Hope Tabernacle’s Saturday night service was in full swing. The bluesy
organ was cranked to top volume and the organist pedaled a frantic bass. Three women in the front row beat tambourines rhythmically
against their palms and their thighs. Raising his hands over his head, the song leader clapped frantically and the congregation
mimicked him, swaying back and forth. At last, the music died, except for the soft hum of the organ.
“Brothers and Sisters, it’s time to praise the Lord. Let me hear
you say ‘Jesus’,” the song leader shouted to the worshippers.
“Jesus,” came the response.
Ron McKenzie was startled as Paige, standing next to him, shouted with the
rest of the church. He turned to see her standing, beads of sweat on her upper lip, her eyes shining.
“Say ‘Jesus saves’.”
“Jesus saves.” The shout ricocheted off the plaster walls, joined
other sounds bouncing through the tightly packed room, in a jumble of indistinguishable words.
“Put your hands together and tell him you love Him.” The man clapped
in time to the now-swelling organ. From the congregation came cries of “ Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord.”
The tempo increased and the shouts got louder and louder until the clapping and tambourines started again.
Finally the music stopped, the congregation sat and a man in a gold robe made
his way to the pulpit. He waved a huge black Bible, then put it down and opened it with a flourish of his jeweled hand.
“Brothers and Sisters, this is the Lord’s word for you today.
‘Thou wilt judge the man of the earth that he may no more oppress.’ Hallelujah. ‘Surely the blood of your
lives will I require at your hands.’ Hallelujah. Praise God.” The minister closed the book.
Ron McKenzie strained at the screen of his palm Bible. Finally he leaned to
his wife and whispered, “That’s taken out of context. Those are two different passages.”
“Shush. Listen. Are you the preacher or is he?” Paige leaned forward
to catch the preacher’s words.
“God is not pleased by murder, Brethren. Least of all, murder of children.
He has appointed us His Army. Are you willing to fight in this war? Are you willing to sacrifice for these little ones?”
The congregation shouted assent and the gold-robed man went on. “Cain
slew his brother Abel, and the Lord God drove him away from his kindred and his home. He marked him before all nations. Can
we do less than follow the Lord’s example?”
“He marked him so that no one would kill him,” McKenzie whispered.
“Will you be quiet? I’m trying to listen.”
“But it’s garbage.”
“Shut up, Ron. If you don’t want to listen, leave.”
The minister went on. After thirty minutes, the music began again and the
faithful clapped and sang on into the night. Ron tugged at his wife’s sleeve.
“Paige, let’s go now. It’s over.”
She looked at him and her eyes were bright-hard, her lips pulled back in an
exaggerated grin. Paige smiled a lot lately, but her smiles unnerved him. They weren’t smiles of joy, he thought. They
were different. They reminded him of the glints of light that reflected off his rear view mirror in the sun. Blindingly bright.
Painful to see.
“All right. But I need to talk to someone first. Just wait for me, okay?”
Ron McKenzie watched as his wife skirted the still-swaying congregation and
approached a man standing alone on the other side of the sanctuary. Though most of the worshippers were black, other races
were sprinkled through the pews. But this man didn’t fit. He was white, obviously wealthy, and nervously shifted from
one foot to another as he talked to Paige. His eyes flitted over the auditorium. She smiled, still moving with the rhythm
of the service. After a few minutes, Paige returned.
“Okay. I’m ready.” She took his arm.
Ron didn’t look back, but he felt the gaze of the other man follow them
out of the church. “Who was that?”
Paige was several feet ahead and didn’t answer until they reached their
car. “He’s a deacon. Tithes on everything his company makes and gives offerings above that. I don’t think
the church could survive financially without him. Anyway, we’re on a committee together. I just needed to touch base
with him on something.”
Ron opened the car door for his wife and she slid behind the wheel. She liked
driving her car, so they usually took it, but Ron wasn’t fond of convertibles in winter. No matter how tight they seemed,
they always let in cold air. Still, Paige was crazy about it, and red was certainly Paige. . . at least the old Paige.