The Day of the Lord

by Owen Weber

A Novel

Edited by
Edit Inc.

Copyright 1990 Owen Weber

This book may not be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the author.

Chapter 1

Friday, September 21st, 5:45 A.M.

    Martin and Janet Davis were awakened by the first of a series of alarms from the clock radio on Martin's side of the bed. Janet watched as Martin slowly became coherent enough to press the snooze button. He did so somewhat violently, as though expressing anger at the radio for disturbing his peaceful slumber, but Janet thought this was quite a comical routine. In ten minutes, the same alarm would startle him again, and again he'd respond by pressing the snooze button. Then in another five minutes, at 6:00 A.M. sharp, the second alarm would turn on the radio, and Jim would be awake enough to listen to the news and weather.
    This morning's forecast called for a beautiful sunny and clear day, and this seemed to provide the final encouragement for Martin to pry himself out of bed. After finishing his bathroom duties and dressing for work, he checked Rachel's room to make sure she was up. She was, as usual, already helping her mother prepare breakfast.
    Martin's next morning chore was to retrieve the paper, so he opened the front door and stepped outside.  When the weather was good, he liked to spend a few minutes in the front yard watching the sleepy town of Rochester, Texas prepare for another day. To Martin, Rochester was the ideal setting for raising a family. It wasn't too big, and Dallas was only a short drive away. The economy was good and largely dependent upon Softco, the software company where Martin as a software engineer.
    Rochester was a quiet town, but it was plenty busy for Martin and his family. It had a mall, a movie complex, and a bowling alley, and the Davis's were extensively involved with activities at their church.  There were several Tex-Mex restaurants, as well as what Martin believed to be some of the best Bar-B-Que places in Texas. As long as Softco kept making money, he'd be content to stay in Rochester, and maybe even retire there.
    It was still dark outside, but a nearby street lamp revealed the spot where the newspaper had been thrown.  He retrieved it and looked up at the dark sky, trying to determine if the weather forecast had been correct about clear skies today. It was difficult to tell, but he'd assume for now that it was accurate.
    Martin went back inside and joined his family at the breakfast table. The breakfast conversation was light, and mostly centered upon Rachel's anticipation of her big field trip to the Dallas zoo today. Rachel was excused to finish getting dressed, but Martin and Janet lingered at the table. They watched her until she disappeared into the hallway, and then looked at each other.
    "She's growing up fast," Janet said.
    "I know. I can't believe she's already in the third grade. I guess that means that we're getting older too."
    "Speak for yourself."
    Janet drank the last of her coffee and got up to start clearing the table, and Martin got up to help her.  Janet loaded the dishwasher and Martin wiped the table. As he cleaned, he couldn't help thinking how lucky he was to have such a great family. He cherished his lovely and caring wife and daughter. He had a good job too, although the money still seemed a little tight sometimes, but at least Janet didn't have to work outside the home.
    When the table was cleared, Martin poured himself another cup of coffee, unplugged the nearly-empty coffee pot, set his cup on the counter to let the coffee cool, and leaned against the wall, not yet ready to relinquish his thoughts of utopia.  He just stood and watched Janet load the dishwasher and then prepare lunch boxes for Rachel and him. Then he noticed it was getting lighter outside, and he decided to step out onto the patio.
    This was also a part of Martin's morning routine, and he always hoped to watch a peaceful sunrise before his hectic work day began. In fact, one of the primary reasons he'd liked this house so much when they bought it was the fact that the patio was on the east side of the house, perfect for viewing the sunrise. He opened the door to the patio, but was immediately disappointed. Although dawn was indeed breaking, the sun was hidden by a thick cloud bank in the east sky which was allowing only a hint of sunlight to escape past its well-defined border.
    Although he'd hoped for a pretty sunrise, Martin wasn't too surprised. The weather people weren't among his favorites, and he often commented on how frequently and widely their forecasts didn't coincide with reality. He had a theory that simply predicting tomorrow's weather as identical to today's would result in a forecast as accurate as that of the professionals.
    With no sunrise to witness, he went back inside and closed the door. To verify that the weather folks had missed another forecast, he asked for Janet's confirmation.
    "Honey, it wasn't supposed to rain today, was it?"
    "I don't think so. Oh, I wonder if Rachel needs to take some money for her field trip today.  Would you go ask her?"
    This broke Martin's brief fixation on the weather. Instead of reaching for his coffee, he decided it hadn't yet had time to cool, so he started walking toward the bedroom half of the house calling to his pride and joy.
    As he left the room, Janet placed the skillet into the sink as it filled with water. Then she glanced at the table and noticed that Martin had missed some crumbs when he cleaned it. She picked up the wet dishrag, started toward the table, and glanced out the window. Her attention was immediately drawn to the great cloud in the sky that seemed to be quickly engulfing the house.
    The wet dishrag fell to the linoleum floor with a loud slap. The crumbs stayed on the table, and Rachel didn't answer her father's call. The water kept running in the kitchen sink, slowly covering the dirty skillet. When it had filled one side of the double sink, it gracefully began flooding the other sink with a waterfall of soapy water. Below the sink was the garbage disposal, still full of undigested chunks of potato peelings and orange rinds left from last night's dinner. This caused the same effect as a beaver dam on a flowing stream, allowing the water to drain away, but at a slightly slower rate than it was spilling into the sink.
    Soon the second sink also began slowly filling with water. When it eventually reached the same level as the cabinet top, it spilled over the side and onto the floor. Nobody turned the water off, so it continued on its slow course across the kitchen floor, filling each square pattern in the linoleum, one at a time. When it reached the carpeted living room, its pace slowed even more as the carpet and pad began to sponge it up. It was making quite a mess, but, articulate as she was, this was no concern to Janet. In fact, the only thing that happened as expected was that Martin's coffee did cool down, but nobody drank it. It just set on the counter next to two full lunch boxes, ready to be carried to work and school.

Chapter 2

    The activity level throughout the Wheeler household was reaching its usual early morning crisis level, but Jim tried not to notice. As his wife Carol feverishly wiped the table one last time before leaving, he glanced over the top of his morning paper just in time to make eye contact with her, and he consequently absorbed one of those you-could-help-me-you-know looks. Jim knew she wasn't really upset though. In fact, she wasn't really expecting him to help. He supposed that she actually received more gratification in citing how little help she received than she would in receiving the assistance that would prove unworthy of her domestic standards.
    This was her third attempt at cleaning the table. Fourteen-year-old Ryan always got up first, and he'd blown through the kitchen about an hour earlier, leaving a trail of pop-tarts and granola bars on the kitchen floor, and a spilled puddle of milk on the table. Then he'd gone back for a shower before his sister had a chance to hoard the bathroom.
    Carol and twelve-year-old Katie had passed him on their way to their own breakfast ritual. Katie whipped up waffles (she toasted two Eggos) and Carol had her usual crunchy cereal with two-thirds of a banana. Jim didn't know why she always left that third which was still on the table when he arrived after his shower and shave, but he'd become so accustomed to his one-third of a banana, that now he thoroughly enjoyed it. It seemed to go well with his decaffeinated coffee in the morning, and, though he was watching his calories, a third-of-banana couldn't hurt much. However, he sometimes wondered if Carol left it there just to torment him, as a reminder that he needed to watch what he ate.
  Now Jim didn't really consider himself to be fat. In fact, he thought he'd managed to keep in relatively good shape for a businessman who would turn thirty-eight next month. He was five feet, ten inches tall with a medium frame, and weighed, oh, one-eighty-five or so, he hadn't actually checked in a few days. He knew it was good practice to weigh every day, but he was usually in too much of a hurry.
    Anyway, he couldn't be doing that badly. He had the national waist, size 36 (although Jim wouldn't admit how tight his pants were), and there were plenty of guys heavier than he was. Oh sure, if you go by the chart in his doctor's office, he could stand to lose ten or twenty pounds--thirty at the most, but everyone knew that those charts were completely unreasonable. He still felt healthy, and he felt reasonably good about himself.
    Like most everyone else these days, he was also watching his cholesterol, so the family had learned to stop the bacon-and-eggs thing years ago. He still liked the old-fashioned kind of breakfast though, even if all the health magazines discouraged that type of thing. At any rate, there was little chance of getting it around here in the mornings. So, he'd learned to be content with two cups of coffee and a third of a banana. He often thought how unfortunate it was that the breakfast period wasn't a family event, but at least it wasn't as though they didn't see each other at all.
    Jim led a happy and contented life. He often considered how lucky he was to have a happy family life.  He'd been heard to say that if a biography were ever to be written about his life, although it might be boring, it could be accurately completed without the use of the words "divorce,” "drugs,” "AIDS,” or "jail." Not many men could say that these days, and Jim was proud of it, although he knew that all of his various relationships with his family weren't perfect.
    The Wheelers had the morning routine down pat. Jim knew that any second now Carol would yell, "Kids, let's go," and the kids would respond with the usual reasons why they weren't quite ready.
    "I didn't have time to comb my hair."
    "Where's my lunch box?"
    "Have you seen my history book?"
    Jim knew them all well, and was somewhat dismayed that they lacked the creativity to come up with new lines more often than they did. Oh, well, Jim thought, Carol has control.
    Jim wasn't a male chauvinist, but he did like to think of himself as the patriarch of the family, and he'd grown accustomed to using the early morning time to his advantage. He considered it the only truly peaceful time of his day. After Carol left with the kids, he could count on five or ten minutes of absolutely quiet and peaceful freedom before he'd hear the carpool horn in front of the house. This morning, as usual, he was looking forward to that tranquil time alone with his newspaper and his favorite early morning TV news program.
    "Kids, let's go," Carol screamed just at the point when her mouth was closest to Jim's ear. She always did that, and Jim didn't think she realized how well her voice carried.
    Carol was quite efficient in getting the family going in the mornings. She taught history at the same junior high school where Ryan and Katie attended classes. This made it convenient for her to serve as their chauffeur on her way to her own job.
    Carol was a good teacher and she enjoyed the kids she taught, but Jim wasn't completely convinced that she wouldn't rather stay home, because she also enjoyed her role as a housewife. However, she felt like the family needed the financial contribution which her job provided, and she made the best of it.
    Jim had told her that they didn't need the extra money. After all, he made more than most other men he knew. He wanted her to do what she wanted to do, but, on the other hand, he wasn't sure they could make it without her salary.  He'd put it to paper, and it seemed like they were just barely getting by the way it was, despite a combined income approaching six figures. This was crazy, he thought. Why do we need $100,000 a year to live comfortably? Maybe it had something to do with their lifestyle, as manifested by their four-year-old, 3000 square foot, $200,000 house, not to mention their new swimming pool and spa which they had added last spring.
    Jim's thoughts suddenly returned to his family as they sounded their excuses for not being ready and then began their single-file procession to the garage.
    "Good-bye hon," Carol said, almost grudgingly, as she whisked by him and planted a quick kiss on his mouth.
    Next came Katie, "Good-bye daddy," and she kissed him on the cheek.
    "Bye Dad," Ryan said, without kissing him anywhere.
    "Good-bye," Jim responded to the hurried trio. "Have a good day at school."
    Within fifteen seconds Jim heard the back door closing, the automatic garage door going up, three doors slamming on their year-old minivan, the engine starting and fading into the street, and the garage door closing.

Chapter 3

    Jim ventured from his chair at the head of the breakfast table to his favorite recliner in the den. He located the remote control for the television which was hidden under the TV Guide, and he tapped the up volume button a couple of times.  The news had been on for twenty minutes, but Jim had learned to leave the volume low until the others left. This was his contribution to a more civil and family-oriented breakfast time. During breakfast, he quietly read the paper, but when Carol and the kids left, he always paid more attention to the TV news.
    This morning he wanted to hear the latest report on the recent terrorist activities in the Middle East.  He'd been following the story for a few days now, and he knew that he'd have to be well informed if he were to participate in the coffee break discussions at work today. This was a major topic for small talk these days, although today, being Friday, would no doubt yield more discussions about the upcoming weekend's football match-ups than on world peace. Nevertheless, as he'd learned in management school, a good manager must be up on current events.
    It seemed that the terrorist activity had been on the increase lately, ever since the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa. On Wednesday there had been another hijacking in the Mediterranean, and on Thursday so many groups had claimed responsibility for it that the truth was yet to be discerned. This morning's paper had indicated that they now knew who indeed was holding the hostages from the commercial airliner. Of perhaps more critical concern were the threats that this group was making about more immediate terrorist activities on a worldwide basis. Now he wanted to see if this morning's TV news could shed more light on this than his morning paper had.
    He flicked the channel changer until he found a reporter discussing the recent terrorism.
    "The standoff in a Tel Aviv bus depot continues this morning. The unidentified Arab terrorist group is threatening to begin killing hostages unless Israel releases fifty Arab prisoners by noon today."
    Jim thought, haven't we heard this too many times before? Well, at least this time they really did have the hostages, and the networks were now showing footage of them, released to the media by the terrorists. However, the reporter seemed to be more concerned with the possibility of additional terrorist sieges than with the hostage situation currently at hand.
    "Although the identity of the terrorists is still unknown, they are boasting of a widespread and well-organized reign of terror yet to come, of which this incident is only the first in a series of steps to secure a list of demands from Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other 'western pigs.' Furthermore, some unofficial sources at the CIA implied that there was indeed cause for concern that a well-organized plot was underway. Officials haven't ruled out the possibility that these terrorist groups might even be planning activities in the United States."
    Jim grimaced. Until now, all this madness had been isolated to the Middle East, but now things could get ugly.
    He thought that things had seemed to go downhill ever since Reagan left the White House.
    Jim tended to get excited over reports like these, but he'd learned through experience that they usually blew over in a few days. Oh, sure there were still American hostages somewhere between Iran and Libya from the incidents two years ago, but news of them surfaced only occasionally. This made people like Jim tend to forget about it. Besides, he didn't personally know any hostages. After all, there were bad things happening every day, but he couldn't get depressed over each incident. He felt it was his responsibility to protect himself and his family, and it was up to other husbands and fathers to do the same for their families.
    However, he sincerely hoped that terrorist strikes would not occur here. Now that would be a genuine concern. He was unaware of how his selfish feelings almost condoned the violence as long as he wasn't personally affected.  This particular story held his attention however, because of the feeling of the media and others that something bigger was being planned. He'd have to watch this very closely the next few days.

Chapter 4

    Jim's attention switched to the two familiar beeps of the horn on Karl's little German import. Jim would've preferred to just drive himself to work every day, but he felt like he was being a good corporate citizen by carpooling.
    In one smooth motion he hit the off button on the remote control with his right hand, lifted himself out of the recliner, and snatched up his nearby briefcase with his left hand. In three long strides he was out the front door, quickly locking it behind him.
    It had looked stormy just a few minutes earlier, but the threat had disappeared as quickly as it had come. It might be a nice day after all, and Jim suddenly felt sorry he wasn't on his way to the golf course. Oh, well, he was too busy anyway, and maybe he could play this weekend.
    Jim liked getting an early start on the day because the traffic was noticeably lighter before 7:30 A.M. He strolled briskly down the walk, opened the door on the little car that had already started rolling forward.
    "Mornin' Jimbo," said Karl Hennessey.
    What an outgoing fellow Karl was. Though he was much different from Jim, and occasionally became a pest, Jim had actually become quite fond of Karl. It seemed like Karl could make anyone feel good, even on a bad day, just by talking in a friendly way. He somehow made Jim feel important, like he really cared. Karl was a big man, and as he sat behind the small steering wheel in his tiny bucket seat, he reminded Jim of a sardine packed tightly into a flat gray can. At least I'm not that big, Jim thought.
    Seeming to be able to read Jim's mind as Jim quickly dropped into the seat and banged his head on the dome light, Karl said, "Yeah, but I get forty miles to the gallon." As usual, Karl followed his own joke with a belly laugh that caused the little import to bounce.
    "Hi, Karl," Jim said, "Ready for the weekend?"
    "You bet. How about those Raiders?" Karl asked in reference to Thursday night's specially televised NFL match-up.
    Having missed the game and neglected the sports page of his morning paper, Jim replied, "Who won?"
    He knew that Karl would be glad to tell all about it, as was the case for the next five minutes.
    By the time they reached the on-ramp to the freeway, Jim utilized a brief lull in Karl's play-by-play to change the direction of the conversation.
    "What's going on in the Middle East?" Jim asked.
    "It's sure enough getting sticky over there," Karl responded. "I'd really like to know who's behind it all. Probably those crazy Iraqis, or the Russians, or both. I don't trust any of them, even if the Cold War has supposedly ended. Just because the Berlin Wall came down is no reason to start trusting the Russians. I just hope all the terrorism stays confined to the other side of the world."
    "Yeah, that's what bothers me. I heard on the news this morning that the Arab's are promising more terrorism worldwide and--"
    "--They even claim to be directing some of it at us. They want us to think they've really got stuff organized, but I don't believe them. Those murderers aren't known for their organizational skills, unless someone's helping them, like the Russians."
    "I guess we'll just wait and see."
    "Yeah, but I just hope our intelligence is more up on things than the media."
    They continued their small talk concerning how much one can believe the media, with each of them expressing their hope that players like the President and the CIA officials would keep Americans out of all the trouble.
    As Karl exited the freeway and pulled into their parking lot, he seemed to be driving a little faster than usual. He'd spotted a much better-than-average parking place, and was racing toward it. Both men must have noticed the unusual availability of parking spaces, as they checked their watches simultaneously to see if they were earlier than usual. They weren't, but maybe a lot of people had started their weekend early. It wouldn't be that unusual for a Friday, especially with good golfing weather.
    With their usual methodology, they got out of the car, grabbed their briefcases, and headed for their respective buildings.
    "Want to leave right at 5:00 today?" Karl asked.
     "I wouldn't even mind leaving a little early." Jim thought that he'd like to watch the evening news reports on TV to see if there were any new developments on the terrorism scene. This seemed to be bothering him more than he would've expected. "Call me when you're ready to go," he added, as Karl walked away.
    "Okay, have a good day," Karl said, and he immediately started a new conversation with the nearest available commuter.

Chapter 5

    Bill McMann finished his orange juice and carried his glass and cereal bowl to the kitchen sink. He returned to the breakfast table, closed the cereal box, and quickly stashed it in the pantry. As he was closing the pantry door, the sugar bowl smashed to the floor and shattered into pieces, parts of it flying the entire length of the kitchen floor. Bill had been in too much of a hurry and inadvertently knocked the sugar bowl down when he stowed the cereal box, and now he had a mess to clean up.
    "It never pays to be in a hurry," Bill said out loud. That's what Maggie would've told me, he thought.
    "Now where did I put the broom?" Bill had started talking to himself quite frequently during the past few months.
    He glanced back inside the pantry, the logical residing place for the broom, but it wasn't there. He was quite aware of the broken glass scattered across the kitchen floor, so he twisted his body around without moving his bare feet. Spotting the broom in the crack between the refrigerator and the wall, he carefully crossed the kitchen on his tip toes and retrieved the broom.  Beginning at the refrigerator, he swept the kitchen floor, sloppily pushing most of the bits of broken glass toward the pantry where he'd use the dust pan to empty the mess into the trash can.
    As he cleaned up the glass, he thought of how typical it was to find himself in such a predicament. In the past year he had broken so many things around the house that he was surprised he still had enough dishes left to even serve himself a meal. He'd never been very good at menial tasks involving hand-eye coordination, and he was even less skilled at kitchen chores.
    When the floor was clear of broken glass, Bill retrieved the dishrag from the kitchen sink and wiped off the breakfast table and the kitchen counter tops. He'd seen Maggie clean up the kitchen thousands of times, but he'd never thought of how much work it actually was, or how much valuable time it consumed. He stood at the sink and washed the few kitchen dishes by hand. Oh, he could have used the dishwasher, but somehow there never seemed to be enough dishes around to fill it up. He'd thought of leaving them stacked up for a day or two until he had a full load, but Maggie never would've approved of such behavior. She had always been very articulate about how her kitchen looked, and Bill would not compromise her beautiful kitchen, despite his own sloppy domestic habits.
    Bill wished that Maggie were there. Not just to do the household chores, but to give him the companionship to which he'd become accustomed after thirty-seven years of marriage. He still could not believe it sometimes.  After a six-month fight with breast cancer, Maggie had died last October. Even though it had been almost a year now, Bill missed her every moment.
    He walked into the living room and unlocked the front door. As soon as he opened the door, he stretched his six-foot, one-inch frame to reach down and retrieve today's newspaper which was propped against the door. As he stooped, he felt the familiar pain of arthritis in his back. For his sixty-one years, he was actually quite trim and healthy, except for the arthritis, but he was even learning how to cope with it better. If he used his legs instead of his back, he managed much better. This morning, in his hurry to read the paper, he'd forgotten to stoop down with his legs, so now he'd pay the consequences with about five minutes of moderate pain in his back as he sat in his rocker and read the headlines.
    The lead story was on Middle East terrorism which usually aroused his interest. However, Bill had become somewhat bored with the dominance of international terrorism in the headlines lately, and this morning he wasn't in the mood to ponder the prospects of world peace, so he skipped to the metropolitan section. That's too bad, he thought. A young boy in the mid-cities had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. That wasn't supposed to happen anymore. His parents must be terribly distraught.
    Maggie hadn't been able to have children, and they had never tried to adopt. Oh, they had thought about it, but Bill's teaching and occasional travel had kept him very busy, as had Maggie's civil duties and volunteer work. Sometimes they barely had enough time together themselves, so they had considerately decided that they would not be parents. Maggie had thought that maybe God meant it that way since she was unable to conceive.
    Bill read a few more articles and then glanced at his watch. It was 7:00 A.M., time to go. He slipped on his socks and shoes and retrieved his overcoat from the back of a chair where he'd thrown it last night. He walked through the house, turned off the light in the kitchen, entered the garage, and pressed the button for the automatic garage door opener. He got into his two-year-old town car, backed out, closed the garage door, and began his brief eight-block jaunt to the seminary.
    Bill had been a professor at Independent Theological Seminary for more than thirty-five years. He liked his job too much to consider retirement. He felt like he was having a positive influence on the lives of his young students, though he didn't travel on the seminar circuit anymore. His job at the seminary was the focal point of his existence, especially since Maggie died.
    He had a particularly comfortable schedule this semester. He only taught three classes. Two were Church History courses, and the other one was a first-year preaching class. He was glad not to have any theology courses this year. He didn't know if this good fortune had been bestowed upon him by Dean Williams because of his seniority, or because the dean had felt sorry for him after Maggie died. Regardless, he enjoyed his classes and his students, his reputation was outstanding, and he made more than enough money.
    He pulled into his reserved parking spot, got out and headed toward his office, hesitantly at first, until the car horn confirmed the secure status of his car's alarm system. Within ten seconds he was inside the Administration Building, and in another ten he'd climbed the stairs to the second floor. When he reached the third door on the right, he unlocked it and went inside. He turned on the light in his office even though the sunlight was shining quite brightly through the window, illuminating his many diplomas on the far wall.
    Because of Bill's seniority, his office was quite large, as large as the Dean's, and Bill was quite comfortable here. Another perk which came with his seniority was the large oak desk in the center of his office, slightly larger than that of most other professors. Behind the desk was his cushioned, high-backed chair, molded by Bill's back over the years so that it now fit him perfectly. Maggie used to say that Bill was like Archie Bunker because he loved his chair so much.
    Two chairs set in front of the desk, and there were shelves of books on two walls. Near the far wall was a couch which Bill had occasionally used for short periods of rest, particularly between seminar trips. Without even sitting down, he opened his file drawer and retrieved his notes for today's classes. He was always early for his classes in case any of the students wanted to talk to him. He headed down the hall for his classroom, thinking how glad he was that today was Friday. He had no classes on Mondays, and he was looking forward to the three-day weekend, quite unaware of the tragedies it would reveal.

Chapter 6

    Jim's company, Softco, had built its impressive facility five years ago, and they always tried to be very modern in their building designs. This complex resembled a college campus, with eight low-rise buildings, none with more than five stories. It was a very nice environment, but Jim thought that they spent way too much money on it, both in construction and in maintenance costs. They even had a full-time grounds crew of more than thirty people just to insure that the vegetation was always seasonal. Jim would've preferred that they had just poured concrete around all the buildings, and used the savings to increase the employees' salaries.
    Jim pulled his company badge from his shirt pocket and stuck it into the badge reader beside the door to his building. He waited two seconds then heard a clicking noise as the LED on the badge reader showed its approval. He quickly turned the handle on the door, managing to open it before it automatically locked again. He repeated the process to enter a second set of doors, then he pushed the up arrow for the elevators. In about ten seconds, the bell above one of the three elevators rang, and its up arrow light came on. He stepped into the opening elevator doors and pressed the third floor button.
    Jim had stuck with the same software firm for sixteen years, through the good times and the bad. For the first fourteen years he'd remained strictly technical, but two years ago he'd finally succumbed to the pressure (or "opportunity,” as his superiors had put it) of taking an IMS management position. He felt like he was a pretty good manager, and his people liked him, although he wasn't sure he had all the people skills required for the job. The money was good though, and it never hurts to have management experience on your resume, but there were more headaches too.
    When the elevator door opened on the third floor, Jim's feet seemed to automatically lead him on the familiar path down the outside hallway. He stopped at the office bearing the nameplate reading "J. E. Wheeler" and opened the closed door to his office.
    When he entered the office, he began his familiar opening-up routine. He hung his overcoat on the hangar behind the door, then he stowed his briefcase under his desk.  He flipped the power switch on his PC, then the one on his monitor, and finally, the one on his office printer.
    While the PC was powering up, he retrieved his key chain from his pants pocket, unlocked the top drawer of his desk, and returned his key chain to his pocket. Then he opened the drawer he'd just unlocked, and retrieved two more keys from the paper clip holder setting at the front edge of the drawer. He used one of the keys to unlock his side desk drawer, and the other to open his credenza, then he returned both keys to their holding place. Jim thought that the company worried too much about security.
    Just then, his PC beeped, signaling him that it had completed the power-up process and was ready for him to logon. He sat down in his office chair, lined himself up with the keyboard, and typed in his password. Within thirty seconds, his office window was displayed on the monitor, showing various icons which would have looked foreign to the untrained user. With his right hand, he took hold of the electronic mouse just to the right of the keyboard, and pushed it gently across the terminal table, forcing the screen pointer to line up on top of the calendar icon. He double-clicked the first button on the mouse, and his daily calendar was displayed. Across the top was today's date, September 17, and the rest of the screen showed all his appointments for the day. He groaned as he remembered that today would primarily be a day of meetings. He had to make a presentation to his boss's boss at 8:30, he had a status meeting with his own boss at 11:00, and several short individual status meetings with some of his subordinates all afternoon.
    He glanced at his watch and it was already 8:20. He spun around in his chair and began gathering the necessary materials for his 8:30 meeting.
    Although he'd rather have had more time to himself today, he gutted up and attended all his meetings with a smile on his face. He spent his "spare" time answering questions, chasing problems, and asking questions, as usual--all the things a good manager does so well. Occasionally he'd taken a minute or two to think about the terrorist incidents, which still captivated his curiosity and innermost attention, but he had too much else to do to give this the serious thought he would've liked. He wasn't sure why his mind wanted to dwell on world peace all of a sudden. He hoped it wasn't a bad omen of things to come.
    His day had been a fairly predictable one until about 4:30. As he was cleaning up and contemplating leaving as quickly as possible, Maria Jameson, one of Jim's people, knocked on his open door and said, "Jim, have you seen Martin?"
    Martin Davis was another of Jim's employees, and realizing that he'd not seen Martin all day, Jim said, "No, I haven't. He's not in his office?"
    "No," Maria answered, "Maybe he left early. Oh well, it can wait until Monday."
    "Okay, Maria," Jim replied. "Have a nice weekend."
    As Jim continued locking up, he contemplated why Martin may not have come in today. He hadn't let Jim know of any plans to take the day off, and he hadn't called in sick. Jim hoped that nothing was wrong. His day had been so busy that he hadn't taken the time to visit all his employees as he liked to do, and he hadn't even missed Martin. He quickly spun his Rolodex to the "D"s and dialed Martin's home number but there was no answer.  Oh well, he thought, the company's policy was to allow one day's absence without advance notice.
    If he wasn't in by Monday morning, Jim would have to get more involved. Jim called Karl, and was glad to hear that he was ready to leave early also. Jim locked up, and on his way to the elevator he passed Martin's darkened office. It suddenly occurred to him that the office had indeed been dark earlier in the day as well, but Jim had been too busy to take note of it.
    Right now, though, he was ready for the weekend, and he'd learned a long time ago not to take his work home with him, so he proceeded to meet Karl at the car. The ride home was fairly uneventful, except for the usual eagerness Karl expressed for the upcoming football games on Sunday afternoon. Jim visited quietly and politely as usual, but he was anxious to get home and watch the news. He was still surprised at how many times today he'd caught himself speculating about world terrorism.
    Karl dropped him off, and Jim went right from the front door to the den, without even loosening his tie. He sat down, pressed the on button on the remote control, and was pleased to see that he was just in time for the network news, and he watched and listened.
    "Our top story tonight centers on widespread terrorist activities," the anchorman began, as Jim thought that his voice seemed even more solemn than usual.
    "An unofficial spokesperson for the CIA today reported the apparent kidnaping of several top government officials from various countries around the world, including at least one from the United States. Senator Walter Hanson, a Republican from Texas, and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, didn't show up for a special meeting with the President today. His aides are unsure of his whereabouts, and it's feared that he's been kidnaped. Shortly after this report first aired at about 1:00 PM eastern time today, members of the feared Arab Nationalists of the World (ANW) terrorist group claimed responsibility for Senator Hanson's kidnaping, and they promise to release video tapes to verify their claim within 72 hours. The demands of the ANW haven't yet been stated.
    "Yeos Kristos, self-proclaimed leader of the ANW was reported to say, 'The Day of the Lord will descend upon all western nations, especially the United States.'
    "In a possibly related story, General Lewis Jordan, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been strangely unavailable for comment. However, at this hour, due to unusual difficulties in contacting either his aides or family members, it hasn't been determined whether or not General Jordan is presumed missing."
    Jim's mouth dropped open. Had it started? Were there terrorists on our homeland now?  Were bombs going to start exploding in American airports and shopping malls? Kristos' threat reminded him of Saddam Hussein's reference to the coming Gulf War as "the mother of all wars," but he felt that this was much more significant.
    Just as the fear gripped him, and he suddenly felt an intense need to uphold his commitment as protector of his family, Jim heard the garage door going up. He jumped up and greeted Carol and the kids. Jim quickly briefed Carol on the top news story, keeping one ear tuned to the TV. It was Carol's custom in these instances to respond with a calming effect on Jim.
    "Now honey, don't get too worked up about the news. You know you always act impulsively over things like this. It'll probably all be explained in a couple of days, and we'll have forgotten about it within a week. Remember how sure you were that the demonstrations for democracy in China were going to lead to World War III?"
    Jim knew that Carol was probably right.  She usually was. However, he promised himself that he'd follow this news closely to its conclusion over the next few days.
    The family decided to eat out and see a movie. By the time they got back, it was 11:30, and they were all ready for bed. Jim wondered whether Carol's insistence upon stopping for ice cream had anything to do with insuring that they didn't get home in time for the news.
    Jim slept fairly well, but wasn't ready to get up when Carol brought him a cup of coffee and reminded him about today's soccer games. Katie played at eleven and Ryan played at three. Though he didn't feel like going, he acted out his role as the caring father by attending both games, as well as cheering enthusiastically for each of his children's teams. Both games turned out to be losing efforts for the Wheeler kids, but they both took it well. Jim lacked exceptional athletic ability, and consequently, he also lacked the usual interest in sports that so many men shared, like Karl. Jim was more interested in the training of his kids' minds than their bodies.
    Through the whole day, sports and all, he still couldn't get the terrorist news out of his mind. On the way home, Jim caught a special report on the all-news station in his car.
    "More people have been reported missing, and the authorities cannot dismiss the possibility of thousands of people being missing worldwide."
    As soon as Jim got home, he caught the end of the evening news on television for a few more details.
    "Senator Hanson is still unaccounted for, and new missing person reports are still being reported locally."
    Jim tried to take some consolation in what seemed to be less excitement in the anchorman's voice since Friday evening.

Chapter 7

    Bill awoke early Saturday morning and discovered that he'd slept in the living room again. He washed his face, put on a pot of coffee, and walked outside to get the Saturday paper. While the coffee brewed, he spread the newspaper across the kitchen table, and read the headlines.
    "Senator and Others Feared Kidnaped."
    Below the headline were two pictures, and Bill was struck with terror as he immediately recognized the first one. It was Senator Walter Hanson. Bill had met the Senator at a fund raiser, and they had hit it off pretty well. Both men liked to talk about theological things, and they had visited several times by phone.
    The other picture was that of General Lewis Jordan. Bill immediately read the story which had been on TV since Friday night.
    "Senator Hanson disappeared at 7:00 Friday morning, and the logical explanation is a terrorist kidnaping.  General Jordan is missing too, and so are a number of other people around the world. Authorities say hundreds, maybe thousands, are missing."
    What was happening? Bill was seized with a sense of urgent responsibility, although he couldn't explain why. He wasn't that close to Senator Hanson, but he still wanted to help. He immediately tried calling the Senator's office in Washington, but all he could get was a busy signal. How big was this problem? Were there other people missing that he knew?
    Bill decided to drink a cup of coffee and try to regain control of his senses. Once in control, he still felt as if he had to do something. He had to find out what was going on. The first thing he'd do would be to call several of his associates just to see if anyone else was missing. He'd start with his colleagues at the seminary. Wait a minute.  All his phone numbers were in his office. This would be easier to do at the office. He immediately unplugged the coffee pot, put on his shoes, retrieved his briefcase, and drove to his office.
    Once there, he began calling everyone he could think of who might be able to shed some light on this thing.  He was calm though, not always letting on why he was calling. He spent hours on the phone but came up with nothing. Nobody else he knew seemed to be missing. After being on the phone all day long, he felt weary. He pulled a couple of books from his bookshelf and decided to rest a while. What better way to relax than to lie down on the couch and read for a few minutes.

Chapter 8

    Jim didn't sleep quite as well Saturday night as he had the previous night. He woke up early and was reading the Sunday paper when the rest of his family came into the kitchen for breakfast. He wanted to kick around the subject of world terrorism, but he knew that Carol wouldn't approve of getting the kids worried over nothing. Besides they had to eat fast to get to church on time.
    After breakfast, Jim set the VCR to record the Sunday morning news show, "New News." Though it seemed like a lot of trouble to get the whole family ready, Jim rather enjoyed the Sunday morning church service. Many of his business associates attended his church, and it was a good place to meet new people. Not that he necessarily used church as a source of business contacts, but it was somehow comforting for him to see his business associates in a church environment. Maybe they weren't all cutthroats after all.  Jim considered himself to be a fairly religious man--as much as the next guy. He'd attended church fairly regularly ever since the kids were born, and he was always willing to help out with special church activities.
    The Wheelers were early, for once, and Jim briefly greeted the pastor before the service. Reverend Gary Loomis was an energetic 46-year-old preacher, although not the most people-oriented person in the world. Jim wasn't as crazy about Reverend Loomis as some were, but he felt like he often offered some interesting insights in his sermons. Jim sometimes wondered if Reverend Loomis was just trying to work his way up the corporate/spiritual ladder.
   Jim sat down with his family in the huge auditorium, and they all participated as the singing started, although unenthusiastically. He eyed the crowd for familiar and unfamiliar faces as Reverend Loomis began his sermon. This morning he was preaching from one of those little books in the back of the New Testament--one that starts with "T"--Timothy or Titus or something. Say, wasn't that Bill Jacobs over there, Jim thought. I need to talk to him after the service.  Glancing back at the preacher, Jim acted like he was genuinely interested in what Rev. Loomis was saying--something about being caught up with someone in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Jim hoped that he got to Bill Jacobs before he had a chance to talk to Mike Jones about his new software package.
    After only a little more daydreaming, the sermon was over, and the Wheeler's went out for pizza before returning home, where the kids got on the telephones and the adults took their Sunday afternoon naps.

Chapter 9

    Bill awoke early again Sunday morning. He hadn't slept well, perhaps because the couch in his office wasn't a sleeper. He'd inadvertently read himself to sleep Saturday night, and now he'd have to hurry to make it to church on time. He went to the public restroom in the Administration Building, washed his face, shaved with the old razor he kept in his desk drawer, and tried to make himself look as presentable as possible before driving to church.
    Bill enjoyed his Sunday school class. Although obviously qualified to teach it, he preferred simply taking part in the discussion with the other seniors. Some were married, and some were widows and widowers like him, and he was comfortable here. Besides, he didn't have the extra ten to twenty hours per week to prepare the lesson if he were the teacher.
    This morning, however, he couldn't get Senator Hanson off his mind. He had to find out what was happening.  Suddenly he thought of Jack Danfield. He was an old friend of Bill's, or perhaps more accurately, an old adversary. Oh, they weren't hostile with each other, but they did share quite different views theologically concerning how the Bible should be interpreted. Dr. Danfield was the pastor of Grace Memorial Church down the street, and the two doctors had originally met about ten years ago when both were asked to present their views in a debate on a radio program. They had stayed in loose contact ever since. They enjoyed each other, even though their views were so different.
    Without understanding why, thinking of Dr. Danfield relative to Senator Hanson seemed to bear some particular significance. Bill couldn't pay attention during his whole Sunday school class. When the class was over, Bill blindly followed an impulse, and drove down to Grace Memorial.
    What's this? He'd planned on parking in the street rather than in the cramped church parking lot, but when he arrived, he pulled into the lot and stopped his car right in front of the front door of the church.  His was the only car there. He quickly got out and tried the door. It was locked. Locked? It's 11:00 A.M. on Sunday morning. Dr. Danfield had held services here every Sunday for thirty years. Maybe they moved. No, Dr. Danfield loved this location, and moving would be too costly. Besides, Bill had seen no sign of moving here lately.
    He circled the whole church, trying every door. Nobody was here. What was going on? Was a whole church  missing?
    Glancing at his watch, he realized that the worship service was probably already starting at his own church.  He got into his car and drove back to church.  Before entering the auditorium, he tried Dr. Danfield's church and home phone numbers from the phone in the corridor, but there were no answers. Where was everyone?
    After church, Bill drove back to his office at the seminary. After contemplating for an hour as to what he should do, he finally went home and called the police. They seemed less than concerned that a church was locked, and implied that they had better things to do, such as investigating some real missing person's reports. Bill quietly agreed that he had little evidence so far.
    Still, he had to do something. He would call Steve Jones. He and Steve were friends from way back, and Steve was a detective on the police force.
    Bill retrieved Steve's business card from his wallet and dialed Steve's private line.
    "Rochester P.D. Jones."
    "Steve, Bill McMann. Have you got a minute?"
    "Sure, but only a minute. Shoot."
    "I know you're busy with all these disappearances, but I'm concerned about a friend of mine.  Jack Danfield is the pastor of Grace Memorial Church, and there wasn't a single person at his church this morning."
    "Well, I am very busy, but you've roused my curiosity. I'll tell you what. I can't check on it right now, but I'll send a man down there later today, and I'll call you first thing in the morning."
    "That would be great. Sorry to bother you."
    "No problem. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
    Bill was about to tell him goodbye, but when he heard the phone click, he simply hung up as well.
    Meanwhile, as evening approached, Bill found an old paper written by Jack Danfield. He kicked off his shoes, lay down on the couch and began to study it.

Chapter 10

    Jim didn't awaken from his nap until 5:00, and he went to the den to finish reading the paper and watch the "New News" broadcast that he'd recorded. The commentator wasted no time in getting to his topic of the day, international terrorism. It seemed that there were more people missing now, people from all over the world. The latest reports showed that there may be hundreds of Americans missing, and maybe a considerable number of Russians. However, none of the Russian leaders were among those missing, as was the case with the two American dignitaries. Was Russia the object of the terrorism as well, Jim thought, or was this the Russian way of tricking the imperialists? After all, Russia has been known to dispose of some of its own people for lesser reasons than this.
    Jim listened as the commentator added a possible new angle to the story in his editorial.
    "What about these missing people? Indeed, some may have been kidnaped as the ANW claims, but who were the kidnappers? We've been assuming that all of these missing people are possible kidnap victims, but is it possible that some of the people who are missing are among the kidnappers? What better way for a terrorist organization to pull off such a caper than to infiltrate our ranks from the inside. There is some evidence to suggest that it has been the plan of the ANW for several years to plant spies into our society, so that they would seem like some of us. Then at the right time, they could make their move."
    Jim wondered, could any of this be true, or was this commentator just as paranoid as he was?
    Just then Carol came into the den, and Jim quickly pressed the stop button on the VCR, and pretended to be watching the sports channel, so as not to give her the impression that he was taking all this too seriously. He could tell it hadn't worked though, when she said, "Any new news about those disappearances?"
    "Not really," Jim answered. "Now they're hypothesizing about some of the missing people having kidnaped some of the other missing people. What a mess."
    To appease Carol, and to test her reaction, he added, "It'll probably all blow over in the next day or two."
    "I hope so," Carol replied. "But I guess it doesn't hurt to stay well informed," she said, in order to add her contribution to his gesture of domestic tranquility.
    The family spent the evening watching a TV movie, then they all decided to turn in early to get plenty of rest for the new week. As Jim was brushing his teeth, he turned on the TV in the master bedroom and caught the last part of the lead story on the news. A reporter was covering the private life of General Jordan, trying to uncover some clues that might help find out what had happened to him. She ended the report by saying, ". . . Regardless, the prayers of millions of Americans are with General Jordan tonight, especially since he is known to be a deeply religious man."
    Jim rinsed, turned off the TV, and got into bed. The words of the reporter dwelt in his thoughts. He slept restlessly all night, waking more than once thinking about General Jordan being a deeply religious man. It was too bad, he thought, that this had to happen to him.

Chapter 11

    Before they knew it, the various clock radios in the Wheeler household were waking everyone to an assortment of alarms and radio stations. Having not slept soundly, Jim had slapped the snooze alarm one time too many, and found himself in a mad dash without time for either coffee or the morning paper. It was his day to drive the carpool, and he didn't want Karl to have to wait on him. On the way out the door, he tossed today's paper into his briefcase. Within two minutes he was pulling up to Karl's front sidewalk as Karl emerged from the front door of his house.
    "Hi Jim," Karl said, in a tone much more solemn than usual.
    "Good morning. How was your weekend?"
    "Lost fifty bucks on the Cowboys game. I think I'll quit watching football."
    This didn't sound like Karl, but Jim had seen him like this before. He'd learned that the best way to respond to Karl's sulking was to remain quiet. Karl would probably feel a lot better on the way home tonight, although Jim didn't believe that all of his gloominess was brought on by a poor showing by the Cowboys. Consequently, both men remained quiet for the rest of their commute, each being consumed in his own private thoughts.
    Jim found a better-than-usual parking place, and the two men parted and agreed to leave around 5:00. Jim headed for his office, making only the necessary stops at the badge readers. When he reached his office, he hung his overcoat behind the door as usual, opened his briefcase, removed a handful of folders which hadn't been touched since he put them there Friday afternoon, closed his briefcase, and stowed it under his desk. Next he turned on his PC, then the monitor, then the printer. As he waited for the PC to power up, he unlocked his desk drawers and credenza. Then his PC beeped, and he sat down and typed in his password.
    When the office program displayed his office window, he immediately noticed a red check mark beside the in-basket icon, indicating that he had some important mail waiting for him in his electronic in-basket. Instead of checking his calendar first, as he usually did, he pressed the right arrow and down arrow keys on his keyboard until the in-basket icon was highlighted. Then, when he pressed the enter key, a list of all his in-basket items was displayed, and he began examining the list.
    Of the seven items listed, the first one was highlighted with a red star, denoting that it required immediate attention. This wasn't so unusual, but it also had the word "URGENT" in capital letters after it. He'd seen the red star often enough, but he'd never seen a memo so important that it deserved this much special designation. Someone really wanted to be sure that he read this one immediately. This was, no doubt, the reason for the red marker on the previous screen. This looks critical, Jim thought, and he pressed the down arrow on his keyboard until the cursor moved to a position just in front of that first mail item. He pressed the appropriate key to open the item. Within two seconds Jim was reading the memo addressed to "All Managers":
    "Due to slightly unusual personnel activity since last Friday, we are asking all managers to report the names of any employees whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for as of 9:00 A.M. today. Please have your reports turned in to the Personnel Department by 10:00 A.M."
    Oh, no, Jim thought. A million questions raced through his mind. This couldn't have anything to do with the news reports of terrorism and missing persons, could it? There couldn't be people in this facility who have been abducted, could there? Could there actually be people here who were mixed up with the politics of the world to the extent that they were the objects of terrorist plots? Worse yet, could the news commentator be right in supposing that some of those missing were actually the kidnappers? Could terrorists have infiltrated us so cleverly? Could this really happen?
    Suddenly, his management disposition returned, and he told himself to think this thing through. He checked the date and time on the memo. It had today's date, September 24th, and it had been sent about an hour earlier. His bosses must have been in early this morning, and this must be pretty important. Before he got too excited though, he decided that he should wait and see if there really were employees unaccounted for.
    Then, just as suddenly, he went into panic mode again. What about Martin? He pushed himself away from the terminal table. As he darted out the door he almost caused a nasty collision with Sarah Hensley.
    "Slow down," Sarah exclaimed, only half-jokingly.
    Jim was bad about running into people around corners.
    "Oh, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I was on my way to count my people. Have you read your mail this morning?"
    Sarah was another manager in Jim's organization, and she'd received the same note from personnel. "Yes," she replied, "What's going on?"
    "I have no idea," Jim said, "but Martin Davis didn't show up Friday, and I'm on my way to see if he's in this morning. Do you have anyone missing?"
    "I don't know. I was on vacation Friday."
    "Well, would you like to check all the offices together?"
    "Sure, I'd sure like to know what's going on."

Chapter 12

     The two managers began walking side-by-side toward their employees' offices. Sarah, being newer to management than Jim, seemed to be slightly unsure of this particular situation. She was glad that Jim was willing to do this together.
    They turned down the first hallway to check Jim's department first, since it was the closest. They moved from office to office with cordial greetings to all of Jim's employees. Jim had twelve people, and they were all present and accounted for, until they came to Martin's office. It was still dark. Jim turned on the light, and they both walked into the office.
    They walked around in tiny circles, as though they were looking for some kind of clue. There wasn't much to see. Martin was tidy, and he hated a messy desk. In fact, there was nothing on the desk except a pencil holder. The only other things visible in the whole office that weren't nailed down were a picture of Martin's family, and a Bible, both setting on the credenza. There was nothing unusual here, Jim thought. Most employees didn't keep Bibles on their desks, but Jim knew that this was Martin's habit. Not a bad one either, Jim thought, since most people respect the Bible. He'd even entertained the thought of displaying one in his own office, but he'd decided that it might offend some of his other employees.
    "Well, he's definitely not here," Jim said, "But it's not quite 9:00. Let's go check your people, and I'll stop back by here after nine to see if he's in yet." Sarah seemed agreeable, and she led Jim to her hallway.
    As they entered the hallway, Jim did a quick visual check down the hall, and noticed that all the lights were on. This probably meant that Sarah didn't have anyone missing. Jim didn't know whether this was good or bad, but he was really hoping that he wasn't the only manager on-site who had a person missing.
    They just walked slowly to the end of the hall, as Sarah mentally counted her employees. Nine out of ten were there. Only Bill Washington wasn't in his office, but it did look like he was in today. To verify this, Jim and Sarah went to Tina Baker's office, just across from Bill's.
    Sarah looked at Tina, and asked, "Is Bill in today?"
    "I haven't seen him yet, but his light is on. In fact, I haven't seen you or Bill since Thursday or so. Were you both off on Friday?"
    "I was, but Bill should have been here," Sarah said. This wasn't sounding too good, Jim thought.  He and Sarah walked across the hall to investigate. Bill's light was on all right, but the first thing both managers noticed in his office was a bright red sheet of paper laying on his desk with the words "SECURITY VIOLATION" across the top. Jim and Sarah knew what that meant. Bill had left some confidential material out after normal working hours, and the security officers had found it during a routine check. All the managers prided themselves on the security of their people, and this violation embarrassed Sarah.
    "What's the date on it?" Jim asked, as Sarah examined the slip of paper.
    "Monday, September 20th."
    "This morning, 6:30 A.M."
    The early morning hours were when the security officers usually made their sweeps, looking for such offenses.  They had a better chance of catching security violations before people started arriving for work.
    "That's not like Bill," Sarah said, disappointedly.
    “Why would Bill have come in over the weekend and left this stuff out?" she asked out loud.
    Trying to piece things together, Jim said, "Maybe he didn't. He could have come in early and just stepped out for coffee. The security violation could really just be a mistake." He was trying to make Sarah feel better. With a forced smile, he added, "Let's talk to Tina again."
    They went back to Tina's office, and Jim said, "Tina, did you say you didn't see Bill on Friday?"
    "That's right. Let's see, the last time I saw him was when I left work Thursday evening. But when I got here Friday morning, his office was lit up, so I thought he was here. I didn't think anything of it because he's in early almost every day. Is something wrong?"
    "Probably not," Sarah reassured her. "We just need to talk to him. Thanks a lot."
    Jim and Sarah returned to Bill's office to investigate more closely. It looked like any office any day of the week. Papers were on the desk, and the desk was unlocked. It did look like Bill had just stepped out for coffee. Jim checked on top of the credenza and noticed a calendar, a picture of a woman, whom Jim supposed to be Bill's wife, and a Bible. That's odd, he thought. A Bible? That was just like Martin's office. What did it mean?
    Just then Sarah noticed the blankness on Jim's face. "What's the matter, Jim?" she asked.
    "Oh, nothing," Jim said, regaining his senses. "I was just thinking. It's after nine. I need to get back and check Martin's office again. I guess you need to see if anyone else has seen Bill. Otherwise, we've got two reports to fill out."
    "Well, who do we send them to?" Sarah asked.
    Jim answered her as he walked out the door, "Send them back to personnel, I think. It's in the memo. Let's keep in touch on this thing, Sarah."
    Jim rushed back to Martin's office and found nothing different from before. He leaned against the office door and stared at the open Bible on Martin's credenza. Jim's mind began churning with questions. Could this all have something to do with the missing persons? Or terrorism? Surely not. Martin would be the last person to be involved in anything like that. But, could these Bibles be a sign of a common denominator? Probably not, but what about General Jordan?  He was supposed to be a deeply religious man too. Could there be some kind of spiritual or biblical connection to this terrorist thing? That made more sense than suspecting Martin of terrorist involvement, even as a selected victim.
    Then Jim thought, why was this happening to him? Didn't he have enough paperwork? Jim returned to his office and prepared the report for personnel, listing Martin as the only missing person in his department. Before he sent the report, he called Martin's house one more time but, as expected, there was no answer. He pressed the key on his terminal to send the electronic message. Then he sat back in his chair and gazed out his window.

Chapter 13

    Jim felt fortunate that he had enough seniority with the company to have earned an office with an outside window. He had a beautiful view of the park from his third-story office, and he'd done some of his best thinking right here.  Now he was thinking about Martin, about world terrorism, and about the Bible. What could the Bible have to do with world terrorism? Are you kidding? The whole Middle East controversy has been the product of a bunch of maniacal religious fanatics for centuries. But what could that have to do with Martin? And why hadn't the media figured this out? Well, Jim had very little respect for the media. He thought they only printed what a few powerful individuals wanted them to print.  Still, Jim suddenly felt like an investigative reporter himself. He wondered how many more managers were going to report missing persons.
    That thought suddenly reminded him how easy it had been to find a good parking spot that morning. And hadn't Karl had the same experience last Friday? Were there so many people missing that you could tell it from the parking spaces?  Maybe this thing was bigger than anyone imagined. He just had to figure it out.
    Jim stood up and closed his office door, then he sat back down to further ponder the situation. He'd learned in management school that when confronted with a difficult situation, the best approach is to thoroughly think it through. He took a blank pad from his desk drawer and began to doodle. Okay, he thought, you can figure this out. What are the circumstances? Under his doodles, and on the left side of the page, he wrote "Missing,” and he proceeded to list everyone he knew was missing: Senator Hanson, General Jordan, Martin Davis, and Bill Washington. Then he put a big plus-sign below Bill's name, to remind him that there may be hundreds or thousands of others missing as well, but these four were the only ones he could name.
    Next he wrote the word "Political" at the top of the page. What possible political connection could there be between these four people. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't convince himself that Martin was involved with any political plot. He'd known Martin for more than five years, and he was well respected as a fine upstanding Christian man in the community. Who would want to kidnap Martin? Furthermore, he was sure that Martin wasn't a terrorist. No, it was just not possible that his whole life was committed to world terrorism, or that he was involved in anything that would make him the object of a terrorist plot.
    Jim scratched through "Political,” and wrote "Economic." He knew that Senator Hanson was a wealthy Texas oil millionaire, and General Jordan probably wasn't doing too badly for himself. But, again, Martin and Bill weren't a part of any elite social class. Jim had been in Martin's house one time when he needed a ride to work. Martin's lifestyle certainly didn't seem to indicate any degree of wealth. In fact, Jim's house was much larger, nicer, and newer than Martin's. This was enough to convince Jim to scratch through "Economic."
    Then Jim wrote "Spiritual" for lack of a better word to indicate some sort of religious phenomenon.  General Jordan was known as a religious man, but he wasn't sure about the Senator. All he knew about Bill was that he had an open Bible on his credenza, just like Martin, whom Jim knew was a devoted Christian. He wasn't pushy about it, but you couldn't talk to him very long without his making some sort of religious or Biblical analogy. So, of the four missing persons, at least three of them were at least fairly religious, and the one whom Jim knew well was deeply involved in religion and church activities.
    Unable to think of any more likely categories to tie these four individuals together, he rocked back in his chair, buried deep in thought. What could have happened to these guys--from a Biblical perspective? He thought back to his own most recent religious activity, the Sunday morning sermon. He tried to remember that verse the pastor had worked in between Jim's daydreams. It was something about being taken away to be with the Lord. Could that be relevant? But what exactly was the pastor talking about? Was it death? What about their families? Wouldn't someone have checked on them by now? Jim supposed maybe that was part of the reason for the company reports this morning, to get the authorities involved if necessary. But Jim seemed to remember other sermons talking about people being taken away, maybe even mysteriously. What was he thinking? Did he really think that people could just vanish into some sort of spiritual vapor? Sure, he'd heard sermons like that, but now he was sounding like a TV evangelist. Still, his curiosity (or, Carol would say, "compulsion") had the best of him, and this was enough to follow-up on.
    He reached to his Rolodex and spun it to the L's. As soon as he found his pastor's number, he dialed it, not knowing what he was going to say. However, he was surprised by a recording.
    "Thank you for calling Meadowlake Memorial Church. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time. For a directory, press one. For--"
    Jim was somewhat annoyed at not being greeted by a live human being when he called his church, but he quickly pressed one.
    The new recording said, "Please enter the last three letters of the party's last name. For 'Q' and 'Z', use--"
    Still annoyed, but accustomed to the routine, Jim quickly pressed 'L', 'O', 'O', for Loomis.
    Yet another recorded message said, "Thank you for calling Reverend Loomis's office. To leave a phone mail message, press one. To speak to Reverend Loomis's assistant, press two."
    Jim thought about just hanging up and abandoning this idea, then he decided to press two, just to test whether or not it was possible to speak to a live human being.
    A petite voice said, "It's a great day at Meadowlake Memorial Church. May I help you?"
    Hesitating again, and then assuming this was a live person, Jim said, "Oh--yes. This is Jim Wheeler. Is Reverend Loomis available?"
    "I'm sorry, but Reverend Loomis takes calls between 2:00 and 4:00 PM. May I ask what this is concerning?" the pastoral assistant asked.
    Jim said, "I just have some theological questions to discuss, but I guess I'll just call back later."
    The assistant said, "Please hold."
    Then Jim heard some sort of music while he waited. He wasn't sure whether it was classical or religious, but he assumed it was a Christian radio station.
    The assistant came back on the line, "Checking Reverend Loomis's calendar, you can call back this afternoon after 3:00 PM, or, if you prefer, he just had a cancellation, so he's available for lunch today."
    "That sounds good." Jim replied. "Where at?"
    "How about 11:30 at Juanita's Restaurant on Broadway?"
    "That would be great. Okay, I'll be there." Jim said.
    Jim hung up, a little perturbed at the hoops through which he had to jump just to talk to his own pastor.  Checking his watch, it was already close to 10:00, and he had a lot to do before leaving in about an hour. He read through the rest of his mail, and the next time he checked his watch it was already 11:00. He jumped up, and walked hurriedly to Penny Truman's office. Penny was Jim's immediate manager, and they had always worked well together.
    Quickly poking his head into Penny's office, he said, "Penny, I'm going off-site for lunch today. I should be back about 1:00."
    "No problem, Jim. You couldn't locate Martin, eh?" Penny asked. "No. I'd sure like to know what's going on. How many are missing?"
    "Just two from my group, Martin and Bill Washington. It'll be interesting to see how many are missing from the whole site."
    Already starting down the hall, Jim looked back and said, "Yeah, let me know if you hear anything this afternoon."
    Jim liked getting out at noon anyway. It made it seem like he had more freedom. He quickly ran down the stairs and headed for the parking lot. As he drove away, all sorts of questions ran through his head. He hoped that he'd be able to communicate with Reverend Loomis. He was a good guy, but sometimes hard to talk to.

Chapter 14

    When Bill awoke Monday morning, his back was stiff from having slept on the couch in his office for the second night in a row. He quickly realized that he'd again fallen asleep while reading the night before. This time he'd been reading Dr. Danfield's paper on the end times. He must have read it through six times. In fact, he could not have slept more than two or three hours, because he remembered checking his watch after 4:00. He suddenly realized how hungry he was, having neglected all three meals on Sunday. He hurried down the hall and quickly gorged on vending machine entrees and a Diet Coke. He also bought a morning paper, and when he returned to his office, he sat down in his chair to read it, greatly relieved that he had no classes on Monday.
    Bill was amazed that although there were more than a dozen articles in the paper about the terrorism and kidnappings, none of them really shed much new light on the problem. Several people were missing, but nobody knew why, or even how many.  Either the government really didn't know, or else they were doing a good job of keeping the media blinded to it. There were some wild theories though. One editorial blamed Saddam Hussein, claiming he'd unleashed total biological warfare with some chemical akin to some flesh-eating bacteria, which totally consumed human bodies in a matter of just a few hours.
    There were a couple of interesting articles in the Metropolitan section though. Over the weekend a house had burned down while the owners were gone, but both cars were still in the garage. Similarly, another home had flooded when someone left a faucet running. Again nobody was home, but their cars were there. Bill wondered whether these homeowners were among the missing persons.
    Then he saw an interesting article about a kidney patient who had died last Friday: 
    "Paul Simms, who had had a kidney transplant last summer, was supposedly doing well. But when he suddenly died, the family demanded that an autopsy be done, and the kidney was missing. Dr. Bob Meyer, the surgeon who performed the transplant at Regent Medical, could not explain what had happened, and the family is considering a lawsuit against both the doctor and the hospital."
    Bill's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He immediately picked up the receiver and said, "This is Bill McMann."
    "Yeah, Bill," another voice said. "This is Steve."
    "Oh, hello Steve. Were you able to find out anything?"
    "Well, not really. Except that we have this community crime watch program down at the station, and Dr. Danfield has his church and home registered with it. Now normally people just register the names of people we should call in case of an emergency, but Dr. Danfield has even left us a set of keys to his house and church buildings. We have his prior written permission to enter the premises if we think it would be helpful for any reason. Would you like to go over there and look around?"
    "Indeed I would," Bill replied. "When can we go?"
    "Well, I'm booked today," said Steve. "But how about 10:00 tomorrow morning?"
    "That's fine."
    "By the way, what is it that we're looking for?"
    Bill sighed and said, "I don't know. I just want to see if we can find out whether this has anything to do with all the other missing persons."
    "Okay. Well, I've got you on my calendar for 10:00 Tuesday morning. I'll give you a call before I leave."
    "Thanks, Steve. I really appreciate it."
    As soon as Bill hung up, he picked up the receiver again and tried Dr. Danfield's home and church.  Still, there was no answer. Next he called his secretary and asked her to arrange a substitute teacher for his Tuesday classes. Then he was once again engulfed by Dr. Danfield's paper, completely unaware that he wasn't going to like the conclusions to which it pointed.

Chapter 15

    As Jim drove, he wondered if he was taking this whole thing too seriously. He knew that Carol rightly recognized how impulsive he was. Somehow this was different though, but he couldn't explain why. Normally, when he acted too hastily, he didn't realize it while he was doing it. Later though, when Carol would suggest that he may have been too impulsive, he usually had to agree with her. This time, however, he could already tell that he may be jumping to conclusions, but, somehow, he just couldn't help it. It was as though some external force had control of him.
    As Jim pulled up to Juanita's Restaurant and got out of his car, he was greeted by Reverend Loomis who had been waiting outside the restaurant. "Hi, Jim, good to see ya'."
    "Hello, I hope you weren't waiting long," Jim replied.
    "No, I just got here myself. Let's eat."
    They entered the restaurant and seated themselves, and immediately a waitress brought their water and a big bowl of chips and dip, along with their menus, and took their drink orders. Both men had eaten there often, and they were ready to order as soon as the waitress returned with their drinks. Jim had beef enchiladas and Reverend Loomis had the soft taco special.
    Jim began the conversation, "I guess you're pretty busy these days, huh?"
    "I'll say," replied Reverend Loomis.  "I'm always busy with administrative work at the church, and I do a lot of counseling, but this week is really hectic. I'm planning a memorial service for some time this weekend, and I've got an association meeting tomorrow"
    "Who's memorial service?" Jim asked.
    "Frank Golson," Reverend Loomis responded. "He was a member of our church, but you might not have known him. I don't think he came very often."
    Jim wasn't surprised that he didn't recognize the name. He probably didn't know more than ten percent of the  church  members by name.
    Reverend Loomis continued, "It was a tragic situation. He was a refinery worker, and he died in an explosion early this morning. They weren't even able to recover his body."
    "That's terrible," Jim said. "You know, I heard about that on the news, but I didn't know that he was a member of our church."
    There was a brief lull in the conversation, during which Reverend Loomis wondered what this meeting was all about. He hoped Jim wasn't upset with anything he'd said during a sermon.
    Finally, Reverend Loomis said, "So, Jim, what did you want to talk about today?"
    "Well," Jim hesitated, "I don't know how I'm going to explain this, and it's really going to sound crazy."
    "Relax," Reverend Loomis responded, "With all the counseling I do, I've heard it all. Nothing surprises me anymore." He was smiling, trying to be reassuring, but Jim remained unconvinced.
    "Well, it's about something you mentioned in your sermon on Sunday morning. I have to admit I wasn't paying enough attention, but what were you saying about some people being taken away to be with the Lord? Is that verse referring to death, or what?"
    "Oh," Reverend Loomis replied.
    He was relieved that the conversation seemed to be heading toward his clarification of a sermon, rather than any critical comments directed toward the pastor. Too many times these surprise meetings had resulted in a manifestation of differences of opinions, and the results could be disastrous. In the past, several people had even left the church  over such disagreements. Reverend Loomis wasn't long on patience, and he sometimes allowed his emotions to guide his better judgment.
    "That's in First Thessalonians," Reverend Loomis continued. "It's talking about the rapture.  It's prophetic, concerning the end times."
    Seeing that Jim's inquisitive expression had not yet vanished, Reverend Loomis continued.
    "There's widespread controversy among theologians concerning the end times, or eschatology, as the professionals call it. But I've done extended study in this area, and I think I can explain it to your satisfaction."
    What Reverend Loomis meant was that, despite his vast knowledge and seminary training, he was intelligent enough to explain these things on a sufficiently low level that even ignorant guys like Jim could partially understand it. Having known Reverend Loomis for several years now, Jim knew exactly what he was thinking. What an ego, Jim thought.
    Reverend Loomis continued, "We believe that the age in which we live, the Church Age, will come to an abrupt end someday. Jesus Christ will appear in a cloud, and take all Christians to heaven with him. The bodies of Christians who have died will rise first, and then all living Christians will rise, and their bodies will be transformed into glorified bodies, like Christ's. We call this 'the rapture', or 'the taking away'. Then while we go off to heaven, everyone who wasn't a Christian at that time will be left on the earth to endure seven years of tribulation, which the book of Revelation describes.
    “At the end of those seven years, Christ will return to earth in His Second Advent. He'll then fight and win the Battle of Armageddon, bind Satan and his demons, and usher in a thousand-year period of utopia upon the earth. We call this the Millennium. During the Millennium, Christ will reign from his throne in Jerusalem. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be unbound, but before he can cause much trouble, Christ will cast him and his demons into the lake of fire, which we call 'hell'.  Then, Christ creates a new and perfect heaven and earth, and we live forever in eternity. It all sounds kind of scary, huh?"
    "Yeah, but I want to ask you more about this rapture. Is there any indication as to when it will occur, or what it will be like?"
    "Well, probably not to your satisfaction. It could occur at any time now. We're commanded to be ready for it. Mark 13:33 says, 'Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.' 1 Thessalonians 5:2 says, '. . . the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.' When it does happen, I suppose it'll seem sort of like magic."
    "You mean that everyone will know when it happens?" Jim was getting closer to the point.
    "Well," Reverend Loomis went on, "if you're a Christian, you'll know it because you'll be raised into the clouds. On the other hand, if you are not a Christian, you will see your Christian peers being raised into the clouds."
    "But," interrupted Jim, "Could it happen without some people being aware of it?"
    "I don't think so, Jim. The Bible says that everyone will know when Christ returns. Say, what are you getting at?"
    Jim hesitated as the waitress brought their plates. He was glad for the extra few seconds to work up the courage to ask the question he came here to ask.
    When the waitress left, he said in a quiet voice, "You know all the disappearances since last Friday?  Could that have been the rapture?"
    This caused Reverend Loomis to chuckle, which made Jim feel humiliated. Reverend Loomis said, "No, Jim, the rapture hasn't occurred yet. We still have a lot of work to do before then."
    "But didn't you say it could happen at any time now?"
    "Yes, but when it does we will know it. I'll give you several reasons. First of all, how many people are missing? Even if there are a lot who haven't been reported yet, at most there are a few hundred or a few thousand missing in the United States. Well, Jim, there are more than 150 million churchgoing Christians on our church rolls. There are more than 90 million fundamentalists like you and me. If the rapture had occurred, over half of the country would be missing, even if a few churchgoers weren't genuine Christians."
    Before Jim could interrupt, Reverend Loomis continued adamantly.
    "Secondly, since the rapture is going to usher in a seven-year tribulation period, the world will probably be in chaos at that time. The Antichrist will probably be taking over as a world ruler. Things will be much worse than they are now, much worse than a few random terrorist strikes."
    Reverend Loomis paused for emphasis, and then added, "Finally, Jim, I know the rapture hasn't occurred, because if it had, I'd be in heaven right now, and so would you. Do you understand?"
    Jim finished his taco and wiped his chin.
    "Well," Jim paused, "What if we are wrong about some things? What if we haven't interpreted the Bible absolutely correctly in every case?"
    "I'm not wrong about this," Reverend Loomis almost shouted. Jim hadn't expected him to take this so personally.
    "Jim, I've studied these things for years, and I hold a doctorate in theology. You don't realize what you're saying. If you were right about this, then neither one of us are Christians, and I know that I'm a Christian."
    Jim could tell that this would be the end of the conversation on eschatology. He didn't want to cause any trouble, and maybe Reverend Loomis was right. Maybe we should forget about the rapture and just find out where all these missing people are. After all, Reverend Loomis did have excellent credentials.
    "You're right" Jim said. "Thanks for explaining the end times to me."
    The rest of the conversation turned to small talk, until both men agreed they had to leave. As they left the restaurant, Reverend Loomis said, "I enjoyed it, Jim. Call me any time."
    "Okay, I will," replied Jim.
    He thought to himself, "Any time I see things just the way you do--but then I wouldn't need your help, would I?"
    Jim started his car and headed back to work.

Chapter 16

    Bill couldn't believe it. Dr. Danfield's arguments had never seemed reasonable to him before, but now they were making perfect sense as he reread Dr. Danfield's paper. Though it was against his temperament, he felt terribly confused. He was usually so sure about what he believed. Could he have overlooked the truth all these years? Had Dr. Danfield's arguments really seemed illogical to him before, or had he just been afraid to face them?
    Bill was horrified to think that his own arguments were invalid. Could he really have been wrong, and could Dr. Danfield really have been right, all these years? Furthermore, could the earth actually be entering the end times at this very moment? If this was all true, then not only had he been wrong, but he'd spread his falsehoods across the nation. How many would-be pastors had he persuaded in the wrong direction? He buried his face in Dr. Danfield's paper, and wept.
    Then he put down Dr. Danfield's paper, stood up, and started pacing back and forth in his office. It was late, and he knew that in a few minutes he'd try to relax on the couch again and catch a couple of hours of sleep. Before he did however, he had to do some serious thinking and get some things straight in his mind. Dr. Danfield's paper was having a serious effect on his thoughts. What if Dr. Danfield had been right all these years, and Bill had been wrong? What if he'd propagated those falsehoods to the thousands of students he'd taught during the last thirty-five years?
    Bill sat down on the couch. What about Maggie? What effect had he had on her? Did she know the truth or not? He picked up Dr. Danfield's paper and read it yet again.

Chapter 17

    Jim's meeting with his pastor seemed only to make him more determined to investigate this thing to its conclusion. He felt like taking the rest of the day off so that he could get on with his research, but he wouldn't know where to start anyway. Besides, his in-basket at work was full of to-do items, and he hadn't gotten anything done that morning. He kept thinking about the possible spiritual ramifications of these disappearances, and before he realized it, he was back at work. As soon as he sat down at his desk, he logged onto his workstation terminal again. Within seconds, he started the laborious task of reading through his electronic mail, electing to print some of the items on his office printer, and to respond to others immediately, either by phone or with an electronic mail response.
    As he opened the last object in his in-basket, his phone rang. He heard Karl say, "Jim, are you about ready?"
    Jim was about to ask, "Ready for what?" as he glanced at his watch. It was already 5:15, and Jim couldn't believe that all he'd accomplished at work all day was to answer his mail.
    He said, "Sure, Karl. I didn't realize it was so late. I can be ready in ten minutes. Is that okay?"
    Karl answered, "Yeah, I'll meet you at the car."
    "Wait," Jim replied quickly, "I moved the car at noon. Can you meet me in front of my building?"
    "Okay," Karl answered, "I'll be there in ten minutes."
    Jim heard the click of Karl's hanging up his phone. As Jim hung up, he thought Karl had still sounded different, like he did this morning. Maybe he'd want to talk about whatever was bothering him on their way home.
    Giving up on getting anything else done, Jim just threw the last few lingering notes from the top of his desk into his top drawer, then he began locking up. He performed his lockup duties like a ritual. First he locked the credenza and stored that key in the top drawer of his desk. Then he locked his file cabinet, and stored that key beside the credenza key. Then he took his key chain from his pocket and locked his desk. As was his habit, he tugged on all the drawers to make sure they locked securely, because he surely didn't want to get a security violation himself. Then he closed his briefcase, turned off his light, and started down the hall.
    As he passed Sarah's office, she said, "Say, Jim?"
    Jim stopped and stepped into the doorway of her office. Before he could say anything, she continued.
    "Penny has a friend in personnel that said there are sixteen people missing in our facility." She seemed concerned.
    Jim thought a moment and said, slowly, "Sixteen, out of nine hundred. That's significant. What are they going to do about it?"
    "We don't know yet," Sarah replied. "Corporate will probably notify the authorities today, and they may give us more direction tomorrow. By the way, we found out a little more about Bill. He'd come in early and logged on to his terminal at 6:30 Friday morning. The last time noted in his file log was 6:38 A.M. last Friday."
    Jim knew that each terminal added entries to a log file each time that a file was added or changed. This meant that he'd been at his terminal at 6:38 Friday morning.
    Jim said, "So, the last time he was seen was Thursday evening, and the last time he was in his office was shortly after 6:38 Friday morning?"
    "That's right," Sarah said, "Also, a few other employees were in Bill's hallway right at 7:00, and nobody saw Bill. I would say that he disappeared between 6:38 and 7:00. It seems like he just vanished into thin air.  I know he didn't leave intentionally, since he left his terminal going and his desk open. There was a security sweep early this morning, and that's when he got his security violation. I guess his stuff was left out all weekend, but it wasn't found by security until today."
    Jim glanced at his watch and said, "Well, I've got to go meet my carpool. We'll talk more tomorrow."
    "Okay, Jim. Have a good evening."
    Now Jim was late, and he almost ran down the hall. He decided not to wait for the elevator, and quickly ran down the two flights of stairs and out the front door of the building where Karl was already waiting.
    "Sorry I'm late.”
    "No big thing," Karl responded, though unenthusiastically. The walk to the car was silent.  Jim unlocked the passenger door of his BMW, and Karl opened the door and threw his briefcase over the passenger seat headrest and into the back seat. He sat down, unlocked Jim's door, and closed his own door. Jim opened his door and sat down, placing his briefcase in the space between the two front seats. Still the silence was unbroken. Jim was thinking about missing persons, and he didn't know what was bothering Karl.     Finally, as he accelerated on the freeway on-ramp, Jim said, "I know something's wrong, Karl. Do you want to talk about it?"
    Karl remained silent for about ten seconds, then his voice cracked as he said, "Mary left me."
    Not knowing what to say, Jim remained silent.
    After about ten more seconds, Karl continued. "She wanted some time to herself. She went somewhere Thursday night. She wouldn't tell me where. She said she didn't know how long she'd be gone, but she'd call me Friday night. Well, she still hasn't called, and I don't have any idea where she is, or whether I should try to find her."
    Immediately Jim couldn't help but wonder if Mary was among the missing persons. He was pretty sure that Karl hadn't entertained this possibility yet, and Jim decided not to mention it. He didn't want to upset Karl even more, and Jim certainly needed more time to formulate his own thesis before suggesting a spiritual answer.
    "Well, is there anything I can do?"
    "No," Karl groaned. "She's done this before."
    He hesitated before continuing, "But, she's never waited this long to call. I'm just going to wait another day or two."
    Both men were silent until Jim drove up to Karl's sidewalk. "I'll see you tomorrow," Karl said, as he got out and reached for his briefcase.
    "Okay," Jim said. "Take care of yourself."

Chapter 18

    Karl walked up the sidewalk, and Jim headed toward home, with a lot on his mind. He pulled into his garage right at 6:00. As soon as he walked into the house, he saw Carol scurrying around the kitchen.
    She looked up and said, "I thought you were going to come home early tonight. Tonight is sewing class, and Ryan is going to the recreation center with Tommy."
    Immediately, Jim remembered, for the first time today, that he'd indeed made an ongoing promise to come home early on Monday nights to help get ready for the rest of the family's activities. He'd told Carol last night that he'd be home by 5:30, but that was last night. He'd had a busy day. He couldn't remember everything. Still, he'd let Carol down.  His twenty years of marriage had taught him that this sort of situation demanded a concise answer rather than an inadequate excuse.
    "I forgot."
    "Well, it's okay," Carol said, as though she could read his mind.
    "Katie and I are going to leave right away, and we'll drop Ryan off at Tommy's."
    The microwave beeped, she removed a baked potato from it, and placed it beside the pork chop on the plate by the stove. As she set it on the dining table, Jim sat down and began eating. Within five minutes, Jim had finished eating, and Carol, Ryan, and Katie had left, promising to be back by 10:00. In a meager effort to make up to Carol for having been late, Jim cleaned up the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher. There, that should be enough to appease anybody.
    Jim spent the evening alone, reading the paper and thinking about world events. He felt compelled to do something, but he also felt helpless. He didn't have enough information. The only thing the newspaper seemed to say was that it was too early to say what was happening. Jim supposed that the government was trying to squelch any mass hysteria in the media while trying at the same time to figure out what had happened. None of the missing people had yet shown up as hostages like the ANW had promised. Jim wasn't so sure there were any hostages. Oh, there were plenty of commentators offering editorial opinions, but nobody even knew how many people were missing yet, much less where they had gone. Jim knew that the headcount at work today was part of the efforts of the authorities to size the problem.
    There had to be something he could do. Was there something to this rapture thing or not? He wasn't at all satisfied with Reverend Loomis's attitude, much less his answers. It seemed like he had Reverend Loomis over a barrel, but that he just couldn't admit that he was wrong. Who else could he turn to? He just knew that he'd heard other people talk about this kind of stuff.
    "Wait a minute," Jim thought. He remembered that a few months ago he'd heard a guest speaker at his  church talking about the end times. That had not been the purpose of his visit, but he'd gotten sidetracked on what the world would be like just before the end of time, and Jim had found his insights captivating. He also recalled that Reverend Loomis wasn't particularly pleased with that sermon because of some sort of theological differences he had with the speaker. Well, Jim thought, it might be nice to hear a fresh approach. Jim strained his mental capacities in trying to remember the guest speaker's name.
    William Mann. No, McMann. That was it, William McMann. He was a professor at the Independent Theological Seminary. Boy, Jim thought, I'd like to run my ideas past him. In his compulsory style, the more he thought about it, the more excited he became. He took the pen from his shirt pocket and began writing a list of questions and comments on the three-by-five index card that he always kept in the same shirt pocket, next to his pen. Slow down, he thought. Carol would call you impulsive.  Never mind that, he had to be ready for his meeting with Professor McMann. He'd take a day of vacation tomorrow and drive down to the Seminary. Immediately he picked up the phone next to his chair and dialed Karl's number.
    "Hello," said a groggy voice, after five rings.
    "Karl, this is Jim."
    "Oh, hi Jim. What's up?"
    "Oh, a little something has come up, and I'd like to take a day of vacation tomorrow. Would it be okay if you drove yourself tomorrow?"
    "No problem," Karl replied. "You're not having some kind of trouble, are you?"
    Right now, Karl was thinking the worst about everything.
    "No, nothing like that," Jim replied. "I just need to do a couple of things around here."
    "Well, enjoy your day off. Why don't you call me tomorrow night?"
    "Will do."
    "Okay, good night, Jim."
    "Good night."
    Jim spent the rest of the evening in his recliner, thinking, reading the paper, and watching TV. Carol brought the kids home shortly after 10:00. Jim scarcely had a word with any of them before he retired for the evening at 10:30. He did manage to let Carol know that he was taking the day off tomorrow, and he asked her not to worry if he slept a little late. He just told her he was a little bit burnt out with work, and that he wanted the day just to mess around and do nothing. He didn't feel like sharing his thesis of the end times with her just yet. He set his clock radio to "Wake to Music" for 8:00, then he went to sleep.

Chapter 19

    The next thing he knew, Jim awoke to the country music of his favorite radio station. He realized it was already 8:00, and was surprised to see that Carol and the kids had already left, and he'd slept through the entire morning household routine. Jim usually didn't have any trouble sleeping though.
    Suddenly remembering his plans for the day, he sat up in bed, reached for the phone on his night stand, and pressed the speed-dial button for Penny's number at work.
    "Penny Truman," a petite voice said.
    "Penny, this is Jim," Jim began. "I'd like to take the day off today if you don't mind."
    "That would be fine," Penny responded.
    "You've been working hard, and I'm sure you could use a rest. There's nothing here that can't wait until tomorrow."
    "Thanks," Jim replied graciously. "I just wanted to check in to make sure you understood that I'm not a missing person." Jim was only partially joking. "Anything more you can tell me about what's going on?"
    "Well, someone found Bill's coffee cup in the elevator. You know, the one with the handle on the inside. We're all speculating why it was found in the elevator. Well, anyway, maybe we'll know more by tomorrow. Enjoy your day off."
    "Thanks, I will," Jim replied. "Goodbye."
    Jim stood up by the bed and returned the phone to the night stand. He made the bed in lackluster fashion. He didn't like to spend more than ten seconds in this endeavor.  He showered, shaved, and dressed, then went to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. Not only had Carol kept the house quiet, but she'd made coffee for him too. Jim picked up the phone book on his way to the breakfast table and looked up the number for the Independent Theological Seminary. He dialed the number which rang twice before an enthusiastic voice answered.
    "I-T-S, may we help you?"
    "I'm trying to contact William McMann, please," Jim said.
    "One moment please."
    After what Jim considered to be a long time to make a caller wait, a deep, raspy voice said, "This is Dr. McMann."
    "Yes, Dr. McMann. This is Jim Wheeler from Meadowlake Memorial Church. I'm sure you don't remember me, but you spoke at our church this summer, and I wanted to talk to you for a moment."
    "Okay, Jim. I'm a little busy, but what's on your mind?"
    "Well, I'd really like to see you in person. I know that you're awfully busy, but do you think that would be possible?"
    "Could you tell me the nature of your visit first?"
    Jim could tell that this wasn't going to be easy. He was asking a lot to take up Dr. McMann's valuable time. He should be glad that he'd even spoken to him on the phone.  Deciding that he had to go for broke, Jim continued speaking slowly and deliberately.
    "Well, sir, frankly, it concerns the many missing persons we've all been hearing about. I may be all wet, but I'm formulating some opinions that lead me to believe that there are spiritual ramifications to this thing, and--"
    "Can you get here by 9:00?"
    Shocked by the professor's sudden change of heart, Jim replied, "Well, yeah, I mean . . . I guess so. It may be a couple of minutes after nine before I can get there."
    "Well, I've got a 10:00 engagement, but I'd really like to see you before then. The sooner, the better."
    "Well, Okay, but . . ."
    "I'm in the main administration building, second floor. I'll see you at 9:00."
    Before Jim could say goodbye, he heard the click of Dr. McMann's receiver. What had gotten into him? At first Dr. McMann didn't want to see him, and then he couldn't wait to see him. Was it some sort of a trap? Was Dr. McMann a Communist spy waiting to kidnap anyone who got wise to a terrorist conspiracy? Jim thought not. Anyway, he'd have to hurry to make it to ITS by 9:00.
    Jim took a final gulp of coffee, unplugged the coffee pot, and carried his briefcase to the car. He drove with a sense of urgency, not recklessly, but deliberately. He arrived on campus at 8:59, but had some difficulty in finding a parking spot. By the time he parked, located the administration building, and scaled the stairs to the second floor, it was about 9:05.  He walked briskly down the hall, reading the nameplates by each door. Here it was, William M. McMann. He knocked on the closed door.
    Just about the time Jim was going to knock again, he heard someone approaching the door from the other side. As the door opened, Jim's smile, which had served him so well in making cold calls during his marketing training, slowly faded into a bewildered expression of utter astonishment. This wasn't the man he was expecting. This man was unshaven, which seemed to intensify his rough features, and he looked old. The man he remembered speaking at his church was younger and much more impressive. The man he saw now looked as though he must be seventy years old, and he didn't look healthy at all, even for seventy. Jim wondered if it was just because he wasn't dressed nearly as nicely as the last time he saw him.
    "I'm Dr. McMann," said the man.
    "I'm Jim Wheeler. I'm very pleased to see you again."
    Then without thinking, he added, "Are you all right?"
    As soon as he said it, he knew it must have sounded terrible.
    "Well, judging by the expression on your face, no, I must not be all right," Dr. McMann chuckled. "I'm just tired. I've been working extremely long hours lately."
    Suddenly Jim realized that he may have been too presumptuous to impose on Dr. McMann like this. He said, "I really need to talk to you, but I would understand if you wanted me to come back later."
    "I wouldn't think of it," Dr. McMann insisted. "You sit down here, young man, and tell me what's on your mind."
    Jim sat down in one of the chairs in front of Dr. McMann's desk, as Dr. McMann walked behind the desk and sat down in his own high-back desk chair.
    "Sir, I know this is an imposition, so I'll get right to the point." Jim hesitated, then decided to say at least one more sentence without pausing. If Dr. McMann threw him out of his office after that, then so be it.
    "Due to the events of the last few days, I've become convinced that some sort of spiritual rapture has occurred, but that nobody realizes it."
    Then Jim paused, waiting for Dr. McMann to respond in a way similar to Reverend Loomis's reaction.

Chapter 20

    But Dr. McMann remained quiet. This reaction was different from that of Reverend Loomis, yet Jim was still not sure that he wasn't being perceived as some kind of nutty doomsday prophet. At first, Dr. McMann remained perfectly still. After about fifteen seconds, he slowly rocked back in his chair and fixed his gaze on an imaginary point in space somewhere between and above the two men. After fifteen more seconds, Jim was convinced that he'd made a mistake in coming here, but just then, Dr. McMann spoke, rather decisively.
    "I'd like to hear more. Why do you think this so-called rapture has occurred?"
    "Well, there are several reasons. The most obvious one is the disappearance of thousands of people.  I find it hard to believe that the Arabs are so well organized that they could pull off such a clever terrorist stunt. However, I'm no expert on foreign policy, so if this were the only evidence I had, I would never have come up with this idea. The real evidence comes from my personal experiences over the last few days. I happen to be somewhat familiar with some of the people who have disappeared.
    "I'm a manager in a software firm, and one of my people has been missing since Friday. I found out yesterday that another man was missing in another department, leaving behind only his coffee cup. Upon investigating each of their two deserted offices, I found a single common denominator. Each man had an open Bible displayed on his credenza. Now, I know that this doesn't prove a rapture, but if a rapture did occur, wouldn't you expect men like these to be among the first to be raptured--men who weren't ashamed of their appreciation and reverence for the Bible, even in a public secular environment?"
    Realizing that Jim meant this as a rhetorical question, Dr. McMann remained quiet and allowed Jim to continue.
    "Now I've given this considerable thought, and nothing else makes sense or explains these disappearances. As you probably know, some government officials are missing as well, but what could they have in common with these two average guys at work? I knew one of them fairly well, and I can't imagine that they had any common political or economic ties with world dignitaries.  Besides, some of the missing government officials are also known to be very religious men.
    "You see, Dr. McMann, it all fits. This is a worldwide problem, but you would expect it to be intensified in Christian countries like the United States. We have some government dignitaries missing, while none of the top Russian officials are missing. There are some common people missing in Russia, but it seems as though there are many more Americans missing.  Isn't this what you would expect?"
    Jim paused.
    "But, you know, there's something that doesn't make much sense. I would've thought even more Americans would be missing, both dignitaries and regular citizens."
    When Jim saw that Dr. McMann wasn't yet ready to comment, he continued.
    "Dr. McMann, I don't think the government yet knows what has happened. I sense some pressure on the media to keep this kind of quiet until they can come up with a believable story. Meanwhile, everywhere I look, I see more chaos. A good friend of mine told me that his wife left him Thursday night, and he hasn't heard from her since then. For all I know, she could be among those who have disappeared. I believe that it's entirely possible that the rapture could have occurred without leaving it obvious to those remaining that it was indeed a rapture.
    "I understand a little bit about the end times, and I think we may be off base just a little in our interpretation of what the Bible says about the rapture and the end times. We've always imagined that everyone would know that the rapture was occurring at that time. However, I believe in the rapture, but I'm not so sure that we can be too dogmatic about exactly how it'll happen."
    Jim decided to allow Dr. McMann to join the conversation. He was curious to see his response, and Dr. McMann knew that Jim was waiting for his answer. The professor quietly and slowly stood up and walked partly around his desk. He picked up one of the dozens of books strewn across his desk and paged through it--not so much to examine the book as to occupy his hands while he was deep in thought. Finally he sat down on the edge of the desk and looked at Jim.
    "Well, Jim, you certainly have a point about things happening differently than we had planned. One can believe a prophecy he reads in the Bible, yet until it's fulfilled, he can't be sure about the details. The Jews in the Old Testament are a perfect example. They believed that a Messiah would come, but when he came in a way they hadn't anticipated, they didn't even realize it was the Messiah."
    He paused briefly, then added, "Who else have you shared your thesis with?"
    "Only my pastor, Gary Loomis," Jim replied. "He wasn't exactly receptive to it. It was like I was insulting him. I didn't know who else to go to."
    "Well, first of all," Dr. McMann continued, "let me give you a little background that may help you understand all this a little better."
    Jim didn't like the way that sounded. Was Dr. McMann about ready to shoot down his ideas too? Oh well, Jim thought, at least he's being friendly about it.

Chapter 21

    Dr. McMann said, "There are a lot of different views about the end times."
    He picked up a particular book from the top of his desk and handed it to Jim. "This book explains it in detail, but allow me to summarize.
    "There is a view of the end times, or 'eschatology,' as we theologians call it, which is called premillennialism. This view is often held by fundamentalists and conservatives who tend to interpret the Bible as literally as possible. Although there are different camps under the umbrella of premillennialism, such as dispensationalism, certain aspects of the end times are rigid for all premillennialists. As their name implies, they believe that the church age exists in a pre-millennial era. That is, they believe there will be a millennium, or a thousand-year period of time on earth when Jesus Christ will physically rule the world from his throne in Jerusalem. This will be a utopia, as described by Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah."
    Jim had heard some of these terms before, but he still felt confused.
    "You lost me on the millennial part."
    "Well, since they believe that this millennium will follow the church age, and we are living in an era preceding the millennium, they are called premillennialists. They say that the rapture will signal the end of the church age. This rapture will cause the bodies of dead Christians to be raised to life and reunited with their souls and spirits, and the living Christians will also be taken off to Heaven and given new glorified bodies."
    "Wait a minute. Are some of those people dead, and some are alive?"
    "Yes, but they're all believers, and that's the important point. Now, all the Christians have left the earth at that point, but the millennium doesn't start immediately. The premillennialist says that this is where the books of Revelation and Daniel come into play. They say there will be a seven-year period of great tribulation on earth. An Antichrist will rule the world, and anyone honoring God will be considered an outcast.
    "At the end of this seven-year period, Christ will return to the earth and defeat Satan and the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon. Finally, this will usher in the peaceful Millennium. After the thousand years, God will permanently cast Satan, his demons, and all unbelievers into hell forever. He'll then create a new heaven and a new earth, and eternity will begin."
    "You mean a different earth, somewhere else?"
    "Well the Bible leaves that open to interpretation, but it doesn't really matter much to us yet.  Anyway, the premills think that this period of the end times is what the Bible means when it refers to 'the day of the Lord.' They believe that it denotes the period of time beginning with the rapture, including the tribulation period and the millennium, and ending with the final judgment of Satan at the end of the millennium."
    Dr. McMann hesitated, then began pacing slowly around the room. Jim correctly anticipated that he wasn't finished talking.
   "Now this premillennial position is the one shared by Reverend Loomis. Perhaps unfortunately, I have interpreted those same scriptures somewhat differently, and for the past thirty-five years I've held what's commonly called the amillennialist view."
    "I know what 'pre' means, but what does the prefix 'a' mean?"
    "As in the ancient Greek language, an 'a' in front of a word usually negates its meaning. The amillennialist says that there will be no physical millennium on earth, as such.  The millennium will be in heaven, where Christ will rule from His heavenly throne, not an earthly throne. Of course, without a millennium, there can be no tribulation period preceding the millennium, and, consequently, no rapture preceding the tribulation. The amillennialist says that the scriptures in Revelation are highly symbolic, and that they refer to the church age."
    Jim didn't like what he was hearing. This could turn out even worse than his visit with Reverend Loomis. Not only did Dr. McMann not share his convictions about the rapture having occurred, but he didn't even believe in the rapture. However, Dr. McMann immediately qualified his last statement.
    "However there still could be a rapture. It's just that it would signal the end of all life on earth.  The rapture signals the end of the earth, and all Christians are taken to Heaven, but the earth doesn't remain inhabited. So, Jim, your thesis couldn't possibly fit into the amillennialist scenario."
    "So, you think I've jumped to conclusions?"
    Dr. McMann slowly and deliberately walked back to his chair, sat down, put his elbows on the table, and looked directly into Jim's eyes.
    "No," Dr. McMann said decisively, and rather loudly.

Chapter 22

    Dr. McMann's response startled Jim. He didn't know whether Dr. McMann was with him or against him.  He'd quickly learned that the best way to pick Dr. McMann's brain was to simply be quiet and let him talk after he'd had time to formulate his ideas into words.
    Dr. McMann stared at Jim for a few seconds, making Jim somewhat uneasy, then he relaxed a bit and leaned back in his chair. Finally, after a full minute of silence, Dr. McMann looked at Jim, smiled, and began speaking again.
    "Jim, as I said, I've held the amillennialist viewpoint for thirty-five years. I have developed quite a reputation around the country for my contributions to amillennial eschatology. I've spoken to crowds of thousands. I've probably spoken to millions of people, promoting my viewpoints. My peers revere me and think I'm brilliant. I've convinced myself time and time again that my viewpoint is the correct one. I've stood in front of thousands of future pastors for thousands of hours on this very campus and taught them what I have believed to be the truth about the end times, as well as other biblical themes.
    "I've experienced fame and fortune, and I'm renowned as a true leader in theological circles. I've written books, signed autographs, toured on the speaking circuit, and conducted seminars from coast to coast. I've been satisfied and pleased with all this, until last Saturday."
    Dr. McMann again stood up and resumed his slow pace around the room. Jim remained silent, and Dr. McMann continued speaking.
    "Last Saturday morning I heard the report that Senator Hanson was missing. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the Senator at a party fund-raising event. The Senator would indeed have been considered a very religious man, and he was also well informed. Although we disagreed sharply on many theological issues, we greatly enjoyed each other's company. I've spoken with him two or three times since then."
    "Did he hold to the premillennial viewpoint?"
    "Yes, and when I began to hear other reports of missing persons, and nobody could explain what had happened, I became curious, much the same as yourself. In fact, I remember going through the same thought process that you described, and wondering what the common denominator was. Without really considering the possibility of a rapture, I began to simply call and check on several associates of mine. During the day on Saturday, I was able to contact all my friends that I called, and I was greatly relieved that none were missing. Still I couldn't get this off my mind, and I didn't sleep well Saturday night."
    "I've had trouble sleeping too."
    "Then, on Sunday morning, I was sitting in my Sunday school class, and a Bible verse that we read suddenly caused me to think of another old acquaintance. The name "Jack Danfield" popped into my mind. I hadn't spoken with Jack for several years, but we used to visit quite regularly. Our relationship was much like my relationship with the Senator. We weren't really very close, but we enjoyed visiting--or more accurately, debating. We were in disagreement with each other on several theological issues, not the least of which was the end times. Dr. Danfield took a very literal and conservative approach to the Bible, while I was more liberal. You might say I was more spiritual. "
    "I first met Dr. Danfield about twenty years ago when we were both invited to be panelists on a local radio program where people would call in with their questions about the Bible and the Church. Our differences provided for very stimulating discussion and, I must say, an interesting radio program. Though I always felt like I held my own with him, Dr. Danfield didn't seem to be overly concerned with who won the debates. It was as though I was using the opportunity to enhance my reputation in the metroplex, while he was just providing the service of objectively speaking the truth as he saw it.
    "Dr. Danfield's real love was his church. He was," Dr. McMann paused, "and still is," he paused again, "the pastor of Grace Memorial Church, over on Fourth Street in the old downtown area. He's been the pastor there for forty years or so, and you can tell he loves his job. He doesn't have a very nice building. They use an old schoolhouse for Sunday school, and an old gymnasium for their auditorium. This doesn't seem to bother anyone--especially not Dr. Danfield. His main concern is teaching true Bible doctrine, and he doesn't seem to care who he offends, or whether his church  grows. As a result, his church has remained about the same size for these forty years--it's quite small."
    "But shouldn't he want his church to grow so he could teach more people?"
    "Dr. Danfield believes that God will select those whom He wants to send to any particular church.  Anyway, I couldn't get Dr. Danfield out of my mind. I can't explain why, but during the break between Sunday school and the worship service, I drove down to his church.  It was as though some external force had control of me."
    Dr. McMann walked around the desk and sat down on the front of it, directly in front of Jim. He was looking straight into Jim's eyes, and Jim began to wonder what profound thing he'd hear next, and when he'd find out what any of this had to do with the subject at hand.
    Dr. McMann said, "The church was locked."
    He shrugged his shoulders and said loudly, "There wasn't anybody there. I don't mean that the crowd was small. I mean that there wasn't a person on the premises.  It was Sunday morning at 11:00, and the church was locked, and mine was the only car in the parking lot. I began to consider why the church might be empty. Maybe they had bought a new piece of property. No, Dr. Danfield wouldn't move. He liked that locale and didn't like the expense of things like moving.  Besides, I drove by his church two or three times each week, and I had seen no sign of moving. I would've heard something about it. Nothing I could think of made any sense."
    Jim zeroed in on Dr. McMann like a predator on its prey.
    "I got into my car and drove around the block looking for clues. Dr. Danfield lives in a little church parsonage by the church, and it didn't look like anyone was home, although there was a van in the driveway. I had to get back to my own church for the worship service. I tried to call Dr. Danfield's house and church from the phone in our church  foyer, but nobody answered at either number.
    "Well, to say the least, I was upset. I spent all day Sunday trying to contact someone from his church, but I didn't have very many leads. I called the police, but they didn't seem too concerned about a church that was locked. Besides, they had several missing persons to look for. Since I was making no progress in finding out what was going on, I decided to think it through from a spiritual perspective. Since Sunday, I've read and reread all these books you see on my desk."
    Dr. McMann held up a small folder that looked like a high school book report.
    "This paper was written by Dr. Danfield, and I've read it over and over. I've come to some startling conclusions over the last two days. I've worked continuously, and have hardly slept at all. I even called a substitute to teach my classes for me today. Now you understand why I look terrible. I've hardly slept since Saturday night--"
    "--What sort of startling conclusions?"
    Dr. McMann glanced at his watch and said, "Well, I've had to change what I believe, Jim. I'll tell you all about it, but I have to do something else right now."
    He picked up the phone and dialed a local number.
    "Steve, this is Bill. Are you ready to go?"
    He waited for the party on the other end to respond.
    "Okay," he said, "I'll meet you there in five minutes."
    As Dr. McMann hung up the phone, he said, "Jim, do you remember I told you I had an appointment at 10:00?"
    "I'm sorry," Jim said quickly as he stood up. "I'll let you--"
    "--No, no, let me explain. A friend of mine is a city police detective. That was him on the phone. I've arranged for us to check out Dr. Danfield's church, and you're welcomed to come along if you want to."
    "Well ...," Jim didn't know what to say, "Sure."
    "Well, let's go."

Chapter 23

    Jim's head was spinning as he walked across the room and through the office door being held open by Dr. McMann. He was still trying to interpret everything that Dr. McMann had explained to him, and now he was heading off on some new adventure to a place he'd never been, and he was accompanying a man that he didn't know at all only one hour earlier. Although Jim was confused, he was also quite eager to proceed with the expedition. He stepped into the hallway and Dr. McMann paused to close and lock his office door.
    "Jim," he said, as they both started walking briskly down the hall.
    "I know that this is happening very fast for you, but I'm in the same boat. Let me explain what we're doing."
    Jim listened attentively as he followed Dr. McMann's lead into the staff parking lot.
    Dr. McMann continued, "Sunday afternoon, after I had found Dr. Danfield's church locked up, I began trying to find out what had happened. Finding myself unable to contact anyone who could help, I finally called the police. Well, trying not to sound too fanatical, I explained my concern, but I wasn't taken too seriously. The dispatcher told me that they were very busy with a higher-than-usual number of missing person reports over the weekend. He said, however, that he would have someone drive by the church and check it out."
    Dr. McMann unlocked the passenger door of his car for Jim, then he circled the car and climbed behind the wheel. He wasted no time in pulling into the busy street, and he continued his story.
    "Well, I wasn't satisfied that the police would be very helpful. I called an old friend of mine, Steve Jones, who has been a police detective for several years. He assured me that he'd look into the matter for me.
    "Well, he called me back yesterday saying that the church was registered with the police department's Crime Watch program. The church not only assisted the police with Crime Watch activities, but they also kept a set of keys to the church at the Police Station. This is a little bit unusual, but the church insisted that the police have access to the church whenever they needed it. Steve set up an appointment to check out the church at 10:00 today. He said I could come along, and that's where we're headed."
    "And what do you expect to find?" Jim asked.
    "Well, I won't speculate," Dr. McMann's answered.
    "At least, not out loud. Let's just see if we can find any clues."
    Dr. McMann pulled into the parking lot of Grace Memorial Church. There was another car there, and Jim assumed it was an unmarked police car belonging to the man they were about to meet. Dr. McMann parked beside it, and the two men got out.
    Dr. McMann said, "Hi, Steve."
    "Hello, Bill," said the man climbing from the other car. "It's good to see you again."
    He shook hands with Dr. McMann.
    Nodding toward Jim, Dr. McMann said, "Steve, this is a friend of mine, Jim Wheeler. I hope you don't mind if he tags along."
    "Not at all," Steve said.
    He held out his hand to Jim, "I'm Steve Jones. I'm a detective with the city police."
    Jim shook his hand. "Jim Wheeler. Pleased to meet you."
    Looking at Dr. McMann, Steve said, "Well, I've got several keys here. What say we start with this old school house?"
    "Sure," said Dr. McMann. The three men started walking toward the old building.
    "This is their educational facility," Dr. McMann informed the other two men. "They have Sunday School in here. Then they go out to the gymnasium for their worship service."
    Steve reached toward the door with a key, and struggled with the lock for a few seconds. He said, "So, you think something strange is going on, Bill?"
    "Well, I don't know," Dr. McMann replied. "Like I told you Sunday, the whole church seems to be missing."
    "Well, as far as I know, we haven't had any other calls about this church."
    Finally, Steve unlocked the door and pushed it open. The three men walked inside. The first descriptive that came to Jim's mind was "old." He supposed this building must have been built sixty or eighty years ago, and it probably hadn't experienced much remodeling for twenty or thirty years.
    The men were in a small foyer, and each man slowly walked in slightly different directions. Jim stepped to the right and glanced down a hallway. Curiously, he walked down the hall and glanced into the first room. This wasn't normal. Suppose he found something awful--a dead body or something. However, he didn't see anything too unusual.
    The first room looked like a small classroom. It had about a dozen chairs in the center of the room, a small wooden podium at the front, and a blackboard on the wall. There was a small table by the podium with a few books and pamphlets on it. Jim figured that this room was built as a school classroom, and that now it was being used for a Sunday school class.
    Jim walked to the next room which looked almost identical to the first, then he walked back to find the other men. They had proceeded left out of the foyer, into a sort of secretarial lobby area. Everything seemed in order.  The desks were tidy, and the whole place was clean--as clean as an old building can be. Here and there were Bibles and church literature, and on the corner of one desk were a handful of cassette tapes. The three men walked past this room into another hallway. They stopped in front of a door with the sign "Pastor" hanging on it. Steve looked down the hallway as he tried the door, as though he expected it to be locked. To his surprise, it opened, and the three men slowly walked into the pastor's office.
    The room was very small, and was slightly cramped even with just the three men standing in its center.  The only furniture was a desk, an old office chair behind the desk, and two folding chairs in front of it. There were bookshelves on two walls which were packed full of theological books. The desk looked like any desk might at the very beginning or the very end of the day. It was clean and tidy, and the only items on it were a telephone, a family picture which Jim supposed was Dr. Danfield and his wife, and a couple of trays which were probably used by the pastor for incoming and outgoing mail.
    Dr. McMann picked up a sheet of paper from one of the trays. He said, "This looks like a church membership roll. There are several of them here. Do you care if I take one, Steve?" he asked.
    Steve replied, "It won't bother me. That's probably what they're there for."
    He turned completely around, looking all around the room, and said, "Well, I don't see anything too unusual. Let's check out that gymnasium."

Chapter 24

    Steve led the men back into the hallway, and Jim closed the door to the pastor's office. The three men walked to the front door, stepped outside, and paused while Steve struggled to lock the door. Once it was locked to Steve's satisfaction, the three men walked slowly around the building, looking in every direction as they went, searching for some kind of clue. About one hundred feet away stood an old gymnasium, and the three men walked across a gravel parking lot toward it. Steve reached into his pocket for another key.
    "It's kind of unusual to leave keys at the station like this, but sometimes it comes in handy. I wish more people would do it."
    He unlocked the gym door, this time without much trouble, and the three men stepped inside.
    Like the schoolhouse, the gym looked very old. They were in a small lobby area. To the left were restrooms, and to the right was an old staircase. Straight ahead was the main part of the gym. Steve walked out onto the gym floor, and the other two men followed. The gym floor shone like most gym floors do. Jim could tell that it was well-maintained. Along the wall were several rolls of carpet about three feet wide, along with about forty or fifty folding chairs.
    After assessing the surroundings, Dr. McMann said, "I guess they use the gym for a basketball court during the week, and for worship services on Sunday. I'd bet that they unroll the carpet to protect the floors, and set up the folding chairs for a worship area. A lot of churches are doing this now days, but this operation seems a bit crude."
    On the other end of the gym was a wooden podium, an overhead projector on a small table, and a piano.  Picturing in his mind how this place might look on a Sunday morning, Jim decided that Dr. McMann was right about the dual-purpose gymnatorium.
    As Jim's eyes kept searching the surroundings for clues, he spotted something on the far wall that held his attention. It was one of those signboards that some churches use to display their weekly attendance. Jim's church had one too, but it looked much different somehow. The one at Meadowlake was made out of brass and the statistics were displayed in bright metallic colors, making it plainly visible from anywhere in the auditorium. This one, on the other hand, was harder to read. The board was just that, a piece of plywood, the top of which had some decorative designs carved into it, and the middle part had some grooves cut into it to hold the various rows of numbers for display, and the wood had been stained. It looked like an amateur job, and Jim supposed that it had probably been handmade by one of the church members. The letters and numbers displayed on the plywood were store-bought, but they looked very old, as though they had once been black letters on a white background, but now they were gray on yellow.
    Despite the rustic appearance of the signboard itself, there was something else about it that held Jim's attention--the numbers it displayed. The date on the first line was September 12, so, as Jim supposed, these statistics were for the Sunday before last. The next row indicated that the whole membership of the church was only 55. Jim's church  had Sunday school classes larger than that. But, out of those 55, there had been 49 in attendance on September 12. Percentage-wise, that was pretty impressive. Jim knew that Meadowlake was doing well to get 40% of its members to show up on a given Sunday, while Grace Memorial was getting about 90%. The next line on the sign said that they had done even better on the previous Sunday, with 53 in attendance. How could a church sustain between 90 and 100% attendance? Still, each line on the sign was more intriguing than the last.
    The bottom two lines showed the amount of the offerings the church had received for those same two successive Sundays. One week they had brought in $1243, and the other week, $1147. Now that had to be a mistake, Jim thought. At that rate, the annual budget could only be about $60,000. His church operated on ten times that amount, and it always seemed like they barely had enough money to pay all the bills. Sure, this church wasn't nearly as large as his, but they still had a couple of buildings and a staff. How could they even pay the pastor's salary on $60,000?
    Jim's thoughts were distracted by the other two men who were now walking carefully along the outside wall of the gymnasium, as though they didn't want to walk on the bare gym floor. They stopped, looked all around, and Steve called out in a loud voice, "Is anybody here?"
    There was no answer, and Steve said, "Well, I think we've struck out. However, I also have a key to the church  parsonage. Would you like to take a look in there?"
    Dr. McMann and Jim said they would.
    Jim led as the three men backtracked toward the outside door where they had entered.
    Steve said, "Let me check the restrooms." He quickly opened the restroom door, stepped inside, and came out within three seconds.
    "Man, that's sure a tiny restroom for a public place. It didn't take long to verify that there was nobody in there."
    The three men walked through the outside door they had left open. Steve closed and locked it and headed back toward the schoolhouse. Instead of following the sidewalk all the way to the schoolhouse, Steve walked across a side yard toward an old house next to the school. Jim realized that this must be the parsonage, although he'd hardly noticed the little house previously. There was a van parked in the driveway. He followed Steve and Dr. McMann onto the front porch. Steve knocked loudly on the front door.

Chapter 25

    Steve knocked again and called out, "Rochester Police. Is anyone home?"
    He immediately opened the old wooden screen door and reached down to unlock the front door with yet another key. Jim held the screen door open while Steve fussed with the lock. It had been a long time since Jim had seen an old screen door like this one. The house looked like one of those "before" pictures in the vinyl siding ads that boasted "before" and "after" pictures.
    Steve managed to get the door unlocked, then he opened it and leaned forward saying, "Is anyone home? Dr. Danfield? Steve Jones of the City Police."
    By this time, none of the men was expecting an answer, so they all entered the house and found themselves in a small living room. The first thing Jim noticed was the smell. It didn't really smell badly, but it smelled old. Jim quickly realized that the last time he'd smelled that particular odor was at his grandmother's old house when he was just a kid. It was kind of a musty smell, but it brought back pleasant memories. Jim had always presumed that the odor was that of his grandmother, but now, for the first time, he realized it was the odor of an old house. This was the kind of house with plaster walls instead of drywall.  Jim thought that it must be at least as old as the school.
    The men walked slowly to the right. The house seemed quite small, and with only a couple of steps they found themselves in the dining room which seemed like only a small extension of the living room. There were two places set at the dining room table, although the table was large enough for four to dine. It looked like a breakfast setting with small plates, cereal bowls, and juice glasses. Jim thought that it looked much like the breakfast table at his own house. It wasn't uncommon for Carol to set the table the night before, in order to help relax the chaotic atmosphere around the house during the early morning family time.
    Steve walked through a doorway into the tiny kitchen, and the other two men followed. Looking around the room, the three men couldn't cite anything too unusual, except that the light was on. The kitchen was tidy, as though it had just been cleaned up after a previous meal. Each man stood, looking in every direction, even out the window, searching for some sort of clue.
    Suddenly Steve said "There's coffee made."
    He pointed to the counter top beside the sink. The other two men saw the pot full of black coffee.  They walked closer to examine it.
    Steve reached down and tapped the coffee maker.
    "It’s got an automatic shutoff. I was involved in an investigation over the weekend where this would've come in handy."
    "What happened?" Jim asked.
    "Last Saturday afternoon I was called to check out a house fire on Saturn Road. The house had pretty well burnt to the ground, and the fire department was just leaving when I got there. The arson investigators were there, and they told me the fire had been started by the coffee maker. They thought that someone had made some coffee and then left the coffee pot setting on the coffee maker to keep it warm. That's no crime. I do it all the time. However, they must have forgotten about it and left it there too long. Apparently the heat eventually caused all the coffee to evaporate. Once the coffee was gone, the heat just built up in the empty pot until it shorted out and caught on fire."
    Jim thought about this a moment and then asked, "Steve, how long do you think it took to evaporate all the coffee?"
    "Well, it depends on how full the pot was. The arson investigators said that probably about six cups of coffee were made about 24 to 36 hours earlier. Anyway, the whole thing wouldn't have happened if they had had a pot like this one that shuts off by itself after an hour or so of not receiving any attention--."
    "--Do you hear water running?" Jim asked.
    Steve stopped talking and listened. There was a faint sound like water running through pipes.
    "Yeah, it's coming from the back of the house. We'll check it out next."
    All three men moved very slowly, trying to notice every detail, as they left the kitchen and walked toward the back of the house.
    Steve began another story, "Say, that reminds me. Another weird thing happened this weekend. A man called and said that there was water running into the street, and that it was coming from the front door of his neighbor's house. When we investigated, we discovered that someone had left the water running in the kitchen sink, and the whole house was flooded. Now what kind of fool would leave the water running in the kitchen sink when he left the house? I wonder if these folks did the same thing."
    Jim had a possible answer, but since he didn't think that Steve would be too receptive to it just yet, he simply nodded his head and looked around the rest of the kitchen. The three men entered a narrow hallway. The first room off the hall was a very small bedroom. It appeared to be a guest room since it had no signs of having been used recently. The bed was neatly made, and, like the rest of the house, the room was clean, but it seemed really old.
    Steve led the way to the next room. He looked into it and entered the doorway. He thought it was the master bedroom, but it seemed too small, and there didn't seem to be a master bath attached to it as is customary.
    Steve asked, "Do you think this is the master bedroom?"
    "I guess so," Dr. McMann replied. "It has to be. There are only two bedrooms, and this one is slightly larger, and obviously used more."
    Used indeed, Jim thought. This room wasn't tidy like the other rooms. The bed was unmade, there were a couple of articles of clothing on the bed and chairs, and a glass of water on one of the night stands. About the time he noticed a pair of eyeglasses on the night stand, causing his mind to begin churning with possibilities, Steve's voice broke the silence.
    "I think we may have something here."
    Steve walked in front of the other two men, as though to remind them that he was in charge.
    "Please don't touch anything unless you ask me first. We may need to have some pictures taken of this place."
    As Jim and Dr. McMann waited for further instructions, Steve turned completely around in a slow circle, intently studying everything he saw.
    "This is a little unusual," Steve said. "The rest of the house is so clean and tidy, but this room is a mess. This could indeed be the room from which the Danfields disappeared, perhaps rather abruptly."
    Jim could tell that Steve was trying to formulate a picture of what might have happened.
    Steve again noticed the sound of running water and said, "Where's that sound coming from?"
    As the other two men looked at each other as though to say, "Why are you asking me?" Steve walked back into the hallway and proceeded toward the only remaining room at the end of the hall.
    "Here it is," he said.
    The door was shut most of the way, but not latched. Steve pushed it open. Although he knew the other two men were right behind him, he called out.
    "Hey, look at this."
    The light in the bathroom was on, and laying on the floor was what looked like a woman's nightgown. Jim couldn't tell for sure, but he thought there might be a lady's undergarment on the floor under the nightgown. Also, the medicine chest door was wide open, and there was a half-used roll of toothpaste on the sink. A white hand towel was hung neatly on a towel rack beside the sink, and a blue bath towel was hung similarly on a rack by the tub. The tub also served as a shower, and the curtain across the front of it was closed. Most noticeable of all, the water in the shower was apparently running slowly. This was obviously the source of the sound of water running through pipes that the three men had heard. Jim had an uneasy feeling, like he was an actor in a horror movie.
    Steve reached up and took hold of the shower curtain. He glanced over at Jim. Suddenly, this seemed all too real. All three men were thinking that it looked like someone had prepared to take a shower. They also knew that these people were missing. Putting two and two together, none of them was sure that they were ready for what might be awaiting them behind the shower curtain. Without giving them too much time to consider all the ghastly possibilities, Steve slowly opened the curtain.

Chapter 26

    The shower was empty, except for a blue washrag on the tile floor. It looked like it had just been dropped there, without any attempt to wring it out or hang it up. There was soap in the soap dish, and a bottle of shampoo on the floor of the bathtub in the far corner. Water was dripping very slowly from the shower faucet.
    Steve thought for a moment and then said, "Consider this scenario. The aggressors enter the house in the early morning, about the time this family is getting up. One member of the family, probably the wife, judging by the nightgown on the floor, comes in here to take a shower. She finishes her shower about the time the aggressors enter this room. The perpetrators grab her, she drops her washrag on the shower floor, and the shower curtain gets closed in the scuffle. Then they take the woman out of the house and off to who-knows-where."
    Trying to deny the fact that this scenario was actually a possibility, Jim dropped his head. He knew only too well that it was possible. He suddenly wished he'd never gotten involved in this. But what had he expected? Missing persons probably didn't usually leave a very pleasant story behind.
    Just as Jim was beginning to feel sick to his stomach, Steve spoke again, "But what about the husband?"
    Steve quickly turned off the water in the shower and headed back to the master bedroom. The three men entered the bedroom again and stood side-by-side at the foot of the bed. The right side of the bed looked like someone had just gotten out of it. The top right corner of the sheet was folded back toward the center of the bed. It looked like it had just been slept in, then the person threw the sheet back and climbed out of bed, not bothering to make it up.
    "This is a little confusing," Steve said. "Why didn't she make the bed? She's obviously a very articulate housekeeper."
    The two men had not realized the rhetoric behind Steve's question, but neither man offered an answer anyway.
    Steve continued, "Because the husband was still in the bed."
    He sounded like he'd just solved the crime of the century.
    He walked to the left side of the bed and picked up the clock radio on the night stand. As he did, he looked at Jim and said, "Jim, see what time that alarm is set for," and he nodded toward the night stand on the other side of the bed.
    Jim did as he was told and answered, "Six-forty-five. But it's not set.”
    Steve said, "This one's set for seven." He paused to collect his thoughts, then continued. "I believe that her alarm got her up at 6:45 and she went to take a shower, leaving him in bed until his alarm would go off at 7:00.  Given enough time to brush her teeth, and almost complete her shower, I think the aggressors grabbed her out of the shower at about 6:55.  Then they came back and got him out of bed." Steve looked up and returned the clock radio to the stand, then he smiled, as though he'd already solved the whole case.
    Now Jim's investigative intuition got the best of him. He began to question Steve, "But why is his side of the sheet and blanket pulled up to the top of the bed?"
    A little bewildered that Jim would question his investigative reasoning, Steve replied, "Well, I don't know. It's not important. Maybe the kidnappers just threw it back up there after they got him out of bed."
    Steve violated his own hands-off directive by lifting the covers slightly to check underneath. All three men could readily see that there was nothing there.
    "You mean like they took the time to close the shower curtain but left the water running?" Jim asked.
    Seeing that Steve was a little annoyed with Jim's line of questioning, Dr. McMann said, "What are you getting at, Jim?"
    "Well, I don't know," Jim replied. "It just seems like all of these details could be important. In other words, if it's important that the washrag was on the shower floor, and that the wife's sheet was folded back, I'm trying to determine the significance of the fact that the sheet and blanket are pulled toward the pillow on the other side. Is it reasonable that he never threw back his side of the sheet, as though he just kind-of disappeared from under it?"
    Suddenly, Dr. McMann realized what Jim was thinking.
    Steve thought a moment and said, "You mean he could have heard the aggressors coming and sort of snuck out from under the covers without moving them much? I supposed so, but they still must have gotten him before he could do much. I don't see any signs of much of a struggle."
    Dr. McMann looked at Jim, realizing that this wasn't the scenario Jim had in mind. Both men remained silent, intent to keep their secret to themselves until they had worked out a more convincing story.
    In a dual effort to appease Steve and to secretly point out more details to Dr. McMann, Jim said, "You're probably right. I just think that the left side of the bed looks funny. It doesn't really look like someone got out of the bed and adjusted the covers. It just looks like there used to be someone in the bed, but now there isn't, and the covers are bulked up instead of flat, like someone left the bed without moving the covers. Oh, well, it's probably not important."
    "Well," said Steve, "Let's get back and let me call for a photographer. Maybe we can come back later when we can move things around a little."
    He led the men back to the front door. When they were all on the front porch, he locked the door, and the men returned to their cars.
    Climbing into his unmarked car, Steve said, "I'll call you when I find out something, Bill. Nice to meet you Jim."
    The other two men told Steve good-bye and climbed into Dr. McMann's car.

Chapter 27

    It was well past Jim's usual lunch time, so he offered to buy Dr. McMann's lunch. The whole lunch was very quiet, as each man tried to discern the meaning of what he'd just witnessed. After lunch, Dr. McMann drove them back to his office on campus, and the two men sat down to resume their visit.
    It seemed that neither man knew what to say. They were both dumbfounded with all the evidence they were mentally analyzing. Finally, Dr. McMann broke the ice.
    "So, Jim," then he paused for effect. "What do you think now?"
    Jim had anticipated the question ever since they left Dr. Danfield's church, and he'd had plenty of time to think about it. Carefully choosing his words, and speaking slowly and deliberately he began his response.
    "Dr. McMann, I believe that the rapture occurred last Friday morning just before 7:00 A.M. The time of the scene that Steve described at the Danfield's coincides very closely with the time that Bill Washington disappeared at work. I don't think that this has anything to do with aggressors, or kidnappers, or terrorists. The scenario that Steve described can easily fit that of a rapture also."
    "Tell me more about that Bill Washington. You said something about finding his coffee cup. Can you construct a scenario for him that matches all the other anomalies we've found?"
    "Yes, I've given that some thought. Bill's coffee cup was found in one of the elevators early Friday morning, broken into pieces. He had this clever little Aggie cup with the handle on the inside, and everyone knew it was his.  I've thought of some possibilities as to why it was found in the elevator.
    "Bill always came in to work extremely early. We practice flex time at Softco, so we can come in early and leave early, or come in late and stay late. I sometimes like to beat the crowd myself because you can really get a lot of work done when nobody's around.
    "Bill was sometimes in his office as early as 6:00 A.M., when it's still dark outside, and I assume this was the case last Friday. At that time of the day, he probably felt like he was the only person in the building, except for a straggling security officer here and there.
    "His office looked normal, like he had just stepped out for coffee. He probably unlocked his desk as soon as he arrived, retrieved some folders from some file drawers, and opened his briefcase to retrieve the work he had taken home.  Unfortunately, one of those items was confidential, so it got flagged for a security violation over the weekend.
    "He probably logged on and started working. He had to prepare for an 8:00 A.M. meeting, so he may have printed some charts--that's it! He sent some charts to the printer in the copier room. That's where we keep our only color printer. It's an old graphics printer, and it's really slow, so Bill probably went to get a cup of coffee while he waited for his printouts.
    "He grabbed his coffee cup, walked down the hall, and took the elevator to the second floor to get some coffee out of the vending machines."
    Jim paused to consider all the thoughts he had just verbalized, and wondered what Dr. McMann thought about his speculative story. He immediately found out, because Dr. McMann dramatically finished the story with speculation of his own.
    "The elevator dropped silently to the second floor, its bell rang, signaling that it had arrived at its appointed destination. The elevator doors opened and remained open for about the usual five seconds. However, Bill didn't step off the elevator. The elevator had arrived, as expected, per his request, at the second floor, but it would've sufficed if the doors had never opened. The vending machine was ready to serve coffee, but Bill didn't need coffee now. His charts printed perfectly, but neither was this of any consequence to him now. His word processor beeped, signaling the completion of the print job, but nobody heard it. There was no more sound. The building was quiet, and even outside, the silent calm after the storm had displaced the roar of thunder."
    Both men paused, allowing Dr. McMann's dramatic conclusion to have its desired effect.
    Finally, Jim said, "What about you? Have you thought about the Danfield's as much as I've thought about Bill Washington?"
    Dr. McMann paused as though to add the final touches to the rough draft in his head, then he began.
    "Consider this. Ruby Danfield was an early riser, and Jack liked to sleep in a few more minutes after Ruby got up. Ruby's alarm went off at 6:45, and she went to the kitchen to start the coffee so it would be ready for breakfast.  She plugged in the coffee pot, the one with the automatic shutoff, which they had purchased for special occasions, like the rapture. Then she may have retrieved some breakfast items from the cupboard in case Jack got up soon.
    "She then proceeded to the bathroom to take a shower. As usual, she turned on the light in the bathroom, and pulled the door almost shut, leaving it unlatched in case Jack woke up and needed in the bathroom. She probably turned on the water in the shower, then brushed her teeth while she waited for the shower water to warm up. When she was finished brushing her teeth, she undressed, stepped into the shower, closed the curtain, and began her shower as usual.
     "Meanwhile, Jack's still lying in bed waiting for his alarm to go off at 7:00. He may have even been awake, listening for Ruby to turn off the water in the shower, which would be his cue for his turn in the bathroom. Maybe he rolled over to check the time, but--"
    Jim prepared himself for more of Dr. McMann's dramatics.
    "But he never discovered what time it was. It didn't matter now. And Ruby never shut off the water in the shower. That didn't matter either. Eventually, the house filled with light as the sun came up, but there was nobody there to see it. The scent of fresh coffee was in the air, but no nose smelled it, and the coffee pot eventually shut itself off. The table was set, and there was plenty of food in the kitchen for breakfast, but breakfast wasn't served, and the coffee wasn't drunk.”
    This time, Jim finished Dr. McMann's story.
    "So, at about 6:55 A.M., Mrs. Danfield was in the shower, and Dr. Danfield was still in bed. They were both raptured. She left behind only a washrag, and he left behind only empty space between the sheets.
    "Furthermore, as far as I'm concerned, the common denominator of everyone who's missing is a spiritual one. In particular, it seems that Dr. Danfield's whole church was raptured. I assume that you are going to try to contact all the names on that membership list."
    "Yes," replied Dr. McMann, "I'll try to do that this afternoon. I know a couple of these names, and the list isn't very long.
    "Jim, I want to give you another argument that supports a pro-rapture scenario. Dr. Danfield's paper refers to a special Jewish holiday called the Feast of Trumpets. There is a widely-believed tradition throughout the Christian world that Christ will return on the Feast of Trumpets. Jim, last Friday, September 21st, was the Feast of Trumpets."
    "That does it," Jim said. "I'm convinced."
    Dr. McMann leaned back in his chair and gazed toward the ceiling. "Now tell me Jim, if you were going to play the role of devil's advocate here, what questions would you ask which seem to make the rapture an unlikely answer?"
    "Well, there are a few things that bother me," Jim said as though he agreed with Dr. McMann that they should investigate all possibilities.
    "Number one, I always assumed that when the rapture occurred, everyone would know it, not only those raptured, but also those left behind. I guess I would tend to agree with Reverend Loomis on this. Isn't there a scripture that says that every face will see him?"
    Without giving Dr. McMann an opportunity to respond, Jim continued.
    "Number two. Shouldn't there have been many more people raptured than this? Like Reverend Loomis said, what about the millions of people who were in church last Sunday morning?"
    Again the question was rhetorical, and Dr. McMann didn't try to answer. Jim knew that Dr. McMann would answer all his questions when he finished listing them.
    "Number three," Jim said, counting off three fingers of his left hand with his right index finger. "What about their clothes? Dr. Danfield left no clothes behind in his bed. Mrs. Danfield did, but she must have taken them off before her shower. Martin Davis certainly left no clothes in his office. Would you expect things like clothes, glasses, and watches to be raptured? I wouldn't.
    "Number four. Why would people be taken in such curious groupings? Very few people are missing from work. I don't know of any who are missing at Meadowlake. Yet, it appears that one hundred percent of Dr. Danfield's church  is missing. How can you explain these 'pockets' of Christians being raptured?"
    Jim said no more. 
After a few seconds, Dr. McMann could see that this was Jim's complete list, at least for the time being. He stood up and started his slow pacing before answering.

Chapter 28

    Dr. McMann finally said, "Well, Jim, those are all good questions. Let's start with the first one.  Regardless of what anyone may tell you, nobody knows what the rapture will be like. Prophecies are always easier to recognize once they've occurred, but even in Old Testament times they often occurred quite differently than expected. Revelation 1:7 does say that every eye will see Him. However, it may very well be that that verse doesn't apply to the rapture. I believe it applies to Christ's second coming, at the end of the tribulation period, when he establishes his earthly kingdom. There's nothing in the Bible that would prevent the rapture from occurring just as your scenario indicates. It might make perfectly good sense that most people don't recognize that it was a rapture, especially since all those left behind are unbelievers.
    "Now the Bible does say that Christ will give a loud command, and a trumpet will be sounded when he descends to earth, but maybe it would only be heard in Heaven, or maybe only by the departing Christians. Maybe they did hear something. Furthermore, maybe God worked it out this way for a reason."
    Dr. McMann paused to think this through. "Say, wasn't it storming early Friday morning? Maybe there was a trumpet blast, but we couldn't hear it over the rain and thunder."
    Dr. McMann continued, "Based on these observations, I would have to discount this question and rule in favor of your pro-rapture scenario.
    "Question number two. Why were so few raptured? I've been dealing with this question ever since Sunday. All I can say is that nobody really knows what another person believes. It could very well be that our churches are filled with unbelievers. Again, we'd like to think that most everyone in the world would be raptured. However, I don't think there's anything in the Bible that we would violate by saying that only a few would go. Quite the contrary, based on the words of Christ when he said that although many are called, only a few are chosen. He also said that the way to heaven is narrow, but the evil way is broad.
    "In Dr. Danfield's paper, he gives support for his opinion that about one hundred years ago, twenty-five percent of the world's population were Christians. He believes that today, only about two percent of the population are Christians.
    "Say, Jim, how many people did you say were missing from your complex?" Dr. McMann asked.
    "Sixteen," Jim replied.
    "And how many employees work at your facility?"
    "Oh, around 900 or so."
    Both men quickly did the arithmetic in their heads.
    Dr. McMann said, "Let's see, eighteen would be two percent, so sixteen is a little less than two percent.  That's pretty close, although we might expect a higher percentage here in the Bible belt than in the rest of the world."
    He continued, "Number three. Concerning articles of clothing, again, the Bible doesn't specify what we should expect. However, even if some are raptured with clothes, and some without, don't you think that a God who can cause a rapture can figure out what to do with some old clothing?
    "We don't even know all the facts about the rapture from a physical viewpoint, much less from God's supernatural viewpoint. I think it suffices to say that when an event as supernatural as the rapture occurs, our almighty God can figure out these small details. They really don't bother me very much, and they don't keep me from believing in our rapture scenario.
    "You know, there is something here that bothers me more than the issue of clothing. I read an article in yesterday's paper about a kidney patient in Houston that died Friday. He'd had a kidney transplant about a year ago, and he was getting along fine until he just dropped dead last Friday morning. It looked like kidney failure, and when an autopsy was done, his kidney was missing. Could that kidney have come from a Christian, and been raptured with that Christian?"
    Dr. McMann shook his head and added, "This is getting too weird.
    "That reminds me," said Jim. "I read in Sunday's paper about a sheriff in Oklahoma. It seems that last Saturday he was issued a court order to exhume a body from a grave site to be examined for evidence in a court case. When they opened the grave and the coffin, the body was gone. Nobody could explain it. They just assumed that some grave robber had stolen it, either as a prank, or to prevent the discovery of some important evidence. Could this have been a dead body which was raised at the rapture? If so, how many more empty graves are out there in our cemeteries now?
    Jim was still deep in his own train of thought.
    Bill said, "I'll tell you another thing I can't explain, and that's the exact time of the rapture. I've tried to review the articles that said what times people were first missed, but they don't match. Senator Hanson disappeared Friday morning at about 7:00 A.M. Washington time. That would've been about 6:00 A.M. here in Rochester. The Danfield's disappeared between 6:45 and 7:00. You would expect that all the people would have disappeared simultaneously, but it seems that Senator Hanson disappeared an hour or so before this friend of yours at work.
    "Also, why weren't there thousands of accidents Friday morning? It seems like a lot of these people would've been driving on freeways when they were raptured, leaving the cars traveling sixty miles per hour down the road without drivers. And wouldn't there have been a lot of eye witnesses? Oh, well, I guess my arguments are inconclusive due to lack of evidence."
    Dr. McMann paused to recall the next question, then he began again. "Concerning the 'pockets' of Christians being raptured, I can easily find a satisfactory explanation. What we are dealing with here is a spiritual phenomenon, and the primary means of spiritual training are our churches. Now, people are going to attend a church that is comfortable for them, one where they are comfortable with what's being taught, so that they believe basically what the pastor and the other members there believe. If they become uncomfortable, they leave and find themselves another church.
    "Well, some churches are preaching the truth, and others aren't. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that if Dr. Danfield was preaching the truth, then his entire church might be raptured. Likewise, if Meadowlake wasn't preaching the truth, the whole church would likely agree on that false doctrine, and nobody would be raptured.
    "You know, the same thing is true of the seminary environment, and the professors and students who come here every day. Now as far as I know, there are no professors missing from ITS, and if there are any students missing, it hasn't been enough to notice."
    Only now was Dr. McMann beginning to realize the seriousness of his last remark.
    "What about other seminaries? I wonder if there are some seminaries that are shut down due to lack of attendance, or lack of faculty. I really hate to think that what we're saying may be true. If so, the rapture came, and nobody from ITS went. Have we been teaching false doctrine all these years?
    He hung his head in dismay, but quickly recovered.
    "Well, anyway, the same thing could be true of the family environment. If the parents, particularly the father, believe the truth, the rest of the family is likely to follow his leadership and believe the truth also. Likewise, if the family leaders believe what's not true, the rest of the family will probably follow in the deception.
    "The workplace, on the other hand, represents a cross-section of religious beliefs, so you would expect more of a mixture there. Say, maybe this is why the media has yet to pick up on the full extent of the situation. They don't have any idea of the scope of the problem, because from a secular viewpoint, the problem doesn't appear to be that widespread. In general, the media doesn't care who showed up at Grace Memorial Church last Sunday, and they have no way of knowing.
    "You know, what I find interesting is that Dr. Danfield's congregation consisted of mostly lower-middle-class blue-collar types. I've read that the faith of the average American decreases as his education and income increases. That seems to support our argument as well.
    Seeing that he'd answered Jim's questions to his satisfaction, at least for the time being, Dr. McMann made another observation.
    "Jim, I find it very interesting to think that the rapture could have occurred without its being obvious to everyone. Consider Mrs. Danfield's washrag again. You and I have explained it from our rapture point of view, but remember that Steve explained it to his own satisfaction from the point of view that a kidnaping had occurred. The same goes for all the missing people out there. Everyone is trying to explain it from a human point of view, primarily by terrorist activities. First Corinthians 2:14 says that, to an unbeliever, the truth seems like foolishness, and I think that is what we're seeing here. With nothing but unbelievers left behind after the rapture, it's not a wonder that nobody would believe, or even consider the rapture as an explanation.
    "Also, I think it's obvious that Dr. Danfield was so sure of himself concerning his views of the end times that he intentionally made some preparations to aid us who remain in our investigation. I believe that he left his keys at the police station for this very purpose. He knew that the rapture could occur at any time, and he wanted his church to offer assistance to the remaining unbelievers, even after his departure. I believe that's why he left this membership list in his in-basket. You remember that it was the only thing on his desk. He wanted us to find it and verify that all his members had been raptured.
    "Also, consider that automatic shut-off on his coffee maker. Jim, what kind of economic lifestyle would you say that the Danfield's were accustomed to?"
    Jim answered quickly, "Obviously, a very thrifty one. Both the house and the church looked like they hadn't been redecorated for years, and all the furniture was old, yet not unattractive."
    "My thoughts exactly," said Dr. McMann. "Now, why would such a family pay a considerable amount extra for a coffee pot with an automatic shutoff on it? I think it was because they didn't want their house to burn down in case of the rapture, like Steve said happened to that other family."
    Jim quickly verbalized another concern. "I guess I always thought that the end times would be sort of spiritual, or ghostly. I never thought about it being similar to our present environment, you know, with cars and computers and stuff."
    "Good point, Jim," Dr. McMann said. That's what most people think. Maybe that's another reason why most people don't recognize what's happened. The change doesn't seem dramatic enough. I believe that the physical aspects of the tribulation period and the millennium could look very much like our own world.
    "Say, I've been wondering why the media isn't making more out of this thing than they are. They're usually quick to blow things completely out of proportion. I wonder if the insurance industry is trying to downplay the situation to minimize life insurance claims. However, without dead bodies, it's probably hard to verify death."
    Jim nodded in agreement and then said, "So, do you agree that the rapture has occurred?"
    "I'm not going to express my final opinion as yet. I want to call the people on the membership list first, as well as study a couple of other things. However, if I had to say right now, yes, I agree with you."
    Dr. McMann recognized that his agreement set well with Jim, who seemed to look more relaxed now. In fact, just as Jim was becoming comfortable with his analysis, and proud of his investigative efforts, Dr. McMann initiated a related and very serious dialog.
    "Jim," he said solemnly, waiting for Jim's undivided attention.
    Just as Jim's eyes met his own, he continued. "I don't know whether you have yet grasped the real meaning and consequences of what we're suggesting."
    Jim suddenly got the feeling that some bad news was on the way.
    "If the Church was raptured," Dr. McMann continued, "what does that mean for you and me?"

Chapter 29

    Jim began to answer Dr. McMann's question about their own destiny, but realized that he hadn't yet spent enough time thinking about the theological aspect of the situation in order to give an intelligent reply. Dr. McMann began to solemnly answer his own question.
    "Well, if the Church has been raptured, then you and I were left out." He paused, as though to let this statement sink in before proceeding.
    "That means that we aren't, and weren't, part of the Church. Granted, there are some theologians who believe that the whole Church doesn't get raptured at one time. They believe that some will have to endure certain trials during the Great Tribulation, depending upon how well they had lived up to their name as Christians. However, believe me, Jim, I find no biblical basis for this thesis. I can look you in the eye and say that if the Church has been raptured, then we weren't a part of that rapture, or consequently, a part of that Church.
    "Now, what was involved in becoming a part of the church? I'd like to illustrate this by having you answer a question, Jim."
    The two men made eye contact as Dr. McMann continued. "How does a person become a Christian?"
    Dr. McMann stopped speaking this time, waiting for Jim's answer. Jim felt nervous, like he was on trial, but he took comfort in the fact that Dr. McMann was in the same boat in which he found himself. He chose his first words carefully and said, "Well, you have to be a believer. That is, you have to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior."
    Dr. McMann intentionally remained quieted to see what else Jim would say.
    After about five seconds, Jim felt like Dr. McMann was expecting him to say more, so he continued.
    "You know, you have to believe that Christ was raised from the dead, and all that."
    Again Jim paused, and again Dr. McMann seemed unsatisfied with his answer.
    Jim didn't realize that Dr. McMann was setting him up. He still felt like his answer had been too vague to satisfy Dr. McMann, so he tried again. "It has to do with living a good life, the way Christ would want you to."
    Jim was relieved when Dr. McMann finally responded. "And if you believe in Christ and live a good life, what does it get you?"
    "Well, you get to go to heaven when you die," Jim replied.     "Or get raptured, whichever comes first," Dr. McMann added. "Would you agree?"
    "Yes," was all that Jim said.
    "Jim, you are partially correct," Dr. McMann began again. "When a person believes in Christ, he becomes what the Bible calls a 'believer.' This results in several things.  He becomes the recipient of a whole multitude of God's blessings. He becomes a member of the Church, whose head is Christ. He is blessed with spiritual gifts. And, among many other things, yes, he is assured of a place in heaven for eternity, whether via death, or the rapture.
    "However, there's a flaw in your logic for attaining the status of 'Christian.' The correct answer is that one must believe in Christ as his personal savior ... period. Living a good life has nothing to do with it. God does it all, and we do nothing, except believe.
    "I intentionally asked the questions the way I did in order to make you say what you said. Don't feel bad, Jim. I'm in the same predicament. What I'm telling you now stems from something I learned just this week, although it was first presented to me several years ago.
    "I told you that I used to appear on a radio talk show with Dr. Danfield. Well, we had some stimulating theological conversations, and I'll never forget something he said to me one day, on this subject. We had reached the end of a heated, yet friendly debate over the end times and eternity. The last thing that Dr. Danfield said to me was that he hoped I would remember Romans 4:4 and 5, because he had a feeling that it would come in handy for me some day."
    Dr. McMann picked up a Bible from the top of his desk and quickly thumbed to a passage that Jim assumed was the one he'd just referenced.
    He read, "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." He closed the Bible with a dramatic pause, as though Jim should now recognize some great truth. Dr. McMann saw Jim's blank expression, so he continued to explain.
    "Don't you see, Jim?  This salvation that God gives us is by His Grace--alone. He does it all. We only receive it. There seems to be only one way that we can reject it, and that is if we try to earn it in some way.  Salvation is a free gift of grace, but when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. If we expect God to give us eternal life because we've lived a good life, then God can't give us eternal life, since it can only be bestowed as a grace gift. The gift is only truly a gift to the man who doesn't try to substantiate his salvation by his own works."
    Dr. McMann walked directly in front of Jim, and sat on the corner of the desk. He waited until their eyes locked again, then Dr. McMann continued.
    "Jim, you and I believed that we would get to heaven by two things--belief in Christ, and our good works.  Jim, we nullified God's grace. He couldn't grant salvation to us because we thought that we partially deserved it for the good life we were living. Jim, we weren't saved. We weren't really members of Christ's Church, although we were members of some local church."
    Unable to explain why, tears began rolling down Jim's face.
    Trying to comfort Jim, Dr. McMann added, "Jim, the heck of it all is that I knew I didn't really believe the gospel  message. It just didn't bother me that much. I always just thought 'how could God condemn someone to hell who lived such a good life?' Jim, I've got to know if I'm right on this. Did you previously believe in Christ alone as savior?"
    Jim frantically ran the question through his mind. Hadn't he joined Meadowlake, and hadn't he been baptized. Didn't he have a fish symbol mounted on the trunk of his BMW, although he was unaware of its full significance?  Hadn't his Christianity shown through when the man at the body shop installed it and accidentally drilled one of the holes all the way through the lid to the inside of the trunk? Why, he hadn't even let the man know how upset he was.
    Wiping his eyes, Jim said, "No, not only did I believe that my good life would get me to heaven, I don't think I ever really believed much of anything in the Bible. I'm not even sure I believed in Heaven. I never really thought that all that stuff was literally true. I mean, a man coming back to life from the dead? It didn't make sense to me."
    He paused and looked at Dr. McMann. "Do you mean that if I had died, I wouldn't have gone to heaven?"
    "I'm afraid that's right," Dr. McMann replied. "Your destiny would've been the same as that of Satan and the demons at the end of the millennium, the lake of fire--hell.  But Jim, would it really have surprised you to have concluded that you weren't a believer? I mean, if you had thought about it more, and taken it all more seriously."
    "I guess not," Jim said. He felt like a failure.
    Dr. McMann sighed and said, "Jim, don't take it so hard. What do you think about me? I've been preaching a lie for thirty-five years, and I've propagated that lie to thousands of future-pastors. How do you suppose I feel, changing my mind on this all-important point at this stage in my life? But, I've repented, that's all. That's what the Bible means by repentance, just changing one's mind about this."
    Suddenly Jim's face turned white, and he asked, "But what happens to us now? Is there any hope?"

Chapter 30

    Dr. McMann stood up and began pacing again. He said, "That's the other reason that I haven't slept since Saturday night. All I can tell you is that I believe that as long as we're alive, there is always hope. I think God still has a purpose for us. However, things have changed significantly. Christ's Church is gone, and we no longer have the opportunity to be part of it. That time is finished. However, there will still be believers, though they won't be called Christians. Still, I believe that if you and I, right now, believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised again, then our eternal destiny with God will be secured."
    Dr. McMann could tell that this brought comfort to Jim, although he didn't respond.
    Dr. McMann added, "However, Jim, it doesn't assure us of an easy time of it in our immediate future. We could have a pretty rough time, especially if the next seven years are indeed the great tribulation.
    "Ya' know, there's another facet of this transformation that bothers me. Much of our New Testament consists of instructions to the Church, that is, to Christians. I mean the believers during the specific age of Christianity.  Now that that time has passed, much of our Bible is no longer directly relevant to our lives. That is, the parts that tell us how to live a Christian life no longer matter, because we're not really a part of the Church, and therefore, not really Christians, even though we are believers. The Holy Spirit had a specific mission during the Church Age in that he indwelt Christians, and they were able to call upon him for strength, but with the rapture of the Church, the Holy Spirit is no longer on the earth. Revelation talks about that in light of the tribulation period. It's a time of unchecked evil and violence, in part due to the fact that the Holy Spirit isn't here to combat it. Of course, the whole Bible is still true. It's just that we'll have to study it more carefully, and be more selective about which parts should be used to answer our questions."
    "And which parts are still directly relevant?" asked Jim.
    "Well," Dr. McMann replied, "obviously Revelation is very important now, because much of it describes the tribulation period that we're entering. Also some of the prophetical books of the Old Testament deal with the end times. Daniel describes some of what those last days will be like, as do parts of Ezekiel and Isaiah."
    Jim thought for a few seconds, then, sounding as though he was trying to change the direction of the conversation, he said, "Dr. McMann, are you married?"
    "I'm a widower. Why do you ask?"
    "Well, I'm married, and I love my wife and family very much. Naturally, I'm concerned with how this will affect us all. However, my main concern is with relaying what I've learned to others, especially my immediate family. My wife, Carol, has always been moderately religious, not unlike myself. She's a very intelligent woman, and she thinks for herself.  Not only that, but she thinks that I have a very compulsive temperament. She's right, of course, but I'm afraid she won't want to take me very seriously on this thing. I think that I'll need some solid evidence to convince her."
    Dr. McMann interrupted, "Well, you never know. Would you have ever thought that you could have fallen for such an explanation of world events that we have just now deduced?"
    "You've got a point," Jim agreed. "Still, I'm wondering if there's another way I could persuade her, if necessary. I think the best way would be for us to be able to predict more coming events. Is it possible for us to decipher the events of the end times as described in the Bible, insert ourselves into that scenario at the point of the rapture, and then be able to tell what other events are going to happen? Say, the events of the Great Tribulation that you mentioned. I think that if I could tell Carol that, if we're right, certain other things were going to happen, then when they did occur, she'd be convinced that our logic was solid."
    "I've been thinking about that too, Jim," Dr. McMann responded. "The best information I've come up with is in Dr. Danfield's paper on the end times."
    He shuffled through the mess on his desk, and handed Dr. Danfield's paper to Jim.
    "In answer to your question, yes, there are some things we could expect. I'll lay them out for you briefly, but it's very important that we bear in mind the possible fallibility of our logic. Just as most people didn't expect the rapture to occur like it has, the other events may not occur quite as we would expect either. Nevertheless, I think you're on the right track. In the coming days, we may both have need to be able to convince others of our recent findings.
    "It seems that one primary event that will occur is the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  Currently, there's a Moslem mosque at the site of Solomon's original temple.  It's called the Dome of the Rock, and it's very sacred to Islam. This temple site has been a hot-spot in the Israeli / Palestinian controversy for centuries. Scripture seems to indicate that the temple activities will be restored similar to those of the Old Testament. In order for that to occur, the Jews will have to build a new temple. We would expect that it would be built on the same sight as before, so that would indicate that the Dome of the Rock would be removed. Now, we can't be too dogmatic about exactly when this will occur. Some thought that it would happen before the rapture. Nevertheless, if I were making predictions, I'd say that the Dome of the Rock would be destroyed, the Jews would erect a magnificent temple in its place, and temple sacrifices would be commonplace again.
    "In fact, I read in the paper recently how there are already some groups of Jews who are energetically pursuing the rebuilding of the temple immediately. They're even donating money and preparing some of the implements for their temple rituals. I even remember that one group was researching the exact location of Solomon's original temple, so that when construction begins, nobody will accidentally violate the sacred and forbidden area of the Holy of Holies."
    Dr. McMann paused and took a breath before continuing. "Regardless, another important event would be Israel's involvement in a war. Now, in our day, this is not too unusual, but Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe a particular war that will occur in the end times. Israel's primary opponent will be Gog, an invader from the far North."
    Deciding to use the technique of oral examination, Dr. McMann pointed to a world map hanging on the wall of his office and asked, "Now Jim, who do you think Gog might be?"
    Jim studied the portion of the map around the Middle East. In a few seconds, he replied in amazement, "Russia?"
    "It seems to be the only possible enemy to the far north of Israel," Dr. McMann agreed. "Not only that, but archaeologists generally agree that the terms used in the Bible do indeed refer to the area that is modern-day Russia. In fact, they claim to be able to trace the migration of ancient peoples to the very locations in modern Russia that Ezekiel 38 describes, such as Gog and Tubal.
    "Ezekiel says that Gog will attack Israel from the North. But about the time Israel gets really worried, God will supernaturally defeat Gog with a mighty earthquake. Now this makes sense to me. Russia is obviously quite interested in the Middle East. They're interested in the oil reserves, as well as the warm-water ports. There's no love lost between Russia and Israel anyway, so it might not take much to make Russia attack her. Also, remember the big earthquake in the southern part of Russia a few years ago. That area is very susceptible to earthquakes. I can see how Russia could line up all her troops along her southern border in preparation for an attack, and then have them wiped out with an earthquake from God. As with the rapture, this would be a supernatural turn of events which, to the unlearned eye, would appear to be only an unfortunate natural disaster.
    "To summarize, the Bible also talks about what is today Libya, Ethiopia, and Iran, all confronting Israel from various directions. At a later point, a two-hundred-million-man army will attack from the East, and I would have to believe that to be the Chinese Army. They're the only ones that could produce such a large army.
    "Anyway, Jim, I'd predict a worsening of conditions between Israel and her enemies, in particular, Russia.  I think that all the friction between Israel and countries like Iran and Syria will add fuel to the fire. So, for my next prediction, I would say that Israel's status with its neighbors will worsen, and eventually Russia will attack her and be defeated. However, although she'll be defeated, according to the Biblical prophecy she won't be completely destroyed."
    Dr. McMann paused to allow Jim to interject his comments, but when Jim remained silent, Dr. McMann continued.
    "Another major event will be the coming of the Antichrist. There has been a lot of speculation about this man, and I feel that probably none of them is correct. I've got the feeling that his coming will be so subtle that, again, nobody will recognize that he is indeed the Antichrist. Dr. Danfield thinks he'll be from the West, maybe Western Europe or the United States. Others think he'll actually be Jewish. Regardless, he'll step into the world spotlight after Russia is defeated, and he'll appear to be an ally to Israel, serving as her protector. Later, he'll rise to become a world power, then he'll betray Israel. It'll be his desire to be the ruler of the world, and he'll reign with terror. So, another prediction would be the rise of a world government and a world dictator.
    "Toward the end of the tribulation period, Israel will again be attacked. This time, most of the armies of the world will side with the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon. In the end, Jesus Christ himself will personally intercede for Israel by returning to the earth and defeating Satan, the Antichrist, and all of Israel's enemies.
    "These are just the major things that come to mind. There will also be various other wars and natural disasters. Read the book of Revelation tonight to see what I mean. It doesn't paint a very pretty picture."
    Jim kept silent for about a minute, then he said, "Dr. McMann, I agree with all we've said, but it has worn me out. I've got to get home and get some rest, and think through this again."
    "I don't blame you, Jim. I feel the same way. Maybe I can finally get some sleep too. Somehow I feel better knowing that we're in this thing together. We still have a lot to talk about, but let's talk tomorrow. Take Dr. Danfield's paper with you."
    As Jim stood up and walked to the door, the two men exchanged business cards.
    "Thank you," Jim said, and although neither of the two men were particularly emotional by temperament, they unexplainably and simultaneously embraced each other.
    They looked at each other, and Jim said, "I'll call you tomorrow."
    "Good-bye Jim," said Dr. McMann, and Jim walked away.

Chapter 31

    As Jim drove home, he wondered how he'd approach Carol with his new revelation. He knew that he was a compulsive person, maybe even a little bit neurotic at times. Through the years he'd often become sidetracked from reality on one-man crusades concerning various issues. He always seemed to have something going on the side in which he could bury himself in worry, not to mention his long list of failures in get-rich-quick schemes.
    A few years back he was determined to make a fortune in the stock market. About the time he was sure that he had it figured out, he lost all that he'd invested, and a little more. He wasn't sure whether Carol had ever completely forgiven him for emptying a savings account for which she'd had other plans. Although she might question his ideas, Jim felt so strongly about this rapture thing that he promised himself to confront Carol and the kids with it before the evening ended. Over and over again he rehearsed his presentation to his family, and he tried to picture in his mind how they might respond, probably not too receptively.
    As he drove, Jim also wondered about the unrestrained evil that Dr. McMann mentioned. Jim thought that evil in the world today was already pretty much unrestrained. It must really get bad during the tribulation period. Could all this really have happened? Jim knew that God had control of everything, didn't he? But had God even controlled the actions of the terrorists and the media to keep people in the dark about the rapture?
    As he pulled into the driveway and reached up to the visor to press the automatic garage door button, he was surprised to see that the garage door was already open, and Carol's car was in the garage. Jim looked at his watch for the first time since that morning on his way to the seminary. It was 6:30. Jim had been so caught up in his mental scenario of the rapture that he'd not even checked the time. He hoped that Carol hadn't been worrying about him. Experience had taught him that if he wasn't going to be home shortly after 6:00, he'd better call Carol and tell her he'd be late. Now this could be bad. Depending upon how good or bad Carol's day was, he may have a difficult time making her understand.
    As he parked and got out of his car, he decided that he'd not confront Carol and the kids with his incredible story right away. It would be bad enough just explaining why he was unexpectedly late. He'd explain everything after supper. He took a moderately deep breath, and entered the house.
    Carol was just moving dinner from the stove to the table. Luckily they hadn't been waiting and holding up dinner for him.
    "Hi honey," Carol said.
    "Hello," Jim responded, rather hesitantly. He was still unsure of the general mood of the Wheeler household at the moment. Carol had sounded surprisingly friendly.
    "You're just in time," she continued. "I'm running a little late with dinner."
    "Well, I would've called," Jim explained, although Carol hadn't asked for an explanation. "I didn't realize how late it was."
    "Well, let's eat. After dinner you can tell me all you did today." Apparently, she did remember that Jim had taken the day off.
    "Kids," she called, in her friendly way, "let's eat."
    Jim stepped into the third bathroom and washed his hands. As he came to the dining table, he felt relieved that this had been easier than he'd imagined, so far. Ryan and Katie joined their parents at the dinner table.
    Katie said, "Hi, Dad."
    Ryan added, "Yo, Dad."
    "Hello, kids. Did you guys have a good day today?"
    "Yeah, I guess," Katie said.
    Ryan just grunted in acknowledgment.
    As usual, the Wheelers started passing food in a frenzy that would make the Bunkers jealous. Everyone was relatively quiet during most of the meal, with only the usual small talk. Carol gave tests all day, Katie did reasonably well on a test, and Ryan had to study for a test tomorrow. Jim didn't offer any comments about his day until everyone was finished eating.
    When Carol and Katie started clearing the table of the dirty dishes, Jim scooted his chair back slightly and sat back comfortably in his chair. Working up his nerve, he said, rather loudly, "I've got something very important to talk to you all about."
    Recognizing an unusual seriousness in Jim's voice, Carol came back to the table and sat down. Katie followed, and even Ryan sat up straight.
    "Go ahead, hon," Carol said, as though she was already convinced of the importance of his coming announcement.
    "Well, I had an unusual day today. I decided last night to take the day off today, so I called in this morning to tell Penny I wouldn't be in. I've been doing a lot of thinking about all these missing people. Kids, are you two familiar with what's been in the news the last few days?"
    "Kind of," replied Katie, "but I don't know what it all means."
    Ryan said, "My history teacher thinks that it's all part of a complex terrorist plot," he said excitedly.
    "Well," Jim continued, "it is indeed very difficult to figure out what's going on. But I have a theory, based on what I believe to be solid evidence, and I want to share it with you now. It may be the most important thing I've ever discussed with you."
    Jim looked at Carol, but nobody said a word. Jim was surprised at their undivided attention.
    He continued his speech.
    "Well, the fact is that many people, from all walks of life, are missing. I've been trying since last Friday to figure out what the common link is between all these missing people. They're not all wealthy, or poor, or politically involved. But I think I may have found the answer.
    "My observations come, in part, from some firsthand experiences with some of the missing people. One of the men in my department at work is missing, Martin Davis. There is another man on my floor who's missing too. I was in both their offices Monday morning, and the one thing that I noticed that was similar was that they each had an open Bible on their desks.  Now that might not seem unusual at first, but I'll bet there isn't a Bible on anyone else's desk on my floor.
    "Well, I had just heard a report that one of the government officials who was missing was a very religious man. All of a sudden, I had reason to believe that, of the three men I was familiar with, all were particularly spiritual men.  At that point I remembered some scriptures from the Bible that talked about some unusual events which would happen just before the end of the world as we know it. I've been investigating this thing from a Biblical perspective since yesterday morning."
    When Jim saw that he still had their interest, and they weren't yet asking questions, he continued.
    "I started with Reverend Loomis. We had lunch together yesterday, and I asked him about the possibility of my ideas. He told me that, indeed, there would be some strange happenings in the end times. Among those strange events would be the rapture, the taking away of all living and dead Christians to Heaven. They would just disappear from the earth. I asked him if that could have been why these people have disappeared. Well, he came unglued. He's convinced that I'm crazy.
    "Then I remembered a man speaking at our church a few months back. You might remember him, Dr. McMann."
    Carol nodded in agreement.
    Jim continued, "He's a well-known professor at the seminary. Well, I called him this morning, and I've spent the day with him. He doesn't think I'm crazy. In fact, we uncovered some evidence that tends to confirm our theory."
    Carol and the kids were still glued to his every word. He was surprised at how receptive they were, so he relaxed and continued telling them about his day. He told them about the adventure to Dr. Danfield's church and house, and why he thought that this provided evidence for the rapture scenario. Then he explained, as Dr. McMann had explained to him, that, if he was right, all the Christians had been taken to Heaven. Furthermore, that if this was true, those remaining behind weren't Christians. Finally, he got a response.
    "US?" asked Carol.
    "Yes, us," Jim affirmed. "I can't know anybody else's heart, but as for me, I'm convinced that I wasn't a Christian. I never really believed what I heard about Christ dying for my sins. I believe it now, but only as of a couple of hours ago. However, it's too late to be a Christian now."
    He went on to explain the Great Tribulation and the Millennium as Dr. McMann had presented it. When he finished, he waited for responses.
    Carol said, "You know, Jim, in a way, I'm not really surprised. I had always claimed to be a Christian, but I know I was just fooling myself. I just never took it very seriously. I didn't think it was really very important."
    As Jim looked at Ryan, he saw tears in his eyes. "Me too, Daddy," he said. He couldn't say any more.
    Katie was crying too. She said, "I didn't believe, but I do now." She wiped her tears on a napkin.  "What does this mean for us now?"
    "Well, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I've got to do a lot of studying on it, but the best I can figure is that within seven years, the world, as we know it, will be vastly changed. Until then, we may have a pretty rough time of it, even though we are believers. Oh, there will be other believers too. We're not the only ones who will figure this out. I guess that's got me puzzled too. How will others become convinced of this truth? And why are we convinced of it, so soon, and so easily?"
    After a few seconds of deadly silence, Carol said, "Well, if God is sovereign, then He can do what He wants.  And if He elected us to believe, then we believed. After all, He is the one who does it. Maybe He has a special purpose in mind for us."
    Jim suddenly felt a new love for his family. He leaned over and kissed Carol on the forehead. He'd always known that he loved her and wanted her to be safe and happy. However, now he was experiencing a new feeling which he'd never had toward her. He'd give his life for her.
    "That could be," Jim agreed. "He certainly made it a lot easier for me to tell you all about it than what I thought it would be. In fact, I've been feeling an external force encouraging me to research this thing, and I just now realized that force is God."
    Again there was silence, and this time it was broken by Jim, "Well, we've all got things to do. I've got a lot of reading to do, and you all have things to do for tomorrow too. Until we figure this thing out better, we need to just keep plugging away, as best we can, and as normally as we can."

Chapter 32

    The Wheeler house was unusually quiet the rest of the evening. Everyone quietly prepared for the next day, reading and studying. Nobody even bothered to turn on the TV. Although this was quite rare, nobody seemed to miss it. They all had higher things to think about tonight. Jim called Karl to tell him he'd pick him up in the morning. He wondered what their conversation would be like on the way to work.
    Jim began studying by reading Tuesday's paper from cover to cover. He was shocked when he realized that there wasn't a single article about the disappearances on the front page. It had been only four days since the disappearances, and those stories were already old news, having been replaced with new fervor over the upcoming municipal bond election. How could several thousand people disappear, and four days later nobody cares?
    However, he did find one article buried deep in the paper about a missing person in Los Angeles. Some friends had narrowed down her disappearance to sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time Friday morning. Pacific Daylight Time? Jim remembered Dr. McMann's unanswered question about Senator Hanson's disappearing at 7:00 Eastern Daylight Time.  Why hadn't all these disappearances occurred at the same time? If the disappearances in Rochester were at 6:50, he would've expected that the one in Washington was at 7:50, and the one in California was at 5:50, all in local times. That would've made it the exact same moment for all three disappearances.
    Suddenly Jim remembered reading an article in Sunday's paper about a disappearance in England.  Unfortunately, Carol had already thrown out all the old newspapers, and since Tuesday was recycle day, they were long gone.
    Jim jumped up and walked quickly to the master bedroom and turned on his PC. Within thirty seconds the initial window was displayed and he immediately started his Prodigy Internet program. Jim listened to the familiar tones being output by his computer as it dialed the number to connect him to the network.
    When the Internet browser was displayed, he clicked on the News icon and began browsing recent news headlines to find the story about the missing person in England. Browsing backwards from today, he finally came to Sunday's articles, and he spotted the headline, "London Stock Broker Reported Missing." He clicked on the article to display it. There it was.  This stock broker had disappeared at 7:30 London time, but Jim wasn't sure how to adjust for daylight savings time. Regardless, he knew that he was on to something.
    He then clicked on the Weather icon and backtracked to last Friday's weather. The screen filled with all of Friday's weather statistics for Rochester, and at the bottom of the page were the sunrise and sunset times. The sun had risen at 6:53 CDT.
    Jim typed "Los Angeles." The sun had risen at 7:21 PDT in LA last Friday. That was it.  Jim thought it through carefully.
    Important events in the Bible often occurred at strategic times of the day, such as dawn, sunrise, dusk, or sunset. But, of course, sunrise doesn't occur simultaneously around the globe. The rapture had started at sunrise, somewhere in Europe or Asia, probably in Jerusalem. Then, as the earth rotated, the rapture moved westward, like the sun, sweeping up Christians like a vacuum cleaner for a twenty-four-hour period, but always precisely at sunrise, relative to the local geographic position of each Christian. That explained how a Christian in London was raptured at 7:31 London time, one in Washington at 7:00 EDT, one in Rochester at 6:53 CDT, and one in LA at 7:21 PDT. This also helped to explain the lack of traffic accidents caused by the rapture, because most people weren't out on the road yet.
    Then he remembered what Reverend Loomis had told him about Frank Golson being killed in an accident. He'd died early Friday morning, and his body wasn't recovered. Could he also have been a part of the rapture? God may have employed many different techniques in rapturing Christians, while leaving others none-the-wiser. Jim wondered how many other people had "died" or "disappeared" Friday morning.
    Just then, Jim also remembered what Reverend Loomis had said about everyone seeing Jesus returning on a cloud. Maybe He did return on a cloud--at dawn, local time--and nobody happened to see Jesus or the believers being raised into the clouds. After all, it would still be quite dark, and besides, most people would still be indoors at that time, probably sleeping. It's not like all those people disappeared in front of a large crowd.
    Say, there was a cloud. The forecast had called for clear skies, so Jim had been surprised at the brief storm that morning. Maybe it was stormy all over the world. Jim quickly checked the Friday morning weather map on Prodigy again. Sure enough. At dawn Friday morning, clouds began to move across the country, from east to west. This is very unusual considering our prevailing westerly winds. This band of clouds actually moved from east to west, probably around the whole world. But why didn't such an unusual weather pattern draw more attention from the media? Are you kidding? Jim asked himself. The whole country was focusing on terrorism. It all made sense. Nobody paid much attention to the unusual weather patterns because the terrorism seemed so much more important. How clever, Jim thought.
    He was excited. He returned to the den and continued studying. As the night grew late, one by one, Carol, Katie, and Ryan came to the den to tell him goodnight, leaving him in his easy chair with Bibles, other books, and papers strewn across the room. Jim continued reading long after the others were in bed.
    He began with Dr. Danfield's paper, and before the night was over, he'd read it several times. He found it to be very helpful in the study of the end times, and to draw all the events together from the Biblical accounts.
    Using Dr. Danfield's paper as a guide, he then opened his Bible and began reading in the book of Ezekiel. Chapter 37 revealed a re-gathering of the Jews to Palestine, and Jim realized that was already taking place to a certain extent. But he learned from Ezekiel (and a footnote to Matthew 24), that the migration of Jews back to Israel from all parts of the world would increase even more. There definitely was some significance to the Jews being in their homeland during the end times.
    The next two chapters of Ezekiel, 38 and 39, described the Russian invasion of Israel that Dr. McMann had discussed. Using Dr. Danfield's discussion of the archaeological studies of the migratory patterns of ancient peoples, he began taking notes, trying to discern which modern-day countries the Bible was talking about. After a few minutes, he reviewed his list.
    The country called "Gog" in the Bible was modern-day Russia. "Persia" was Iran, "the king of the South" was Egypt, "Cush" was Ethiopia and Sudan, "Put" was Libya, "Togarmah" was the Southern Russian Cossacks, and "Gomer" was Eastern Europe, including the Germans and the Slavic nations. Ezekiel indicated that all these nations would take part in the attack on Israel. It all made sense. These are the countries you would expect to attack Israel today. But Russia would be defeated, though not completely destroyed, by an earthquake.
    Jim continued taking notes as he read the book of Daniel. He found this book to be a little harder to understand, but he was determined to come up with a chronological outline of the end times. He read the book of Revelation, which was slightly clearer to him in light of Dr. McMann's insights into the Great Tribulation period. Still, Jim had had to dust off several old never-been-used Bible commentaries on his bookshelf to try to glean a deeper understanding of the particular point in history in which he found himself, and of his future destiny. Then he read Daniel and Revelation again, flipping back and forth between the two.
    Apparently, after Russia's defeat, an Antichrist would arise from some Western nation. He would conquer three out of ten nations that had come together to form a confederacy, and then the other seven nations would join him. He'd present himself as an ally and protector of Israel. He would indeed befriend Israel for a while, but after three-and-a-half years, he'd stage an impressive campaign to become a world dictator, and he'd do it under the orders of Satan himself. He'd betray Israel and destroy the one-world religion which had prospered for those three and one-half years, although it was a "false church."
    Jim thought about this "false church."  Where would it come from? Could it be that the churchgoing unbelievers that were left behind in the rapture actually form the basis for this false church?  They were still meeting regularly in their church buildings, but if Jim was right, these weren't really churches at all. He thought how interesting it would be to watch this false church evolve during the next few years.
    Anyway, the Antichrist would trick the whole world into thinking that he had recovered from a fatal wound.  Then he would employ a man called The False Prophet to construct a new religion which worshiped the Antichrist. Anyone who didn't obey would be martyred.
    Then, after three-and-a-half more years, the Antichrist and most of the military power in the world would again attack Israel. About the time everything looked hopeless, Jesus Christ himself would return to earth and personally defeat the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon. The Antichrist and the false prophet would die in the battle. Christ would bind Satan for 1000 years, during which time the true believers would live in euphoria on the earth--the millennium.
    Jim found Revelation particularly intriguing. It spoke of terrible earthquakes, famines, wars, and plagues to come. These things would be terrible enough during the first three and one-half years, but they would even be intensified during the latter half of the seven-year tribulation period.
    Revelation also described two special evangelists, as well as 144,000 believers that would rise up in the midst of all this tribulation. These two witnesses would be indestructible and they would have miraculous powers for three-and-a-half years, but then the Antichrist would succeed in having them killed. Then, after three-and-a-half days, they would miraculously come back to life, and another great earthquake would rock the city of Jerusalem. What a destiny for those two guys, Jim thought.
    Apparently there would indeed be many more believers such as himself, though Jim could hardly understand how it would come to pass that so many would be as clever as he was to figure this thing out. This seemed especially true in light of the fact that the media seemed to be convincing most people that this whole thing wasn't as serious as it seemed, and that it was all related to international terrorism.
    By now, Jim's head was hurting, and he was scared to look at the clock to see how late it was. He had to get up and go to work in the morning. He decided to review his chronology chart one more time, but first he'd lean his head back and rest for a couple of minutes.

Chapter 33

    The next thing Jim knew, Carol was gently rubbing his arm saying, "Jim, it's morning. Do you want to take a shower before work?" Carol laughed as Jim unknowingly tried to act as though he'd been thinking with his eyes closed, but he quickly realized he'd fallen to sleep in his recliner.
    "Yeah, thanks hon," Jim replied.
    Checking the time, he saw that he had no time to lose. He quickly showered, shaved, and dressed, and he was only on his first cup of coffee when he had to leave if he wanted to pick up Karl on time. He drove the familiar route to Karl's house, tapped his horn twice, and within seconds Karl was climbing into the front seat beside him.
    "Good morning, Karl," Jim said, trying to sound carefree.
    "Hi, Jim," Karl replied. "Did you have a good day off?"
    "Yeah, I got a lot done."
    Jim didn't elaborate on his day off. He waited patiently to see if Karl would volunteer any information about Mary. Finally, once they found their place in the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway, Karl broke the mysterious silence.
    "Well, I haven't heard from Mary. I called the police and explained that I thought she might be missing. I don't know what to do, Jim."
    Jim tried to look at Karl and keep one eye on the traffic at the same time. He decided that he should tell Karl about his thesis.
    "Karl," he began, "was Mary a religious person?"
     Wondering why Jim had phrased his question in the past tense, Karl replied, "Oh, yeah. She never missed church. She liked for me to go with her, but I didn't feel very comfortable there. She was always attending Bible studies and things like that. Why do you ask?"
    "Well, Karl," Jim said hesitantly. "I don't really know how to tell you this, but I've got a theory about all these missing persons, and it could have something to do with Mary. You might think that I'm crazy, but I feel obligated to tell you if you care to listen."
    Jim waited for a response, but Karl only nodded.
    Jim continued with his explanation. Without giving a lot of thought to it, he just explained his theory of the rapture in simple terms as he had done with his family. By the time he finished, they were sitting in the parking lot at work.
    Somehow Jim wasn't surprised when he saw what was becoming a familiar sight. Karl was fighting back tears.
    When he had taken control of his emotions, he said, "Jim, I believe you. I don't know if it's because I'm so desperate for an explanation, or if you just tell it so convincingly, but I believe you. Not only that, but for the first time in my life, I believe in God, and Christ, and that he is my only hope for ever getting to heaven."
    Jim was shocked. He'd never had this kind of experience before. All his life he'd been browbeaten by preachers who said that he should share his faith. Is that what he had just done? Not only that, but how could people be so receptive to his far-out story?
    Karl interrupted Jim's deep train of thought. "Thanks, Jim. But what do you think it was like for Mary, in the end--I mean, the rapture? Why hadn't she even let me know where she was?"
    "Well, I've been doing a lot of theorizing. I've come up with possible scenarios for most of the missing persons, including Mary.
    "Suppose last Friday morning Mary lay in the double bed of her motel room as the heavy curtain across the window began to show signs of daylight around its edges. She rolled over, positioning her back toward the window, hoping that she'd be able to get at least a little sleep before having to get up. Maybe it was 2:00 A.M. before she had gone to bed, and she hadn't slept a total of thirty minutes all night, worrying about her relationship with you.
    "Maybe she turned on the television to listen to the morning news, then she suddenly realized that nobody even knew where she was. This troubled her. Suppose something unforeseen happened, or what if someone needed to contact her.  Mary was anything but irresponsible. Finally, she was over most of her anger, and knew she should call you. But she also knew that you don't get up until 7:00, so she waited. She thought about what she would tell you, and maybe she would only say a few words to let you know she was all right, then she'd hang up.
    "When it was almost 7:00, she sat up on the edge of the bed and reached for the phone. She lifted the receiver and dialed, and it probably felt strange to dial her own number. However, the situation suddenly changed.  The receiver dropped onto the bed. Had she dialed the whole number yet? Would anybody answer? Did it matter?
    "In a few minutes the phone began emitting a bothersome beeping noise, like it usually does when the receiver is off the hook for an extended period of time. Yet, it bothered nobody. Nobody heard the beeping phone, or the news on the TV, or the water running in the room next door. In a few hours the maid would clean the room and replace the phone back on its stand, and everything would be back to normal. Almost everything."

Chapter 34

    Karl said, "Well, we'd better get to work now, but I want to talk more about this, and soon."
    He said it as though he considered Jim quite an authority on this topic.
    Jim's nod told Karl that he agreed, and they got out of the car and walked toward the buildings. As they departed to their separate buildings, the two men, almost instinctively and simultaneously, offered each other a firm handshake. They smiled and walked away. Jim couldn't recall when he'd last shaken Karl's hand.
    Jim entered his building through the badge-secured doors, waited for an elevator, rode to the third floor, and headed straight for his office. He knew he'd have a big backlog of work from Tuesday, and he wanted to do a little more investigating too. He opened his office door, turned on the light, and switched on his computer. He unlocked all his locks, situated his briefcase, logged onto his terminal, and browsed through his electronic mail. Several pieces looked interesting.
    The first one he read was a memo from personnel to all site managers. It reported that there were, in fact, fifteen people still missing from their facility. There had been sixteen, but one had shown up Tuesday after having unexpected car trouble while traveling over the weekend. This worried Jim a little bit. Suppose all the others showed up now. Where would that leave him and the rapture story he'd been preaching? He took this as a suggestion to remain somewhat low-key about his thesis for at least a few more days.
    The next memo was from the site manager, who asked all the managers to keep the data about the missing persons confidential. They were advised especially not to talk to the media about it. Jim thought, no wonder everyone is in the dark about this. Nobody really even wants us to know what happened.
    As he was reviewing his electronic in-basket for what looked like the next-most-critical piece of mail, Sarah came into his office.
    "Well, you look chirpy. I'd say a day of rest was what you needed."
    "Yeah, I feel pretty good. I got a lot done yesterday."
    "I just wanted to tell you that both our guys are still missing. We've called the authorities. I don't know what else to do."
    Jim was almost relieved to hear that Martin hadn't shown up.
    "Well, I guess we'll just do what we're told. Do we have any more clues as to what happened though?"
    "Not really. Just that Bill disappeared between 6:30 and 7:00 Friday morning, as we already knew. Well, I've got a 9:00 meeting. I'll see you after lunch."
    As Sarah left, Jim was amazed at how normal everything seemed. It was almost as though nothing had happened. How could people be so blind? He wouldn't be surprised if they moved new people into the offices of the missing persons pretty soon, and forgot all about them. He returned to his mail and spent the rest of the morning minding his managerial duties.
    Jim was so far behind that he worked through lunch. Then, at about 1:30, he heard some unusual commotion out in the hallway. He got up to check it out, and noticed a group of people crowding around an office a few doors down. It reminded him of how people flock to find the few employees with radios whenever there's severe weather in the area. He wanted to find out what was happening, so he headed toward the crowd, noticing as he went that the weather outside was fair. When he reached the popular office, so many people had already gathered that they were extending into the hallway. Jim did hear a radio, and it sounded like a special news bulletin. He watched the others as fear and disbelief overtook their facial expressions, and they all listened.
    "Repeating this special bulletin. Top U.S. official have confirmed unusual and unexplained Russian military activity in the Middle East. The Pentagon reports near confrontations with United States naval vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, with the recent movement into the Mediterranean of at least twenty Russian naval vessels, including at least six destroyers, three nuclear submarines, and the two largest Russian aircraft carriers.
    “Simultaneous with rapid buildup in the Mediterranean, unofficial reports also indicate unusual Russian naval presence in the Persian Gulf, as well as massive relocation of troops and aircraft along the southern Russian border. It is feared that the Russians may be planning a strike against the Israelis whom they hold responsible for recent terrorist activities including suspected kidnappings of Russian citizens. The Kremlin has made no attempt to inform the U.S. of its intentions."
    As the same brief message was repeated yet a third time, the astounded listeners looked at each other in silence.
    Suddenly, without realizing that he was speaking out loud, Jim made a profound statement.
    "Watch out for an earthquake now."
    Everyone heard Jim's words. They all looked at him, and someone asked him to repeat what he'd said.  Jim remained silent, and he felt awfully embarrassed. Another employee answered the first one.
    "He said 'watch out for an earthquake'. What does that mean, Jim?"
    Jim was speechless, but in seconds, all those around began visiting with each other about the news report they'd just heard. No doubt this moment would be engraved in their minds right up there with where they were when they heard that John Kennedy had been shot. However, Jim wasn't yet ready to broadcast his explanation to everybody. He needed to do more studying first. Trying not to attract any further attention, he quietly returned to his office.
    He spent the next few hours as he'd spent the last few days, straining his brain cells for answers, instead of tending to his managerial responsibilities. He hoped that he wasn't getting too far behind. At 5:00 sharp his phone rang.  It was Karl, ready to go home. They agreed to meet at the car in five minutes.
    Both men had a lot to talk about during the ride home. Karl asked Jim many of the same types of questions that Jim had asked Dr. McMann a day earlier, and Jim broadened the discussion with his hypotheses about the Russian military buildup. When Jim stopped the car in front of Karl's house, he knew that Karl still had a lot of questions. Patiently, Jim continued answering his questions until almost 6:00 when he excused himself.

Chapter 35

    Jim drove home, anxious to hear the latest news and to do more studying. When he entered the family room, Carol, Ryan, and Katie were all watching the news on TV. Although it was after 6:00, the network news had preempted the local affiliates on all channels. The reports were still sketchy concerning the details, but Russian leaders were implying that their aggression was indeed aimed at Israel. Naturally, the thrust of the reporting was to determine what this would mean to the United States. The President had not yet released a statement.
    When Carol had dinner ready, Jim insisted that the TV be turned off. After all, the newscasts would probably be on continuously until something happened. The dinner conversation was much like the ride home with Karl. Everyone had been doing a lot of thinking today, and they had a lot of questions for Jim. Jim was glad to oblige, but he knew that he also had a lot to learn.
    After dinner, Jim decided that he should check in with Dr. McMann. It was about 7:00, but he supposed that Dr. McMann would probably still be at his office. He retrieved Dr. McMann's business card from his wallet. He held the card in his left hand while he lifted the phone receiver with his right, and quickly dialed Dr. McMann's office number.
    Almost immediately he heard Dr. McMann's voice, "Jim?"
    Jim was caught off-guard. How did he know who was calling?
    He hesitated and then said, "Well, yes, Dr. McMann, this is Jim."
    Quickly realizing what had probably happened, Dr. McMann responded, "Oh, were you just trying to call me?"
    "Yes," Jim replied.
    "Well, by coincidence, I was calling you at the very same time."
    "Oh," Jim said, feeling somewhat relieved. "I wondered how you knew who was calling. I thought you had received some new supernatural revelation about phone callers."
    "Well, with what we've been through, it's not a wonder that our minds are working that way now."
    "I just wanted to check in with you, and let you know about a couple of new developments."
    "Me too," said Dr. McMann. "You go first."
    "Well, the first thing is that I have good news about Carol and the kids. They not only didn't throw me out of the house when they heard my explanation of the rapture, but they actually believed me. I wouldn't have had to be worried about that."
    "That's great, Jim," Dr. McMann replied. "I believe that God softened their hearts and revealed the truth to them. I've had a couple of similar experiences today."
    "Yeah, I was also amazed today when another friend of mine believed my story without hesitation. I think you're right, it's all by divine appointment.
    "Also, I think that I have figured out why all the raptured Christians didn't disappear at exactly the same moment."
    "How's that?"
    "Well, I researched various disappearances in London, Washington, California, and Rochester, and it seems that all the raptures occurred at about sunrise, local time."
    "I can buy that explanation," Dr. McMann said. "I should have thought of that myself."
    "Well, the other issues that I wanted to talk to you about concern this Russian thing. I did a lot of studying last night, and I'm convinced that this is further indication that we're right. In fact, I learned a lot of things in my studies.
    "Well, anyway, there was a crowd of people gathered at work today when we all heard the initial report on the radio. Without thinking, I made a comment about expecting an earthquake. Someone questioned me about it, but I was speechless. The conversation went on without me, but I was rather embarrassed. I didn't want to tell anyone--"
    "--Jim, that's why I'm calling. What was the last you heard on the news?"
    "Well, we turned the TV off at about 6:15 and they didn't have any official reports yet. They seemed to think that the Russians--"
    "--Jim, turn on your TV."
    As Jim walked to his recliner and began working the remote control, Dr. McMann continued. "There have been earthquakes."
    Jim was speechless. As Dr. McMann described how multiple earthquakes had just rocked the Middle East within the last thirty minutes, he watched live footage on television of the devastation. There had been at least two major earthquakes within minutes of each other. One was centered over northern Afghanistan, next to the southern border of Russia, where the Russian troops were congregated. The other one was centered in the Mediterranean Sea. Both registered over 9.0 on the Richter scale. They must be the worst earthquakes ever. The casualties had to be in the thousands, and the devastation was unbelievable. Most of what could be seen from the aerial view on the television screen was only a lingering cloud of dust.
    Dr. McMann was excitedly anticipating what the news people would report within the next few hours.
    "Jim, I wouldn't be surprised if this wiped out the Russian Army. And, I know it sounds cruel but, I can't wait to see if the Dome of the Rock has crumbled."
    Jim remained quiet. Like so many times the past few days, he felt like he needed time to take it all in.
    Dr. McMann continued, "You predicted this to your friends at work?"
    The thought of this brought an empty feeling of heavy responsibility to Jim's innermost being. Part of him wished he hadn't said anything about expecting an earthquake, but another part was glad that he had. No doubt, plenty of people would want a detailed explanation tomorrow, and both men realized this.
    Dr. McMann again interrupted Jim's deep thought. "I've got to tell you something else. Did you read the book of Revelation last night?"
    "Yes," Jim said slowly. "I read it through twice."
    "And do you remember the part about the two witnesses?"
    "Yes, there will be two witnesses that will be set apart as God's evangelists to spread the truth. They'll go around preaching for three-and-a-half years, won't they?"
    "That's right," Dr. McMann agreed, sounding quite pleased with Jim's rapid progress in Biblical discernment.
    "I couldn't have said it better myself."
    Dr. McMann paused, then said, "Jim, are you sitting down?"
    Jim was standing, but he followed this free advice and sat in his recliner. He was scared to think of what profound thing Dr. McMann was about to say, considering all he'd experienced since he first met the professor yesterday.  Hadn't enough happened for one day?
    Dr. McMann continued, "Well, there is a lot of speculation on who these two witnesses are. Some people think they are Enoch and Elijah, since these were the only two men in the Bible who were raptured without dying. Others say that they are Elijah and John the Baptist, forerunners of the Lord's coming. Still others say that they are Moses and Elijah, the two men who appeared with Christ at his Transfiguration--"
    "And," Jim interrupted, almost sarcastically, "you're going to tell me who you think these two men are, right? What did you do, see them on TV?"
    "Jim, I hold to the theory that they are Moses and Elijah. Dr. Danfield supports this theory in his paper.  I could be wrong, Jim, but yes, I'm going to tell you who I think these two men are."
    "Didn't you just tell me that they were Moses and Elijah?" Jim asked. His head was spinning with confusion.
    "Well, remember how we have noted that things don't always happen in the way you would expect them? They can happen exactly like the Bible predicted, but not until they happen does it become obvious that a particular event indeed fulfilled a Biblical prophecy. This is what happened with the rapture.
    Well, I think the same thing applies to these two men. I think they are Moses and Elijah, but not the Moses and Elijah from Old Testament times. I think they are a new Moses and Elijah."
    Fear gripped Jim as he realized what Dr. McMann was about to tell him. Jim thought to himself, "No, this can't be."
    He heard Dr. McMann ask, "What is your middle name, Jim?"
    Jim glanced at Dr. McMann's business card which he still held in his left hand. He didn't know it, but at the same time, Dr. McMann was looking at Jim's business card which he'd used in dialing Jim's number. Both men were silent as they examined each other's name on the two cards: "Dr. William M. McMann" and "James E. Wheeler."
    Finally, Jim replied.
    "My mother was a very religious woman. She named all of us kids after names in the Bible. I'm not sure, but she may have had some Jewish blood."
    Jim paused and took a deep breath before continuing.
    "My mother's favorite New Testament writer was James, and her favorite Old Testament character was--" Jim paused again as his voice cracked, "--Elijah. My middle name is Elijah."
    Jim knew what Dr. McMann was going to say next.
    "Jim, my story is similar. My father was Irish and my mother was Jewish. In my day, Jewish families often gave their children Biblical names."
    He took a breath and then said, "My middle name is 'Moses'"
    Both men were silent for about thirty seconds, mentally analyzing whether or not this new theory could indeed be yet more profound truth. As with so many other things, Dr. McMann's Biblical literacy had led him to this conclusion before he'd told Jim about it. Jim sat and tried to understand this new revelation, as Dr. McMann had already done.
    "But," Jim finally said, hoping to prove Dr. McMann wrong, "I'm no evangelist. I can't witness to people. Dr. McMann, I just don't think that that's my calling."
    "Don't try to fool yourself, Jim" Dr. McMann retorted, knowing what Jim's initial reaction would be. "How many people have you told about the rapture?"
    Jim replied, "Just Carol, Ryan, Katie, and Karl. Why?"
    "And how many of them were convinced that what you said was true," he paused briefly, "and believed it?"
    "All four of them." Jim was beginning to see Dr. McMann's point.
    "Jim, you are an evangelist. You are a witness. And I am too. Furthermore, I plan to have a major impact on the lives of my students in the days to come. And you. Well, after your comment about an earthquake today, I think there will be a lot of people coming by your office tomorrow for a complete understanding of the truth."
    Jim suddenly remembered the conversation with his family the night before. Maybe there was a special purpose in all this. How else were others going to learn the truth? Did this mean that he was personally prophesied in the Bible?
    Jim was afraid. Dr. McMann's revelations were frightening him. The devastation of the earthquake on TV scared him. He wondered what it was going to be like to watch the rise of the false church and the coming of the Antichrist.
    Yet, in the midst of his fear, like an indestructible man assured of his miraculous destiny, a mysterious smile came across his face.