FIESTA, CALIFORNIA | 1889
Mortimer Gilliam locked the front doors of the mercantile and worked his way to the back alley where he had already manhandled the crate containing Fox’s big finale into his wagon. The crate had made it all the way across the country without exploding, but Gilliam was glad to have it out of his store just the same.
Inside the wooden box—nestled in a bed of highly flammable straw—lay a profusion of shells, each one bigger and more colorfully named than the last. America’s First Fireworks Company had sent several types of four pounders to set the stage. A few Willow Tree Showers, followed by several brace of Jeweled Streamers—as well as the famous Cornucopia for good measure—would get the crowd’s attention unless they were dead. The six-pound shells were really the main event. The Rochester factory’s Shooting Star, the heavier Jeweled Streamer, and the Diamond Shower always helped Fox place an exclamation point at the end of his week-long stretch of holy rolling. Fox, however, was uninterested in stopping there as he loved to go out with a bang, and America’s First delivered the goods. Their flagship, and Fox’s coup de foudre, was the eight-pound Prize Comet.
Gilliam was well aware how dangerous the crate was and drove the wagon out to the edge of town at a funeral pace. He wasn’t all that surprised that Fox was always able to find a local pyromaniac to handle the aerial bombardment. He was, however, amazed that in the past twelve years, no overeager farm boy had been blown to bits. Just another example of the Reverend’s good favor with the Master Painter, he thought.
Fox’s revival was always set up in a vacant dirt field just past the city limits. To the east of the huge white tent that provided the faithful a place to commune—given sun, rain, or snow—a seemingly endless succession of low hills marched toward the Sierras.
Gilliam was hoping to quickly run into Urias, transfer the crate, and hightail it back to the mercantile before he lost too much business, but if he was honest with himself, there probably weren’t going to be that many folks looking for goods, not with God’s own circus in town.
Every year Gilliam was amazed at the transformation of a forgotten patch of cattails, dust, and scrub oak into a little piece of heaven on Earth. By nightfall, practically the entire town of Fiesta would be hanging on every word that fell from Reverend Fox’s lips as if they came from Jehovah Himself.
He scanned the field looking for Urias, but coming up empty, approached the Gypsy wagon that was Reverend Fox’s rolling sanctum sanctorum where he was available for private consultation—not to mention his bedroom when it all was said and done.
The shopkeeper was about to knock, when he heard what might be considered the most secular of sounds coming from within. The unmistakable moan of a woman in flagrante delicto stopped him in mid-strike. Fox’s distinctive voice answered the sighs, coaxing his guest to reach higher intensities of passion.
I guess the Good Reverend is human after all, Gilliam thought. The immediate shock of discovery gave way to an intense feeling of confusion as to what he should do next. He did not want to merely leave the dangerous crate of explosive shells sitting around, yet to loiter around the caravan until the situation resolved was more than he could stomach.
What sort of wanton woman sought to have relations with a man of God? He wondered. Gilliam, however, did recognize the singular charisma that Fox exuded; after all he and his wife had been returning for thirteen years after Fox had blessed Emilia and lifted the spiritual affliction that had kept them childless. Nine months after the first time Fox had brought his powerful preaching of Jehovah’s Word to town, the couple was blessed with Philomena.
Gilliam resigned himself to the task of waiting out the assignation, which sounded as though it was wrapping up soon anyway. He spied an acceptable shady spot under the tent and left the preacher to it while he went to maneuver the box of rocket shells out of his wagon.
The slamming of the Gypsy wagon door took his attention away from the job at hand. Gilliam instinctively looked up only to watch his wife Emilia descend the short retractable staircase.