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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 10, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that puts the "feh" in "catastrophe". And, yes, I know that was a shitty joke, but you know what? It was still better than krazo! Last time we got to watch Rayford and Chloe have an "argument". Needless to say, this was the sort of argument that would have driven my high school debate coach to drink, but that's not the point. The point is that they're forming a father-daughter team to investigate god! Yay! What happens this week? Well, I don't want to spoil it, but we're back with Buckykins and it's all very stupid. So, you know, the usual. Nevertheless, today is a special day because we've finally broken into the double-digits in chapter numbers. This both makes me want to cheer and do as many shots of vodka as my liver can take.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for the sort of basic observation that nevertheless rings all too true:

"I believe they are in heaven." [Rayford said]

We're not. Hell is an eternity parsing Left Behind.

To which the only answer is: no shit. This book is just spectacularly bad on every possible level and, just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. Special props to Ken, as well, for a reference that I did actually catch. Way to bust out the classics there, Ken!

And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


Dramatis Personae

In an order given to me by my neighbor's schnauzer...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.


Chapter 10: In which we learn that the conspiracy is totally inept, forget that English civilians usually don't have pistols, and get our first taste (sort of) of dramatic tension. Finally.

Page 171- Line Fuggetaboudit:

No quote, but we start with Buck debating whether or not to call his Scotland Yard contact before leaving for the U.K. He eventually decides not to for reasons that are actually a bit amusing.

Page 171- Line 6-7:
The last thing he [Buck] wanted was to compromise his Scotland Yard contact's integrity.

Well, then I guess you shouldn't have shown him how to "check your inventory" the last time you were in the U.K., eh? Crude jokes aside, Buck seems convinced this guy's phone might be tapped, but his explanation is a bit silly since arguably the man's integrity could be compromised whether his employers knew about it or not. If you're not supposed to talk to the press, doing so probably compromises your integrity whether others know about it or not. Then again, my morality isn't based on constant monitoring by a supervisor in the sky, so perhaps my views on the subject are just a tad off from the authors'. Eh. Whatever.

Page 171- Line 8-9:
Buck took both his real and his phony passport and visa- a customary safety precaution...

Cameron "Bucky" Williams: Secret agent, human alarm clock, journalist! Seriously, is this standard practice for journalists? Because consistently going through customs with false documents seems, I dunno, slightly illegal to me. Regardless, before we hit the end of the page Buck is in the U.K., which is hella impressive considering that in the previous nine chapters Buck only barely managed to get from Chicago to New York. But, hey, the disruptions to global transportation are dragging the narrative down so, voila! No more problems! Yay! Maybe I'm being unfair, though, because Buck is very good at traveling.

Page 171- Line 14-15:
He started by calling Scotland Yard and asking for his friend Alan Tompkins, a midlevel operative.

A "midlevel operative"? So, what? He's in accounting or something? This promises to be f-ing exciting. Regardless, it turns out that Buck, Dirk and Alan are "old friends".

Page 172- Line 6-9:
Now, by phone, he [Buck] tried to communicate to Tompkins in such a way that Alan would catch on quickly and not give away that they were friends- in case the line was tapped.

Ah, is nothing beyond the reach of Buck Williams: Secret Agent? Seriously, though, this reminds me of that time years ago when a buddy of mine called to talk about his fear that he'd gotten a girl pregnant but couldn't just say that. He ended up developing an entire metaphor for the situation that involved references to cable and satellite t.v. providers. That I had no idea what he was talking about at first just made the whole thing much more difficult. What does this have to do with Buck? Hardly anything but, honestly, wasn't that story more entertaining than the book? You're welcome! Anyway, Buck calls and starts in on Alan pretending like they don't know each other, explaining that he's just doing this story about a conference to be held at the United Nations. Now, I could be an asshole and point out that if they didn't know each other, why is Buck calling Alan's office number directly as opposed to, say, the Scotland Yard inquiries desk, but I won't be an asshole that way. Instead, I'll be an asshole by observing that Buck is calling from a payphone, which the conspiracy can't tap (if only because they can't monitor them all). So if the call is being monitored it's because Alan's phone is tapped, meaning they're expecting Buck to call this guy specifically. If they're expecting Buck to call this guy specifically, it's because they already know he and Buck are pals and therefore by pulling the "hey, you don't know me routine," he's going to look even more suspicious. Smooth move, Williams. Anyway, since Alan is marginally more intelligent than Buck (but then so is a vending machine) he clues in very quickly...

Page 172- Line 15-22:
Alan sounded suddenly serious. "How can I help you, sir? What does that have to do with Scotland Yard?"

"I'm having trouble locating my interview subject, and I suspect foul play."

"And your subject?"

"His name is Burton. Dirk Burton. He works at the exchange."

"Let me do some checking and call you back."

Wow! The excitement is just so... so... absent! I hardly care about any of these guys and they're, like, totally engaged in sneaky stuff. More seriously, the sad thing is that this wouldn't work for a second if Alan's line IS tapped because Buck has already been called and told that Burton is f-ing dead. So, hey, great job asshole! You fingered your friend (NOT that way, scripto!) and managed to signal that you're not buying the suicide angle all at the same time. Bravo!

Page 172- Line 26-27:
Early on Sunday morning in Mount Prospect, Illinois, Rayford Steele phoned the-

Wait, what the fuck? We're back with Rayford again? Jesus. This plot volleys more than a ping-pong match between Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. In any case, he's phoning the poorly named New Hope Village Church that Irene attended and ends up speaking with Bruce Barnes, the "visitation pastor." I'll be honest here and admit I have no idea what the hell a "visitation pastor" is. For that matter my wife, who was evangelical for a number of years, is similarly baffled. Maybe it means he's really a reptile? No, wait, that would be a Visitor pastor. Never mind. In any case, Bruce observes that "Nearly every member and regular attender of this church is gone," (Page 173- Line 20-21) thus proving the evangelicals are totally awesome. One is forced to wonder why Bruce is still around but- don't worry- we'll find out soon enough. Regardless, Bruce invites Rayford to come in to a service and Rayford asks why Bruce is still around...

Page 174- Line 5-8:
"Mr. Steele, there is only one explanation for that, and I would prefer to discuss it with you in person. If I know when you might come by for the tape, I'll be sure to be here." [Barnes answered]

My remark in the margins at this is, "Ah, tension. Finally. It only took 174 pages." I stand by that as well given that it's the first time I've been even vaguely curious about something (i.e. why Barnes was left behind) given that the authors have just told us everything straight out so far. Nice work, boys.

Page 174- Line 11--14:
Alan Tompkins waited just inside the vestibule at Scotland Yard. When Buck arrived, Alan formally shook his hand and led him to a rundown compact, which he drove quickly to a dark pub a few miles away.

Thwack! And we've been volleyed back to Buck. Anyway, Alan behaves all paranoid-like and tells Buck to stay far away from this "nasty business" (Page 174- Line 25-26). Buck says he just wants to know more, Alan admits he doesn't believe it was suicide and, instead, thinks the conspiracy killed him. Buck says that's nonsense.

Page 175- Line 20-22:
"Dirk thought Todd-Cothran and Stonagal were part of something he called the Council of Ten or the Council of Wise Men. So what? It's harmless." [Buck scoffed]

So, hey, we apparently now have a name for the crazy conspiracy group. That's... nice? Sure, why not, nice! Whatever. Alan then starts explaining that Dirk couldn't have killed himself and asks Buck to think about where Dirk would have been sitting if he were with them right then.

Page 176- Line 21-23:
It suddenly dawned on Buck what Alan was driving at. "He [Dirk] would be sitting to one of our lefts, and he was such a klutz because he was left-handed." [Buck exclaimed]

Um... maybe I'm ignorant, but the southpaws I've met in my life haven't been unusually clumsy. Anyone noticed anything different, or have we just added a new group to the list of folks the authors don't like so much?

Page 176- Line 24-25:
"He was shot through the right temple and the so-called suicide weapon was found in his right hand." [Alan observed]

Oddly, I don't find this to be a totally convincing reason to suspect murder rather than suicide. The reason is that most firearms are made for right-handed shooters. Not such a big deal as the grip and trigger frequently still work if used left-handed, but if the weapon is a semi-automatic the spent casing usually ejects to the right. So, if you hold the weapon in your left hand, you may end up with hot brass in the face. This is particularly an issue with rifles that you have to shoot from the shoulder, and god help you if you're using a bolt-action since most of those are right-handed.* As a consequence, it's not exactly unusual for lefties to learn to shoot right-handed. So, in short, this kind of "evidence" doesn't really tell us much. Personally I'm wondering where an English stockbroker living in London got his hands on a pistol. Um, authors? Yeah. The U.K. doesn't have our lax attitude towards firearms. And don't tell me he didn't use a pistol. If Dirk had blown his head off with a shotgun, we wouldn't be talking about handedness at all, you know? Regardless, Alan starts explaining that he doesn't want to speak out about the situation because he has a family that he doesn't want to be harmed and... um... some other reasons...

Page 177- Line 1-4:
"I have a former wife I'm still fond of. I wouldn't mind snuffing her myself, but I certainly wouldn't want anyone else harming her." [Alan said]

Apparently gallantry really is dead. Now, I've never been divorced so I guess maybe I don't understand but I wasn't really of the opinion that divorce necessarily implied homicide. Or are the authors just suggesting that non-Christians who divorce are amoral? I just don't get this book sometimes, you know? Regardless, Alan explains to Buck that he isn't going to touch this whole "mystery" thing and that he thinks Buck should drop it, too.

Page 178- Line 9-10:
"I have been told to tell you to go home and forget you ever heard about this suicide." [Alan said]

Well, shit, shame they called him overseas specifically to tell him about it then, eh? What's next? An announcement on t.v: "Now hear this! Nicolae Carpathia is definitely NOT evil! Pay no attention to the rumors!" Seriously, worst conspiracy evar.

Page 178- Line 11-12:
Buck squinted in disbelief. "Nobody knew I was coming."

Yeah, yeah, but did you come quickly, Buck? C'mon, Jesus wants to know! Regardless, however, if nobody knows, then you're doing it wrong!

Page 178- Line 13-14:
"I think that's true, but somebody assumed you might show up. I wasn't surprised you came." [Alan observed]

Guess he knows about Buck and his "inventory" then, eh? Crappy jokes aside, however, as I suspected, Alan seems to be implying that Buck's "I'm just inquiring after a contact" routine was worse than useless. Bravo, moron.

Page 178- Line 21-25:
"I [Buck] wonder if I know you [Alan] at all! I thought we were kindred spirits. We were justice freaks, Alan. Seekers of truth. I'm a journalist, you're an investigator. We're skeptics. What is this running from the truth, especially when it concerns our friend?" [Buck ranted]

Ha. Yes. "Skeptics." This from mister "nothing is beyond belief" (Chapter 1, Page 15, Line 5-10). Still, it's a shame to see a breakup go down like this, even if long-distance relationships never really seem to work.

But, on the other hand, it's not a shame to see an episode of Left Behind come to an end! And, indeed, at the end we are! Come back next time when we- you guessed it- continue this riveting conversation between Alan and Buck. And I don't want to give away the surprise but in the next installment, just if you're very, very good, someone will actually die! Yay! I vote for Rayford!

See you then!

* One of my rifles is an amusing exception to this general rule in that the action expels spent casings almost straight up so that they pass over your head and land behind you. That's the theory, anyway. In practice whenever I take it to the range I always wear a hat to catch the occasional casing that lands square on top of my noggin. This is, however, how I have come to have a deep respect for the need to avoid getting smacked on exposed skin with recently ejected brass.



Blogger scripto said...

Buck pranks Alan:

"Alan sounded suddenly serious. "How can I help you, sir? What does that have to do with Scotland Yard?"

"I'm having trouble locating my interview subject, and I suspect foul play."

"And your subject?"

"His name is Hurtin. Dick Hurtin. He works at the exchange."

"Let me do some checking and call you back."

hee hee

Friday, December 11, 2009 6:45:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

It's been four days since I read this section, and I still can't think of anything comment-worthy. And this is where something actually sorta kinda maybe happened.

How much more of this drek does Drek have to cover?

Monday, December 14, 2009 12:50:00 PM  

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