Niight has fallen at the Beth Sarim mansion.
President Joseph Franklin Rutherford (the "Judge") sits calmly sipping whisky from a flask on the edge of his silk sheets at bedtime. He sets the glass on the night stand. He begins cleaning his nickel-plated pistol to high gleam. The Judge admires his reflected image grinning woozily back at him.
There is a dull knock at the bedroom door.
"Come..come..come!" the Judge growls.
The finely polished door opens and into his bedchambers steps a newly resurrected Charles Taze Russell with full beard (minus mustache) looming naked as a jaybird. Rutherford glances up and spills his flask; dropping his pistol to the floor.
The gun hits on the cocked hammer and a bullet whizzes through Russell's beard penetrating the oak door jam. "Great Zion!, what's going on here", the Judge roars as he struggles to his feet.
"Stifle it Joseph! I'm now a not so Ancient Worthy returning to claim this mansion. I want you out now!"
Russell scratches the hole in his beard and saunters over to the chest of drawers next to Rutherford's bed and begins opening drawers. "Ahh, pajamas!" Russell grins.
"Stop! STOP! You..you maniac...I'll have you arrested!" the Judge screams and then suddenly pauses in mid breath to appraise the figure before him. It dawns on him quickly----the man really is Charley Russell! Immediately his legs lose strength and he falls back on the bed. The whiskey flask catapults into the air and clunks him on the forehead with a "ping".
"Oh, dear Lord...oh dear Lord..." this is terrible...just terrible.....
"What's terrible about me returning, Joe? You told everyone at the assemblies the Ancient Worthies would return."
"No, not that", Rutherford groans, "I spilled my whiskey all over the sheets. It was my last till the new shipment comes. Ohhhh...."
Russell gleefully pulls the polka dot pajamas on. "What's so bad about that, Joe?"
"PROHIBITION, that's what's bad about it! Started 5 years ago. Those idiots made it illegal to buy or manufacture alcoholic beverages!!" Rutherford sits up and rubs the bump on his head, then, slyly grins at the sight of Charles Taze Russell wearing silk Jammies.
"Something amusing to you, Joseph?"
"You are one scrawny sumbitch! Always looked anemic to me." His smile fades. "Say, why don't you have a perfected human body now...since you've been resurrected?"
Russell finds a chair near the bed and scoots it across the fine Turkish carpet and seats himself next to Rutherford's bed, knee to knee.
"Judge, there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
"Shakespeare....I think." Russell begins weaving the hairs of his beard into little Hassidic braids and then unwinding them as he speaks.
"Rutherford, listen to me. I speak in the name of our Lord as his Faithful and Wise Servant...."
The Judge interrupts. "No no no. Now just hold on a second. That's not kosher anymore. We changed all that. You aren't the mouthpiece of Jah---I AM!"
Russell glares and stands looking down on Rutherford's bald pate pointing his bony finger. "You sir---are a THIEF...a common thief! You were NOT designated to take over the corporation. It was in my will!! You are not my APPOINTED successor."
The old voice is shrill and raspy and the eyes bulge from their watery sockets. Rutherford jumps to his feet and pushes the boney finger aside scurrying past Russell to the doorway. He opens the door and points to the empty space in the hallway. "Get out you greybeard looney!" Russell doesn't budge. He purses his thin lips and sits down on the whiskey flask; flinches, pulls it out of his behind and tosses it at Rutherford. Rutherford closes the door calmly and sits in the chair where Russell had been sitting.
"Now look, Charley, what I did was LEGAL and pretty damned clever. I pulled a finesse. You know what a legal finesse is?"
(Russell poses motionless). "I'll tell you what it is....it is an indication that I'm the one with the brains to get this religion into mainstream on a paying basis. We've pretty much used up your personal fortune. Now it is time for the brethern to give back. I've given them work to do that generates some real cash flow!"
Russell lies back on the cushy swan's down pillow and crosses his ankles staring up at the canopy over the bed. He purses his lips and then turns his head to Rutherford. "Racketeer would be more accurate than thief. You are a racketeer, Joe. You want to take what was a beautiful idea and turn it into a racket... a---what did you call it? Ah yes, a 'mainstream" religious sect...or cult. Why? Why would you destroy my work like this? Just for money?"
Rutherford stands and his eyes grow large. He's gazing upward with a face of pure bliss. He holds his index finger aloft and says, "Bingo!" He climbs up on the chair and reaches into the light fixture. Pulling out a small flask of whiskey he pulls the cork and chugs back a gulp. "Ahhh."
"Now, what were you blathering about, Pastor Russell? I'm a what? A crook? A Racketeer? Pot calling the kettle black, if you ask me." He climbs down off the chair and takes another hit from the whiskey and replaces the cork. "Follow me, you old sanctimonious coot!"
Rutherford exits the bedroom without looking back. The two men reach the bottom of the stairs and Rutherford gestures broadly to Russell.
"You see all this? It isn't for you as an Ancient Worthy. It is really for me. The boys at Bethel wanted to get me out of their hair. Why? Because I'm tough and foul-mouthed? No, because I don't put up with crap like YOU DID!" Rutherford leads Russell throughout the mansion stopping now and again to point out the valuables, antiques, carpets, silverware and crystal as he speaks. Russell peers appraisingly each time and nods in grudging appreciation.
"Pastor, you poured a King's Ransom into the Bible Students and what good did it do? No, don't answer--I'll tell you. You fed a lot of people a load of crap and nothing more. But, you did do one thing right. You got people busy. Busy christians are valuable as an asset to the corporation".
The duo stroll into the garden area and pause in front over various floral groups and hedges as they chat.
"Now Pastor, it doesn't really matter much that you got them all excited for nothing---I mean, Armageddon didn't come in 1874, did it? You thought it would and even insinuated Jah himself told you it would--don't deny it! Do you know what year it is now?"
Russell shrugs. "I916?"
"Ha ha ha ha ha. No, you bewhiskered old fool---it is 1929!!! You've been dead 13 years! And, guess what? There is STILL NO ARMAGEDDON! Ha."
Russell, bewildered, begins to weep but no tears emerge.
"That cannot be true, Joe. It cannot be true. I am alive! That means the resurrection has transpired! So...no Armageddon? How?"
Rutherford motions for him to sit on a concrete bench in front of a flowing fountain. The evening air is turning brisk in Southern California. The stars begin to show in a clear sky. Somewhere a dog begins yapping at a noisy neighbor.
"Sit here Charley. Here, have a snort of rye whiskey. It will put whiskers on your balls!"
Russell turns his head disgustedly.
"Fine, more for me then." Rutherford takes a slug of rye and wipes his lips. "Here is how the cow eats the cabbage. Listen up and be quiet." Every bit the prosercutor, the lawyer stands and begins giving a lecture as though he was in front of a jury of tired old businessmen.
"Your money is the only thing that carried you as far as you went, Charles. Or, Pastor Charles, if you like. That and your wife, Maria!"
Russell shoots a poisonous squint of the eye and grunts in disgust.
"Stings you to hear it? Well, it is true. It was Maria who came up with the doctrine of Faithful and Wise Servant and she applied it to you. That made you a product, a Brand Name, if you will. You became the Mouthpiece of the Lord. Your money, your publishing company and your colporteurs advertised the Pyramid nonsense and made it work. Ya got people all stirred up and Millennial. Don't deny it."
Russell opens his mouth to protest, thinks the better of it and airly motions for Rutherford to finish.
"People love END TIMES. It is delicious and exciting. They get themselves all in a lather about the coming of the Lord. Ya know why? I"ll tell you and you know in your heart it is true. People love to get worked up over the Armageddon because it is the only damned thing that can make them feel like faith is really about something urgent!"
Russell leaps to his feet in a self-righteous snit. "Stop that blasphemy you contemptible cur! Don't speak about our Lord's revealed word in such a venal tone! He will strike you dead on the spot!"
"Okay, Strike me down now, Lord----if you are up there--out there, over there----umm, where exactly is the Lord this evening, Pastor, hovering in the Pleides?"
Russell pulls himself up to full height and tilts his head back in disdain. "The Lord is watching you and weighing every word that falls from your blasphemous lips. You have been weighed in the balance and found lacking!"
Judge Rutherford pulls back his smoking jacket and points to his cummerbund with the holster. "See this pistol, Pastor, that is the only word of the Lord that can speak around here."
Russell eyes the empty holster.
"Oh." The Judge blushes. "I forgot I wounded your beard with it. Sorry about that. You startled me."
Russell beckons the Judge beside him in a gazebo near the center of the flowered walkway. The Pastor speaks quietly building up a head of steam as he goes.
"I sincerely believed every word I wrote or spoke in my lifetime. You wouldn't understand that, would you? No, you are a lawyer. A lawyer is all about getting a thing done regardless of it being right or wrong. A judge, in fact, is the one who decides what is right and wrong--does he not? You speak it---and it is now a legal truth. That has obviously become a habit of thinking."
"Judge, you are an ambitious and ruthless fellow who saw a good thing with certain potential and you found a .....for want of a better word..."legal" way of stealing it. Yes, I said STEALING. I specified in my will who should succeed me and you invalidated my wishes. The corporation was mine, bought with my money and hard work---and you have destroyed my life's creation."
Rutherford sneers contemptuously. "Ho ho ho, I see you admit it is YOUR creation and none of the Lord's doing."
Russell,defiantly: "The Lord used me as his instrument to prepare the way for his Kingdom. I prepared people and made certain their attention was on His coming. I pointed the way like John the Baptist...."
Rutherford spits a sip of whiskey, "Ha! You published claptrap, nonsense and gobblety-gook. It was all puffery and nonsense. You were wrong about every thing you were CERTAIN you were right about. You changed constantly what you were sure about. If the Lord was working through you he was himself a bumbling fool."
Russell, aghast, can only shake his head. A chill flows through the garden and the gazebo begins to move slightly as a breeze catches the quivering leaves.
The lawyer contines. "You bought and paid for the best and most convincing charletons to produce a dog and pony show of charts, timelines, chronologies and such. I know why. Do you? You wanted your childhood indoctrination by your mommy to have some truth in it. You knew her fanaticism was extreme and severe---so--you chose a kinder and gentler Jesus. Your father's haberdasher business taught you how to organize and get people to work for you. Mostly, it taught you how to make a business pay off. Am I wrong so far?"
Russell leans shivering in the cold now. He sticks out his lower lip and reaches for Rutherford's whiskey bottle. The Judge passes it approvingly to the old Pastor and watches with a fatherly smile as the old man chokes down a warm glow of Prohibition Booze.
"You didn't know my mother, Joe. She was a pistol. Ever hear that expression? A pistol? All she talked about was Hell this and Hell that. She scared sweet Jesus out of me. Scottish Presbyterian hellfire is the worst."
Judge pauses to gaze up at the night sky that looks now like spilled talcum powder on a black suit. Shaking his head to clear it, he continues in a moderate tone of assured confidence.
"You constructed a religion and described a Jesus who didn't frighten you and who offered a nice reward without hellfire. You had to convince yourself first---and you found people with a salesman's glib patter who could make it sound real. The invisible Jesus who rules now is a real twist of tomfool genius. But, you fumbled it badly, Charley, you really dropped the ball. You were too confident that your writings were the whispers of God. You didn't know any more than anybody else did what was going to happen as to when or why. The Great Pyramid gave you a concrete (or should I say limestone?) goofy sleight-of-hand to convince the unwitting and unwashed."
"Oh stifle, Judge. Just stifle. Put a cork in it." Rutherford grasps the bottle and inserts the cork.
"Ha! Maria figured you out pretty quick, didn't she? You were not a husband in the bedroom with her and she was willing to accept that until she caught you with that young girl---your ward--what was the name?"
"Shut up! You don't know what you are talking about! That was evil rumor and nothing more."
"Right, Pastor. Right. And I'm not a drunken Judge either. But, I digress.....through your mismanagement of Miracle Wheat and showing yourself to be a phoney scholar on the witness stand who could not read simple Greek sentences you blew your cachet of authenticity. But, the faithful few still regarded you as...something indispensible! So many lingered to see what you'd come up with next. But, awwww...you died. That was callous of you, Charly. You ripped their hearts out and left them alone with an Unfinshed Mystery...... titled, ironically: The FINISHED MYSTERY. Ha!"
"You are finished, I trust," the Pastor began, "Why then, did the Lord see fit to take me unto him?"
"Oh?" Rutherford looked mockingly quizzical. "Is this heaven and am I the Lord?"
Pastor halted. "I ....I just don't know all the details....."
Rutherford beamed brightly. "You never did, you old fool! You just THOUGHT you knew."
The two men slowly rose and trudged back into the house out of the night air. They settle in at the vast kitchen area at the dining table. Rutherford pours them each a thick shot glass full of rye and they begin smoking long cigars from Cuba.
Thoughtfully, Russell muses..."Yes, I was convinced the Lord was speaking directly through me as his mouthpiece. You know what helped me believe that? Not the failed prophecies and the wrong dates, surely, but what really made me believe in myself was......the look in the eyes of the brethren when I met with them and spoke to them face to face. And those lovely worshipful sisters! They looked at me AS THOUGH the Lord were speaking through me. You know what that feels like to a man like me? IT IS EVERYTHING!" He cooed wonderingly.
Rutherford snorts, "Oh I saw that myself. I personally HATED IT. Those people are idiots. I'd rather do what Machievelli said. You know what he said? 'I'd rather be feared and obeyed than loved.' That is my motto. It works better than your method. I wear a pistol and I have bodyguards. I have a chauffer and a flask of whisky. I turn my death ray of words on all my enemies. You know who my enemies are? The bigshots with all the fame, glory and money. I put myself right up there on their level...You know how? I put myself HIGHER MORALLY than they are. I condemn them! It works, Charles, it works. They fear me and hate me. I'm hot stuff."
Russell shakes his head and tugs his beard causing the few braids to fall out. "It's all about you, then, Judge? The Lord is nowhere to be found?"
Rutherford looks straight into Pastor Russell's watery eyes, "It is all about POWER! I now have the power to keep people busy and spread the brand name around and make it worth some real cash. I'm working on a real brand name to top the current bestseller: CHRISTIAN. You have to have a brand name, you see, to advertise and promote your goods. I sell hope and protection against the most fearsome of all adversaries. No, not Satan, but Jehovah himself!! Big Jah can whoop Satan's ass in any baroom brawl and everybody knows it. I want people to fear the LORD HIMSELF. Then, I present myself as god's best friend and I'll put in a good word for them IF I approve of the work they are doing on my...um, I mean our behalf."
"Disgusting", Russell frowns and closes his eyes in pain. He rubs his temples and heaves a long sigh.
"No. My new brand name will be revealed eventually. I'm tired of all these bible student schisms.
None of the brothers and sisters can figure out who is who and what is what. I'm building a better mousetrap. I'm creating a brand superior to those Bible Students. YOUR bible students. I'm going to create a super christian with balls and guts. People unafraid to take on the whole world! We'll get lots of publicity each time we don't salute a flag, don't say the pledge, don't celebrate a birthday, don't go for Christmas and Easter or serve in the armed forces. We'll get free publicity everywhere because.......you know why? Do you? Because people will HATE US for being so superior! Ha ha ha ha. Why, we'll even be willing to die for our faithful stand!"
Russell loses control; jumping to his feet he pushes the dining chair back away from the table. "You have to be stopped, Judge. You are dangerous. You've wrecked everything I ever stood for. I'm going to stop you."
"Oh Charly, you always had a weakness for drama! Calm down. Follow me."
Rutherford beckons for Russell to follow. They climb the stairs. Re-entering the bedroom, Rutherford reaches down on the floor and picks up his pistol. He checks the cylinder to determine how many bullets remain.
"Pastor Russell, I misjudged you. Which is ironic for a man called JUDGE, is it not?"
Rutherford chuckles out loud having a good laugh, then continues. "I buried you and your faithful and wise servant image. I've taken it upon myself and the other boys who do my bidding. We're in the process of scuttling the Great Pyramid teachings too. We are replacing your work with a dynamite campaign of door to door work that will bring Christendom to its knees. I prefer the time-tested formula of CARROT AND STICK. Paradise and Heaven are the CARROT and Armageddon is the STICK. I'll play up one and balance it with the other over and over again. When the brethern get sluggish or backslide I'll pull out the stick you used inadvertantly: DATE SETTING! That will bring the money flowing in. When the date comes and goes without anything happening---well, I'll do what you always did: I'll be humble and show how eager we were for Christ's promises to come now. I'll even turn it back on them if they get surly about it. A certain amount of turnover is to be expectd in every business...uhm, I mean, Religion."
Pastor Russell's face turns stone rigid. He speaks slowly. "Not when I tell the press your scathingly wretched plans, sir!"
Russell reaches for the telephone...but, Rutherford points the pistol at his face and shakes his head from side to side. "I wouldn't do that, Pastor. You only live once, you know."
The Pastor curls his lip, "Never bluff a bluffer, jackass..." His finger dials the Operator.
"Last chance, Pastor, I mean it. I don't know how you came back to life or why you are here, but, I can't let you stop my success from happening. I'm a mover and a shaker and things are starting to move. People will believe ANYTHING you tell them if you put fear behind it."
Russell turns his back and presses the telephone earpiece close to his head. "Yes, Operator, give me the local newspaper editor, please...."
A deafening sound: three loud blasts shake the windows and echo against the wood panelling. Russell falls to the floor with a final thump and groans once, then twice, and a death rattle brings only silence. Rutherford watches impassively as the cordite smoke swirls in curlicues around him. He reaches for the tug cord and summons the butler. Perhaps his chauffer can lift this old man into a gunny sack and dump him in the Pacific Ocean before sunrise. Rutherford takes another long swig on the bottle and lays down upon the bed to rest for a moment as the sound of footsteps running up the stairs is heard. His head spins and a voice echoes.
"Sir? Sir? Judge, sir?" The voice wakes Rutherford from a deep and troubled slumber. "Huh, the hell you say?" Rutherford's eyes open like a kitten. "What are you blubbering about?"
"Sir, you have another of your nightmare's sir? If I might caution you sir, that bootleg booze can be quite deadly, you know. Homemade booze has poisoned many people. It is in the papers. Really sir, you should be more careful. Wait for the shipment to come in from Canada." Rutherford pushes the man away. "Remove the body, will you? Before sunrise?"
"What body, sir?"
They both stare at the empty space on the floor.
"Well, I'll be hornswoggled!" Rutherford exhales, half relieved.
The other man scratches his head and shakes it knowingly. "Will that be all, sir?"
The judge lifts his leg slightly and grunts passing three loud farts into their proximity.
"Take that, you old rascal!"
The butler quickly exits without waiting for the answer.
Judge Rutherford staggers unsteadily over to the doorway and squints warily.
His hand comes up and his fingers grope warily toward holes in the doorjam and nearby wall.
Downstairs the household help pause in their monring duties as the spine-tingling roar of madness and laughter echo from the upstairs hallway.