Second book of the RISKING DAYLIGHT SERIES
EPISODE 1: Morning Drive Time Show
Curt was driving the stolen Mercedes through the backroads, while Joel was on a plane, being monitored by unknown figures throughout the coach.
Bennie was dying.
The Rapture had affected everybody on earth. Even a man named Tom.
Let's back up...reversing ourselves a couple of months...soon Joel, Kimberly and the others will meet a man named Tom. Let's visit him, but we are going to need to go backwards in time...
Tom Stockton adjusted his headphones and glanced up at the large clock with the sweeping red second-hand. Sixty seconds to go. He smoothed his hair back and saw his reflection in the control room window. Not bad. Not bad at all for a forty-year old. He had time for one more quick swig of coffee before he needed to speak. He
sipped and adjusted his microphone - he really felt it was "his" microphone, even though other announcers would use it on their shifts - and glanced over at his co-host, Jennifer McCall. She was sorting her feature event papers while sipping on a Coke, and he frowned his disapproval. Tom had told her time and time again that a good radio announcer does not drink anything with a syrup base.
Tends to "clog you up" when you speak. Jennifer glanced up and saw his frown and stuck out her tongue. He had to smile. She brushed back her long brown hair and did some pencil-editing on a script. She always came through, didn't she? That's why the "Tom and Jennifer Wake Up Cafe" program was the number one radio show in the city.
The final commercial played over his headset. It was Friday, and then the weekend. No shows until Monday. Tom felt great.
His hand kept both microphones on "cue" as the second hand swept closer to the top of the hour. He cleared his throat and said, "Okay, stand by." Ten seconds to go. Jennifer pulled her microphone closer to her. Tom looked through the glass at Clayton, who silently signaled an "okay" sign and looked down to his traffic copy once again. Three seconds, two seconds, one second -
Tom's hand swung over to the opening theme song cart and he twisted the Microphone #1 knob and spoke:
"Morning, ladies, gentlemen and whatever else you call yourselves. Tom Stockton and Jennifer McCall with you this morning on he big 98 in Cleveland. It's a Friday. A FRIDAY! Hey, we're going to keep you informed of weather, traffic, and some upcoming events for the weekend. Good morning, Jen!"
"Good morning, Tom. One of the big events this weekend will be the Summer Slam Fun Festival at Beckwith Bible Church on the east side of the city. We have a special guest, Pastor Mike Paholich, with us and he'll explain what some of the events will be."
"Great, Jen. Clayton, how are the streets looking this morning?"
"We're looking at a good traveling morning so far. I-77 seems to be moving well with only one small delay near exit 162. A little slow going on I-90 west but other than that, you'll find clear sailing."
"Great to hear that. This morning's traffic is brought to you by the K-Way Optical Clinic. A little cool this morning, in the sixties, but not too bad" Tom was in top form now. He was good and he knew it. His fingers flew to the buttons, dials, and radio copy that gave him
information from which to "ad-lib." Everything was smooth today. A bit of news at four minutes after the hour, then commercials. A few jokes with Jen and back with another ad from K-Way. As the commercial ran, Tom pushed both microphones in cue and talked with his co-host while he took a swallow of coffee. He tilted his chair back and looked over at Jennifer. "Who's on the forum this morning?"
Jennifer pointed trough the studio window toward the dark-haired man being seated by Clayton. The man seemed to be in his twenties, wore a blue jacket with no tie and showed a bit of nervousness. "Pastor from Beckwith Bible. I already told you that. Don't you keep the notes I give you?"
He grinned. "Do I ever?" She gave a theatrical sigh and handed him a copy that she always kept available. He was always forgetting his notes. He frowned as he glanced over the sheet. "So what's with the festival? The church trying to make a name for itself?" He dropped the sheet in front of him and looked back at the clock.
"It's for a good cause, Tom. The pastor's having a festival for the neighborhoods. The church is underwriting it. It's a freebie for the kids." Jennifer knew Tom's cynicism was going to show. It was a risk bringing the pastor in, but she felt Tom would be gracious. Maybe not this morning.
Tom grunted and then mumbled "Stand by." The music faded out and Tom
went back into his radio voice:
"We are honored - blessed, I should say? - at the occasion of having Pastor Mike with us this morning." Even though the pastor waved a greeting through the glass, Jennifer grimaced. Tom's sarcasm was creeping up. Tom gestured to the microphone in front of the pastor.
"Uh, preacher, don't wave to me. People can't hear a wave. The mike's in front of you. Speak now, or forever hold your peace."
Pastor Mike Paholich grinned sheepishly and spoke. "Sorry. Good morning! I'm a little nervous, not being used to radio and all."
Jennifer smiled and spoke. "Don't worry, Pastor Mike. 'Pastor Mike' - that's what the neighborhood kids call you, I hear."
Pastor Mike nodded. "Yes, you're correct. The kids are great. That's why we're having this festi-"
Tom leaned close to the microphone. "Your last name's 'Paholich?'"
The way he pronounced it, it was almost snide. "What's that name,
Pastor Mike nodded again. "It sure is. My ancestry is from the Ukraine."
Tom looked at the paper in front of him. "Okay we see you're having a merry-go-round, bounce room, popcorn, pony rides and then what happens?"
The pastor leaned nearer to the microphone. "Well, everything's free, and -"
"And you kind of get their name and number so you can visit them?" Tom interrupted.
Jennifer closed her eyes. Here it comes. The pastor blinked. "We -
uh, no, we don't, there's no obligation or strings attached, if that's what you mean."
Tom raised his eyebrows. "You mean, there's one church in America that's not after something?"
"No, not at all. In fact, if the kids want them, we give out free Bibles, too."
Tom clapped his hands. "Ha! So that's it! You want them all to be 'saved' - is that it?"
"Well, if they could become a Christian, that would be fantast-"
Tom broke in. "If they could be LIKE YOU, then the city would be better off. Is that what you're saying, preacher?"
The pastor looked perplexed and rubbed one eye. "Look, I'm not sure if I'm coming across wrong. I just thought we were offering a free festival to the community. That's all."
Tom glared at the pastor. "It's kind of like a come-and-play-if-you-hear-my-message, right?"
Jennifer broke in as gently as she could. "Well, there's a lot going on at Beckwith and it starts tomorrow morning at 9:30. Like we said, it's free and there are some local leaders who will be participating in some contests. We'll let you know more about them right after this message from SeaCrest Pharmacy." Tom glanced at her, puzzled,
and wordlessly punched the button. The commercial hummed and as he deadened the studio microphones, Jennifer pushed the intercom button. "Pastor, we have a set of commercials and Clayton comes back on with a traffic report. You've got a couple of minutes. Would you want a cup of coffee? Sheila will take you to the break room. Clayton will need that chair you're sitting in."
The pastor still looked perplexed. "Uh, sure," he responded, and a middle aged secretary walked him out of the studio. Jennifer turned to Tom.
"Look, I don't care what kind of a 'scar' you got from some church when you were growing up. You must stop this badgering of every clergyman that comes in our studio! You sound like a total idiot. The man is part of a charitable organization."
Tom didn't look up. "Right. Just like those TV evangelists who suck people dry every time they come for a crusade. Just like the preacher who screamed all that hell-fire stuff that got my parents to acting like fanatics."
Jennifer sat down and put on her headphones. Her jaw jutted out. "Whatever your personal prejudices, don't let it kill the show, Tom." She glanced through the window. "Better cut that next commercial until after the traffic report. Clayton's acting like he has breaking news."
Tom went back on the air. "Looks like we have some breaking traffic info. Clayton, you looked concerned. What's up?"
Clayton was obviously rattled. It showed on his face and sounded in his voice.
"Uh, Tom, we're experiencing traffic conditions like I've never seen. If you're on the interstates - any interstate - find an exit."
Tom's head snapped up to look at Clayton.
The traffic reporter continued, his face ashen.
"We have a bus accident on I-90 westbound near exit 173 with fire. A tractor trailer overturned near exit 422 on 90 east. Two hard smash-ups - three people dead - on Euclid Avenue. A car with fire on Chester with severe injuries. Car hits a convenience store on Cedar.
Looks like a pile-up on I-77 near exit 160, reporting deaths. This all has been reported as having happened within the last ten minutes. There are more reports coming in"
Tom turned his head slowly and stared blankly at Jennifer while Clayton continued reading down the list. "What gives? Is this some kind of a joke?"
Jennifer's face was pale and Tom could see her hands tremble. She gulped and said "It sounds like the end of the world."
EPISODE 2 - Verify the Traffic Reports
Tom Stockton waved through the studio glass and tried unsuccessfully to catch Clayton's attention. Usually Clayton was the consummate professional. Normally, he glanced at Tom during his traffic reports, making sure that the morning show host approved every nuance of timing and ad-libbing. That was under normal conditions, however. This traffic news today, though, had him rattled. He was
reeling off accident after accident. It had to be a joke, Tom thought, and it isn't funny. As crude as his own humor could be sometimes, jokes about body counts were not in his playing field. He was going to put a stop to this.
Tom looked into the studio where Clayton droned on about another crack-up on a side street. Even though the "on air" light was on, a secretary snuck in and laid more in front of Clayton.
Tom had seen enough. He swiveled his chair around to
Jennifer. "Look," he said firmly, "I'm going to a commercial break. A LONG commercial break. Get him off the air and get Louis in here. We need to find out if these reports are true. This is ridiculous. If these reports aren't true, then we'll be the laughingstock of the
market. Our credibility will be shot."
Jennifer got up woodenly and headed to the door. She turned before leaving the room. Her eyes had a funny glaze about them. "And what if the reports are true?" Without waiting for an answer, she stepped out into the hall.
Tom turned up the studio monitor. "we have an overturned
vehicle near exit 99 on I-90 eastbound. Please stay away from the I-77 northbound exit at exit 161. A car veered off of the bridge and plunged onto the highway below. Fire crews are using the Jaws of Life, but can't find the driver."
Tom looked through the glass. For the first time, Clayton looked at him. He was as puzzled about that accident scene as Tom. No driver? No passenger? No body on the road?
Tom looked down at the VU meter, but wasn't reading it. He was thinking. Surely the driver wouldn't just walk away. Was he thrown from the car?
He looked up to see Louis walk in the studio and motion for Clayton to stop. Funny, thought Tom. It looked like Clayton were in a trance. Louis actually had to put a hand under his elbow and help him out of the seat. Tom plunged into a series of commercials and had a music CD ready. He jumped onto the air for a brief insert:
"Yes, friends, we have a real mess out there. Tell you what, we're going to get State patrol on the line and make sure that our reports are all verified. We receive our calls from the police scanners and the highway department, and you know you get the most accurate reporting by the Lake here in Cleveland. Give us a few minutes and we'll update you on conditions. This is Big 98 and you're listening to Wake Up Cafe. "
Tom brought down the volume and looked up to see Louis, the general manager staring hard at him. Louis was in his early fifties, and wore the rumpled look of a manager who just barely stayed ahead of the pack. He ran the number one station n the city, but the way he was dressed, you would think he worked for a station in the smallest
market in Ohio. Louis wore the stereotypical rumpled shirt and loose tie.
Tom pulled his headphones down around his neck. "Louis, what's going on? Is this for real?"
Louis crossed his arms and glared. If there was one thing you could say about Louis, he was intense. Not a bit of humor about him. Tom knew that Louis would get straight to the point without any kidding or embellishment.
The general manager breathed in and exhaled a long, slow breath without ever taking his eyes off of Tom. "I've never seen or heard anything like it. It's a record breaker. If the Russians were still at Cold War strength, I would seriously consider the fact that they had some kind of biological warfare that could knock some people out. This is ungodly." He ran a hand over his thinning
hair. "There are more wrecks this morning than the last two months combined."
Tom's past years of investigative reporting caused him to pick up a phrase like a red flag in an open meadow. "Whoa. You said, 'seen like it.' You saw some of this?"
Louis nodded. "Coming in to work late this morning. I stopped down the road to fill up, forgot to do it last night. I was only a mile from the station when I saw this - this car from the other side of the median just suddenly swerve across the grass and head straight for other cars. Only missed me by about two car lengths. Luckily
everybody got out of his way. Or her way." Louis bit his lip. "The way that car just took off and came our way, you would think nobody was driving it." He stared out the window at the city. "Of course, that couldn't happen, could it? I mean, somebody had to get that car on the road in the first place. " He blinked, as if waking up from a
dream. "In any case, run another song after this one, jump in with the weather, and by that time I should be able to give you a personal okay on these reports. " He headed for the door, but then swerved to face Tom before he left the studio. He pointed at Tom and then at Jennifer as she walked back into the room.
"People, we have a potential once-in-a-lifetime story, and you're on top of it, Louis said. "Pre-empt everything. The show goes into solid news mode after I come back. Understand?" Both radio announcers nodded. Louis walked out. Tom gave a wry grin to Jennifer. "You doin' okay? You looked a little shaken." Jennifer sat down and avoided his eyes. "I got on the phone after I got Louis. I called my boy's school. They're looking out the window of the building and can count eight wrecks within the parking lot area."
Tom gulped. "Something to do with vehicles."
Jennifer shook her head. "Don't think so."
Tom snapped his fingers. "'Pre-empt, Louis said. We gotta move everything out. Oops. That means your little Russian pastor gets the axe. Sorry. You tell him." Jennifer ignored the sarcasm. Funny, Tom thought, she's losing the professional edge here. Under these circumstances she should be showing the reporter's flair for changing gears and getting to a story. That's how she started when
we hired her. 'Jenny McCall from Channel 5.' Now she looks like she can't even scrawl with a crayon. Oh, well, he said to himself as he punched the CD to 'play.' Under stress you find out who the good ones are, don't you?
Jennifer walked back in. "No need to worry about the little pastor,"she said. He's gone."
Tom raised his eyebrows. "Gone? Did someone else tell him to leave?"
"Nope." Jennifer plopped down on the chair and stiffly pulled the hair away from her face. "In fact, nobody even saw him leave. And you know what bulldogs all the secretaries are, especially Sheila. They know if anyone leaves the break room area, since it's so close
to the desks."
"Bathroom break? He could have had a lot of coffee before he went on the air. Nervous and all that."
"Wrong again. The secretaries thought he would be back on the air in a minute, so they sent J.R. from sales to go look for the preacher. No sign anywhere. Only a nice big splat of coffee on the break room floor and a ceramic mug broken in three pieces."
Tom shook his head. "It's like the man just - just disappeared,isn't it?"
Jennifer leaned forward with glassy eyes. "There's more, radio man. The school phone call that I made? I found out that my boy Jared is okaybut there's mayhem over there. They are reporting over sixty students missing. No absentees. They were in homeroom. They were having attendance taken. Guess what. Kids are gone."
Tom stared at the clock. All this had taken place in the last twenty minutes. And from the way he could see the secretaries running around and answering phones, there were more reports coming in.
EPISODE 3: Ad Lib Time
Tom leaned back and checked the radio equipment around him. An instrumental number droned over the studio monitor. By the end of this music CD, he would know whether he would be on top of the biggest story in the history of Cleveland. While the goings-on chilled him to the bone, he found a perverse pleasure in the fact that he was in the center of all this. Tom Stockton, the best known radio announcer in the city - given full rights to head up
the "command center" during this crisis. He would be the center of the network of information flow. He was going to pre-empt every other announcer and deejay in the station. What a coup! And he would even earn extra points if he could stay stationed here in this studio while the problems in Cleveland continued. Soon the whole world would be looking in on the events in the city.
Tom glanced back at Jennifer. She sat staring dully at her news and feature copy. She shook his head. She's really shaken about this. Man, this is the time when the radio people suck it up and do their best. Pity, he thought to himself. The city is in danger and she can't be called on to help.
The studio door swung open. Louis leaned in. "The reports from the State Police are a clear positive on what is happening. Those wrecks are real. The change to all news is now until I say otherwise. When this music ends you will have copy run in here. Keep the city informed. Give alternate routes. Don't take any calls. And neither
of you leave. I will set up cots if I need to. You are my two people on the air for the duration. Understand?" Tom nodded and Jennifer looked up slowly.
Louis leaned close to her face. "Jen, this is a crucial time. People need to hear your voice for reassurance. We don't know what is going on but you are going to act like everything is okay. Act like everything is okay! Do you understand me, Jenn?" She looked up and tried a smile. She pulled herself together and sorted her news copy. "Sure, Louis. I'll do it. I'm okay. Just a little shaken."
Louis was unmoved. "Well, listen, little lady, there are a lot of people who have lost loved ones from the Lake all the way to Elyria AND THEY'RE MORE THAN A LITTLE SHAKEN! So get off your pity party wagon and do the job we hired you for!"
His screaming woke her up. She snapped to full attention and looked him straight in the eye. He pointed a finger directly at her. "This is the news event of a lifetime. You are not going to botch this up. Get it together. I'll
be listening." He walked out swiftly.
As the studio door slowly closed, Tom heard the ringing of the newswire machine. The newswire machine was relegated for headline bulletins, feature items and weather information. The equipment was designed with an alarm system that would give a series of rings if there should be an emergency.
The machine was ringing for all it was worth.
Tom could see J.R. race over and grab the rolling sheet of paper as it spit out the front of the machine. He could see J.R.'s knees buckle slightly as he read some of the copy. Tom swung around and adjusted his headphones and mike. The music was coming to a close.
Tom cleared his throat.
"Stand by." That was the signal for the room to fall into silence.
Tom was on the air. It was ad-lib time. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have run into some serious events surrounding the community of Cleveland. I estimate by the clock that the first reports of problems came to us at 8: 20 or 8:21. Judging from what we received, the actual time of the series of accidents occurred around 8:14 or
8:15 this morning. If you have just tuned in, we wish to report that there have been a number of accidents involving tractor-trailers, buses, and passenger vehicles. From the accuracy of our reporting crews throughout the town, we can say without fear of contradiction that no interstate is immune from this phenomenon. It indeed seems as if these accidents are all related and we want to make sure that
there is no attack upon the city, whether through disease, virus or outside nation."
He turned and gestured to Jennifer. She was receiving a thick handful of papers and scrawled notes. She nodded her head as he spoke. He noticed two engineers moving down the hall. Tom continued.
"Jennifer will keep us updated with the latest news around the city. We are going to pause for a brief station break and other announcements that are from various Emergency Response teams in the county. Please listen carefully to each announcement, for they will give instructions on how to respond to any emergency you may encounter. Let's keep our heads, friends, and we'll see this through. Stay tuned right here to 98 and we will keep you informed. Time now is 8:39 in the morning. We'll be right back." He flipped a
switch and the government information poured through the speakers.
As he shut down the studio microphones, the two engineers burst into the room carrying pieces of computer. They furiously cleared off an area next to him and feverishly plugged in wires and connections.
EPISODE 4: Missing
There was so much foot traffic coming into the radio studio that Tom insisted that they leave the door open. Better to do that than have that stupid door swinging open and shut. Besides, the listeners wouldn't care if they heard a little light background noise, what with all the disasters going on in the city. Incredible, just incredible, thought Tom. It's got to stop sometime - but every
four or five minutes, somebody else would run in the room with another news bulletin about a catastrophe.
He pored over the latest copy as the engineers finished their work and moved the computer monitor near him. One engineer's hands flew over the keyboard and rolled the mouse for a moment, trying to bring up the Internet. Tom spoke even as the two men banged and clunked the equipment. He continued down a long list of disasters around Cleveland.
"Friends, we have an accident at University Circle. This must have been sitting there for a time, what with all the other problems in the area. The officers on the scene, strangely enough, cannot find either driver. If anyone has witnessed this accident, please call the Cleveland Police. Maybe you saw a good Samaritan take the people to the hospital. Please help us out. The rescue squads in the area claim that no vehicles were dispatched to the scene of the accident.
"There has been some serious looting at a couple of the stores in the Warehouse District. Our people on the scene mention that, oddly, only a few select stores were robbed. The police nabbed a couple looters red-handed, and the word back from one of those apprehended was that nobody was minding the store! Seems as if the places
were 'open for business' in more ways than one."
Jennifer grimaced. If anything was not needed at this time, it was Tom's stupid attempts at humor. She gave him a withering look and read her copy:
"Over at the Gateway district we are hearing of a small restaurant fire -"
As Jennifer read the latest news, Tom felt a tap on his shoulder. An engineer signaled that Tom's computer was up and running. Tom punched the icon for the DiDexx home page, his favorite page for information. The screen jumped to a series of headlines that made Tom's blood run cold.
"Helicopter goes down in Philadelphia."
"Traffic chaos waking up Phoenix; 15 car pile-up."
"Subway smashup only one of many tragedies in New York City."
"San Francisco's mix of fires and crashes puts early morning traffic at a standstill."
"Unexplained explosion rocks downtown Pittsburgh."
Tom looked at Jennifer and made a motion of pulling imaginary taffy apart with his fingers: a radio signal for "stretch it out." She nodded and continued through the list. She would continue reading and ad-libbing as long as necessary. Tom went back to the screen, feverishly zipping through the many news reports on the DiDexx screen. Something kept coming up consistently, and a light bulb went off in Tom's head.
Every single one of these incidents was reported as happening between 8:14 and 8:15 Eastern Standard Time.
Tom leaned forward in his chair. How could a 15 car pile-up in Phoenix match the timing of a news helicopter plummeting to earth in Philadelphia? They were on opposite ends of the country! What would trigger a subway accident to occur within sixty seconds of the Phoenix and Philadelphia disasters? Even the explosion in Pittsburgh
was within five minutes of the other accidents. Could have been a delayed reaction...
...but everything seems to be centered on an "alarm clock" going off at 8:14 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Holding the latest traffic reports, Clayton had come to Studio #2 in front of Tom. Through the glass Tom motioned to him and pointed at the clock, signaling that Clayton would take over the mike when the second hand hit the 12. Jennifer saw the signals and expertly wrapped up her news bulletins.
Precisely at 8:56 a.m. Tom signaled Clayton with a nod and a wave of his hand and Clayton began. Clayton did not speak about the news, however. He was going into a short commentary. Tom looked up from his control board. Did Louis okay this? Tom looked fully into Clayton's face and listened carefully.
Clayton spoke with a slightly thick slur. Had he been drinking, or was he going into shock? The traffic reporter pushed his papers aside and spoke without notes:
"You know, people it was in 1959 that Ohio adopted a state motto, one that made good sense. You and I know it: 'With God all things are possible.' We held to it, and we acknowledged God was the One in charge. We may not have been saints, but at least we respected God for who He is.
"Then in 1995 we saw a lawsuit filed against the state motto. Says we can't go using God's name because it offends some people. Well, did anyone think it might offend God Himself?"
Tom hit the intercom switch. "Sheila, get Louis. Clayton's off the mark. Do I shut him down? I need an okay from Louis."
Clayton looked down and continued. "You can call these disasters what you want. Bad karma. Sun spot activity. Electronic interference. Let me tell you what I think. I think that we've pushed God too far. He's tired of it. And whether it's a bus wreck or a car pile-up, I believe we ought to do some deep soul-searching to see if we haven't brought this on ourselves."
Louis and J.R. came into the studio, simultaneously signaling Tom to cut the mike while carting off Clayton. Clayton gave no resistance, only making one last shout of "We brought this on ourselves!" Tom went to a Public Service Announcement tape.
Then an idea hit Tom. I just might have the answer, he thought. It's crazy, but it could be true.
"Jenn, you've got the board for a few minutes. Re-hash the news and plug in the weather report tape from Kip. I'll be back in a few minutes." Jennifer moved over to the control board and settled in.
Tom ran down the hall and called for Louis. The continual ringing of the phones was enough to drive anybody to distraction, and Tom could see that Louis was trying to control himself. The general manager swung on his heels, a cigarette hanging from his lips. Funny, thought Tom, Louis gave up smoking three months ago. This is really getting to him.
Louis scowled. "What is it?"
Tom said, "I think I've figured it out. The more I look on the web, the more sure I am of it. You know, Louis, that every accident began at exactly 8:14 this morning Eastern Standard Time. Every one. The only exceptions are fires and explosions, but strong evidence points towards their origin being at the very same time: 8:14 a.m."
Louis didn't say a word, but continued staring.
"That means," Tom continued, "that something around this country was triggered at 8:14 Eastern Standard Time that obliterated enough people's mechanical abilities that they went into a shock and lost control of their motor skills. You see? Wrecks caused by people who suddenly couldn't function!"
Louis raised his eyebrows. "And so?"
Tom cleared his throat and counted on his fingers. "Two
possibilities, and they may add up to one before this is through.
"My first thought: this is an anthrax-type of epidemic. Biological warfare. E-bola sprayed in the air in an aerosol form, timed to go off all at once.
"Second thought: it's an attack. Some foreign power is trying a back-door invasion, hoping to panic us and make it ripe for an aggressive intrusion." Tom finished and waited expectantly for Louis' answer.
Louis pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and blew a small cloud. He narrowed his eyes and said, "Why, Tom, I do believe your age is catching up with you. You've missed some big clues. You have a big gaping hole in your theory-maybe two. Come here."
Tom followed Louis over to a desk where photocopied pages lay strewn at every angle. Louis stabbed at the pages with his finger. "Pick these up and read 'em."
Tom leafed through the pile and gasped. He read portions of reports from the news services around the globe. "Air disaster in Belgium..." "Paris traffic is frozen due to multiple car wrecks" "British Parliament is calling for an emergency session to deal with catastrophes even at this hour..." "...mystery
surrounds factory accidents in the Ukraine, while cities are plunged into darkness..." Tom went through the papers. Mexico city rioting. Jerusalem freak accidents. Kenyan deaths. Naples disasters. On and on.
Tom gulped dryly. "So it's worldwide..."
Louis dropped his cigarette ashes on the floor. "Now about your little e-bola theory. This anthrax thing. So, you say people are immobile to the point of not operating vehicles, but...they have
enough strength after the wreck to get up and leave the accident scene? Read again, Sherlock. How many of these reports talk about dealing with missing bodies? People are gone. Poof. Vanished."
Sheila trotted over to Louis and pointed to the general manager's office. "Better take this. It's from Doug," she said, motioning toward the phone. Doug was the midnight deejay who would help out on news assignments for a little bonus in his pay now and then. If he came up with an extra item on a slow news week, Louis would slide a few extra dollars his way. Today, however was not a day Louis wanted
to hear a feature story.
Tom followed Louis to his office. The general manager punched the speaker phone button and growled, "Tell me something I don't know, Doug."
Wherever Doug was, the background noise was deafening. Screams were uncanny. Doug was shouting to be heard. "Louis? Louis? Can you hear me?"
Louis yelled. "Talk, man. Where are you?"
Doug shouted back. "Louis, I'm at the hospital. I was going to get some reports about the accidents. You know, talk to some of the victims, stuff like that."
"So, it's more than accidents, Louis."
"What are you getting at? Why is there all that screaming?"
"What I'm getting at, Louis, is that I'm standing in the maternity ward. The maternity ward is completely empty." He fought to control his voice.
"Louis, all the babies are missing. Everyone of them. The babies are gone."
EPISODE 5: What's on the screen?
Tom leaned back against the break room wall. This is almost too much for me, he thought, sipping coffee. This was his fourth cup of the morning. Tom old boy, he thought, you've pushed it to the limits
this 'go-round.'. This was the first time in his life that he would admit to himself that he was tired. In reality, he was exhausted. Tom had always pictured himself the stoic, hard-driving force that few people could equal. So much for his high ideals of being the solid rock of the emergency shift! Still, Louis hadn't noticed his fatigue and Tom remained in command of the ad-hoc 'all news' format
until things returned to normal.
Normal. Would things ever return to 'normal?'
It wasn't even noon time and he had reported more disasters than he had in his whole professional radio career. How many private planes went down? How many interstates were closed? How many phone lines are down? Fires are raging out of control in the downtowns of Detroit, Houston and Kansas City. Gangs are on the warpath in L.A.
and New York. And here in Cleveland, the intersecting highways look like a war zone. You couldn't go three miles in any direction before you found a vehicle accident. The tow trucks were busier than the police.
Kip was on the air, giving Tom a half-hour breather before Louis would want him back on as "the comforting voice." His co-host Jennifer had almost walked out of the station, panicked about her kid at school. If it weren't for Doug promising to pick him up and scoot through snarled traffic on his motorcycle, Jennifer probably would have quit. She was somewhat calmer now.
Louis, the station manager, had made good on his promise: There were cots downstairs. Some of the crew would be in for the duration. Good thing there was a shower just off of the back room. Whoever built this station must have had an incredibly dedicated staff. Either that or someone lived here.
J.R. came in and plopped down in a seat across the room. He was head of sales, and nobody in town was even thinking of talking to a salesman right now. Tom had alays been impressed by J.R.'s knowledge in almost any subject, and had often wondered why he wasn't a college professor. J.R. loosened his collar and snapped his suspenders a few
times before talking.
"You hear the rumor? President's going to declare martial law at midnight."
Despite all that had happened, Tom was actually surprised. "Really? That hasn't happened since the Civil War, has it?"
J.R. stood up and fished out some change for a Pepsi. "Oh, I looked it up. State-wise, it's happened a few times. Federal government? Let's see. It happened one other time besides the Civil War. Oh, yeah, martial law was declared over Hawaii during World War 2. Which means," he took a sip from his drink, "that as far as the full ocean-
to-ocean United States of America - fifty states and all that - this is the first time in American history that martial law has been declared that will affect the land. Yup. Military will move in, I suppose. Can't say that I argue with it."
Tom rubbed his eyes. "I've been dealing with traffic and missing persons so much, I may have lost some other parts of the picture. I know about the New York and L.A. gang fighting. Is it just as bad in the other cities?"
J.R. laughed without humor. "Saying that you may have missed part of the picture is like saying that you're standing in the bottom of a well in West Virginia and you may not be seeing all of America. You can't believe what's going on out there. Let me tell you some stuff that hasn't made it to the studio." He ticked off the list on his
fingers. "Chicago is in mass hysteria. They've already burned down two churches, putting the blame on 'Christians.' Indianapolis has already seen three rioters shot and killed by police. The cops couldn't stop them from charging. It's like they were inhuman. The
military is lining the streets in D.C. and anybody that even tries to look at the White House in the wrong way is going into the slammer. And here in Cleveland? Well, let's just say that the smartest decision I've ever seen Louis make is to lock us up in here. Did you know that he hired a cop about an hour ago? We're keeping security -
armed and all - at the top of the steps for the next few days. With the exception of Jenn's kid, and of course Doug, nobody comes in, nobody goes out."
Tom looked into his cup. "Good thing we're on the second floor. Huh. Funny thing that everybody here at the station right now is single. You and I and Jenn with our divorces, Sheila widowed, and Louis, Kip and Doug never married."
J.R. chuckled again. "You know what they say about radio. Single man's job."
Tom nodded. "Well, between the group of us, we can take care of Jenn's little boy here until this blows over. School's been shut down until they can get to the bottom of the disappearances. What's the boy's name? Is it Ricky?"
"Yeah, Ricky. We'll bring him into our little cocoon of safety. You know, it's strange, but right now, even though you and I are in shock, think of this: we really haven't seen anything. We've been holed up in here at the station."
"That's what makes it so hard to comprehend. All I'm getting is news copy and Internet pictures. Haven't seen anything in real life." Tom threw his Styrofoam cup in the trash. "In a morbid way, I'd like to see something of it. I want to see the flesh-and-blood reality. But the rule is to stay in the station."
J.R. looked pensive for a moment. The he asked, "How long before you go back on the air?"
Tom looked up at the clock in the break room. "Eighteen more minutes."
J.R. set his face into a tight grin. "Then if you're serious, I'll give you a glimpse. Come on, it'll add depth to your coverage."
Tom got up. "How do we get down to the street? Louis will know if we try to sneak out. "
J.R. pointed to the ceiling. "We aren't going down. We're going up to the roof." With that, he bounded out of the room, turning only once to put his finger to his lips in a boyish "quiet" sign. By turning around, he didn't see the person standing in the hallway to his immediate right. J.R. bumped into Louis heavily, almost knocking
the two men to the floor. Louis caught himself and pushed J.R. upright again.
"Uh, hi, Louis," choked J.R., trying to regain his composure.
"Off on a little joy ride?" asked the station manager. "Off to see a little excitement, is that it?"
"Well, no, but-" J.R. was fumbling for words.
"Save the excuses. If the two of you are so keen on getting even more action, then you'd better come with me." Louis turned on his heel and marched toward his office. J.R. and Tom followed.
They entered Louis' office, but he didn't motion for them to sit down. He merely pointed at his computer screen and looked at J.R. "There you go, Batman. Here's your excitement."
Tom looked at a blank screen. "Um. Louis, I'm not really getting anything out of this. What are you saying?"
Louis leaned over the desk while nodding his head in the direction of the computer. "What I'm saying is that the next big story has just happened, big boy. What do you see? Nothing? You're absolutely right. Nothing. Nada. No Internet. No instant news. It's all shut down. Dead. Gone."
"It's about four hours after this national disappearance and auto accident free-for-all, and wouldn't you know it, someone's taken advantage of it. The computer networks have all shut down. Moreover, somebody shut them down.
"I believe you might call it cyber-terrorism."
Tom gulped and spoke in a dry voice. "And the whole nation - the entire world - is being held hostage."
Suddenly another emotion gripped Tom. It was more than just confusion and exhaustion. This new emotion was a combination of utter helplessness and pure, deep-in-the-gut mortal fear.
EPISODE 6: Insulated from danger
Tom wandered back into the break room, his head buzzing. Now it was cyber-terrorism. He never thought that the country could be so helpless, even with all of this going on. After all, he thought angrily, it's not like we're some poor third-world country. This is America, man. Why should we be held hostage by a handful of techno-geeks? And how would they know to strike when all of these other
Louis already said that other nations were faring even worse. The rioting in Greece was beyond comprehension. What was that news report about India? They're not even trying to bury the dead. They're just pushing them into pits. It's almost like an epidemic. For crying out loud, even Iran and Iraq are calling for help! When has
that ever happened? Someone - or something - has really shaken the foundations of every nation-
Tom leaned against the candy machine. Think, man, think. If it's not an aggressive nation, then it might be some international spy ring. James Bond stuff.
Or it might be someone - or something - above the politics and limits of the nations. Someone fromanother world?
Tom leaned over and looked in the trash can, empty except for the three cleanly broken pieces of the preacher's mug. Like all of the other hundred or so reports, the preacher had justleft. Other-worldly. Nobody saw him go. And he, like others, left an accident behind. Of course, this wasn't a car slamming into the side of a movie house, or a bus crashing through a guard railing. The pattern
was the same. People leaving in such a hurry that they left a mess behind. Tom smiled. What a way to describe it. "Leaving a mess behind." Good book title.
"I can't possibly see anything funny about this."
Tom looked up. Jennifer was standing there, glaring at him. "You can actually find humor in what's going on?"
Tom was beyond trying to act flustered. If Jennifer had a problem, she ought to learn to cope. "Same as you, sister. I'm scared, shaken, confused and confounded. So what do want me to do? Fall to pieces? Lose control?" A new thought came to him. "Shake my fist at God?"
The co-host cast him a scornful look and handed him some news copy. "You go on in ten minutes. You might want to review this. These newest items will be the headlines at the top of the hour."
Tom took the copy and softened a bit. "Did Doug bring your boy to the station? Is he okay?"
Jennifer threw back her hair. "Oh, he's fine. Downstairs trying to sleep on a cot. He's about as okay as any kid who's seen widespread panic when about twenty of his friends vanish into thin air. A little traumatized, that's all. But hey, what do you want him to do? Fall to pieces? Lose control? Shake his fist at God?" She
left without waiting for an answer.
Tom shook his head. Just like his ex. Always have to make some grand exit. Always acting like the world was coming to an end. Tom looked at the copy. Well, he groaned. Maybe it was. Maybe it was.
His eyes scanned the news items on the long roll of paper.
"- Sycamore Bank, First Continental, Sky Haven Bank and Northgate Ohio bank - all closed. Computer failures. Stock market in a free fall - "
" ...a call to fill up tubs and any other receptacles with water. Rationing will start tomorrow. Dangerously low levels seen within the next few days- "
"...approximately one half of the city has no sewer service as of thirty minutes ago. Situation not improving..."
"...electrical brown-out seen as a possibility. Keep radios on,but shut down as much electricity as possible."
For the next half-hour Tom was his usual calm self, dispensing caution and yet comfort as he spoke. Jennifer shook her head. She never ceased to be amazed at this guy. He could be as indifferent and cold as a fish in a freezer, but when the studio light came on, he was as warm as a cup of cocoa in winter. I've got to hand it to
him, she thought, he's taking this all in stride.
Surprising as it was, the station even ventured to run commercials once again. Tom flipped a number of commercials into their proper order and turned to Jennifer. "You're doing better? I need you at top form, you know. You're always at top form. You're the best."
The compliment, even though sickeningly gratuitous, made her smile. "Thanks. Yeah, I'm doing better. Now that Ricky's in the station and we have guards posted, I feel safer. Tom, I can't believe you, though. You're as cool as a cucumber. Doesn't this stuff rattle you at all? My word, everything's going nutty and you act like it's nothing more than a new act at Sea World."
Tom checked his commercial length, and jotted a note on his radio log. "Well, we're insulated, Jenn. And without getting preachy, that's what makes a good radio man. If you can stay apart from the story, you're okay. Tragedies are occurring all over the city and we might be one of the only sources of information that scores of people
can get. There's no sense in us become emotional. Being trapped in this studio has made us insulated. That's the safest way for you and I to be, if we're to do our jobs right. And if we do it right, this could be the highlight of your professional career."
She nodded and put on her headphones. He was right, she thought. I am a professional. This is a powerful role we're playing.
Jennifer gave the introduction. "You're listening to Cleveland 98, on this special edition with Tom and Jennifer. Now - here's Tom."
Tom spoke soothingly: "Hello, friends, it's 12:35 in the afternoon and, as we said earlier in this program, we are going to take a few calls. Although I personally don't claim to be an authority on emergency actions, perhaps we can work together during the next thirty minutes. I want to hear you from throughout the metropolitan area and even around the state. Perhaps we all can find out what is
going on, and it just might be you need some information that our crack staff here at 98 can supply. This won't be a chit-chat show, I must remind you. We want to take calls that either help us learn about your vicinity, or help you get the information you need."
Tom winked at Jennifer. "Let's go to Line 1. We have a caller all the way down the road from outside Wooster. Good afternoon, this is Tom. You're on the air."
"This is Tom. Go ahead."
"Am I on the air?"
"Yes, caller, you're on the air. What's your name?"
"This is Frank. I'm forty-three years old and I can take a lot, but - T-Tom, what is going on? The only information I can get is from you. I - I live on a farm outside of town. I went out into the fields early and a little bit after eight o'clock I saw a plane sky-dive into a farmhouse about a mile from here. Then there were other
explosions and I saw smoke rising from the town in two or three places. Sirens have been going on since that plane crash.
"W-well, I came in from the fields this morning this is hard for me... and I couldn't find my wife. Now I know she didn't go into town because for the last two days I've had the car's engine pulled apart. Besides, we've got twinsnewbornsand my wife wouldn't want to take the babies into town, nor did she feel like moving around much. Rough birth...
"Look, Tom...my wife's missing and my twins. Not a month
old. Both babies and my wife, gone. I was just out in the field." The phone line as filled with soul-wrenching sobs.
Jennifer looked up at Tom. The tears were flowing freely down his face.
The insulated life was gone. Now Tom was seeing what was happening to real people.
EPISODE 7 - Can you crack the code?
The radio shift was the longest that Tom had ever imagined. This phone-in segment was probably great for the station's ratings, but it was playing havoc with Tom's mind. How much could he take? A woman screamed on the phone when she couldn't find her infant. A man
reported his kitchen gutted from a fire when he woke up and found nobody attending a stovetop turned on "high." A husband reported that his wife was in traction when a station wagon veered over the stripe and hit his car head-on. Tom breathed deeply. The calls added a dimension of reality to the horrors when you heard the voice of those who were suffering.
Tom flipped a switch. "Time is coming up on ten minutes before two o'clock, and you're hearing it as well as I, folks. Problems all over Ohio. Findley, Canton, Akron, Youngstown all reporting destruction and chaos like we've received here in the city. I wish I knew more to tell you."
Tom leaned back in his chair and put his fingertips together. "The best thing I could say to you right now is to keep your head about you. Don't panic. This has been a brutal day. Is war around the corner? We don't know, supposed to hear something from the President in a few hours. I'll tell you this, though Cleveland doesn't
have to imitate Chicago and L.A. There is no reason for rioting, looting and mass hysteria. Yeah, I know you're saying, we're facing a hell on earth right now. But listen! We're alive, aren't we? And as long as we're still alive, body and soul, then there's still hope. Am I right?"
Satisfied that he got his point across, Tom leaned forward and reached for a button on the phone. "Okay, then. Having said that, let's go back to the lines. We'll takemmmm Line 4, right here in the city. I think we got a cell phone. You're on 98 special edition, this is Tom. Go ahead, my friend."
"Tom? Can you hear me?"
"Yes, I can hear you, but, my gosh, what is that noise in the background?"
"This is Bill. I popped open the window. I'm four stories up. Can you hear all of the grief?"
"Yes, Bill, of course I can. Sirens are evident of that. It sounds like three or four alarms. You're four stories up? What do you see?"
"Well, Tom, from where I am I can see the Gateway Neighborhood. You know, the Rose Building and all? I'm looking out to my right and I see smoke billowing from a house about a half a block away. I can look over across the avenue to my left and I see about twenty hoodlums ransacking a place calleduh, yeah'Carmen's Drug
Store.' They've run a car into the front window and they're pouring in and out, carrying away anything that's not nailed down. Now, right below me is another big break-in. As I speak, they've got a giant trashcan and are whacking awaythere, they've broken it. They're jumping through the glass. Oh - "
"Bill, I hear a popping sound. What's that noise? That popping sound?"
"The people in the store were waiting for intruders.
They've opened fire on them. People are falling. Someone outside has a gun - they're pumping lead back into the building. It's likeI'm looking down on a war zone."
"Bill, you gotta lean back in that window. You don't want to get
hurt by a flying bullet or anything."
"Listen, Tom, that's why I called. You know it doesn't matter now. It's too late."
"No, it isn't, Bill. Here at the studio, we've passed the word along. Sheila's called the police and they're on their way."
"Yeah, like when, in an hour? They've got their hands full. No, what I mean is, we missed the boat."
"What do you mean, my friend?"
"Jesus, Tom, we missed Jesus. For crying out loud, haven't you ever read the Bible? He said He was coming back. And we missed Him."
Tom laughed without humor. "Uh, Bill, with all the tragedy
occurring, I hardly think that Jesus would have any connection with this."
"That's where you're wrong, talk show host. Good night, with all the reading you do, haven't you ever cracked open a Bible? Jesus specifically said that He was coming back to take those who followed Him. He said He would return like a thief in the night, so, like, He would come when nobody was expecting this. Except He didn't come at
night, He came at rush hour on a Friday morning. But, boy," at this the caller chuckled a little, "He caught us unawares, didn't he?"
"I'm losing you on this, Bill. You mean to say that you're claiming that Jesus is responsible for this?"
"No, I'm not saying that. It's simple. Jesus came back. WE'RE responsible for this."
"So, Bill, if you're so all-fired sure that Jesus -"
The caller grunted and there was a jostling of the phone. Tom hesitated.
"-if you're so positive that Jesus' coming back started this, this monstrosity, why don't you tell me where it's found in the Bible?"
"Don't have one with me, my friend. Don't need one now, either. Say, you're the educated one. Why don't you do a little homework and let everybody know? You'll have the scoop of the day." There was a windy sound on the caller's phone.
"Great, Bill. We'll look around and see if we have a Bible in the studio. You know, we always keep one available for morning prayers here." His sarcasm was evident. "You said you didn't need a Bible any more. You're giving up on your theory?"
"Nope. I'm giving up on it all. I made a tragic, eternal mistake. I missed Jesus. And I'm not hanging around to find out how Satan takes control."
Sweat broke out on Tom's forehead. "Hey, Bill, you're not gonna - "
Grunt. "Oh, yes I am. I'm on the ledge, Tom. You can probably hear the breeze. Funny. When you look up at the sky it looks kind of peaceful. Real nice yeah, real nice. Only thing is, when you look back down at the earth you see the problems. Isn't that deep thinking?"
"No, listen, Bill. We're going to get you help. Listen, it isn't going to be as bad -"
"Get real, Tom, my man. What kind of hope can you offer? The only hope we knew left this earth almost six hours ago."
Tom grabbed the microphone. He was trying to keep the panic out of his voice. "Bill, look, you don't have to-"
"Got one thing to say to you, friend. You want the real reason this is all going on? Get the Book, man. The Book will crack the code. Bad shame we cracked the code too late. Good-bye."
EPISODE 8: Clear your mind
Tom woke up from a fitful sleep, sitting up on the cot and trying to cough the pasty feeling out of his mouth. He was sleeping in the break room of the radio station. Great ambiance, Tom thought sourly. I'm supposed to sleep with the smell of spilled Coke and burnt microwave popcorn. Man, I wish there would be at least one bottle of booze somewhere in the radio station. What time was it, anyway?
He squinted in the dim light at the clock over the hot plate. 4:14 in the morning. Fantastic. He had to be up and ready to go on the air by 6 a.m.
Tom grunted and padded over to the refrigerator. No use trying to trying to sleep now. I'll get ready for the program, he thought, and make it through this day, but watch out tonight. I'm going to get good and stinking drunk, even if I have to steal a bottle from a wino
on the street. I'll be totally smashed, man. Then I'll sleep.
Tom rubbed his forehead vigorously. Too much for one brain. Too many accidents. Too much sorrow. Too many questions unanswered. He felt like his brain was being forced to comprehend a new dimension that it could not even begin to fathom. After all, he thought, I'm used to traffic reports of one or two deaths a week, not two thousand in one day! I get rattled when one child is missing, but a whole maternity ward full of babies? The blood banks are all empty. The ATMs have shut down. The Internet is in the hands of terrorists. Nobody can move on the Interstates or state highways. This is too much to comprehend. It's like all human reasoning has been stretched and warped kind of like we're being taught a lesson. It's as if we're being force-fed the fact that we're not in charge of this earth anymore.
But we are, aren't we?
Tom reached for the refrigerator handle in the semi-darkness, but what he saw before him made him recoil in horror. Perspiration broke out on his forehead and his mouth went dry.
There, directly in front of his hand was an unkempt, emaciated woman, kneeling on the break room floor and crying. It was not a sobbing type of crying, but a soul-wrenching primal wailing. The woman was looking to the sky, searching for something she knew she could never
find. Tom could see the anguish in her profile. Every line, every furrow, every crease in her face was etched in grief. The woman's arms were outstretched and, although she didn't utter a sound, he could read her lips. Rocking back and forth, she was clearly crying for her baby, wailing and weeping. Just don't look at me, thought
Tom, terrified. I don't want to look into your eyes. Just don't look at me.
The woman raised her head and hands into the sky and opened her mouth. He heard the noise this time. It was a scream that came from the very depths of her soul - a piercing shriek that was so intense that Tom covered his ears in anguish and backed away. He couldn't imagine anything to dreadful as that noise - it was a guttural scream
that was overflowing with emotion, yet hollow.
Tom shook visibly. It- it was a scream that had no hope within it.
The woman sustained the screeching for what seemed like an hour. Stop the noise, he thought, stop it. Stop it!
And then she turned to face him. The woman's eyes locked directly into his. Tom had never seen such an agonized expression of utter despair. As she looked into his eyes she continued to wail, open-mouth and pleading. Tom could not imagine anything so horrid this side of hell. This-this woman was screaming like it was too late. She'd lost her baby - and possibly her soul? - and it was too, too
Tom backed heavily into the wall. "Dear God!" he cried. "Could You be responsible? Is this coming from You or some demonic army? Is it You? Is it possible? Are You there?" He covered his eyes to shut out the woman's stare, but her eyes bore right through his hands and locked into his brain, screaming, wailing, pleading, suffering-
Tom slid down the wall, clutching at his eyes, trying to tear away the vision. He screamed out in agony. Get her away, get her away-
A hand touched his shoulder so gently that it brought him back to his senses. "Tom. Tom! What's the problem?" Jennifer leaned over him. He blinked and looked up at her. J.R. was behind her, searching for the light switch. The fluorescent lights flickered on, and Tom saw the room wash with stark whiteness. He breathed in and let out a
"You okay, Thomas?" For once J.R. didn't appear to be
indifferent. "You just let out a scream that sounded like it came from the pit of hell."
Tom rested his head against the wall. "Oh, man, what a dream. This woman - but it couldn't have been. I was standing up, reaching for the refrigera-" Wait a minute. Wait. Tom gulped. He knew he wasn't dreaming.
J.R. chuckled, not unkindly. Jennifer felt Tom's forehead with the back of her hand. "He's not feverish. I think he'll be okay, J.R. Uh, could you check on Ricky and see if he's doing okay? I'll be along in a minute."
J.R. nodded and left the room. Jennifer sat down on the floor beside Tom. She had been holding a mug of coffee, and she handed it to him. Tom took it quietly and sipped without speaking.
Jennifer looked away. "You held up well all day. You took the worst of it and you didn't crack. I did. I lost it. J.R. looks like he's got it together but I saw him taking his little 'prescriptions' over in the corner of the recording studio. Even Louis has a bottle stashed in his desk."
Tom looked up.
"But you held up when it was most important," Jennifer
continued. "You showed us the best of the human spirit when things are at their worst. You showed us what a person could do. Tom, you displayed that man can be above his circumstances!"
"No!" Tom exclaimed, startling Jennifer. "Don't you see, Jen? That's the whole point. If we learned anything today, we learned that we're not in charge. Not at all. Look, we're supposed to be these superior universal beings - and we can't even figure out how to clear traffic off of an interstate after two wrecks! You and I spend more time on the air putting a spin on things, rather than trying to find out why half the nursing homes in the area are missing residents without a trace! I mean, what kind of spirit did I show? Stoic? More like stupefied." He looked down into the cup, carefully measuring his words.
"Something bigger is going on, Jen. It's more than just a semi wreck or a plane going down. Some force bigger than we can imagine is flexing its muscles." He looked up into her face. "And it's scaring the backbone right out of me."
Jennifer managed a smile and rubbed the back of his neck. "You're just exhausted. The government's taking care of finding the answers. Things will be a little extreme for a few days, but you'll see it through. Come on, let's get a fresh cup of coffee." She stood up and held out her hand. He took it, rising to his feet.
Stretching and trying to shake the cobwebs out of his head, he headed toward the coffee maker. "Hey, I'll make some-"
Both he and Jennifer fell to their knees. The whole room was shaking. A mug crashed to the floor. Pots and pans were rattling. A noise like a freight train filled the room.
"Get in the doorway, Jen! It's an earthquake!"