Authors: Tim Lahaye,Jerry B. Jenkins
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adult, #Thriller, #Contemporary, #Spiritual, #Religion
But do you extinguish the household of a statesman, a national treasure, for such an offense? And what of the man himself? Buck’s head throbbed, his chest felt tight, and he was short of breath. He was desperate to be with Chloe and Kenny and felt as if he could hold them tight for three and a half years. He knew the odds. Each had only a one in four chance of surviving until the Glorious Appearing. But even if he, or they, had to go to heaven before that, he didn’t want it to be this way. No one deserved this. No one but Carpathia.
It had been a long time since David had suffered such carping. On the way to his office from the palace hangar, past a full-dress color guard of pallbearers and a heavily armed ring of security personnel, his beeper had signaled a top-level emergency message. The call could have originated only locally, of course, but this sort of a code was reserved for life-and-death situations. He did not recog42 nisei the callback number but knew it was located in the palace proper.
Normally he would have called back immediately, fearing danger to Annie or himself, but he took a moment to trace the number against the personnel list and found that the call came from the Arts and Sciences wing. He had been there only once, knew virtually no one there, and had been so repulsed by what was considered artistic that he recalled rushing back to his quarters feeling soiled.
Wanting at least one more clue before replying, David called his own voice mail, only to be met by the foul, nasty rantings of a sassy artiste. David had not heard such profanity and gutter language since high school. The gist of the message: “Where are you? Where could you be at a time like this? It’s the middle of the night! Do you even know of the murder? Call me! It’s an emergency!”
David’s beeper vibrated again-same number. He waited ninety seconds and called his voice mail again.
“Do you know who I am? Guy Blod?!” The man pronounced Guy as Gee with a hard G, the French way, and Blod to rhyme with cod, as if Scandinavian. David had seen him scurrying around a few times but had never spoken with him. His reputation preceded him. He was the temperamental but lauded painter and sculptor, Carpathia’s own choice for minister of the creative arts.
Not only had he painted several of the so-called masterpieces that graced the great hall and the palace, but he had also sculpted many of the statues of world heroes in the courtyard and supervised the decorating of all GC buildings in New Babylon. He was considered a genius, but David-though admittedly no expert-considered his work laughably gaudy and decidedly profane. “The more shocking and anti-God the better” had to have been Blod’s premise.
Part of David wanted Guy Blod to have to wait for a callback, but this was the wrong time to start puffing his anti-GC chest. He would take no guff from Guy Blod, but he had to remain above suspicion and ingratiated to Fortunato. He dialed Blod as he settled behind his computer and began to program it to record directly from the morgue on a sound-activated basis.
As Blod answered, David noticed a list of messages on his computer. “This is Guy,” he announced, “and you had better be David Hassid.” He put the emphasis on the first syllable.
,” David said.
“That should be easy enough to remember, Mr. Hayseed. Now where have you been?”
“I’ve been trying to call you!”
“That’s why I called you, sir.”
“Don’t get smart with me. Don’t you know what’s happened?”
“Nobody tells me anything, Mr. Blod.” David chuckled. “Of course I know what’s happened. Did it occur to you that that might have been why I was difficult to reach?”
“Well, I need stuff and I need it right now!”
“What do you need, sir?”
“Can you get it for me?”
“Depends on what it is, Blod.”
“That’s Mr. Blod to you, sweetie. I was told you could get anything.”
“I have nowhere else to turn.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“You’d better. Now come to my office.”
“Is this a bad connection? I said, come … to …my …”
“I heard you, sir, but I have many things on my plate tonight, as you can imagine, and I can’t just”
“You can do as you’re told. Now get your tail over here, and I mean right now.”
David hung up and checked his messages. Most alarming was one from Rayford: “Our botanist reports the bird has flown. May need new real estate soonest. Signed, Geo. Logic”
David squinted at the screen for several seconds, wishing he could call someone at the safe house, or Rayford.
He was tempted to put the satellites back in operation just long enough to do it, but he knew someone would discover that and he would have to answer for it.
So Hattie was gone and the safe house was in jeopardy. He deleted the message and hacked his way into the mainframe database of abandoned, condemned, destroyed, and/or radioactive buildings in the Midwest. He looked at his watch when the phone rang. Six minutes had passed.
“What are you doing?”
“Is this David Hayseed?”
“This is Director Hassid, yes.”
“Do you know who this is?”
“Yes! It sounds like Minister Blood. Haven’t talked to you in ages. Good to hear from you again”
“That’s Blod, and did I or did I not tell you to get over here?”
“Is this multiple choice? I believe you did.”
“Then why are you not here?”
“Let me guess. Because I’m here?”
“Agh! Listen here, you! Get over here this instant or”
“Or what? You’re going to tell my mom? I don’t recall being subordinate to you, sir. Now if you have something you need me to procure for you, and you have clearance from the Supreme Commander”
“A purchasing agent is not subordinate to a cabinet minister? Are you from Mars?”
“Actually Israel, sir.”
“Would you stop calling me sir?”
“I thought you called me, sir.”
“I mean quit calling me that!”
“What? Sir? I’m sorry, I thought you were male.”
“You stay right where you are, Director. I’ll be right over.”
“That wasn’t so hard, was it, Guy? I mean, it’s you who wants to talk with me, not the other way ‘round.”
over the Mediterranean in the middle of the night, Rayford had about a two-hour flight to Greece.
For the first fifteen minutes he monitored the radio to be sure he was not being pursued or triangulated. But the radio was full of merely repetitious requests for more aircraft to help evacuate Jerusalem in light of the earthquake and the assassination. There were also countless calls for planes available to cart the mourning faithful to New Babylon for what was expected to become the largest viewing and funeral in history.
When the Gulfstream was far enough out over the water, local tower radio signals faded without satellite aid. Rayford tested that by trying to call his compatriots, to no avail. He switched off phone and radio, which left him in virtual silence at thirty-one thousand feet in a smooth-assilk jet, most of the noise of the craft behind him.
Rayford suddenly felt the weight of life. Had it really he-en a mere three and a half years ago that he had enjoyed the prestige, the ease, and the material comfort of the life of a 747 captain for a major airline? He’d been no prize, he knew, as a husband and father, but the cliche was true: You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Life since the Rapture, or what most of the world called the disappearances, had been different as night and day from before-and not just spiritually. Rayford likened it to a death in the family. Not a day passed when he didn’t awaken under the burden of the present, facing the cold fact that though he had now made his peace with God, he had been left behind.
It was as if the whole nation, indeed the whole world, lived in suspended mourning and grief. Everyone had lost someone, and not a second could pass when one was able to forget that. It was the fear of missing the school bus, losing your homework, forgetting your gym clothes, knowing you’d been caught cheating on a test, being called to the principal’s office, being fired, going bankrupt, cheating on your wife-all rolled into one.
There had been snatches of joy, sure. Rayford lived for his daughter and was pleased with her choice of a husband. Having a grandchild, sobering though it was at this most awful time of history, fulfilled him in a way he hadn’t known was possible. But even thinking about Chloe and Buck and little Kenny forced reality into Rayford’s consciousness, and it stabbed.
With the Gulfstream on autopilot nearly six miles above the earth, Rayford stared into the cosmos. For an instant he felt disembodied, disconnected from the myriad events of the past forty-two months. Was it possible he’d, in essence, lived half a lifetime in that short span? He had experienced more emotion, fear, anger, frustration, and grief that day alone than in a year of his previous life. He wondered how much a man could take; literally, how much could a human body and mind endure? How he longed to talk with Tsion! No one else had his trust and respect like the rabbi, only a few years older than he.
Rayford couldn’t confide in Chloe or Buck. He felt a kinship with T Delanty at the Palwaukee Airport, and they might become true friends. T was the kind of a man Rayford would listen to, even when T felt the need to rebuke him. But Tsion was the man of God. Tsion was one who loved and admired and respected Rayford unconditionally. Or did he? What would Tsion think if he knew what Rayford had done, starting with abandoning both Leah and Buck, but worse, wanting, intending, trying to murder the Antichrist, then perhaps doing so by accident?
Something about the altitude, the coolness he allowed in the cockpit, the tension he could postpone until overflying Greece, the comfort of the seat, and the artificial respite he enjoyed from his role as international fugitive, somehow conspired to awaken Rayford to what had become of him.
At first he resisted the intrusion of reality. Whatever comfort he had found in the buffering quality of life on the edge was stripped away when he allowed raw truth to invade. He told himself to stay with the program, to keep himself as well as his plane on autopilot, to let his emotions rule. What had happened to the scientific, logical Rayford, the one who had been left behind primarily due to that inability to accede to his intuitive side? When he heard himself speaking aloud, he knew it was time to face the old Rayford-not the pre-Rapture man, but the new believer. He had wondered more than once during the past few months whether he was insane. Now talking to himself in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere? Much as he hated the prospect, introspection was called for. How long had it been since he had indulged, at least honestly? He had questioned his sanity the past few months, but he seldom dwelt on it long enough to come to any conclusions. He had been driven by rage, by vengeance. He had grown irresponsible, unlike himself.
As Rayford allowed that to rattle in his brain, he realized that if he pursued this, turned it over in his mind like the marshmallows he had tried browning evenly as a child, it would not be himself he would face in the end. It would be God.
Rayford wasn’t sure he wanted the blinding light of God in his mental mirror. In fact, he was fairly certain he didn’t. But the hound of heaven was pursuing him, and Rayford would have to be thoroughly deluded or dishonest to turn and run now. He could cover his ears and hum as he did as a child when his mother tried to scold him. Or he could turn on the radio, pretending to see if the satellites had been realigned, or try the phone to test the global system. Maybe he could take the plane off autopilot and busy himself navigating the craft through trackless skies.
Down deep he could never live with himself if he resorted to those evasive tactics, so Rayford endured a shudder of fear. He was going to face this, to square his shoulders to God and take the heat. “All right,” he said aloud.
Buck straightened to relieve the aching in his joints from kneeling to check the lifeless women. Standing in the darkness of his old friend’s sepulchral home, he knew he had never been cut out to be a hero. Brave he was not.
This horror had brought a sob to his throat he could not subdue. Rayford was the hero; he was the one who had first come to the truth, then led the way for the rest of them. He was the one who had been rocked only temporarily by the loss of their first spiritual mentor but stood strong to lead.
What might Rayford have done in this same situation? Buck had no idea. He was still upset with the man, still puzzled over his mysterious self-assigned task that had left Buck and Leah on their own. Buck believed it would all be explained one day, that there would be some sort of rationale. It shouldn’t have been so surprising that Rayford had grown testy and self-absorbed. Look what he had lost. Buck stubbornly left him on the pedestal of his mind as the leader of the Tribulation Force and as one who would act honorably in this situation.
And what would that entail? Finding Stefan, of course.
Then challenging whoever was watching this house of death, fighting them, subduing them, or at least eluding them. Eluding didn’t sound so heroic, but that was all Buck was inclined to do. Meanwhile, the most heroic he would get would be to finish the task inside-finding Stefan and Chaim, if they were there-and then running for his life.
The running part was the rub. It would be just like the (1C-even decimated by population reduction, busy with the Gala, pressed into extraordinary service by the earthquake, and left in a shambles by the assassination-to dedicate an inordinate number of troops to this very house. It would not have surprised Buck an iota if the place was surrounded and they had all seen him enter, watched him find what he found, and now waited to capture him upon his departure.
On the other hand, perhaps they had come and pillaged and slaughtered and left the place a memorial husk.
Feeling ashamed, as if his wife and son could see him feeling his way in the dark, fighting a whimper like a little boy rather than tramping shoulders-wide through the place, Buck stepped on flesh. He half expected the victim to yelp or recoil. Buck knelt and felt a lifeless arm, tight and muscular. Was it possible the GC had suffered a casualty? They would not likely have left one of their own behind, not even a dead one.