The reason Chapter 22 is so long is that Jenkins reproduces, almost word for word, the interaction between Paul and Calandre, this time with Bia and Ranold and Jae listening in.
Once again, the Decenti landline is used, and Ranold and Jae hover over it as “speaker mode” is used. Turns out the awesome Bia planted a bug on Paul during their small talk session!
Hmm, maybe if Paul had been paying a bit more attention to what was going on, he might have noticed…
But he was just too blown away by the fact that Bia actually spawned a couple of kids. What with her being so tall and angular and overdressed and all.
“I fear the bug was either malfunctioning or he was out of range all day. You’re going to find this strange and out of character, General, and you, Mrs. Stepola, may be encouraged by it. But don’t be fooled. One bit of intelligence we did pick up from Ms. Caresse is that Paul emerged from a car that was not issued to him by the French Bureau.”
“Is that so?” Ranold said.
Gee, if only we had had Paul followed, we might know more!
Jae was still stewing about Paul’s being out of character and her expecting to be encouraged by that. Maybe he was in character; had they thought of that?
Well, probably not. I mean, Bia is well familiar with Paul and how he has cheated on Jae right under her nose for a decade. She’s talked to Trina Thomas and seen the pictures and everything.
Then again, Bia doesn’t know that Paul once carried the luggage. So he’s a Changed Man now.
So we have to suffer through rereading the whole scene. Well, you guys don’t, but I do. It’s also quite excruciating on the audiobook, FYI. (Of course I’ve listened to the audiobook of Silenced. Don’t be silly.) Oh, and we get play-by-play:
Laughter. Footsteps. Elevator noises.* A door opening.
Jae was dying.
*I guess Jenkins forgot that he created “jetvators” in Soon.
“I am more than a girl, Ray.”
Jae closed her eyes and actually wished for the first time that she was a praying woman.
Sigh. She already believes. Because why else would you wish to be a praying person? No matter how bad things have been in my life, I have never wished to be a praying person.
“You know what?” he said. “I’m not going to do this. Don’t make me insult you or appear ungrateful for the offer, but I’m leaving. Thank again and good night.”
Good night and good luck. Wow, that is just as nasty the second time around, Paul, you ass.
“That’s all there is,” Bia said. “A bit of TV noise in his room after that, but that’s all.”
Jae felt as if she could fly.
Which, right there, shows that Paul is not in character. If someone behaves in character, you don’t become elated when they do what you expect them to do. I mean, if my dad turned down the advances of some random woman, I’m pretty sure my mom would be like, “Um…yeah.” Because that is what you are expected and supposed to do.
Oh, and just at that moment, Paul makes a skull phone call, so they can all listen in!
It’s Straight, of course, though they don’t know that. (This actually makes sense this time, since even a bug probably wouldn’t pick up an incoming skull phone call echoing in Paul’s ears.)
“It’s time to marshal the international underground church, everybody, to again pray that God will act.” [says Paul, to Straight, on skull phone]
“This could be huge.” [says Ranold]
OH, YOU FRAKKING THINK SO, GENIUS???
Seriously, they officially have enough to just Kill Him Now.
Oh, but it gets better. They get to talking about Jae:
“You’re kidding…You did? I know you told me God puts it on someone’s heart and—it’s just that when He was prompting you to pray for me, He was prompting me to pray for Jae. Go figure…Yeah, well, maybe He is working in her life. Nothing would make me happier.” [says Paul on his skullphone]
“Big question now is, has he flipped, or is he infiltrating the underground?” [says Ranold]
Gorramit, I love you, Ranold, my man. I hate it when Jenkins makes you stupid.
“Sounded pretty convincing to me,” Bia said.
THANK YOU, Bia.
I mean JESUS, can we please get with the program, here. Y’all should’ve had Paul disappeared like, months ago. Now you have actual evidence. I mean, why is it so hard for you guys to pull the trigger, both literally and figuratively?
Anyway, Jae figures this is her chance to get to Europe, so she fake-reluctantly volunteers to go. Ranold, to give him credit, at least suspects that Paul was talking to Straight. Not that he intends on bringing Straight in for any intense questioning or a show trial or anything. He’s just sticking by his theory until they can get more info.
Man, the NPO is just so decent and open-minded and evidence-oriented and committed to innocent-until-proven-guilty.
Worst evil dictatorship ever.
Time for Jae to be a total jerk again!
I feel for her, I really do, puppet as she is to Jenkins’ notion of what constitutes an amoral atheist slowly navigating her own way towards good little RTC wifedom.
…[Jae] found her mother more maddening than ever—her docile take-life-as-it-comes attitude, letting Ranold get away with whatever craziness he dreamed up.
Huh. A docile wife letting a husband do whatever he likes, no matter how many people he hurts? Hit a bit too close to home, Jae?
I wish I could believe that’s what Jenkins is doing here.
Anyway, Jae’s all-over-the-place emotions are just a lead-up to Ranold telling her all about the woman who will be luring Paul to
his doom sex.
And with all this hanging over her head, Jae feels the need to play Jenkinsian word games with Ranold:
“Name’s Calandre Caresse, and we’ve used her before. Shes–”
“Come on, Dad. That’s not her real name. That’s a stripper’s name.”
Oh, like you’re a one to talk about weird names, Jae Decenti Stepola/Apostle.
He cocked his head. “Far as I know, that’s her name. She’s classy, discreet, and can be trusted.”
“Listen to yourself!” Jae said.
Ranold looked genuinely puzzled.
“All right,” she said. “let me ask you something. How would you describe me?”
“Smart, pretty, loyal.”
“You’ve said that before. Be more creative. Am I classy?”
“I’ve always thought so.”
Heh, don’t bet the farm there, Ranold.
“Dad, you just described a woman who lures men to her bed for a living the same way you would describe me.”
Um, not really, Jae. Because despite your instruction that Ranold be “creative,” you fed him all the words. Face it, Jae, you’re just looking for ways to trap your dad. Now, if you’re upset about this whole scheme, that’s fine, but don’t make the problem into that of Ranold thinking of a Fembot the same way he thinks of you. Because he quite clearly doesn’t.
Also, why is this scheme even taking place? Again and again, we see that for all it’s “sinful” acceptance of such things as homosexuality, prostitution, and pornography, Atheistopia is oddly marriage-oriented for such a supposedly amoral society. So many questions remain: why, in this world, did Jae and Paul both stay in a loveless marriage for so long? Why are the NPO agents just as offended by Paul’s marital infidelity as by his betrayal of the organization and the “world system” itself?
Actually, Ranold clarifies why they’re doing this:
“You deserve to know what he really is, Jae! All this phony Paul’s-a-new-man malarkey…if we do decide to send you over there, I want you clear that Paul is the target, the enemy.”
Poor Ranold. For ten years, he has watched the marriage of his little girl die death by a thousand cuts (of Paul’s asshattishness), and he is now making one last effort to make Jae see the truth.
Of course, Jae then determines that she needs to get to Europe to SAVE PAUL, even if she has to lie to Ranold to do so. Which doesn’t seem very RTC of her.
Paul and ChappellShow have some Man Time alone together. Naturally, ChappellShow thanks Paul for humiliating and berating him in front of the people he’s supposed to lead.
And they talk about entrapping Styr Magnor. BORING.
Back to Ranold’s wondrous scheme: as Paul is returning to his hotel (WHY HASN’T PAUL BEEN TAILED GORRAMITALL???), he sees “a dark, attractive young woman heading for the door of Le Hotel Boutique across the street.”
No doubt next door to Le Bakery Baguette on one side and Le Gallery Monet on the other.
Anyway, Calandre pulls the INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS ploy of tripping over her own feet, which of course prompts Paul to play white knight and rush over to help her up. And she clings to him and mews and touches him.
Paul did not reciprocate but couldn’t say he found her touch unpleasant. He had been away from home too long.
I…really don’t think it’s been that long, Paul.
Hilariously (well, not really), Paul introduces himself as “Ray Decenti.” The two go to the bar in the hotel (no doubt called Le Lounge Champagne), and Calandre gets wine and Paul gets coffee, because good little RTC boys don’t drink.
Then she invites him up to her room.
And he goes.
Is Jenkins making the point that Paul can expose himself to so much temptation and still remain “faithful” to Jae? Because honestly, this all just makes Paul look either dumb, or like a big tease.
In the “palatial” hotel room (which no doubt has Le Bed Immense)…
He moved away. “You don’t fancy me?”
“Actually, very much. You’re really a beautiful girl.”
“I am more than a girl, Ray.”
“You know what?” he said. “I’m not going to do this. Don’t make me insult you or appear ungrateful for the offer, but I’m leaving. Thank again [for the coffee] and good night.”
Fun fact: you know what words Paul didn’t say during this entire episode? “I’m married” or “I’m in love with my wife.”
I mean, why would he feel the need to insult Calandre? Just tell her the truth. Isn’t that the Christian thing to do, after all? And if you were so annoyed that she wanted to sleep with you, (again) why go to her room at all?
I don’t get it.
In any event, Ranold’s plan failed because he didn’t know his target well enough. As we discovered in Soon, Paul doesn’t like take-charge women with attitude like Bia Balaam and Calandre Caresse. He prefers them half-drunk.
Next time, we’ll see why Chapter 22 requires two parts, and see Jae’s reaction to all this.
Okay, so it’s been just over a week since the Palate Cleanser News and Poll, so I am calling time!
I’ll tell you what: I totally thought I, Saul would be the runaway winner. But the clear winner is MOAR MOVIES.
And I’ll tell you what else: I would have been happy to do any of these, but I am kinda psyched to do some movies. Especially Pamela’s Prayer, which was one of my first Christian Films and has a special place in my heart.
Plus, that movie is FRICKIN’ NUTS.
So, after God/Jenkins unleashes his righteous wrath on the atheists in Silenced, we will do Belle and the Beast, then a few other movies, including Pamela’s Prayer, at least one of the Teenage films (by request!) and maybe another Christiano creation or two.
Thanks for voting, guys!
The aftermath of the call, on Jae’s end, is pretty unremarkable. Ranold is a bit bitter that he couldn’t listen in, but why should he care? Were those “incidentals and courtesies” really so revealing of Paul’s traitorism?
The only weird part is that Jae refers to Paul as a former “promiscuous rascal.” Which seems an awfully cutesy way to refer to the behavior that broke her heart and nearly broke their marriage (and probably should have).
Over in France, Paul attends the meeting of the underground Christians, pretty much for the sole purpose of scolding their leader, ChappellShow. Because nothing works better in a resistance group than an arrogant foreign stranger showing up to shame your leader.
Paul began quietly, earnestly, planning to warm to his topic as he took cues from the body language of his audience.
I wonder if their body language would be to slap him, since they’ve been loyal to ChappellShow for years and have known Paul for maybe two hours.
“Chappell,” he began, “what’s happened to you?”
“You’re folding your tents, man.”
“Chapp, are you done? Are you finished? Should the torch be passed to Lothair or one of these other younger, braver, brasher people? Because your intensity is just a memory now. If I were part of the leadership team here—and worse, if I were part of the rank and file—your example would inspire me to do what? Oh, I don’t know. Quit?”
It is hilarious that Paul refers to these strangers, some of whom have been Christians for longer than he has been alive, as the “rank and file.” How respectful. No doubt this will win them all to his way of thinking.
He’s so winsome!
Actually, what wins over the French Christians is, once again, Paul talking about his own life. Specifically, his time in L.A., and how God showed his loving mercy by slaughtering millions.
“[The L.A. Christians] prayed that God would smite their enemies. And then they told their enemies they had prayed that and warned them that if they didn’t stop killing believers, God would act. And He did.”
Which would have been great if the only people smited were the army and law enforcement. But, as we’ve discussed, those were the people who were most able to get out of L.A. The true smited, the children and elderly and hospital patients and the poor, had little to nothing to do with killing believers.
And hey guess what??? Paul wants to go on that ride again!
“Chapp, if you could ask God to do in Europe something like he did in Los Angeles, what would it be?”
With Paul’s insistence that “God woos his own in love, but He judges his enemies in wrath and anger,” Chapp admits that though he is “in the flesh,” he wants “a plague on the house of our oppressor.”
And, as we shall soon see, God interprets the word “house” very liberally.
Meanwhile, back in D.C., Ranold reveals to Jae that the NPO is setting up a little sting for Paul, to make sure he’s “behaving.” And by “behaving,” Ranold mostly means “not sleeping around.” Jae is pissed, and I’m rather amused that we are meant to feel sorry for poor ole Paul, being entrapped like this, as he envisions a judgment for Atheistopia straight out of the book of Exodus.
Remember, it’s Ranold who’s the bad guy.
I have to remind myself of this all the time.
Hey, so this is the 400th post of Heathen Critique!
(Seriously, I have no idea why I didn’t care about 100 or 200 or 300. Anyway.)
So, thought I’d share my decision about the palate cleanser for after Silenced, since we almost three-quarters done.
It is yet another movie that I caught on local Christian television, and GORRAMITALL but I am psyched to do this one:
I’ll just say one thing that strikes me right away: that is a pretty cute “beast.”
This movie promises to be interesting on another level, too: it was a Mormon movie first.
Yup. See, it was originally called Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale. Apparently, a few explicitly Mormon lines were cut and the movie was repackaged as Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance. I haven’t seen the Mormon version yet, but I will, so I can better speak to the changes.
IT IS SO GOOD WATCH THIS SHOW
(It would be cool to be paid for plugs like this.)
And I will leave the final decision of what to do next in the hands of you, my lovely readers.
1. Shadowed, the third and final book of the Underground Zealot series. More adventures in Atheistopia with Paul and Jae Stepola/Apostle and Ranold B. Decenti/Benedict Arnold.
2. The Europa Conspiracy, the third out of the four books in the Babylon Rising series. Michael Murphy sets out to find the Handwriting on the Wall. Yes, really.
3. Something completely (okay, partially) different: It seems that out old pal Jerry Jenkins has found a new co-writer/pastor to work with—James MacDonald.
For those unfamiliar with him, you can see a ton of his sermons on YouTube. I won’t link you an hour-long talk, but here is a tiny sampling of him:
I listen to James MacDonald many mornings on my way to work, and what strikes me most is his tendency to play the incredibly extraverted, repeat-after-me game, which ends up sounding like this:
MacDonald: Jesus is perfect. Turn to your neighbor and say, “Jesus is perfect.”
Unmicced audience: Eee-uh ert.
MacDonald: Again! Because this is exciting! Jesus is perfect!
Unmicced audience: EEE-UH ERT!!!
It would drive me CRAZY if I had to do this every week.
It is so cool that I don’t go to church.
This book is brand-spanking new, but I already have a used copy, and there is a BOOK TRAILER, guys!
Kinda sounds Michael Murphy-ish, though I see by skimming the first few pages that the hero is a professor at a theological seminary, not a small Southern university. Anyway, that bit of skimming aside, I think I would critique this book blind, just like the Christmas novels.
4. Another something partially different: a focus on movies instead of books for awhile. I’ve got a little stack of Christian movies here, and could just do a few in a row. Some examples:
One of the ones that Started It All for me:
So, whaddaya think??? It’s up to you guys!
The morning after his “incidentals and courtesies” conversation with Jae, Paul is called (presumably on his skull this time) by Lothair, the French Leiutenant. ChappellShow is still so upset by Random Woman’s death that he doesn’t want to see Paul or be part of the plot to catch Magnor. Paul berates Lothair, but Jenkins makes sure to let us know there is “a whine” in Lothair’s voice.
“You know, Lothair, I wish we were all still teenagers and that this was some silly game.”
Speak for yourself, Paul. Your games are not silly, just stupid. The games I played as a teenager were way more fun.
Turns out that the problem, and thus the reason for the stupid word games, is that ChappellShow is right there, listening in on the skull phone call. So Paul and Lothair do the old routine that always happens when someone is listening in on a call.
“Listen carefully. Yes or no. Can you tell me categorically that Magnor has not tried to call Chapp?” [said Paul]
“You understand me?”
“So he has called.”
“I understood you.”
Yeah, Paul is totally not into silly games. And neither is Jerry Jenkins. Not into stupid word games at all.
On his way out to meet with the zealots, Paul sees Karlis Grosvenor’s car.
Was he being watched? Followed? He didn’t dare proceed to his rental. He had to either get in the car issued to him, keep walking as if just sightseeing, or make his way back to the hotel.
Paul chose the latter…
Damn good thing, too. I can’t even believe that the second thought crossed Paul’s mind.
Grosvenor: Good morning, Paul. Hot on the trail of the terrorist who killed hundreds and destroyed national treasures?
Paul: Nah, just sightseeing.
Grosvenor (who, remember, hasn’t had any time off since the bombing): *punches Paul*
Nah, that’s just what I wish would happen. Instead, Grosvenor was ferrying in Bia Balaam from the airport.
Grosvenor is none too pleased, since this is the second American he has had to play host to in as many days. He asks Paul to take her back to the airport in the morning, and Paul acquiesces, more because he doesn’t want to make waves than because he wants Grosvenor to actually have an hour off.
Paul meets up with Bia in the lobby of the hotel.
As usual, she seemed overdressed, over made-up.
Yeah, she was only travelling on international business. How weird of her not to just wear jeans and a tank top.
God, Bia is such a bitch. I mean, just…just everything with her. What a horror show:
Balaam was as intimidating as she looked, with her silver hair and eyes, the unusual height, the coldness she tried to hide with the occasional toothy smile. She creeped Paul out in business settings, but the social thing never worked at all for her.
Well, let’s be clear—the social thing is not working for Paul. Bia, actually, seems fine. And I wonder if Jenkins even realized he used the word “intimidating” there—that is the true crux of the matter. Paul is intimidated by Bia—she’s smart, worldly, knows what she’s doing, and is not impressed by Paul.
James Bond logic: the one woman who does not immediately offer to fulfill Bond’s every desire? She’s the villain’s girlfriend. There is no other possible reason why Our Hero would be looked upon as a Mere Man. I mean, we know that Paul is handsome and witty and charming. We know because Jenkins keeps telling us so. Therefore, all people should love him immediately, and if they don’t, we know there’s something wrong with them.
“I’m representing USSA NPO at the ceremonial announcement in Bern tomorrow. Thought I’d come early and see the Eiffel site.”
Paul nodded. I’ll bet. “What did you think?”
Her smile died. “Tragic. Tragic.”
Well, there was some insight for you.
Screw you, Paul. At least she didn’t come to Paris and immediately disparage the national monuments and call it an honor to see the site of the loss of hundreds of lives, like some people.
Exactly what “insight” did you have about the bombing, Paul? I mean, other than the fact that it was sad that believers died, but not so much that atheists died. Asshat.
Paul was antsy, wanting to get going, hoping he could figure out a way to elude her, to get to his rendezvous without being noticed. But she was saying something about her son. Her son? Paul didn’t even know she had a family.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You have a son?”
Our witty, charming, superspy hero, everyone! Unable to keep up with two minutes of small talk.
But remember, Bia is the one for whom “the social thing never worked at all.”
Because Jenkins said so.
“And a daughter,” she said. “I’m long divorced. Not a happy story, though the kids are good. Leya is a professor. Taj goes back to Georgetown tomorrow. He’s doing well.”
Hmm, yet another son that we never heard about in the first book. Doesn’t bode well for poor Taj.
And the “not a happy story” part—maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that sounds like something pretty bad, maybe even abuse. Most people I know who simply fell out of love or otherwise divorced amicably, they’re more casual about it, will say things like, “it just didn’t work out.”
But “not a happy story“? That seems serious. Yet Bia has once again persevered, successfully raising two very accomplished children while rising in her own career.
Damn, but Bia rocks.
Not that Paul cares.
Paul studied her. She actually did seem to soften when speaking of her children. Who would have guessed?
“I mean, a woman that I’m not attracted to actually loves people! Inconceivable!”
And Paul doesn’t even need to figure out a way to blow off Bia—she has actual work to do. Because she takes her job seriously and isn’t here to sightsee.
Unlike Paul, who wanders around the city, “enjoying a pastry in a fountain square,” before finally heading to his meeting with ChappellShow.
Hot superspy action!
Paul decides to call Jae (I think for the first time since he tried to convince her not to go to D.C., and this is all just a fascinating insight into his tiny mind:
Regardless of the international situation, he could not let anything keep her from being his first priority.
His first priority…to control what she sees and where she goes.
Besides loving her and caring more deeply for her and the kids than he ever had before…
Okay, first of all, that’s not saying much. An improvement from constantly berating and serially cheating on his wife, and barely remembering his kids’ names to not serially cheating (because God is watching) and occasionally carrying the luggage.
“That’s not love. In fact, I don’t think you even know what love is.
-Tom Servo, MST3K, Alien from L.A.
It’s funny ’cause it’s true. Paul really does have no idea what love is. Calling his wife once a week when he’s out of the country? Sometimes feeling guilty because he doesn’t pray for her enough? “Taking charge by serving her“? He still barely notices the kids’ existence. Still doesn’t trust his wife’s judgment…about anything. Still enlists his best friend to keep tabs on her and assist in manipulating her.
Yeah—that’s not what love is.
Anyway, the rest of the sentence:
…Paul sensed that when the truth came out, if she didn’t run from him—which was, of course, entirely possible—she had the potential to be his greatest ally.
That’s awfully optimistic of Paul, considering the bridges he’s burnt in his decade of emotional abuse.
We go to D.C. to see the actual call. After a brief line showing how terribly PC this Atheistopia is (the kids are going to a “Washington Native American football game” with Berlitz and Aryana the next day), we see that once again, Jerry Jenkins has forgotten that everyone has skull phones.
Because Paul calls the Decenti house’s landline.
This book was written in 2004. I haven’t had a landline since 2003. In a world of skull phones, would anyone still pay for a landline? I can see maybe having one old-school cell around, in case of an emergency of some kind, but a landline? Yeah, I think Jenkins just forgot again.
Of course, having a landline means we can have a “humorous” moment in which Ranold tries to listen in on the call. (He is in the kitchen, while Jae is talking to Paul in her bedroom, so apparently the house has multiple landline phones.) Brie calls out her grandpa, and the unhappy couple can have their conversation in private. Or at least, as private as a call can be that is not a skull call.
For less than one page, Jae and Paul talk about how much they both wish she could come to Europe to be with him, though seeing as how Paul spends his days getting tours of cities and his nights praying with the underground Christians, I wonder how much time they imagine they could spend together.
Jae mentions absolutely nothing about Ranold and his (correct) suspicions, as she should, but she does passive-aggressively state that “I don’t like being a single parent.”
Though really, she should be used to it after all these years.
Hilariously, we are told that Jae and Paul finish their already-scintillating conversation with “incidentals and courtesies.” Oh yeah, this is some kind of strong, loving, sexy marriage they have now!
“Incidentals and courtesies.” Makes it sound like a conversation with your insurance guy.
When the conversation ends, Jae doesn’t feel any immediate anger or suspicion, though she muses that…
If she found any evidence that he was still fooling around behind her back, [she] had no doubt her forgiveness reserves would be spent.
“I mean, sure, I was willing to forgive the first thirty-seven times, but thirty-eight? That is a BRIDGE TOO FAR!!”
On Paul’s end, he actually thinks a nice thought about Jae…
She had a quick mind, strong character. She thought for herself.
Though this thought doesn’t seem quite so genuine when we remember that Paul was trying to manipulate that strong mind and change those thoughts, as he and his best friend conspired to keep Jae from doing what she wanted to do.
He also thinks that those “incidentals and courtesies” amounted to a “warm conversation.”
So yes, Servo, he really doesn’t know what love is.
Berlitz and Aryana visit the folks, and…
…while neither seemed to know how to interact with kids that age, their interest alone eventually won over Brie and Connor.
How awesome are Berlitz and Aryana? They are so damn sweet. Some amoral atheists you’ve made there, Jenkins.
While the doting uncle and aunt are busy with the kiddies (as well they might be—kids might as well be orphans for all they interact with their parents), Ranold tells Jae all about Ball Dangler’s conversation with Paul, which Ranold heard about from “the head of USSA NPO.”
Wow, some great secret-keeper that Dangler is. Private conversation with the one agent closest to the international terrorist? I’m gonna tell everybody!
Not that Dangler suspects anything. In fact, he called Paul “a brilliant thinker.”
So we can see that he clearly does not know Paul at all.
But Ranold does:
“Rather transparent, if you ask me. Wanted him to delay the announcement of the pledge of loyalty.”
Jae cocked her head, trying to make sense of it. “What possible reason could Paul have had for that?”
RIGHT??? Gorram, why are the Main Villian and the Little Woman the only ones in this story with any sense?
Back in his hotel room, tired after a day of accomplishing absolutely nothing and, in fact, potentially making things worse, Paul feels “strangely at peace” and listens to John 12:24-28, which I suppose reinforces the whole better-to-die-than-to-lie-about-being-a-Christian thing.
Like Paul and his Plot Armor need to worry about that.
A bit later (after, no doubt, brainwashing himself to sleep just like Jae does), Paul is woken by a skull call from one of the French Lieutenants (har), one Lothair. Lothair informs Paul that Random Christian Woman was caught and killed by the cops.
“There is nothing we can do, Doctor. We don’t dare do or say anything with the announcement coming Monday. That’s so frustrating; we’re climbing the walls here.”
Wait, so are you saying you would have done something, but for the announcement? Because that’s not how things have gone so far. When has the French underground, or any Christian underground in any other country, made any kind of protest or, hell, said or done anything when the Powers That Be oppress them? I mean, Jesus, in Soon, the Christians went out of their way to deny everything that happened (blood in the Reflecting Pool, cherry blossoms rotting)—it wasn’t Christians protesting, it was God!
I just don’t see what the announcement has changed here, is all.
Anyway, apparently ChappellShow needed a Trigger Warning for Random Woman’s death, because he can’t speak to Paul now and wants to pull out of the whole contact-Magnor plan, because it’s all bringing back memories of his wife and kids.
“No! Now, he can’t—”
“I am just passing on the message, Doctor.”
“NOOOO!!! This means I might have to do my job!!!”
Back in D.C., Jae is conflicted over Paul. The serial infidelity had “nearly killed her,” but as far as the traitorism goes…
She was an intelligent woman. She wouldn’t protect him for no reason. She didn’t want him at any cost just so her kids could have a live-in dad.
Wow. Just like Lothair, Jae, your actions (or lack thereof) speak elsewise. You’ve seemed quite willing to have him at any cost just so your kids could have a live-in dad.
(And some “live-in dad.” Actually, that may be the perfect term: whether atheist or Christian, Paul has always lived in the same house, but has never really been a husband or a dad.)
Jae already deeply regretted having shown her father the devastating letter. What was this need she had to pour fuel on an already raging fire? Did she need the points with her dad? For one thing, Ranold needed no more ammunition. His mind was clearly made up.
Love how Jenkins tries to paint this as Ranold being closed-minded and stubborn.
HE IS CORRECT ON EVERY SINGLE ISSUE.
Jae chooses a New Testament disc at random, and of course it is terribly appropriate. Surely it was no accident that Jae picked that disc. He let Random Woman get murdered, but makes sure Jae picks the right CD. I guess it’s kinda like how God helps people find their keys, but doesn’t stop wars and famine.
Turns out it’s Philemon 1. Go ahead and read the whole thing—it’s not long.
Jae reads verses 8-10:
Talk about manipulation, Jae thought. This Paul put her father to shame.
That is fantastic, that after all this time, and all that’s happened, Jae still thinks it’s Ranold who is the manipulator.
Who could deny this request, regardless of what it turned out to be?
So Jae straight-up admits that she is perfectly willing to be manipulated. She sees the manipulation, but just does it anyway. And maybe now we have another little clue as to why Jae has stayed in her wrecked marriage this long…
After verses 11-12:
No wonder her husband’s father had named him Paul. Mr. Stepola had wanted a son like this.
Um, I hate to be the one to have to remind you, Jae and also Jerry Jenkins, but PAUL IS A JUNIOR. He is Paul Stepola, Jr.
The Stepolas named their son after his father. (By the way, love the implication that Mrs. Stepola had no say in her own son’s name.) Not after the Biblical Paul.
And her conclusion:
Even if she never shared this Paul’s faith, there was much Jae knew she could learn from him.
I really don’t think there’s much anybody can learn from Paul, except maybe how to be a dick.
So, hey, look at all the great stuff Jae is getting from the Bible!
My 400th post here at Heathen Critique is coming up soon! I’ll be polling on the next book you all want me to read, and revealing the movie critique that will come after Silenced. I am so looking forward to this one—it’s…a bit of a different animal.
In a last-ditch attempt to actually do something while in Europe, Paul calls
Daddy Chancellor Ball Dangler to—I don’t know, because superspy Paul only reaches the receptionist and leave an “urgent” message.
“It’s urgent, Pam! I might have to lie otherwise! To someone other than my wife!”
Wait a second.
Wasn’t superspy Paul the recipient of Ball Dangler’s own personal and private skullphone number? How did Paul forget this??? He literally has forgotten that he has the instant-access, 24/7 direct line to the leader of the planet! I mean, we learned about this a few months ago, in blog-time, but for Paul, it’s only been a few days.
Back in Jae’s room in D.C., Ranold reads Paul’s father’s letter for the first time. Needless to say, he is less than pleased.
But, being the awesome investigator that he is, Ranold begins spitballing possibilities.
“Stepola Sr. bit on the Christian thing hook, line, and sinker. But didn’t you—orhe—tell me his mother was not just an atheist but also antireligion?”
Jae nodded. “She was.”
“Wasn’t it she who talked Paul into religious studies? Was that just a sham, covering for her own secret beliefs? Is it possible Paul was raised in this? That he’s been a plant in the NPO since day one?”
“Now you’re getting paranoid, Dad.”
Heh, not really. Ranold is completely correct that Paul is a secret believer working as a double agent. It’s not wrong of him to consider additional possibilities.
Jae sees Ranold eyeing her New Testament discs:
“Yeah, I’m a secret believer too, Dad. We’re all out to ruin your life, overthrow the USSA, and take over the world for Jesus. We’ve brainwashed Brie and Connor and they’re working on Mom right now.”
Wow. That was this close to being a Sarcastic Confession, Jae.
Ranold calls Paul—not to play some kind of cat-and-mouse game, but to scold him for trying to contact Ball Dangler.
Not that Ball Dangler knows or anything. Looks like Pam told Ranold, and—
Wait, that doesn’t make sense. Why would Pam tell Ranold? Paul’s supervisor is Bob Koontz in Chicago, not his father-in-law.
Well, somehow, through some long and complicated game of skull-phone-tag, Ranold found out, and scolds Paul about protocol and chain of command. Paul tells off Ranold, because this is a TOTES IMPORTANT issue he needs to discuss, and Ranold slinks away.
What a time-waster. WHY DIDN’T PAUL JUST CALL THE GUY HOW STUPID IS HE???
Well, it did add four whole pages to the book, so there’s that.
FINALLY, Paul talks to Ball Dangler, and gets to lie without really lying:
“Sir, I have made significant progress, inroads into rebel factions.”
“We’ve prayed together and they’ve told me how hard I have it.”
And he asks Dangler to delay announcing the loyalty oath, on the grounds that it would “scare off” Magnor.
I don’t get it, and neither does Ball Dangler. This is the explanation we get:
“[Announcing the loyalty oath] will mark the boldest move yet by the International Government against the underground, against terrorists, and let’s face it, against Magnor.”
“Because when the terrorist who has killed hundred realizes that he might have to sign a piece of paper, he will be so intimidated that he will run away forever! That makes sense, doesn’t it, Mr. Leader of the Planet, sir?”
“I will tell you what I will do, Doctor,” Dengler said. “If you believe you have a serious inroad to Magnor, I will call off Intelligence and put them on the underground at large.”
I love it when a plan comes apart at the seams.
“But I am not going to delay the announcement.”
“And, Doctor, the hotline number I gave you would have eliminated a lot of the delay in reaching me. I answer that one myself. I trust you not to abuse it.”
The “you idiot” at the end is implied.
So, let’s tally this up: Paul didn’t get what he wanted, plus made it so that even more pressure would be put on the Christians, plus looked like a fool in front of Ball Dangler?
This is a great day.
Paul talks to Enzo on his skull phone, and they discuss the loyalty oath that will be announced in just a few days:
“I cannot imagine my staying in place with the NPO long after Monday’s announcement.” [said Paul]
Why not? Because Good Christians Don’t Lie, of course.
Except to their wives, I mean. And to everyone, as long as you’re not lying out loud and in so many words. Even though Paul has been living a “double life” for six months now, he hasn’t actually lied and said “Hey, just so everyone is clear, I’m still an atheist.”
So his conscience is clear. But it would not be clear if he signed his name to a loyalty oath, allowing him to keep up his important work as a double agent.
I mean, not that he does any actual work, but if he did, it would be important!
And Enzo agrees:
“…such an eventuality would give the entire global underground church sixty days’ worth of marching orders. Unless we do something drastic, true believers who would never denounce their faith will face death.”
Okay, I admit that I am a lifelong atheist who really doesn’t give a crap about the idea of denouncing faith or lack thereof. If somebody put a gun to my head and ordered me to “convert” to anything, I would do it in less than one second. After all, I know what I really believe and don’t believe, and if it’s so important to some bad guy that I say I believe something else, I’ll say it. Doesn’t mean I think it. As for Paul and the other Christians, shouldn’t Jesus know their hearts? Wouldn’t he forgive them “denouncing” their faith so they can continue to live and try to convert the evil atheistic world?
Enzo tries to explain:
“The only possible way of surviving [the oath] is to show the International Government that there are enough of us that we should be heard.”
Fair enough. But Paul actually has a good point:
“But, Enzo, you all have been living underground for years. It has been like this for decades already.”
Yeah. Why engage in all these little, nothing tactics like sewing tracts into textiles, when you could make a stand and let your voices be heard? Shoulda done this yesterday!
“Yet the government feels this need to put us on the spot.”
Yeah, and why dance to their tune, Enzo? Shoulda stood up yesterday! Wrongs will be righted if you’re united, yanno?
But never fear, because Enzo knows what’s really important here!
“What will you do, Paul? This has to be even worse, much more dangerous for you.”
Why??? We’ve already established that Rome police execute believers on sight. And Enzo is the head of the Rome underground—surely he is just as susceptible to “extra” attention by the government as Paul is. Perhaps even more. But Paul agrees that things are waaaaay worse for him. His response to Enzo:
No question things are worse for Paul than for anybody. Man, Paul seeks out ways to be The Most Oppressed of All like a frakkin’ Social Justice Warrior.
“But I know this: Nothing will make me sign.” [said Paul]
“Praise the Lord. But what about the disposition of your wife and children?”
“I have already put them in God’s hands,” he said. “If the only thing within my power to save them was renouncing my faith, I would not do it. I could not. I would only pray that they be drawn to God through my example.”
Save them from what, Paul? I mean, you want them to be believers, subject to the same persecution as you. So it can’t be that. Save them from the repercussions of you being exposed as a religious nut? Hell, they’ll be pitied and protected, that’s pretty much a given. I know you think that only Christians care about families and children, but trust me, pretty much everybody in your life feels sorry for Jae and thinks you’re, at best, an asshat, and at worst, a traitor. Jae and the kids will be fine.
“I am trying to live in a way that she will at least be sorry to lose me.”
And there we have it. (Again.) Paul isn’t being halfway-decent to his wife because he loves her or respects her or is remorseful about his abuse and cheating. Nope, he’s just doing it to manipulate her, so she’ll be sad when he’s gone.
Frakkin’ narcissistic sociopath.
Back in D.C., Jae and Ranold head to his office after his Reasons Paul Sucks PowerPoint. He checks her status:
“And can you do whatever is necessary to help us, if he’s turned on us?”
“To be perfectly honest, Dad, you haven’t proved that to me yet. But if you could, of course I would do whatever was necessary. What kind of person, citizen, mother would I be if I wouldn’t?”
“That’s my girl.”
My biggest fear: I’m Ranold B. Decenti’s girl—no more, no less.
Really, Jae? That’s your biggest fear? I’ve got a better one for you: that you’re Paul Stepola’s abused, manipulated, Stockholm Syndromed wife—no more, no less.
Jae doesn’t want to believe Paul is a traitor, but…
Even his new attitude—his loving, caring, listening, others-oriented personality—could be just a ruse to cover what he’s really been up to. [Jae thinks]
Catty though she is proving herself to be, I do feel bad for Jae that she’s been so snowed by occasional decency from Paul that she thinks of it as loving and caring.
I’m sorry, I just…that phrase sounds a bit silly in and of itself, but to apply such a goofy phrase to PAUL STEPOLA is so laughable that it deserves not just one corny laughing gif…
…but three more…
Paul Stepola…others-oriented guy.
So, even though she’s conflicted about it, Jae shows Ranold the infamous “come to Jesus” letter from Paul’s father (Ranold’s reaction in the next chapter). And she muses about how much an atheist world sucks…
…she found the New Testament stuff so impactful. She had never been taught to question, to investigate. … You didn’t question that religion was a farce, that God was a creation of man, that anything spiritual or outside the realm of the material was akin to fairy tales but not so harmless. People didn’t change. How could they? The only values worth fighting and dying for were humanism and the preeminence of the state.
Okay, I can see how one could, in theory, write an interesting story about how society’s skeptics and critical thinkers took over the world and soon their worldview became the very thing they had fought against—the status quo, the unquestioned and unquestionable.
But this isn’t that story.
Not least because the past two chapters have shown us that the main villain of this uninvestigating, unquestioning world, one Ranold B. Decenti, has completely changed his own views on Paul. He used to like and respect Paul, but after QUESTIONING AND INVESTIGATING, has come to the conclusion that Paul is not to be trusted, has flipped, and is using his position in the NPO to aid believers.
And he’s right.
And this unquestioning world has cured cancer, all but completely eradicated homelessness, improved mental health services, made all cars environmentally friendly, decreased travel times, and makes it paper out of previously-unrecyclable plastic.
Yep, what a stodgy, uncritical world.
Back in France, Paul is talking with actual French people, who apparently all speak perfect English, which is a good thing for two reasons:
1. Superspy Paul flunked Berlitz (the language program, not his brother-in-law)
2. Paul uses phrases like “several-pronged benefits” when talking to people for whom English is a second language.
Paul wants their help to trap Magnor, because he obviously can’t do any work by himself. (Or at all.) The French Christians are understandably reluctant to help, because it already sucks enough to be them. ChappellShow is the only one in favor of helping, mostly because of his guilt complex—he didn’t read Magnor’s mind well enough to understand that when Magnor said he wanted revenge, he meant he was going to bomb three specific world monuments within days of each other.
But Paul knows how to convince the undecided:
“Magnor needs to be brought to justice. Even if we weren’t looking at this as Christians, he’s still a murderer, a coward. The international community may make strange bedfellows for us, but on this we must agree. Regardless the offense, regardless the differences, the answer is not the obliteration of innocent people.”
ARE YOU FRAKKING KIDDING ME, PAUL???
“The events” being the deaths of thousands.
Paul Stepola: Hypocrite of the year, 38 P.3.