Saturday June 16, 1979
Forty large helium filled silver balloons with long red, white, and blue streamers strained at their tethers, bobbling low in the late twilight summer sky above the stadium. Music blaring from the loudspeakers had a somewhat cacophonous echo as most of the nearly eighty thousand people sang along with the amplified voice of a well known baritone. Many stomped and clapped the rhythm. Jubilant sounds of "Gimmee That Old Tyme Religion" reverberated through the grandstands and echoed off the surrounding hills. It was the last of six nightly performances in Denver for evangelist Reverend Bobby Gibbs and the Christian Meaning Crusade.
The stadium groundskeeper wasn't pleased; most of the field was filled with folding chairs and the legs were boring holes into the scrupulously tended sod. The second and third rows of temporary seats were occupied by special guests and important local persons. Twelve carefully selected individuals and their families sat anxiously in the first row, some twenty feet from the podium platform. These were the fortunate ones upon whom the Reverend Gibbs would lay hands while offering a healing prayer on their behalf. A platform sat in the open end of the stadium, covering what would normally be the football end zone. It held the band, choirs, and other entertainers. The singer, at the front edge next to the podium, was using his arms to urge the rest of the crowd to join him for the last chorus. New voices added to the din. The excitement level surged. Thousands more feet stomped and it seemed the clapping hands met with greater force.
The crowd knew, thanks to many TV appearances, the Reverend Gibbs would burst forth the moment his theme song ended. They began watching the tunnel at the other end of the stadium.
The vibrating camera mounts forced the television director to switch back to the studios for a twenty second religious articles commercial. He hoped the tumult would die down before Bobby made his entrance. His shouted instructions were relayed into the stadium from the control van parked outside. Two crews with hand-held cameras instantly scurried toward the tunnel, trying to get there in time to make lens focusing adjustments before the lights dimmed. They barely made it.
Perfectly coordinated darkness cloaked the stadium on the last beat of the drum and crash of the cymbals. The singing and stomping rippled to an end, replaced by billowing anticipatory applause. As the commercial ended, the director snapped his fingers and an assistant spoke into the microphone connected to the stadium control room.
Cheers split the air as spotlight beams thrust through the gloom to illuminate the stocky build and dark hair of Reverend Bobby Gibbs. He stood at the end of the tunnel, fists raised like a champion of ancient Rome. Slowly pivoting, he let their clamor swell uproariously as he accepted the crowd's honor with a broad grin. The hand held camera picture was perfect.
In the television control van, the director crossed himself mentally as he gave the command to switch to a second deck camera. His wasn't the only grateful sigh in the van. The picture came on clear and stable. The angle was perfect to follow Gibbs on his majestic parade of one along the main aisle at the center of the field.
He reached the platform. More lights came on, forcing hurried lens adjustments to soften the glimmering reflections from the satiny surface of his reddish brown suit. At the podium, he turned from side to side with outspread arms. A two carat diamond on his pinkie finger sent sharp bursts of light at the cameras. There were no possible adjustments for the star like explosions of blue-white light.
"Damn it," muttered Earl Croft, "how many times do I have to tell him not to wear that ring on TV nights?" Watching a monitor at the foot of the platform, the Stage Manager of the Crusade bristled at the repeated failure of Gibbs to follow instructions. A thick set, serious man, Croft understood the problems in the van, having held more than one of those jobs the last eight years.
Reverend Bobby Gibbs stepped behind the podium with both fists raised. His square features assumed a stern look and the arms snapped down. His dark brown eyes beneath thick brows commandingly scanned the audience, willing the crowd to silence. The dynamic preacher stood at the silent center of an evangelistic hurricane about to engulf the stadium. His deep voice boomed through the quiet: "Let us pray."
Inside the business office well insulated from the outdoor sounds, the Stadium Manager made his final cross check comparing turnstile counts against prepaid ticket stubs, tickets sold at the gates, and cash received. He smiled while signing the form and turned to the tall man next to him. "It's hard to believe how well we've balanced all week, Reverend Reed. Seems as if nobody wants to cheat God."
"That's unthinkable, Brother McNeil," Joshua Reed said. The trim athletically built man wore a medium-gray three piece suit in keeping with his role as General Manager of the Christian Meaning Crusade. He piously continued, "Only a fool would try to cheat the Lord."
McNeil, whose primary dealings were with the promoters and business managers of profit oriented events, shook his head in amazement as he offered the accounting sheet to Reed. "That's six full houses in a row. We've balanced within eight turnstile counts every night."
Joshua Reed glanced over the numbers. Satisfied with the accuracy, he laid the paper on the desk and removed a Cross Pen from his shirt pocket to sign the acknowledgment block. Smiling, he said, "It looks like the Lord has helped the city do well this week."
"Yes, sir," McNeil answered with a wide grin. "We've done better than we would've with six football games." He handed the form to the secretary so she could make photocopies.
McNeil wanted to fill the waiting time. He said with a grin, "The city and the taxpayers sure do thank you, Reverend Reed, and also Reverend Gibbs and the Crusade for stopping here. We really do appreciate it."
"All in the Lord's work." Joshua smiled.
"Hope we see you again next year."
Reed chuckled softly as he replied, "I'm sure we'll return, Brother McNeil." His mental calculations had already told him the average nightly gross would rank the city seventh on the year's tour. The income to the Crusade there surpassed three-fourths of a million dollars per performance. The profits for the week should easily reach two and a half million.
Following protocol, the secretary gave the copy to McNeil to pass on to Reed.
"Thank you," Joshua said. He folded it in thirds so it would fit his inside coat pocket. Smiling, he turned to leave.
"Thanks again," McNeil said, watching the conservatively clad Reed exit the office. He turned to the mousy woman, his long-time secretary who'd been silent throughout, and said, "What a difference. Reed is by far the sharpest of all the business men we've dealt with in all these years. He makes most of the promoters seem like clods, and still, he's so much nicer and easier to deal with."
"And so much different than Reverend Gibbs," she added.
"Like night and day," he said and laughed. "Gibbs doesn't seem to care about anything except saving souls and healing people. The money doesn't matter to him at all, does it?"
"As much as they make, he doesn't have to." She laughed and removed her glasses. "Sometimes I'm amazed that Reed and Gibbs ever got together. I wonder how it happened."
McNeil laughed with her. He picked up the accounting sheet and gazed warmly at the figures. "You know, Ruthy, it'd be a helluva good time to ask for a raise when we give the Stadium Commission our monthly report in two weeks."
On the mezzanine level next to the press section, Joshua chose a seat at the rear of a private box. It was there for the use of whoever rented the stadium. A thick, shatterproof glass barrier separated him from the field. He adjusted the volume control mounted behind the seat so Gibbs' voice was barely audible. Reed settled back to observe his partner while listening to the words flowing from the wide, thin-lipped mouth. The act, well past its twentieth year, seldom needed critique, but Reed still watched Gibbs on stage with the attentive eyes of a tough critic. It was a habit formed long ago. The hard work of the early years was paying huge dividends.
Gibbs used the jutting jaw, expressive mouth, heavy brows, and piercing eyes like skillfully played instruments in a symphonic orchestra in perfect harmony with the language of his stocky body. The precise use of hands and arms accentuated the words which roared accusations of sin, or brought gentle revelations of the State Of Grace promised by God to reformed sinners. Years of relentless practice under Reed's watchful gaze created an awesome stage presence for Bobby Roy Gibbs. Underneath the carefully fluffed black hair, his rugged face achieved a look designed to haunt all but the purest conscience. Joshua scanned the crowd. Their reactions confirmed his opinion; Gibbs had become an absolute master craftsman at the art of pulpiteering.
Bobby's words suddenly slashed through Joshua's thoughts, causing him momentary anger, "...to condone abortion is an abomination in the eyes of God. It's the same as spitting in the face of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ Himself." Gibbs was veering from the script for the second time this week, and the ninth time in the last five weeks. It seemed to Joshua that the more he complained to Bobby about it, the more it happened. The excursions from the planned presentation into politically volatile and morally divisive issues were in direct conflict with the carefully structured non-controversial Crusade format. They agreed from the long ago outset to avoid issues with no middle ground--those which force people to take sides.
Joshua reached for a cigarette and realized they'd been left in the car. He was alone in the booth and no one would have seen him commit the so-called sin. He chuckled, thinking about cigarettes and sins. His anger abated. Bobby's sins were the basis for thirteen times they had been blackmailed. Reed found it an obscene paradox to hear Gibbs get specific about any particular moral value. Bobby returned to format. Joshua relaxed, sliding back from the edge of his seat. He was grateful Gibbs didn't dwell on the subject at length.
The crowd was soon perched at the crest of an emotional tidal wave, hanging on every word. Gibbs left them writhing there. He stepped off the stage and went down to the front row of temporary seats. It was the precise moment for asking God to perform individualized healing miracles for pre-selected candidates. The staff believed the sick and lame were thoroughly screened for validity. Ten of the twelve applicants were chosen on the basis of attitude, faith, and truth of an illness. Potential dramatic impact of a cure on the audience was also an important consideration. Normally if at least one healing occurred, when Bobby called upon the crowd to accept Jesus, they would burst from the seats like an avalanche. Few, if any, would stay seated no matter how many times they may have answered the call to salvation in the past.
First to receive the personal attention of Reverend Gibbs was a frail young man clad in a baggy open-collared green sport shirt and faded blue jeans. The boy had to use crutches to rise and stand waveringly alongside his short gray-haired mother in front of Bobby. She wore an ill-fitting dark blue dress with white lace piping which seemed to accentuate her plumpness.
"Tell us, and God, about your son's problem," she was commanded.
Her contorted face was covered with tears that flowed from a well stocked pool of self-pity. Afraid of being cut off, she rushed her reply. "Jimmy's a good boy, Reverend. He ain't once lost his love of God, and he ain't never complained 'bout this polio. Please, Reverend Gibbs, I begs you to help us."
Bobby turned to the boy. "What's your last name, Jimmy?" he asked gently.
"Ganderstone, sir," he whispered with quivering lips.
"Do you love God, son?"
"Oh yes. Very much, I do." The boy nodded his head as he spoke.
"Do you love His Son, Jesus Christ?" Bobby's voice grew louder and he placed his hands on Jimmy's shoulders.
"Yes," came the boy's sharp reply.
"Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your very own Savior?"
"Oh yes, sir."
Earl Croft, watching the monitor, noted Bobby's eyes seemed to sparkle. He squared his broad shoulders and hoped the diamond wouldn't sparkle into the picture.
"Then bow your head, Jimmy Ganderstone, and pray with me."
Gibbs paused momentarily and scanned the crowd, saying, "All of you, bow your heads and pray with us." His head dipped. His resonant voice filled the night air: "Dear God, our Heavenly Father, we ask in the name of Your blessed Son, Jesus Christ, that You look with kindness upon this fine young man, Jimmy Ganderstone. He loves You dearly. He has accepted Jesus into his heart. His wonderful mother is Your servant. I ask now, in Jesus' name for You to heal this boy's affliction so he may serve You better and live as a shining example of Your wondrous mercy. Amen." The crowd echoed the "Amen". Bobby stepped back four full paces. As he spread his hands the television audience saw a burst of blue-white light. Different sections of the live audience saw the same flashes of light at different moments. Later, some would say with certainty that they'd seen a bolt of lighting from above.
"Drop those crutches, Jimmy Ganderstone," he shouted, "and walk here to me. Show us, Jimmy. Show us God's mercy." The crowd waited silently.
Mrs. Ganderstone wrung her work-hardened hands and said, "Oh, please do it, Jimmy. I beg ya, Jim, do it. Go to the Reverend."
The boy quivered convulsively and released his grip on the crutches. He teetered as they fell to the ground. His first step was small and hesitant, the second wobbly. Shouting with joy, he raised his arms and made three rapid steps into Bobby's waiting arms.
Utter bedlam shattered the night air, shouts of "Praise the Lord", "Hallelujah" and "Thank you, Jesus" mixed into an unintelligible roar. When he hugged Jimmy and his mother, Bobby's face glowed with a smile of satisfaction as he bathed in the tribute being paid to the healing power that flowed through him.
The Ganderstones, crippled little Jimmy and his poor, hard working, God fearing, long deserted and suffering mother were known among the Christians of the city. For them it was a prime example of God's infinite mercy that can come to devout and true believers. Scattered members of the audience expressed doubts which were erased by word traveling quickly. The Miracle was verified by those who knew the boy and his mother.
In the Press Boxes, a few feet on either side of Joshua, there was a mad scramble to get to the telephones. Reporters were calling to set up background checks to verify the Ganderstones. Others were filing stories about the spectacular healing; they would be relayed electronically around the planet before Gibbs left the stadium that night.
Joshua read the crowd reaction, knew the impact it was having in the Press section, and chuckled as he began contemplating the results. Healing a well known local invariably brought in an extra average of roughly three dollars per person in the audience. They would rush home emotionally charged and write letters expressing joy and gratitude to Reverend Gibbs and the Crusade, but more important, many would enclose checks.
Statistical experience showed the number of checks would be equal to one for every eight members of the audience. The median value would be twenty dollars. When the crowd exceeded fifty thousand, at least one well-heeled guilty conscience would emotionally generate a contribution in the ten thousand dollar range. They could depend on checks for a thousand dollars for each ten thousand people in attendance. Joshua knew this night would yield an extra quarter of a million dollars from the stadium crowd alone. It was harder to accurately predict the financial results from the broadcast.
The Ganderstone boy was the first of three healings. Bobby returned triumphantly to the podium, his jaw jutting with pride. The crowd sat feverishly waiting for his call to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Personal Savior.
Joshua chuckled, watching as the crowd nearly trampled each other to get in line so they could be among the first to be seen accepting the Savior. The line grew short and he rose to head for the elevator. He wanted to be in the limousine so the vehicle could roll the moment Gibbs reached it.
The six foot tall chauffeur, wearing a perfectly fitted black uniform with the Crusade Crest embroidered over the left breast pocket, opened the door for Joshua, saying, "Security just called on the radio. Gibbs should be here in two minutes."
"Thank you, Garland." Reed entered the expanded rear compartment of the glistening oyster white Cadillac. Settled comfortably on the far side of the main seat, he briefly savored the familiar quality of the interior. Suede leather, inlaid woods, and wool carpeting were pleasant little reminders of their financial success. The smoked windows prevented anyone from seeing into the car so Joshua lit a cigarette and sighed with the first exhale. He lay back and considered mentioning the script deviation to Bobby, knowing an argument would ensue if he did.
The door opened and Gibbs exploded into the vehicle shouting, "That damned carpenter. I want him fired immediately." He crashed onto the seat, making the car bounce. "He was told to get the podium fixed two days ago. I got another splinter tonight," he bellowed. Bobby examined his fingertip, and then sucked on it.
"It'll be fixed," Joshua said and sighed. He took a long puff on the cigarette and wondered if anyone, pious or not, is capable of the forgiveness taught and exemplified by Jesus. Reverend Gibbs recited the Lord's Prayer every working day of his life, yet seemed incapable of forgiving the slightest transgression in his personal world.
"Josh, I've told you not to smoke where others can see it. Someone might have noticed when the door was open. Are you trying to ruin me?"
Reed ignored Bobby's challenge. "That was a good performance tonight," he said, choosing not to mention the departure from the script while the mood was already tenuous.
Gibbs smiled. "Yeah. Did you see the Bannystone kid? He hasn't walked without crutches in twelve years."
"It was quite something," Joshua muttered. He intentionally did not correct Bobby on the boy's last name.
"I've got the power, Josh. If it keeps going like this, I can't help but have the biggest congregation in the world. Even bigger than the Pope." Bobby paused to suck on his fingertip again. In prior times, Joshua might have teased Gibbs by asking why a splinter puncture was more difficult to heal than polio. Now, it would only evoke a state of fury. It caused Reed to ask himself when he started walking verbal fences and biting his tongue, avoiding subjects in order to placate his partner's temper. The problem seemed to be getting worse.
The door locks clicked, Gibbs took a cigarette from a gold-plated combination holder and lighter. Joshua and Cheryl had given it to him when they celebrated their fifth anniversary in the crusade business. Bobby dangled the lit tube of tobacco from his lips while opening the bar. He poured a shot of bourbon, downed it in a single swallow, and filled the glass again.
"Aaaaah," he said with a sigh. "Does the Pope perform healings?" Gibbs asked, leaning back on the seat and taking another sip from the shot glass.
"Not that I know of," Reed answered. "But since we aren't on the Vatican mailing list I'm not sure."
Laughing freely for the moment, Bobby Roy Gibbs seemed to be his old self. Reed hoped so. The hope lived almost as long as the flashing glimpse. The laugh ended in an arrogant, smug expression. With jaw jutting, Bobby asked, "How many tonight?"
"People, healings, or dollars?"
"In that order," Gibbs commanded.
"Just under eighty thousand, three, and about four hundred thou' net-net," Reed replied curtly, almost adding a snide "sir" to his statement.
Bobby pursed his lips and wrinkled his forehead while doing mental calculations. His ability with numbers lagged far behind the skills of Joshua. "That makes fifty-one real hearings, doesn't it? At least sixteen on this tour. How long've we been out, fifteen weeks?"
"Fifty-one, sixteen and fifteen," Joshua affirmed as the car smoothly moved forward. Two police cars with lights flashing led the long white vehicle out of the parking area. Two more police units trailed them. The escorts cleared a path through the hopeful crowd collected along the exit. No one could get close to the Reverend Bobby Gibbs' car. Joshua softly laughed to himself at the incongruity of a faith healer who shrinks from the touch of an un-chosen leper upon his expensive robes.
"Sixteen," Bobby mused. "That's really good. What's next on the schedule?"
Reed puffed on the cigarette chuckling at the way Gibbs remembered healings, but never the schedule. Bobby refilled the shot glass while awaiting the answer. "Tomorrow morning we fly to Reno, Nevada. At two in the afternoon, you give the benediction and a feature talk at the Governor's Mansion in Carson City."
"What's the occasion?"
"The Governor is paying political homage to sports at a barbecue. Steve will give you the speech to study on the plane. At eight o'clock, we start a four night stand in the Reno Coliseum. Thursday's a travel day. Friday we open a nine day stand in Anaheim with two shows on Saturday and Wednesday."
"Place like Reno," Bobby said, shaking his head, "we'll be lucky to have a decent crowd, let alone real healings. You know I don't like gambling towns. See if we can get out of it." His posture stiffened as he spoke.
"We can't, or you won't try?" Gibbs challenged.
"I won't try," Joshua replied. "The Church Council has guaranteed minimum crowds of eight thousand per night."
"I don't care."
"For Christ's sake! Have you forgotten the days when we dreamed of drawing a hundred, let alone have a guarantee of a eighty times that many," Joshua snorted. "Really, Bobby, you should try recalling our ecstasy the first night we topped two hundred. What a party we had, remember?"
Gibbs remained stiff. He spoke in a clipped, harsh manner with even tones. "I do not wish to take chances with my reputation."
"Ha, ha. Sure," Reed burst out. He laughed at the obvious paradox in his partner's attitude. He was also jolted into facing the immense personality changes in Gibbs through the many years of their association.
"I am very serious, Josh." Bobby glared at him. "What would the press say if there are no healings? It is very important I don't lose my momentum."
"There'll be healings. You know that."
"There damn well better be," Gibbs stated sharply. "And I mean a real one."
The limousine pulled to a stop under the hotel entrance canopy. Both men extinguished their cigarettes. Gibbs slid the bar shut. They both resumed pious decorum, smiling for all in the world to see the joyousness of a God-filled life.
Joshua reached his room, removed and hung his suit coat and vest in the closet. Loosening his tie, he took a small address book from his briefcase and verified the number to call. It was the last time he would use that number this week. Lighting a cigarette, he dialed.
"Shakespeare Club," a sweet female voice answered. "Who's calling?"
"A friend of King Lear staying at the Fairmont. Might Cordelia be available tonight?" Joshua listlessly recited the prescribed lines.
"Are you, sir, the King of France, or a mere Duke?"
"Alas. I am but a Duke." Reed chuckled at himself and the silly games people are forced to play when the fulfillment of natural desires places them in jeopardy with mankind's hodgepodge of moralistic laws. The red light on the corner of the phone began blinking to tell him there was a message waiting at the desk.
"Yes, the Lady Cordelia is available. Unfortunately she is without carriage. Could the Duke provide transport?"
Joshua smiled. Kitty's house was busy. It was Saturday night. Her driver most likely had several deliveries and pickups to make. The Madam knew the girl had to reach the suite as soon as possible.
"Carriage will be there shortly."
"Thank you, kind sir. We look forward to satisfying your needs again."
He used his finger to sever the connection and dialed the chauffeur's room. "Garland. This is Reed. Go immediately to the back door of the Shakespeare Club on Colorado Boulevard. You know where it is. A Miss Cordelia needs a ride. See to it she has the right suite number."
"Yes, sir. Suite 12B, right?"
Joshua called the desk to check on the source of the flashing light. Cheryl Baylor wanted him to call on the Gulfport line as soon as possible. Gulfport was their code to signify use of the phone scrambler. It meant there was something sensitive to discuss. He took a slender box from his briefcase and removed a telephone handset. Reed lifted the phone and laid a lead bar across the buttons. Then he disconnected the original handset and connected the one from the box. It didn't bother him that the tan telephone base color didn't match his black handset. Lifting the bar, he dialed the special code which allowed him to dial the number.
"Josh. I'm glad you called back so quickly," Cheryl answered, knowing it had to be him.
"What's up? This is the first time I've used the scrambler on this trip."
"We got another blackmail package today. This time they know who you and I are," she said with a tremor in her voice. Joshua visualized the worried expression on her freckled face and could almost see her reddish orange hair quivering and falling over her eyes.
"Knowing about me isn't a problem," Joshua said, speaking his thoughts aloud. Cheryl was the only person he did that with. "Knowing about you makes it different. Anything else?"
"Yeah." She laughed. "The amount."
"How much this time?"
Joshua whistled in surprise. "That's different. The last four were only one million."
"It could be sticky. They're demanding it all in unmarked hundred dollar bills. They want the money Thursday, delivery to be arranged by telephone."
"Do we have it in the vaults?"
"Almost," she said and sighed. He heard her puff and he could see the way she blew a stray lock of hair from in front of her mouth. It was an old habit when she was upset. "I can get the rest from the bank boxes on Monday."
"Do me a favor?"
"Take a moment. Brush your hair back and calm down. It doesn't help us if you crack over something like this."
"I won't crack," she retorted. He could see the resolve clear the wrinkles from her forehead, knowing the freckles had lightened in color.
"I know." He smiled as if she could see it. "You take a break anyway. I'll get my cigarettes and fix a drink."
Joshua opened the portable refrigerator, glanced at the contents, and removed a tiny bottle of scotch, wishing he'd found a beer. He made a mental note to tell Garland to make sure his units were stocked with beer from now on. The scotch was poured into the tumbler over two ice cubes. A splash of water was added. He lit a cigarette, took a sip, and returned to the telephone.
A calmer Cheryl read him the letter and described the pictures.
"Okay," Reed said. "Make file copies and send the package. Garland can pick it up Monday morning at the Reno Airport."
"Will do." Her voice was lighter.
"Meantime, you relax. Get some sleep. It's after one a.m. back there. You can call me tomorrow in Reno if anything else comes up."
"Thanks, Josh. Good night."
The sweetness of Cheryl's voice lingered on the edge of his mind while he disassembled the special equipment and returned it to the box. He would ignore the blackmail until the courier package was in his hands.
He surveyed the ornate furnishings of the suite while taking a sip from the drink. He couldn't help comparing the grandness of the accommodations to the cheap motels, small church basements, and other places where they slept during the early days in the business. "Quite a difference," he mused aloud. Joshua finished disrobing and put away the clothes. He refilled the glass with scotch and dropped into an armchair. Nude, he sipped from the drink and took deep puffs on the cigarette. His thoughts drifted among the shoals that were appearing sporadically on the once uncluttered shores of his life while he waited for the woman to arrive. He heard the muffled knock. It was followed moments later by the solid thud of the next door closing. With Bobby's need taken care of, he could relax for the next few hours.
Joshua leaned back, closed his eyes, and let memories play like a movie on the inside of his forehead.