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Chapter Four. |
The auditorium was packed. Twenty thousand souls come to grasp certainty. I sat with Prof. Bookish in the front row of several hundred special guests on the platform. Templeton stood at the centre of the stage behind a rostrum. Peter Templeton, a forty-five year old, stocky, stock broker type with silver white haired. Very smooth.
"... Yes, brothers and sisters, I too know that I’m saved. Salvationism doesn't just bring you words. It brings you proof. It brings you certainty. Now our first witness - he came up out of the audience only minutes before the meeting tonight, and he may be just another Joe, but he knows that when he gives testimony to us here tonight - he is going to be saved. Saved, brothers. But remember, it isn’t everyone, at any time, who God honours with simple and glorious salvation. We must wait to be called, and certified by God's Church of Salvation. Otherwise the Church will not guarantee salvation. We cannot cheat our way into eternity..."
"Or out of it," I mumbled.
"But God promises that all will be saved through His Church: page forty nine of the New Mission Gospel. And now I call upon our first witness to testify tonight. He is going to show us proof of that salvation. Let us hear it for... er," Templeton consulted his notes, "... John Fisher."
Near hysterical applause greeted John Fisher, a nervous lad, as he stepped to the microphone.
"Brothers and sisters, er. I tried everything, but it never worked for long. I tried booze and cigarettes at school. I tried sex and money. I was raised a Catholic, but that never seemed helped, praying and confessing and that. I tried Zen Buddhism, been a Jesus freak, shaved my head and went with the Krishna people. But God just seemed to be looking the other way. I've done psychotherapy, and it just doesn't get there. But then I went to a Salvationist meeting and heard Mr. Templeton speak, and heard and saw my brothers and sisters giving testimony how they knew… they knew they were saved. And I started to think about that."
"And now it's my turn to show you that I know I'm saved." John Fisher shook with emotion. "I am saved..." His voice rose as if seeking to escape the auditorium and fly to God as John Fisher fumbled with the bottle before him on the rostrum. A little green bottle labelled ‘Salvation'. He spilt a pill onto the table, held it, looked at it. Then swallowed it.
We waited. The skinny
figure of John Fisher collapsed like a doll. Organ music conshrived the air as
six white gowned choir-boys reverently carried out the corpse, its legs still
During all this I had noticed Prof. Bookish's chauffeur coming up to the side of the stage to whisper something to one of Templeton's lieutenants, who in turn went and whispered at some length in Templeton's ear. Then with John Fisher saved, Templeton again rose to address his entranced congregation. "No greater love hath any man than that he should lay down his life to ascertain his friends of our salvation. Our church knows no barriers of sex, race, class, age or philosophy. Indeed our next witness is one of the most important experts of modern thought. Give a big hand to... Professor Beamish Bookish."
The Professor was flabbergasted. Hesitantly he got to his feet. Despite himself he shuffled towards the microphone. One pace. Another. Templeton came over to speed him through his confusion. Bookish looked around for alternatives, but he was caught, like a rabbit in head-lights.
I leaped to his side. "Professor," I said. "Hum, what about the grant money for the Roaratuni expedition?"
"Excuse me, young man," said Templeton with annoyance.
"It will just take a minute, and then he’s yours." I turned back to Beamish. "You could write a cheque," I suggested.
Grateful for the diversion Bookish searched his pockets for his chequebook. "Ten thousand dollars ought to cover most contingencies. And, good luck, Christopher" Bookish took my hand, and shook it.
"Professor," said Templeton, "there are twenty thousand souls out there looking for redemption."
Bookish looked into the audience and was trapped
again in the sea of their expectation.
As Professor Bookish stood at the rostrum facing salvation, Templeton led me back towards my seat. I waited till Templeton turned away, then immediately got up and left the stage. I went over to the chauffeur.
left some papers in the car. Give me the keys."
I drove downtown
to the all night bank at the Dominion Centre. But they wouldn't cash the cheque.
Templeton had already phoned through to freeze the Professor's accounts pending
the settlement of his estate.
I stood shivering outside the bank. It was one of those time-stopped nights. It was only nine thirty, but there were few people about. They walked slowly in slushy marshes through toy town ranges of slush-heap mountains. I felt very alone. I wished that I hadn't left Zakeri in British Columbia.
I went back to
the Lincoln and sat behind the wheel. I needed a smoke and wondered where I could
score. California was calling me. I drove off to the west.