L.B.: Flirting with disaster

L.B.: Flirting with disaster March 23, 2004

Left Behind, pp. 32-34

As the GIRAT, Buck Williams’ first priority when confronted with a mysterious disaster is to file a report to his editors.

This is part of what separates Buck from the pack. Other, lesser reporters might busy themselves with taking notes, interviewing witnesses and gathering as many facts as possible. But, like real-life superstar evangelical reporter Jack Kelley, Buck doesn’t need to do all that. After a cursory glance around the cabin, and without interviewing a single passenger, Buck is ready to file his first story. It’s the same report-first, figure-out-what-happened-later approach that has helped to make CNN America’s most trusted source for news.

After splicing his laptop’s dial-up modem onto an airphone, Buck — who apparently is using Compuserve or Prodigy — is ready to e-mail his editor, but he’s interrupted by Hattie, the head flight attendant.

Any other reporter might have seen this as an opportunity to gather more information on what happened on the plan. The head flight attendant, one might think, would be an ideal witness to describe what had occurred with the trained eye of a professional.

Yet Buck remains focused on the task at hand. His only goal is to convince her not to interrupt him. Her only goal is to defend the integrity of the jet’s air phones:

Hattie grabbed a computer printout from her pocket and located Buck’s name. “Mr. Williams, I expect you to cooperate. I don’t want to bother the pilot with this.”

Dozens of people on the plane have mysteriously disappeared. How many, exactly? And who were they? Hattie, the flight attendant responsible for those passengers, doesn’t know. Buck, the journalist reporting on the disappearances, doesn’t know.

If only they had a list of everyone who boarded the plane and their corresponding seat numbers. Then Hattie would be able to collect the information she will surely need for her report to the airline and Buck would be able to write the lead to the story he is reporting (“XX passengers vanished from Pan-Continental flight …”).

Hattie is, of course, holding exactly such a list in her hand, yet it doesn’t occur to either of them to do their jobs in this way. Instead, the dispute over the jury-rigged air phone becomes the pretext for some flirting. “Beautiful Hattie,” Buck calls her, suavely demonstrating his ability to read her nametag:

Buck reached for her hand. She stiffened but didn’t pull away. “Can we talk for just a second?”

“I’m not going to change my mind, sir. Now please, I have a plane full of frightened people.”

“Aren’t you one of them?” He was still holding her hand.

I suppose Buck gets points for not correcting her — the plane is now only partly full of frightened people, after all. Anyway, the two strike a deal: she’ll let him send e-mail via the air phone if he agrees to try to contact her family. In defending this deal, Buck summarizes the ethics that will shape our heroes’ behavior throughout the rest of the novel and the series:

“It’s OK in a situation like this to think of yourself a little. That’s what I’m doing. … You have to admit, when people disappear, some rules go out the window.”

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