Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 51-56
Last week, at the top of page 51, we saw Buck Williams happily accepting help from Loretta while simultaneously plotting to exclude her from his own plans for refuge. This week we begin at the bottom of that same page, returning to Rayford Steele’s perspective for a longish sequence in which he exhibits that same disgraceful combination of ingratitude and self-centered cowardice.
Rayford is in the pilot’s seat of his newest new plane:
The Condor 216 was outfitted even more lavishly than Global Community One had been, if that was possible. No detail had been missed, and the latest communications devices had been installed.
This ought to be foreshadowing. Jerry Jenkins’ effort to wow readers with his clumsy descriptions of the new plane’s “lavish” equipment doesn’t actually matter or mean anything here in Nicolae. It could have mattered, but it doesn’t.
Like all the pages of the plane’s unspecified specs sketched out earlier by Earl Halliday, this just turns out to be Jenkins’ attempt at Tom Clancy-style tech-porn. It’s only function here in the book is to allow Rayford to eavesdrop on Nicolae’s little speech to his “ambassadors” during the flight — a narrative convenience that could just as easily have been accomplished by having Amanda holding an empty drinking-glass to the door.
We get a couple pages of throat-clearing and padding as the plane takes off, including what proves to be some very confusing business about just where Amanda Steele is sitting in relation to the other handful of people on this super-jumbo-jet and a blow-by-blow account of Rayford’s initial use of the earphone eavesdropper thing-y that Halliday rigged for him:
Rayford sat back and pulled his earphone band toward the back of his head, as if pulling the phones off. However, they were still close enough to his ears so that he could hear and his copilot, because his own earphones were on, could not. Rayford pulled from his flight bag a book and opened it, resting it on the controls before him. He would have to remember to turn a page occasionally.
Jenkins takes great care to ensure that his readers are not themselves misled by Rayford’s clever ploy:
He would not really be reading. He would be listening. He slipped his left hand under the seat and quietly depressed the hidden button.
Rayford hears Nicolae say, “Mrs. Steele, if you would excuse us –?” And then his wife says, “Certainly.”
I assumed this meant either that Nicolae and his cronies departed to a meeting area elsewhere on the plane or that Amanda left them to go sit somewhere else. That assumption seems to be supported later on when we learn that Amanda, unlike Rayford, hasn’t heard a word Nicolae & Co. say during their meeting. But we also later learn that she’s been sitting right next to them the whole time. It is, as I said, confusing.
Rayford listens intently as the Antichrist and his henchmen launch into an expository discussion of their evil plans as explicit as the villain’s speech at the climax of any James Bond thriller:
Carpathia was saying: “Mr. Fortunato remained in Dallas briefly to arrange my next radio broadcast from there. I will do it from here; however, it will be patched to Dallas and broadcast, again to throw off any enemies of the Global Community. I do need him in on our talks, in the night, so we will wait on the ground in San Francisco until he is able to join us.”
As always in these books, a clear statement of travel itinerary must come before we can move forward with plot, character or theme.
“As soon as we leave the ground out of San Francisco, we will trigger both L.A. and the Bay area.”
“The Bay area?” came a heavily accented voice.
“Yes, that is San Francisco and the Oakland area.”
I’m not sure whether the indeterminately ethnic ambassador here is meant to be a stand-in for any readers potentially confused by the term “Bay area,” or if Nicolae’s proud sense of sophistication for knowing this is meant to be a stand-in for Jenkins’ own pride at employing what he seems to regard as esoteric local lingo.
In any case, what follows is Nicolae’s elevator-pitch for the Red Horse of the Apocalypse:
“What do you mean by ‘trigger’?”
Carpathia’s tone became grave. “‘Trigger’ means just what it sounds like it means,” he said. “By the time we land in Baghdad, more than Washington, New York, and Chicago will have been decimated. Those are just three of the North American cities that will suffer the most. So far, only the airport and one suburb have suffered in Chicago. That will change within the hour. You already know about London. Do you gentlemen understand the significance of a one-hundred-megaton bomb?”
There was silence. Carpathia continued. “To put it in perspective, history books tell us that a twenty-megaton bomb carries more power than all those dropped in World War II, including the two that fell on Japan.”
“The United States of Great Britain had to be taught,” came the accented voice again.
“Indeed they did,” Carpathia said. “And in North America alone, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico City, Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles* will become object lessons to those who would oppose us.”
Rayford whipped off his earphones and unbuckled himself. …
Having overheard the arch-villain’s scheme, our protagonist springs into action.
But before we can discuss what Rayford does, we first have to consider all the many, many things he doesn’t do.
Specifically, he doesn’t do what Jenkins — apparently inadvertently — seems to have set the stage for him to do. Everything leading up to this point suggested a classic “live microphone” scenario like the one — **spoiler alert** — that brings down Lonesome Rhodes at the end of Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd.
Here is what Rayford has at his disposal:
1. A live feed of the Antichrist candidly exposing himself as monstrously evil and the enemy of all humankind.
2. A cockpit equipped with every imaginable “communication device” — including, according to what Carpathia just told us, the capability to broadcast to the entire world.
3. A son-in-law and co-conspirator who heads up a global media company and is world-renowned as the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time.
That’s all pointing inexorably in a single direction — a much more interesting direction than anything we’ve yet encountered in this sad chronicle of the impotent bystanders of the Tribulation Force.
Instead of whipping off and unbuckling and leaping from his seat, all Rayford needed to do was punch a few buttons in the cockpit to ensure that he wouldn’t be the only person hearing Nicolae’s evil secrets. Instead of hearing those secrets and keeping them, Rayford ought to have been able to let the whole world hear them.
You know how that scene goes. You’ve seen it in a dozen different movies. We’ll keep Nicolae’s speech, verbatim, but rewind back to the beginning of it. We see Rayford flipping switches on the lavishly outfitted latest communications devices and …
Cut to: A greasy spoon diner on the side of a highway somewhere in the American west. A waitress, a short-order cook, and a handful of truck-driver-types stare in disbelief at the television above the counter, from which we hear the voice of the global potentate: “As soon as we leave the ground out of San Francisco, we will trigger both L.A. and the Bay area. …” The coffee the waitress has been pouring overflows and spills. “… ‘Trigger’ means just what it sounds like it means.”
Cut to: A black barbershop in, let’s say, Baltimore. The barber and his customers stand frozen as they listen to Nicolae Carpathia’s voice coming from the radio: “By the time we land in Baghdad, more than Washington, New York, and Chicago will have been decimated. …”
Cut to: A ramshackle trailer somewhere in the American South. We see a ragged couch with a threadbare afghan draped across the back, and the backs of the heads of a stereotypically “redneck” couple facing the television, from which Nicolae’s voice says, “Those are just three of the North American cities that will suffer the most.” The camera swoops in and around to reveal an impressive arsenal laid out on the coffee table and we see that the couple are busily loading guns like Burt and Heather Gummer.
Another radio, this one in a street café in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in the background just so nobody in the audience fails to understand what they’re looking at: “Do you gentlemen understand the significance of a one-hundred-megaton bomb? …”
And on and on, quickly skipping from scene to scene — Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, Rio — to show that they entire world is listening and hears Nicolae’s entire scheme.
We cut back to Nicolae, there on his plane, blithely carrying on without realizing that all his illusions are being stripped bare. He doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.
“… Object lessons to those who would oppose us,” he says. Then, suddenly, he understands, flying into a rage and lashing out in fury and palpable contempt for all the little worms, wretches and fools who have been following him blindly. And this too, of course, is broadcast before the signal is abruptly cut off, replaced all around the world by the familiar face and voice of the GIRAT, Buck Williams, who outlines to this heightened global audience all of the Antichrist’s plans for tyranny, the Mark of the Beast and all the rest.
Buck would have to go into hiding after that, of course. So would Rayford and Amanda, if we can figure out a way to get them off the plane. Maybe they could pull a D.B. Cooper and parachute away, or hide and then sneak out via the landing gear like Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can.
But then the Steeles’ escape would be the least of the plot challenges this would provoke. Such heroic action on Rayford’s part would change everything that follows, transforming this into a radically different series of books.
And that, of course, is why it doesn’t happen.
Tim LaHaye’s fatalistic theology and the Hobbesian, musical-chairs immorality of his political views won’t allow any such heroism in his characters or in his narrative.
Here, as ever with LaHaye, we can ponder cause and effect, chicken and egg. Are the authors and their protagonists so appallingly selfish as a consequence of being trapped in a world shaped by his fatalistic theology? Or is that fatalistic theology itself a consequence of LaHaye’s pre-existing appalling selfishness?
I think maybe it’s both.
Either way, the deterministic prophecies and theodicy of LaHaye’s vision won’t allow Rayford to try to thwart the Antichrist’s divinely appointed schemes. To do so would be for him to oppose the great Author of Evil himself, LaHaye’s God.
And so Rayford cannot be a hero. He cannot even try to save the world. He cannot be allowed to try to save Montreal or Toronto or Mexico City or Dallas or Washington, D.C. or New York or Chicago or San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Rayford Steele has just learned that millions are about to die in all those cities, and he has the ability to warn them. But he doesn’t try to warn them. He doesn’t even want to try to warn them.
All that the authors will allow Rayford to do is try to warn his own daughter and son-in-law.
Rayford whipped off his earphones and unbuckled himself. He stepped through the cockpit door and made eye contact with Amanda. He motioned her to come to him. Carpathia looked up and smiled. “Captain Steele,” he greeted him, “is everything well?”
So, again, Amanda was apparently sitting right next to Nicolae during his entire speech outlining his plans to nuke city after city. And yet, somehow, Amanda didn’t hear any of that.
“Our flight is uneventful, sir, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s the best kind of flight. I can’t say much for what’s happening on the ground, however.”
“True enough,” Carpathia said, suddenly sober. “I will soon address the global community with my condolences.”
Jenkins can’t resist showing us yet again that Carpathia is delighted at destruction while putting up a sham appearance of sadness. Carpathia claimed to be a pacifist, remember, and in the author’s minds, this is what all pacifists are secretly like — sneaky, disingenuous killers just trying to trick you into letting your guard down. In the authors’ minds, they’ve actually proved that all pacifists are really like this, because portraying it that way proves it to be so.
Rayford pulled Amanda into the galley way. “Were Buck and Chloe going to stay at The Drake again tonight?”
“There wasn’t time to talk about it, Ray,” she said. “I can’t imagine what other choice they’d have. It sounds like they may never get back to New York.”
That’s true — the perhaps-nuclear destruction of Chicago’s airport and of all of New York City have likely put a serious crimp in their travel arrangements.
“I’m afraid Chicago is a certain someone’s next target,” Rayford said.
“Oh, I can’t imagine,” Amanda said.
“I have to warn them.”
“Do you want to risk a phone call that could be traced?” she asked.
“Saving their lives would be worth any risk.”
Amanda embraced him and went back to her seat.
Rayford has a cell phone now too, suddenly, and he uses it to call the Drake Hotel.
Thus begins Jenkins’ elaborate attempt at sustained suspense. In Jenkins’ case, of course, that involves several pages of desperate phone tag.
This sequence is meant to be thrilling and nerve-wracking, but it’s hard to care much because it all involves characters who themselves don’t care much. Rayford doesn’t care about warning anyone except for Buck and Chloe. He doesn’t give even a second of thought to all of the other people in Chicago — his own neighbors. Nor does he care in the slightest about the lives or deaths of any of the millions of people in Montreal or Toronto or Mexico City or …
You know what? It’s too much work to try to list all of the people Rayford Steele doesn’t care about. Much easier just to list those very few he does regard as fellow humans: Chloe, Buck, Amanda and … Nope, that’s it actually. Just those three and no one else at all.
“Not even Loretta,” as his daughter might say.
The desk manager of the Drake Hotel is friendly and polite, eagerly providing Rayford whatever assistance he can. When there’s no answer in Buck and Chloe’s room, he asks:
“Would you like to leave a message on their voice mail?”
“I would,” Rayford said, “but I would also like to be sure that the message light is lit and that they are flagged down for an urgent message should they visit the front desk.”
Rayford is on the phone with this man, with this fellow human being and fellow Chicagoan. He’s talking to this man and could easily have warned him — could easily have told him exactly what tells Buck and Chloe in the message he leaves them:
“Don’t take the time to do anything. Get as far away from downtown Chicago as you can. Please trust me on this.”
He could have urged the desk manager to flee, to evacuate the hotel, the block, the entire city, to warn everyone he possibly could warn. The man would listen. He knows what has already happened to New York, Washington and London. He knows Chicago has already been struck twice. He would heed this warning. He would warn others. The housekeepers and bellhops and valets at the hotel could be spared. If they acted quickly thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, could be rescued from certain death.
But Rayford says nothing to this man, nothing to any of them. He doesn’t care about them.
The desk manager reassures Rayford that he will do everything he can to ensure that Buck and Chloe get Rayford’s message. “We’ll certainly do that, sir,” he says. “Thank you for calling The Drake.”
And Rayford says nothing.
These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Aided Rayford’s desperate calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
* I read that list and I have the same oddly mixed emotions I had watching Independence Day, Roland Emmerich’s silly, but entertaining, 1996 summer blockbuster. In that movie, evil space aliens were methodically destroying all the great cities of earth. Except — as here — they didn’t quite get around to all the great cities.
Just like Nicolae, those space aliens neglected to destroy Philadelphia.
I’ve lived more than half my life here in the Delaware Valley, in and around the City of Brotherly Love. It’s a world-class city — a proud metropolis that can boast of a unique role in American and world history. It’s the home of world-famous icons like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue. Philadelphia is the fifth-largest city in the U.S. It’s bigger than Dallas — bigger than San Francisco and D.C. combined.
I find myself illogically and inappropriately offended at seeing our great city getting snubbed like this by space aliens and Antichrists.
I know there are many writers among the readers of these Left Behind posts, so here is my plea to you: Please, in your next apocalyptic novel, short story or screenplay, remember Philadelphia. When your alien spacecraft descend, or your zombie hordes shuffle, or your Old Ones re-awaken, or your post-singularity machines arise, think of Ben Franklin and the birthplace of liberty and pay us the respect of including our great city among your prominent targets. At least have the courtesy to have your aliens/zombies/Old Ones destroy Philadelphia before, say, Cleveland. I don’t think that’s asking too much.