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The Rockets' Red Glare

The maple trees that rimmed the church parking lot had almost finished their shedding that gray Tuesday morning as Martin Watson awaited his visitor. The Washington Post lay untouched on the coffee table of his study, between the right-angle couches where he counseled. The pastor had not had time to read the paper that morning; he was too busy going through files and wondering what the IRS agent had in mind.

The new wing of the church had been finished for a couple of years now, providing sorely needed classroom space. Watson had come to this suburban church in Fairfax, Virginia, more than a decade before. The congregation of two hundred that welcomed him was now closer to six hundred, and the trim, fifty-year-old pastor with graying hair had reason to be gratified. His two daughters were doing well in college, and he and Eva had been moved into a new parsonage not long ago.

The stranger with a briefcase arrived promptly at ten. He was cordial enough as he shook Martin's hand, then sat down ...

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January/February
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