By the third term of the Bush Presidency, America was practically floating on all the cheap oil Saddam’s defeat had brought in. Afghanistan and Bin Laden ten years gone, the War in Syria only in its planning stages, the country was anxious to celebrate victory, peace, and most of all itself. America was ready to revel in its very Americana.
“And what’s more American,” asked President Bush in his 2009 State of the Union, “What better way is there to celebrate victory than by convocalating the very traits that made this great success for democracicity plausible? What I’m talking about here is heroishness and valor, honorability and glorifiction. But I’m also talking about the other things that make America great. I mean our faith. The fact that we have core principles, unshakeable beliefs in things greater than ourselves. That’s our beliefs in God, democracy, and the blessed alchemy of free, unfettered markets.”
Over the next several months, a broad legislative agenda was rolled out, its centerpiece The Homeward, Heroes! Mainstreaming Act. Initially, the HHMA was about giving tax breaks, health and education benefits, and other incentives to combat troops returning from overseas. It was lauded as a G.I. Bill for the twenty-first century.
As the HHMA built steam, though, rapidly moving towards passage in the House and Senate, enterprising politicians began attaching additional legislation to it, amendments covering everything from Mardi Gras—too long—and lightbulbs—too dim—to otters—to be protected— and bears—to be shot from hot air balloons.
Buried amongst these amendments was The Faith Protection Act of 2009, a bill to recognize the special place Christianity held in the hearts of Americans, most notably the incredibly popular, President Bush, or the Dubya as he’d come to be known.
Championed jointly by Minnesota’s Congresswoman Backlash and Senator Pyle of North Carolina, the FPA represented the beginning of a process that would ultimately result in the codification of Christian Consumerism in America, an impulse that had, after all, been around since the country’s inception.
Righteous Burger Corporation had been in its infancy when the FPA went into effect. But even with only four restaurants—two of them drive-thrus—the company was still well placed to benefit from the new legislation. With the push the new legislation provided for Christians to buy and sell primarily with other Christians, four restaurants soon became eight, eight sixteen, and on and on. Nor did it hurt that a few years later, while campaigning for his fourth term, President Dubya became a big Righteous Burger fan.
The President had been touring the Gulf Coast, shoring up support in advance of the coming general against former President Clinton. The Democrats were pulling out all the stops by that point, hoping that Slick Willie would be able to succeed where his wife—’08—and the Kenyan—’12—had failed. Since Clinton was a son of the south himself, newly devout, and from neighboring Arkansas, the Dubya wasn’t taking any chances. The Righteous Burger event had been arranged to give him a chance to show-off his down-home cred, but also to try RB’s famed Heavenly Halfstone, a burger Ravelton Parlay knew more than lived up to its name.
Operating in a state of near-exponential growth, RB was doing fantastically, Parlay wealthier than he’d ever dreamed. That didn’t mean he was satisfied. The great thing about money—and Parlay had known this from his earliest days as a lemonade entrepreneur back in Vermont—was that there was always more of it to be had.
Though this wasn’t true in a physical sense. There was in fact a definite, determinable amount of scrip in actual, verifiable existence. But wealth had a way of bobbing and weaving of its own volition, keeping the game interesting by turning itself into a constantly moving target.
Take the impact of the FPA for example. By that point, the courts had interpreted the FPA as exempting individual earnings of all types—wages, bonuses, stock options, investment income, passive activities, etc.—from taxation if they were derived primarily from religious operations.
In line with the ruling, Parlay had been ordained a minister just after the FPA passed—his title Doctor, Reverend, Reverend Doctor, or just plain Rev as the occasion demanded. Since he was primarily concerned with RB’s marketing and since that marketing was so concerned with Christianity— there was Scripture everywhere from wallpaper to burger wrappers—never mind the obvious spiritual devotion that had gone into creating a character like Timmy, the case that his earnings were derived primarily from his faith was an easy one to make. In line with this, Parlay’s personal tax bill had plummeted to nearly nothing by 2012. One problem remained: Righteous Burger’s massive, and growing, corporate earnings. Of course, Parlay wasn’t the only Christian Capitalist with this sort of problem.
The two great men met at Righteous Burger #22, a full-service store located just outside Baton Rouge. By that point Parlay had thirty-two restaurants sprinkled along the Gulf Coast, from Pensacola to East Texas.
“Mr. President, I can’t tell you what a big fan I am of yours. This…this is just incredible, meeting you and all,” Parlay gushed, greeting the Dubya beneath the inflatable Timmy that dangled from the ceiling like a vertical, seven-foot piñata.
“Speak nothing of it, Reverend, the Dubya always has time to break bread with a man of God. Now, why don’t we see if we can get us a couple of them Heavenly Halfstones, maybe a side of catfish poppers?”
“Absolutely Mr. President, if you’ll just have a seat in one of our booths, I’ll have that brought over to you directly.”
“I was thinking we might break bread together, Reverend.”
“Really, sir? I’m flattered.”
“I understand you’ve made some sizable contributions to our reelection campaign.”
“You’re doing the Lord’s work, Mr. President. The least I can do is help.”
“Mighty selfless of you, Parlay. Mighty selfless.”
Parlay had made a surprise appearance at RB #22 early that morning. He knew he needed to terrify the staff in advance, to make sure there were no muck ups when it came to the President’s chow. To the relief of all, lunch service went smoothly. Both men ordered the same thing: Super-sized Heavenly Half Stone with cheese meals, Super-sized Turbo-Coke to drink, and sides of catfish poppers and Cajun hushpuppies.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?” Parlay said.
“No, Reverend, the real question is what I, the Dubya, can do for thee?”
“I’ve heard a lot from religious business leaders about expanding the FPA, maybe finding a way to tie it into corporate earnings. How would you feel about that? You think maybe that would be taking it too far, injecting too much business into religion?”
By 2014, the Christian Commerce Encouragement and Protection Act passed Congress. In addition to offering subsidies for disadvantaged Christians looking to start Christian businesses, the CCEPA reduced the tax rate on “Christian Corporations” to 8%.
Righteous Burger’s celebrity spokescreature Timmy the Lamb was Parlay’s grand invention, a genius advertising stunt that had turned into much more. A little bit Jesus, a little bit Lassie’s boy, a little bit of an homage to the consumer-industrial complex, Timmy was the closest thing Parlay had to a son. And at the age of eighty-nine, the closest thing he ever would have.
Sure, Parlay’d had his sperm frozen. What scheming billionaire doesn’t? But saving his jizz for a rainy day had nothing to do with raising a kid himself. Problems with Kelly Anne aside, if the storm came, Parlay was sure it would be after he was gone, his seed nothing more than an insurance policy that his genes would survive. But as far as a testament to his life on earth, a record of the way Ravelton Parlay saw the world, Timmy the Lamb was it.
As a result, every half- or full-spot, every print ad, every voice-over, special-run toy, or in-store mock-up—basically, anything involving Timmy or his image—had to be approved personally by Parlay. Even during something as important as Virtual Jerusalem there were no exceptions. Which was why, later that afternoon, Parlay was back in his Inner Sanctum, staring at the video screen recessed into his desktop, watching Timmy’s latest adventures.
“What troubles you, little ones?” Timmy asked the flock of crying children, his face grown suddenly grave. Kneeling for their response, he listened, ears quivering with the effort, his crimson cape scraping the sun-soaked earth.
“Them,” whined the kids, accusatory forefingers darting in the direction of the Righteous Burger across the way.
There, in the RB KidsFunZone, sat six Muslim clerics. Wearing robes, beards, and sunglasses, the imams howled and cackled, jabbering at each other in an odd, throaty tongue, devouring their ill-gotten Righteous Burgers as they did.
Timmy turned to survey the evil-doers, his expression one of concern, even confusion. Timmy was too good for this world, it was true. An ovine man-child innocent to his core, one as virtuous as Timmy always had a hard time understanding evil.
As Timmy focused on the imams, a little blond girl, the smallest of the children, began to cry. The camera cut to big, salty tears streaming down her chubby cheeks, the tears that would make everything clear to Timmy.
“I wamff my Righteous Burger,” she said in an endearing lisp.
Timmy stood. Bringing his palms together—Timmy’s front legs ended in hands, not hooves he cracked his knuckles. He knew what he had to do. So did Parlay. He signed with his LightPen and hit send, returning to the other matters at hand: Virtual Jerusalem and a late lunch.
“What about my cross-licensing agreement?” he shouted towards the TeleView, as he claimed his spoon, made ready to dip it into the dish of velvety, copper-colored gator étouffée house boy, Wilhelm, had just dropped off.
“We have discussed nothing of the kind,” responded the person at the other end of the red phone, France’s UN Ambassador, Jean-Francois Arnaut.
Parlay dropped his spoon. It hit the desk top with a shrill tink, far less impressive than he’d imagined. It would have to do, though. He waited.
“What was that noise?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Arnaut. You know full well we’ve discussed the cross-licensing. The Angel’s been clear with me, and I’ve been very clear with you. There’ll be no deal without it, six hundred billion or not.”
“Clear about what, Presence? I still don’t understand what you’re asking.” This was a lie. But like any other heathen, Arnaut played his little games.
Parlay responded, “The Angel wants to use the technology in America without any outside interference.”
“That’s four hundred million customers worth of interference you’re talking about,” Arnaut replied.
“Which still leaves you with nine billion, Arnaut. Four hundred million seems a small price to pay.”
“True.” Parlay could hear it in Arnaut’s voice. He thought he retained some sort of control over the situation. Parlay was going to leave him that illusion for now. “I will take this to the President,” Arnaut continued. “He should have no problem with it. Assuming, that is, you’re ready to give us your identity.”
Parlay hated the French, especially now that they were mobbed up with all those other crazy Catholics in their loony little Southern European Union. They were all horrible—the Italians, the Spanish, the Portuguese—but the French were, without a doubt, the worst. So pompous, so effeminate, always making their pipsqueaky demands, trying to force the rest of the world to go along.
“Listen, Arnaut, I’ve told you a thousand times. You’re not getting my name.”
“Not even when we’ve come to an agreement?”
“Not even. All you’ll ever know about me is that I’m American and my sole interest, like yours, is in spreading the true faith.”
“Neo-Catholicism, you mean?”
Parlay winced. “Of course, brother, the Lord willing.”
“The meeting is going well then?”
“The final adjustments are being prepared as we speak. Soon, the Angel will approve distribution.”
This wasn’t true, not by a long shot. Besides the fact that Parlay was the one who would ultimately approve delivery, Scorsi had been too tough-minded for the dosages of biostatin they’d used. The toxicity possibilities on higher ones too great—they needed her mind to remain intact—the entire process had come to a halt. But Parlay had learned long ago never to let the facts get in the way of negotiations.
He’d also learned not to let agreements get in the way of success. True, the numbers were astronomical even for someone as rich as Parlay. But the most important thing was getting Diana Scorsi and Symmetra to do what he wanted, getting them to serve God. The money was secondary. Well, sort of. That part was complicated. “I hope you can also see that it’s time for the French government to put its very best offer on the table.”
“I thought I just did.”
“What was that?”
“Six hundred billion and the cross-licensing agreement.”
“Six hundred and the cross-licensing? Right, right, now I remember—that’s where we were. But there’s some trouble with that.”
“What? What is the trouble?”
“I’m not sure how to break this to you, brother, but the Angel has decided he wants more.”
“Sounds like you just decided that, Presence. I’m beginning to wonder whether there even is an Angel.”
“Oh, there’s an Angel, Arnaut. I’d bet your last croissant on that one.”
Parlay could almost hear Arnaut scowling on the other end. “And the cross-licensing?” he continued.
“Well, Presence, I’ll see what I can do. The President will not be pleased with this.”
Parlay knew he had him. Time to sink in the hook. “Did I mention, Mr. Ambassador, how pleased the Angel has been with your work on this?”
“No, I don’t think you have.”
“Well, he most certainly is. He sees you as a real warrior for Christ.”
“Thank you, Presence.”
“That’s why he’s authorized me to negotiate a special payment to you, a sort of finder’s fee. Five hundred million.”
“That doesn’t seem like much compared to six hundred billion.”
“The amount is negotiable, Mr. Ambassador, assuming you can convince President Mirrage to do what’s right.”
“It will be the President’s decision of course.”
“But I will see what I can do, Presence.”
“Excellent. May the peace of Christ be with you always, brother.”
“And also with you.”
Parlay hung up the red phone. He glared at the bowl of étouffée, touched the side hoping for warmth. But all he found was a tepid smoothness that reminded him of how much he disliked the French.
This excerpt initially ran at The Weeklings: