San Francisco – December
It was an apology. My father apologised.
“Sorry to keep you, Maurice.”
That was it. I’d travelled thousands of miles and spent thousands of pounds finding him and his first and only apology for putting me and Mum through years of hell was because he delayed me by going for a piss.
“Well come on.” He didn’t see the irony. “You’ll have to sit in with the rest of Joe Public. Up there.” He waved vaguely at a staircase to the right. “See you here, afterwards, Maurice. You can buy me lunch and tell me what you think of my style.”
“It’s Mo.” But he wasn’t listening; he was already heading for the door to the press section.
The press conference was already underway as I took my seat. The panel sat at a line of tables, covered in a white cloth; my eyes scanned along the speakers hunting for the one my Father had told me to look out for. That was my first sight of Lori-Ann Beaumont.
We had spent a fractious few hours driving from his home north of San Francisco. I had half listened to him bleat on about what he thought we’d hear. The only thing I’d really registered was her name and how he intended to make her squirm. That put me firmly in her camp before we arrived. Eventually we parked the car and headed south of Mission for the nondescript hotel where I now sat.
I was a long way up so had to scrunch my eyes to see her. All I really remember were the jet-black pigtails and the odd way her thick eyebrows curved down the side of her eyes. And her ruddy complexion, which may have been due to the unflattering lighting. Anyway it all put me in mind of Pocahontas. From the way she was hunched forward I guessed she expected the kind of grilling my Father had threatened, but to begin with the questions seemed pretty bland. Then, after 20 minutes or so my Father began his interrogation.
“Isn’t it hypocritical, Ms Beaumont, for a scientist such as yourself, used to experimenting on human embryos in the name of research, to be protesting against Prop Ten?”
“No. I believe in the right to life, but I also feel it would waste God’s Goodness and Love if we allowed those embryos that would otherwise be destroyed to be wasted…”
That was when the chair cut her off with a raised hand. He looked like an old-school preacher, all lumpy jaw and well-tended hair. The panel comprised ten people and it was pretty clear from their body language that Ms Beaumont was in the minority. Maybe of one. There were hushed whispers and some head shaking. I checked the flyer I had been given on the way in: The Evangelical Churches Congress against Proposition Ten, Chair Senator, The Reverend George Gardiner. From his furious face the Reverend didn’t look to be a man of peace.
Dad had said he would create ‘a bit of a stir’. At least he had got that right.
I leant over the balustrade to see the press, sitting in the front four rows directly below. Dad’s bald pate twinkled back at me. Some sixth sense must have made him look up; I bet he winked. I had a sudden rush of sympathy, or pity at least, for the isolated Ms Beaumont. This felt like blood sport, not a conference on some dry piece of Californian legislation.
When I’d traced my Father to North California, I had expected to find him sorry, contrite even at having abandoned us. I also wanted to find him down on his uppers. But he was relaxed and clearly surviving perfectly well as a successful and well-respected investigative journalist.
I had been ready to fly back to England the day before, when he told me he was attending this conference because one of the speakers was from a church – the Church of Science and Development – and the daughter of its leader, Pastor Isaac Beaumont who was ‘one of the biggest crooks in the televangelical world’.
I flopped back. I felt bone-tired and cross with myself. I suppose, if I was honest, I kind of hoped he would be shown up in some way; maybe I’d find his Kryptonite. That was as high as I set my expectations now. But here he was doing exactly what he said he would do. Damn him.
“They’re total shits, Maurice,” he had said. There, by the way, was another reason to loathe him; I am Mo to everyone but him and telesales people. “California wants to pass legislation accessing federal grants for the use of waste embryos in genetic research – they’re left over from IVF treatment – but the Church is going to protest against this despite the fact their university has used just such embryos and already accesses Federal money for genetic research. Hypocrites.”
I didn’t care about Beaumont or his Church but since Dad hated Beaumont, the Pastor and his daughter had my vote.
Ms Beaumont struggled to get a word in edgeways as my Father ruthlessly pursued his line of questions, now egged on by some of his fellow hacks. He was exploiting her obvious inexperience and her inarticulacy and, right at that moment, I wanted to hit him. I narrowed my eyes and tried to imagine what his nose would look like spread over his face but failed. He was too old and, I realised with a rush, I didn’t care enough anymore. After 30 years of anger and hate it turned out that I no longer cared.
My notebook fell off my lap. Dad was asking about someone called Opache. I fumbled to find the last page I’d used. That morning, as we were driving down, Dad had mentioned Opache and I’d written it in capitals and circled it. He had said, “There’s a story in this for you, you know.”
“How so? British papers aren’t going to waste ink on some local skirmish over some scrambled eggs.”
His smile alone was a cause for murder. “You heard of Ernest Opache?”
He knew I hadn’t. I didn’t bother to shake my head.
“He’s a lawyer, real scumbag who’s leading the support for Proposition Ten – that’s the California legislation…”
“I’m keeping up, Dad.”
“And he’s just as big a crook as Beaumont.”
“He’s setting up in the UK. Rumour has it the IRS are getting a bit pushy about his tax affairs and he’d like a bit of distance. You’ve similar legislation coming up in the UK, and similar pressure groups trying to stop or limit the use of these waste embryos. I bet Ernie thinks he can make a buck or two levering off his experiences here. That and he’s a supreme ambulance chaser, and I know how much the UK can do with another shyster lawyer. Even you can squeeze a story out of that.”
‘Even you…’ Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad.
I listened to the questions but they made little sense without more background and I was losing the will to live rapidly. I wasn’t going to wait for him. I wasn’t going to go for a meal. I didn’t want to talk to him again. I didn’t need the fake ‘goodbyes’ and ‘let’s meet agains’ anyway. I had just picked up my coat, ready to make for the exit when someone down below, I guessed near Dad, started shouting at the stage. Ms Beaumont was speaking again and straining to be heard. I rolled my eyes and moved to the door. The old man would be loving the spectacle he had caused and I really did not want to be around at the scene of his triumph. Time to withdraw to the airport and find somewhere for a snooze.
As soon as the door to the gallery closed behind me the noise level dropped dramatically. I skipped down the stairs, took a left and headed for the back of the hotel where I’d noticed a cab rank. The corridor was poorly lit with the sort of dim orange illumination that gave street lighting a bad name back in the eighties. As the passage curved to the left a service lift door opened and a maid began to heave out her trolley. A wheel seemed to have stuck in the gap between the lift and the shaft. “Here.” I held the door and gave the trolley a push. With a bump the wheel came free. That won me a lovely smile.
Just then a door to my right banged open. Noise exploded from it followed by Ms Beaumont. Almost at the same moment another door further to my right flew open and two men, one carrying a camera, stumbled out.
“Ms Beaumont. A word, please.” “Lori, can we have a few words…”
The poor woman looked terrified, like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights. More people – all men – were pouring out of the press section. Two thoughts hit me almost simultaneously. My Dad would be out soon, chasing his story – and I needed to help her escape.
“Over here.” I waved at the lift. To the maid I said, “Can we get out this way?”
The maid took a second before nodding. “Down. The garage.”
Ms Beaumont didn’t hesitate; she threw herself into the lift as I jabbed my finger on the close door button. With a hiss, the doors shut out the tsunami of questions.
With the wolves defeated I studied their prey. A line of sweat beaded her forehead and her cheeks glowed with intense pink dots. Up close I’d guess her age nearer 30 than 20. “You okay?”
She nodded, eyes firmly closed.
“What happened in there?”
She said nothing.
“I was in the gallery. Everyone seemed to be picking on you?”
One eye opened, then both. “Are you a journalist?” Her voice was shaky.
I smiled. I hoped in a comforting sort of way. “Yes, but I’m British. I…” I wanted to say something cute, God knows why. Just to impress a pretty women I suppose. Not an unusual situation. “I’m more interested in Ernest Opache. He’s coming our way. I thought I might gain some background, given his support for the Proposition.” She nodded as if taking all this in slowly. “Why did you leave like that?”
She smiled, not looking at me. “A member of the audience threw something at me. Not one of my fans, I suppose. The leader of my group suggested I leave but that started a stampede.”
“Senator Gardiner? Your leader?”
She looked up and snorted. “Him? No way. He hates me more than the shoe thrower I’d imagine. No, the man to my immediate left. Silver hair, grey tie?”
I shook my head. No image came to me. I suppose I wasn’t surprised. I had sensed everyone on the stage was against her so if she had some support it had to have been very ineffective.
“He’ll be pleased. He likes flying under the radar. Daniel Albertstein is leading our mission supporting the Congress.” She pulled her shoulders back as the lift slowed to a stop. “I haven’t thanked you, Mr…?”
“Oldham. Mo Oldham. My Father…” I stopped myself. Why should he get any airtime? “It was a pleasure Ms Beaumont.” We stepped into the garage and headed for the ramp. “I guess we can find our way out—” Her hand stopped me.
“Can we wait? I need to call my friend. He’ll bring a car around.”
“Sure. Of course.”
She smiled. “I’m Lori-Ann.” While she pulled out a phone and called her friend I peered through the grill. The service yard gave onto a narrow dirty alleyway. It was devoid of people and smelt of old food. As she finished I turned to face her. One of her thick eyebrows slid up. “So, do you act like you’re Robin Hood a lot, Mr Oldham?”
I made a small bow. I was about to say something stupidly sexist and caught myself. “It’s Mo. Please.”
“Well, I’m grateful. I doubt I was in danger but I really don’t need the hassle right now.” Her face clouded briefly. It felt like she was fighting some inner demon but she forced the smile back. “You’re interested in Counsellor Opache then? Well, I hope you find him out. He’s spent a lot of time trying to discredit our Church.”
“I heard some of that. Maybe you’d like to explain some of the background?”
“That would be lovely but I need to re-join my people. Here,” she fumbled inside her coat and handed me a leaflet. “If you’re interested in our Church.”
The Modern Way to God. I controlled the urge to gag and folded the flyer into my notebook.
She said, “I hope to be in England next summer. In London. Maybe we can meet up and I can tell you the sorry story about Mr Opache and my Father. My treat.”
“That’d be just dandy.” Why was I sounding like a second-rate Cary Grant? I dug into my wallet, hunting a card. All I could find was one belonging to my colleague and drinking buddy, Mervin Deacon. I found a pen and added my name and mobile. “I’m in London too. This isn’t me – just a good friend – but that’s my mobile, my cell. If you’re serious or if you need someone to show you the sights, give me a call.”
Just then a shadow fell across us. She said, “That you Jimmy?”
“Sure, Lori-Ann. Let’s go.”
She pushed the green button releasing the door. Something about her changed. She seemed stiffer, more formal, like she was putting on a show. An albino gorilla stood on the far side eyeing me like I was lunch, which was odd because I always thought they were herbivores. “Who’s this?”
“He rescued me Jimmy. Mr Oldham.” She stuck out a hand. “I’d like to offer you a lift but we must get to City Hall as soon as we can. Thank you once again.” She paused before grasping my elbow and stretching up to kiss my cheek.
I watched their SUV with its blacked out windows slide away and then followed on foot. San Francisco was coated in a ball-numbing fog and it began to seep into my bones. I hunkered into my inadequate coat and went on a cab hunt. A small part of me wanted to call Dad and say, ‘You’ll never guess who I had in my lift?’ but I couldn’t be bothered. I needed to get home, not waste more time on him.
I was in a cab to the airport when I pulled out the pamphlet and had a read.
The Church of Science and Development
The Modern Way to God
In 1935 GOD spoke to Joseph Beaumont. GOD said ‘THE CHURCH IS CORRUPT’. Joseph asked GOD what he should do. GOD said, ‘FIND THE PATH’
Joseph retreated to think and study. He recognized the problem. After THE FALL, MAN was condemned to ROT and DECAY; GOD sent HIS SON to save MAN and allow him to pass to GOD’S HOUSE.
Yet GOD had given MAN many TALENTS and INSTINCTS: to SURVIVE and PROSPER, to begat PROGENY, to be INQUISITIVE, to use his REASON. WHY? If MAN was CREATED to PROGRESS why should MAN then pass to GOD’S HOUSE by LIVING A GOOD LIFE ALONE?
GOD answered Joseph. And GOD shared HIS PLAN with Joseph. The CHURCH had been corrupted like MAN after the FALL. IT was on the WRONG PATH. GOD wanted MAN to LIVE A GOOD LIFE and to take all his TALENTS and INSTINCTS and strive to perfect his situation. He was to use everything around him to live longer, be stronger, to DEVELOP. Eventually, when all those TALENTS were used to the maximum MAN would ascend to GOD’S HOUSE as he would have done before the FALL: without ROT and DECAY. When MAN had eradicated disease and want, had removed injustice and wanton destruction, when MAN no longer feared or expected death, then MAN would ascend directly from his earthly state to GOD’S HOUSE. Science was at the center of GOD’S PLAN.
Joseph realized the BIBLE needed a fresh modern interpretation to reconcile it with GOD’S PLAN and that became his LIFE’S WORK which he achieved through the First Iteration of the Testaments of Truths in 1947. Further Iterations followed (they are now in their Fourteenth Iteration). These BRILLIANT GOD-DIRECTED INSIGHTS have given succour to countless souls clamoring for an interpretation that reconciles the BIBLE and JESUS’ MINISTRY with the major scientific, cultural, and social developments of the last two Millennia.
Since Joseph’s epiphany the CHURCH’S PHILOSOPHY has challenged both scientific thought and more traditional Christian teachings, which have positioned themselves at odds with each other. Under Pastor Isaac Beaumont’s LEADERSHIP the BEAUMONT CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY has become a world-renowned center for Science and Philosophy. Isaac has been recognized as the GREATEST EVANGELIST of the Age. He draws MILLIONS to his regular bi-weekly broadcasts. His CONVERSION RATE is phenomenal and the generous and farsighted donors are now enabling the CHURCH OF SCIENCE AND DEVELOPMENT through THE BEAUMONT FOUNDATION to invest in a wide range of projects and programs for the benefit of MAN. Using ethically sound principles Pastor Beaumont has led the University in developing one of the most imaginative and forward looking scientific research programs in the Country.
If you want to find out more about our Church please visit http://www.churchofscienceanddevelopment.com. Please feel free to mail us for further insights into how you too can make your way to GOD’S HOUSE in your own lifetime with GOD’S GOOD HELP and GUIDANCE.
You had to smile; these people didn’t do modesty. I glanced at the back – some stuff about their opposition to Prop Ten. We slowed as the traffic thickened; the cabbie told me there was something happening at the Levi’s stadium, home of the 49ers. While we waited I did what all self-respecting journos do: I looked the Church up on Wikipedia. Of course, in the case of a real story I’d check my sources properly. Yeah, right. I should have known a Church like this one would have its own PR team working on its entry. Probably the same sycophant who wrote the pamphlet. Take this nugget…
…its theology treats the Bible as a work in progress. They view it as part of a continuum of Christian thought that believes each new generation should improve and enhance the old so that, in time, the human race moves forward on its God-directed journey to its ultimate fulfilment. While Jesus is central to their belief he is but a stepping-stone and not an end point. Christianity is not static but organic; God’s aim in sending His Son was like a gardener watering his crops. Man needs to grow and to flower; that is God’s Plan. Man must use all his resources, all the powers he has been given to better himself so that, generation by generation, he creates a better world. That way he will pass straight to Heaven, fully aware and fully conscious. To do that Man must understand all he has been given, he must come to understand what God wants and why. The difficulties and uncertainties that plague us will fall away at that point and there will be a Utopian elevation of all believers to Heaven. So science is central to its belief system; it is by the enhancement of scientific thought and the continued development of scientific understanding (which embrace, controversially, the principles of Darwinian evolutionary biology) that Man will achieve this goal.
Happily someone, who I imagined planned taking a different route to God’s Good House, had also taken the trouble to add his (or her) two-penneth to the Wikipedia entry…
Despite its apparent modern interpretation of the Bible and the insistence that it is a work in progress, the Church still holds rigidly to Old Testament ideas on the place of women in society, that homosexuality is unnatural and a sin, and other religions have no place in the modern world. Further, its core tenet that God intended Man to develop from the Diaspora of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel to reach ultimate fulfilment as God directed indicates a limited world view of those who will be chosen and, to some commentators, smacks of eugenics.
Ten Lost Tribes? Just reading that brought back long forgotten and much dreaded Sunday school lessons when I had struggled to stay awake. I downloaded the potted version of the Testaments of Truths, just in case I could be bothered to study them later. If Ms Lori-Ann Beaumont did visit, then maybe I’d dust them off. Outside the fog was beginning to lift. If only the fog in my life would do the same thing. Nice though an hour or two in her company might be I had more pressing concerns, like saving my marriage and somehow explaining to my Mother that I’d found the husband she thought long dead. With that thought I pushed cute Lori-Ann Beaumont and her pigtails to the back of my mind. After all I wasn’t ever likely to see her again.
Washington, Five months later
Everett Marshall was 220 pounds and, despite the ridiculous heat of this late spring day, he was whistling. His forehead glistened with sweat but he felt good. Real good. He fingered the brown folder and smiled as he shouldered his way through the revolving doors and made for the security barrier. Having swiped his way in, nodding at the security people on reception as he passed, he took the first lift to the 21st floor. A few more smiles and nods to Bethany manning the phones and he was at his desk. The ink stand and the blotter needed marginal centring and he straightened the photo of his family. He just had time to call his wife, Phoebe, give her the good news and then he would speak to the team.
She answered on the first ring. He said, “Hi darlin’. I got it.”
“You did? You sure?”
“Of course. The Board of Management has confirmed it. You’re talking to the new Chief Executive Officer of the Medical Research Funding Bureau.”
Phoebe Marshall’s voice sounded anxious. “Not acting?”
Everett growled slightly. “I told you, didn’t I? The MRFB is under my control now.” He pulled the folder to him. “All I had to do was quote from the President’s speech last winter. They could hardly contradict the President, could they? They recognise they need a strong leader at this critical time.”
“Of course, darlin’. You did say. I just worry some…”
He smiled. “I told ya, didn’t I?” On the top of the papers in the folder was a photocopy of the speech that he had just given. He knew it was the coup de grâce. His eyes drifted to the top page…
…The President’s message is clear. A new frontier in medical research is required. Too many lives have been wasted, too many tax dollars spent on combating diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression and countless other health issues. ‘We have it in our power to use our God-given talents to find the answers to these challenges and to do so in our lifetime. We will provide increased Federal funding, despite the difficult economic backdrop, to kick-start a genetic revolution providing society with the tools it needs.’ That’s where the Medical Research Funding Bureau comes in. Like the National Institute of Health, the Medical Research Funding Bureau and other similar bodies must take the lead to ensure the President’s vision is complete. He said ‘If legislation is needed to ensure we achieve our goals then I will not hesitate to sign into law whatever is required.’ We mustn’t let him down. We—
Phoebe’s voice cut in on his dreaming. “It’s just a relief after all the uncertainty…”
“That’s just the way these people work.” Everett wished, just this once, she’d enjoy his success without any qualification. He said, “They know the mess Rhys Thomas left and they can see that I’ll make sure it’s cleaned up. I’ve been promised support from the Senate Medical Grants Commission and a free hand to remove the dead wood from the current staff.”
“Are they still resentful, darlin’? You said they weren’t real welcoming.”
He glanced out at the workstations; the few heads he could see were down, hard at work. They knew to keep on the right side of him. “Some. It’s to be expected.”
“It’s good to be settled after so much—”
“I must get on, Phoebe.”
“Have you a moment for Everett junior? He wants to say well done to his Papa.”
“Sure, a quick word. “ Everett smiled broadly as his boy was put on. “How’s it going soldier?”
As he finished he switched on his computer and waited for it to boot up. Today he could even tolerate the antiquated technology. Just then his cell rang. Phoebe was always doing that – calling back with whatever it was she’d forgotten. “Yes, Phoebe—”
“Mr Marshall?” A gruff voice with a distinctive southern timbre interrupted him.
“Yes.” Everett Marshall paused. “Yes it is. Who is this?”
“My name is Opache. Ernest Opache.”
Everett racked his brains. He knew the name from somewhere. “Yes sir. What can I do for you?” He wondered how this man had got hold of his private number.
“I hear congratulations are in order. Your position is confirmed.”
Everett blinked hard. How on earth did this man know? He definitely hadn’t been at the hearing.
Opache went on, “Now that you are in post I need to raise an important matter with you. I represent a client who has an interest in an organisation the MRFB funds. The Christian University of Beaumont.”
“Yes.” Everett had a vague recollection about something in a briefing note.
“My client believes you should be aware of certain practices being undertaken at the University that flout State and Federal laws and which, if unchecked, will undoubtedly have consequences for a wide range of people and organisations.” He paused. “Including your own.”
Everett wiped his forehead absently. He must get Bethany to up the aircon. “Perhaps you’d put your client’s worries in a mail, Mr…”
“Sure. Send it to my PA, Bethany Hodgson, will you? Her address is on our website.”
“You will want to deal with this yourself, Mr Marshall. If you would—”
“There are procedures for this kind of thing, Mr Opache. If you give us all the information you have we will assess it and…”
“You don’t understand, Mr Marshall. My client wants your personal attention on this matter. Indeed he expects it.”
“Sir, I’m a busy man and I really don’t have the time to deal with every matter. However I can assure you we are vigorous in—”
“I know how it works Mr Marshall. So many messes to sort out. Wisconsin and the abortive drug trials, Denver and the weight loss program that caused Mrs Johnson’s death.”
“That was unproven, Mr Opache. Mrs Johnson was already in poor health. I’m sure someone as well briefed as you knows only too well we have to go through our internal procedures. We have to do things in accordance with protocol.”
“Was your relationship with April Commache ‘according to protocol’?”
Everett closed his eyes and felt sweat trickle down his neck. “I suggest you watch what you are saying, mister. I—”
“Look at your inbox, Mr Marshall.”
“What? Why?” Everett fumbled with the mouse. There was a message from Ernest R. Opache. No heading, nothing except an attachment.
As he waited for it to open, his heart beating faster and faster, he heard Opache’s voice intoning like he was reading a charge sheet. “Senior Vice President of the Chicago Environmental Energy Consortium, April Commache, accused you of sexual harassment and lewd behaviour, in that you sought sexual favours from her in return for promotion opportunities and upgraded appraisals. You were suspended while investigations were implemented but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.”
“It was bullshit. A complete fabrication. I…” Everett stared at the screen. Before him was what appeared to be a still from a security camera. The camera had to be in the corridor outside his old office. It was focused through the glass and had caught Everett, in profile. What was also very clear were his hands pressing on something. In the top left corner was a time and date. The something was April’s head. It was the evidence April Commache had lacked when she’d made the complaint. If the film that went with this still had been available to the management, he would have been instantly dismissed and he certainly wouldn’t be here in Washington. If it came out now, God knows what damage it might do to him, both professionally and at home. Phoebe might be nervous and unsure of herself in many ways but he knew how she would react if she found out he had been unfaithful. And, even if she could be squared away, he knew how her Southern Baptist Father would react and what would happen to the generous allowance Phoebe still received. Everett studied the picture, trying to convince himself that he could argue it wasn’t him or it was entirely innocent, but he knew it would never work. Rather like April in the picture, Opache had him firmly by the balls.