He wanted to put his stamp on the world of Christianity. Divine Fury. Chapter 12

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Chapter 12

“YOU GODDAMN MORON,” growled the Terminator over the latest of the never-ending succession of prepaid cell phones he was using.  “I should let them roast your ass.”

When the computer whiz he’d sent to breach the USF Medical Center’s computer system had called him in a panic nine days earlier to report that his partner had killed a witness, The Terminator had been speechless for once in his life.

He was certainly no choir boy himself.  He had personally engaged in blackmail and extortions many times, not to mention threats of bodily harm.  It was how he got politicians’ friends to give him compromising information and how he got the politicians themselves to drop whatever election, legislation or appointment he was paid to torpedo.

But not murder.  And, particularly of someone who was almost a passerby.  That made it a lot worse under his own code of ethics.  It wasn’t like someone up to his neck in the dirty side of politics who had, after all, chosen to swim with the sharks.

But it was done.  He couldn’t change it.  All he could do was try to limit the damage.

The Terminator had sent the computer whiz, Oscar Wilkins, to the Bahamas and intended to keep him there for at least three months or until this had blown over.  He had considered all the options, even having both his occasional employee and the guy he had let him hire as backup – the trigger-happy goon – killed and dropped into San Francisco Bay.  But that wasn’t his style.  He wasn’t the fucking Mafia after all.

After making sure the gun had been tossed into the Pacific,  he’d flown the backup to his home in Chicago.  He was lucky the guy lived there and not in California where he would have been more likely to get caught up in whatever effort the local police put into the murder investigation.  From what the computer whiz told him, the pair had been careful to remove any incriminating evidence that could tie them to the crime.  He just hoped they had done a good job.

Otherwise, the Terminator just checked his own backup plan.  He was like a climber testing all his ropes and equipment to ensure everything was working and in place if he needed it. He had two passports in different names, several offshore bank accounts where 90 percent of his wealth was stored and condos in both Belize and Thailand owned by subsidiaries of subsidiaries of his main company, La Vista Security.  And, he kept his records and computer files in a way that he could destroy them all within minutes, confident that no amount of forensic reconstruction would recover anything meaningful.

If anything happened, the Terminator was confident that he could disappear for a year or two and then return with a new identity and stay comfortably below the radar.

But he had no patience for Wilkins complaining that he missed his wife and wanted to leave the Bahamas and return to California.

“No!” he shouted into the phone.  “Stay right where you are!  Go catch a fucking marlin!”

***

ManGunsightArtPBrent Daggart stood in front of the window in his corner office at Soldiers of Christ Ministry that overlooked the Pacific Ocean and watched the passenger jets strung out over the ocean in intervals as they prepared for their landings at the Los Angeles International Airport.  Below him, he could see the people walking the beach, hands in pockets studying the sand in front of them and occasionally gazing out to sea.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d walked idly on the beach.

In the reflection of the window, Daggart could barely see his face and the small lump just below the bridge of his nose, the relic of an old injury.  He rubbed his finger up over it and then back down.

Daggart turned away from the window and settled down in the tall, black leather chair behind a blond, wood desk.  In front of him was a white legal pad with eight names on it.  They were all members of a Congressional subcommittee holding hearings in a few days on a bill requiring mandatory prison terms for all drug offenders.  He steeled himself for the next three hours of persuasion.  At least he knew they would eagerly take his calls.  With the ministry’s millions of viewers, financial clout and the influence the church wielded with other evangelists, Daggart knew the Congressmen would be on their best behavior.

Nine years earlier, Daggart had been on a much different career trajectory.  He was six months away from receiving his doctorate degree in divinity school when he decided the rarified air of academia was not where he wanted to spend his life.  It was another life change that surprised many people who knew him.  The first had occurred when Daggart, midway through college, shifted his studies and life focus away from business and toward religion.

He’d been the president of his high school and a star athlete.  He could have been valedictorian but made a calculated choice to let someone else have that honor.  Most figured he would zoom through a top college and head on to law school, become a doctor, or wind up a wealthy captain of industry.

Those who knew him well were less surprised by the shift.  He’d had a strict religious upbringing.  Although popular in school, Daggart carefully avoided the vices that his classmates seemed all too eager to embrace.  He avoided alcohol, smoking, drugs and never dated although any girl in the school would have been flattered by an invitation.  When his best friend confessed to having had sex with a girl, Daggart dropped him in an instant.

Daggart still had been immensely popular.  He might not be the guy to show up at a party with a fifth of rum.  But he was the one to win the biggest football game with an inspirational speech and a 40-yard pass in the final seconds.  He even orchestrated the departure of a terrible chemistry teacher, both a bit senile and too fond of the bottle, and did it so deftly that the teacher still gave Daggart glowing college references.

It was that sense of self, actually, that drove him from the academic world at the age of 31.  Daggart thought of himself as an impact player.  Anything less would be disappointing and almost a form of sloth on his part.  In terms of his relationship to God, it would be a sin.  How could he make a difference for God? How could he put his stamp on the world and Christianity?  It wasn’t by writing yet another thesis on the New Testament or ministering to a congregation of Protestants in a sleepy suburb somewhere for the next 20 years.  He was meant for more.

So, Daggart went shopping.  And he found Jimmy Burgess.  Burgess was a native Tennessean and the son of a lay preacher who had been a revival-tent prodigy before he was a teenager.  Now, he was six-foot-three with a jaw that looked as if it could break ice.  He was 42, no longer a kid but exuding life, energy and a raw charisma.  Burgess was still working the rural fire-and-brimstone circuit, filling local churches and revival tents, when Daggart got down to business.  He smoothed the edges, honed the message and weaned Burgess from his fondness for Kentucky bourbon.  He hung Brooks Brothers in the preacher’s closet alongside the jeans and cowboy boots.

They found a big church in California’s Orange County with a pastor looking for an assistant.  Within a year, he and Burgess split off to form Soldiers of Christ Ministry, moved up the coast to Los Angeles and took two-thirds of the congregation with them.  Then, a moderately successful televangelist made the mistake of letting Burgess guest host his Wednesday night live show.  Between the first and 60th minutes of the show, the audience increased by 40 percent.  Within a week, the producers dumped the original host and gave the show to Burgess.

In the four years since, Burgess and Soldiers of Christ Ministry (SOCM) had kept climbing in viewership and revenues, spinning off side projects in books, videos and even tour junkets to the Holy Land.  Daggart had created a separate operation called Divine Fury with its own website for the faithful seeking a more activist brand of worship.

Daggart had led the charge into the political fray, using SOCM as his platform.  Even when he was young, Daggart had worried about the decline of morality and the victory of sin.  As he became even more aware of the weakness and perversion in mankind, he’d just become more disgusted.  Drugs.  Promiscuity.  Abortion.  Homosexuality.  He had seen religion decline in status and importance his whole life, eroded like a soft shoreline in a rough sea.

No more.  Daggart was determined to reverse the tide.  He picked up the phone and dialed the first Washington number on the list.

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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