Thursday, March 17, 2011

Epilogue and Afterword

Okay, friends, this is it. My final post on The Overton Window. (Until the movie adaptation, anyway.) It's been a long ride, hasn't it? Seven months and 50,000 words and I don't know how many comments. I am, honestly, a little relieved to done with it, and a little saddened too. It feels like breaking up with an old lover. An old lover who wasn't particularly good in the sack and thought discussing tax code was the kind of thing that might give me a boner.

There are, at this point, two chapters left: The epilogue and the afterword. The afterword is the longest section of the book, at nearly thirty pages. It's where Beck lays out the "factional" parts of his story. They're sort of like footnotes, I guess, but without the annoying superscript. Here's an example, just to give you the idea:

More from Chapter 3:

Virtually the entire speech that Arthur Gardner gives in the boardroom is based on fact; of course, in keeping with his character, he presents his own version of those facts. Here are a few specific examples:

Committed $8 trillion to those that engineered the financial crisis: David Goldman, "The $8 Trillion Bailout," CNNMoney .com, January 6, 2009,

Social Security is a Ponzi scheme: Jeff Poor, "Cramer: Social Security a Bigger Ponzi Scheme than Madoff's," Business & Media Institute,

A hundred thousand billion dollars: Also known as "$100 trillion," this is a chilling estimate of our unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities. Pamela Villarreal, "Social Security and Medicare Projections: 2009," National Center for Policy Analysis, June 11, 2009,

$17 billion in underfunded union pensions: Nick Bunkley, "Automaker Pensions Underfunded by $17 Billion," New York Times, April 6, 2010,

We're borrowing $5 billion a day from Asia: Statement of C. Fred Bergsten, Director, Institute for International Economics, February 2-4, 2005,

In keeping with the overarching theme of The Overton Window, it's not very interesting reading. There is, however, the occasional nugget. Like this:

In Chapter 11 we hear from spirited conspiracy theorist Danny Bailey for the first time. Danny is the kind of guy who likes to string together a variety of facts in an attempt to make something crazy sound plausible. His speech is important because it shows how selected facts and truths can be used as the foundation for an overall thesis that is entirely fictional.

I think if anyone knows about theses that are entirely fictional, it would be Beck. I wonder if he at all understands irony. Your guess is as good as mine.

That is, essentially, the afterword. If you're interested in all the links and explanations, by all means, get down to your local library and ferret out a copy of the book.

On a slightly different subject, if you'll allow me to digress, there has, along the way, been some question as to which character is supposed to represent Beck. I actually have that answer. Straight from the horse's ass's mouth, as it were. From an interview last year:

The two characters, Noah and Molly are actually, when I started this years ago, were actually my business partner and I, without the … well we never had sex.

For the record, Noah and Molly never had sex either. Beck, unsurprisingly, doesn't know what happens in his own book. Maybe he's thinking of something that happens in the sequel. "This is actually only half of the book I originally outlined. This ends at the halfway point. But we a) ran out of time, and b) I didn't want to inflict an 800-page book on people." I suppose I should thank Beck for not dragging this garbage out another 500 pages.

The whole interview is terrible, nothing but softball questions and Beck's meandering answers. Beck speaks and makes little sense, which I guess is a lot like his TV show. I tried to watch it once, and all I could wonder was, "What is he talking about? This is so incoherent. How is this even on TV?" Ah well, someone's tuning in, no? Beck says he spent two years writing this heap, which just doesn't seem possible. He claims to have "channeled a little George Bernard Shaw" too. Which is, of course, laughable.

The best part, for me, was this quote: "The only problem with [The Overton Window] was the book could be so dated by next week." Ummm... no. That is soooo not the only problem with the book.

Read the whole thing here, if you're so inclined.

One other note: If you'd like to read more of my writing, I am a contributor here. And I've my own blog too.

To the epilogue, the final bit of our tale.

"A month to the day has passed" and Noah is in some sort of detention center. I'm not really sure what it is. It's kind of a prison, or maybe rehab. Noah is in a work program where he writes press releases for the NWO. Whut? Yeah, I dunno. If you're expecting this thing to suddenly start making sense, you're certainly a lot more optimistic than I.

This wasn't a prison, not at all, the welcoming committee had gone on to emphasize. This complex and its surrounding buildings might have been originally constructed as a prison, but funding cuts and changes in policy had orphaned the place in recent years. Local officials in the small Montana town nearby had been delighted to learn that their costly investment might finally be put to profitable use, providing local employment and helping the country deal with its recently declared emergency.

Noah, unfortunately, is having a little trouble adapting. His first PR gig was something of a fiasco, so he'd been booted out of the non-prison's penthouse suite, and sent closer to steerage. Whoops!

This failed assignment had been pretty straightforward: He was to write up an in-depth piece for the news, outlining the inner workings of the recent homegrown conspiracy that had nearly led to the destruction of Las Vegas and San Francisco. The story was to be told from his own point of view as a courageous hostage and unwilling insider.

His first draft was rejected immediately; there'd been a consistent undertone in the text that seemed to paint the ringleaders, the Founders' Keepers, in a subtly but unacceptably positive light. His second try wasn't an improvement, it was even worse. The strange thing was, if only out of self-preservation, Noah had been trying hard to write what they wanted, but the stubborn truths just kept elbowing their way in.

After an informal inquiry, this first glitch was chalked up to the lingering effects of the Stockholm syndrome, that passing mental condition through which hostages sometimes develop an odd sympathy for the cause of their captors. For the time being it was determined that, until he was better, Noah would be given less-demanding duties and an additional editor to watch over his work.

I know I keep bringing this up, but Stockholm syndrome after one bad date? Really? That seems as likely as Noah and Molly falling desperately in love after their weekend spent, largely, not together at all. And what "stubborn truths" did Noah know about the Founders' Keepers? Molly told him her mother had founded the group. What else? Since that moment, Noah's hardly had time to research them, has he? He was drugged, rescued, had a couple cab rides, flew in a plane (with Molly in reticence mode), jumped out of a car, witnessed a nuclear explosion, was interrogated, and sent to rehab. Is that about right? I don't see much free time in there for catching up on the Ragnar Benson reading list. This book is really rucking stupid.

There was no shortage of things to do, large and small. A lot of PR spin needed to be applied to the changes that were already well under way across the country. Noah was given a stack of small writing tasks, mostly one-liners and fillers that required far less of a commitment to the web of new truths being woven for consumption by the press and the public. For one of these jobs, he was to simply come up with a suitably harmless-sounding name for a new Treasury bureau that would be put in charge of the next wave of government bailouts for various failing corporations and industries.

This was the work of only a few seconds; Noah called it the Federal Resource Allocation & Underwriting Division.

Of course, not trusting his readers to see the joke, Beck has to explain "The five-letter acronym for this new government bureau would be FRAUD." Yeah, duh. In fairness, when I was ten and read The Plague Dogs I totally did not get the joke about Animal Research, Scientific and Experimental. But I'm not a child now. And neither are Beck's readers.

Once you know the truth, Molly had said, then you've got to live it. What she'd apparently neglected to add was that you'll also tend to randomly tell it, whether it gets you into trouble or not.

Whoops! And, barf! Living the truth isn't easy! It's tougher than putting a "freedom isn't free" bumper sticker on your car, that's for sure.

There's some text here explaining how Darthur is controlling the media and keeping everyone in a constant state of fear. Noah brushes his teeth, and cleans the toilet and does a lot of pondering. He falls asleep and has a dream about Molly's cabin.

Snow fluttered down outside the wide windows, big flakes sticking and blowing past the frosted panes, an idyllic woodland scene framed in pleated curtains and knotty pine. He was sitting in front of a stone hearth. A pair of boots were drying there, with space for another, smaller pair beside. A fire was burning low, a black dutch oven suspended above the coals, the smell of some wonderful meal cooking inside. Two plates and silver settings were arranged on a nearby dining table.

A simple evening lay ahead. Though it might seem nearly identical to a hundred other nights he'd spent with her, he also knew it would be unlike any other, before or after. It always was; being with Molly, talking with her, listening to her, enjoying the quiet with her, feeling her close to him, thinking of the future with her. Every night was like a perfect first date, and every morning like the first exciting day of a whole new life together.

Like Molly had said, such a simple existence certainly wasn't for everyone. But the freedom to choose one's own pursuit of happiness— that's what her country was founded on, and that's what she was fighting for.

I get the distinct impression Molly and Noah, in the dream, live in a Thomas Kinkade painting. I guess that is preferable to living in a Bruegel painting. Which makes me wonder, since I could really not give two fucks about Noah's dream, what it would be like to live in an Escher painting. Probably frustrating. You're trying to get to the bathroom but you keep ending up on the living room ceiling when all you really wanna do is pee.

Noah's dream is interrupted when an orderly with a dinner cart arrives.

"Say, I see you here every day, and it occurred to me tonight, we've never been properly introduced."

Noah put down his tray on the side table inside his door. "I'm Noah Gardner."

The man nodded, and casually glanced left and then right down the hallway before he answered, quietly, "My friends call me Nathan. I've got a message for you," he said. "Would you mind if I came in for just a moment?"

Uh oh! Nathan has a message! How skullduggerous! I mean, right, it's gonna be skullduggerous? Nathan didn't invite himself in to tell Noah to put away the checkerboard when he was done with it because no one likes a messy rec room. Of course, Nathan wants to be sure Noah understands the importance of the message, and naturally slams Noah into the wall of his non-cell. Whut? Yeah.

Noah found himself pushed hard against the wall with a forearm pressed against his neck and the other man's face close to his.

"This is a wake-up call," Nathan hissed. "You're in a valuable position, my friend, and we need for you to snap out of it and start doing the work we need done." He adjusted his grip on Noah's collar, and continued. "Now listen closely. Tomorrow, at your job, you sign into your computer right before you leave for the day, but you don't sign out. Here's a key." Noah felt something shoved roughly into his pocket. "You're going to leave it under the mouse pad on the desk two places down from yours, to your left. Got all that?"

If anything, the teabaggers are consistent in their treatment of Noah. The never miss an opportunity to abuse him or otherwise treat him like garbage. I can see why he is so fond of them. And their plan seems to be to use Noah's access to get to sensitive data. Which was the same plan they used to steal the Powerpoint. And somehow, Darthur and the NWO is gonna fall for this again? Brother, Big Brother is pretty incompetent.

Nathan tells Noah to eat his dessert and then walks out. Noah jabs his spork into the pie on his plate and finds something unusual. "It was Molly's silver bracelet." Oh, barf.

He held it close to his eyes; maybe the words engraved there were a little more worn than they'd been before, but he would have remembered them even if they'd been gone completely.

She was alive. Whatever other message he'd been hoping for, whatever guidance he'd been seeking, this was better. Not just a plan, because a plan can be defeated. This was a foundation.

Huh? Okay, whatever, nevermind. I ain't even going to get into the difference between plans and foundations and how either of those were represented by Molly's bracelet. Noah is a lunkhead, so is Beck, as is his ghostwriter.

As he returned to the bedroom he remembered the key he'd been given and he pulled it from his pocket. It was wrapped in paper, and, as he unfolded it, Noah saw the simple words written there, in Molly's familiar handwriting.

"We're everywhere. Stay with us; I'll see you soon. The fight starts tomorrow."


Seriously. That's the end: "We're everywhere. Stay with us; I'll see you soon. The fight starts tomorrow." This is, I suppose, the moment that really sets our hearts a-pounding, the hair on our neck standing up in awe at the inspiring finale. But all I can mutter is a half-assed "meh." Especially when I think about how fuck all really happened up to this point. And what did happen, like the nuclear detonation, really didn't even involve the hero or the heroine.

Our protagonists have been supporting characters in their own novel. How tragic. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if this novel had anything interesting to say. If anything interesting had happened. Hell, I can't really say anything uninteresting happened, because, truthfully, almost nothing happened. I'm not going to count cab rides, by the way.

I've read plenty of bad writing in my day. I've written plenty, for that matter. But this is the worst thing I've ever read to come out of a major publishing house. I've stated before, there seems to have been minimal, if any, editing done. It's sloppy, nonsensical, inconsistent. It's an embarrassment, really. It's hard to believe something this awful could come from the same people that publish R. L. Stine's work.

I don't know how many copies this thing sold. I know Beck has a built-in audience huffin up just about anything he farts out. My local library had twenty copies on the shelves. I imagine it lined Beck's faux-everyman pockets with more cash than he'll ever spend. Critically speaking, every review I saw concluded that the books was awful, and at the same time it holds a 4 stars out of 5 rating by Amazon's customers. Obviously, someone likes him.

I'm not one of those. And after reading The Overton Window, I like him even less.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter Forty-Seven

I don't even know where to begin. Which is maybe ironic since we're at the end of our tale. Honestly, a lot of what's gone on in this book bothered me. But I am finding myself exceedingly uncomfortable with this scene. Noah's torture has moved to the next phase. The make or break period, if that's an appropriate term here. Noah is wired up for electroconvulsive therapy, better known as electroshock. The "main purpose was plain: to destroy any remaining will to resist or evade, so the truth would be the only thing he'd be left capable of speaking."

I've some knowledge of the hows and whys of ECT, and if my experience can be used as reference here, let me just say, the author's whole notion of electroconvulsive therapy completely misses the mark. Not that this is a surprise, not much in this book strives for realism.

A rubber hose is jammed in Noah's mouth and "technicians administered the voltage with a jeweler's precision."

His mind, once his greatest, if least used, asset, was no longer under his control. He couldn't focus on the technicians or the pain and he'd long ago stopped wondering how much longer it would go on. All that was left were random snapshots of the past that flashed uninvited into his head.

All his defenses had left him hours before. In this state if he'd had any information to reveal he would have gladly offered it, but they were now probing for something much deeper than mere intelligence. Each time he thought there was nothing left, they found another fragile layer of his soul to peel away. In the end, when all he could see was darkness, whatever was left of him finally gave in and tried its best to surrender.

I'm not sure what "his mind, once his greatest, if least used, asset" means. Noah is, I thought, something of a PR genius, like his father. Or is he just a doofus who's excelled because of nepotism? The later doesn't seem to fit with Darthur's worldview of "it's the fit who'll survive." (See below.)

"Now, now, Noah, I think we are both finding out what kind of man you are, and I have to tell you, it's quite disappointing." He referred briefly to a sheet of notes he'd been handed. "Inconclusive. I'm sure you know, that's a word I hate more than any other. And doesn't it place a sad little period at the end of the story of a rather aimless and forgettable young life?

"While you've given us nothing that implicates you in the treachery of the preceding days, you've also said nothing to exonerate yourself to my side of the conflict. A true believer or a traitor to the cause, either one of those I could at least respect. But you're weak, aren't you? And fatally so."

Aimless and forgettable young life? Doesn't Noah work with his father at Doyle & Merchant as a PR executive? As I recall, Noah went to college, took up the family business, and seemed to excel at it. But now this is aimlessness? Whatever.

Speaking of aimlessness. A long passage of dialogue from Darthur:

"Noah, I last told you this when you were only a boy, so I doubt you'll remember. It's a rhyme I made up for you, in answer to some childish question you'd posed. I think it fitting in our present situation."

'There are men who are weak and few who are strong / There are men who are right and more who are wrong / But of all the men huddled in all the world's hives / There's but one thing that's true: It's the fit who'll survive.'

"Noah, the meek will not inherit the earth. A faint heart is as great a weakness as a feeble mind. It pains me to say it, but I'm afraid we've reached a parting of the ways."

Also aimless? (Or something.) Garbage ghostwriting:

It was then that Noah felt something beneath him, and behind him, all around him—something outside himself that he couldn't quite identify.

His father's mind, his mother's heart. What the old man had given him was all that these men could tear away, but it was her heart that they couldn't quite reach. His mother had passed it on to him, and even after her strength had lain unused and scarcely remembered for all these wasted years, it seemed that Molly Ross had somehow awakened it again.

The idea of dying wasn't nearly as frightening as he would have thought it would be. But somewhere he also knew that this wasn't how it was supposed to end. Molly had taught him the importance of living to fight another day. She hadn't been captured, she hadn't been killed. A spirit like that doesn't die so easily. He had no facts whatsoever to assure him of this, but he knew it. Maybe it was a bit of that faith that she'd spoken of.


So, basically, Molly's ghost, or non-ghost (a spirit like that doesn't die so easily) has awakened his heart. With the lying, and the drugging and the manipulation? Huh? And, as I've mentioned previously, how is that Noah was so easily and completely brainwashed by the teabaggers? If he's so easily led, why can't Darthur bring him back? What garbage. Thankfully we're just a few paragraphs from the end of this chapter. Hang in there, kids!

Darthur tells the techs to "finish the job and then craft a story to ensure my son is remembered in a way that will bring dignity and honor to our family." Whuh? Wevs.

There was a way out of this, but Noah didn't know what it was until he heard the answer whispered at his ear, as though Molly were there right beside him. The fight would go on, she'd said, with her on the outside and him on the inside, where she'd already shown him that the deepest kind of damage could be done. And then she added one thing more:

Don't be afraid.


"As it will be in the future," he whispered, "it was at the birth of Man."

He didn't even know if he was saying the words aloud or reciting them only in his mind. "There are only four things certain since Social Progress began." His father's hand was on the doorknob when he suddenly froze and looked back.

"What did you say?" the old man asked.

Noah continued, his voice becoming stronger. "That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire." His father had taken a few steps closer to him now. "And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire."

Arthur Gardner's usually dispassionate face, so long accustomed to the denial of emotion, could not contain his surprise.


For those who don't remember, that's from Darthur's favorite poem. See chapter eighteen. I do love the totally not cliché bit where Darthur's "hand was on the doorknob" as Noah speaks. Ah, the tension, you could cut it with a spork! Noah, seconds from death, suddenly turns the tables.

Noah realized something else then, another thing that Molly had taught him: When you lie for a living, you sometimes can't see the truth even when it's staring you right in the face. That's a weakness that could clearly be exploited.

Oh, Noah! You cheeky monkey! You've got Darthur right where you want him, haven't you? " The fight would go on, she'd said, with her on the outside and him on the inside." Goodness, this is certainly a surprise! Okay, well, it's certainly something.

Noah felt himself fading, and he spoke again, but scarcely at a whisper. These words were meant for different ears, and wherever Molly was, he knew for certain she would hear them.

"We have it in our power," Noah said, "to begin the world over again."

Dry heave.

Okay, that wraps up this chapter. Molly hears his words, he hears hers. Maybe she really is a Jedi. I dunno. Discuss.

(One more post to go, just FYI.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chapter Forty-Six

Oh, you didn't think, just because we're nearly done, that wrapping this mess up would be easy, did you? Because if you were under the assumption we were through with speechifying, dear reader, you've got another thing coming. (Judas Priest reference!)

Noah had been savaged for many hours, of course, brought to the brink mentally and physically in his interrogation. No one would blame him if he didn’t immediately recognize his visitor—the man was so rarely seen outside of his natural, elegant habitat. Yet despite all of these mitigating factors, Noah knew instantly whom he was staring at because it was his own flesh and blood: the legendary Arthur Gardner.

No surprise. We all knew it was Darthur, right? I still haven't quite figured out why he's a legend. The book keeps vacillating between Darthur being this celebrity PR genius, and him being the invisible puppetmaster. Besides that, who refers to their own father as "legendary"? I sure don't. And my father is a grade-A asshole, worthy of legendary bigot douchebag status. But you didn't come here to read about my daddy issues. You came here to read about Noah's daddy issues.

But before we discuss that, let's look at the author's consistency issues.

From chapter forty-five:

They spent a few minutes cleaning Noah up as well as they could, unstrapped one of his hands, adjusted the table to a more natural recline, and even slipped a couple of flat pillows beneath his head.

From chapter forty-six, less than 300 words later:

Arthur was taking the high ground, as usual; seated in this way the old man towered above his son, who was still bound securely to the metal bed.

Whoops! Editors? Who needs em! Though, according to the acknowledgements at the front of the book, Beck has an editor whom he thanks profusely. I guess that's nice of him to do, but it seems he's only enabling them at this point.

"This woman you became involved with," Arthur Gardner began, "do you have any idea what she has cost us?"

"I don't know," Noah said. His voice was hoarse from lack of moisture, and from the suffering they'd already put him through. "Billions?"

The old man's fist came down on edge of the table, hard enough to break a bone.

"She cost us impact!" he shouted.

Ugh. More diarrhea of the keyboard. You know what would have been better: "I don't know," Noah said, his voice hoarse. "Billions?" No need to go on about how he's thirsty and been tortured. We're all adults here, we can all grok why Noah might have trouble speaking.

But of course, Darthur isn't concerned about the fiscal impact of Molly's meddling, it's the PR he's concerned about. Duh. Let's look at something here, shall we? Molly had nothing to do with their plan going to pot. At all. Remember a couple chapters back when she was arguing with Noah?

"Open your eyes, for God's sake. They've got everything, and you've got nothing. All you're going to do is get us both arrested or killed or put into an unmarked hole in the middle of the desert."

"I have to try."

Molly all but admits her efforts are futile. She knows it. Noah knows it. Neither of them had anything to do with the nuke detonating early. It was Danny Bailey who'd set it off. Bailey, who'd had no direct contact with Molly since he'd been picked up on Friday. Remember that? The bogus cop raid on the teabagger bar, presumably arranged by Darthur and the NWO? Then he was conscripted into service with Kearns, secret agent and patsy for the same NWO. It was Bailey who'd figured it out, sort of, on his own that it was a false-flag op he'd been duped into. It was, with absolutely no help from Molly or Beverly or Hollis or Noah, that Bailey ruined the operation. So, what the fuck is Darthur talking about? It was his fault, more or less, that Bailey was there to make muck of things.

You know what's the worst thing about this book? It isn't the crap writing, the infantile worldview, the garbage political philosophy. No, it's the insulting way it presumes the reader is a fucking dolt who can't remember what happened chapters earlier, or even paragraphs earlier. Fuck you, Glenn Beck, and your dogshit book.

Darthur continues:

"It was to be a clean and spectacular event, a thing to be leveraged into a leap forward toward our new beginning. Instead it's become a complete debacle. We were left with an almost unnoticed explosion out in the empty desert that barely rattled a teacup in the nearest town. There aren't even any pictures—we've had to resort to artists' conceptions and special effects. We'll be up all night trying to make a credible story of it all, to salvage the greatest effect we can. After all the years of preparation it was rushed forward, against my advice, due to the actions of this meaningless resistance. Which my son was somehow a part of."

No pictures? So the super spy network that Bailey just went on about on the phone with 911, with their satellites and Big Brother cameras everywhere, didn't catch anything? Wow. You think they'd at least have their spy satellites trained on Nevada since they knew there was going to be a nuclear explosion that very day. And no one felt it? That seems ... unlikely. There was never any indication what type of nuke it was Kearns had, but assuming it was something in the 100 kiloton range, that is likely to trigger a pretty big fucking blast, maybe equivalent to a 5.0 magnitude earthquake. I'm no earthquakologist, but that shit is going to be felt for a few hundred miles, at least. No? Oh, who cares. The point is, Darthur is pissed because no one died, and their coup or whatever it was is in jeopardy. (No Greg Kihn joke, sorry.)

Darthur's next bit is a bit odd.

"Not that it's been a total failure. Your friends lost before the fight even began. We've spent years painting them as a fringe group of dangerous heirs to the likes of Timothy McVeigh, and of course they'll be revealed as the villains behind this failed attack." He stared off into the distance as if he were talking to no one in particular. "It's too bad that these friends of yours have been so transparent in their desire for violence. They wave signs with slogans about 'reloading' and watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants. They wear shirts that endorse the 'targeting' of politicians, and, Noah, let's not forget about that unfortunate incident you got yourself caught up in at that downtown bar. These people never wanted to give peace a chance—and now they've shown just how far they are willing to go to send their message." He was actually smiling, clearly enjoying a sadistic satisfaction with it all.

Because, really, they have been transparent in their desire for violence. (Note actual teabagger violence for reference.) Maybe Beck is trying to tell his readers to tone it down a bit. I dunno. It certainly isn't an inappropriate suggestion. Then again, the vibe I am getting from this is exactly the opposite. It reads to me more like "Hey, they're gonna call you a bunch of violent whackos, so why not really give 'em something to complain about?!" Especially since it's the only thing standing between them and the NWO. Oy.

"Thankfully, there's already talk of suspending the presidential election. Though either candidate would have been equally useful in the aftermath, it will be a powerful bit of symbolism nevertheless. Many sweeping pieces of helpful legislation will be rushed through in the coming days with little or no debate, and those will be used to clamp down further on what remains of this Ross woman's pitiful movement. And naturally, a wholesale roundup is under way to ferret out all those connected with these backward revolutionaries, with full support of the media and the cowering public."

For the record, I am still unclear when exactly this is supposed to be set. Sometime after 9/11, sure. But is this 2008? 2012? I don't know which election year they keep referring to. And speaking of 9/11, this is obviously a reference to the Patriot Act™, ushered in after 9/11 with little to no discussion. Of course, it was Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity who were its biggest cheerleaders. I don't get why Beck thinks no one will remember that. Then again, he thinks we can't remember what happens paragraph to paragraph in this mess.

Darthur then goes on for five paragraphs about Saul Alinsky and "selfish and ignorant meddlers" and how people are too incompetent and foolish to govern themselves. The same shit he went on about before. The same fear of the NWO and the UN or whatever Beck is always blathering on about. "The United States should never have survived as long as it has, but all good things must come to an end. The system is broken beyond repair." But coming in its stead is "One world, ruled by the wise and the fittest and the strong." Blah blah blah. " We'll give the people a purpose: a simple, regimented, peaceful life with all the reasonable comforts, in service of something greater than any single, selfish nation." You get the idea. Communism, I guess? Or Socialism. That's a popular word these days.

There's some talk then about Noah's mother. (Did she ever get a name? I don't remember.)

"Your mother," Noah's father began, "meant a great deal to me. I saw in her my last hopes for humanity. She had her weaknesses, but in thinking back on it now, those weaknesses may have been what drew me to her. She believed in people, for one, that the good in them could outweigh the bad. For the brief time I was with her, a touch of those weaknesses even spread to me. We had a child together, though I'd sworn I'd never bring another human being into this world. But she poured all of her innocent dreams into her son.

"And as she lay dying, your mother told me that I should expect to see wonderful things from you, Noah. I've held on to that hope. But as I stood out there just now, watching outside this room for the preceding hour, I had to wonder if this was to be the end of my ambitions for you."

So, Padmé Noah's mother was good and pure and kind, and maybe there is some bit of her in Noah. How sweet. By which I mean "trite." And Darthur coldly watches his son be tortured. What a jerk! By which I mean "yawn." But still, Darthur has hopes for his son.

Blah blah blah. More paragraphs of Darthur speaking. Which I don't care about. Neither do you . Trust me.

The old man stood, walked to the door, rapped on the frame three times, and then came back and took his seat again. After a moment, others entered the room, a different group of professionals than Noah had seen before.

The technicians had already begun their preparations. Now some brought heavy copper cables and electrodes and fastened these to various points on Noah's body with wraps of white tape. A cold dab of conductive gel was applied to his temple on one side, and then on the other.

Really? They're going to electroshock Noah back to health? Oh, god.

Arthur Gardner nodded to one of the seated technicians.

"And now," he said, "let's find out together, once and for all, if Noah Gardner is really his father's son."

Wow. Okay. Is this thing almost over? Yes. One more chapter to go! Thank the maker.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chapter Forty-Five

The best thing I can say about chapter forty-five is that there is no dialogue. So that's nice. The bad news is Noah gets waterboarded. It's all part of the three chapter arc detailing Noah's torture at the hands of ... whomever. I don't know. Darthur's PR firm? It's kind of like that final section of Nineteen Eighty-Four, except, you know, not good.

It could have been most of the night that they worked him over. It could have been days for all he knew. All sense of time had left him while he was still out there on the road.

The questioning had started in one place, and at some point they'd satisfied themselves that the worst they could do wasn't going to be good enough. There'd been a dark ride in a car, and then a flight somewhere. At the new place they'd started in on him again.

They (whomever they are) have determined Noah gave access to "classified files and information" to the terrorists teabaggers. Powerpoints at PR firms are classified? Then he helped one of them sneak through security at the airport. The terrorists stole two nukes and set one off. The other nuke was still missing.

They (whomever they are) waterboard Noah. Of course, Noah doesn't have much to tell them. Noah is, as we've all kind of gathered, largely clueless. Great hero though, excellent character for a novel.

In the course of their work they told him a lot of things to encourage him to break his silence. They told him that Molly's mother, under similar questioning, had revealed the entire plot, including the depth of Noah's involvement. They said that Molly herself had been apprehended and they described in excruciating detail the particular techniques they had employed on her. She'd given him up almost immediately, they'd claimed, along with all of her co-conspirators.

After all they'd put him through, Noah would have gladly believed almost anything they'd said, but even to his clouded, brutalized mind these last two assertions didn't ring true—those two would never betray their cause. If Molly was going down, she would go down swinging and silent. Knowing that gave Noah the first bit of hope that he'd had in a long time.

Ummm... Noah's spirit is lifted because perhaps Molly didn't vaporize after all, but instead was captured and tortured? Huh? That's ... well, it's shitty, to be honest. That is, again, assuming she wasn't killed in the explosion. If I had the choice between a loved one dying in an instant, painlessly, without even knowing it, versus them spending their last hours, days perhaps, in complete physical and psychological anguish, I'd choose the former. But that's just me.

They (whomever they are) continue to torture Noah, "and then they stopped." The torture squad briskly exits the room, thought they "made it clear that they'd be back if necessary after this brief interlude."

A number of dark plastic surveillance domes were distributed across the ceiling. The chief interrogator looked up at one of the cameras and made a gesture to those watching to indicate that the subject was now ready to receive his guest. On that cue, the tiny red lights of the surveillance cameras winked out in sequence.

A few seconds later, a figure appeared in the open doorway.

Oh, brother.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chapter Forty-Four

You know what's awesome about Molly and Noah's relationship? All the arguing they do. Ah, young love! Yes, Noah's complaint "You people got me again" puts Molly on the defensive.

"We got you?" Molly shouted. "We got you? Are you really selfcentered enough to believe that any of this is about you?"

Well, yeah. Noah's one character trait is that he's self-centered. We established that long ago. Besides, Molly and the teabaggers unending manipulation of him might make him just the teensiest bit skeptical of their intentions. Noah is upset they tried to kill him. Molly says they didn't really. "Hollis stayed with you every minute until they came for you." Oh, okay.

"That's just great to hear. You know, you people are really incredible. My father told me this morning that something is going to happen that's going to change everything, and I'm thinking, okay, a big stock market correction, or another war going hot in South Asia or the Middle East, or a couple of planes crashing into buildings like the last time everything changed forever. And your mother asked me to help you get away to somewhere safe"—he held up the paper in his hand—"and idiot that I am, I let you lead me right to the last place on earth we should go."

So, the last place they should go is to ... where? It's not like Noah knows what's going on in Nevada with the bombs and Elmer and all that. He doesn't know there will be a nuclear explosion, a major fucking terrorist attack. Bailey's note simply says "Big mtg today, Monday PM, southern Nevada." I thought Noah was good at big meetings! He's a PR whiz, ain't he? Jebus, this book is stupid.

"I'm here to stop this thing if I can."

"Well, you can't!" he shouted over her. "Open your eyes, for God's sake. They've got everything, and you've got nothing. All you're going to do is get us both arrested or killed or put into an unmarked hole in the middle of the desert."

"I have to try."

Jebus, this book is stupid. And who says "unmarked hole" anyway? No one, that's who! Noah and Molly argue about the fantasy cabin and how Noah can take care of Molly and blah blah blah.

"Before we got off the plane you told me that you got it; you said you finally understood what I was about."

"I do."

"No, you don't, Noah. You have no idea. You think knowing the truth is enough? A lot of people know the truth, and nothing changes. So today, after twenty-eight years of drifting through life and taking everything from this country and never giving anything back, today you tell me you've finally seen the light and that's supposed to mean something to me?"

Whut? Noah's been "taking everything from this country and never giving anything back"? I thought he had a really good job, was a devout capitalist, paid his taxes and spent money like we're all supposed to. That's a bad thing now? That's taking from the country? I don't get this book's philosophy. At all. Sure, I understand that being a patriot is good, and everyone should defend freedom and be white. I understand that part. But the rest? It's just an ill-thought mishmash of bumper stickers and sloganeering with no cohesion and no uniformity.

Maybe this will help:

"Once you know the truth," Molly said, "then you've got to live it. That's all I'm trying to do."

Nope, that doesn't help. You have to live the truth? Not even Truth with a capital T? Yeah, like I said, bumper sticker.

He saw her look up at the rearview mirror, and something froze in her.

Noah turned to look through the back window. The visibility must have stretched for miles and miles, and way back at the edge of what the eye could see, a tiny line of strobing police lights had appeared.

She was driving as hard and fast as she had before, but there was something in her face, in her eyes, that he hadn't seen before. Molly was afraid. And he knew then that she wasn't afraid of the police, or of going to prison; she wasn't afraid of getting killed in her cause; she wasn't even afraid of Arthur Gardner. She was afraid only that her fight was over.

Awww. Sad face. Also: whatever! Have I mentioned lately how stupid this book is? Dreck. Total dreck.

There'd been turning points in his life that he'd seen coming months away, but this one appeared in an instant. He was safely on one side of it a second before, just being who he'd always thought he was, and then he blinked and he was on the other, waking up to realize who he was going to be.


Up ahead he could see that the road narrowed onto a short bridge over a shallow chasm, which ran across the terrain for several hundred yards.

You see the truth, and then you have to live it, she'd said. It was too late, maybe, and too little, but he knew what he needed to do.

"Slow down," Noah said. "I'm getting out."


He took a last look at Molly. There were tears in her eyes but she kept them firmly fixed on the way ahead.

"Good-bye," Noah said.

She answered, but so quietly and privately that the words clearly weren't intended to reach him. If they were never to see each other again, it seemed, this was just something that she must have wanted read into the record. Wishful thinking, maybe, but he felt he knew in his heart exactly what she'd said.

I love you, too.

Huh? I don't even know. She loves him. Even though every moment they've spent together, even now, even up until this very moment, he's proved to be kind of a putz as far as she is concerned. But she loves him. Which maybe she does and maybe she doesn't because Noah didn't actually even hear her. Yeah, it could all be wishful thinking. You know what I wish? I wish this book was over.

So Noah jumps out of the car and flops around in the road. Some time later, the cops arrive. It's unclear who they are. The FBI? Military? Blackwater? Who cares! It doesn't matter! Noah stands in the middle of the road, at the bridge, and brings them all to a halt, allowing Molly to escape. I guess.

By the time the lead car had skidded to a stop he could feel the heat on his face from its headlights. Some of the vehicles behind were backing up and their drivers were trying to find a way around the bottleneck, but off the road the sand was too soft for traction and those who'd gone into the gully were stuck, their tires spinning uselessly.

He looked up and saw five uniformed men approaching, their guns drawn. They were all shouting orders he couldn't really understand.

And then:

I guess that's the end of Molly's story arc. Right? Noah helped her escape. And she drove right into the mushroom cloud. Oh, that can't be good.

And then they disappeared, as did the rest of the world, in a silent split-second flash of bright white light from behind him. It was so bright that it crossed the senses. He could feel it on his back, he could hear the light and smell it. When his vision returned Noah saw the officers standing in the road where they'd been, some covering their eyes, but most looking past him, blank-faced, their hands hanging down at their sides.

He turned to look back over his shoulder, in the direction Molly had gone, and miles away he saw the rising mushroom cloud, a massive, roiling ball of fire ascending slowly into the evening sky. The expanding circle of a shock wave was tearing across the desert toward them, toward everything in all directions, and a few seconds later it arrived with a crack of thunder and the sudden gust of a hot summer wind.

Blammo. Eyes melt, skin explodes, everybody dead. Except Noah. Noah lives. To carry on the teabagging torch left by Molly and Bailey and Beverly and Hollis? Swell. Just swell. Also: he could hear the light and smell it? Okay!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chapter Forty-Three

Oh, this is it, the moment where it all comes together! Or not. I dunno. Something definitely happens, so that's good, I guess.

Wherever they were going, the ride was awfully rough. Danny was holding on tight to a cargo strap near the open door at the rear of the moving truck, the only place in the metal compartment with a signal solid enough to make a call on Kearns's satellite phone.

From the back of the truck, Bailey calls 911.

Now, I have no idea why The Man Named Randy (or one of The Other Men Probably Not Named Randy) never stopped long enough to close up the back of the cargo truck. It seems to me, if you're going to drive around with one, maybe two, nuclear weapons in the back of your truck, along with a dead body, you'd not want to attract attention to yourself, and maybe you'd close the back of said truck so everyone thought maybe you were just hauling flat pack furniture or something. Because a giant bomb? Yeah, people are going to camera phone that shit all over Facebook.

"My name is Danny Bailey, I'm out in the desert somewhere northwest of Las Vegas, and I'm with FBI Special Agent Stuart Kearns. I'm in the back of a truck that's on the move, and this truck belongs to a terrorist organization that might have their hands on a nuclear weapon."

"What's your location, sir?"

"Listen, I know what you people can do. You already know where I am better than I do, you know whose phone I'm calling from, you know the route I'm on, and in about ten seconds you'll be sure who I am because you'll have verified my voiceprint, so stop wasting my time."

The irrepressible Danny Bailey, everyone! "Some odd noise broke onto the line for a time; not interference, but a series of electronic clicks, tones, and dropouts." See? Big Brother is everywhere! Especially at the 911 dispatch office. Danny tells them Operation Exigent is underway. Hold that thought, I'll come back to it.

Kearns was near the front wall, kneeling next to the tarp-wrapped bundle they'd both seen earlier, before the shooting had started.

It was a body, of course, and the face of the dead man had been uncovered. When Kearns turned to look at him, Danny didn't have to ask who it was that was lying there. He'd already known who it would be.

Do you know who that is? I don't. Really, I've no idea. I guess it is supposed to be obvious. Which is strange. The one thing that is supposed to make sense to us, supposed to be clear to us, is really a mystery. Oh, okay, then.

Agent Kearns had said that after these last few years of working this operation undercover—all the while doing his best to appear to be a raving militant agitator who'd turned against his government and was openly calling for a violent revolution—he really had only one remaining contact in the FBI. His frightening online persona was well-known to tens of thousands of fringe-group wackos and law enforcement personnel alike, but only one person alive could have credibly testified that Stuart Kearns was actually a loyal American doing his duty to protect and defend the United States. And here was that person, dead.

Oh, that guy! Whoever he was! The one guy who knew Kearns was still undercover! What about HR? And payroll? They knew, right? I mean, I bet Kearns still got paid, even if it was through some secret account to pay undercover agents, right? So there'd have to be like records of that, I'd assume. Because no one goes so far undercover as to be completely fucking alone, no matter what Beck wants us to believe. Given, Beck wants us to believe the UN is some sort of Islamofascist front, and if we're willing to accept that, we're probably willing to accept every stupid thing he lays out in this novel.

All of which is to say, I wasn't expecting him (whoever he was) to be in the bodybag. Hey, why is he in the bodybag? Let Bailey explain!

"So your guy over there on the floor: he brought them this one, and you brought yours. You both got managed so you didn't know what the other was doing, and we all got set up at once."

Oh! Okay, that makes perfect.... Wait. Whut? How many spare nukes does the FBI have? And why did Kearns' boss (whoever he was) sell one to Elmer/el-Amir at the same time Kearns sold them one? I understand Kearns was supposed to be really, really, really, really deep undercover, but ... Come on! This is just fucking stupid!

Nevermind. Let's look at the bomb.

"This looks like an old Mark 8 atomic bomb," Kearns said, "from the early 1950s." He pulled the light down closer and ran his hands over the surface, stopping at a series of seals and stickers that carried dates and the initials of inspectors. "It's been maintained all these years."

"So this is a live one, then?"

"Sure looks that way to me." A line of heavy metal conduit ran from the rear of the thing and Kearns followed it with a finger, pointing. The tubing went across the floor and through the wall to the driver's compartment. "And it looks like they've jury-rigged it to be set off from the front seat."

It's been maintained all these years? A 60 year-old nuclear weapon? Okay. That seems unlikely, but hey, what do I know?! I'm not alone in that thought either. Kearns doesn't know what's going on either. Bailey, ever helpful, explains:

"It's like I told you before. Whoever's behind this needed a patsy for a false-flag domestic attack, Stuart, and that's you. And they needed to make my people the enemy, and that's why I'm here."

"Based on your file, they could have had you picked up anytime they wanted, but they picked you up Friday night, to make you a part of this. And me, they've just kept me in cold storage—"

"Waiting for the right time, when they needed a couple of fall guys," Danny said. "The crazy Internet conspiracy theorist who incited these thugs into violence, and the lone nut ex-FBI man who helped them pull it off."

Ah, okay, got it. This is all an inside job! The FBI set up Operation Exigent to help them usher in martial law? I guess. No? Wait. If the FBI is behind this, what was the point of Bailey calling 911 to let them know there was a live nuke about to be exploded? Back during the Powerpoint, it seemed Darthur had a hand in Exigent. Right? Right. So Darthur has control of the FBI? And Kearns' boss (whoever he was) too? But he's dead. Because the nukes were real. Which the FBI maybe already knew, but Kearns' boss (whoever he was) didn't know? What? WHAT!

I don't understand.

Who is running Exigent? Who supplied the live nukes? Who is Elmer? And if right-wing extremists set off the bomb, is it fair to say right-wing extremists are patsies?

Obviously, this book seeks to paint right-wing teabaggers as the heroes. But, regardless who supplied the nukes, regardless under what circumstances, the right-wing teabaggers, led by Elmer and The Man Named Randy, are the ones, when all is said and done, carrying out the terrorist act. I am getting the distinct impression no one really thought this thing through.

The truck slowed briefly, made a turn onto what felt like a much smoother roadway, and then began to pick up speed again.

"I've got an idea," Danny said, "but I don't know if you'll like it."

He walked toward the tailgate, where the package they'd brought was strapped against the side of the compartment, and motioned for his partner to follow. When Kearns had sat and situated his injured leg, Danny crouched down and pulled off the tarp that was covering the device. He peeled off the keys that were taped near the arming panel and handed them to Kearns.

If one of these bombs was real, then it stood to reason that they both were real. And there was really only one way to find out.

Uh oh, what do you thing Bailey's plan will be? Something Youtubey and teabaggery and IN YOUR FACE. Like Miracle Whip. Oh, and a cargo van with a tailgate? Okay! Here’s the plan:

They fire up their nuke, which, if you remember, was modified with a TomTom so it would detonate when it got to the right coordinates, and change the proximity trigger.

Once the device had gotten its bearings, it was simple enough to reset the final destination on the touchscreen of the GPS detonator. It wasn't an address they selected, of course, just an empty point on the deserted road they were traveling, a little less than three miles ahead and counting down.

Not sure how they did that, but let's just suspend belief here for a moment. They got it changed, and the nuke will blow up in a few miles and not in Vegas. Whew! This would be the perfect time to jump out of the truck. Or not.

The older man lit up a cigarette, and he shook another one up from the pack and offered it across.

"Nah, I told you," Danny said. "I quit five years ago."

"Aw, come on. Special occasion."

"I took an oath to an old friend, Stuart, and if you met this woman, you'd know why I can't break it."

Even in his last moments, Bailey keeps his word to Molly. What a guy! What a woman! "When you put it that way, I guess I see what you mean," says Kearns? Really? You do? Because I don't. I don't see how putting it "that way" means a damn thing!

"Hey," Danny said, and he waited until his partner looked over. "The other night when you were telling me about your career with the FBI, you said that after all they'd put you through, you wondered sometimes why you stuck it out."


"This is why, man. Tonight is why you stayed on."

To get blown up in the back of a van? He stayed on the get used by the FBI and framed as a terrorist? To help usher in the NWO? Yeah, good plan, Kearns, good reason for sticking with the career well past your prime.

Bailey and Kearns go on about oaths on the Bible and sacred honor and whatnot, and for some reason are basically acting like best buddies even though they hated each other just moments ago. Good writing. Character development! Kearns laments that their sacrifice will go unknown, but Bailey assures him "somebody'll figure it out. Somebody like me." Whew!

The device next to them issued a loud tone. A bright red light illuminated on the panel, under the word Proximity.

"Nice working with you, kid," Kearns said.

He reached out a hand and Danny Bailey took it in a firm clasp of solidarity.

And then:

I guess that's the end of their story arc.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chapter Forty-Two

Did you enjoy the excitement last chapter? I hope so, because we're back to nothing happening. I mean, there's movement, but little else. A scant two pages of Molly driving and Noah sulking. Ah, those dopey lovebirds! Meet cute!

Noah is out of methadone and suffering from "a general sickening malaise" (Elaine: "Oh, come on, we all have intense malaise. Right?") and upset he's not going to get "a good night's recovery in a five-star bed." What's that, like a Sleep Number bed? (Glenn Beck is an 82, straight scoop!) Molly, apparently, is type who will drive angry, and this makes Noah unhappy.

Molly was driving, since he clearly wasn't fit to sit behind the wheel, and to put it delicately, she drove with a purpose. If he'd been feeling good and in the right sort of daredevil mood her driving might have been easier to take in stride. As it was, though, between his worsening physical condition and being jostled around the front seat by all the surging and braking and swerving through traffic, he wasn't having any fun at all.

Plus, she wasn't talking. Since they'd started out in the car all he was getting were one-word answers, along with clear unspoken signals that there was nothing so important that it needed to be discussed at the moment.

"We're going to get stopped," Noah said.

If only. If only someone would stop them. If only someone has stopped Beck from writing this.

Yes, this is an excellent relationship. Molly is attracted to Noah? Is that why she is essentially ignoring him now that she's convinced him to sneak her onto a plane then rented her a car? And he is into her why exactly? Oy.

She didn't answer, and she didn't slow down.

"Where are we going, Molly?"

"To help a friend," she said curtly. "Now would you please just let me drive?"


"Thank you."

Maybe that's sexual tension? Maybe it's just tension. I dunno. They're driving, that much is certain. So, again, movement! The story advances down "a thin single line on the GPS screen." Heh. Frustrated, Noah picks up a scrap of Molly's paper, and finds these two messages:

molly -
spread the word --- stay away from las vegas monday
FBI sting op --> * exigent *
be safe

Big mtg today, Monday PM, southern
Nevada. If you don't hear from me by
Wednesday I'm probably dead*, and this is
where to hunt for the body:
Lat 37°39'54.35"N Long 116°56'31.48"W
> S T A Y A W A Y from Nevada TFN < db * I wish I was kidding


"I can't believe it," Noah said. "You people got me again."

So, yeah, Molly and Noah are heading to find and help Bailey. How exactly they are going to do that is beyond me. Molly's plan seems to be to drive right into the middle of an FBI sting operation and .... what? I don't know. She doesn't have any weapons. Or money. And is probably on some sort of watch list. If it's an FBI sting she's just going to get arrested, right? And if it's the kind of thing where Bailey is "probably dead" she'll just get herself killed too. Unless she's really a Jedi and is going to throw some Force Lightning at Elmer/el-Amir or whatever. Not that she even knows about Elmer, or even Kearns for that matter.

Again, another chapter where nothing really happens, and what does makes no sense.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chapter Forty-One

Oh my fucking god! Chapter forty-one! Finally! Something happens! Woo hoo!

As I recall, the last time something happened was back in chapter twelve with the mêlée at the teabagger bar. There was a gunshot and Hollis got tazed (where is Hollis anyway?) and Noah got bonked on the head. He's sort of been groggy since. I think we all have, really. So, now, nearly thirty chapters later, something else happens. Good thing too, as we're about forty pages from the end.

Their model bomb wasn't that heavy, maybe eighty or one hundred pounds, but it was unwieldy to carry between them. When they came within sight of the men they were here to meet—and like last time, there were only four of them, not the expected five—one of them motioned to a spot on the ground to show where they should leave their burden. When they got to that spot, they put it down.

"When they got to that spot, they put it down." Yes, more quality exposition. And model bomb? It's still a model bomb? At this point no one is confused about the functionality of the nuke, are they? It's too fucking late to introduce some other plot device into this story. So let's stop pretending this thing is a mystery.

The men have automatic weapons and one has "brand-new-looking satchel at his feet, a bag of the sort that might be holding their twenty thousand dollars for the exchange." What they don't have is names. Or even descriptions. There's some exposition about their demeanor coming up, but they are hardly even characters. Just props. Cardboard cutouts just guiding the story along its course.

The armed man to the left held his gun like he'd been born with it in his hands. The other one didn't seem at all at ease, either with his weapon or his assigned enforcer's role. His hands were deep in his pockets and his rifle hung haphazardly by its sling over his shoulder, as though it had been put there against his will and he had no desire to deal with it.

Good clichés, both of those.

Upon their arrival Kearns had made a bit of small talk with each member of the group, and soon all agreed it was time to do the deal they'd come to do.

"Here's your money," said the man on the end. He'd introduced himself as Randy at their meeting the previous night.

Who is writing this? A child? No offense to children. I love children. I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be. And maybe they won't grow up to be conservative douchebags or hack ghostwriters.

And hey, at least one of the guys has a name now. Which Kearns learned last night but wasn't mentioned then because later saying "he'd introduced himself as Randy at their meeting the previous night" just reads so much better. Randy has the two other guys load up the bomb into their cargo truck. Danny peeks inside as they do.

Down the center, on a welded-together, waist-high metal rack, was what appeared to be a long, silvery torpedo. Not really, though; the nose was too blunt and flat and its far end was tapered and ringed by large aerodynamic fins. It looked like something from a war museum, an overbuilt piece of heavy-duty air-dropped ordnance from a bygone era of the Cold War.

That wasn't all. Tucked back in the corner, away from the light, some thing was wrapped up and bound in a black plastic tarp on the floor. It could have been a lot of things, but to Danny's current frame of mind, what it looked like most was an occupied body bag.

From a bygone era of the Cold War? I thought the Cold War was a bygone era. Why can't the author just say what he means, instead of trying to fluff everything up? At least avoid using confusing and vague notions to describe things. If the bomb looks like it's from the Fifties, just say the bomb looks like it's from the Fifties, not "from a long since-passed epoch in humankind's seeming eternal history of civilization" or whatever.

A loud ringtone from the phone on the belt of the man named Randy broke the silence. He held up a polite index finger, as if to say, Sorry, I've got to take this, turned, took a half step away, and answered.

Ringtones. Yes. Everyone says that now. "Pardon me, but your phone is ringtoning. Did you hear your phone ringtone? Give me a call, I'll be listening for the ringtone." Very natural. And thanks for explaining that the ringtoning came "from the phone on the belt of the man named Randy." I guess it was too much to just say "Randy's phone rang" or whatever. Quality exposition.

Randy, the one still on the phone, looked back over his shoulder.

He was listening intently, not talking; his eyes went first to Stuart Kearns, and then over to Danny, and then he turned back around, with his back to them, as he'd been before. A few more seconds passed, and still facing away, Randy's free hand came up slowly and touched the shoulder of the man to his right, the mouthy guy who looked like he just couldn't wait for the lead to start flying.

And that was it.

Here's where something happens. Something happens! Oh, the excitement!

When you've practiced enough it gets to look like one fluid motion, but there are four distinct parts to a quick draw, at least to the one that Molly had taught him. In the beginning the count is slow and you stop between the steps so your teacher can make sure you've got them right. After a few months and several thousand repeats, though, it starts to go so fast that if you blink, you might miss it.

Danny's right hand swept back to clear his clothing and found the pistol grip just where he'd left it; he pulled the weapon free and brought it forward, the barrel coming parallel to the ground and his left hand joining the solid grasp; he extended toward center-mass of his target with the iron sight rising level to his eye; and at the end of the forward movement, as it all came together at his ideal firing position, without a pause he squeezed the trigger to its stop.

The boom of their first two shots was almost simultaneous, though Kearns had a much easier draw from his pocket. They'd chosen the same primary target, the man to whom Randy had given his too-obvious go-ahead, the guy who would have cut them in half with a hail of bullets if they'd given him half a chance to shoot first. As Kearns took off to his left, still firing, their designated executioner was crumpling backward, likely dead on his feet, but surely out of commission.

Kearns runs, fires, as does Bailey. "Danny dropped to the ground in a shallow gully he heard a tire explode and the windows shatter in their van just behind him." Woo! Just like the movies. Especially the bit where the "jagged line of bullet impacts stitched across the sand toward him." Does that really happen? I know it does on TV, but I'd think in real life that would mean your aim was way off.

By the end of things, "three of the men were lying motionless on the ground, and one was unaccounted for." (And no, I'm not sure if The Man Named Randy is one of the dead.) Whoever is alive starts up the cargo van, and speeds off. Kearns jumps in back and Bailey gives chase.

As the truck dropped into gear and started to roll Danny got to his feet and ran for it. The faster he ran the faster it went, and it had nearly accelerated to the point of no return when he caught up to the tailgate, stumbled forward to get a grasp on to Stuart Kearns' extended hand, and felt himself pulled up and in.

Oh my! Wasn't that exciting? What will happen next? I can't wait!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chapter Forty

Chapter forty! The home stretch! Yes, we're on our way, something is bound to happen soon! No, it won't be in this chapter, but we're getting there. We are! I promise. No, I don't promise. I never promise. Because I am shit at keeping promises.

To sum up what happens in this chapter: Bailey and Kearns get out of the van.

That's it.

Scratch chapter forty off your bucket list, because it's done!

There's not even anything very snark-worthy in the text. I mean, it's all snark-worthy. But no more than usual. In a book full of phoned-in chapters, even this one seems phoned-in.

As they got close the scene became clearer. Danny saw the rear ends of two vehicles, a car and a midsize, unmarked yellow cargo truck, both of which were parked behind a square, gray, one-story building.

"Building" was an overstatement, actually; the simple ten-foot-high enclosure appeared to be made of nothing but cinder blocks and dark mortar. There was an open arched doorway but no roof overhead. About a stone's throw away from the main structure, in a perfectly spaced circle surrounding the building on all sides, were a number of bizarre, freestanding walls and angled edifices jutting up out of the sand. Some looked like backstops from a playground handball court, one like the black alien monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The layout reminded him a little of Stonehenge, but only if Stonehenge had been built over one hurried weekend by an amateur bricklayer on acid.

"What the hell is this place?" Danny asked.

Maybe an old part of a nuclear test site suggests Kearns. Who knows? Who cares? Kearns tells Bailey to pull himself together, and after they do their deal, he'll buy him a beer and take him to the airport. Oh, okay, that seems a perfectly normal thing for an undercover agent to do.

He'd stopped talking because something had caught his attention out the front windshield. One of the men they were meeting had appeared by the corner of the main cinder-block building, and with a broad gesture he beckoned them to come on over. Another of the men was behind the first, standing there with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder.

"Okay, then," Danny sighed, "let's rock."

Yes, Danny, let's rock. He takes one of Kearns' guns and shoves it in his waist. "The pistol went snugly into Danny's belt in back, not in the middle but closer to the right side." Oh, okay. I guess that means something? Then he tells Kearns to take his pistol out of his ankle holster and put it someplace more accessible. Bailey also pockets the sat phone as he steps out of the van. I guess that means something too.

"I thought you said you didn't know much about guns," Kearns said.

"That's not what I said. I said I wasn't an expert."

Expert wasn't a term to be bandied about among Danny's gun-savvy friends. An expert might be someone who could call their shot from ten yards and then, from a cold start, draw their pistol from concealment and put a bullet right where they said it would go, all in seven-tenths of a second or less. Molly Ross was one of those, and a few years back over one hot and memorable Tennessee summer, she'd taught him everything he knew. He'd been getting even more death threats than usual that year, and she'd wanted him to be safe. So, while he wasn't an expert, his draw was pretty fast—it was the part about hitting what he shot at that still left a lot to be desired.

Aaaand: Scene.

Yeah, that's it. Told you. Nothing happens. Seven more chapters to go. Something's got to happen soon, right? Right.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Book review time! No, not my review of The Overton Window, but Noah's review of Molly's Cut-n-Paste Patriot Quote Book. We're through the looking glass, people. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night! (Not really.) But fasten your seatbelts. The light just came on. See:

The fasten-seatbelt light had just blinked on above Noah's head, accompanied by an intercom announcement that the flight would soon begin its on-time descent into McCarran International.

He rubbed his eyes and they felt as though he hadn't blinked in quite a while. The time had apparently flown by as he'd been occupied reading and rereading the many quoted passages that filled the pages of Molly's book.

I am glad the flight is on-time. Good to know Molly and Noah will get wherever they are going without any delay. Unlike the rest of us who, it seems, may never get to the end of this story.

In the course of his supposedly top-shelf schooling he must have already been exposed to much of this, and if so, it shouldn't have seemed as new to him as it did. And in a strange, unsettling way—like reading a horoscope so accurate that its author must surely have been watching you for months through the living-room window—it seemed that each of these writings was addressed to this current time, and this very place, for the sole, specific benefit of Noah Gardner.

Here's the thing that bugs me about this book. One of the things. One of the many things. The constant bouncing from third- to second-person. Was the metaphorical astrologist watching you (me?) for months, or watching Noah? I don't know much, but I do know this is something one should learn in middle school grammar class, and I didn't even have the benefit of supposedly top-shelf schooling. (I went to Traweek junior high, a public institution. Go Titans! Or not. I didn't particularly like P.E.)

Noah learns some things from Molly's book. Like bad analogies:

The phrase "too big to fail" had been reborn for propaganda purposes during a brainstorming session at the office last year. This was in the run-up to the country's massive financial meltdown, the multiphase disaster that was only now gathering its full head of steam.

The original purpose of the phrase in business was to describe an entity that was literally too large and successful to possibly go under— think of the Titanic, only before the iceberg. But this newly minted meaning, it was decided, would be a threat, rather than a promise.

So, "too big to fail" meant a business that couldn't fail, because of its size, like the Titanic, which could never go down because it was unsinkable? Huh? What. Bad example, Noah. Bad example, Beck. Very bad example.

We have no choice—that was the sad, helpless tone of both the givers and the receivers of those hundreds of billions of dollars, monies to be deducted directly from the dreams of a brighter future for coming generations. AIG, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Citi, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Fannie and Freddie, and the all-powerful puppetmaster behind it all, Goldman Sachs—these companies are the only underpinnings of our whole way of life, so the breathless story went, and if they go down, we all do.

You know, if I had supposedly top-shelf schooling, maybe I'd know what "deducted directly from the dreams of a brighter future for coming generations" meant. The money used to keep the economy from collapsing would have otherwise gone to a brighter future? Whut? Though, I guess, Beck doesn't seem to think the world economy would have been in shambles if the government just let the U.S. banking system falter. Hey, Beck, have you taken a look outside lately? For all your common man pretenses, you really have no idea what the American populace goes through. Period. So, please, just shut the fuck up.

In Molly's book this quote was unattributed but the ideal it conveyed was ancient, and the central pillar of the rule of law. Thomas Paine, quoted on the same page, had put it a different way, in Common Sense: "In America, the law is king." Even the most powerful can't place themselves above it, the weakest are never beneath its protection, and no corrupt institution is too big to fail.

So that's what a principle is, Noah thought, as though he were pondering the word for the very first time.

Whut? Noah didn't know what principles were? Huh? Sure, he's unscrupulous, shallow, dim, easily manipulated, and seemingly disloyal. Faults, most of those. And certainly, I can understand not having principles, but somehow not even knowing what they are? And here's the thing about our hero: It's taken him all of two days to change his allegiance. He's turned his back on his father, the man who has gone out of his way to protect his son, got the awesome lawyer to spring him from jail, the mercenary henchman to rescue him, doctor to patch him up. And Noah turns his back on that to join the people who duped him, drugged him, burgled his house, and have basically manipulated and lied to him from day one.

Now, I'm not saying one can't become a better person, one can't do the right thing. People do turn themselves around. They have life-changing moments, they see the proverbial light. People do spend time reflecting, thinking, sussing out the way of the world and their place in it, and for better or for worse, change tack, and find a purpose. I'm just not sure how much soul searching one can do in three days, when most of that time is spent unconscious.

And given that Noah is so easily manipulated, so clearly out of his depth here, this is who Beverly chooses to look after her daughter? Noah is suddenly and unquestioningly allowed into the teabaggers' inner circle? I thought conspiracy theory-loving fringe groups were notoriously paranoid and suspicious and hostile to strangers. Let me just say: This book is not very realistic.

Blah blah blah, Noah reads more quotes from John Adams and Sam Adams and basically acts as Cliff's Notes for the reader, explaining what each bit means, in a modern context: "Put up or shut up, in other words; go hard or go home. Freedom is the rare exception, he was saying, not the rule, and if you want it you've got to do your part to keep it." And yes, that's a quote. Beck's interpretation of the words of the founding fathers is, essentially, a bumper sticker.

The plane lands, Molly wakes.

"Hey, Molly?"


He touched her hand. "I think I get it now," Noah said.

"You get what?"

"I really didn't before, but I understand what you're doing now, you and your people."

"Oh." She nodded, and continued to check over her things.

"I mean it."

"I know you do," she said, in the way you might address an overly needy child in recognition of some minor accomplishment. "Good. I'm glad."

Noah gets it now. I'm glad someone does. I think maybe we'd have all been better off reading Molly's book than we would have reading The Overton Window. It seems that maybe her book at least makes sense. Good for Noah, is all I can say.

On the concourse, Noah suggests they stop for dinner. Does McCarran have a Rainforest Café? I hope McCarran has a Rainforest Café. Oh, nevermind: Molly ignores the suggestion and demands Noah rent her a car. Noah, I think, is a little hurt by this. Really? The woman who lied to you, drugged you, stole your keys, isn't being nice to you?


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Eight

You remember Bailey and Kearns, don't you? They made wine coolers back in the Eighties, right? No, Bailey and Kearns did not make wine coolers. Well, I suppose maybe they could have made wine coolers. It's possible. What the pair did in their free time is not discussed. Which is weird, since so much unnecessary stuff is discussed.

Bailey, internet patriot, and Kearns, undercover (or maybe not) agent, are still trying to deliver their fake (or maybe not) bomb to Elmer and his gang. Hopefully, they'll get that done soon. There's only 50 pages left. We've been through 85% of the novel, and at some point the author is going to have to relent and introduce a plot. Typically this is done early in a book. Typically books are written by competent authors.

Now, before you get your hopes up, let me just put it out there, nothing happens in this chapter.

There is the requisite driving, and since the chapter features Bailey, a whole lot of talking. Swell.

The pair stop at a gas station, somewhere. Bailey notes ominous headlines on a newspaper. "NATIONWIDE TERROR ALERT STATUS ELEVATED ONCE MORE" and "DHS CHIEF: INTEL CONFIRMS 'CREDIBLE THREAT' FOR WESTERN U.S." Oh, goodness, what's the threat? I hope it's not a bomb!
Bailey looked up into the corner and saw a dusty security camera looking back down at him. Even out here, he thought, on the outskirts of civilization, some backward distant cousin of Big Brother is still watching.
First of all, someone does not understand the concept of Big Brother. Secondly, is Beck pro-shoplifting? Is Beck saying Small Business Owners, the backbone of the Free Market, shouldn't protect their businesses from sniveling little thieves?

Danny becomes thoughtful, and he and Kearns head back out to wherever they're going. In the van Danny asks about the heightened alert level. (What level is it at now anyway? Purple?) "What are you getting at?" the agent asks.

Thanks, Kearns. You shouldn't encourage him.

Danny then proceeds to blather on about various dildobrained conspiracy theories relating to the London Underground bombings of 2005. It boils down to this: It was an inside job by Scotland Yard. I think. And there is something about a double agent named Haroon Rashid Aswat trying to set up an al-Qaeda camp in Oregon. Maybe this is faction again. Though, I hope, for Scotland Yard's sake, this is simply more bullshit.

Mohamed Atta, mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, was also known as Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir. And...

Wait for it...

el-Amir = Elmer!

Umm... Okay.

"Mohamed Atta is dead," Kearns dutifully notes. Danny explains:
"Yeah? So is Osama bin Laden, but that doesn't stop him from putting out a tape every six months. And I'm not even saying it's a real live Islamo-fascist behind any of this, but making it look that way will make the story that much scarier when something happens."
Osama bin Laden is dead? Or was that sarcasm? Or another conspiracy theory? I don't know.
"In English, el-Amir translates to 'the general.' It could be a code word. Atta used el-Amir back then in 2001, and this guy's using it now. If this whole thing is part of some false-flag operation—if they're really trying to bring this war back home — they need a new boogeyman right here on U.S. soil, and they need to connect him to past events and to the patriot movement so they can demonize the resistance."
Oh, okay. That clears that up. Elmer is code. For something. And a patriot resistance something something.

Really, by this point, I'd hope things would be clearer. But no. Everything is as murky as a wet fart. I really thought I had some sense of what was going on here. But now even I am confused. Fortunately, at this point Bailey shuts up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Seven

"Could you remove any metallic items and step back through for me, ma'am."

Polite and professional though it sounded, it was a command and not a request.

Despite this being the Celebrities-Only No-Hassle VIP Waiting Room For Celebrities, Fanboy is giving Fake Natalie Portman a hassle. Oh, Kyle, won't you interject! These VIPs need your manicured hands to intervene. Maybe you could clear your throat meaningfully from where you're standing. Or not. Just stand there like a buffoon, taking crap from some nerd. I'm sure that's what Noah is paying you for.

Okay, so, Kyle takes her cell phone and jewelry and blah blah blah she walks through the metal detector again.

The vertical line of indicator lights twitched upward from dark green to barely yellow—maybe in reaction to the tiny hinges in her sunglasses—but this time there was no audible alarm.

Noah was the only one in a position to notice a touch of private relief on Molly's face.

Private relief? Sounds like some sort of polite way of saying she went pooh. But seriously. What does "private relief" even mean? Who is writing this garbage? A less awkward sentence could have easily been constructed. Should have been constructed. I mean, this works better, just off the top of my head:

"Noah noticed a subtle expression of relief flicker across Molly's face." See? That's not so hard! I'm not even a professional writer or nothin'.

She was nearly to the end of the exit track of the detector when she was stopped by the officer's voice.

"Miss ... Portman?"

When Molly turned around she must have seen exactly what Noah was seeing. The TSA man wasn't focused on her at all. He was staring down at her possessions in his plastic tray.

Molly must have seen what Noah was seeing. Well? Did she? Or not? You're the author here. Why is it unclear, Narrative Voice, what the main fucking character may or may not be seeing? Ugh. What garbage. What fartful, unrepentant garbage.

What everyone is (or perhaps not) seeing is Molly's silver cross necklace. "I thought that you were Jewish," comments the nerd. For No-Hassle VIP Waiting Room staff, this guy is really fucking nosey. Kyle, why don't you do something to stop these shenanigans? If I were Noah, I don't know that I'd give Kyle a tip.

It felt like the temperature in the room suddenly dropped by fifty degrees. Noah's mouth went totally dry, his skin tingling as though all the moisture had flash-frozen out of the atmosphere, settling into a thin layer of frost on everything exposed, suspending those six words on the air.

To whom exactly did it feel like the temperature dropped? Noah? Ah, nevermind. I don't care.

Cops know liars like plumbers know leaks. They encounter them every day, all day; they know all the little signs and symptoms, and they're trained to understand that where there's even a little whiff of smoke, one should always assume there's a fire. As they challenge a person they study their reactions, pick apart the little telltale movements, listen to the timbre of the voice, and more than anything else, they watch the eyes. Most suspects have already made a full confession by the time they begin their denial.

Why are we talking about cops? There are no cops here, are there? This is the No-Hassle VIP Waiting Room For Celebrities. I thought the staff consisted of an x-ray tech, a bartender, maybe a couple of fluffers. Certainly the x-ray tech nerd fanboy isn't a cop. Is he? Oh, I know, he's a Stormtrooper! Which is why he demands Molly take off her sunglasses. Just like that scene in Empire Strikes Back.

Molly turned to the officer, pulled back her hood and let it settle onto her shoulders, removed the baseball cap and let it fall to the floor at her feet, and then slow and sure, began to walk toward him.

"The Force is strong with this one," Molly said, as calm and smooth as a Jedi master. Her accent was gone, and her voice was just breathy enough to obscure any other identifying qualities of the real McCoy.

Oh, for fuck's sake. You're joking right? This is a fucking joke, isn't it? No one puts garbage like this into their little espionage novel. Do they? No. No, they don't. Yoda help me, this is a terrible, terrible book. What the fuck is the point of this? Is it supposed to be funny? I think it is supposed to be funny. But it isn't. It's not funny, it's not clever. Fuck, it isn't even timely.

The TSA man's cheeks began to redden slightly. A power shift was under way, and as Noah had learned firsthand, when this girl turned it on you never knew what was about to hit you.

She continued nearer, put a finger to the frames and lowered her sunglasses partway down her nose, tipping her chin so she could look at the officer directly, eye to eye, just over the top of the darkened lenses. As she stopped barely a foot away she subtly passed an open hand between their faces, and spoke again.

"These aren't the droids you're looking for," Molly said. After waiting a moment she gave him a little nod, as though it had come time in their close-up scene for his own line of dialogue.

There was an eternal pause, and then before his eyes Noah saw this big, intimidating young man begin his grinning transformation from the TSA's most vigilant watchdog into Natalie Portman's biggest fan.

This isn't the ghostwriter you're looking for, Beck.

After holding his rapt gaze for a few more seconds Molly pulled out the secret weapon more fearsome than any light-saber—that sweet, wicked smile that made your knees feel like they could bend in all directions. She slipped the pen from his pocket protector, clicked it, took the hand that still held her necklace, and autographed his palm with an artful flourish.

Oh, barf. Then Kyle whisks them away to the safety of the tarmac. Whew! That was close! Or something. It was stupid. Definitely stupid. And a waste of time. Pointless, stupid, hackneyed garbage. But, guess what: It gets even stupider!

"I need to ask you something," Noah said.

"Sure." It seemed she could see that he'd become more somber.

"When we were there in Times Square, when we kissed that time ..."

She took off the sunglasses and hooked them on her pocket, moved a little closer to him, brushed a windblown lock of hair from his eyes. "I remember."

"Is that when you pickpocketed my BlackBerry?"

Molly smiled, and pulled him willingly into her embrace. It was no real surprise, but this kiss was every bit as stirring as that first one had been, and as he realized then for certain, as good as every single one would be thereafter.

She stood back a step, her face as innocent as a newborn lamb, and held up his wallet between them.

"I love you," Noah said.

Molly looked up at him with all the courageous resolve of the doomed Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.

"I know," she replied.

Why? Why does he love her? Because he's the hero and she's the heroine? There is no other reason for them to be in love aside from them both being characters in this book. They are complete fucking strangers, brought together not by fate but through manipulation, deceit, treachery. Take away all the lies, the murder, the NWO, the poisonings, the burglary, espionage, treason, et cetera et cetera, the two have had a couple breakfasts together and little else. I tell you what, if some dude I met three days prior told me he loved me after one date, I'd not be flattered but a little fucking unnerved.

Garbage. This book is total garbage.

On the plane, Molly sleeps and Noah reads some Jefferson quotes as he wonders why they're heading to Vegas. Good question. Didn't Danny text her and tell her to stay the fuck away from Nevada? Ah, well, I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Six

I've said more than once that a particular chapter was the worst one of this whole fart of a novel. But this time I mean it. The next two, in fact. Thirty-six and –seven are unbearably, insultingly, aggressively stupid. To the point of offence.

Here is Noah's grand plan to sneak Molly out of NYC. They have to get to Vegas (so they can see the nuclear explosion up close?) and driving just won't do! I guess taking a train is out. And Noah, rich, powerful scion of America's Number 1 P.R. Genius does not have access to a private jet, nor the means to charter even a Cessna. (Also, there are no hot air balloons in New York. Look it up.) So, to the airport they must go.

For as much time as Beck spends dropping faction into everything, name-checking chicken-and-waffle shops, bringing authenticity by placing every bit of action in some real location, the airport is not actually named. Maybe Beck just didn't want to mention JFK, a popular Democrat. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. Those crazy kids haven't made it to the runway yet.

"Okay, we're all ready."

"What do you mean, we're all ready? You made one call and shut down security at an international airport?"

"I did better than that."

He did better than that! I guess when you're the rich, powerful scion of America's Number 1 P.R. Genius, you can pull all kinds of strings. Especially completely ridiculous and made-up strings! For example:

"Have you ever wondered how celebrities and public figures avoid all the hassle the rest of us have to go through when they need to suck it up and fly commercial?"

"I've never thought about it."

"They make a call like I just made. All the major airlines have a VIP liaison in the big cities, and there's a service company we've used from the office, KTL, that's going to grease the way even more. They'll meet us at the curb and walk us right to the plane..."

Ummm... Okay. Celebrities get to cut in line at the airport. Because of KTL? I guess. But, Molly points out the flaw in the plan: They're not celebrities! Or are they?? No, they're not. But!

Noah smiled. "I'm now dating Natalie Portman."

She looked at him as though his head had just turned into a pumpkin.

"Wait, what?"

Wait, what? Yeah, it turns out Molly is a dead ringer for Natalie Portman. Close enough, anyway. Besides, "she's done mostly art-house films, so the average Joe probably couldn't pick her out of a lineup." Oh. Okay. Good for Natalie. Even better for Molly. That's some plan, Noah.

Molly came back from the bathroom after ten minutes in there with her kit and a few instructions from Noah. She was in her Vanderbilt sweatshirt, her hair was up in a casual bun at the nape of her neck, and she'd done just enough to her lips and brows and lashes to suggest a layman's conception of a movie star who was wearing no makeup at all. The great advantage of this whole thing was that when celebrities are out in public trying to avoid a mob of fans and paparazzi, the last thing they want to resemble is who they really are.

She "came back from the bathroom after ten minutes in there"? Really, that is terrible writing. And certainly, one can blame that one Beck's ghostwriter, sure. But the good folks at Simon & Schuster certainly have a few editors on staff, no? Where were they with their red pens? I suppose it is easy to image that by this point they too quit caring one way or the other. It's a shame really, what with all their (presumed) love of personal responsibility, it seems such a cop out. They should have stayed the course, but no. I almost can't blame them. Almost.

"Perfect," he said. "Absolutely perfect. Oh, wait." He took her makeup kit and searched through its contents until he'd found a small dark pencil with a dull tip. "Lean your face over here." Molly did, and he carefully and gently went to work. "Natalie has got two little tiny beauty marks, one here ... and one ... over here." He leaned back, squinted, and studied his masterpiece. "That's it."

I guess this means Noah isn't the average Joe. He hardly seems the average Noah, either. But what do I know? I've never cut in line at the airport, so I'm just a layman.

On the short ride to the airport he told her the backstory he'd given to Kyle, the executive service agent from KTL: Noah and young Ms. Portman had spent a wild weekend together painting the town, and things had gotten a little out of hand toward the end. She'd had her purse stolen, she wasn't feeling well at all, and some nasty aggressive photographers had begun to bird-dog them. Now the mission was to spirit her out of the city while keeping her off Page Six of the New York Post.

Yeah. Okay. That's a great plan. By which I mean not at all. It reads like a childish fantasy. What someone without much in the way of critical thinking skills might imagine the world works. Secret rooms and velvet ropes and the rich and famous and powerful slinking through hidden doorways behind every oak bookcase. Of course, "someone without much in the way of critical thinking skills" does describe the average Beck fan.

"Now remember," Noah said, "the whole idea is that you don't have to deal with anybody. You don't have to talk to anyone and you don't have to make eye contact with anyone, which is good because your eyes are the wrong color. I told them you've lost your ID so no one's going to expect you to show it. You're in the big club now, you're a hotshot movie star who's had a few rough days of partying, and you're in no mood for any inconvenience. That's what we're paying all this money to avoid. But just keep thinking all that in your head; our guy and I will do all the talking."

I guess, really, what Beck is saying here is that the rich and famous are kind of assholes who think the rules don't apply to them. Whew! Good thing Beck isn't rich and famous! I'm not sure why he chose to include Natalie Portman in this mess. What did she ever do to him? She's from Israel for Christ's sake! Beck should love her. Maybe he does. Maybe this is his way of guaranteeing her a role in the inevitable big screen adaptation of The Overton Window.

Kyle from KTL, "in his dapper suit" meets them at the curb "and with a practiced sweep of his manicured hand" he whisks them away to the airport's underground.

Most people know there's a whole hidden part of Disney World the tourists never get to see. Underneath the sidewalks and behind the scenes, in a vast complex every bit as big as the park itself, this insider network of tunnels, workshops, machinery, and control rooms is where the magic really happens. Likewise, a major airport has its own sublevel of secrets, and our man Kyle held all the skeleton keys to this particular enchanted kingdom.

Snort. Heh. Yes, excellent writing. Very good. Quality stuff. I want the same ghostwriter on my next novel. (Instead of Natalie Portman, I'm having Joseph Gordon-Levitt guest star in mine.)

Halfway into the terminal Kyle stopped along the wall, looked furtively both ways, and then keyed open a featureless gray door. Like some portal from rural Kansas into the Land of Oz, inside this door was a large VIP room with elegant furnishings and sitting areas, a bar and some bistro tables, and down the center, a privately staffed setup for dignified, one-on-one security screenings.

Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! Seriously? Oh, okay. Awesome. Totally awesome. The VIP screening room. For celebrities. Perfect. With a bar. And elegant furnishings. I wonder if it's as quiet as Darthur's office. And I bet you can even smoke there. Because, you know, celebrities.

As perfect and expensive as Noah's plan is, it does have one flaw: "That's a Star Wars geek if I ever saw one," Noah quips in regard to the VIP X-ray tech.

Beck spends the next couple paragraphs badmouthing Star Wars fans. Pitiable losers, social pariahs, bowl haircuts, blah blah blah, hitting all the usual marks. I don't know what purpose this serves. I guess there's no crossover between Star Wars fans and Beck fans. Referring snidely to Star Wars shows how far out of touch Beck really is. Star Wars has come a long way in terms of respectability. Besides, Reagan loved him some Star Wars, and he's infallible, right?

Now, why someone so objectionable as this "Star Wars geek" would be stationed in the Elegantly Furnished VIP Waiting Room For Celebrities instead of, say, a supermodel or whatever, is beyond me. Well, no, it's not really. This guy is there just to create some tension. And like all moments of tension in this novel, it's pretty clunky and not very tense. Noah and Molly quickly huddle to discuss the prequels. Noah wants to bolt. Yeah, wow, he's just the guy to look after Molly, obviously. She, however, votes to bluff her way through security. That Molly! What a firebrand! (I am pretty sure that's not the proper use of firebrand, but what can I say, Beck has me inspired.)

Noah walks through the metal detector without a problem. The geek eyes him suspiciously nonetheless and considers having a go at him with the wand. Fortunately "Kyle cleared his throat meaningfully from where he was standing." Whew! Good thing he didn't clear his throat from where he wasn't standing. That would have been soooooo awkward.

This subtle, perfectly pitched intervention was sent to remind the room that this trip had already been preapproved from positions much higher than their own, and these two very important people weren't to be unnecessarily troubled by the rigors of the standard inquisition.

Now, some chapters back, way in the beginning of the novel, wasn't Beck lamenting how tough it was getting on an airplane these days? Did he forget all that? Because all it takes, from the looks of things, is a bit of cash. I know, I know, up until now this novel has been pretty consistent, so I guess we'll cut the authors some slack.

Noah puts his belt on and breathes a sigh of relief. Looks like they'll make it on to the plane afterall. Whoops! Maybe not! Molly sets of the metal detector! Oh noes!

End of chapter. Because, duh, that's tension: ending a chapter right when something happens.

Except, you know what? She doesn't have a gun. She doesn't have a knife. She doesn't have fillings. Nope! But she does have a crucifix around her neck. Whoops! So much for being from Israel!