on lettuce, tofu, and water for the rest of her life before she suffered embarrassment like that again!
Lonnie had been a working actor since she was seventeen but she hadn't made the big time and she wanted the big time so much it hurt. Over the years, she had worked and worked at perfecting her craft. Acting was her entire life. She still waited for the right role in a major movie that would properly show off her talents to American moviegoers. Such a movie could be the vehicle that would catapult her into the rarefied air of the fabled Hollywood A List, where worldwide fame and vast fortune were as every day as a drink of water.
Lonnie knew she had to compete with thousands of younger and more beautiful women who came to L.A. every year to get into the movie business. She also knew most of those little darlings would gladly fuck a snake for just a chance at a small walk-on part in a movie.
She had had her own big break on television years ago when she had been lucky enough to get a role on what had became a long running popular sitcom. After the network canceled her sitcom, it went into syndication. She still received residual checks from rebroadcasts. Over the years, she got the occasional movie role but she hadn't worked nearly as much as she wanted to work.
Lonnie Parker wanted to be an A List actor. She was only near the top of the B List. She was lamenting this situation when the phone on the bedside table rang. She walked over, sat on the bed, and picked it up.
"Lonnie, darling, is that you?" She recognized her agent's nasal twang.
"Yes, Jeff." she told him. She made an ugly face she hoped the slimy bastard could see over the phone.
"Lonnie, I hope you're sitting down because I've some great news for you!" He gushed over the phone. Jeff's a slime ball, she thought, but he's a pretty good agent. Anyway, he had been her agent since she had first come to L.A., and he had stayed with her through the lean years.
"I'm sitting on my bed, Jeff," she told him. "What's happening?"
"Well, wait just a minute, while I picture you sitting on your bed. What're you wearing?" She could almost see drool over the phone. That's why you're a damn slime ball, she thought.
"Jeff, I'm going to hang-up," she threatened.
"Oh, don't be like that," he said. "Besides, you're going to want to hear this! Guess to who I just talked to on the phone? And he called me! Go ahead and guess," he challenged her.
"It's to whom, Jeff, not to who," she said correcting his dysfunctional grammar.
"Yeah, yeah," he complained the way he always did when she reminded him of his lack of formal education. "Michael Allen that's to whom!" he sneered. "Now what do you think about that, Miss Smarty Pants?"
Lonnie Parker had to think for a second but then she placed the name. "You mean the Michael Allen! President of the MJM Television Productions?" she asked him excitedly.
"That's the guy," Banks assured her. "And he called me!" He added reminding her again to be the one called was so important in L.A.
"So what did he say?" Lonnie asked impatiently. She wanted to kill him for dragging it out to make him look better.
"Okay! Okay," Banks said. "He called to ask if you'd be interested in the starring role in a new television drama they're putting together for the fall schedule." Her agent waited for her to absorb this part. Over the years, he had come to know his client and her ambitions very well. Michael Allen had told him he wanted his client for the upcoming project only if she agreed to the favor he wanted from her.
"You told him yes, I bet!" Lonnie said and gripped the phone tighter.
"Of course, I told him yes. I told him I had to talk to you first, but I was sure you'd be interested. They want to shoot the whole season–ten episodes! Do you believe that the whole season? Do you know how much money they're going have to pay you? I'm going to rob those bastards for you," Banks said. Instead of the money she'd make, he started to think about his commissions. He had been concentrating so much on how to get her to agree to the side deal, he hadn't spent any time counting his fifteen percent.
"No pilot?" Lonnie asked her agent. She knew the way things usually worked in this town. First, they made a pilot for a project, and then after a hundred fat guys with big cigars had watched the pilot, they might okay the project. Her agent hadn't answered her question.
"Jeff?" she asked him again. "Don't they want to make a pilot first?"
Jeffery Banks wasn't really paying attention he was feeling a little giddy after counting his commission on the deal, but he heard the suspicious inflection in her voice.
"No. No pilot," he told his client. "I asked him about that and he said no pilot.
"Something doesn't sound right about that, Jeff," she said. "Why would they front my performance fee and all that production money without a pilot?" Lonnie started to feel disappointment. Something's not right, she thought.
"Lonnie! Lonnie, relax will you?" Banks purred in her ear. "Allen runs the place. If he doesn't want to do a pilot nobody over there is going to argue with him. It's a done deal! Get ready to go to the bank, okay?"
"Okay, Jeff, but it still doesn't feel right," she said not convinced.
"Lonnie, baby, there's just one little thing they'd like for you to do for them ..." he started to say hoping to lead his client along the path to doing the favor Allen had demanded.
"Fuck you, Jeff!" she yelled into the phone interrupting his oily spiel. "I'm an established actress! I don't have to do things like that you, you bastard!" Now she knew! Now she knew why the deal didn't sound right.
"No, no, no! It's not like that, Lonnie. I swear!" Banks stammered. "It's a favor for an old man ..."
"I'm sure it is!" she interrupted him again and started to hang up.
"Please, Lonnie, please hear me out!" he begged her. He could feel his big commissions slipping away. "I swear it's nothing like what you're thinking!" He tried to reassure her. "Please, Lonnie, just let me tell you what Allen told me."
"You've got two minutes before I hang up this damn phone!" she snarled at him.
"Okay. Okay, but please let me finish before you go ballistic again," he said. Banks took a deep breath and hurried on. "There's this old man in Memphis who's a great fan of yours. He's been a big fan since he first saw you on the sitcom in the early days. He'd like to come here and meet you but he's just too busy. He asked Allen to try to arrange a meeting with you, and Allen's pissing all over himself to do a favor for the old guy.
Allen wants the old guy to be in his debt, you know, to owe him in the future. What they're asking you to do is fly to Memphis and do lunch with the old guy. Just lunch, Lonnie, I swear!" Banks assured her. "It's at one o'clock in the afternoon. What can happen at one o'clock in the afternoon?" he asked. They'll fly you out there. You've lunch with the old guy, and then they fly you right back here the same day." Banks stopped talking and listened to her breathing. He could tell she was a little calmer.
"Just have lunch with an old man, and then I get a starring role in a new drama series in the fall?" she said sarcastically. "Is that the deal, Jeff?" She was sure he was still trying to con her. The dirty son-of- a-bitch ought to be in jail! she told herself.
"That's the deal, Lonnie," Banks said. "And it's a great deal for you! Just think what a boost this'll give your career! We're talking a big step toward the A List." He poured on the oil trying to push all her buttons. "If it gets picked up for another season your future is golden. You can use a hit TV series to do damn near anything in this town and you know it!" He stopped talking again. He had used all his best arguments. Now he crossed his fingers and waited for her response.
Lonnie had heard his sales pitch. She knew he really wanted the money this deal could bring him. She really wanted the deal as well. Her earlier outburst might not have been fully justified. Rich guys always did each other favors. Most of them did things just like this to prove how powerful they thought they were in the world. For Allen to go this far out on a limb to impress an old man in Memphis must mean the old man was one powerful old dude.
"Okay, Jeff," she said. "You can set it up, but I want everything signed, notarized, and my upfront money in the bank before I get on any plane to Memphis. Otherwise, it's no deal!" She said empathically. Then she slammed down the receiver before he could respond. She was still mad at him for trying to manipulate her.
Lonnie lay down on her bed. She considered all the wonderful things this deal could mean for her and her stalled career. Jeff's right about the possible upside, she told herself. She really didn't know why she had felt so insulted by what she had first thought Allen wanted from her. If she were honest with herself, she knew she'd gladly fuck anyone who could get her on the damn A List.
* * *
Brother Ryan Rawlins flushed the commode in his private bathroom and washed his hands. He studied the face reflected in the large mirror behind the marble vanity top. A full gray beard sprinkled with a few black whiskers covered most of his fifty-two-year-old face. The once handsome nose had started to look like a small potato. His sparse gray hair was combed straight back into a long ponytail held in back by a leather covered elastic band.
You aren't getting any prettier and that's for damn sure! he thought. His brownish-green eyes had small yellow-colored flecks around the inside of the irises, which looked like small gold circles. They were still sharp, penetrating, and his best feature.
"Well, that's the way it goes, first your money and then your clothes," he told himself, and smiled at his image in the mirror. He chuckled aloud, closed the door behind him, and returned to his large expensive desk. He could remember when he had cleaned toilets for a living. It didn't seem that long ago. He chuckled some more as he sat down in a three thousand dollar executive chair. Then he rolled the chair under the big desk. Using his right foot, he pressed down on a button installed under the thick carpet.
"Yes, sir," his private executive secretary, Alice Jenkins, answered the buzz in her ear. She already knew her boss was ready to go back to work, after his short restroom break. He's gone to the bathroom at almost the same time for the last ten years, she thought.
"Let's go back to work." Jenkins heard over her headset.
"Yes, sir," she acknowledged his instructions. No one else could hear him because of the headset she wore. Alice Jenkins really didn't like using the headset. It pretty much ruined her expensive hairdos. She had become somewhat vain since she had become the private executive secretary to the old man. A large increase in pay had come with her new august position. She could afford more time at her favorite beauty salon. She looked up, smiled, and nodded at a middle-aged portly man dressed in a very expensive suit.
The man, a V.P. with one of the world's largest oil companies, had been waiting and watching impatiently for her signal, but he had concealed his growing displeasure. He knew better than to piss-off Alice Jenkins. She might forget his next appointment. Then his company would send someone else to see the old man and he'd be out of a damn good job. He stood and walked to Brother Ryan Rawlins's office door.
As Alice Jenkins pressed a button on the control console near her right hand, a loud buzzing sound came from the electric lock in her employer's wood-paneled, steel-cored door, as the heavy bolt slid open.
Mister Marvin J. Wilson opened the door and entered what he always thought of as the royal presents. He walked past, but paid little attention to the large heavyset youngish man, who he had sat beside for the last thirty minutes. He remembered seeing the same man sitting in the same chair during his previous visits. Sometimes, he wondered what the man did for the church. He obviously wasn't an executive.
Wilson walked to Rawlins's desk. The heavy door closed behind him with a soft click. He smiled at the old man behind the desk. He saw Brother Rawlins wore a blue jogging suit of some shinny material. He had never seen the famous televangelist wear anything else during his visits. The colors might change, but it was always jogging clothes of some kind. Once, he had seen Rawlins in a black suit with a tie on TV. Years ago, he had watched a little of one of Rawlins's Sunday sermons. He had had to leave for a golfing date at his club.
"Good morning, sir," Wilson said respectfully. He sat down in an over-stuffed leather visitor's chair. "How're you today, sir?" he inquired. He didn't offer to shake hands. Brother Ryan Rawlins didn't shake hands with anyone.
Rawlins's regular visitors already knew, and his first time visitors were told by Alice Jenkins, her boss's painful arthritis prevented him from shaking hands or standing during visits. This statement wasn't true, but the lie saved her boss a lot of what he considered useless effort.
"I'm fine Mr. Wilson," Brother Ryan Rawlins said. "How're all the folks back at your place?" Wilson knew this was a rhetorical question and a signal to state his business. In just fifteen minutes, his meeting would be over.
"Sir the president of my company, on behalf of our board of directors, has asked me to inquire if you'd re-endorse Senator Johnson for the upcoming elections this November?" Wilson said. He leaned back in his chair and waited for Rawlins's decision.
All this damn time and effort, he thought. All this damn time and effort to get a simple answer that normally would've taken less than ten minutes on the damn telephone. Unfortunately, one just didn't call the famous Brother Ryan Rawlins on the damn telephone, he told himself, because he was the leader of a national electronic church with a congregation that numbered more than ten million members.
Excerpted from Divine Consciousness by Richard C. Russell Copyright © 2008 by Richard C. Russell. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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