Left Behind, pp. 22-37
One of the most successfully conveyed early characters in Left Behind sadly disappears from the novel once our heroes have left the plane.
We never actually learn this character’s name, and he never becomes more than a broad, comic stereotype. Yet he is semi-successfully rendered as a broad, comic stereotype, which may make him the book’s most notable literary achievement. (My reading of this character may be overly charitable in that I pictured him as played by Ned Beatty, and Ned could really put some life into even such a two-bit, stock-character role.)
Here is the entire saga of The Drunk Executive in the Seat Next to Buck.
Buck suppressed a smile when he noticed the woman’s pained expression. He climbed over the sleeping executive on the aisle, who had far exceeded his limit of free drinks, and leaned in to take a blanket from the old woman. …
Buck’s seatmate roused, drooling, when an attendant asked if anyone in the party was missing. “Missing? No. And there’s nobody in this party but me.” He curled up again and went back to sleep, unaware.
When the captain had come back on the intercom with the information about returning to the United States, Buck Williams was surprised to hear applause throughout the cabin. Shocked and terrified as everyone was, most were from the States and wanted at least to return to familiarity to sort this thing out. Buck nudged the businessman to his right. “I’m sorry, friend, but you’re going to want to be awake for this.”
The man peered at Buck with a disgusted look and slurred, “If we’re not crashin’, don’t bother me.”
The executive next to Buck snored. Before drinking himself into oblivion soon after takeoff, he had said something about a major meeting in Scotland. Would he be surprised by the view upon landing!
The man next to Buck stared at him and then at Hattie. He swore, then used a pillow to cover his right ear, pressing his left against the seat back.
The man next to Buck roused and squinted at the late-morning sun burning through the window. “What in blazes are you two talking about?” he said.
“We’re about to land in Chicago,” Hattie said. “I’ve got to run.”
“You don’t want to know,” Buck said.
The man nearly sat in Buck’s lap to get a look out the window, his boozy breath enveloping Buck. “What, are we at war? Riots? What?”
Buck never answers the man, he too looks out the window to see: “Smoke. Fire. Cars off the road and smashed into each other and guardrails. Planes in pieces on the ground.” At the sight of this carnage, LaHaye and Jenkins tell us, Buck’s mind begins racing, “Plotting how he would beat the new system.”
We never hear again from the two-dimensional “drunk businessman.” But unlike Buck, Hattie or Rayford Steele, he looked upon this still-unfolding horror and disaster and seemed genuinely horrified.
Unlike our heroes, the drunk at least seems to give some thought to someone other than himself — to recognize that the suffering and death he sees represents something more than an inconvenient delay in his own schedule.
That’s why, so far, he’s my favorite character in Left Behind.