Be prepared to laugh aloud as you're reading and read it in public places at your own risk!
Here's the short version of FAUX PAS:
What would you do if you discovered, by accident, no less, that the President of the United States was attending your daughter’s wedding in less than two weeks?
Panic. You’d panic, I tell you.
That’s what the parents of the bride, Pastor Hugh Foster and his wife Melanie did. Add in a severe storm, crazy senior citizens who believe the POTUS lied his way into office, a crumbling, but historic church you happen to pastor, a cranky Secret Service agent, a four-year-old grandchild-to-be you know nothing about, and a son-in-law-to-be whose faith in the Lord has waned, and well … you’ve got yourself a humdinger of a wedding. Not to mention that same future son-in-law is a University of Michigan Wolverines fan (gasp!... not a Michigan State Spartans fan) and prefers sweet tea to unsweetened. My gosh, what is the world coming to? Talk about a FAUX PAS! Well, good luck with all that, Pastor Foster.
Oh, and Heaven help the president.
Enjoy the first scene:
The man in the doorway stood about as tall as your average redwood. He wore a navy-blue suit, white shirt, and a red and white striped tie. Put a few stars on his forehead, and he’d have made a great flag. You could slice carrots with the crease in his pants, but I doubted he had much experience in the kitchen aside from maybe bench pressing the stove. The old-fashioned cast iron kind, not one of today’s namby-pamby appliances.
I stood and walked toward him. “I’m Hugh Foster, sir. Welcome.”
He whipped out a snazzy-looking badge holder, flashed it in my face, then snapped it shut. Efficient.
“Ross MacElroy,” he said. “Pronounced Mack-el-roy. Accent on the ‘Mack.’ I’m from the government.”
Government? Take our county job handing out church basement repair permits seriously, do we?
“Nice to meet you, Mr. MacElroy. I’m the pastor here.” I stuck my hand out. He looked at it. Okay then. He’d fit right in around here. He had all the charm of my unconventional, and some would say, demented elderly neighbor, Sadie Simms, and the rugged good looks of … oh, I don’t know, maybe a T-Rex?
“From the church,” I added, as if I should own up to it. “The Christ Is Lord Church. Only church in Road’s End, I might add. My wife and I also run The Inn at Road’s End on the corner.” I gestured behind me. “Back there. Other side of Rivermanse Lane.”
“How many entrances?”
“Entrances. To the church.”
“Oh. Well, just the two—front and back.”
He peered at me as if I had an escape hatch built under the pulpit for those moments when a pastor needs to make a quick getaway—one I wasn’t about to let him in on. “You sure about that?”
I nodded. “Yep,” but it sounded lame even to me. It came out more like “I’m pretty sure, but I suppose I’d crack under torture, so please, no thumbscrews.” I cleared my throat and tried again.
“Yes, that’s it. Say, would you like some coffee before we get down to business?”
Mr. MacElroy, from the government, scanned the sanctuary from side to side and back to front without appearing to move his head. How did he do that?
He nodded; I wasn’t sure if that meant he wanted coffee or the coast was clear or he’d decided I wasn’t withholding valuable egress or ingress data. So, I went out on a limb—coffee it was.
“Well, we can either sit in here or go into my office.” I pointed to the sanctuary doors behind him. “In either case, the coffee’s back there, so I’ll just go get us some. Take anything in it?”
Silence. I took that as a no. I left him and his X-ray vision to their probing evaluations and scuttled out. I peeked in on Grace, our church secretary, before heading into our micro-kitchen. “We have a visitor, Grace. Our inspector guy, Mr. Ross MacElroy, accent on the ‘Mack’. Bit of an odd duck.
Flashed a badge at me; says he’s from the government.”
She shrugged. “Not sure why’d he’d admit that, but then some folks take their work seriously, I guess. At least, he’s prompt. I didn’t think he’d be here for another half hour or so.”
“That’s all well and good, but I hope he doesn’t take his job so seriously he denies our permit. If we don’t get this building shored up pretty darned soon, we’re gonna find ourselves working eye-to-eye with Roscoe and the rest of the gang out in the cemetery.”
She sighed, shooed me away with the flick of a finger, and said, “Least Roscoe’s quiet. Go away.”
Grace is a subtle soul.
I started to walk away then remembered my manners. “Coffee?”
“Shoo!” Guess not.
I gave her a mock salute and left. I poured two mugs of coffee from our ten-year-old Mr. Coffee and returned to the foyer. I spotted Mr. MacElroy in my office. He stood with his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels, peering out the wavy-glassed front window at the parking lot. I wondered if he’d had time to peruse my files or hack into my computer. Hope he didn’t find my miserable Solitaire scores.
“Here you go,” I said, setting the mug in front of him. “Nice and hot. Grace makes great coffee.”
He nodded. “I know.”
Right. I motioned to the chair in front of my desk and sank into my own. He sat—I marveled that the chair didn’t collapse—took a sip of coffee, then set the mug down and pulled out a small leather-bound notebook and expensive-looking pen. “Let’s get down to business.”
I nodded. “Shoot.”
His head snapped up. “That supposed to be funny?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so. Do you want it to be?”
He glared at me for a few more seconds then tapped his pen on the pad, cleared his throat, and scanned the information in his book. “All right then. You’re Hugh Foster, recently retired Air Force chaplain. Married to Melanie Foster.”
“Your parents and in-laws are still living in Michigan where you and your wife grew up and eventually met at Michigan State University,” he continued. “Melanie majored in horticulture; you went on to become a pastor. You served in the Air Force for twenty-seven years then retired here to Road’s End, Virginia, bought The Inn at Road’s End—a lifelong dream of both you and your wife—on the southeast corner of Gloucester Street and Rivermanse Lane. Shortly after opening up for business, you assumed the pulpit at the Christ Is Lord Church across the road from said inn on the southwest corner of the aforementioned Gloucester Street and Rivermanse Lane.”
Right. The very church we’re sitting in, on the only corner in the entire town. I hoped he couldn’t read minds.
He stopped to take a breath. I would have, too, but I was fresh out, so I blinked vigorously instead.
He flipped back a few pages in his notebook and continued with my life story. “While in the Air Force, you were stationed at eleven bases, lived in thirteen different houses, and served in both Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Lived outside the country for a few of those years, raised your three kids—now all grown. One of them is getting married this June—on the 20th. A daughter. I have their names,” he glanced up, “but then you know them, don’t you?”
I gulped. I had a moment before, but I wasn’t so sure anymore.
“While in the military, you and Melanie were active in your communities, had numerous friends, and visited Virginia—Colonial Williamsburg and its environs, in particular—every chance you got.”
“Wait, wha …?” That was me, always the glib one.
He held up his hand. “There’s more. As recently as this past winter, you and your wife and most of the townspeople were involved in an altercation in which … uh, let’s see, a late model Hummer was blown up by a person named Sherman DeSoto. I see he had an accomplice named Sophie who was never charged.” He paused and made a notation in his notebook; I wondered if Sophie was about to be arrested. Good luck with that, Ross.
“Shortly after, a hostage situation occurred involving several senior citizens,” he droned on, “one man was shot, though not fatally. Coincidentally, shortly after said altercation, renovations were made to the church with monies collected by one Bristol Diggs, former homicide detective who served a year in prison on felony charges before being released under mysterious circumstances, retiring from the police force, changing his identity, and moving to Road’s End to become a part-time church caretaker and town handyman. Am I correct so far?”
I nodded. Stupidly.
“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
I tried to think of something he didn’t already know. “I had Cheerios for breakfast.”
He stared at me with those beady, T-Rex eyes. “You find this amusing, Pastor Foster?”
I shrugged. “Well, yes, I guess I do. I mean all this to dig out of the mess we’re in? To shore up a crumbling foundation? All we’re asking for is clearance. Should be a simple enough operation.”
“Is that what you call it? A mess? A crumbling foundation? And you’re asking for clearance for just what operation?” He said the last word as though he were vomiting.
This guy was starting to get my goat. I ignored his questions. “According to the information I’ve been given by Bristol Diggs—and given his expertise in this area, I trust his judgment—this is necessary, even urgent. This situation needs immediate attention before everything falls in around our heads. And the operation I’m talking about is simple. Out with the old, in with the new. You know about these things. What’s so difficult about fixing what’s broken? After all, you’re with the government, right?” It occurred to me that I was probably asking the wrong guy considering that part about working for the government.
His glare could have boiled water. “Let me get this straight. You’re admitting that you’re planning to undermine the current foundation and replace it with a new one, right? And this Bristol Diggs you’re collaborating with—would that be the same Bristol Diggs involved in the altercation this past December?”
I stared at him. “How many Bristol Diggs can there be? And no, I’m not undermining anything. The damage is done. Decades of neglect have brought us to this point. Bristol assures me it'll be a relatively painless procedure. The transition from old to new will be seamless, and once we’re finished, no more worries about the world crashing down around our shoulders.”
The man literally puffed up like one of those pans of popcorn you heat on the stove—probably the same stove he bench presses—and pulled himself to his full height, about nine feet from my angle. “I’m afraid, Pastor Foster, that I can’t allow this to go on any further.”
When I stood, I noticed that even though he wasn’t nine-feet tall, I was still considerably shorter. It crossed my mind to stand on my chair so I could address him at eye level, but then I remembered it was on casters. Just my luck, I’d pitch backward through the window to the parking lot behind me and frankly, the building had enough things wrong with it without me adding a broken window to the list. I settled for standing on tiptoes. “Listen, Mr. MacElroy, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot here. If your agency can’t accommodate me, I understand. You have bosses, too. All I seem to be doing is shooting the messenger.”
Hard to say what happened after that. One minute I was standing behind my desk with my head thrown back at a forty-five-degree angle admiring Ross the Redwood, and in the next, I was sprawled face down on my desk with my nose pressed into my first draft of Sunday’s sermon. Hulk’s little brother and his beefy knee seemed bent on smashing my spine through my lungs and nailing my ribs to the oak desktop.
I remember wondering, as I drifted toward asphyxiation, if he’d turned green.