Tribulation Force, pp. 85-91
On Monday morning, before flying to New York, Buck Williams needs to meet with spiky Alice about the final details of his upcoming romantic farce:
Fortunately … he didn't see Verna until after he had dropped off his key to Alice and was driving out of the lot. Verna was driving in, and she did not see him.
Phew. After the way he's treated her, Buck knows that Verna wouldn't just look the other way if she were to catch him in a major violation of Global Weekly's ethics policy. And that's exactly what he's up to here.*
The problem is not that Buck is going behind Verna's back, but that everything he does for the rest of the day is paid for by his interview subject. This may seem relatively minor compared to his earlier ethical transgressions with the same interview subject — when he agreed to spike a story for Nicolae in exchange for a promise of personal safety. But the following pages offer a textbook case study in the sleazy quid pro quo of journalistic junketeering, with the perks of his jaunt to New York resembling a parody of a Jay-Z video. If Buck were a member of Congress accepting all of these undisclosed gifts he'd be looking at serious prison time.
Buck had no identification with the name McGillicuddy on it. At O'Hare he picked up an envelope under the phony name and realized that not even the young woman at the counter would have known a ticket was inside.
The young woman at the counter must be going mad with curiosity. A passenger walks up to an airline counter and requests the envelope left for them there — whatever could possibly be inside? It's so mysteriously cloak-and-dagger.
Also, it's been a few years since the last time I was in O'Hare International Airport, but I seem to remember there being more than just the one counter. Anyway …
At the gate he checked in about half an hour before boarding was to begin.
In the three weeks since the Rapture, Buck has been racking up frequent flyer miles. Each trip to the airport is a reminder of how much air travel has changed here in the real world since these books were written in the 1990s (particularly on today's anniversary). Buck's half-hour window doesn't allow enough time to get through security, one thinks, and then one remembers what it was like back then.
But then one also remembers everything that has happened in this story and how impossible it seems that a routine flight should be so very routine here at an airport where, three weeks ago, the runway was littered with the wreckage of dozens of planes. At the very least you'd expect that airlines would be making a show of the extra safety measures they've put in place to reassure passengers that the mass death of the simultaneous crashes less than a month ago would not be repeated. There ought to be redundant flight crews and automated emergency landing systems and that sort of thing just to convince travelers that it was again safe to fly. Most of all, there ought to be travelers who need such convincing. Yet no one seems the least bit jittery about getting back on a plane, even with the cracks and scorch marks still visible on the tarmac.
Buck, addressed as "Mr. McGillicuddy," is offered the "exclusive privilege" of boarding the plane before anyone else, the airline personnel treating him with the obsequious mixture of awe and fear reserved for VIPs and celebrities. They continue fawning on him after he boards, offering him breakfast and the customary early Monday morning bottle of champagne.
Buck had never been a drinker, so he declined the champagne, and he was too keyed up to eat. The flight attendant said, "Are you sure? An entire bottle has been set aside for you." She looked at her clipboard. "Compliments of N.C."
"Thanks anyway," Buck shook his head. Was there no end to what Carpathia could — or would — do?
"You don't want to take it with you?"
"No, ma'am. Thanks. Would you like it?"
The attendant gave him a stunned look. "Are you kidding? It's Dom Perignon!"
This bit of regifting is probably the most generous tip Buck has ever given in his life. The flight attendant asks him to sign her clipboard so she doesn't get in trouble, and Buck Williams signs "Buck Williams."
"Um, sir?" the attendant said. "What is your name?"
"I'm sorry," Buck said. "I wasn't thinking." He took the clipboard, crossed out his name, and signed "B. McGillicuddy."
Suave. One gets the feeling that while traveling incognito, Buck makes air quotes with his fingers every time he says his fake name.
Normally coach passengers would steal glances at those in first class, but now even the other first-class passengers checked Buck out. He had tried not to be showy, but clearly he was getting preferential treatment.
This tells us either that Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins enjoy flying first class, imagining that the hoi polloi are straining their necks for a glimpse of their glittering selves, or else that L&J resent flying coach and spend flights bitterly trying to peek through the curtains at those enviable elites for whom several hundred dollars for a few hours in a wider seat with free drinks seems like a reasonable bargain. Either way, the authors seem to enjoy imagining themselves here as Buck imagining himself to be Richard Cory, fluttering the pulses of the people on the pavement.
He was waiting on board when they arrived, and during the flight the attendants hovered felicitously around him, topping off his drink and asking if he wanted anything else. Whom had Carpathia paid for this treatment, and how much?
Felicitous, solicitous … whatever. Worrying about choosing the right adjective is for those suckers back in coach.
On the question of "whom had Carpathia paid" for this lavish special attention, I'll take a wild guess and say, "the airline." That's usually how that works. But there's nothing troubling about the airline's role here — you pay them to schmooze and they'll schmooze. The problem here, rather, is that Nicolae is paying the airline a lot of money to schmooze Buck, and Buck is the willing recipient of all that largesse. Have a hand-rolled Cuban cigar, Nicolae offers, and Buck the objective journalist thanks him, lighting it with the flaming end of Global Weekly's ethics policy.
After landing at JFK:
… a uniformed driver strode directly to him as he appeared at the end of the jetway, reached for his carry-on, and asked if he had any checked bags.
"Very good, sir. Follow me to the car, please."
Buck was a world traveler and had been treated like both a king and a pauper over the years. Yet even he found this routine unsettling.
As a world traveler, Buck at least ought to know not to hand his luggage to somebody who never even asks for his name. The fake sky-cap scam may not be the most sophisticated or lucrative scam in the book, but it's beauty lies in its simplicity.
Buck follows the driver to a waiting limousine and gets inside.
As his eyes adjusted to the low light and the tinted windows, Buck noticed a man in a dark suit sitting with his back to the driver, staring at him. "You with the U.N.," Buck asked, "or do you work directly for Mr. Carpathia?"
The man did not respond. Nor did he move. Buck leaned forward. "Excuse me!" he said. "Do you –"
The man put a finger to his li
er the groveling, anything-we-can-do felicitude solicitude of the airline, this cryptic silence of driver and hired muscle is just weird. They were sent by Nicolae, of course, but they seem to be carrying on the whole "McGillicuddy" business, even though there's no reason for it at this point. (But then there was really no reason for it with the airline, either.)
Buck can't imagine that their showy silence and mysterious air is a good sign for him:
Buck wondered if this would be his last ride. … For all he knew, he could be on his way to his own execution. The only record of his trip was a mistaken signature on the flight attendant's clipboard, and he had crossed that out.
It seems unlikely to me that an execution would involve a lavish round-trip first-class ticket, complimentary champagne and a stretch limo ride all the way to the swamps of Jersey, but then unlike Buck I'm not a sophisticated world traveler. Maybe this five-star treatment is how the jet-set has people whacked. (Note to self: If you're ever going to get whacked, try to get whacked by these guys.)
We cut back to Rayford who has, meanwhile, flown to Dallas-Fort Worth airport to practice takeoffs and landings in Pan Continental's spiffy new 757s, which Rayford describes as "the Jaguar of airplanes."
The authors spend more than a page on this training session. They return here to the subtext established in the opening pages of the first book in which Rayford's large, powerful jetliner represents his correspondingly large and powerful penis. That makes this section, once again, unintentionally funny and we could dwell here again on that, chuckling over the authors' obsession with "thrust," but instead I think I'll cut L&J a break here.
This brief passage seems mostly just included as Jenkins' way of reassuring LaHaye that his very manly Mary Sue isn't being neglected in favor of his own, but for all that it's still a page in which we see a character at work on his job, putting in the time to get better at it. Such scenes are all too rare (unless the character is a doctor or detective) for me to discourage them with another string of "cockpit" jokes.
We cut back to Buck who, just moments ago, was worried he was on his way to a one-way ferry ride:
Buck Williams' limo was soon stuck in traffic. Buck wished he'd brought something to read.
Always good advice. Never, ever leave the house without something to read, just in case. You might find yourself like Buck here, stuck in the back of a limo in a traffic jam with no way to pass the time until your impending execution.
Buck might have taken this opportunity to check the locks and plan his escape, but instead he muses about the seemingly pointless show being staged by his host and his authors:
Why did this have to be so mysterious? He didn't understand the point of his treatment on both ends of the plane ride.
Neither Carpathia nor the authors ever offers a good explanation.
The driver "swept past the appropriate exit" for Nicolae's office at the United Nations so now Buck has no idea where they might be headed.
He hoped they were headed somewhere nice for lunch. Besides the fact that he had skipped breakfast, he also liked the prospect of eating more than that of dying.
Can't argue with that. If the choice is between "somewhere nice for lunch" and a shallow grave, I'll take lunch every time.
Back at DFW, Rayford has finished with his training session. His examiner is about as loquacious as Buck's companions.
His examiner handed him a business-size envelope. "So did I pass?" Rayford said lightly.
"You won't know that for about a week," the man said.
Ooh, another envelope. Could it be more airline tickets for Mr. McGillicuddy?
What's this? Rayford wondered, entering the van and tearing open the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of United Nations stationery, already embossed with Hattie Durham, Personal Assistant to the Secretary-General. The hand-written message read simply:
I assume you know that the brand new Air Force One is a 757.
Hopefully, Hattie didn't get too much of that fancy stationery printed up, because in just a few months she's going to need new letterhead embossed with Hattie Durham, Whore of Babylon.
But her note is confusing. "Air Force One" is, of course, the plane that flies the president of the United States. But while Hattie seems to be hinting she can land Rayford a job as the president's pilot, she doesn't work for the president, or the Secret Service, or the U.S. Air Force. She works for Nicolae Carpathia.
One of her duties for Nicolae, in fact, was to be on hand during his top-secret unveiling of his New World Order, at which he divided the globe into 10 princedoms ruled by his hand-picked lieutenants. Hattie may have been brainwashed into forgetting who pulled the trigger at that meeting, or that Buck was also present, but she still ought to remember seeing Nicolae abolish the sovereignty of every non-Hebrew-speaking nation on the planet. His doing so meaning, among many other things, that there no longer ought to be a plane called Air Force One for the American president to fly in, since there no longer is an American president, or an Air Force, or an America.
In the chapters that follow we learn that Hattie has, in fact, set Rayford up to be the president's pilot (or, rather, the pilot for the man who thinks he's still the president). But then President Fitzhugh — the ultimate (in every sense) lame duck — later gives the plane to Nicolae so that Rayford winds up being the Antichrist's personal pilot.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This being Tribulation Force — the book in which Very Little Happens Very Slowly — Rayford can't take the job until he first spends several repetitive chapters laboriously insisting that he doesn't want it.
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* From The New York Times' ethics policy, the section on "Paying Our Own Way":
30. When we as journalists entertain news sources (including government officials) or travel to cover them, our company pays the expenses. In some business situations and in some cultures, it may be unavoidable to accept a meal or a drink paid for by a news source (for example, at an official's residence or in a company's private dining room). Whenever practical, however, we should avoid those circumstances and suggest dining where we can pay our share (or, better, meeting in a setting that does not include a meal). Routine refreshments at an event like a news conference are acceptable, but a staff member should not attend recurring breakfast or lunch meetings unless our company pays for the journalist's meals. Whether the setting is an exclusive club or a service lodge's weekly luncheon, we should pay our way.
31. Staff members may not accept free or discounted transportation and lodging except where special circumstances give little or no choice. Such special cases include certain military or scientific expeditions and other trips for which alternative arrangements would be impractical — for example, an interview aboard a corporate jet where there is no benefit other than the interview. Journalists should consult responsible newsroom managers in advance when special circumstances arise.
And while we're on the subject, kudos to The Times for having it's ethics policy publicly available online. Here are links to many others, all of which contain similar language forbidding journalists from accepting free first-class airline tickets, bottles of Dom Perignon, limo rides or lunches at the Manhattan Yacht Club.