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The Apostate, the CEO, and the President
by Joseph Perrello
Not For Sale


An excerpt from Josprel’s Novel - Beloved Apostate


Until Doctor Mura began attending Highway Christian Center, in Clarion, Ohio, her career was a boring pendulum, alternating between her practice and her elegant condominium, in the exclusive Clarion suburb of Cedar Heights. Occupied mostly by top-ranking medicos, the condominium was the most extravagant of the few indulgences Mura permitted herself - the only overt display that she was at the summit of her profession.

Nonetheless, Cedar Heights wasn't seeing much of the doctor since Darnel Ladner entered her life. Involved in the medical interests of Highway Ministries, she was fast becoming a fixture at its charity clinics. She lived only for Darnel's approval.

As Darnel warned her, the name of Jesus often was spoken during Highway's services. She was familiar with the name. Her religion counted Jesus among the prophets, but below Mohammad, who spoke with a greater authority and a fuller revelation than all the other prophets. Still, it was disconcerting to hear it stated that Jesus was one of the several manifestations of God. It always conjured up two phrases seared into her mind by a father who was a true believer. The first was the Moslem creed: "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." The other encapsulated Mohammed's main argument with Trinitarian Christians: "God is Eternal, He is alone! He begets not, and is not begotten; nor is there like unto Him anyone!"

True to her promise to not take offence, Mura found that she agreed with Darnel's teaching that the names religions tagged on the divine being weren’t important - only the concept of god mattered. She volunteered for Highway's projects immediately, but it took several months before she could feel at home in the services. During those months, her feelings for Darnel bloomed into what she regarded as love - and not the kind preached by Darnel. She craved to be held and caressed by him; to do all the things two people in love did. Euphoria engulfed her when she learned of the latest episode between Darnel and Lela. Not that she wanted an end to the marriage; still, the god within her knew that she and Darnel were made for each other. This infidel was her soul-mate!

What Mura didn't realize was that other women in the congregation also had designs on Darnel. With Lela gone to her parents’ home, because of the couple’s marital troubles, Highway's gossip mongers were spinning hateful slanders about their pastor's wife: she left him for another man; she hired the one who tried to murder her husband, so she could to take over his ministry; she thought she know more than all the Fresh Wine leaders, Darnel included; she left to take over her father's church to continue his battle against Darnel. The smears were endless and rampant.

To the other women, it was obvious that Mura had the ear of both Jardinette and Darnel. Lela seemingly out of the picture and no longer an obstacle, they considered Darnel as fair game. They viewed the doctor through venomous eyes.

Mura was sociable, although dangerously naive of the congregational cliques. And she was absolutely oblivious to Highway Christian Center’s romantic intrigues! Not so Darnel, who understood he was traversing a minefield of prurient church women whose interests in him possessed a quality more corporeal than spiritual. When Lela was with him, she mostly joined him in mingling with the people after the services. Her presence kept the mines disarmed. When she was unable to accompany him, he avoided the feminine hordes by using a platform exit. He admitted - to himself at least - that he missed Lela terribly. Now that she was gone he seldom used other exits.

For Darnel, his separation from Lela was a practice in being alone in a crowd. A powerful sense of abandonment and desolation plagued him. Moreover, his continuous abstinence was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain!

Shortly after Lela's departure hordes of female religious groupies, without the slightest thought of religion on their minds, and even more aggressive then the paparazzi, commandeered the lawns of La Hacienda, the title by which Lela had christened the Ladner home. With patience and hard work, she had beautified their property, as though attempting to have it compete with her own personal loveliness. From South American decent, endowed with all the physical beauty of that race, university educated with a doctorate in nursing, Lela far surpassed in attractiveness, charisma, education and profession, those women who now trampled the premises she had labored so hard to beautify.

As fast as police and security personal dispersed them, the hordes returned. In a bid for privacy, Darnel transferred to his church apartment, but it was a frustrated move. The groupies migrated with him from La Hacienda to Highway Christian Center’s lawns and gardens. They were there now, as Darnel left his apartment. Seeing him, they surged forward excitedly seemingly in mass, forcing the security personnel to form in a protective wedge around Darnel. Plowing through the web of outstretched arms, they guided him to a dark-windowed limo. Inside Jardinette waited with his fiftyish secretary, Sandra and Doctor Mura. The foursome was heading for the airport to fly to Washington for a Fourth of July dinner with President Regeobil and the First Lady. Requested to bring escorts, Darnel left the selection to Jardinette. Sandra and Mura were the chosen ones.

Mura's agreement was enthusiastic; Sandra's, somewhat hesitant. Several years earlier, as the wife of a medical missionary in the Amazon, she lost her husband to the awful agonies of the "bleeding sickness." Since then, she devoted herself to Highway Ministries, always limiting her social engagements to those not requiring a close relationship with men. Nonetheless, the idea of dining with President and Mrs. Regeobil proved so overwhelming that she consented.

Escorted by two security cars, the limo pulled away. By the time it arrived at the airport, it had grown a long tail of vehicles packed with die-hard fans. It wasn't until he entered his private jet that Darnel relaxed. Sitting back in his seat with his eyes closed, he ardently wished that Lela was with him. He wondered what she would think when she heard the reports that Mura accompanied him to a private White House dinner with the First Family.
Dinner over, the First Lady offered Doctor Mura and Sandra a guided tour of the White House. After the three women left, the President and his two guest made themselves comfortable in the Presidential private den, Regeobil with a cigar and his ever-present Bloody Mary, Jardinette sipping a whisky sour, and Darnel nursing a second cup of black coffee laced with brandy.

Attempting to camouflage the pain from his ulcer with the mimic of a chuckle, Regeobil stated, "I'm sure you both realize I invited you here with ulterior motives."

Jardinette lowered his drink. "Did you indeed, Mr. President; and what are they?"

Regeobil leaned forward, earnestness shaded his voice. "They concern both of you and this horrendous religious civil war our nation is fighting. You've heard of the Department of Syncretic Affairs the congress recently created?"

Assured that both his guest had, he continued. "It's now up to me to nominate a Secretary of Syncretic Affairs. The Secretary will have enormous powers, especially in the light of other information I'll soon share with you.

"I'm working with congress on this appointment. It requires one with superb executive credentials, expert in dealing with American religions and respected by their leaders."

He paused, then asked, "Do either of you know someone with those qualities?"

A profound silence followed. Then, sounding reluctant, Darnel noted, "That describes George here to a T, Mister President."

Jardinette shot him a glare of irritation; nonetheless, Darnel plowed on. "Mister President, I confess this is hard for me to say. Since George is so essential to the Highway Ministries, I don't want to loose him; but - truth be told - there's no one better qualified for the post."

"I agree. Both your names were mentioned. As a matter of fact, they were the only two. Neither of you would have problems being confirmed. It's up to me to make the choice, and I now ask you, Mr. Jardinette, for consent to place your name before the Senate for the post of Secretary of Syncretic Affairs. You’ll appearance before the confirmation committee is a mere formality. No resistance will be offered.”

"You've made a wise choice, Mister President," Darnel stated. Extending his hand to his CEO, he exclaimed, "Congratulations, Secretary Jardinette!"

"I haven't accepted; I don't want to leave Highway Ministries."

"Mister Jardinette . . . ."

“Please call me George, Mister President."

"George, you wouldn't really be leaving Highway Ministries if Darnel agrees to my next proposal."

Darnel's brow knitted, as though listening for the thud of a second shoe.

"No one in government has the required know-how to deal with the religions involved in this crises; both of you do. You also have the organizational structure to accomplish it.

"George, as Secretary of Syncretic Affairs, you'll have complete freedom to choose your own staff. Of course, the department requires people experience in religious matters. If they come from Highway Ministries and from the Ecumenical Federation of Religions, so be it. We expect that. To be more candid, we prefer it.

"Your department has also been granted policing powers. As such . . . ."

"Please pardon my interruption, Mister President. You persist in referring to the department as my department. I know how such things can be taken for granted, but I've not agreed to take the post. I just want to be understood on that point."

"I didn't intend to take your acceptance for granted, George. If it seemed I was, I apologize."

Jardinette nodded solemnly. "Please continue, Mister President."

"The department has complete investigatory and arrest powers. Director John Rensselaer of the FBI will assist in setting up these branches for the Department of Syncretic Affairs. DSA agents will receive training at the FBI Academy, but you alone may appoint them. They'll answer only to your department, and you'll answer to me alone.

"Should you take the post, Rensselaer asks that you select suitable advisers for the religious aspects of the training of your cadets. Your cadets - if you choose to take the position, that is."

Jardinette declined a second drink. Regeobil mixed another for himself, sipped it, and replaced the glass on the table. Sitting back, he dragged long and hard on his cigar. After momentarily obscuring his features, the cloud of smoke spiraled to the ceiling, forming billowing waves that rolled toward the walls. For a while, Regeobil studied the waves. Finally, he turned his attention to Darnel, scrutinizing his features with troubled eyes. His reluctance to voice his thoughts was obvious.

Darnel's brow furrowed, sending Jardinette a "what-have-we-gotten-ourselves-into" message. The CEO responded with an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

However, the President caught the exchange. "You're both wondering why I'm so quiet. I want your word that what I share now remains with us until it becomes fact." The two agreed.

"It's evident that we're at the end of government as we have known it. Those in Congress and the High Court agree with the Executive Branch that our nation has declined to the point where it is impossible to apply constitutional law as it was in the past. This does not mean that the Constitution must be scrapped; still, if the nation is to survive, constitutional law must be implemented in a form not encumbered by a separation of powers. Today's tragic state of affairs reveals the obsolescence of that pattern.

"With all his faults, Nixon had the right idea when he tried to move us into a plebiscitary democracy, like that of Louis Napoleon's. Our form has become cumbersome, slow and outdated. It crawls along at a turtle's pace, when the times demand that decisions be made at supersonic speed.

"Congress itself doesn’t deny this. Its members realize they no longer can function in any meaningful way. The people realize this, too. Congressional members report that their constituents desire a Presidency that amounts to a benevolent, democratic dictatorship. And Congress and the Supreme Court sanction it. Can you picture me as a dictator?"

Awe-struck, Jardinette and Darnel listened as Regeobil spoke, his voice dull - wooden and distant - as though administering final rites to a corpse.

"It won't take long. Already, the three branches are in the process of melding into a working alliance. It's how I know you'll have no problem being confirmed. We'd do away with the confirmation process completely, but we're not at that point, yet. We're moving cautiously. Piece by piece, we'll dismantle the old system of checks and balances.”

He leaned forward again and, in a tone bidding for optimism, said, "Now, to you, Darnel. Even if George refuses, we’d like Highway Ministries incorporated into the department in an ex-officio capacity."

Regeobil's guests gawked in stunned silence. Recovering first, Jardinette cleared his throat. "I think I'll take that drink now, Mister President."

The President complied. "And you, Darnel; would you care for another coffee and rum?" Still speechless, the minister could only nod.

Regeobil handed the drink to Darnel. "I realized this would come as a shock to you. But a network is required for us to deal with the religions. We haven't one; you do. Highway Ministries has the organizational structure we need. It also commands the world’s respect. It operates in a format of compassion in dealing with the various religions. You understand them as we in government never could. We need your network and George’s firm hand on the helm. With George in control and Highway Ministries serving as the clearing house, it will amount to religion policing itself.

“Without you, the Department of Syncretic Affairs would amount to just another branch of government, unable to comprehend its own function. Both of you are needed to form its soul at this time of its creation.

“We in the government are afraid to deal with the religions, especially in the current religious war. We’ve botched almost every thing we’ve tried. Most of us - including me - are so divorced from religion that, in attempting to deal with it, we operate from a foundation of ignorance.” A wistful plea tinged the Presidential voice.

"Please consider the state of the nation. We need both of you, and Highway Ministries, to achieve peace."

Regeobil stopped speaking. For the first time during the interview, he seemed vulnerable, unsure of how to proceed.

Finally, Darnel found his voice. "Mister President, it's not that I'm negative to Highway Ministries assisting you, but you've heaped a tremendous amount of information on us. Shocking information, I might add! I can't speak for George, but I need time to absorb it. I don't know how to respond. George and I must confer on these matters.”

"I concur, Mister President," Jardinette agreed.

“I expected no less,” Regeobil acknowledged.

He focused on Jardinette. "Please take the job, George. Without you and Darnel in our corner, we're handicapped, not to say defeated."

"Darnel and I shall give your request our top priority.”

"Good! We'll let it rest for now.”

“May we broach another matter, sir?” Jardinette asked, and could almost feel Regeobil’s eyes probe his features.

Receiving a dubious nod, he pushed on. “It regards Bishop Xavier, Mister President. We request that you order his release. He’s innocent.”

The President stared at the CEO, then at Darnel. “You concur with this request?” Waving his question aside, he added, “Of course you do. George wouldn’t make it without your approval. At your last news conference you said your father-in-law is innocent, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I did.”

“Still feel that way?”

“Yes sir. George convinced me.”

“Well, since both of you are convinced, I’ll grant the request.”

“And we both thank you, Mr. President,” Jardinette replied, as he and Darnel stood to leave.

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