Prologue to the novel, Hidden Talents by Edward Branley.
Copyright © 2015, 2016 Edward Branley
Cover art by Wendy Warrelmann
Second Paperback Edition
To the reader:
As much as the author would like to believe Magic and the Talents are real, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Five minutes to air is always hectic at Jay Hadley Ministries. Cecilia McIntyre, producer of the radio show, Talk Now! With Jay Hadley, settled into her chair adjacent to the studio. Cecilia’s engineer and right-hand-woman, Annie, was already in position, manipulating the dials and switches on the control board. Cecilia hooked up the telephone headset and double-checked her computer. While her boss was on the air, she would screen the calls, Tweets, and Facebook comments, while pulling up sound files of past shows needed today. All hooked in now, Cecilia turned and smiled at Annie, who gave her a thumbs-up and continued her pre-show checklist.
Two minutes to air. The star of the show hurries from his office at one end of the suite to the studio at the other, all but ignoring the beautiful view of Lake Pontchartrain his suburban New Orleans location offered. The rent had to be paid, and that didn’t happen if Hadley didn’t get on the radio and ask for it. With a quick wave for the women preparing in the control room, Hadley took his place in the studio behind the microphone. Even though Hadley had a strong, radio-preacher’s voice, he did not cut an imposing figure in person. At 5’7” and 160 pounds, he might still be able to run five miles a day at the age of 47, but he’d never be mistaken for the corporate CEO he was. This bothered Hadley during the few times he spent in quiet reflection, but not now. He was in his domain, in control, and ready for the world.
One minute to air. Hadley reviewed the various bullet points Cecilia left on his desk. These outlines covered the topics he should use when doing the many off-the-cuff requests for donations he would make during the two-hour show. Chuckling at one particular line of attack listed, he looked up and waved at his producer and chief-of-staff, who beamed.
3:00pm CST. The satellite links are all on-line and the red “On Air” light above the door in Hadley’s studio goes on. As the theme music and voice-over finish, the star begins his opening monologue.
“Good afternoon and welcome to ‘Talk Now!’ I’m Jay Hadley, and I’ll be here for the next two hours to say what I have to say and listen to what you have to say. My topic for today is ‘Sharpshooting Sub-teens.’ What’s going on in our schools? We’ve got kids as young as eleven years old bringing guns to class and shooting down other students. The breakdown of the moral fiber of this nation is happening at an accelerated rate in these last days. I’ve got a lot to say about this, and I’m sure you do as well…”
As Hadley dug into the topic du jour, things got more active in the control room. Annie busied herself with level adjustments and verifying the links to the outside world. Cecilia’s phone lines were already ringing off the hook, with both supporters and detractors alike trying to get through to Hadley. She received regular activity updates from the telemarketing center down the hall, letting her know phone activity and the dollar amount of pledges to the Ministry. She then passed this information to her boss’ computer in the studio when she felt it appropriate. Grabbing a quick sip of her Diet Pepsi, she flipped the switch for an outside line.
“Talk Now! With Jay Hadley.”
“Yeah, I want to talk to the holy man!” The voice was male, late teens, and trying to growl like his favorite heavy-metal lead singer.
Cecilia sighed. She knew this one well. “Hi, Lonny. I thought I told you I wasn’t going to let you on more than once every couple of weeks. You’re calling back waayyy too early.”
“Lonny is no longer. Only Destructor exists.”
“Oh, sorry, that’s right. I forgot that you only use your stage name these days. Still, “Destructor”, I’m not ready for you today.”
“I want to talk to the holy man today! Kids who kill is perfect for Deeee-struc-tttttor!!!” The young man’s attempts to sound demonic were truly amusing Cecilia.
“OK, Lonny, stay on the line and I’ll see what I can do.” She hit the hold button on the console and looked up into the studio. The kid was entertaining and usually generated good donor response. A quick review of her “regular callers” file indicated that Lonny/Destructor not only generated response, but the response was of the immediate impact kind—credit card donations. Smiling inwardly, she turned up Hadley in her earphones to see where to work in the caller.
“…nothing but dope-smoking death-dealing Democrats poisoning the minds of our youth and leading us to situations like we saw on CNN yesterday. We’re taking back the country, brothers and sisters, but it’s not happening fast enough! I need your help, friends, to keep this Ministry on the air, fighting the fight for our youth!” Jay was on a roll today, Cecilia thought. She watched as he flipped the switch to run the theme music for the bottom half of the first hour, then keyed her intercom.
“Boss, do you want Lonny today?”
Hadley looked up from his notes. “Wasn’t he just on day before yesterday?”
Cecilia frowned a bit through the glass. “Yeah, but he’s got the right shtick for this topic, and he’s hot to trot on line six.”
“Hold him for just about the end of the show. If he’s still there around 4:45, we’ll do it. That’ll be a great follow-through to the daily offer summary. If he hangs up, he loses his chance at fame. This show is a path to better things, even for the wannabe devil-worshipers who harass us.” He smiled.
“OK, then, 4:45 it is.” She killed the intercom and went back to the phone. “Lonny, sit tight for a while and we’ll work you in.”
“Very well. Destructor will consent to wait for the holy man…”
“Sure thing.” She put him back on hold, gave Hadley a thumbs-up and went to the phones again. The callers were the usual mix of true believers, kids who objected to Hadley’s opposition to heavy-metal music, non-Christians who felt the Ministry preached intolerance, and just plain crazies. The calls usually worked themselves out—put on an “anti” call, fire up the phone lines, then a few true believer calls to get Hadley psyched up for the next crazy on the line.
The cycle ran true through the first hour, and into the second. There was no guest today, either in-studio or on the phone. Hadley continued on-message, and the phones were lighting up.
4:30 PM CST: Hadley clicks the intercom switch.
“Is Lonny still on hold?”
“Yup, he’s on line six.”
“OK, let’s shift the live solicitation up, then I’ll take him right after that.”
“OK, boss.” Cecilia popped the phone button, double-checked on Lonny, and then went back to the other phone lines. She needed to get some solid true believers on right after Lonny to keep the faithful pulling out their wallets. After she got a third caller on hold, she took a deep breath and listened as Hadley wound up the donation pitch.
“Brothers and Sisters, I must have your help for this Ministry to survive. I need you to give that $20 a month, or better yet, be that $1000 soldier for Christ we need to underwrite today’s broadcast. If that’s just something you can’t do, then let’s have two of you giving $500. I need to know you’re backing me. These kids need to know you are there. We have to get the message of the Lord out before we have more children killing children!
“OK, speaking of out of control teenagers, we’ve got Destructor on the phone. Hello, Destructor, are you still there?”
“Hooollllyyyy Maaannnn.” Lonny was pretty good at the evil voice bit. Hadley wasn’t all that impressed, though.
“I’m not a ‘holy man,’ just a man doing Jesus’ work on the radio.”
“Hooollllyyyy Maaannnn, you do not know us. We will defeat your so-called ‘God’ and crush your religion!”
“Not a chance, Destructor. The only thing that’s going to ‘destruct’ is your belief that you will succeed. I have the authority of the blood of Jesus Christ, and that gives me and all who believe in Him the power to bind you and yours and condemn your masters to the eternal pit!” Hadley’s finger was poised right next to the ‘panic button,’ the switch that shuts off the signal in case a caller gets obscene. Lonny’s file indicated that he never used improper radio language, but you never know with kids.
“Hooollllyyyy Maaaaannnnn, your God is worthless. Your life is worthless. You will be crushed like the sheep that you are. My master will be victorious. My master will come for you and destroy all you love and hold precious. My master will put bullets in the brains of your followers. My master…”
Hadley cut off the litany: “Destructor, I bind your threats and wash them away with the Blood of Jesus Christ. You and your master have no power here. The Risen Lord is forever!”
Almost as if it was rehearsed, Destructor began coughing when Hadley cut him off and began his counter-claims. Lonny regained his composure and snarled into the phone. “I would like to ask a question of the Holy Man.”
The question came, not in the “Destructor” voice, but Lonny’s post-adolescent whine. “Why is it that you like to take vacations with married women who work for you???”
Hadley slammed his hand down on the “panic button” that controlled the seven-second-delay system. The public did not hear anything Lonny said past the word “vacations.” Red-faced with rage, he turned and glared at Cecilia.
Cecilia was stunned. Lonny’s profile had no record of being a Challenger to the Ministry. He never would have made it on the air in that case. No, something went terribly wrong just now. She was set up, and Hadley was furious. Ministry statistics showed that contributions regularly drop 20%-30% for half an hour after someone questions the Rev. Hadley’s personal lifestyle or the way he handles Ministry money. Sure, some of the callers get through, but that’s why Cecilia developed the caller profile database. The more “safe” calls she let flow through, the less the chances of something uncontrolled happening. Something like Lonny’s question, generated ten seconds of dead air, and that was something that could not happen regularly.
Hadley recovered quickly, and began damage control. “Destructor, you are history. You just can’t use language like that on the radio. This is a family program with a family audience, and we just can’t have that here.” He glanced over at the computer monitor and hit a button.
“Joanne is on the line from Dallas. Go ahead, Joanne!”
A positive call from a true believer would pick things up, but Cecilia still saw the smoldering anger in Hadley’s eyes. It was going to be a tough twenty minutes, but she had to keep the callers moving. She could figure out what went wrong later.