L.B.: Hot property

L.B.: Hot property April 6, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 259-261

This section of the book reads like a flashback, as though it were set years ago. Apart from the absence of Rayford Steele's wife and son, nothing in this section seems like it could possibly have occurred after the Event. But it's not a flashback:

Rayford pulled into his driveway with a sack of groceries on the seat beside him. …

Nothing unusual about any of that. And that, of course, is the problem — there's nothing unusual about any of that.

Rayford buys gasoline and groceries and it's all perfectly routine. The supermarket and the gas station are fully stocked and supplied and everything seems normally priced. No gas lines, no run on canned goods and bottled water. Not even the kinds of temporary shortages you might expect when snow is forecast. One might think that hundreds of rail and plane crashes one week ago might still be affecting supply lines. That the sudden disappearance of tens of thousands of workers from every step along the way — from field to shelf, from refinery to pump — might cause at least a hiccup in prices. That every worker at every stage is suddenly and inexplicably dealing with the loss of their children might also have some affect on the economy and the availability of goods. But no. Rayford is able to purchase everything he wants, at normal prices, and without delay (his errands, we are told, took only half an hour).

The problem again is the End Times Checklist. In this case, the obvious and likely consequences of events don't happen now because they're supposed to happen later. Famine will come, riding a black horse, but not until the "seven seals" judgments begin. Then a "piece of bread will buy a bag of gold"* — but until then, apparently, supplies and prices must remain unchanged and unaffected by worldwide calamity.

… He had gotten a hold of Hattie Durham, who wanted to keep him on the phone talking until he begged off. She was delighted with the dinner invitation and said she could come three nights later, on Thursday.

Again, nothing unusual. Rayford and Hattie idly chat as though nothing at all was out of the ordinary, as though neither had any reason to suspect that they were in the second week of the Apocalypse. (And LaHaye & Jenkins again efficiently characterize Rayford as though neither suspected their hero was reflexively misogynist.)

Rayford arrives home to find the garage door open and notices that, "Something was different in the garage":

All three cars were in their places, but —

Rayford walked around the Jeep at the end. Raymie's stuff was missing! His bike. His four-wheeler. What was this?

He runs to the front of the house to find his front door kicked in:

Rayford rushed in, calling for Chloe.

He ran from room to room, praying nothing had happened to the only family member he had left. Everything of immediate material value seemed to be gone. Radios, televisions, VCRs, jewelry, CD players, video games, the silver, even the china.

It's a robbery. The police are called and Chloe is rounded up from the neighbor's house where she fled. All any of the neighbors saw was "some kind of carpet-service minivan here for about half an hour this afternoon." The burglary, the policeman says, was a "slick job."

"This kind of crime is up 200 percent here in the last week alone," the officer said. "The bad guys know we don't have the time or manpower to do a blessed thing about it."

Imagine you are a fence.

From the front of your little pawnshop in the seedier part of Evanston you run a perfectly respectable, legitimate business, fleecing the poor with payday loans and rent-to-own schemes and other perfectly respectable, perfectly legal forms of crime. But in your much larger back room you conduct your primary business, buying and selling stolen goods.

The Event changed everything. You're so flooded with goods from suppliers looting abandoned houses that you've had to start selling on consignment. Yesterday you acquired two x-ray machines and a 14-inch Celestron telescope that somebody picked up from the deserted campus of Wheaton College. Space has gotten so tight that instead of gutting one isolated empty house in Carol Stream, you've started using it for storage.

Business would be booming except that, after the Event, everyone's too traumatized to buy anything. People are stuffing their mattresses instead of spending. Only money coming in these days is for titles and tags — those missing people left behind some very nice cars, sometimes with the keys right there — and for credit cards gleaned from the wallets and purses left lying around like manna from heaven.

There's a knock at your back door and you step out into the alley to find Jimmy Bats** standing next to a carpet-cleaning van. Crazy tweaker is still robbing houses the old-fashioned way. Could be six empty houses on a block and Jimmy'll hit the one that's still got people living in it. He hasn't figured out yet that people who disappeared are less likely to come looking for their stuff when it disappears. Why steal when you can just take?

"Check this out," Jimmy says. "Like brand new." He shows you a bike and a four-wheeler — a little kids' bike and four-wheeler. You explain, with every ounce of patience you possess, that the market for children's toys has flattened out a bit since, you know, every freaking kid on the freaking planet freaking disappeared a week ago! Slick job, moron.

Regaining your composure, you calmly explain that it's not just you — that it will be many years before anyone, anywhere, is interested in buying a kids' bike, or video games, or the complete set of Veggie Tales DVDs on the passenger seat of Jimmy's van. You explain that jewelry stolen from someone's house isn't worth half of what you could offer for clean, untraceable jewelry plucked neatly from the rumpled clothing of the disappeared and that you've already got boxes and boxes filled with such merchandise, so even that isn't worth much.

But try as you might to explain, Jimmy just doesn't get it. And neither do LaHaye and Jenkins.

(OK, you can stop pretending you're a fence now.)

The police respond to this break-in at the Steele's as though this were just another routine break-in in just another routine week. "This kind of crime," they say, has dramatically increased, even though that makes little sense. And they seem perfectly free to investigate this kind of crime instead of attending to the millions of crime scenes that arrived the week before when all those adults and every child simultaneously went missing. Just the paperwork from all of those cases should be enough to keep every police officer in Illinois busy for the next six months.

"I imagine your insurance will take care of a lot of this," the police officer says, and Rayford agrees. Like the officer and the authors, he can't imagine that insurance companies would have any higher priority at this point than this particular claim.

For the record, here's how Chloe responded to all of this. She saw the broken front door and ran to the "Mr. Anderson's" three houses away but didn't call the police. Once she sees her father has returned, she calls him, crying, and then has Mr. Anderson walk her home, where she sits "rocking on the couch" while her father talks with the police officer. She is "still shaking" when the officer leaves, only stopping once she gets a hug from her father.

When we first met Chloe, she was a capable and independent young woman who managed, somehow, to get from Palo Alto, Calif., back home to Illinois faster than Buck Williams was able to get from Chicago to New York. That young woman is gone, replaced by L&J's ideal of the good, godly wife-in-waiting.

Suddenly Chloe laughed.

"Now this is funny? Rayford said.

"I just had a thought," she said, smiling through her tears. "What if the burglars watch that tape?"

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* That phrase actually comes from Larry Norman's Jesus-freak folk song, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready." Norman's lyrics, like H.A. Ironsides' prophecy charts, are generally treated as canonical by premillennial dispensationalists. His phrasing has come to replace the text it roughly approximates, from Revelation 6:6, in which the third horseman says, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"

** Because Jimmy's a meth-head so he never sleeps. He's up all night. Like a bat. It's not 'cause of that thing he does with his eyes and it's not because of what he did to that guy behind Cramer's. He did that with a pool cue.

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