Mac dropped the paper and grabbed the phone off his desk, lifting the receiver and dialing, all in a single swift motion.
Mid-dial, he dropped the receiver back into its cradle and stood with his fingers on either side of his nose, eyes closed, the creases in his forehead rutted like the river canyons nearby.
He went to the window and looked out at the twisted mesquite trees, the rocks and red sandstone hills in the near distance. He stood there for a while, his agate gray eyes losing their hardness bit by bit.
Returning to the desk, Mac lifted the receiver once more as he flipped the pages of a thick black book.
“Joe? Yeah, Mac here.”
“Mac? What's up.” The editor's voice sounded tense.
“How about grabbing some dinner together.”
A static-filled silence followed.
“You thinking crow?” came the response.
“No, Joe. I hope I'm a bigger person than that. Thought we'd let bygones be bygones. Dagon's at seven? I'll buy.”
“Sure, see you there, Mac.”
Mac admired the purple and gold hues of the sun setting over the hills as he steered the pickup over the unpaved road toward town. Passing country music and rock stations he turned the radio dial to the one station that carried what he wanted to hear. He allowed the words to wash peace over him as he drove.
The editor of the Winston Creek Liberty slid into the booth across from him.
“Bit of a surprise, Mac, your phone call. Once again I...”
“Skip it Joe. All forgiven. How's Carolyn?”
“Well. She's taken Jack to Billings for a few days to visit her mother.” Joe raked his hand through his thinning brown hair and looked away in a manner that effectively ended the topic.
“Looks like things have been pretty busy for you at the paper.”
Joe looked up sharply, wary. “Yeah, you could say that. Nothing about you, nor about the church either. Not again.”
“That Hansen fellow's raising quite the stir isn't he.” Mac's voice was casual, surprising himself.
Joe narrowed his eyes. “What's the angle?” he thought. With Joe, it was always about the angles. He'd learned that way back in the early days when he was just a junior reporter.
“Just a flash in the pan, really”, he replied, flipping through the menu. “He'll go away. Say, what are you having?”
After they ordered, Mac made another foray into the topic of Hansen, an outspoken atheist who'd been shouted down recently on the steps of the Winston Creek courthouse after he'd won a suit to stop prayer at football games.
“I have a feeling Judge Warren will throw the guy's free speech abridgment case right out the window”, he said, between bites of salad.
“Oh, I don't know. After all the guy's got himself a case.” Joe speared a tomato and had it almost to his mouth when he saw the angle.
“Yeah?” Mac prayed for calm.
“Yeah, well, sure. People can't go around telling others they can't express an opinion.” Joe looked straight at Mac as he said this, chewing the tomato vigorously.
“Now, Mac, I said 'opinion'. People are allowed to say what they think all day long. Just can't say things that hurt other people”. Joe emphasized the word “hurt”.
“Joe, sometimes truth hurts. That same truth used to hurt me too, until I learned it was about love.”
“You really think a guy that's decided God doesn't exist feels loved when you stand in a church pulpit and call him a fool?”
“I don't call anyone a fool. The actual quote from God's word is that a fool says in his heart there is no God. It is kind of foolish to deny the obvious, don't you think?”
“Hey, I don't deny there's a God, but you can't beat people over the head with controversial stuff from the Bible.”
“Joe, if you knew your son was into drugs, would you refrain in the least from beating him over the head with your 'controversial' rules?”
Joe dropped his head. “You know about Jack?”
“Joe, I'm sorry. You love your son. You're a great father.”
“What do I do?”
“Just what I try to do. Speak the truth in love.”
“And not crucify it in the paper?” the editor ruefully replied.
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