NRA: Reach out and touch someone

NRA: Reach out and touch someone September 14, 2012

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 56-63

Here we go with the big action sequence — complete with a high-speed car chase. This being a Left Behind novel, of course, the car chase is conveyed second-hand, over the phone.

This is action in Jerry Jenkins’ signature style. That means speed-dial, re-dial, 411, powerful people on hold and all the pulse-pounding voicemail excitement readers can handle. We’re talking more than a dozen phone calls in eight pages — plus a dollop of medieval anti-Semitism, a steady stream of gratuitous misogyny, and the destruction of yet another great American city.

The action is off the hook.

Buck Williams arrives at the Chicago Bureau office of his news company just as the city of Chicago is under attack. A missile strike flattened a hospital, killing hundreds of innocent civilians. A bomb — possibly even a nuclear bomb — has destroyed O’Hare International Airport. But Buck hasn’t gone to his Chicago Bureau office to report on any of that. He’s just dropping by to make some personal phone calls.

It tells us all we need to know about Global Community Weekly under Buck’s guidance that his arrival doesn’t even prompt his staff to pretend to look busy. They’re huddled around a TV, watching CNN’s report on the attacks on Chicago. CNN is reporting from the scene. The Weekly’s Chicago staff is watching CNN.

The only person in the office who actually seemed to be working when Buck arrived was Verna Zee. Buck promptly commandeers her telephone and kicks her out of her office.

We’re not supposed to like Verna Zee because she has sensible shoes, a vagina, and little patience for missed deadlines or insubordination. When her former boss disappeared in the Rapture, Verna stepped up and kept the office running throughout the crisis. Buck resents her for that, and apparently we readers are supposed to resent her as well. We’re expected to cheer every contemptuous thing Buck says to her, and to giggle when he walked behind her making silly faces back when she was his boss.

I don’t think the authors intended Buck’s ugly behavior toward Verna to serve as a model for how good, Christian men ought to behave toward their bosses. They only mean this to be a model for how good, Christian men ought to behave toward their bosses if their bosses are women.

Jenkins reintroduces Verna with a summary of Buck’s history with her. It reads a bit like something out of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men:

Buck had had innumerable run-ins with Verna Zee in the Chicago office. Once he felt she had overstepped her bounds and had moved too quickly into her former boss’s office after Lucinda Washington disappeared in the Rapture. Then, when Buck himself was demoted for ostensibly missing the most important assignment of his life, Verna did become Chicago bureau chief and lorded it over him. Now that he was publisher, he had been tempted to fire her.

Buck is relentlessly nasty toward Verna in this section. He starts off sarcastic and snippy — “I believe I asked you a question,” “None of your business” — and winds up threatening her with violence. Verna responds in kind, with sarcasm and impatience, but she’s also indispensably helpful to Buck throughout these pages. He could not have made all those phone calls without her busily taking messages for him on the other line. And each time she pops in to her own office to deliver one of these messages, Buck snatches it from her and yells, “leave me alone!”

So here, then, is a summary of the action in this section:

1. Nicolae Carpathia calls for Buck, Verna takes the message.

2. Rayford Steele calls for Buck, Verna takes the message.

3. Buck calls the hotel and gets Rayford’s message there, learning that Chicago is about to be destroyed.

4. Buck calls information to get the telephone number for the Land Rover dealership.

5. Buck calls the Land Rover dealership to get the telephone number for his car.

6. Buck calls his car-phone to warn Chloe, but doesn’t get through.

7. Nicolae calls for Buck, Verna takes the message.

8. Buck calls his car-phone to warn Chloe, but doesn’t get through.

9. “Buck hung up on the recorded message several times,” repeatedly calling the car-phone and failing to get through.

10. Chaim Rosenzweig calls Buck. They talk on the phone.

11. Chloe calls for Buck, Verna takes the message.

12. Buck calls his car-phone to warn Chloe, and Chloe answers.

And then Chicago gets destroyed.

Nicolae and Rayford were both calling to warn Buck to get away from the city before the attack. It’s nice that they were both concerned for his safety — even if neither was quite concerned enough to convey their warning in the messages they left.

Rayford’s message just told Buck to call the hotel to get the message Rayford left on the voicemail there. He apparently didn’t want to repeat that warning here lest some of Buck’s co-workers might overhear and their lives might also be saved accidentally.

Buck ignores Nicolae’s phone calls, and Verna just keeps dutifully taking his messages. It never occurs to either of them that an exclusive phone conversation with the global potentate right in the middle of World War III might be of some journalistic interest.

Buck never seems to think like a reporter, but we’ll cut him some slack this time because he just realized that he sent his wife to the very downtown hotel that he has just learned is about to be obliterated. He’s desperate to reach Chloe — to warn her to turn around and to take her and his beloved new car far away from the city. Unfortunately, he was so excited by the idea of his shiny new car-phone that he neglected to get the number for it, so he dials up the car dealer who is, of course, still open for business as the war planes zoom overhead. (Just like the information assistance operators are still at work — “the smoldering ruins of what city, please?”)

He asked for the sales manager and said it was an emergency.

Within a minute, the man was on the line. As soon as he identified himself, the man said, “Everything all right with the–”

“The car is fine, sir. But I need to reach my wife, and she’s driving it right now. I need the phone number on that built-in phone.”

“That would take a little digging.”

“I can’t tell you how urgent this is, sir. …”

That’s not really true. Buck easily could tell the man how urgent this is. He could pass on Rayford’s warning and explain that this was a matter of life and death. If Buck were anything like a decent person, he would realize that he’s actually obliged to do that. But instead, Buck says this:

“I can’t tell you how urgent this is, sir. Let me just say that it’s worth my developing a quick case of buyer’s remorse and returning the vehicle if I can’t get that number right now.”

Like his father-in-law, Buck just can’t resist the chance to bully the help. Buck is pleased with the cleverness of his bluff. The poor car dealer has no idea that it would be impossible for Buck to make good on his threat. The sales manager doesn’t know that he and the rest of his staff are about to die a horrible death as bombs rain down on the dealership and the homes of everyone they know and love. Suckers.

When Buck gets no answer on the car-phone, he starts doing that redial, no-answer, hang-up, redial thing, at which point Verna tells him that Rosenzweig is calling from Israel and “says it’s a matter of life and death.”

Israel, you’ll recall, still has a good 23 months or so left before it’s peace treaty with the Antichrist expires as prophesied, so really Rosenzweig is calling from the one place in the world where it’s not “a matter of life and death” at the moment. The deaths he’s calling to report have already occurred, but he has some plot developments to convey and some ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes to reinforce:

“Israel has been spared the terrible bombings that your country has suffered, but Rabbi Ben-Judah’s family was abducted and slaughtered! His house has burned to the ground. I pray he is safe, but no one knows where he is!”

Buck was speechless. He hung his head. “His family is gone? Are you sure?”

“It was a public spectacle, Cameron. I was afraid it would come sooner or later. Why, oh why did he have to go public with his views about Messiah? It’s one thing to disagree with him, as I do, a respected and trusted friend. But the religious zealots in this country hate a person who believes that Jesus is Messiah.”

This is, quite frankly, viciously racist. In this compact little conversation, the authors manage to squeeze in both the ancient sin of the blood libel — children “abducted and slaughtered” — and the biblically illiterate Christ-killer slur.

Nasty, nasty stuff.

And yet Tim LaHaye seems genuinely confused and offended whenever he is accused of anti-Semitism. He angrily points out that he has always been a true and loyal friend to Israel, helping to raise millions of dollars to support what he believes is Israel’s best interests in Washington. It infuriates LaHaye when others so often fail to recognize that as evidence of his deep, deep love for those Christ-killing Jews.

“The religious zealots in this country hate a person who believes that Jesus is Messiah.”

Tim LaHaye wrote that. Why would anyone ever accuse him of being anti-Semitic?

Buck gets off the phone with Chaim only to learn from Verna that he just missed a call from Chloe. As he redials the car-phone, he decides that Verna’s presence there in her own office is intolerable:

Buck had never been angrier with anyone. …

Yes, Nicolae Carpathia has killed millions of people in the past chapter and is about to kill millions more. But Verna, a female, dared to get sarcastic while taking phone messages for him. The latter, it seems to Buck and the authors, is a greater cause for righteous wrath.

Buck had never been angrier with anyone. He stared at Verna. “I’m coming across this desk to kick that door shut. You had better not be in the way.”

The car phone was ringing. Verna still stood there. Buck rose from his chair, phone still to his ear, and stepped up onto the desk and across Verna’s mess of papers. Her eyes grew wide as he lifted his leg, and she ducked out of the way as he kicked the door shut with all his might. It sounded like a bomb and nearly toppled the wall partitions. Verna screamed. Buck almost wished she’d been in the doorway.

Thanks to that previous scene with Chaim, this is, astonishingly, only the second-most appalling passage in this section.

Buck finally speaks to Chloe on the car-phone, only to learn that she has already heard her father’s warning at the hotel and is driving as fast as she can away from the city. When he reaches her, she’s being followed by a police car:

“I was speeding, and I went through a light, and I was even on the sidewalk for a while.”

And now, with the cop still behind her, she’s talking on the phone. Of course, back in 1997 when this was written, that was still legal.

“Chloe, listen! You know the old saying about how it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission?”

“You want me to try to outrun him?”

“You’ll probably be saving his life!”

After refusing to warn anyone at the Drake, or at the car dealership, or any of his co-workers at the office, or the rest of the Chicago area, Buck at last decides there’s another life out there worth saving.

“OK, Buck, pray for me! Here goes nothing!”

“I’ll stay on the line with you, Chloe.”

“I need both hands to drive!”

“Hit the speaker button and hang that phone up!” Buck said.

All those exclamation points! This is exciting! And it’s good to know that Buck’s speed-dialing and door-slamming frenzy wasn’t for naught. Even though it turned out Chloe didn’t need him to warn her after all, he still gets to serve the crucial function of staying on the line to pray during her car chase (just like Sally Field did in Smokey and the Bandit).

Unfortunately, we never learn whether or not Chloe would have outrun that police car. The chase is abruptly interrupted by the second horseman of the Apocalypse:

But then he heard an explosion, tires squealing, a scream, and silence. Within seconds the electricity went off in the Global Community Weekly office. Buck felt his way out into the hall where battery-operated emergency lights near the ceiling illuminated the doors. “Look at that!” someone shouted, and the staff pushed its way through the front doors and began climbing atop their own cars to watch a huge aerial attack on the city of Chicago.

That last paragraph isn’t terrible. It almost seems like it belongs in a better novel — one without multi-page accounts of pointless phone-tag saturated with sexism and anti-Semitism.

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