Chester Cotton is the televangelist pastor of the Bellwether megachurch. He served as an Army paratrooper in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded through the right shoulder by a bullet. His right arm is paralyzed, but it has no effect on his charm and confidence. He uses his charisma and winning personality to obtain offerings and donations, enhancing the wealth of both his church and himself.
Bellwether is originally based in Atlanta, but it relocates to Grunwald, Texas, one year before the start of the novel.
Cotton quickly wins over the population and the town leadership. Mayor Martin Vintner and Chief of Police David Branchett both defer to him owing to his significant time and financial investments in the city council. He serves as a spiritual and practical leader, organizing a prayer circle when Emma Lee Hagen goes missing as well as offering counseling to residents of the town.
He offers a sympathetic ear to Kelly, winning her trust and providing some of his background information in return. He becomes concerned, like the rest of the town, when the children of Kelly's friends keep vanishing.