Chapter Eight

Governor Rolfe descended the stairs of St. Michael’s Church into the cold afternoon air and a throng of admiring worshipers and media. Cradled in the rising Republican star’s left hand was The Good Book. In keeping with the governor’s custom, the right hand was always empty, so as not to miss a chance to firmly shake a voter’s hand.

Just before reaching the mob of fellow church attendees, the middle-aged but youthful governor cast a modest glance at the ground, managing to appear humble while simultaneously performing a quick appearance check. Coat, fine. Blouse, fine. Skirt, fine. Panty hose, fine. Shoes, fine. Looking fine, as usual.

Among Governor Mary Rolfe’s very attractive features — for Virginia’s voters and national party leaders alike — were her very attractive features. A striking beauty, 44-year-old Rolfe was tall, with dark hair, penetrating green eyes and an outstanding figure. But those who stopped at her physical appearance when taking stock of Mary Rolfe were sitting ducks for her more formidable weapons — a dagger-sharp mind, consummate political instincts and the ability to nearly always say the right thing at the right time.

At the moment, her instincts told her the reporters at the base of the stairs were more agitated than usual this morning. The pack appeared swollen, and included faces she didn’t recognize.

Maybe Sunday morning replacements? A bunch of weekend writers ready to commit seven days’ worth of errors in a single story?

She angled toward the pastor to ensure the session got off on the right foot.

“Governor, it’s wonderful to see you here today,” gushed the Reverend O’Donnell as Rolfe reached the steps just above street level. The reverend’s church sat immediately outside the Virginia Capitol grounds, and many governors had attended this church over the years. Still, Rev. O’Donnell was especially fond of this governor.

“It was a beautiful service as usual, reverend,” replied the governor. “I only wish I were half as eloquent as you are on the pulpit.”

Reverend O’Donnell blushed. “I can’t claim credit. It is the Lord’s word, and I am but His simple servant, through whom He speaks.”

The reporters surged forward, interrupting the exchange. An unfamiliar face shoved a microphone at Rolfe and blurted a most unexpected question.

“Governor, GNBNC is reporting that God has spoken through a child this morning here in Richmond, at St. Tobias Church. What’s your reaction?”

Despite her composed appearance, Rolfe was taken aback that a reporter would ask such a ridiculous question, but… he had said the magic acronym of GNBNC, which, in addition to being a respectable news organization, was a politician’s best medium for reaching the nation and the power brokers on both sides of the aisle in D.C. Several television cameras focused on Rolfe; a well-phrased answer that included “GNBNC” would probably make it onto the global news network.

But how to answer a question more suited for a tabloid news show? Rolfe had made it her business to visit nearly every church in the commonwealth during her campaigns, and she knew there was no “St. Tobias” in Virginia. But to point that out would be to call into question the accuracy of GNBNC — a touchy subject since the network had been forced to retract several stories over the past year — and would certainly damage her prospects for future network appearances.

Three-tenths of a second had elapsed since the question was asked.

If she didn’t answer within a half a second, she would appear to have been taken by surprise. A quick stall was in order.

“That sounds more like a question for Reverend O’Donnell,” Rolfe said with a smile. By diverting the reporter with a bit of understated humor, she bought herself a second or two. Plus, now she could gauge the seriousness of the issue by whether other reporters followed up with questions on the same topic. A quick sweep of the pack told reporters she was ready for the next question. A regular Capitol beat reporter from the Richmond daily paper spoke up, to Rolfe’s initial relief.

“Governor, a video news report running on GNBNC shows a toddler speaking in a deep voice, using very sophisticated language, and claiming to be God,” the reporter began, and the governor knew immediately that this was a real issue, if not a real event.

“Some people who were there are convinced that God has chosen this child to speak to the world. What is your reaction?”

Real or not, the issue and the commonwealth she served were now on the Global News Broadcasting Network Company. This had the makings of a high-profile news story, regardless of its veracity, and Rolfe knew it was an opportunity to enhance her national profile. She just needed to avoid coming down on the wrong side of the issue.

“My staff is studying this issue carefully as we speak,” she announced, to the surprise of her staff hovering in the background. “At 3:00 p.m. today, my office will release a statement on this issue. Thank you.”

Governor Rolfe turned from the reporters with a polite but firm smile and strode up the sidewalk toward the Governor’s Mansion on the far side of Jefferson’s resplendent Capitol Building. Her staff scurried to catch up. First to reach her was Scott Butler, her chief of staff.

“For chrissakes, Scott, do I have to learn everything from the media?”

“Sorry, governor.”

Rolfe took no mind.

“Get me some information on this kid. I want to know what GNBNC is saying, what actually happened, and who the hell the kid is. We either have to be the first to debunk it or the first to jump on board. This is going to be a high-profile, five-day story at least.”

Butler nodded and tore off for his office on the third floor of the Capitol Building. Rolfe continued across the Capitol parking lot, headed for the pale-yellow, Georgian-style governor’s mansion nestled in the corner of the Capitol grounds. Her mind raced. This could be the event that catapulted her into the national consciousness — something she desperately needed if her career plans were to come to fruition. But if she mishandled it, she could become a national laughingstock rather than a national leader. She refused to be the Second Coming of Governor Moonbeam (his most recent tenure as California’s governor notwithstanding).

Rolfe had always kept a keen eye out for an opportunity to break onto the national radar screen, and she guessed that at some point she might even have unconsciously prayed for it. But despite her public and political persona as a woman of deep faith, she was a believer-of-convenience, putting her stock in personal action and ambition rather than divine intervention. And in keeping with her core beliefs, she intended to seize this opportunity with both hands, whether divinely provided or not, and choke the shit out of it.

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© Chuck Hansen - 2019