Authors: Tim Lahaye,Jerry B. Jenkins
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adult, #Thriller, #Contemporary, #Spiritual, #Religion
had ducked under a scaffold at the sound of the gun.
A tidal wave of humanity swept past him on both sides, and he saw glee on some faces. Converts from the Wailing Wall who had seen Carpathia murder their heroes? By the time Buck looked to the stage, the potentates were leaping off, the drapery was flying into the distance, and Chaim appeared catatonic, his head rigid.
Carpathia lay on the platform, blood running from his eyes, nose, and mouth, and-it appeared to Buck-from the top of his head. His lapel mike was still hot, and because Buck was directly under a speaker tower, he heard Nicolae’s liquid, guttural murmur, “But I thought … I thought… I did everything you asked.”
Fortunato draped his stocky body over Carpathia’s chest, reached beneath him, and cradled him. Sitting on the stage, he rocked his potentate, wailing.
“Don’t die, Excellency!” Fortunato bawled. “We need you! The world needs you! I need you!”
Monday of Gala Week
Rose prided herself on thinking under pressure.
She’d been chief administrative nurse in a large hospital for a decade and had also been one of few believers there the last three and a half years. She had survived by her wits and eluded Global Community Peacekeeping Forces until finally having to flee and join the Tribulation Force.
But on the Monday of the week that would see the assassinations of the two witnesses and the Antichrist, Leah had no clue what to do. In disguise and under her alias, Donna Clendenon, she believed she had fooled authorities at the Belgium Facility for Female Rehabilitation (
, or Buffer). She had passed herself off as Hattie Durham’s aunt.
A squinting guard, whose nameplate read
and whose accent was unmistakably French, asked, “And what makes you think your niece is incarcerated here?”
“You think I’d come all the way from California if I had any doubt?” Leah said.
“Everybody knows Hattie is here, and I know her alias: Mae Willie.”
The guard cocked his head. “And your message can be delivered only in person?”
“A death in the family.”
Leah pursed her lips, aware of her artificially protruding teeth. I’ll bet, she thought.
Croix stood and riffled through pages on his clipboard. “Buffer is a maximum security facility without standard visiting privileges. Ms. Durham has been separated from the prison population. I would have to get clearance for you to see her. I could give her the message myself.”
“All I want is five minutes,” Leah said.
“You can imagine how short staffed we are.”
Leah didn’t respond. Millions had disappeared in the Rapture. Half the remaining population had died since.
Everybody was short staffed. Merely existing anymore was a full-time job. Croix asked her to wait in a holding area, but he did not tell her she would see no personnel, no inmates, or even any other visitors for more than two hours. A glass cubicle, where it appeared a clerical person had once sat, was empty. No one was there whom Leah could ask how long this might take, and when she rose to look for someone else, she found she was locked in. Were they onto her? Was she now a prisoner too? Just before Leah resorted to banging on the door and screaming for help, Croix returned. Without apology, and-she noticed-avoiding eye contact, he said, “My superiors are considering your request and will call your hotel tomorrow.”
Leah fought a smile. As if I want you to know where I’m staying.
“How about I call you?” Leah said.
“Suit yourself,” Croix said with a shrug. “Merci.”
Then, as if catching himself: “Thank you.”
Relieved to be outside, Leah drove around to be sure she wasn’t being followed.
With puzzling instructions from Rayford not to call him until Friday, she phoned Buck and brought him up to date. “I don’t know whether to bolt or play it out,”
That night in her hotel room, Leah felt a loneliness only slightly less acute than when she had first been left behind. She thanked God for the Tribulation Force and how they had welcomed her. All but Rayford, of course.
She couldn’t figure him. Here was a brilliant, accomplished man with clear leadership skills, someone she had admired until the day she moved into the safe house.
They hadn’t clicked, but everyone else seemed frustrated with him too.
In the morning Leah showered and dressed and found something to eat, planning to see Hattie as soon as she had permission. She was going to call Buffer from her untraceable cell phone, but she got caught up watching on television as Carpathia taunted Moishe and Eli before the eyes of the world.
She sat, mouth agape, as Carpathia murdered the two witnesses with a powerful handgun. Leah remembered when TV cameras would have been averted in the face of such violence. Then came the earthquake that left a tenth of Jerusalem in rubble.
The GC global network showed quake scenes interspersed with footage of the silent witnesses badgered by the smirking Carpathia before their ignominious ends.
The slow-motion pictures were broadcast over and over, and repulsed as she was, Leah could not turn away.
She had known this was coming; they all had-any students of Tsion Ben-Judah. But to see it played out shocked and saddened her, and Leah’s eyes swam. She knew how it was to turn out, too, that they would be resurrected and that Carpathia would get his. Leah prayed for her new friends, some of whom were in Jerusalem.
But she didn’t want to sit there blubbering when she had work to do too. Things would get a lot worse than this, and Leah needed the training of performing under pressure to prepare herself and to convince herself she was up to it.
The phone at Buffer rang and rang, and Leah was at least warmed to know that the world government suffered just like the rank and file with the loss of half the population. Finally a woman picked up, but Leah couldn’t get her even to acknowledge an employee named Croix.
“A French guard?” Leah tried.
“Ah, I know who you mean. Hold on.”
Finally a man picked up. “Who are you holding for, please?” he said, in a hurry.
“Guard Croix,” she said, “about six feet”
“Croix!” the man hollered. “Phone!”
But he never came to the phone. Leah finally hung up and drove to the prison, leaving her phone in the car for safety.
At long last Croix ushered her into yet another private room. This one had a large window that Leah thought might be a two-way mirror. Again she feared her cover might have already been blown.
“I thought you were going to call,” the guard said, pointing to a chair, ubiquitous clipboard in hand.
“I tried,” she said. “This place is poorly run.”
“Understaffed,” he said.
“Can we get on with it?” Leah said. “I need to see my niece.”
Croix stared at her, apparently unwilling to repeat himself.
“I’m listening,” she said.
“I’m not at liberty to”
“Don’t give me that,” Leah said. “If I can’t see her, I can’t see her, but I have the right to know she’s healthy, that she’s alive.”
“She is both.”
“Then why can’t I see her?”
Croix pressed his lips together. “She’s been transferred, ma’am.”
“I’m not at liberty to”
“How long has she been gone? Where is she?”
He shook his head. “I’m telling you what I was told. If you’d like to get a message to”
“I want to see her. I want to know she’s all right.”
“To the best of my knowledge, she’s fi”
“The best of your knowledge! Have you an inkling how limited your knowledge is?”
“Insulting me will not”
“I don’t mean to insult you, sir! I’m merely asking to sir my niece and”
“That’s enough, Officer Croix,” came a female voice from behind the glass. “You may go.”
Croix left without a word or a look. Leah detected an Asian accent in the woman.
She stood and stepped to the mirror. “So, what’s next, ma’am? Am I to leave too, or will I get some word about my niece?”
“Have I now become a prisoner too? Guilt by relation?”
Leah felt conspicuous and wondered whether anyone was behind the glass after all. Finally she marched to the door but was not surprised to find herself locked in again. “Terrific,” she said, heading back toward the mirror. “What are the magic words that get me out of here? C’mon, lady! I know you’re back there!”
“You will be free to go when we say you are free to go.”
The same woman. Leah pictured her older, matronly, and clearly Asian. She raised her palms in surrender and plopped into a chair. She started and looked up when she heard a buzz in the door latch. “You may go.”
Leah shot a double take at the mirror. “I may?”
“She who hesitates …”
“Oh, I’m going,” she said, rising. “Could I at least see you on my way out?
Please? I just want to know”
“You’re trying my patience, Mrs. Clendenon. You have received all the information you will get here.”
Leah stopped with her hand on the doorknob, shaking her head, hoping to weasel something from the disembodied voice.
“Go, ma’am!” the woman said. “While you have the option.”
Leah had given her best. She wasn’t willing to go to prison for this caper. For another effort, maybe, another assignment. She would sacrifice her freedom for Dr.
Ben-Judah. But for Hattie? Hattie’s own doctor had died treating her, and she seemed barely grateful.
Leah moved briskly through the echoing corridors. She heard a door behind her and, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman, turned quickly. A small, trim, pale, dark-haired woman in uniform turned and headed the other way. Could that have been her? Leah headed for the main entrance but turned at the last instant and stepped behind a bank of phones. At least it looked like a bank of phones.
She wanted to pretend to be talking on one while anyone who might follow her rushed out the door, but every phone was in shambles, wires hanging.
She was about to abandon her plan when she heard quick footsteps and saw a young Asian woman hurry out the front door, car keys jangling. Leah was convinced this was the same woman who had ducked away when she turned around. Now Leah was following her.
She hesitated inside the glass doors, watching as the woman trotted to the visitor parking lot and scanned the area. Apparently frustrated, she turned and walked slowly back toward the entrance. Leah nonchalantly exited, hoping to get a straight-on look at the woman. If she could get her to speak, she would know whether she had been the one behind the glass.
An employee of the GC and she’s worse at this than I am, Leah thought, as the woman noticed her, appeared startled, then fought to act normal. As they neared one another, Leah asked where a washroom was, but the woman tugged her tiny uniform cap tighter onto her head and turned away to cough as she passed, not hearing or pretending not to.
Leah pulled out of the unattended lot and waited at a stop sign a quarter mile away, where she could see the prison entrance in her rearview mirror. The woman hurried out and hopped into a compact four-door. Determined to lose her, Leah raced off and got lost trying to find her hotel via side streets.
She called Rayford again and again. No way this could wait until Friday. When he didn’t answer she worried that his phone might have fallen into the wrong hands.
She left a cryptic message: “Our bird has flown the cage. Now what?”
She drove into the country, convinced no one was following her, and found her way back to the hotel at dusk.
She had been in her room less than half an hour when the phone rang.
“This is Donna,” she said.
“You have a visitor,” the clerk said. “May I send her back?”
“No! Who is it?”
“‘A friend is all she’ll say.”
“I’ll come there,” Leah said.
She stuffed her belongings into a bag and slipped out to her car. She tried to peer into the lobby through the plate glass, but she couldn’t see who was there.
As she started the car, someone drove behind her and stopped.
Leah was pinned in. She locked her doors as the driver emerged from the other vehicle.
As Leah’s eyes adjusted to the light, she could see it was the same car the woman had driven from the prison.
A knock made her jump. The woman, still in uniform, signaled her to lower her window. Leah lowered it an inch, her heart thudding.
“I need to make a show of this,” the woman whispered. “Play your part.”
My part? “What do you want?” Leah said.
“Come with me.”
“Not on your life! Unless you want your car in pieces, get it out of my way.”
The woman leaned forward. “Excellent. Now step out and let me cuff you and”
“Are you out of your mind? I have no intention of”
“Perhaps you cannot see my forehead in the darkness,” the woman said. “But trust me”
“Why should I?”
And then Leah saw it. The woman had the mark. She was a believer.
The woman pointed to the lock as she removed handcuffs from a holster on her belt. Leah unlocked the door.