TF: The end of the interview

TF: The end of the interview February 15, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 151-157

We return to Capt. Rayford Steele, still reeling from being accused of religious harassment toward the one co-worker with whom he has not been guilty of religious harassment.

"Who's out to get you?" Earl had asked.

"I can't imagine."

Francine reported that the call she took that morning had been traced to New York. "It'll take them a few hours to get an exact phone number," she said, but Rayford knew in a flash who it was. He couldn't be sure why she would do it, but only Hattie Durham would pull a stunt like that. Only she would have access to Pan-Con people who would know where he was and what he was doing that morning. And what was that business about Air Force One?

Switchboard Francine was apparently so busy at the typewriter, typing up her summary of Earl's phone call, that she forgot to get the caller's number. So now she has to get "them" to track it down for her. I can't imagine who "they" might be, nor what they might be doing for the next few hours to produce this "exact phone number." One gets the sense here that Jerry Jenkins envisions the Pan-Continental Airlines offices as having a room somewhere with dozens of young women in skirts working a manual switchboard. I'm starting to suspect that maybe Jenkins' strange obsession with telephony arises from his never having actually used a telephone.

After dozens of pages in which Buck agonized over his Christian duty to never tell a lie — not even a life-saving lie to the Antichrist himself — it's interesting that Rayford doesn't hesitate to mislead his kind and cooperative boss:

"I can't imagine." … But Rayford knew.

So for the record: Lying to the Antichrist to keep him from slaughtering everyone in the congregation at your church would be a sin. Lying to your boss to avoid having to mention the embarrassing details of your platonically kinky non-affair with a subordinate is perfectly fine.

Rayford's guess about Hattie turns out to be right, even if his reasoning — that only a former flight attendant "would have access to Pan-Con people who would know where he was" — seems dubious. He calls Hattie at the United Nations and she quickly confesses that the whole fake harassment complaint against him was her doing.

The conversation between Rayford and Hattie offers his usual contemptuous asides — her voice makes him "cringe," and he marvels at how "vapid" she seems. And the authors write her dialogue as though they're intent on proving his low opinion of her is right. She sounds like a bad imitation of the stock "ditzy" blonde from old screwball comedies. "Wasn't that just the funniest?" she asks, a la Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. "I love practical jokes!"

In the larger context of the series, this would seem to fit the pattern in which all women are madonnas (Lucinda, Marge, Irene) or mannish lesbians (Verna) or vapid airheads (Alice, Hattie). What's notable in LaHaye & Jenkins' reliance on these stereotypes is that they never quite get them right. The airheads sound just enough like airheads that the reader can guess that's what the authors were attempting to convey, but they never sound enough like real airheads for the reader to believe the authors had ever met the genuine article. That shows the authors' deep commitment to their preconceptions. It takes work to maintain a stereotyping prejudice when you've lived well past middle age without ever meeting anyone who lived up to it.

On the other hand, a few pages later we learn that Hattie's actions and her conversation with Rayford were part of some nefarious master plan of Nicolae's. So it's possible that she's just putting on an act here — playing the part of the ditzy airhead just to prevent Rayford from suspecting her boss's involvement. The problem with that theory is that Hattie started playing this role way back in Chapter 1 of the last book, long before she'd ever met or heard of Nicolae.

Rayford didn't buy a word of it. Carpathia had to know about the White House offer. Hattie's note and that offer, and what her little joke almost did to scotch the deal, were too coincidental to be her lame attempt at a practical joke.

Rayford guesses that Carpathia is behind both the job offer to become pilot of Air Force One and the false accusation designed to disqualify him from the job. And Rayford once again will be proved correct. He's showing an uncanny knack for suspecting the truth even when it makes absolutely no sense.

Buck Williams, meanwhile, is still doing his best to evade his own job offer from Nicolae, who has now spent the better part of his day trying to secure Buck as his first One World Media Empire hire, a publisher for the Chicago Tribune.

The Antichrist is going to have to get better at delegating or else he's going to have to pick up the pace. If he intends to personally hire minions to run every newspaper, magazine, radio and television station in the world then he can't afford to spend this much time interviewing just one of them.

Some quick diner-napkin arithmetic: The world will end in 6 years, 11 months, or roughly 2,500 days from now. Just looking at the United States — set aside the entire rest of the world for the moment — he's got to hire minions for about 1,400 daily newspapers, 13,000 radio stations, 1,700 TV stations, and 18,000 magazines. So if he schedules about 14 interviews a day, every day, from now until the end of time, he'll manage to just barely have filled the executive posts for only one country in his global media monopoly.

(And that's assuming that none of those 34,000 or so people he's busily hiring is among the fourth of the world's population about to be slain by his three fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse.)

If Nicolae Carpathia wants to have any time left to himself for the business of Antichristing, he's going to need a massive, efficient and professionally run HR Department of the Beast.

After another perfunctory page of "I don't want the job"/"Ah, my friend, you cannot say no," Hattie re-enters Nicolae's office to update him on their ecret-say an-play:

"I just took a call from the target," she said.

"Yes? And?"

"It didn't take him long to figure it out."

"And Air Force One?"

"I don't think he has a clue."

"Good work. And the other?"

"No response yet."

"Thank you, dear."

Two weeks into his tenure as Antichrist, Nicolae has yet to do much in the way of riding out as a conqueror bent on conquest. So far all he's done is hire his core staff from Buck Williams' closest circle of friends. He's hired Chaim, Steve and Hattie and now he's working hard to hire Rayford. Jenkins' model for telling a global epic seems to be Noah's Ark — the whole world gets slaughtered while the plot revolves around just eight characters who are all related.

We get another page of thrust-and-parry job-offer-and-refusal, featuring Nicolae saying things like: "You are in a seller's market. I am the buyer, and I will get the man I want." (T
his is the man who's going to run the One World Economy?)

This monotonous repetition gets to be so much
that even Buck seems bored and his mind begins to wander. He suddenly remembers that Steve, Chaim and Hattie are all his friends, and that thanks to the Great Deceiver, they're all doomed to be damned.

Was it too late to plead with Steve, to warn him of what he had gotten into? Too late to rescue Hattie from the stupidity of his introduction? Was Chaim too enamored with the geopolitical possibilities to listen to reason and truth?

These are rhetorical questions. Buck doesn't seem to think any of them require actual answers. And he certainly doesn't seem to feel obliged to do anything to help his friends. As obnoxious as Rayford can be with his aggressive, intentionally offensive proselytizing, he at least seems more concerned with the eternal fate of his van driver than Buck is for any of his supposed friends.

Was it too late to save Steve? Buck thinks. Whatever. Chloe sure is pretty.

It was Chloe he missed the most. Was this of God? Had God impressed her upon Buck's mind at his most vulnerable moment with Carpathia? Buck hardly knew the woman. Woman? She was barely more than a girl, but she seemed … what? Mature? More than mature. Magnetic. When she listened to him, her eyes seemed to drink him in. She understood, empathized. She could give advice and feedback without saying a word.

Phew. OK. We could note that everything Buck seems to admire about Chloe is something he might see in his own reflection, but I don't really have a specific comment here. It's just that there're three straight paragraphs of this and I need a little breather in between typing them in. Ack.

Deep breath. Here we go:

There was a comfort zone with her, a feeling of safety. He had barely touched her twice. Once to wipe from her mouth a dab of chocolate from a cookie, and in church the morning before, just to get her attention. And yet now, a two-hour plane ride from her, he felt an overwhelming need to embrace her.

He couldn't do that, of course. He scarcely knew her and didn't want to scare her away. And yet in his mind he looked forward to the day when they felt comfortable enough to hold hands or draw close to each other. He imagined them sitting somewhere, just enjoying each other's company, her head on his chest, his arm around her.

That's where the paragraph ends in the book.

Probably no need to point out that it's begging for one or two inappropriately filthy clauses or sentences to be tacked on.

And now some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that after more than 100 pages of our heroes stalwartly resisting the job advancement deviously being offered them by the embodiment of evil, the job-interview business is finally over with.

The bad news is that the next two chapters are preoccupied with the unfolding of the Not What It Looks Like rom-com of errors.

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