The Lord’s Press
It’s not so easy to turn down the first chance you ever get
The Lord’s Press
by Harry Buschman
Warren Davidson graduated six months ago and his patience was wearing thin. He had given up hope of ever making a living in the newspaper business. Jobs of any kind were as scarce as hens teeth in Beesville, so he worked part time in Mason’s car wash to earn enough money to buy a train ticket to New York where the big newspapers were.
Then, suddenly, out of the blue, came a personal letter from Babylon Kingston, publisher of the Beesville Trumpet. It seemed too good to be true. Warren grew up with the Beesville Trumpet rolled up in a rubber band on the front porch every morning, it was the only newspaper in town that had a Sunday edition with two full pages of comics.
Warren’s mother washed and starched his newest white shirt. He wore his Sunday shoes and a Christmas tie that had never been out of the gift box. The letter from Mr. Kingston said to be in his waiting room at ten o’clock. Warren was there when the building opened at eight.
“My, you’re early Mr. Davidson. What time was your appointment?” Mr. Kingston’s secretary was a gray-haired lady with apple red cheeks and wearing a flowered print dress. She carried tiny eyeglasses attached to a long black ribbon tied to a cheap looking cameo pin on her shoulder.
She gave the impression, (to Warren at least) of being a poor relative of the Kingston family––a widowed aunt perhaps, or somebody’s stepmother.
But as early as Warren was, he was barely earlier than Emil Arnsacker who burst red-faced into the waiting room just as Warren sat down. Warren knew Emil from Limestone State College. He graduated a year before Warren did. It would have been two years, but Emil had to make up math after a disastrous senior semester trying to deal with advanced calculus combined with a shotgun marriage to a town girl who worked in the school cafeteria. Warren hoped he wasn’t going to be the competition.
They greeted each other nervously, like rookie gladiators waiting to enter the arena. After a quick sizing up they ignored each other and concentrated on the birdlike movements of Mr. Kingston’s secretary. She fiddled with the things on her desk, straightened her papers and sharpened her pencils, then she suddenly jumped up and pulled the window blind up to let the early morning sun in.
“I’m sure he’ll be in any moment,” she said. “If you boys would like to freshen up there’s a wash room down the hall.”
Emil seemed to be on pins and needles and he grew more fidgety as they waited. He leaned over to Warren and said he had a touch of diarrhea, and he thought he’d sit in the john awhile. “Come get me please when Mr. Kingston gets here? I need this job so bad, you have no idea.”
Warren had a pretty good idea. From all he’d heard, Emil’s wife was due any day now, she was on maternity leave from the cafeteria and Emil was walking on hot coals. Warren sat thinking of Emil in the toilet stall, probably rehearsing what he planned to say––as he slowly dehydrated. “Just my luck,” Warren thought. “They’ll pick Emil for sure. He’s desperate. Mr. Kingston knows his family. The whole town knows his problem––just my damn luck.”
Warren remembered waking to find his father sitting by his bedside this morning. He was on his way to work even before Warren struggled to get out of bed, and there he was. “Just wanted to wish you luck son,” he said. His father worked all his life in the strip mine. He knew nothing about the newspaper business but he wanted Warren to know he said a prayer for him and wished him well. He thought warmly of his mother and father and their rare tolerance for people in all walks of life. Neither of them objected to Warren’s youthful wish to be a newspaper man. If he told them he wanted to be an astronaut it would have been perfectly all right with them.
Warren’s thoughts drifted far from the Publisher’s office of the Beesville Trumpet. He thought back to his small family and their house on Maple Road. Life, until now at least, had been smooth and simple from childhood right up to graduation from Limestone State. The tender years in public school, county fairs and Saturday morning fishing trips with his father at Waloon Lake. Then there were the teenage years; he thought back to the night he went to the movies with Dorothy Lowder. She impetuously kissed him goodnight at her back door. He was so surprised he never got a chance to kiss her back.
He stood there, he recalled, like a deer caught in the headlights. Now, these innocent chapters in his life were over and done with. They were years he would remember with pleasure forever, but right now he was entering a new and serious phase––his career as a journalist for the Trumpet. It scared him a little.
He was startled awake by the sound of someone gargling in Mr. Kingston’s office. Was it Mr. Kingston? How did he get in there without passing through his waiting room?
He glanced quickly at the elderly lady who was in the process of arranging a tiny bouquet of lilies of the valley. She smiled knowingly at Warren … “He often comes in the back way––to avoid … you know … people sitting in the waiting room.”
The gargling continued. It reminded Warren of feeding time for the animals in the Myna County zoo. It was suddenly amplified a hundred fold when Mr. Kingston switched on his intercom. “You out there, Becky Mae? Aaaaargh––Aaaaargh. Hear me? The King man needs his coffee!”
So that was her name, she must certainly be an aunt … an old one … one of his wife’s relatives maybe. Becky Mae hurriedly turned the intercom off and leaped to her feet, ran to the percolator in the corner and poured a cup of coffee with trembling hands. As she passed Warren with the steaming cup she mumbled nervously, “He’ll be wantin’ to see you and the other young man soon’s he gets his coffee down. He ain’t a bit of good without him first havin’ his coffee.”
“I’ll tell Mr. Arnsacker.”
Warren got up and walked down the hall to get Emil. He peered into the newsroom on the way, it was nearly empty. Well, he thought––it’s early. Yes that was true, but he could also see that even if every desk was occupied there wouldn’t be many people there. Weren’t newsrooms always humming with people––phones ringing––copy boys running from desk to desk? That’s the way it was in the movies.
Emil was alone in the men’s room. His heavy breathing and stifled grunts were unsettling. Warren tapped on the door of the stall and told him that Mr. Kingston was in. “Take deep breaths, Emil. It’s now or never.” He wanted to be fair, but after all, Emil was competition––baby or no baby.
Back in the waiting room, Becky Mae was at her desk.
“Where’s Mr. Arnsacker?”
“He’s on his way, ma’am. Will he see me first, ma’am––after all, I was here first?”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll want to see you both together.”
Again, gargling came from the intercom, mixed with a growling and clearing of a throat. Finally, the unmistakable sound of a snort and a spit … “Them young whippersnappers here yet Becky Mae? Send ‘em in together, I ain’t got all day … God’s waitin’”
Emil returned from the wash room mopping a film of perspiration from his brow. Warren stood up and waited for Becky Mae … “Should we wait for you Ma’am?” Warren asked.
“Oh goodness no! No. It’s you fellas he wants t’see. I ain’t goin’ in there lessen I has to. Jes’ march y’selves right on in.”
In spite of his disability Emil managed to get to the door before Warren. He twisted the knob but the door wouldn’t open. Becky Mae spoke up, “He must have the lock on. You’d best ring the buzzer.” It seemed to Warren their entrance to the inner sanctum of the Trumpet was off to a rocky start.
“The first one in gets shot at,” Mr. Kingston laughed. “You fellas seem a little anxious. Whyn’t’cha pull yerselves a couple of chairs over here and set down ‘fore y’break somethin’.”
The room was dark. Heavy green blinds were drawn against the morning sun. Light crept in around their edges and sent shafts of golden dusty light across the room. Warren could catch the scent of hard liquor somewhere nearby and wondered if it came from Mr. Kingston or some hidden cache in a closet or perhaps in the bookcase behind his desk.
Mr. Kingston was a huge man, nearly bald, with eyes set very close together. He held an unlit cigar between his teeth in the very center of his mouth. He stared at the two boys as though measuring them for a suit––after a long look, he removed the cigar and leaned forward with both elbows on the desk.
“My name is Babylon, boys. My father was a man of God, and so, by God am I.” He noisily swallowed the last of his coffee and sat his cup in his saucer upside down. Next to the saucer was a freshly opened bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. As yet neither Warren nor Emil had introduced themselves.
Mr. Kingston poured himself a Bourbon, then squinted at both young men. “Y’ain’t much t’look at boys. Who’s who, or what’s what is more like it. I assume both you boys were baptized––I mean, y’do have names don’tcha?”
“I’m Warren Davidson, sir.” Warren turned to Emil, who still looked under the weather.
“Emil Arnsacker, sir.” His voice was slightly strangulated.
“Whyn’t you sit closer to me––over here,” he pointed to two chairs at the side of his desk. “You look sick, Arnsacker––sumthin’ gnawin’ on ya?
Emil was more than eager to explain. He went on about the sleepless nights––his wife’s discomfort––living with her parents, and not being able to afford … etc. … etc.
Mr. Kingston poured himself a shot of Bourbon and downed it quickly. “Payin’ the price for it, huh Arnsacker? Who would’a thought a little thing like yer dick could get’cha into so much trouble.” He picked up a paper and read, more to himself than anyone, “Warren Davidson, huh?”
“You look like you got it all together, boy. No strings on you I bet–-fancy free.”
“I’m single sir.”
“Like to write, boy?”
“ Yes sir.”
“It’s a gift. I ain’t got it. I know what I wanna say but I can’t say it.”
“What’s that mean?”
Warren reddened. “Oh. I mean … when you can’t say what you want to … it must be … well, frustrating.”
Kingston leaned back in his chair, his brows knitted in thought. He polished off his glass of Bourbon and stood up and bellowed, “Arnsacker! I want you for the newsroom. It’s a good job, you’ll like it. Go out there and ask for Joe Willie Keefer.”
Warren, after listening to the conversation between Mr. Kingston and Emil just about gave up all hope of landing a job with the Trumpet. Emil nearly stepped on his own feet getting to the door …
“Thank you, Mr. Kingston … you won’t be disappointed … I promise.” He cast a quick triumphant glance at Warren. “Sorry Davidson, that’s the way it goes I guess.”
Mr. Kingston waited for Emil to leave. His eyes following him like a cat would watch a mouse going back into its hole. When the door clicked behind Emil, Mr. Kingston turned to Warren and smiled. “A kid like that don’t know when he’s been screwed. Twenty years from now he’ll still be wanderin’ around the news room takin’ shit from Joe Willie.” He lit his cigar and poured himself another Bourbon. “I know y’kin’ write kid; I got friends at State and there ain’t much they know that I don’t. Trouble with me is I never had no formal education. I know exactly what I want to say, but I have this thing you called … what was it? … festation.” He held his cigar in front of him and contemplated the growing ash, then he tossed off the second Bourbon. “I think. You write. Get me?”
“Not entirely. Mr. Kingston.”
“I want to send my message out to Beesville … every day … a piece on the editorial page devoted to God Almighty.” He blew a perfect smoke ring which drifted across the room; Warren watched it change color as it passed through a shaft of sunlight.
“In our schools I wanna see a Bible on every teacher’s desk. A Bible laid out so all the kids can see it. I wanna see––spread out from wall to wall on the proscenium arch in the auditorium––right across the whole of the stage, so every one of the 400 people sittin’ out there in the audience can see it.”
“See what, Mr. Kingston?”
“Jesus is my Lord!”
“It’s unconstitutional Mr. Kingston.”
“To mix religion in the school curriculum, Mr. Kingston.”
“Bullshit! That ain’t the way God looks at it!” There was a hard edge in Mr. Kingston’s voice and Warren wished he hadn’t brought it up.
“It’s like this, Davidson … “ The hard edge in Mr. Kingston’s voice softened somewhat, but now there was a feverish look in his eyes. “He talks to me, y’know?”
“Betch yer ass, He does.”
“He doesn’t talk to me, Mr. Kingston.”
“Course He don’t! You don’t run a newspaper, I do! Why the hell would He want to talk to you? Every afternoon about about quittin’ time I set back in my chair and put my feet up here on this mahogany desk of mine and have a word with the Lord.”
Warren faced his first problem as a man. It was the first time in his life that he could remember a still small voice within him, telling him that this man in front of him was a fruit cake. He had seen a few nuts in his experience, harmless nuts––the kind who walked through town waving their arms and talking to the air. There was Clemens who used to surprise everyone by running through the car wash before anyone could stop him. But here was Mr. Kingston; the publisher of the Beesville Trumpet, with the power of the press behind him! God dropping in every afternoon to issue instructions in Mr. Kingston’s ear while he sat there with his feet up on his desk …
It could be his first job on a newspaper. Just what he always wanted! All he had to do was go along with Mr. Kingston––kid him along––maybe he would change his mind. Maybe today was just a bad day––a hangover maybe. Tomorrow might be a better day …
“There’s somethin’ special about me, ” Mr. Kingston went on. “The Lord knows I can get His holy word out to the people of Beesville. Get His word back into the Constitution. You know about evolution, dont’cha?”
“Yessir, I know.”
“The hell y’do! It’s poppycock! The Devil’s work! Look at me, Goddamn it! Do I look like I got monkey blood in me. God told me––personal mind you, that He made me, and you too, Warren––fresh outta the mold. Just like he made Adam.” Mr. Kingston put his cigar down and raised his pig-like eyes to Heaven. “I wanna get that message out to every man, woman and child in Beesville. Whadd’ya say boy?”
Warren stood up. His knees were quavery and the room swam before his eyes. “I don’t think so, Mr. Kingston … I don’t think God talks to you.” He reached out for the back of his chair and steadied himself. Mr. Kingston lowered his eyes to stare at him, and Warren could see their bloodshot rims. He could also detect a nervousness in Mr. Kingston’s hands as they reached for the Bourbon bottle. “I think you talk to yourself, Mr. Kingston.”
“Git’cha ass outta here, y’little shit.” Warren started for the door. “Y’missin’ out on the chance of a lifetime. A chance t’speak for the Lord––fuck off!”
He hadn’t realized how dark it was in Mr. Kingston’s office; the light was blinding in the waiting room. Becky Mae looked up at him sweetly––“Well young man. How did it go … are you with us?” She smiled at him like a doting aunt. “I knew it was going to be you but I didn’t want to say anything while the other young man was with you. Mr. Kingston’s had his eye on you for some time.”
“He must have thought I was somebody else, Ma’am.”
Warren looked in the newsroom as he walked out of the building. Emil was in there talking to an old man in a vest wearing a green eye shade. Emil already had his coat off and his sleeves rolled up.
Before walking over to Maple Road and heading home, Warren stopped at the car wash on the edge of town and told Mr. Mason he’d be in after lunch.