This is an exert from a larger piece I am working on. Warning! This section is dialogue intensive. I mean, it is almost all a conversation. It is a small part of a larger story that is vague on purpose. I also wrote this severely out of context with the rest of the piece. It was a conversation I want the protagonist to have, however I think I went a little overboard on the conversation. There has been ZERO editing. In fact, I wrote it, then only skimmed it for a re-read.
Now thinking about it, I have WAY too many half-started, unfinished projects. I have read this is a common issue among writers. I am piddling along on all of them at random times hoping one of them will smack me in the face and scream, “I am your number one priority!”
Alas, hope someone out there enjoys
“So we have covered a good bit so far. In a relatively short amount of time you have become a household name across America. We are all very familiar with the story of your sudden rise to fame. We also know that you are unafraid of telling anyone who asks, exactly how you feel.”
“Well I guess that’s true,” he says with a chuckle.
“Some of your potential opponents have even accused you of shoving your personal ideals down the throat of an unwilling America.”
“Now Mr. Jones, I expected better of you than to make a crude sexual innuendo such as that.” A familiar smirk played across his lips. A mischievous look that most of the United States had become very familiar with.
With a practiced smile the host continues, “First off, it’s Everette. Mr. Jones was my father.” The trick is to seem genuine with the smile. “And honestly there was no innuendo meant by that.” Broaden that warm smile even more. “You have to admit that you have had a tendency to go beyond being honest. You have been downright blunt and to a lot of people it makes you come across as a bully.” After years of interviewing politicians, celebrities, and professional musicians the veteran radio host had long ago mastered the art of directing the flow of a conversation, moving the line of questioning towards the desired outcome. If he appeared the slightest bit condescending then his interviewees might not open up to the tougher questions that the listeners needed to hear.
“If people want to view me as a bully for speaking honestly, for holding people accountable for their own actions then I am guilty as charged.” He stared across the desk into the eyes of the host as he spoke, “Am I a bully? Or does the truth just hurt so much that it’s easier to attack me than to be honest?” His guest was unlike most people of his ilk. The standard among the elite of DC is a fitted, high end suit during all public appearances, colors picked out through years of market testing the most appealing to the public. Yet here sat a man in a simple black button down shirt, with his sleeves rolled up just below the elbow. He was definitely a different sort of candidate.
Meeting his gaze evenly the talk show host replied earnestly, “Oh I’m not calling you a bully. In fact I am on your team. I think the world needs more honesty, especially in Washington. You are honestly the breath of fresh air that I think many people have been waiting for. And you seem unafraid to face all the challenges head first.”
“Why should I fear speaking honestly? I live in this country and I believe in this country. I believe that as a nation we can recover the American spirit that seems lost among the people today. The governmental machine has systematically changed our outlook from ‘We the People’ to ‘I the Individual’ and I see that as a fundamental problem.” He never broke eye contact as he spoke. His words rang from the heart instead of from his memory. His belief in himself overflows the sincerity that interviewers practice years in mirrors to master.
Everette Washington Jones leaned back in his chair with a triumphant grin. Over several decades he has built his audience on the principles of rooting out the truth in everything and desperately searching for good in all people. “Honesty.” He let the word hang in the air. Silence filled the studio and the airwaves of his listeners. He also never broke eye contact, intent on finding the true person beneath what the media has portrayed. His grin softened as he leaned forward, elbows planting on the studio desk. “Honesty is not a word often associated with U.S. politics, even less so in ones that gain national attention. If honesty truly is a characteristic that you pride yourself on, then may I ask a question that my audience wants to know the answer to?”
Calloused and cracked hands reached up to stroke the graying hair on his chin. His weathered faced did not betray any emotion to what he was thinking. His rugged features were as motionless as the marble statues of ancient Rome, yet his eyes burned with a wildfire of intensity that could compel an innocent man to jump headlong into the abyss of belief. His eyes revealed his true emotions that he believes he can make a difference. Those same eyes never broke their hold on the veteran radio host. “I think I know where this is leading,” he commented as much to himself as to anyone else.
“Of course you do.” Everette felt drawn into this impromptu staring contest, and was determined to not lose, yet he wasn’t sure if he was motivated to win by belief or fear. “America has learned by now, that you are far from the stupid man that some people have portrayed you to be. I know that even though you do not have a Public Relations person, you have this knack for understanding who and what you are up against. I searched myself and I could not find a single instance when you were at a loss for words when pressed for answers. So I already know that you are aware that I take great pride in the fact that I am a Christian and I have never shied away from expressing my faith to others. Over the years I have spoken freely about my faith, and the power it has had in my life. My faith has allowed me to share my personal experiences with my audience in hopes that even one person can come away from my program with a better understanding of God and the power he freely gives, if you but simply ask. It is also no secret that I have struggled through addictions and depression in my life and that through the grace of God I was able to overcome them and become the happy man before you.”
Still idly rubbing his goatee he nodded in agreement but never looked away.
“I think happy might be a bit of a stretch.” The melodic voice of Everette’s long time co-host chimed in. Her mirthful comment broke the stare down as both glanced towards her.
“Okay Patricia, you have me there,” Everette chuckled as he looked from his co-host back to his guest. “With all that’s going on in this country it is tough to be happy, yet with God leading me through the darkness that seems to be engulfing the nation I love, I can truly say I have hope for a brighter future.” He paused again and stared directly into the eyes of his guest. He searched for a sign of doubt but found none. He only saw the steady gaze of a man determined to either change the world or burn it down trying. In his eyes, Everette Jones saw a fiery phoenix ready to engulf the world in the flames of his ideals, and prepare the scorched earth for the rise of the great nation our grandfathers spoke adoringly about. In his eyes, he saw hope. “While searching through your previous interviews there was another thing I could not find any record of, and I owe it to my audience to ask you.” He paused again, he drew in as deep a breath as he could and then slowly exhaled. Leaning close to the mic he asked simply, “What is your faith sir?”
“Why?” The one-word answer was both a simplistic question and a question loaded with possibilities meant to fluster and confuse a lesser interviewer. Yet, he uttered it simply without any accusation nor any fear. He did however lean back in his chair, slouching just enough to be evident he was doing so. He folded his hands together and never once did his eyes leave Everette’s.
With that one simple word Everette lost the contest as his eyes grew wide and darted around the room, momentarily locking on his co-host’s gape of similar disbelief.
“Why?” he returned incredulously. The usual controlled-calm to his voice suddenly missing he hurriedly continued, “Because this is one nation founded under God!” He took a slight pause to quickly gather his composure. Slightly softer the host went forward, “The founding fathers of this great nation, used God Almighty as their moral guide in instituting and operating our government. Why you ask? Because over three-quarters of the United States are hard-working Christian men and women that find solace in an evil world, through the word of God. Those same people have watched as God has been systematically removed from our daily life and that void of faith is the root of the problems we face every day. As a nation we have strayed too far from the path of God that was instrumental in forging our country and we must have leaders that return us to our righteous path, not drag us kicking and screaming into the wilderness of godless corruption.” His lips tightly pursed together he sat and awaited the same deluge of anti-religious rhetoric that has become the norm for the political sphere.
“I thought we were here to discuss political futures, not religious views. That is why, I ask ‘why’. I thought America held a firm belief in a separation of church and state. I was under the impression that our founding fathers never wanted an official state religion, to never persecute its citizens on the basis of religion.” He never sat up from his relaxed slouch in the black leather chair as he spoke. His eyes never left his host and his voice never wavered.
Everette Jones’s high hopes for this underdog had been dashed away by the simple word ‘why’ and now he began to see the true person behind the public persona. Like every other politician he refuses to answer questions directly, especially if those questions could impact his standings. His betrayal was increasingly difficult to mask beneath a veneer of civility. He turned imploringly to his co-host Patricia Grey whose delicate features was also a mask for her fierce fighting spirit.
“While it is true that America is the land of religious freedom, I believe what Everette is trying to say is that Americans would feel more at ease with a virtually unknown candidate if they knew that Christianity was a guiding force in his morals.” The words flowed calmly from her lips, directed more to Everette than anyone else, in hopes of reigning in his growing impatience.
A chuckle sounded from the bellows of the leather chair, the granite features of the stubbled cheeks were replaced by a wide grin of satisfaction.
“I don’t see this as a laughing matter,” Everette stammered. “Patricia is right.”
“As usual,” she chimed in, as if on cue.
“The majority of Americans in this country are Christian and too often have we seen the very religious freedoms you spoke of, be dashed away in the name of equality. Equality for everyone except for Christians. Why must we continue to take a back seat to every other group with an agenda?” The rhetorical question lingered alone in the thick studio air momentarily. “And you have the audacity to sit there and giggle when confronted with solid reasons why the nature of your soul is the question at hand? It seems I was mistaken in believing your cries for honesty.”
“Actually Everette,” he interrupted, the smile growing even wider, “I only asked ‘why’ because I figured it might get you a bit riled up.”
“Yet you still answered in the standard political BS way of going in circles and not answering the question directly.”
“I did. I admit it.” He stifled another chuckle as he sat up in his chair. Leaning forward and resting his elbows on the desk he continued, “I also admit that, yes, I was assuming this very question would be asked. No, I don’t have a PR person, but I did spend a few minutes researching you online before coming here. The internet is pretty useful tool if you want just the basics about someone. Some pretty interesting stuff is out there.” The fire still burned intently in his eyes. His face was full of apparent joy at the banter between he and the radio personality. “I will answer you directly, if I may ask you a question first.”
“If you will be honest to my question, which I am beginning to doubt, then I will answer yours.”
“Good,” the deep, sun-worn lines on his face deepened as the previous smirk morphed to a genuine smile. A smile that has captured people across America with its sincerity. “What is the purpose of religion for your life?”
Everette seemed momentarily confused as he just stared back into his warm, inviting brown eyes. “The purpose of religion in my life?” he repeated.
“Yes. That’s the only question.” The broad smile faded as he once again leaned back in the chair. He clasped his hands together again and he looked on calmly.
“Well, that is quite easy to answer. It is well known that I struggled for years with alcohol addiction, during those years I selfishly lived for myself. I held very little regard for others or their opinions, yet I still tried to hide my binge drinking from everyone. I knew it was wrong, I felt shame, but I didn’t know why I felt that way.” Everette Jones paused as his words opened a floodgate of memories rife with torment, those of demons he conquered long ago but still knock on his consciousness every day. “It has been extremely hard being a black man in talk radio. Compound that with being an outspoken conservative made it near impossible at times to relax, to let go of the day. All the hate I received day-in and day-out was near unbearable. I got called an ‘Uncle Tom’ more times than I ever care to remember. So I drank to forget. To make the day slip away from memory.” A deep sigh revealed his anxiety from those times, and a hint of relishing the easy release of the bottle. “But I had little ambition and zero purpose in my everyday life,” he paused to let a slight chuckle escape, which lightened his mood, “other than making great radio.”
Everyone in and outside of the studio seemed transfixed on the conversation. Interns paused in their unending errands to stare through the glass as the two men conversed. The subject had become very serious, and neither had broken their gaze. The chuckle at his own jest pulled Everette from the reverie of a haunted past, towards the light of his personal salvation.
“One day, I woke up sometime after noon, head still swimming from a hard night of drinking and I reached for the bottle of blackberry brandy I kept on my bedside table. It soothed the pounding in my skull but,” words caught in his throat and he closed his eyes tight, “there was a weight on my chest that no amount of liquor could fix. I looked around at my tiny apartment, which represented the complete filth of my life, and didn’t want to go on. I didn’t pray and ask for forgiveness or for a miracle. Those are things you see in movies. No. I was beneath the consideration of any higher power. I was no one. I was alone and tired of being here. That afternoon I decided was my last.”
Everette’s voice dropped as he uttered those last words. Everyone could hear the sadness and resignation in his voice. Patricia, his co-host of 12 years had never heard this part of the story. Her mouth hung open slightly holding back the gasp she felt rising, and her eyes glazed holding back a tear she wanted to fall.
Eyes still clamped tightly shut Everette Jones, host of the nationally syndicated, award-winning radio show continued, “I knew I was going to take my life that day. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would not see another day.” He opened his eyes and stared across the studio desk. Through the maze of microphones and wires they locked eyes again, yet this time it was the host who sported the confident smile. “I walked through the streets and everything I usually wrote off as ‘normal’ stood out like an actor center stage on Broadway. The trash piled on street corners, the way people shuffled about oblivious to those around them, the sirens blaring in the distance. It glowed to me, providing further proof that I was done with this miserable world. Then right in front of my I saw an elderly black lady leaving a grocer’s store. Her arms were overburdened with paper bags. I saw two young black men, maybe late 20s, talking to themselves excitedly walking towards her. As she wrestled with her bags she backed into the two men, jarring them from their conversation but knocking her bags from her hands. They immediately insulted her, calling her names the FCC will not let me say on air as she dropped to the ground trying to gather her groceries. They laughed and one even kicked at her scattered food, pushing it farther from her reach. They left without looking back, resuming their conversation as if nothing had happened. I was angry. Really angry. Angry at the two kids, because to me they were no longer men. Angry at the entire world. People walked by this woman without pausing to help, and before I knew what was happening I was on my knees beside her, helping gather her groceries. She must have seen me glaring my hatred at the backs of everyone who walked by. As I reached for an orange I felt her hand upon mine.” He paused again, his smile lit the room with its happiness. “I will never forget what she said next. ‘Don’t hate them dear. God puts every thought into our heart, he is the reason we do everything we do. The Devil just makes it easier to do the bad things.’ Her words shocked me. This woman who just had her groceries spilled along the sidewalk and berated by two men she didn’t know told me not to blame them. I helped her pick up her groceries and then helped get them back to her apartment., We talked the entire way, she invited me in for food. Me, a complete stranger, but she opened her doors to me and we talked and talked some more. She explained God to me in ways I never considered. She told me that even though God was responsible for alcohol, the Devil’s temptations made me an alcoholic. That night I cried like a babe in her apartment, with this kindly old woman who owed me nothing. I left her home later that evening, instead of finding the death I craved earlier that day I found the steps to a local church. I did die that night, as I had intended but not the way I originally thought. My old life died, and I was reborn in the spirit of Christ.” A single tear rolled down his cheek as joy filled his soul. With eyes still locked across the desk he continued, “So when you ask me what purpose religion plays in my life, I can tell you it is simply to one day be the voice of a stranger that helps someone else out of the darkness. To live my life everyday as an example of what a good life can be. To know that even though the Devil tempts us all, that we all have God inside our hearts providing us with the right choices.”
“So Everette, would it be safe to say that you use Christianity, which is your religion, as a guide on how to lead a good life?”
“Yes sir.” Proudly sitting straight in his chair the host smiles at his guest, never breaking their stare. “That would be accurate. God provides a framework for all of us to follow. He presents us with daily challenge, however he gifted us with free will. We are all born sinners, but through His grace he gave us His teachings that provide a guide on how to love our fellow man and make this world a better place.”
The broad smile returned to the guest’s face. This smile held a mix of emotions however. It was genuine as before but the fire had returned to his eyes, casting a devious visage to his grin. Yellowed teeth bared behind his upturned lips, teeth that seemed menacing despite the smile they hid behind. “I am glad you answered as such Everette. My own religious views almost mirror your own.”
“You promised me and my audience a direct answer,” he was reminded.
“Of course. Even with all my faults I am a man of my word. I believe a person’s word is the greatest test of their character.” Calloused fingers reached up to stroke his chin hair as he measured his words carefully. “