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Chapter 23: Big News
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11-15 South of Liverpool
Saturday, January 4, 5:15 A.M.
Dan glanced in the rear view mirror of the Sprint to be sure Mark was still behind him in the Bug. In the seat beside him, Veronica Masterson slept soundly, her blonde head pillowed on one of Mark's old sweaters which was jammed between the headrest and the window. Mark was making the trip to WMOR in Camp Hill so he could provide some much-needed relief for Lacey Bowder and Tim McCarthy. Between them they had kept the station on the air since Dan had left early Friday afternoon.
Dan had to brake sharply for a milk tanker which pulled out in front of him at a time there was no passing. He looked anxiously at his passenger but the seat belt had held Ronni in position and her eyes remained closed. Probably exhausted from all she's been through in the last 24 hours.
Radio probably won't bother you either, Dan thought, and switched on WMOR. Lacey was just setting up a network bulletin and He turned the volume up a little. Lacey filled time with a weather forecast, time check, live ID and than gave it to AP radio. Dan was expecting another actuality featuring a distraught mother who had lost her child but the bulletin was fresh news indeed.
"The Associated Press has just learned that many nationally-known religious leaders in the evangelical movement are among the missing, apparently in connection with the mass disappearances of yesterday noon. Those who have not been seen or heard from since before noon yesterday include several well-known persons in the field of television evangelism. This fact was brought to light by a reporter on the Charlotte Observer when he was unable to contact prominent members of the evangelical establishment.
"At this time, no one is willing to attach any special significance to these disappearances but the Associated Press is pursuing the story and we'll have more information as soon as it's available to us here in Washington ... "
Lacey returned the station to regular programming but Dan's mind had switched back to the conversation he'd had with Ronni last night in the Marlow living room. He had encouraged her to tell her story to the public because it seemed she knew a lot more about this rapture business than anyone else knew, or at least was willing to tell.
Ronni had been understandably reluctant at first but Dan assured her that the very personal part about Sunny's death did not need to be part of the story. At last she had agreed to drive down to the station in the morning and record an interview. Thinking about it now, Dan was sure his bulletin and audio feed would fill in nicely for the gaps left in the Charlotte story. Thanks to Ronni's lucid perception of what had really happened.
At 5:30 the Sprint and the faithful Bug bracketed Lacey's grimy Corvette in the parking spaces in front of the WMOR studio building. Inside, the girl was bleary-eyed but efficient as she wrapped up her show and got ready to turn things over to someone else.
Mark and Lacey hadn't seen each other for quite a while and they embraced and kissed lightly.
"Mark Marlow, you hunk! It's about time you got yourself down here and made a contribution to the family business. How've you been?" Mark returned the banter and then Lacey began to explain the program log covering the next several hours. Since Mark had worked summers at WMOR while he was in college, the board wouldn't give him any real trouble. He'd just have to get up to speed on some of the new stuff, like getting the news off a satellite feed, and recording to a computer hard drive.
Dan introduced Ronni and then led her back to the production studio. Quickly he set up an extra mike for his guest. Within an hour Dan had a 90-second bulletin and a 10-minute interview feature on the hard drive and ready to feed to the AP.
In spite of the early hour, Ronni had been poised, articulate, and very informative. Even hearing it for the second time, Dan felt his spine tingle as Ronni explained the Biblical rationale for why all young children and certain adults were now missing on a world-wide scale.
was, and always would be, a frigid vault of emptiness in his heart as a result
of the twins' being among the missing. But as far as Dan was concerned, the finality
of their absence was beyond questioning now. Life and work had to go on. He had
often contemplated the amazing resiliency of the human spirit and now he could
sense that his urge to wrest and quest was still present.
But Kevin and Kellie were never out of his thoughts.
Dan called the AP in Washington and when they had their hard drive ready to record, the interview and bulletin were played.
"Now, my dear Mrs. Masterson, let's sit back and see if the AP bigwigs think they have a story. Shouldn't be too long."
The AP bulletin alert light began to flash in the production studio at exactly 7:07 A.M., less than 20 minutes after the story had been fed. Dan and Ronni turned to a computer monitor and watched a BUST-IT BULLETIN come on the screen.
(HARRISBURG, PA) -- THE WIFE OF A CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA EVANGELICAL MINISTER CLAIMS THAT YESTERDAY'S STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE of millions of persons around the world is the result of divine intervention in the affairs of humans.
Mrs. Veronica Masterson of Liverpool, Pennsylvania, is saying that this incident was predicted in the New Testament of the Bible two thousand years ago and is known in evangelical circles as "the rapture". According to Masterson, the persons of all ages and races who left the earth yesterday at noon have found special favor with God and are now with Him and Jesus Christ somewhere in heaven ...
The story continued to scroll but now Mark was calling down the hall. "Dad, we just got a network advisory that they're going to run your feed in 60 seconds."
"Ronni, you keep watching the monitor and click Print when it's finished. I want to hear the audio bulletin come through."
In the control room, father and son watched the wall clock count down the seconds as a yellow cut played on the air. With 15 seconds to go, Mark faded the music, ran an ID off a cart, and put the network line on the air right on cue.
After an introduction by a network announcer, Dan's voice filled the studio as AP radio ran the interview exactly as it had been fed to them less than 30 minutes earlier. Ronni walked into the studio with the wire bulletin in her hand just as her interview began.
"Well, Ronni," Dan smiled, "we've done our part in giving the people in this country access to the real truth. It's up to the big boys now." Just then the phone light flashed and Mark took the call while Dan read the rest of the bulletin Ronni had brought in.
Mark turned to Ronni. "CBS radio in New York for you."
She started to take the phone but Dan punched the HOLD button. "Listen, don't let them badger you into saying anything you really don't want to say. And remember, they'll want to record your comments so they can be used on the air. Understand?"
Ronni nodded soberly and looked more than a little scared. Dan punched the flashing hold button so she could talk.
By nine o'clock, Ronni had given telephone interviews to ABC, NBC, and CNN, in addition to the first one for CBS. And then the President's press secretary was on the line. Ronni took that call in Dan's office.
With the White House on hold, Ronni walked into the control room looking shaky and ashen. "The White House wants me to go straight down to Washington and do a pool news conference from the East Room today at one. Oh Dan, I'm so scared. I'm not sure I can go through with all this."
Dan took the young woman's cold hands in his big warm ones. "Maybe I should have been a little more explicit in describing the probable results of going public with your story. Have they been after you about why you weren't raptured, too, if you know so much about it?"
Ronni nodded. "I think everyone who has called asked that question in one way or another. I've just been saying that for personal reasons I was not spiritually ready to meet God and therefore was ineligible to participate in the rapture. They don't seem to understand what I'm saying but no one has really pursued the issue so far."
"Well, Ronni, the White House thing is your decision. But in my opinion, you've started this and you ought to see it through."
Ronni looked doubtful but managed a half smile. "I guess you're right, Dan. I'll tell them I'll do it." Without further hesitation she picked up the phone and pushed the flashing button. As she talked, Ronni motioned for Dan to pick up the extension in the control room and he did so. Arrangements were made for Ronni to be picked up by a Marine helicopter at the New Cumberland Army Depot, less than 30 minutes from the station. Takeoff was in one hour. Clothes and makeup would be taken care of when she arrived at the White House. She would be returned to the Selinsgrove airport where Dan and Karen would meet her helicopter at 8:00 P.M.
Dan got Ronni's coat and waited in the hall while she used the ladies' room. Mark joined him.
"Dad, I brought a suitcase along with me and I think I'll just stay right here through the weekend. I'll sleep upstairs while that part-timer does the night shift and then I'll go back on tomorrow morning at six. Tim left a note saying he'll be ready to go again tomorrow evening at six and take it till six Monday morning. That way, Lacey can visit with you and Mom and you won't have to worry about what's going on down here. Right now I think Mom needs you at home more than the station needs you here."
Ronni appeared looking fresh and Dan smiled encouragingly. "Well, looks like our traveler is ready for her flying trip down to Washington. See you later, Mark, and thanks for all you're doing to help. Your mother and I really appreciate it."
The father and son embraced and Dan found it unusually hard to pull away. Mark started to follow them out to the porch for one more good-bye but the phone rang again and he went back to answer it.
Forty-five minutes later Dan watched with misty eyes as the Marine chopper lifted a very brave lady from the pad at New Cumberland. He swallowed hard as Ronni and her valuable cargo of information about the rapture became a diminishing speck in the southern sky.
On a whim, Dan drove down along the Susquehanna River and parked across from the nationally-known Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant. Back in the spring of 1979 the possibility of a meltdown or a hydrogen explosion had been the national lead story for days. In the light of the last 24 hours, however, the threat originally posed by the now-benign complex of cooling towers and buildings was small potatoes.
"I wish we were dealing with something as logical and rational and substantive as a nuclear accident," Dan mumbled to a mongrel dog trotting by in the snow. "But now we're talking about forces far more powerful and sinister than anything we dreamed of back in 79.
"No doubt about it," Dan said as the dog stopped and sat down in the snow, cocking his head inquiringly. "I'll take a meltdown over a rapture any day."
He got back in the Sprint.
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