Christian Fiction, Thriller
Todd Netland’s book, “Fame and Fortune Tellers,” is the story of one man’s rise to the top, almost overnight, in the pop music business. Randy Miller is a young choral teacher who encounters a spiritualist at the tag end of a mini-vacation, who prophesizes a sudden rise to stardom for this school choir teacher. This prediction comes true, but it turns out to be a life of emptiness, joylessness, and conflict for Randy and his family.
Other characters enter into this story who all come together as the main plot and subplots of the story thicken and unfold. Meet Brad Applebaum: a young Christian, zealous about his walk with God, but green in the things of the Lord and life in general. Travel with Pam Jackson: an on-fire Pentecostal and prayer warrior. Meet Darryl Temple: a total loser who ends up completely destroying his life. And finally, meet Eric Burns: leader of the communist revolutionary group, “The Red Riding Rangers.”
This novel involves choices of different people and how these choices play out, both in this life and the life to come.
AT 6:15 P. M., the doors opened at Rheem Valley Theater, and people started to walk in and take their seats in order to see the concert of The Universal Mindset. Both Brad and Pam were very early comers. So were Eric, Ted, Felix, Tony, Francis, and Nick. The outside of the theater was adorned with the elaborate marquee, a fancy sign in lights reading, ‘JITTERBUG JOSH AND THE UNIVERSAL MINDSET IN CONCERT, 7 P. M., THURSDAY, OCT. 31.’ A ticket booth in front of the entryway stood out from the main doors leading into the movie theater. It was unmanned tonight since this was going to be a free, non-ticketed charity concert. The outside of the theater was painted in several different attractive colors; the lower part was painted a light aqua color while up higher, the walls were a pastel yellow color. Eric, Ted, and Francis took their seats in the very front row right next to each other. Brad and Pam sat down in the second row directly behind the three conspirators. Pam immediately recognized Eric and Ted and promptly started praying softly right there in her seat. Felix, Tony, and Nick sat in seats, close to the rear of the theater. Hal Odell, Laura Wilkerson, Debbie Thatcher, and Cristy Hunt sat in seats located about halfway back. By 7:00, the house was 80 percent full. It would almost be a full house tonight.
The emcee for the evening walked onto the stage to introduce the famous group. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen! It’s the night for trick or treating, and we don’t have any tricks for you tonight. But we do have a wonderful treat for you! We at the great Rheem Valley Movie Theater are proud and happy to present to you the world-famous singing group, JITTERBUG JOSH AND THE UNIVERSAL MINDSET! Please join me in giving a warm welcome to them!”
The audience burst into enthusiastic applause, and Randy Miller and the other members of the famous pop group walked out toward the stage. Randy was scared tonight. He experienced a premonition; something felt very, very wrong, and he felt like there was a bogey man that was near, threatening, all ready to jump out with his fangs and gobble him up. He felt like he should run out of the building and forget all about the concert, but he shrugged off the premonition with great effort. I really must be going nuts! I guess Harry is right about me. All those drugs are making me paranoid. I want to get out of here fast, but if I did, I would be the laughingstock of Moraga, and Harry and Hiram would drop me like a hot potato! I’ve gotta’ buck up, grin, and bear it! Think, Randy, think! Concentrate! Randy forced himself out into the middle of the stage, and the concert started with the peppy Randy Miller smash hit, “The Evil Eye.”
E dominant seventh, A dominant seventh, B dominant seventh, E dominant seventh. Randy and the other two male singers started belting out the memorable, catchy melody of that very rambunctious rock tune. Randy’s fingers flew across the fretboard of his electric distortion guitar as he played his harsh pounding guitar solo. The piece received wild applause and cheers from the audience.
The next piece was “Just like Creamy Silk.” G major, G diminished, A minor, G-sharp diminished, A minor seventh, A half-diminished, D dominant seventh. The lush harmonies and sensual melodies of that romantic ballad filled the auditorium, and most of the audience was captivated just like they would have been if they had been at an Elvis concert. Very loud screaming came mostly from the teenage girls who were in the audience—it was very close to rock star worship. At the end of that song, wild cheering broke out that was almost deafening.
Pam felt a strong sense of foreboding as did Brad to a slightly less pronounced extent. The other Christians in the prayer group also felt somewhat uneasy. The ones in the middle of the room began to pray in tongues.
“Psst, Brad!” whispered Pam in a barely audible voice. “I feel we need to pray! Pray very, very quietly!”
Both of them began to pray almost silently as the music continued. When the wild cheering after “Just like Creamy Silk” had died down, Randy began to give a little speech, working like a beaver to hide his depression and fear.
“Hello, everybody out there!” (Wild cheering from the audience.) “Oh boy, it’s sure good to be here tonight! I hope all you hipsters and hippies have a rock rolling, rip-roaring, rowdy good time tonight on this day of celebrating Halloween. Even as I speak, millions of kids here in the good old USA are knocking on doors and filling their bags with all kinds of goodies: Life Savers, Nestle Crunch Bars, Milky Ways, Snickers, packs of gum, and all other kinds of delicious sweets. There’s enough candy around to make the mouth of Willy Wonka water!” (Laughter from the audience followed by more cheers and whistles.) “At any rate, the sad fact is that there are millions of people in our world tonight who are not so happy—and it’s because of a green-eyed scourge, a silent killer that sneaks up on multitudes of people and bites them. This scourge is known as the Grim Reaper, Cancer. Less than two weeks ago, Cancer claimed the life of a man who used to be the lead vocalist as well as the chief guitarist for this group. A little over a year ago, that talented musician, Herb Taylor, was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. The doctors did the best they knew how. They removed his voice box, but seven months later, a malignant growth was found in his brain. Herb Taylor fought hard and suffered intensely, but twelve days ago, he lost his battle against that malicious foe, Cancer.
“Our agenda here tonight is to raise money to try to find a cure for this great scourge. We need your help. Your $1, $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100 donations will go a long way into research to try to find a cure for this Great Scourge of mankind. Please be generous in your giving. I don’t know why things like leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, melanoma, and glioblastoma strike so many people. I do know that the Law of Karma has something to do with it. Each of us has a long and arduous path as we go through many cycles of death and rebirth into new bodies as the eons roll by—reincarnation. It’s a long trip that man has to take as he gradually ascends on his evolutionary journey, but it is our hope that the day will come soon that cancer finds itself on the ash heap of history, just like smallpox and polio. Thank you!”
There was enthusiastic applause, and the band started their next piece, “The American Dream.” There followed, “Say Yay for Yoga,” “Karma Charma,” “Blue Love,” “Hoodwinked Hustler,” and “The Devil’s Dilemma.” Then came the song, “For the Love of Leviathan.”
The song started with its haunting opening with the piecing distortion guitar solo from Randy. Then the rest of the band came in with the slow and hard rock opening featuring very sophisticated harmonies that were foreign to practically all the rock-and-roll music of that day. G minor with A and E added in, C minor with D and A added in, C-sharp diminished, D augmented with a C added in, E-flat dominant seventh, C-sharp diminished, D augmented, D dominant seventh. Randy started singing the lyrics.
“Lay your head on the great sea dragon,
Holding in his hand a bottomless flagon,
Out of the mouth of this invincible crocodile,
Gushes poisonous vengeance, hatred, and bile,
Concerning this crooked and scaly snake,
Of his matchless power make no mistake…….”
Pam prayed like she had never prayed before.
“…….Leviathan, Leviathan, his jaws lead to Hades,
To the dark and desolate land of shadies—”
A glass 7-Up bottle went soaring from one side of the back of the auditorium to the other with a jet stream of smoke following it. The projectile slammed into the face of an elderly lady, knocking her unconscious. This 7-Up bottle was filled with an amber liquid, and a dirty rag clogged its neck.
It was a dangerous and smoldering Molotov cocktail!
There were shouts and even screams from the back of the movie theater as the low-grade flame smoldered and burned through the rag around the neck of the bottle. Any minute, it would explode.
A medium-sized man with brown hair who had seen Felix throwing the Molotov cocktail yelled, “What are you doing, you creep?!”
Felix lunged at him and started punching him. Tony and Nick also started hitting people that were around them, and promptly, a full-fledged melee erupted! The woman was being trampled on by the ruffians as well as being burned by the cocktail.
“Somebody stop those dirty ratfinks!”
“That thing’s gonna go off in a minute!”
“Let’s get moving, everybody! Let’s get moving! Everybody out of the theater!” People stood up and franticly began moving toward the lobby.
“Stay calm, everybody,” yelled a burly man. “Don’t panic. Keep cool everyone!”
Brad saw the short, stocky man with dark brown hair in front of him aiming a gun toward the stage. The stocky man pulled the trigger, and the bullet smashed into the skull of Brian Manning, ending his life instantly. He then aimed his gun toward Randy Miller, and Brad bravely grabbed him to try desperately to save more lives from being lost. His attempt worked. The gun fired some more bullets, but Ted Johnson’s aim was off. The first bullet hit Randy in the upper right side of his chest, very close to his shoulder. Randy screamed in pain. He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. Then he felt a horrible pain right in the middle of his chest—a very severe squeezing type of pain radiating up through his arms. He felt as if a truck had run over him. Another bullet hit George Newman in the arm while yet another smashed into the left leg of Bart Anderson.
Brad kept desperately wrestling against the stocky man and was successful in that he knocked him to the floor. Ted rose to his feet, and Eric Burns immediately grabbed a hold of Brad, brandished a sharp, glittering switchblade, and said in a low savage voice, “You move just one muscle, sucker, and you’re a dead man!”
Brad prayed like he had never prayed before, and Eric heard it.
“You quit praying to that dirty imposter Jesus, you hear?! Renounce Jesus right now or I’ll slit your throat!”
“I can’t renounce Him! He is my mega-wonderful and lovely Savior who rose from the dead.”
SLASH! The knife swathed a deep gash in the upper part of Brad’s arm, and Eric prepared to finish him off, when he was startled and frightened by the sight of a huge man dressed in a black uniform holding a glittering and polished sword. Where in blue blazes did that man come from? He had to be more than eight feet tall and had a fierce countenance on his face. Eric dropped the switchblade in terror and ran toward the back entrance behind the stage. He rushed through the door and ran up the eight steps leading to the back driveway. He turned right and jumped into his blue ramshackle car parked at the side of the building. He turned the ignition key, revved the engine, and started driving toward the street.
Meanwhile, three strong men had muscled Ted Johnson to the floor, their heights being between five feet, eleven inches and six feet, four inches.
“All right, you perverted creep!” cried one of them. “That’s the end of the line for you! The party’s over!”
“Somebody needs to help the people on stage!” yelled Hal. “They’re badly hurt!”
“Everybody out of the auditorium, now!”
“Call the ambulance!”
“Somebody call the cops! Don’t let those stinking, no-good murderers get away!”
Pam and Brad headed toward the stage. Brad felt a burning pain in his upper arm, and he was beginning to feel weak. He was losing a lot of blood. The people who were unhurt in the band were helping the injured ones out through the back door. They carried the badly injured ‘Jitterbug Josh’ out unto the back alley where they laid him on the ground. Pam helped Brad up the eight steps where he staggered and sat down next to the hurt singing star.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” gasped Brad to Randy.
“Ohh!” groaned Randy. “Oohh! Ouch! Please do something for the pain!” he weakly gasped as he wept profusely.
Brad reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle of Bayer Aspirin. He stumbled and weakly managed to put three of them into the mouth of the anguished pop star. He prayed fervently for wisdom, and a thought came to him. “Just relax, Josh! Take it easy now, everything’s gonna be all right. God loves you very, very much. You are very special to Him. Just relax now! Breathe deeply, deeply! Take deep breaths!”
Even though it was tough for Randy, he forced himself to take deep breaths. This kept him from passing out.
“We need help over here!” yelled Pam. “We need tourniquets to stop the bleeding!”
Several people supplied coats, which they applied to the victims to staunch the bleeding of Randy Miller and Brad Applebaum. Ambulance and police sirens could be heard in the distance, getting closer and closer. Pam knelt down beside the terrorized singing star and prayed fervently and compassionately for him.
“Oh, Heavenly Father!” she cried out, tears running down her face. “Please show Yourself to this tormented man! Show Josh how much You love Him! Please comfort him through Your Holy Spirit. Please let him know about the surpassing love of Jesus on the cross for him that knows no limit! Pour Your soothing balm and oil of Your Holy Spirit on his fevered spirit.” While Hal was pushing down tightly on Randy’s chest with his makeshift tourniquet to try to dam up the blood flow from the gunshot wound, Pam gently and lovingly stroked his head and sang,
“’The love of God is greater far,
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win:
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forever more endure,
The saints and angels’ song!’”1
Tears streamed down Randy Miller’s face. He had never experienced anything like this in his whole life. The love flowing through that beautiful young woman was so comforting! Her loving hand on his face, her heartfelt prayer, the beautiful song! Her voice was sweet and musical, but it wasn’t so much her musical talent that touched Randy Miller; it was something he just couldn’t put his finger on. She was touching something deep inside him, which all of those out-of-the-body experiences just never had. She began to sing another song entitled, “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go!” At this point, Randy totally lost it and bawled like a little baby, taking deep and slow breaths.
Brad slipped two more aspirin tablets into the mouth of the singing star after which he lost consciousness. Pam, who had been running on the strength of the Lord and adrenaline, finally succumbed to the terror deeply submerged in her heart. She started crying out with convulsive sobbing and then went into shock.
More and more people were filling up that back alley. Presently, the ambulances arrived, and the injured people were speedily loaded into the vehicles. They would be quickly rushed to John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. For Randy Miller and Brad Applebaum, the situation was especially urgent.
“Out of the way, people!” cried the paramedics. “Give us some room here! Make way!”
“There’s an old lady still inside the theater who’s badly hurt!” shouted a bystander.
The front of the theater was filled with stunned and shaken concertgoers. Two fire trucks stopped at the movie house, and firemen rushed into the theater, which was now almost deserted. They found the old woman who was very close to death. She was unconscious, and the smoldering flame from the Molotov cocktail had burned her very severely. Miraculously, the projectile had not exploded. The firemen took care of the Molotov cocktail and started working on trying to save the life of that aged woman. Meanwhile, Ted Johnson was pinned to the ground by the three muscular men. Four policemen were soon there to take over and read the litany of constitutional rights to him. “You are under arrest because of suspicion of first-degree murder! You have the right to remain silent………”
FELIX McDowell rushed out of the lobby into the sidewalk right after the gunfire that killed Brian Manning. He ran toward his red sports car and jumped into it. He drove erratically, almost running into a group of people who had escaped from the theater. He turned left and started zooming at a reckless pace up Rheem Valley Road toward Orinda, his tires screaming, his vehicle swerving from one side of the two-lane highway to the other. Cars were forced to veer wildly just to escape a serious accident. There was one time when his wheels actually left the ground for a second because of his great speed. It was only two minutes before a cop spotted him and pulled him to the side of the road.
“All right, punk kid!” yelled the cop. “The joyride’s all over! Let me see your license!”
“Get lost, you dirty copper! I didn’t do nothing wrong!”
But the cop smelled the telltale odor from the Molotov cocktail and quickly slapped handcuffs on his wrist. Felix fought with all his might, yelled, and cussed at the officer, but it was of no avail. It would be off to jail for him.
TONY FITCH ran out of the building right after Felix did. Some people had seen his involvement in helping Felix with the diversionary explosion attempt. There were cries from some of the people who were outside. They accused him of being one of the terrorists. With that, Tony took off running as fast as he could, but he was not fast enough to be able to escape the prying crowd. He was too short, too fat, and out of shape. It wasn’t very long before several athletic men were able to catch up with him and pin him to the ground. Tony looked up at them with his devious, shifty, and catlike eyes and protested, “Why are you guys picking on an innocent bystander like me?”
They answered, “We saw what you were doing! There are a whole lot of reliable witnesses—so fess up, you jerk!”
NICK WEEMS ran out of the lobby at the same time as Tony. He headed toward his shiny navy-blue Volkswagen, running very erratically. He reached his car but was having trouble finding his keys. He fumbled and fumbled with his hands, feeling around in his pockets, searching for those keys. He finally found them, lifted them out of his pocket—and promptly dropped them to the pavement! He cussed loudly and stooped down to pick them up. He put a key in the car door. It was the wrong one! He tried another. That was wrong, too! He tried a third that was the right one, but he just couldn’t seem to force it into the keyhole. In frustration, he took the name of the Lord in vain and pounded the hood of the car with his fists with all his might.
“There’s another one of those dirty hoodlums!” shouted someone, pointing straight at him. “Let’s git’ him!”
People started running toward him and roughhoused him to the ground.
“Leave me alone!” shouted Nick. “Let me go! I didn’t do nothing, man! I’ve got my rights! I demand to see a lawyer! I’ll sue you for every red cent you got!”
“Shut up, you little twerp! We know you were involved in this plot! We saw what you did!”
FRANCIS ZEEB ran out of the backstage door right after Eric did. He jumped into his light-green Chevrolet parked on the other side of the building from where Eric had parked. He gunned the motor and zoomed out of the alley. He headed toward the shopping center alley. He turned right on Rheem Valley Road, zoomed through a gas station at the corner of Rheem Valley Road, side-swiped a white Ford, and screeched to the right on Moraga Road. The guy who owned the car yelled, “You ding-a-ling dummy!” as he surveyed the dent in his car. Francis raced down Moraga Road at a dizzying speed. Police cars with their sirens blaring were closing in on him.
ERIC BURNS heard the sirens too. While Francis continued racing down Moraga Road, Eric turned right on Corliss Drive, his tires squealing in a very menacing way. He raced up the residential winding street that led sharply uphill for a while. Modern ranch-style homes were on both sides of the street. Many kids were out trick-or-treating. The road crested at an intersection and then went sharply downhill. No cops were following Eric at this time; they had stayed on Moraga Road in their pursuit of Francis Zeeb. Eric didn’t realize that the road he was on was a dead-end street until he was about a hundred yards away from the end of it. He panicked, turned his car around very fast, and sideswiped a brown Cadillac, breaking the windows on that car and splattering the glass on the road. He almost hit a couple of trick-or-treaters who screamed in terror and barely got out of the way of the crazy driver in time. He sped back up the hill and turned left on Hardie Drive, barely avoiding a head-on collision with a car going the other way. This street sloped sharply downward to a busy road known as Moraga Way. Eric was very familiar with this road because of his former bus-driving job. He turned left on that road that still had a lot of traffic on it at this time of night. He had to slow down and flow with the traffic. A side street was coming up on the right called St. Andrews Drive. He turned on to it to avoid the traffic, and also because he knew there was a fire station ahead and on the right on Moraga Way; he wanted to stay as far away from it as he could. He went a block down St. Andrews Drive, turned left on Country Club Drive, raced a few blocks down that street, and then turned right on Canyon Road. This enabled him to miss the police roadblock that had been set up at the junction where Moraga Way ended and Moraga Road became Canyon Road. Francis was not so fortunate but drove right into the police trap. There was no way out. The police surrounded him and immediately arrested that communist criminal.
Eric zoomed up Canyon Road, a winding and scenic back road that zigzagged through many groves of redwood trees. He was traveling at about seventy miles an hour. His tires squealed in protest at a deafening volume, more than once, he narrowly missed crashing into an oncoming vehicle, and a half dozen times, his ramshackle car almost went off the road. A driver of a blue Toyota had to swerve wildly to avoid a head-on collision with the communist revolutionary and winded up crashing into a hillside, badly damaging the car. Eric zoomed past car after car on the curvy road, jumping over the line into the left lane of oncoming traffic.
Eric had a plan. He was going to drive straight to Scott William’s apartment in Berkeley and kill him. “That useful idiot has double-crossed me!” he muttered to himself. “This is treason! I’m going to make his death a slow and painful one!”
He finally came to Skyline Boulevard and turned right on that winding road with its spectacular views of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco. Houses were on both sides of this boulevard. He soon came to a fork in the road. A police blockade already blocked the road that forked left and was rapidly blocking the road that wound to the right. Eric swerved heavily to the right and off the boulevard, his tires screaming, his car fishtailing. He barely made it through the blockade. Several black-and-white squad cars took off in hot pursuit of the fleeing communist. The road continued to wind around with hard-to-negotiate and treacherous hairpin turns. He was getting higher and higher in altitude. There were no more houses up here. Soon, he approached Fish Ranch Road. The route to the right led down to highway 24 that went east to Orinda. To the left, the road led down to Berkeley. Oh no, there was a roadblock here, too! It was hopeless! Eric made a sharp U-turn and started zooming back the other way, barely missing ramming into the oncoming police cars. It was all over, finished, checkmate!
About the Author
Todd Netland is an accomplished pianist, composer, and arranger. He has crisscrossed the USA and traveled to sixty countries of the world, sharing the love of Jesus through his music and personal testimony in places where the light of the gospel is dim and His voice is heard small. He has traveled as a keyboardist, one and off since 1990, with Jon Stemkoski’s CELEBRANT SINGERS. Netland is the author of “Is the Rapture the Real Deal”, a treatise on end-time Bible prophecy. He currently resides in Pacheco with his lovely wife, Wendy Flagg-Netland.