Terp, the Record Scout

Strolling down Gardner Street that warm evening in Opikwa Idaho, Terp listened to the distant train and smelled the mélange of roses, leather, sweaty people and those chattering people eating their grilled steaks. He’d ventured back down to Earth because he wanted to breathe the rarefied mountain air and adored the sound of passionately sung gospel. Alas, this staid little town featured equally staid services. Why had he felt such a pull from this place? He could have alit anywhere, but something told him he needed to be here. So he walked about.

He both smelled and heard the steaks on the hoof at the rodeo grounds. The odor of manure got a bit strong, so he turned off onto Pitt Street. After a couple blocks of light industry, all closed for the day, he picked up the sound of a fine tenor singing. He angled over to Ott Avenue to find out where it came from.

He loved ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’! He yearned to enjoy it inside but couldn’t knock on the shed’s door and interrupt them. When it was over he did knock. Voices inside sounded worried. Soon a young man cracked the door open and asked, “Who is it?”

“Tom Jenkins. I heard you folks singing and wondered if I might come in and listen.”Snoball Mike

“Look, we don’t want no trouble. Why can’t you let us be?”

“Honest sir, I’m from out of town. I thought you might be having a service and I do love the singing.”

The door opened wider. “You don’t know who we are?”

“Brilliant singers!”

The door clicked shut. Terp couldn’t make out the discussion inside. About to give up, a big man with dark hair and long sideburns opened up. “Ricky says you want to hear us singing. Is that really all you want? We’re a bunch of queers and nobody comes around us.”

“Sir, I feel the Lord led me here. Yes, that’s really all I’m asking.”

“I’m Burt.” He frowned and looked Terp over, perhaps searching for weapons. “If you say so. Come on in. We’re recording, so keep quiet.”

The five men of various ages watched as Terp unfolded a chair and sat. “I’m Tom, and I’m very sorry I disturbed you all. I simply couldn’t turn away after that last song. Please continue and I’ll be quiet as a church mouse.”

They resumed with ‘Farther Along’ followed by ‘The Glory Land Train’ using the same sublime harmonies accompanied by guitar and an electronic keyboard. They altered just enough in each song to make each sound fresh and alive. Right after starting ‘He Touched Me’, something twanged and they all stopped. As Burt began changing a guitar string, they all heard a muffled curse through the north wall. They heard a giggle and running feet.

Terp felt a strong foreboding. “Get over here quick and cover your heads!” He raced over to a row of saddles on a rail and pile of tack jumbled behind them on the south wall. “Hurry!”

They all looked to Burt; when he sped over with his guitar they hurried behind him. Most of them made it to the sheltering tack pile when the north wall exploded. Sharp wood shards and nails flew at them like missiles. Dust and dirt. Smoke and flame. Ringing ears. They sat up and immediate called out for Ricky; he had not reached the protective saddle rail in time.

Terp and the others leapt up to see Ricky on the floor bleeding from a dozens of places, blood pooling on his back. With smoke thickening and sirens approaching, the men lifted Ricky gently and took him outside, out of the choking smoke. Terp rocked Ricky in his arms. Burt knelt by the unresponsive Ricky and prayed.

In the confusion of the ambulance, the police and the firemen, Terp slipped away and went back home to clean up and be seen where he should be.

The next morning, Terp found Ricky in a hospital bed talking to Burt. Burt looked up and stood. “We stood there like idiots. Thanks for trying to get us going. Speaking of going, Tommy, Raul and Arlo are heading back to Coeur d’Alene today.” He glanced down at Ricky. “Maybe we’ll go with them if you get out of here in time.”

Leaving? Terp’s alarm made him blurt, “You’re going to finish your recording?”

Burt shook his head slowly. “Half my equipment is ruined. I doubt it.”

“Please tell the rest of the boys you will; your music needs to be heard far and wide. I will do what I can to help. Please.”

Burt shrugged and sat back down.

Terp knelt by him. “The apostles were beaten and chased many times and never quit. They blew up your church, a building. You’re all still alive. Keep singing.”

“It was a shed, not a church. We’re not welcome in church.”

“Where two or more gather in my name, I am there says the Lord. That’s church enough for me. What’s your phone number? And can I get a copy of something you’ve recorded?”

Burt reached into his satchel and wrote his number on the disc case. “Here, from last night. Take it.”

Terp considered doing his research via the Guardian network, but he had no names to cross-reference the appropriate angels. The phone book did not help. He had neither a computer nor the skills to use one. That left the big database upstairs. He hesitated to tap the venerable repository of accumulated knowledge since he’d leave a suggestive trail. He bit his lip and soon got an excellent lead in McAllister, Colorado where an established if small recording studio published gospel music.

He chalked landing amid several elks up to being distracted. After an hour of walking around and asking at a few stores to no avail, he noticed a weathered, arrowed road sign that stated deliveries for Gospel Ship Records … something too faded to read. The little brick building a half mile down the road seemed rather small for a studio but Terp went inside regardless.

Terp used the boom box on the counter to play the CD for the owner, Mr. Dunstan. Dunstan wordlessly took the CD back into the studio and Terp saw him listening intently on headphones. Dunstan returned to the counter and handed the CD back.

“The business my grandfather established will go belly-up without a miracle. Son, if these boys are for real they just might be that miracle.”

Terp called Burt.

Terp and the Twister

Terp swayed with the rhythm of the pounding piano, the well-melded bass voices and the ethereal sweeter-than-birdsong women’s voices. As they began the jubilant Hallelujah part of the refrain, an angry roar swooped in. Singing stopped and children screamed as the freight train roar deafened them. They watched the roof over their heads lift and swirl away into the yellow-tinged black sky as they held hands and prayed aloud. Easter Program announcement flyers flutter down among them. Hail started stinging faces, hopping and popping on the littered paper.

The tornado twisted up into the ominous clouds and soon the adventurous folks of the congregation went outside as others swept and assessed the interior. Terp joined the outside crew and they found the only damage to the church was the missing roof. He stared at the broad car-less strip across the middle of the parking lot, with intact cars and pick-ups on either side. The Preacher’s house, the two beyond it and the little post office were piles of splinters and porcelain fixtures with clothing strewn everywhere like bizarre ornaments.

Terp wiped tears with the swipe of his sleeve. He jerked from the destruction and walked behind the church to look past the cemetery. The farmhouse across the dale looked untouched. A ray of sun shined on a brown and white cow that returned his gaze. He heard the Preacher and his wife walking among their wrecked home sobbing with the twin girls held at the edge, screaming that they needed to find their Nintendo games. His mind felt blown to the four winds at the same terrific force as the tornado; he could not think. There seemed to be nobody hurt, a miracle. He said a few goodbyes and walked swiftly up the road until out of sight. He went home.

Argento, the Choir Master, appeared at the pavilion arch and marched over. “Terpsander, you missed the singing in of the newest Archangel. You know your voice is unmistakable and quite conspicuous by its absence. The effrontery!” He crossed his arms and tapped a toe. “Have you naught to say?”

Terp had sat on the cold, hard stone floor too long anyway. He arose stiffly and bowed to the shorter man. “I apologize Master Argento, I got lost in thinking about something that happened recently. I missed the event without malice or hubris, only from carelessness.” He stood straight. “Do you think I should go tell Yownay how sorry I am?”

“Your attitude is uncalled for. I doubt she’d appreciate your brazen mockery.”

He shrugged; he’d been sincere. “I honor her promotion. May I make amends some way?”

Argento started to pace on the tessellated paving. He stopped abruptly in front of Terp. “I have been granted permission to go down and aid a small group of Kentucky faithful. Seems their church is missing a roof and some houses are kindling. Do you know anything about that?”

Terp peered into his eyes seeking evidence of a cruel ruse or tease. “I do, yes. I held hands with the others in that church as it happened. You knew?”

Argento relaxed a little. “Terp, I cannot reveal my source. We may go help.”

“We? That’s a real surprise.”

“The one who is aware of your above-the-law activities suggested it.”

“Are you going to supervise me?”

“You are going to clue me in on how to move, how to communicate, the vernacular in use. I have never been down there, not anywhere. I trust you are willing?”

Grinning, Terp held out his hand and they made the deal.

 

Cabin march 008On a beautifully cool and sunny Spring Wednesday morning, two angels descended to Earth, stuck their hands into their brown jacket pockets and hiked toward the church in question. They heard the commotion before they saw it. Rounding the corner, Terp saw ladders lined up on the wall of the building. Each ladder had somebody on it with a rock in one fist, clutching the top rung with the other. The rocks appeared to be tethered to a huge blue tarp bunched up in front of them.

Terp recognized the Preacher running the activity. “Not until I say ‘throw’, okay? We all have our rocks back? Great. Over the top and all the way across, right? Like pitching baseball! One, two, three, throw!”

They’d erected rudimentary truss over the roof that might hold the weight of the tarp. Terp and Argento strolled up and joined in the applause as the tossers climbed down.

“Excuse me, Reverend Barlow, I don’t know if you remember but I got hailed in the face with the rest of you last Sunday, I’m Tom. This is my friend Gene. We came by to see if you needed any help.”

“Let me get this cover pulled over and fastened down and we’ll have a chance to talk. Don’t go away!”

As he trotted to the far side of the building, the woman with a silver-gray braid to her waist that had played the piano waved at them, motioning them to the food table.

“Sister Dolores! Meet Gene, a friend from school. Gene, you should hear this woman make one piano sound like six.” Terp nodded toward the roof work. “The money is spread too thin ’cause of the extensive damage from Pikeville to St. Louis, isn’t it?”

Dolores held out a tray with a few cinnamon rolls left on it, but the men shook their heads. “You know it, son. Y’all get any damage up your way?”

“No ma’am, you wouldn’t know there’d been a storm. Isn’t that right, Gene?”

“Right.”

“We were thinking about having a big fundraiser. Gene’s a great singer and I can carry a tune, so we can join in if you allow us.” Terp’s smile fell as she poked her bottom lip out.

“Boys, where you going to have that fundraiser? How you going to get the word out? What can we do that everybody around here hasn’t heard before? Have you ever run something like this? I played session in Nashville for years and I know good and well that you can’t wish a show into reality. Do you have a real plan or just pie in the sky?” She gave them a ‘you idiots’ look when they didn’t reply and shouted, “Verna! Verna, we need you!”

A magenta-haired young woman in a bright pink pair of overalls left the clothes gathering excitement at the Preacher’s house and put her phone in her front pocket before getting very close. “Dolores, I can text and look for panties in the woodpile at the same time. And gentlemen, how do you do?” She took Terp’s hand and held it. “I remember you, Tommy.”

Dolores persuaded a connection in Nashville to bring up their outdoor soundstage package. They set it up with the pine green backdrop between the tarped church and the house remains such that when the camera pulled back to view the crowd, both would be in the frame. KET set up the filming, and said the show might be shown on public stations across the country. Verna arranged for seventeen church groups from all over the state to get transportation and coordinated twelve local church groups. Four local restaurants and seven chains with banners that fought for attention provided food for all starting on Good Friday.

“Well, Gene, have you learned anything about these folks yet?” The church grounds were kept clear for the eager audience. The farmer across the way allowed his fields to be filled with rows and rows of tents. Terp and the Choir Master sat behind the church on the pews that had been taken from inside for the singers.

“Do you think all the ones who committed to be here will actually make it here?”

“Sure. Verna’s posting all the names and places and progress, and most groups are posting from where they are. She said she had over 1200 followers as of dinner. Who would renege with all of that?”

“So many services and businesses have donated. Where did the speakers from here to Farmer Bob’s come from? The Red Cross is here, the National Guard for security, and the money for rebuilding is pouring in. We did nothing!”

“I heard a children’s choir sing a song once, it was about how a mere spark can get a fire going. That’s how it is with love, my friend.” He leaned back and surveyed the grand arrangements. “The weather report forecasts a magnificent sunrise.”

“I’d love to see them sing in the dawn on Easter morn. Alas, we must get back and attend our own duties. I have to coordinate the transmissions of worldwide Easter celebrations for the Archangels’ grand exhibit at the Promenade.”

Oh, how Terp resisted that awful thought. In a few scant hours one church after another would sing about their love of Jesus Christ, all with joy and energy. He wanted the visceral experience of the wind and the laughter and the miscues that always accompanied live performances, not an edited set-piece. “You go ahead; I’ll come back in plenty of time for our next service.”

Argento raised a pointed finger at Terp. “I’ve been warned that you come down here and get into trouble. Don’t! And we had best not see you on exhibit!”