Chapter 2 – The Believer

Michael Lenox

Chapter 2
The Believer

“Drop it!” Lenox exclaimed, leveling his weapon at Joseph Canaan.

Canaan was holding onto a Holy Bible in his right hand. It was the only thing in his possession as he stood in front of the patio doors. He looked from Lenox to Barrington, but he made no move. He also did not drop the Bible as Lenox had ordered.

Lenox took a menacing step forward. “I said drop it!”

Canaan wasn’t about to drop the only thing precious to him, but he didn’t believe it was a good idea to antagonize the FBI agent any further. He was about to lower himself to gently lay the Bible down onto the patio stonework. Something behind the agents, however, caught his attention.

Barrington turned his head to see what had caused Canaan’s distraction. There was someone out there beyond the backyards of Shallow Lane, coming from the same direction he and Lenox had come from. Barrington turned his body away from Canaan, lowering his weapon as he angled for a better view. In the tree line, there were two men, and one of them was preparing a tube-like object over his right shoulder. Knowing the dangers he had been faced with during his career in law enforcement and knowing terrorism was rampant throughout the world, he immediately recognized the imminent threat heading their way.

In his mind, he was more aware of who Joseph Canaan was than his partner did. There were things he had personally been told by the Director himself because he was more prone to diplomacy than Lenox was. Barrington wanted to bring Canaan in, not as a suspect, but as a witness and for his protection. He did not fully understand why Fuller would share the details he had with him and not Lenox, but he didn’t question it either. Fuller had his reasons. Barrington would carry out his duty and see to it that Canaan was safe. The fact that there was about to be an attack upon them only assured Barrington that someone wanted Canaan out of the picture.

“To the front of the house!” Barrington shouted. “Now!”

Lenox and Canaan didn’t hesitate. Canaan turned and ran back into the house with his Bible held firmly in his hand, Lenox and Barrington right behind him. They were passing through a kitchen where a woman was standing expectantly, a baby in her arms. She would have asked what was happening had Canaan given her time. He didn’t. He simply grabbed her arm and turned her about.

“Run!” he told her.

She ran, clutching her baby to herself.

They all ran to the front of the house just as something crashed into the kitchen behind them. There was a loud explosion and the entire house shook so hard from the blast, it almost seemed as if it would come down around them. The woman with her baby, and Canaan were on the floor at the front door with Lenox and Barrington covering them. The stairwell leading up to the second floor of the house and the narrow corridor from the kitchen was adequate enough to protect them from the blast, but some debris fell onto their backs. A wooden spatula tapped Lenox on his left leg and clattered to the floor.

When the house settled, Lenox turned to look back toward the kitchen. Through the smoke, dust, and debris, he could see out into the backyard.

“How many did you see?” he asked Barrington.

Barrington glanced out the window beside the front door. “Two.” Then, he added, “That’s not to say there can’t be more.” He let out a sigh as he noticed movement outside in front of the house. “Alyson Moore is on the job, Knox…but the cavalry’s coming, too.”

Several police officers were approaching the house with their weapons drawn. One of them appeared to be trying to keep Alyson and her camera man back, but they were ignoring him.

“I-I was baking a cake…” the woman said softly, rocking her baby in her arms.

Canaan put a hand on her shoulder, attempting to give her comfort. “You’ll be alright, Cheryl.”

She looked up at him as her baby cried. Then a silent resolve seemed to rise within her and she nodded once. “I will…And you will be, too. God is our Refuge.” She glanced toward the kitchen.

Lenox faced the kitchen. “Get them out of here,” he said.

Barrington motioned for Canaan and Cheryl to move. As he was leading them out through the front doorway, Lenox was moving cautiously toward what was left of the kitchen. It had been hit by some type of rocket launcher. In the doorway from the small corridor, Lenox stood still, looking out toward the backyard with his weapon held low at his side.

He saw two men moving fast toward the house. They got to the fence and prepared to climb over it. Whether they were expecting to find no survivors, or they were just overconfident, they were not taking any precautions. It was as if they expected to find their targets dead.

Lenox fully intended to disappoint them.

He leveled his weapon, walked out into the daylight, and opened fire before the men were over the fence. One of the men cried out and fell forward into the backyard. The second one tried to raise his own weapon, but a round in the shoulder from Lenox’ .357 flung him backward away from the fence. The man fell somewhere out of the agents view behind the fence.

With both targets down, Lenox continued to move cautiously forward. One of the men he had hit lay still on the ground in front of the fence. Lenox could not see the second man. He slowed his pace and reloaded his weapon. He wasn’t sure if the man was dead or alive, and realized it didn’t matter. The man was a terrorist, and terrorists did not cooperate.

Lenox wasn’t about to cooperate either.

He leveled his weapon low at the fence and fired two rounds through it. Immediately he was rewarded with a grunt of pain.

Then…silence.

By the time Lenox verified for himself that the terrorists were dead, Barrington and two police officers were on the scene.

“Are there any more?” Lenox demanded.

Barrington approached him, his weapon leveled toward the ground as he searched the tree line. “I don’t see any movement, but that’s being looked into.” He stopped beside Lenox.

“They must have been gunning for Canaan,” Lenox replied.

Barrington noted the bodies. “Did you read them their rights?”

He glared at him.

Barrington paused, deciding to change the direction of their discussion. “Are you still convinced of Canaan’s guilt?”

“He knows things, Bear. They don’t want us to know what he knows. Why else would they be trying to kill him?”

“He didn’t start the fire that killed his family.”

“And you know this…how?”

Barrington shrugged. “It’s a feeling.”

“A feeling,” he repeated. He shook his head. “Well, my feeling says the Carpenter is a terrorist, or he’s in with them. Either way, he’s guilty. We’ve got a job to do, Al. Let’s get him out of here and get him somewhere so he can tell us everything he knows.” As they headed toward the front of the house, he asked, “Who’s the woman?”

“Cheryl Matire. She’s a friend of Canaan’s. Their families attended the same church together. The Corinth Bible Baptist Church.” He glanced at his friend. “Why? You want to bring in the whole congregation?” He chuckled.

Lenox didn’t even hesitate. “Might have to question them to see what they know about Canaan.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m always serious. You know that.” He shook his head. “You know, you’ve been defending this guy Canaan and acting like some kind of personal protector to the Christian society ever since you told me your wife got a little religion. Is that stuff starting to rub off on you, Bear, because we just got into a firefight today. If there are any more, is your mind going to be clear enough to do your job?”

Barrington stopped in his tracks.

Lenox took a few more paces and then stopped. He turned to face Barrington, who did not look the least little bit pleased with the accusation.

“Are you questioning my ability to perform my job?” Barrington inquired calmly.

“No. I’m merely pointing out you may be a little biased because of the influence you must be receiving from your wife. You talk a little differently. You even act a little differently…But really, this isn’t the place for this kind of talk.”

They began to resume their walk. As they rounded the house, Alyson Moore and her camera man were right there waiting. “Excuse me, Agent Lenox of the FBI,” she announced, putting herself directly in their path, “as we are unable to inquire from the Carpenter or Cheryl Matire as to what just happened here, perhaps you can comment for us? We did notice the explosion. The entire neighborhood is well aware of the explosion, and as you were the target, maybe it would be beneficial for you to tell us in your own words exactly what happened. Do you have a comment?”

Lenox glared right at the camera before he responded. Then, he said, “Yes, I do have a comment.”

Before anyone could stop him, he wrenched the camera away from Meers and slammed it down onto the driveway. “Now here’s my comment. Keep that thing off and out of my face.” He turned and walked away.

Barrington walked with him, shaking his head. “Knox…you’ve got some issues.”

******* *******

Kevin Vogel

“You’ve got issues, man. Some very serious issues.”

“If I do have issues, it only means that I’m human. And as a human with issues, then I can assure you without one single doubt you just happen to be one of those issues. It’s an issue I read every day, except for Sunday, of course, thank the Lord…an issue I have truly been trying to resolve without any success.” Kevin Vogel shook his head as he continued going over the pre-flight checklist for the UH-1M Bell Huey. He glanced at the pilot beside him. “But no matter. I shall ever be vigilant in praying for you. Especially if you fall asleep while flying and you have no co-pilot.”

“I ain’t never slept in the cockpit while flying, Preacher Man!” Keith LeBeau snorted in agitation. “And I told ya to quit that! Stop prayin’ on my account! Just do yer job and keep to the list. There’s plenty to do before we take off and that’ll happen in about five minutes!”

“I know you told me to stop, but that’s why I didn’t.”

“You just don’t quit, do ya?”

Vogel paused to ponder that question. “You mean, you want me to quit like you quit learning to speak proper English? Isn’t it interesting? Where would I be if I did quit? Now that is the question of the ages. If I had dropped out of High School before the twelfth grade, would we have become friends? And would you have conned me into going into the Marine Corp with you?”

LeBeau shook his head. “I never conned you!”

“And would we have gone to Afghanistan where I met the Lord? You see, all of these things would not have happened had I quit.”

He rolled his eyes. “Man, you is trippin’!”

“I am seated comfortably in the cockpit of a Huey, Ace. My feet aren’t catching onto anything, nor am I about to fall on my face as you would like.” Vogel enjoyed teasing his friend. “Although by all appearances, you have managed to fall onto your face on more than one occasion.”

“I mean yer head is cracked or somethin’. You didn’t meet no Lord! You’ve never even seen this guy. How can ya say you’ve met him when some chaplain wacko told ya all about him? I swear, yer as nutty as the grapes are in that there Grape Nuts cereal.”

“You don’t see Him with the physical eyes, Ace. One day, we will all see Him as He is, but for the moment, this is a walk by faith, not by sight. For blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:29b) Every single knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And that includes you.”

LeBeau shook his head. “Not me, ya crazy kook. I bow to no one.”

Vogel sighed. “Open your eyes, Keith. It’ll happen. My only prayer is that you’ll bow to Him before you die so you can have the everlasting life He has offered us.”

LeBeau sat back, but he couldn’t make eye contact with his friend. He was beginning to feel strangely uncomfortable. “Look, I’ve told ya this before…That stuff’s good for you, but it just ain’t for me.” He hesitated, “I kinda miss the ole’ you, ya know?”

“That’s kind of the point. He’s supposed to be missed.” He looked out through the cockpit window and noticed the approach of two of their fellow ATD agents. Marc Shiva, an ex-wrestler recruited personally by Lenox, completely towered over a solemn looking Fronk. Vogel could not remember ever seeing Fronk looking so serious before. All he could do for the man was pray.

Vogel believed the end was closer than people thought because of the prophecies recorded in the Holy Bible. Fronk believed the end was near because of the things he had seen and heard. They were both right. They just didn’t realize how close that end actually was.

Fronk wordlessly pulled himself into the rear of the Huey as Shiva tapped his knuckles on LeBeau’s window.

LeBeau snapped his window open. “What?”

“I guess we’re ready to go to the Island.”

The ace pilot regarded the man with a puzzled frown. “What are ya goin’ on about? What island? The Director didn’t say didly-do about no island. I was told we was headin’ fer the Bunker.”

“We are,” Vogel replied, as if to offer confirmation. “’The Island’ is Bill’s codename for it. Kind of like the name ‘Jughead’ is codename for Keith LeBeau.”

LeBeau glared at him. “Hey, now, watch it!” He turned back to Shiva. “Okay, then, Fury. I guess we’re ready to go to this Island. All aboard fer Bunker Island!”

“Hey, uhm…guys…” Shiva hesitated, “do either of you have any idea why we’re going to the, uhm, Island?”

LeBeau shrugged. “Sure. ‘Cause we was ordered to.”

“But why? Is something happening?”

“What could be happenin’? Look. Orders is orders. The Director says, ‘Go!’ and I say, ‘Gone!’ It’s as simple as that.”

Shiva paused. “Okay.”

Vogel let out a chuckle. “Yes. ‘Gone’ is a word that does best describe you.”

“Preacher Man, yer cruisin’, buddy,” LeBeau warned.

Shiva wanted to ask Vogel more about their orders, but was familiar with the mans beliefs. He would most likely make another prophetical statement concerning the end of the world. The ex-wrestler decided to head to the rear of the chopper and find a seat with Fronk. As he moved away from the cockpit, he could still hear Vogel and LeBeau going at each other. To any one who didn’t know them, they would have assumed the two were mortal enemies with each other.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

LeBeau and Vogel were like brothers. They certainly had their differences, but their friendship made room for those differences even though at times they appeared to be at each others throats.

Shiva settled inside the Huey across from Fronk and nervously glanced at him. Fronk was well known as the funny man amongst the other ATD agents, but he wasn’t being funny now.

And that was what scared Shiva the most.

******* *******

James Bollinger

“Staci, it’s me. I’m calling because I…Well, I’m missing my baby sister. Call me when you get this message. I’ll be home after five. I’d really like to get together, so we should do something. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Nichole paused as she tried to think of something else to say, but when nothing more was forthcoming, she simply said, “I love you. Please…just call me.”

She hung up the phone as troubling thoughts continued to race through her mind. She had always been concerned about her younger sister’s spiritual well being. There were times when she doubted Staci had truly committed herself into the eternal care of God’s Son, that she simply had gone through the motions. Nicole hadn’t been able to spend as much time with her as she would have liked due to her own busy life, juggling her time between work and family. Even so, she was aware that Staci did not live like someone who was of the faith.

Staci may believe with her words, but not with her actions.

Nicole leaned back in her chair behind her desk and let out a weary sigh. Then, she closed her eyes, intending to send a silent prayer for her sister to the one true God.

A voice, however, intruded itself upon that silent prayer.

“It must be so nice to have a younger sister to look after, who looks up to you for guidance.”

She opened her eyes and saw him, then, leaning casually against the frame in the doorway to her office. His left hand was in his pocket. In his right hand was a large, yellow manila envelope. His shoulder-length brown hair was tied back into a pony tail. His dark eyes were regarding her as if she were a mouse and he were a hawk in search of prey. The grin on his face only added to the sinister presence he gave off.

Something about this man disturbed her.

“I envy you,” he said softly. “I really do. There was a time years ago when I had a younger brother who looked up to me, just as your sister does to you. I remember feeling such pride whenever I could guide him along, but…as I’ve said, that was so many years ago.”

Nicole resisted the temptation to ask him about his younger brother because she refused to be drawn into any prolonged conversation with this man. How he knew she had a sister was easily explained. He had just overheard her leaving a message for her sister, but he couldn’t know anything else about her. Nichole would certainly not give him any further information. The idea that he would even mention her own situation unnerved her. She decided not to let him see that it did and would not take the bait. Director Fuller had instructed her just to apologize and then end the conversation.

That was all she intended to do.

There was one other thing which bothered her. The man had not bothered to knock. She could have sworn her office door was closed, and yet here it was, now wide open. And James Bollinger casually leaned there in her doorway as if he were at home.

She cleared her throat. “Mr. Bollinger, I’m glad you dropped by.” She wasn’t really glad, but some measure of formality had to be maintained.

“Yes, I had heard you wanted to see me about something.”

She found his smile to be annoying. It was as if he had a secret he was not willing to share, but wanted her to know he had it anyway. “Yes,” she said, rising to her feet. She felt uncomfortable with him leaning there in her doorway. “It seems I…owe you an apology.”

Bollinger either was genuinely puzzled, or he was merely acting the part. It did, however, look convincing. “An apology?” he inquired. “Are you sure? What could you possibly have to apologize to me about?”

She paused, praying inwardly for the right words to say. She just wanted to get this over with and have him leave. “Well…I may have offended you earlier, and if I did, I’m…I’m sorry. It was not my intention.”

He shrugged and let out a chuckle. “Nicole, I wasn’t offended in the least. Why would you think I was?”

“Ah…well, I was informed you were going to report me for proselytizing on the job, and-”

“Who told you that?”

She hesitated. “Are you saying you weren’t going to report me?”

“Why would I do that? I was the one who engaged you into that conversation.”

She was certain he was playing games with her. She glared at him. “Why would I have been warned by my superiors to apologize to you if they didn’t think you would report me?”

Bollinger nodded slowly. “I’m sorry, Nicole. I did mention our conversation to Director Fuller, but he must have misunderstood me. I really have no intention of reporting you. I happened to enjoy our conversation. It was a wonderful debate.”

“Debate?”

“Yes.” He chuckled again. “I just love a good debate, don’t you?”

She sighed. “No. Not really. I don’t.”

“Oh, well…then, I really do apologize for drawing you into a conversation you clearly didn’t want to have. I’m a little puzzled by that, because I was under the impression you Christians wanted to get the Word out.”

“We do. We…” She stopped, reminding herself not to get into anything with him. “Anyway, I do apologize. That’s all I wanted to tell you. Please close the door behind you.” She wanted to sit but not until he was gone.

Bollinger, however, made no move to leave. “I’m really going to miss you when you’re gone.”

Nicole frowned. “When I’m gone?” She shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere. What makes you think….?” She stopped again. Was he trying to draw her into another conversation? She looked at him suspiciously.

Bollinger grinned at her knowingly, but he didn’t respond to her inquiry. He simply remained where he was, leering at her.

It made her uncomfortable. “Mr. Bollinger-”

“Call me James, Nicole. Aren’t we family?”

“No, we’re not. Mr. Bollinger, I have work to do.”

That’s when he tossed the manilla envelope and it landed with a soft thud on her desk, right in front of her computer.

Nicole glanced at it and tried to hide her irritation. “What is that?”

“Why don’t you have a look see?” He smiled. “Then, we’ll talk.”

“We don’t have anything to talk about.”

“I beg to differ.”

She almost rolled her eyes. “Beg all you want. There is nothing to talk about. I don’t know what is in that envelope of yours and what you think it has to do with me, but we’re done here. Please take it and go. I told you, I have a lot of work to do and I don‘t have time for this.”

“You don’t have time for family? I just heard you trying to make time with your little sister. Baby sister, you called her. I assure you, she is no baby.” He smiled that infuriating smile. “Open the envelope.”

Nicole feared what she might discover inside. “Why don’t you just tell me what’s in it and leave my sister out of this?”

Bollinger looked into her eyes. “You want to know what really makes me wonder? Look at you, dark eyes, dark hair. Very pretty, too, I’m not afraid to say.”

“You’re bordering dangerously close to harassment, Mr. Bollinger.”

He ignored her. “But then, there is your baby sister. Gorgeous green eyes. Beautiful red hair. Red! Can you see what I’m seeing here? The two of you don’t even look alike enough to be sisters. How do you explain that?”

Nicole stared at him as the fear began to rise. He knew what her sister looked like? How? She was stunned into silence, unable to bring herself to speak.

“What’s wrong, Nicole? You look a little pale.”

“How…” she began, a catch in her voice, “how do you know my sister?”

Then, something happened she could not explain. Bollinger strode purposefully into her office and stopped in front of her desk. Behind him, the door to her office slammed shut, and yet he never touched it. It closed with such a bang, Nicole jumped with a start.

A presence of evil filled the room, causing her to stumble back. She fell right into her chair and found herself looking up fearfully into Bollinger’s dark eyes.

Please, God, help me! she prayed.

“I think it’s time you open the envelope,” he said casually, with just a touch of menace, “and then I’ll tell you what this is all about.”

Nicole glanced toward the door, trying to determine why it had closed so abruptly. She had to get through this and there appeared to be only one way to do that. She had to see this through…to the bitter end. She had to open the envelope and find out what this man was doing that involved her sister.

Slowly, she reached for the envelope. She took it in her hands and brought it to her lap. God, please, give me strength. Please protect Staci. She glanced up at Bollinger.

He suddenly grinned at her. “Would you relax? They’re just pictures. Do you remember me promising to show off pictures of my vacation from last year? Well, here they are. I wanted to show them to you first.”

“Vacation…?”

He nodded.

“What…? Where did you go?”

“I didn’t go far. I stayed in the area.” He indicated the envelope in her hands. “See for yourself.”

Nicole finally opened the envelope and dumped the pictures out onto her lap. There were several of them, but the first one immediately drew her attention. It was a photograph of the entrance to Albany Medical Hospital. With hesitation, she moved the photo aside to reveal the second one and recognized it as well as the first. This building entrance was of a penthouse apartment complex, and she recognized it as the building on West Avenue.

“Your vacation…was here in Albany?” Nicole asked him.

“They say the best vacations can be found right in your own backyard. Or across town.” He smiled. “Keep going. There are plenty more pictures there.”

“Mr. Bollinger-”

“Please, call me James.”

She hesitated. “James…how do you know my sister?”

Bollinger reached over her desk and took the second photo from her, revealing the third. It was another photo of the entrance to Albany Medical, but this time, there was a woman in the center of it. She was exiting from the building.

Nicole could not help but recognize her own sister.

“Are you sure she’s really your sister?” Bollinger asked. “I mean…Come on, I really don’t see the resemblance here.”

She tried to keep her voice steady. “Why are you taking pictures of my sister?”

“I’ll answer your questions if you answer mine.”

She wanted to scream, but if her sister was in trouble, she had to cooperate. At least until she knew what Bollinger’s game was. “Staci takes after our father while I…” She sighed. “I look more like our mother.” She glared at him. “How do you know my sister?”

But he didn’t answer her question. “So, your father is, what? A full-blooded, red-haired American, and your mother is Jewish?”

“My parents are both Jewish, as are my sister and I.”

He regarded her thoughtfully. “Your people have quite a history, but you know that, don’t you?”

Nicole didn’t want to discuss the heritage of her family and people with this man. To look away from him, she busied herself by looking through the rest of the photographs. She wished she hadn’t. There were more photo’s of her sister, but that isn’t what disturbed her. Bollinger was also in some of those photo’s, sometimes posing together with her sister as if they were friends. Staci stood right beside him in one of them, smiling into the camera. Bollinger even had his arm around her in one of the photo’s.

“She’s a very beautiful girl, isn’t she?” Bollinger asked innocently, watching for Nichole’s reactions to the game he was enjoying. “She knows how to dance, too. A party girl, not at all like you. Quite young to be a doctor, don’t you think? Last year I believe was her very first year, so she’s now on her second. And if that were not impressive enough, she’s also a single mom to a three year old little boy named David.”

She shot him a look. How could he know so much? “What do you want?” she demanded.

He smiled at her. “You see, this is what I live for. Moments like this. Aren’t you having fun?”

“Is…is that what this is to you? A…Some kind of a game?”

He nodded. “Yes. That’s exactly right. Hey, you’ve got to really enjoy your work in order to do it well, don’t you agree?”

She sat back, completely baffled by this sudden turn of events. “What does this have to do with work? What does this have to do with anything?”

“Would you like to know how I befriended your sister or not?”

Her mouth was suddenly dry. “Please…tell me.”

“My father died. He was in her care.”

She blinked, trying to hold back her tears of fear and anger. “Are you telling me you’re doing this out of some sick need for revenge? That my sister was responsible for your fathers death?”

He shook his head. “Oh, no. No, no, that’s not it at all. You see, my father had cancer, and quite frankly, he didn’t have much longer to live. I admitted him into Albany Medical last year and a team of doctors helped to make him comfortable. Dr. Staci Cohen was one of those doctors. And she was so sweet.”

Nicole thought she was going to be sick. She forced herself to listen without screaming at him.

“During that time, I was able to engage in many conversations with your sister. She’s really very compassionate, but I’m afraid it’s just one of those qualities within her that makes it so easy to manipulate her. But through it all, I managed to earn her friendship.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Manipulate?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“You manipulated my sister? For what purpose?”

“I already told you. To gain her friendship. Her trust.” He smiled thoughtfully. “I have to admit. It was a little too easy. Do you know that she even attended my father’s funeral with me, and because she saw that I was alone, she stood by my side? People actually believed she was my wife.” He chuckled. “Can you believe that?”

“You…” Nicole stopped herself and once more rose from her desk. She clamped her mouth shut and turned away from him, desperately trying to keep her composure. Finally, she turned to him. “Why are you doing this?”

“I’m doing this because I believe.”

Completely baffled, she stared at him. “Believe what?”

“I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I simply choose not to accept Him. I have studied the scriptures and believe it all makes perfectly, clear sense. That God is in control, that He is working out a plan to bring His chosen people, the Jews, back to the land He has promised them. I believe that what we have discussed is true. Again, I simply choose not to accept it and live out my life as I desire to. This includes manipulation of people and events.” He smiled at the look on her face. “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t forget, the demons believe and tremble in fear. Lucifer himself knows his time is short, yet he still continues to keep the lost on the road to Hell itself.”

“How…how can you believe and not accept? It…it doesn’t make any sense!”

“You know nothing of my life. I’ve passed the point of no return a long time ago. So now I live each day to the fullest, and have fun doing it…even if it is at the expense of others.”

“But my sister…Why are you playing games with her?”

“Because she’s not strong and secure in her faith like you are. She’s very naïve, and in spite of her once broken marriage, still very innocent. That ex-husband of hers almost did a number on her, didn’t he?”

She glared at him. “I see you’ve really done your homework on this.”

“I always get the details before I begin the game.”

“So what do you want from me?”

“The world as we know it is about to end. In less than twenty-four hours, everything changes and people will begin to die in the attack. You will be safe if this rapture of yours occurs, but consider that it didn’t happen when 9-11 was taking place. So if you are still here when the first wave hits, stay away from planes, automobiles, and elevators.”

She paled visibly. “Wha-what are you saying?”

“When the second wave hits, find a hole to hide in. If you do survive, maybe you’ll find your sister. If you’re raptured and she’s not, I’ll do my best to protect her.”

“Why are you telling me all of this? We need to see Director Fuller and-”

“I won’t tell him a thing, and he might just assume you’re getting into prophecy with him.” He smiled. “I just wanted to see what you would do with this.” He headed for the door.

She took a few steps toward him. “Wait…wait!” When he turned to look at her, she said, “Please…if this attack is going to happen, how will it?”

He regarded her for a moment. “Wait by your phone. I’ll call you.” Then, he shook his head. “Oh, and don’t call your sister. Don’t warn her about anything. Or the Director. I’ll know if you try.”

“What…what will happen if I do?”

He shook his head. “Oh, you really don’t want to know, but if you do love your sister, I wouldn’t say a word because I promise you…It won’t be pleasant for her.” He smiled. “I have to go now. If I don’t make my scheduled contacts, they might assume the worst and take matters into their own hands.”

Nicole understood the threat. She stepped back as Bollinger left her office. All she could do now was pray.

******* *******

It was mid-afternoon by the time Staci finally made it to the front entrance of the penthouse apartment complex she lived in with her son on West Avenue. She was exhausted. Her day as a doctor at Albany Medical had not been as full as she was used to, but nonetheless, the stress brought on by the events earlier that morning were enough to drain her physically and emotionally. It was as if she were running on empty.

She had stopped at a local convenience store to purchase a few items she needed, including milk and a comfort food called Rainbow Sherbert. If there was anything she craved now, it was comfort. Her mind was still reeling from the horrible morning. For the first time in her life, she found herself fearful for her future. She had spoken to the so-called lawyers of the hospital, sat down with them for an hour, but when she had left them, she had the feeling she was going to lose her license. They had not treated her favorably at all. All she wanted to do was cry but she focused her mind on her son to keep from doing just that.

When the taxi-cab dropped her off on West Avenue, she was so relieved to be home. Soon she would be inside her apartment with her son. She looked forward to watching Scooby-Doo cartoons with him and eating sherbert until the pain of the day went away. At least that was her intention as a remedy. She stood at the entrance of the building, trying to balance the bag of groceries in her arms as she fished through her purse for the electronic card key, which would allow her entrance.

“Oh, no….”

She began to panic because she couldn’t find it. The bag of groceries fell from her arms and she sucked her lower lip in frustration. The milk was one of the many items which fell out of the bag, but unknown to Staci, it had hit something sharp protruding from the sidewalk. As she continued to look for her card, the milk spilled out onto the ground beside the sidewalk.

Feeling embarrassed as if every eye was on her, she knelt onto the sidewalk and dumped out the contents of her purse. She found her apartment key she thought she had lost several weeks ago. She had another one made for her, and the new one was on her key ring in the side pocket of her purse. Well, at least I now have two, so that has to be good news, right? she asked herself. She picked up her organizer, but her card key wasn’t in it. Finally, she took up her check book, and there it was, tucked safely inside behind her bank card.

She let out a weary sigh, then, placed the card key in her mouth as she picked everything up and returned them to her purse. When she began to pick up the spilled groceries, she found the milk carton empty and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The empty carton wasn’t what made her cry, but it was a reminder of how terrible her day was. Feeling completely defeated and lost, she stumbled to her feet with her purse and bag and leaned against the door. She used her card key to open the first door which would allow her to enter the foyer. As she was using the card to open the second door leading to the lobby, she did not notice the man behind her, catching the first door before it closed.

Staci continued through the lobby and finally into the elevator. She was glad there was no one else around, but when the doors closed, she tried to pull herself together. She refused to let her son see her like this. She pushed the number five button as she tried to think happy thoughts.

“Find a happy place,” she said softly, “find a happy place.”

She took several deep breaths, and wiped at her eyes with her right hand. By the time the doors opened on the fifth floor, she felt she was at least presentable enough for her son. The babysitter would be another matter, bit if Sherri Turrel were focused on her studies, she might not notice. Sherri was a correspondence student through Excelsior College who worked two jobs and studied during one of those jobs. Babysitting. She was good for Staci’s son, and put in enough study time during the little toddler’s nap time.

However, when Staci used her key to get inside her apartment, she discovered nothing but silence. Usually, she was greeted by her son’s giggles, or even if he was sleeping, she would hear the television playing soft music from one of Sherri’s favorite music channels. But there wasn’t a sound when she stepped inside.

“Sherri…?” she called softly. Maybe they had both taken a nap.

She set her bag on the kitchen counter along with her purse, then went directly for her son’s bedroom. The door was open, and she could already see that the toddler bed was empty before she even stepped inside. The living room was also quiet with no sign of either her son or Sherri. She hurried back to the kitchen and was about to snatch up the phone when she saw the note on the blackboard beside the refrigerator.

Staci, I had to leave earlier than expected.
David is with Kate.
I will call you later.

Sherri

Staci sighed with relief. She decided she needed time to freshen up and cover the evidence of her tears. Kate was from her church, involved heavily in the women’s bible studies. If Kate knew she had been crying, there would be prayer, bible study, and Staci would never get out of there. She put away her groceries, tossed out the milk carton, and went into the bathroom to freshen up.

Almost fifteen minutes later, she grabbed her purse, made certain she had her keys, and went out the door. The door locked behind her with a click. She walked a little bit down the corridor and stopped at door number 55, almost across the hall from her own apartment. She paused as she put on her happy face, and then, she knocked. After a short time, she heard someone coming to the door. It opened to reveal Kate Barrington who smiled at Staci, surprise evident on her face.

“Staci, well, hi!” Kate exclaimed, brushing a strand of blonde hair from her face. “I didn’t expect you until much later. Come in!”

Staci entered the apartment. “Short day today,” she said hesitantly as Kate closed the door. “I just figured it would be a good day to hang out with my little David. Where is he?”

“Well, he hasn’t woken up from his nap yet. It’s only been an hour. He and April have both been playing quite hard today, so I sent them to nap time after their lunch. Would you like some coffee?” Kate began to prepare the coffeemaker even before she received an answer.

Inwardly, Staci felt dreadful. It had always been a battle for her to get her son to take a nap and yet Kate managed the unmanageable. The only way out of this would be to have her son’s nap disrupted…but she couldn’t do that. She slowly nodded and kept her smile in place. “Yeah. Sure. I…I’d love some.” Just please don’t ask me how my day was.

As Kate continued preparing the coffeemaker, she said, “April just loves having David around. Makes her feel like the big sister, it does. In about eleven years, she’ll be as good a sitter as Sherri is.”

Staci nodded her agreement. “Yes. She will.”

Kate turned on the maker. “There we go. Let’s go into the living room and have a seat. I’ll come back for our coffee when it’s ready.”

As Kate led her guest into the living room, she filled Staci in on the activities the children had gotten into. Several times she mentioned her thanks to God for blessing them with such wonderful children. Staci was more than aware she had been blessed with David as her son, but she didn’t think it was necessary to continue to give thanks over and over and over again. Of course, she didn’t share those feelings either. At least, not out loud.

Staci sat down on the end of the sofa while Kate took the recliner without sitting back. That’s when the dreaded question came.

“How was your day?”

Staci continued to maintain her smile. “Fine.” She cleared her throat. “How was your day?”

Kate smiled. “Quite eventful, and wonderful, but I do believe I’ve mentioned a bit of my adventures with the little ones to you already. You, on the other hand, have only mentioned to me how short and fine your day was, but you’ve not given any details. I’m sure you must have had some adventures of your own today. Did something happen to make you leave early?”

“No, no…nothing like that.” She shrugged, trying to be casual about her day. “Really, nothing ever happens to me. I treated some people in the ER and…and then, I went on my way.”

“Really? Nothing exciting? Or…stressful?”

Staci looked at Kate and wondered if she even knew anything about her day. The woman was watching her with a knowing look. “I…Really, my day was fine.” She avoided eye contact. “It’s over now, and I’m just glad to be home.”

Kate paused. “Do you know Ishmael Musad?”

Staci paled. “What…? Kate, how do you know that name?”

“I don’t really know much about him other than he was a prominent member at a local mosque. A leader in the Islamic faith.” She regarded Staci, concern evident in her eyes. “He died this morning.”

Staci didn’t know what to say or think. She stared at Kate as she tried to keep her emotions in check. Finally, she said, “How…how do you know this if-if you don’t know him?”

“It was on the news an hour ago.”

“It was?”

She nodded.

“Already?” She hesitated. “I mean…why would it be on the news at all?”

“Your picture was on the news, too, Staci. They said you were the physician caring for Ishmael Musad, but that you may have ignored a critical diagnosis.”

“What…?” Staci shook her head. “No. No, that’s not-”

Kate reached over and put a hand on her arm for reassurance. “Staci, it’s alright.”

“No, it’s not alright. It-it’s on the news? How did this happen? Kate, I-I couldn’t treat him, they wouldn’t let me. They kept me from getting near him, and-and one of them…” She stopped. “No. I-I don’t want to talk about this. I’ve had a bad day, but it’s over. I just want to put it all behind me and move on. Go forward…Isn’t that what they say? You take a fall, just get up, dust yourself off, and…and continue onward, forward, shout a loud…shout…” She pursed her lips in frustration when she couldn’t think of the word she was looking for. “Well, shout a loud something, I’m sure. I-I just don’t remember the words to that song right now, but…but, yes. I…I will just go back to work tomorrow, and–”

“Staci…”

“–keep on-a working.” She shrugged. “So…That’s all I’ve gotta do, right?”

Kate shook her head. “No, Staci, you can’t go back to work tomorrow. At least, I don’t believe you should.”

Staci sighed. “You don’t? Why not?”

“Listen to me. You need to talk about this.”

She began to shake her head. “No, I don’t. I’m alright. I–”

“You’re not alright, and you will talk about this because it will only get worse if you don‘t.” Kate looked at Staci and smiled reassuringly at her. “I’m only telling you this because you can’t ignore this. I love you, Staci, and I’m very concerned about you. So I’m going to get our coffee and we’re going to have that talk. Okay?”

Staci paused to regard her neighbor and friend. She slowly let out a breath. “I guess we have to,” she said softly, “’cause you’ve got that ‘I’m not letting you out of my sight’ look.”

“That’s right, and don’t you forget it. If I didn’t care for you, I wouldn’t be so pushy. Remember that. Now I’ll be right back.”

Staci watched her go into the kitchen and considered briefly making a mad rush for the door. It wouldn’t have done any good anyway because she would have had to pass through the kitchen. It also turned out that it was unnecessary because now she was plagued with questions. What else about her and the incident she had gone through had been on the news? What was being said about her? Who else had seen the news and what would people say if they recognized her in public?

Then, another question entered into her mind.

Why was this happening to me?

******* *******

Darwyn Musad

Youmud Musad had just been close to entering into the penthouse apartment building his intended victim had entered. The woman was so caught up in her own pitiful woes, she had been completely unaware of his presence. It had been easy to follow such a simple-minded infidel from the hospital, he felt quite confident he could easily gain entrance into her own apartment as well. Once there, he would extract vengeance for the death of his father.

Ishmael Musad had been a great man. How could such a great man end in the care of a Jew? Youmud Musad was furious. He intended to cause horrible pain and suffering before the end. He had quietly followed the woman right to the front door. She slipped inside and he put his foot in the doorway. As he pulled it open, he watched her use her key card to open the second door. As she went through it, he fully intended to follow right on her heels.

But that was when he was grabbed from behind and dragged out into the daylight. He tried to fight back, but soon realized there were more than one assailant. Still, whoever the foolish infidels were that had grabbed him would not take him down so easily. He tried to lash out with his foot, but someone grabbed him and cursed in Arabic. He suddenly realized who had grabbed him and ceased his struggles. By the time he had done so, he was in the back of a van, looking right into the angry face of his older brother.

As the van drove off, the older brother slapped him hard in the face with the back of his hand. “That is for thinking for yourself,” he said calmly.

Youmud glared at him, but did not speak.

Darwyn Musad had no intention of letting him speak. “The Jew is not important. The death of our father was unavoidable, and had another doctor been available, he would be alive today to see our plans prosper. However, because she was there, it was his dying wish to strike back by refusing care from her. This had nothing to do with us. Do you understand?”

Youmud did not respond. He continued to glare.

Darwyn slapped him with the back of his hand again. “Do you understand?”

“Yes!”

“Then, you will forget about the Jew and we will continue with the plan. Understood?”

Youmud nodded.

“Good.” Darwyn regarded him for a moment. “You should have no reason to fear that her sin will go unpunished. Soon, my brother, very soon, we shall prevail against our enemy and cut off his head in one swift stroke. If we do not kill her, someone else will. But it does not matter, for tomorrow, the infidels of Satan who call themselves Americans and hold to their so-called great strength as a nation will fall mightily, and blood shall flood the streets. Once it has fallen, our people will be free to kill all of the Jews…And the greatest prize of all will finally be ours.”

Youmud smiled. “Israel.”

“Yes. It shall be our land…or we will make it a wasteland. Either way, we will have won, and our enemies will be destroyed.”

******* *******

To Be Continued in Chapter 3 – The Last Day

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