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L.B.: Dead Man’s Messages

L.B.: Dead Man’s Messages April 13, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 263-265

Buck Williams and Steve "Duckie" Plank arrive at Buck's apartment so he can get ready for his big date midnight tryst interview with Nicolae Carpathia. Buck's been out of town for the past few days, so his answering machine is full.

One of the first message on Buck's answering machine was from the flight attendant he had met the week before. "Mr. Williams, this is Hattie Durham," she said. "I'm in New York on another flight and thought I'd call to say hi and thanks again for helping me make contact with my family. I'll wait a second and keep jabbering here, in case you're screening your calls. It would be fun to get together for a drink or something, but don't feel obligated. Well, maybe another time."

Hattie's message, "one of the first," was presumably left before she learned of his supposed death. Generally speaking, though, a full answering machine is probably a sign that your attempt at faking your own death wasn't very convincing.

"So who's that?" Steve called out as Buck hesitated near the bathroom door, waiting to hear all the messages before getting into the shower.

"Just a girl," he said.

"Nice?"

"Better than nice. Gorgeous."

"Better call her back."

"Don't worry."

This scene establishes the tandem story lines of Steve and Hattie. Notice the similar tones of guarded, tentative vulnerability. Hattie begins her message enthusiastically, then backtracks a bit, perhaps fearing she's been too forward. Likewise Steve, perhaps sensing the accusatory jealousy of his initial question ("So who's that?), quickly backtracks as well ("Better call her back").

Remember this scene as their parallel futures unfold. After their advances meet with a chilly reception from Buck, they both turn to Nicolae, with disastrous results.

"Several other messages were unimportant," we're told, so we never get to hear what it was people had to say to Buck when they thought he was dead.

At the end of the tape are two messages, left "that very afternoon" after Buck's public reappearance at the UN press conference. That event was apparently broadcast live, around the world. And apparently, law enforcement officials across Europe were staying up late to watch it, because Buck gets phone calls from Scotland Yard and Interpol.

From "Captain Howard Sullivan of Scotland Yard" (does Scotland Yard even have the rank of "captain"?):

"… As you know, two gentlemen with whom you were associated have met with untimely demises here in London. I would like to ask you a few questions. You may be hearing from other agencies, as you were seen with one of the victims just before his unfortunate end. Please call me."

You may remember Sullivan as the late Alan Tompkins' brazenly corrupt boss. He's the one who told international conspirator Todd-Cothran that if T-C were to kill a police officer in cold blood he would "come over there and dispose of the body myself."

I'm struggling to piece together the timeline here. The "afternoon" press conference happened after Carpathia's very long "afternoon" speech. At the earliest, then, Buck's publicly coming out as not-dead would have happened around 4:30. I guess T-C was watching the press conference live, at 9:30 London time, because Carpathia is a part of his and Stonagal's international conspiracy to conspire internationally about conspiratorial things. And I guess that upon learning that Buck was still alive he called Sullivan and had him make this phone call. And then he called Interpol, where I guess the conspiracy also has its loyal agents, because otherwise why would Interpol be concerned about the suspicious deaths of two Londoners in London?

The next message had come less than half an hour later and was from Georges Lafitte, an operative with Interpol, the international police organization headquartered in Lyons, France. "Mr. Williams," he said in a thick French accent, "as soon as you get this message I would like you to contact me from the nearest police station. … For your own sake, I would urge you not to delay."

I'm somewhat grateful here that Jenkins decided simply to inform us that "Lafitte" speaks with "a thick French accent" without actually attempting to write Lafitte's words in such an accent. This is hack-work, but it's preferable to the alternative form of hack-work een weech zee inspaketor ees made to sound like Clouseau or Pepe Le Pew.

Keep in mind that all of this blatant intimidation is part of a conspiracy to cover up the death of Dirk Burton, who was killed to prevent him from revealing the dangerous information that the head of the London Stock Exchange had been meeting in public with the owner of several international banks. Readers may wonder why a conversation between a stockbroker and a banker should be regarded as unusual, let alone suspicious or nefarious, but they'll just have to accept that this is how the world of Left Behind works, and that in this book the possibility that such meetings took place is a secret worth killing to protect and legitimate grounds for a top reporter to set aside the Biggest Story of All Time in order to fly to London to investigate.

All of this, again, could have been avoided if the conspirators hadn't been so clumsy in making Dirk Burton disappear, which really shouldn't have been that hard since there's been a good bit of disappearing going on lately.

Buck and Steve discuss the conspiracy a bit more, although never to the extent that they begin to wonder what it is the conspiracy is conspiring to do. I mentioned earlier that a key component of any conspiracy-thriller type story like this one is an explanation of why the hero can't just go to the police. In London, obviously, that wasn't an option for Buck. But he's not in London anymore, he's in New York and there's absolutely no reason for him not to just go to the police and tell them what he knows. But Buck doesn't consider this possibility. Nor do he and Steve, the top reporter and top editor for a powerful news magazine, consider taking their information public.

Instead they stick with their original plan, to go to Carpathia — a known associate of the conspirators — and ask for his help.

I've seen Left Behind described as a "page-turner," but you'd have to be turning those pages really, really fast for any of this to seem to make sense.

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