TEoD: Chapter 37: What’s Up, Doc?

Time for the obligatory How’s the Patient, Doc? scene.

But the weird thing is, in this hospital setting, the person referred to as Doc…is Murphy.

But first, Phillips ties himself into knots getting Murphy to the hospital in the first place:

It had been one-thirty in the morning when Bob Wagoner called and woke him up with the news.  Several nights a month, Wagoner would work as Police Chaplain for the Raleigh Police Department.  They had asked Wagoner to come down to the hospital to be with Shari.

Um, okay.  Or, I suppose, Shari might just have called her boss/father figure/weird pseudo-husband herself and asked him to come for moral support.

Also, how did it take so long for Murphy to get called in by anyone?  Shari and Paul had dinner at six, so probably started watching the movie by seven at the latest, and were taking a snack break when Talon arrived.  So the beatdown probably went down around eight or eight-thirty.  So it took them five hours to call in the most important person in Shari’s life?

Also, who cares if Wagoner is Police Chaplain?  What does that have to do with anything?  Wagoner is Shari’s pastor—it’s entirely natural that she call him, too.

But the personal connections just keep on coming!  Murphy immediately recognizes one of the cops.  The cop knows him too (as “Doc,” natch) and kindly fills him in on both Shari’s and Paul’s conditions:

“Shari has a few bruises and contusions, but she’ll be okay.”

Really?  Bruises and contusions, eh?

“I’m not sure about Wallach.  They’re working on him in intensive care.  I think it’s pretty much touch and go.”

Thanks, Mr. Expert.  Glad you’re filling in a non-family member that you happen to know on the conditions of the people you just brought in.

Also, we’re back to Shari being “Shari” and Paul being “Wallach.”  Because Shari in the one we’re supposed to care about.

Murphy moves on from the cop he knows to the nurse he knows:

Murphy remembered her well from the day Laura had been brought to the hospital.

“Hi, Clara, I’m looking for Shari Nelson and Bob Wagoner.”

She smiled.  “Oh, hi, Doc.  They’re down the hall in a small waiting room that families use.”  She pointed with her pen.

“Thank you.  Good to see you again,” he added as he rushed off.

“You too,” she called after him.

Yes, the lives of random nurses revolve around the few moments when they were graced with Michael Murphy’s presence.

Look, not to be insensitive or anything, but Laura died two or three years ago.  I could maybe imagine Murphy remembering one of the nurses, since for him this was a pivotal event, but for the nurse, it was just another day at the office, so to speak.  Heck, Laura wasn’t even the only person to be hurt or killed in the church bombing, so even it being a memorable event, I don’t see why, years later, this nurse would remember Murphy by face and name and profession.  And call him “Doc,” when she interacts with medical doctors all day, every day.

Murphy finds Shari and Bob and comforts her, and Bob is actually the one to put in the good word for Paul, pointing out that “if he hadn’t been there and fought the way he did, I’m sure she wouldn’t be alive.”

Not that that will save Paul, either in life or in death.  And somehow, I think this is less the authors commenting on the inherent unfairness of life than their take on the alleged fairness of their world.  After all, Paul had every chance to make the transaction before he was killed defending the very person who browbeat him the most.

The cop calls Murphy out into the hall, to first ask him if he knows anything…

“Only what Pastor Wagoner told me when he woke me up at one-thirty.”

Well, geez, Murphy, so sorry that Paul’s impending death cut into your beauty sleep!

…and the to inform him that when the cops got over their “shock” and “searched her place for clues,” they found “a bloodstained note that said ‘Back off, Murphy.'”

I see that Talon’s career change from cultured and erudite assassin to petty thug is proceeding apace.

So, after several years of dealings with Talon, in which time that man has killed his wife and an elderly dementia patient, as well as several undeveloped security guards and a Mossad agent, AND made numerous attempts on Murphy’s own life (such as they were), and AND ALSO this is the second time he’s put Paul Wallach in the hospital…now, Murphy gets around to giving a description of Talon to a police officer.  His accent and his razor-finger take prominence in the description, which I find amusing because the razor-finger is no more, and the accent, I would think, would be relatively easy to mask, especially as (IIRC) Talon was educated in England.

Miller was shaking his head back and forth as he wrote.  This was quite a story.

Heh, yeah, give yourself all the credit, Phillips.  Also it’s a story that Murphy should have told many moons ago.

Miller opines that since there is a ton of blood and a bunch of bloody fingerprints in the apartment and it looks like Paul got some good hits on Talon, there is a chance they could get a DNA match for Talon.

Btw, I described the Talon of this book to my husband, and he opined that such a blunt, lowbrow villain would normally be the lovable comic relief sidekick villain, not the Big Bad.  But Murphy has other ideas:

“I doubt if you’ll find any fingerprints or DNA that will match.  He’s too clever for that.  If someone had ever taken his fingerprints, I’m confident that he would have killed them and destroyed the evidence.  This is an extremely ruthless and evil man.”

“And I’m so glad I told law enforcement all about him before he had a chance to harm anyone else—oh.”




TEoD: Chapter 36: I’d Like to Buy the Atheist a Coke

Never say Phillips doesn’t start out his chapters with a bang:

Paul had gotten up for another soda while Shari remained on the couch.  He was rummaging through the refrigerator trying to decide what to drink.  Cherry Coke, Dr Pepper, or a Pepsi.


I don’t drink pop, so there is no possible way I could care less even if this was remotely interesting.  For the record, Paul decides on the Cherry Coke.  Maybe what with Coke’s long-standing dedication to inclusiveness, it’s the most logical choice for an evil atheist like Paul.

Shari, back on the couch after her useless trip to examine a noise, turns at the sound of another noise, only to find that neither of those noises were Just Her Imagination, and were in fact Just Talon.

Across the room, Paul sees him too, and never does get to enjoy his evil atheist Coke.  Instead, he does what Michael Murphy has not yet seen fit to do—go toe-to-toe against Talon to protect the woman he loves.

First: Talon does a singularly stupid thing and attacks the woman first, one-punching Shari over the couch.  Yeah, there’s a smart assassin—take out the lesser threat first, and antagonize the greater threat at the same time.  You’re a credit to your profession, Talon.

So Paul grabs the baseball bat and literally does go toe-to-toe with the assassin, and they circle each other and Paul yells at Shari to run for it.  She fumbles with the door because she is a girl-irl, and Talon makes a lunge for her again (such a smart assassin!), giving Paul the opening to smash his hand with the bat.

Paul has awesomely severed Talon’s talon finger:  With a frakking baseball bat.  So he’s basically an atheist ninja god.

That was the final straw.  This kid was dead meat.

Thanks for that little peak into Talon’s mind, Phillips.  And can we just acknowledge how shitty Talon is at this?

It really just is a whole new level of incompetence, isn’t it?  Talon can take out nursing home residents and librarians who are crushing on him, but faced with two college students with exactly zero fighting experience, he’s at a complete loss.

He manages to gut-kick Paul, and Paul is vaguely aware that Shari has taken his advice to run very much to heart, as she is “disappearing down the street.”  What a heroine.  Two people have to stop the screaming girl to get her to tell them exactly what’s going on.

Talon had never been this angry before.

Yeah, I bet.  Being bested in hand-to-hand combat by an unathletic business major will do that.

Talon could hear sirens in the background, but he wasn’t through with this punk yet.

“You’re dead.  You hear!  Look at me!  You are dead!”

So when did Talon turn from well-educated, cultured assassin who read Edgar Allen Poe and listened to classical music to incompetent low-level gangster?

Speaking of hooligan moves, Talon smashes Paul’s face and ribs until the poor guy is coughing up blood.

Then, in yet more hilarious evidence that Talon totally sucks at his job, he opts not to finish Paul off with the severed talon finger, because “why put him out of his misery?  Let him suffer a while longer.”

Yes, a common sentiment amongst contract killers.

The cops get there and are “shocked” to find the room a mess, because these are apparently the least hardened cops on the planet.  Seriously, a room where a struggle took place shocks you?  Okay.

Shari was sobbing in the arms of Mr. and Mrs. Krantz.  They lived two houses down from Shari’s apartment and had become like second parents to her.

Ah.  Interesting, seeing as how it’s always been implied that Murphy Murphy and his wife were like second parents to Shari, and also because WE’VE NEVER HEARD OF THESE PEOPLE BEFORE THIS MOMENT.

Also, if Shari lives in an apartment building, why did she run screaming down the street?  Why didn’t she just go one door down, or start screaming in the hallway and not stop until she got help?

Anyway, the cops opine that they need to get Paul to the hospital ASAP…

…and shake their collective head at Paul’s prospects for recovery.

Poor Paul.



TEoD: Chapter 35: Danger: Date!

When Paul arrives at Shari’s that evening, she greets him at the door with a baseball bat, despite knowing exactly what time he’s coming.

Earlier in the day she had taken [the bat] out of the closet security.

The what now?

Did he mean out of the closet for security?  Because that’s not what he wrote.

Actually, though, I find it more interesting that Shari would own a baseball bat at all.  She doesn’t seem the sporty type.  I would think that running and hitting a ball and working up a sweat is not sufficiently RTC-feminine.

As promised, Paul brought pizza and a movie, and gallantly does everything while Shari sits.

Dinner was pleasant and yet a little uncomfortable.  Paul wanted to talk abut their relationship but held everything inside so as not to pressure Shari.  She, on the other hand, was trying to determine if Paul really wanted to change or if this was some kind of passing phase.

What, a passing phase where Paul listens to Shari and is sensitive to her wishes and takes care of her?  Because that’s pretty much how Paul has always been.  In the best RTC tradition of projection, it’s Shari who has always had an ulterior motive for his actions, and Shari who doesn’t listen to Paul or care about his feelings.

I also interpret Shari’s attempt to determine if this is a “passing phase” as her meaning that Paul is only being nice because he’s trying to be open to RTC-ity.

Shari is actually frank enough to reveal to Paul that she’s been feeling like she’s been followed, and Paul asks, “Won’t God protect you?”  Phillips doesn’t let us in on whether the question is asked facetiously or not, but Shari answers it seriously, basically yeah, God does protect her, but everybody dies, but she’s not ready to go just yet.  Which latter part is certainly understandable, but does rather seem to fly in the face of a God-knows-best mentality.  After all, shouldn’t Shari trust that it just might be her time, regardless of her limited human feelings on the subject?

Anyway, Paul immediately segues into the kind of thing that Evil Atheists are known for: trying to help someone.  He posits that Shari is not Just Imagining Things, and that somebody actually might be trying to hurt her.  So they start discussing whether Shari might have any enemies.  For someone who works for a supposed action-adventure hero, Shari proves herself supreme unimaginative on this point.

Oh, and speaking of Shari and projection, I notice that this week’s chapter is showcasing some of the same themes of Fred Clark’s installment on LBCF: Shari is a character who absolutely cannot be trusted, not because she is an unreliable narrator in the literary sense, but because her author is so completely to of touch with the reality of the story and characters.

Shari noted that Paul was trying to get into her world and her concerns.  In the past, his conversation seemed to focus more on himself.

This is new.  Maybe he has changed.

Except in the previous novels, there has never been a sense that Paul’s conversation is self-involved.  In fact, he’s been a far more attentive boyfriend than Shari has a girlfriend.

As a reminder, here’s the first conversation between Shari and Paul: he talks about class, she mocks his atheism.

Oh, and then Shari took Paul to her church, because Paul has always been a conversion prospect instead of a boyfriend and oh, by the way, he was knocked into a coma there.  So his ability to have self-centered conversations were reduced for a time.

But maybe Phillips wants to forget about the Dinallo-crafted relationship.  So here, in The Secret on Ararat, is Shari’s distillation of her debate with Paul about evolution.  Again, not seeing a lot of Paul-centeredness.

Oh, and then there’s that time they broke up, and Shari decided to kick Paul repeatedly, and as painfully as possible.  So yeah, the conversation definitely revolved around Paul, but that was because Shari started it, and continued it, and kept at it until Paul was crying in the corner.

In short, Shari is another RTC in the mold of Ray-gun or Bucky: utterly unreliable, cowardly, condescending, and self-serving, but whom we are supposed to see as the exact opposite of all those things.

Case in point: one paragraph after thinking that Paul is self-centered, Shari invites Paul back to church, “putting out a feeler to get Paul’s reaction to spiritual matters.”

Yeah, Shari, Paul’s the one who’s self-absorbed.

Paul actually says he wants to try church again (bizarrely citing the “honesty” of the people there), and that he is “keeping an open mind” about RTC-ianity.

Her usual humble and totally not self-centered self, Shari lectures Paul for a page about how he can give his life to Jesus “if you really mean it” (passive aggression is a key component of non-self-centeredness).  Now, say what you will about Shari’s selfishness, lack of basic human consideration, and lousy taste in hairstyles, but the girl’s got sticktoitiveness.  I mean, this is the exact same thing she’s harped on about since the moment she met Paul.

And after harping on about it for yet another page, Shari cuts herself off:

[She] realized that she should not put pressure on Paul.  It had to be his decision.

Heh, oh yeah, I’m sure she’ll let this subject rest for ten minutes or so.

Paul offers to clean up and start the movie.  Which is awfully sweet of him and all, but Shari just can’t resist her projecting thoughts:

This is a nice change, she thought.

It sure is, Shari.  You’re injured and Paul is waiting on you hand and foot.  Why, I remember when Paul was the one who was hurt, and you spent your time poking him and shoving him and telling him he shouldn’t have “too much sympathy.”  Oh, and fawning all over Murphy right in front of Paul.

And Paul was knocked out by a bomb and fell into a coma.  You only fell off your bike.

So yeah, Paul’s behavior is a bit of “a nice change,” though not in the sense you mean, Shari.

Anyway, the chapter ends with Shari hearing a noise coming from her bedroom.  And of course, despite Paul’s sane yet atheistic advice, Shari chalks it up to Probably Nothing.



TEoD: Chapter 34: But What Can Be Done?

Time to catch up with Shari!  She stumbles into work like five minutes late, and so Murphy has to give her grief, because he’s that kind of sensitive loving Christian, so Shari explains what’s been going on lately—she’s felt for the past few days like she’s being watched, and has “this eerie feeling.”

Gee, I wonder why?

Sure, Murphy learned just the other day about an organization that is happy to murder women and children to advance it’s anti-Christian agenda, but he has his own ideas:

“Do you think it might be Paul Wallach?  Since he’s back in town, has he turned into a stalker?”

Yeah, Murphy, because that’s what happens—non-Christians who have been nothing but gentlemen to their terrible, mean-spirited girlfriends “turn into” stalkers.

Shari actually defends Paul (though on the bizarre ground that he would “have nothing to gain” from being a stalker…

…and continues with her story.  Last night, shortly after hitting the hay, she gets a call from a friend at church whose father just died suddenly, and she can’t get home until tomorrow, so Shari goes to her place and they talk, and it gets so late that Shari feels it’s safer to spend the night.

(I’ve had plenty of bad stuff to say about Shari, but this is a nice thing she does here.  So never say I don’t give credit where it’s due.)

Anyway, when she gets back to her place in the morning, she smells gas.  She immediately opens some windows and vacates, as well she should, but not before seeing that two burners have been running with no flame, presumably for hours.

Murphy makes a halfhearted suggestion that Shari call the police, but she shoots him down because “I have no real evidence.”  In a great show of support for his young, single, female employee, Murphy concurs: “the cops couldn’t do anything.”

Yep, remember, ladies, don’t ever tell anyone if you feel unsafe or think someone broke into your home.  Nobody can do anything.  so it’s just best to keep quiet and hope the problem takes care of itself.  Don’t make waves.

In a great show of sensitivity, Murphy then lets Shari work in the lab all day and into the night.  So she doesn’t think to leave until after dark, when she is all alone.  One might think that a responsible and caring RTC employer and friend would escort his young, single, and female employee home.

She bikes through the darkened campus, alone and after dark, and stops at the grocery store.

Everything looks so good.  Especially the sweets.

Ha!  Wimmen, amirite?  Always into “sweets.”  (I have never heard anyone of my generation refer to desserts or smacks as “sweets.”  Maybe it’s a Southern thing.)

Shopping done (she bought some microwave popcorn instead of “sweets.”  Watching her figure like a good girl, she is), Shari continues to bike home in the dark.  Phillips bizarre explains at length how one bicycles on the sidewalk:

When she came to intersections she would follow where the curb dropped down for handicap accessibility, ride across the street, and back up onto the sidewalk.

Then, in the closest this book has come yet to an action sequence (except for Murphy being made to eat sand by some bodyguards, that is), Shari gets into a bike accident—she brakes to avoid a cat, flies over the handlebars, and because of the fall, and narrowly misses being hit by a speeding car.  Phillips implies that because the car is speeding, it is obviously driven by some unnamed henchman of The Seven (TSAN!), and thus they prove themselves incapable not only of killing a college professor who lives alone and takes no measures to protect himself, but also prove themselves incapable of killing a naive college student who makes a habit of riding her bike alone, at night (and badly).

The Seven just suck at being an evil and murderous cabal.

No one’s around, and The Seven apparently decided not to seal the deal tonight, so Shari limps home all alone in the dark, because I guess she doesn’t carry a phone or spare change.

The next morning, Shari limps off to Murphy’s office, because it’s just fine and dandy when he emails her at 3:00 a.m. because he has a brainstorm, but apparently she doesn’t feel free to email him at 9:00 p.m. that she almost died.

Luckily, she runs into Paul (okay, she figuratively runs into him, because it would kinda suck if she literally ran into him, after last night).  She has a stack of test papers that Murphy “needs today” (so apparently Shari graded them for him), and like the sweet nonbeliever that he is, Paul takes them to Murphy’s office for her, then sends her back home to rest and recover, and offers to bring pizza and a movie that evening.

So, once again, atheist Paul is the only decent human being around.

TEoD: Chapter 33: To the Beach!

Welp, it’s Chapter 33, and Murphy has officially decided to Do Something: go to the beach.

Okay, I’m being ever so slightly unfair.  He goes to Myrtle Beach to find Methuselah.  On his trip down, Murph reflects upon his own knowledge of Myrtle Beach Wikipedia.  Now, I’ve been to Myrtle Beach and it’s fun, but the history definitely isn’t as fascinating as a lot of places (basically, they decided to make it a resort…and made it a resort).  So I’ll forgive Murphy for not speechifying for three pages, and instead just “reflecting” for one paragraph.

He goes to the Dunes Golf and Beach Club, which is not far from Meth’s estate, and just chills on the beach “to just sit and take in the glory of God’s creation.”

Or the glory of tourism creation, I guess.  Also, I wonder if cool ole RTC Murphy decided to set this scene in Myrtle Beach (as opposed to any other of the beachy areas in North and South Carolina) because of Myrtle Beach’s thong ban.

So he takes in the glory of God’s creation, and sits around to wait for Meth, and opens a book (unspecified, so presumably not the Bible).

Might as well do something productive, Murphy thought.

Reading a book might be the first productive thing Murphy’s done in this book so far.

A few hours later, Murphy sees Meth being escorted out to the beach by his plainclothes bodyguards.  (At 11:30, the heat of the day in late spring at Myrtle Beach, really?  An older guy like Meth would probably want to go out way earlier, before the heat becomes too oppressive.)

Now, it’s important to point out right now that Murphy went all the way to Myrtle Beach with exactly zero plan.  (This despite the fact that Murphy thinks of this meet-up as something that is “on Murphy’s terms, not [Meth’s].“)  So he’s lucky when he happens to see a young staffer for the Dunes, and cons him into loaning him a Dunes uniform by implying (though not lying outright and in so many words, because that would be wrong) that he wants to use the uniform to get close to a pretty lady.  Having thus conned and potentially gotten into deep trouble an innocent young man just trying to make his way in the world, Murphy poses as a waiter and gets Meth’s order.  Without looking up, Meth orders a sammich, and…

Murphy was about to explode inside, his curiosity mingling with a great deal of anger.  Methuselah had succeed a lion on him, almost killed him when he cut loose a cable in the Royal Gorge, and hired a host of professional killers to try to take him out.

Yeah, Murphy…none of which would ever had happened had you not take Meth up on his invitations.  He invited you to places, with the situation very clear to both of you, and you decided the reward was worth the risk.  So forgive me if I don’t feel too much sympathy for you.

(Also, you forgot about the puppy cave.)  (I suspect because Phillips forgot about it too, to at least about said doggies.)

In his anger, Murphy lashes out with this lame “attack”:

“How about some rattlesnakes for lunch?”

…And he instantly finds himself spitting sand because the bodyguards tackle his ass.

After a second, Meth recognizes Murphy, and calls off his guards.  Hilariously, Meth immediately deduces that Levi Abrams (yes, Meth knows who Levi is), must have done the actual investigation.  So even Meth knows full well that Murphy is incapable to doing anything on his own.

“I can figure out how you know so much about the Bible.  Your grandfather was a missionary and your father was an active Christian.  But what’s with all the games, the riddles, the attempts on my life?”

Murphy gives himself rather too much credit here.  It’s pretty obvious that Meth never meant to kill Murphy.  I’m pretty sure that if Meth wanted Murphy dead, Murphy would be dead.

And indeed, Meth characterizes his antics as “tests,” and tells Murphy that this has all been for a Cause: Meth’s family were killed by “wicked and powerful” people with “goals for world domination.”  (Guess who!!!)  Meth wants to destroy them, and needs Murphy’s help to do it, and all these silly Bible artifact tests have been to get Murphy “battle-ready for these people.”  Because I guess The Seven (TSAN!) are going to make Murphy crawl on rope bridges and save drowning puppies.

Meth explains that he leads Murphy to Bible artifacts because “[The Seven (TSAN!)] would like to see the Bible destroyed and believers in Almighty God eliminated.  I am simply using you to help prove them wrong.”

Murphy thinks that Meth’s “warped logic” indicates that “the old man had all but lost his grip on reality,” though Meth’s taken more action in any one passage with him than Murphy’s taken in this whole book.  And honestly, the only error in logic I see in Meth is that he’s contracting Michael Murphy and not, say, The Punisher or someone more appropriate, to go after the cabal that killed his family.

And hilariously, Meth actually sides with me (which I suppose, in Murphy’s eyes, would mean that I had lost my grip on reality, too), and points out that Murphy “could have turned back at any time,” but always chose to go for Meth’s crazy games.

Murphy tries (rather half-heartedly, I might add) to press Meth for more details, especially on The Seven (and Murphy still doesn’t know their name!), but Meth just peaces out and has his crack security team escort Murphy away.

Oh, but not before reminding Murphy to return the Dunes uniform.

Murphy had completely forgotten about the uniform.

Crack hero, ladies and gentlemen!

A Very Stable Genius.

Who simmers as he heads back home:

It was so typical of Methuselah to just walk away.  It always had to be on his terms.  He had to be in control.

No doubt about it.  Murphy was ticked off.

Short-tempered, impatient, impotent in the face of a much more intelligent man (one who, it is worth noting, actually does have a long-term plan for his life).  Even when Murphy does something, he doesn’t actually do anything.


TEoD: Chapter 32: Moshe, We Hardly Knew Ye

I’m getting a tad sick of Phillips introducing this one-dimensional, one-off characters, only to kill them as soon as they’re introduced.  Multiple guards at the Parchments of Freedom Foundation, even guys like Vern, Murphy’s helicopter-flying “friend” from Ararat—give them a name and a relationship (however unbelievable) to a main character, then kill them off.  Yeah, I totally believe that Michael Murphy is close, personal friends with Vern, his wife, and their one-and-two-thirds children, even though we never heard of them before (even when Laura died!) and never heard from them again after Vern served his purpose.

Then again, if there’s one thing Michael Murphy has, it’s an odd notion of friendship.  What kind of view of friendship do you have when your closest “friend” disappears for months, and you can’t even bring yourself to call his family to see if they know anything, or if there’s anything you can tell them?

Anyway, we’re at it again.  Remember Levi’s pal from the Mossad, Moshe Perlman?  When Murphy subcontracted out with Levi to get him to Ashdod, Levi in turn subcontracted to Moshe to “check it out.”

And so he is.  And Phillips feels the need to specify that he is doing so in “an old 911 Porsche from West Germany,” which he is driving because it’s “an old enough car that it didn’t attract any attention.”

This struck me as odd, so I asked my husband about it, since he knows waaaaayyyyy more about cars than I do.  He said that off the top of his head, a 911 Porsche is “a cool classic car that lots of people would recognize,” so maybe not the best thing to drive if your aim is to be completely unnoticed.

Moshe heads to the site of old Ashdod, and sees four cars parked by the sorta-site.

Pearlman’s training with the Mossad made him very alert and very suspicious.

Thanks for the info, Phillips.

Moshe is so alert and suspicious that he puts his gun on, then sneaks in from hundreds of yards away and determines that the cars are “not the type of vehicle one would take on an archaeological dig.  They were too new, too nice, and too clean.

Yeah, because a 911 Porsche is definitely the car you would take on an archaeological dig.

Moshe follows footprints from the cars to a hole in a wall (just go with it) (and yeah, Moshe is totally acting unsuspiciously, following people and snooping around really obviously like this).

Fumbling around down there, all by himself, Moshe hears four men also fumbling around.  Two of them (we’ll call them “the two Arabs,” because Phillips does) naturally ask after Moshe’s identity and purpose.

“I’m a tourist,” Perlman said brightly, hoping his acting chops were up to snuff.  “I saw some cars and I stopped to look at the ruins of Ashdod.  I then discovered the hole in the wall and entered.  Are you archaeologists?”

Oh, yeah, Moshe, Academy-Award-level performance right there.

The two Arabs moved closer.

“Why, yes, we are.  We are exploring for ancient artifacts.”

Moshe had heard enough lies during his career to quickly discern truth from falsehood by the tone in one’s voice.

Oh, yeah, congrats, Moshe.  Your spy skills are working just great for you right now.  You really have those Two Arabs in a spot.

Damn, son, if Archer was on the case, these guys would already be dead.

In a rather ridiculous yet simultaneously boring development, Moshe evades the Two Arabs and makes a break for his car.


Yep, Talon is there.  Because Talon has the super villain power to teleport to wherever the “plot” needs him to be.

So, yeah, he’s just been waiting around for this guy to show up.  So he snipers Moshe in the leg, then sits Two Falcons on him, and it’s all over.

Cut to 3:00 in the morning, and Murphy is roused by a call from Levi, who informs him that Moshe’s body was just found, and that “all the wounds look like the clawing and pecking of birds” but that “no one can figure out what happened.”

Murphy, of course, manages to figure out that it was TALON (he’s a crafty bastard, that Murphy is) and says that he wants to go to Ashdod now “more than ever.”  Which would be nice, really, since it would basically be the first time he’s gotten up off the couch in this entire book.

Levi volunteers to go along, “to avenge Moshe’s death.  I would be my joy to turn those falcons on Talon.”

Okaaaayyyy.  But I don’t think that’s how birds work, dear.  I mean, they’re not guns, yanno?  They don’t work equally for everyone.  They’re loyal to Talon.  Idiot.

Murphy urges Levi to “put on the pressure!” because it’s still completely up to Pal Levi to set up this whole trip.  So Murphy’s gonna sit around while Levi gets things done.  Murphy does helpfully add that “Talon already appears to have a big head start.

Yeah, Murph, go figure.  So shocking, what with all the work you’ve done on this mission and…


TEoD: Chapter 31: President Fallworth

At the end of the previous chapter, during the Fake Standing Ovation, “kooky” RA Shari was clapping and grinning along with everyone else (I’m assuming she was the only one not in on the joke).  One sentence, but an unstated length of time later, and she’s poring over a piece of papyrus that Murphy found in a “curio shop in Cairo” at some undetermined point in the past.

Murphy pops in on her, and she reveals that she’s read the papyrus, and it references the Ark of the Covenant.  Specifically, it verifies that “two magical objects” (the rod and manna, presumably) were removed.  Now, this is the first “break in the case” in many, many chapters, and it’s kinda hilarious that Shari discovered it, not Murphy, but the discovery itself takes a distant second place to a much, much more important topic…


See, Dean Archer Fallworth has left a message with Shari for Murphy to come and talk with him.  This would be horrific enough in itself for Murph, but unworldly Christian Shari is also up on all the gossip, and reveals to Murphy that the President of Preston University is retiring…and Fallworth is on the short list to replace him!!!

Probably not the reaction LaPhillips expected readers to have.

Not Murphy’s reaction, either.

Murphy felt sick to his stomach.

Awww, whatsa matter, Murph?


Oh, and let’s just pause for a moment and reflect that Murphy’s nausea was brought on, not by someone trying to kill his girlfriend, not by the realization that the Antichrist himself may be alive and well and gathering followers…but by the thought that his professional rival might get a promotion.

Yep, that’s out hero!  Like a good Christian, unconcerned with the things of this world.

So Murphy heads off to Archer’s office, “armed” with a few pieces of paper.  We’ll see why in a sec.

Archer breaks the news to Murph that he might be the next president, and Murphy gets to act not at all surprised, so as “not to give him the satisfaction” of a “reaction.”  Like, say, Murphy’s actual reaction of nausea.  So mature!

Archer mentions that if he does become president, he’ll do his best to cancel Murphy’s biblical archaeology classes.

Murphy baits him into saying that this is because “religion has no place in the classroom,” and Murphy is off to the races!

(Fallworth obviously misspoke here.  Based on his past interactions with Murphy, it’s clearly always been his position that proselytizing has no place in the classroom, but nothing will stop Murphy once he gets on a roll.)

Murphy begins by the snide ole response that oh, I guess Fallworth is against teaching about art that depicts religious things, or the Protestant Reformation, or religiously-themed music, hmmm???

Fallworth rolled his eyes.  “You know what I mean, Murphy?”

Right?  Fallworth has so much more patience than I, debating with this child.  (Apologies to children, most of whom have more sense than Michael Murphy.)

“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”  [Murphy responds]

“Oh, then I guess you’re a bit denser than I thought, Murphy.  I guess we’ll see what happens in a few months.  Have a nice day.”

Well, that’s what Fallworth should have said.  Instead, he lets Murphy blather on, segueing into a cherry-picking lecture on the Supreme Court case of Abington School District v. Schemmp.  (Because I guess Murphy is now a legal expert, too.)

Okay, a bit of background: evangelical Christians generally hate this case, being one of those that Drove Prayer Out Of Public Schools.

Never mind this is one of the cases that drove forced prayer (and in this particular case, forced Bible readings, too) out of public schools.  So it’s kinda funny that Murphy would cite this case, for two reasons: 1) it didn’t come down on Murphy’s side and 2) it’s talking about public elementary schools, not a (presumably) private university where these guys are.

So yeah, these are the printouts that Murphy grabbed on the way out.  Because he hears “meeting with Dean Fallworth” and immediately thinks, “I better grab a copy of a Supreme Court case from 1963 so I can read it aloud to him!”

Which he does  At length.  (Yeah, shocking, I know.)

So, it’s interesting.  Here’s the passage Murphy quotes.  I’ve crossed out the parts he omits, so you can see the difference:

It is insisted that unless these religious exercises are permitted a “religion of secularism” is established in the schools.We agree of course that the State may not establish a “religion of secularism” in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus “preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.” Zorach v. Clauson, supra, at 314. We do not agree, however, that this decision in any sense has that effect. In addition, it might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. But the exercises here do not fall into those categories. They are religious exercises, required by the States in violation of the command of the First Amendment that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion.

So yeah.  The pro-prayer crowd was saying that taking out the prayer had the effect of a “religion of secularism,” and the Surpeme Court said No and No.

Also, we’ve seen plenty of Murphy’s classes from beginning to end by this point.  Anybody think he’s arguing for his right to present religion objectively, and not aiding his particular religion?

Then Murphy quotes another Justice saying that “the holding of the Court today plainly does not foreclose teaching about the Holy Scriptures or about the differences between religious sects in classes of literature or history.”  Sure, great.  Kinda hilarious that Murphy is quoting that when he habitually dismisses class with admonitions to students to listen to the “still small voice” of God/their conscience, and to beware false (non-RTC) teachers.

By the way, here are a few quotes from the opinion that Murphy would be less likely to use as weapons against Fallworth:

While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs.

Oh, and this section occurs right before the first one Murphy (partially) quoted:

The conclusion follows that in both cases the laws require religious exercises and such exercises are being conducted in direct violation of the rights of the appellees and petitioners.  Nor are these required exercises mitigated by the fact that individual students may absent themselves upon parental request, for that fact furnishes no defense to a claim of unconstitutionality under the Establishment Clause. See Engel v. Vitale, supra, at 430. Further, it is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent and, in the words of Madison, “it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.” Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, quoted in Everson, supra, at 65.

After all this, Murphy ends with the rather half-hearted conclusion that “we don’t see eye to eye.”

True dat.  Fallworth is for actual classes being taught, Murphy is for twisting the words of the Supreme Court (and doing a piss-poor job of it, at that), to make it seem like Fallworth is against religion being taught in any context.

Then the following bizarre exchange takes place:

“I respect your right to disagree with me.  I’m not trying to force you to accept what I believe.  All I’m asking is that you have the same respect for me and my beliefs.”

Murphy says this.  Murphy, who once said that Fallworth was just someone who “had moral issues” and, later, that agnosticism (Fallworth’s position) was a life of ignorance and uncertainty” that is “pretty lame.”

Oh, and in that same conversation, Murphy, in an example of his respecting the rights of others, he expressed his fear of courses that would teach “the beauties of being a Wicca witch with white magic.”

So it’s not too surprising that Fallworth’s sarcastic response is that Murphy is suuucccchhh “the loving Christian.”

“That’s interesting, Archer.  Whenever you have a difficult time defending your views, you resort to personal attacks.”

Fallworth has had no difficulty defending his views.  Murphy is proselytizing in class, and you just know that Fallworth knows all about it, given the timing of these conversations.  Really, it’s Murphy who has difficulty defending his position, what with his reliance on printed-out pages of Supreme Court opinions that don’t even come down on his side, and his constant…well, personal attacks on Archer himself, as seen above.

Phillips really doesn’t remember that we’ve read the other books, does he?

And Murphy, of course, has to have one more bon mot as he turns on his heel, takes his ball, and goes home:

“Archer, as you have gone on record…let me go on record.  You are on shaky ground.  If you choose to make a battle over this, so be it.  I will not roll over and play dead on this issue.”

Wow, bit of projection going on, you think?  Archer is on shaky ground?  The guy who is currently dean of his department, and in line to be president of the university…is on shaky ground with one of the (no doubt) least respected professors on campus, who routinely proselytizes in his classes, if he shows up at all.  And when was the last time Murphy published, might I ask?

Ah, but little things like that don’t matter, not when Murphy storms out and slams the door, like a petulant teenager!

Stroming (no doubt in the manliest of fashions) back across campus, Murphy thinks that “there were not too many issues he would fight for, but this was one of them.”

Really really?  Because I have a feeling Murphy would “fight” against just about anything,  including putting gluten-free options on the student union cafeteria menu.  Or if the Wicca witches with white magic started a campus club.

And, proving that Phillips really doesn’t read what he writes, Murphy then has this thought:

Over the centuries men have tried to put down the teachings of the Bible.  They have barked like dogs at a caravan and yet the caravan of truth keeps moving forward in spite of them.  God help me to remember this when under attack.

This from the guy who was just trying to convince his dean that he use of religion in the classroom fell under the Supreme Court definition of “a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization” or “study [of the Bible] for its literary and historic qualities…presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”

Murphy, Murphy, Murphy…what have I told you about bearing false witness?




TEoD: Chapter 30: The False Teacher

Thirty chapters in (out of sixty-eight), and seriously NOTHING has happened yet.

We are reminded of this twofold, as Murphy begins yet another class, and notices that Summer Van Doren has not shown up.

Get your head in the game, Murphy.  You’ve got a class to teach.  Anyway, how could you be thinking about her after you had that wonderful dream about Isis?

Yep, he’s done nothing.  He hasn’t started tracking down the Biblical artifacts he keeps daydreaming about, and he hasn’t contacted the pseudo-girlfriend that he real dreams about.

(This is starting to become one of those stereotypical I-have-a-girlfriend-who-lives-in-Canada things.  You can just picture Murphy chatting with colleagues: “I do TOO have a girlfriend.  She just lives in another state and never visits and we don’t talk on the phone or write letters or email.  But she’s real!  I even held her hand once!”)

(More to the point, this is also reminiscent of Rayford Steele’s obsession with “a woman he had never touched“—for these RTC males, relationships are actually better…when they aren’t actually relationships.)

Also also, did Murphy seriously expect Summer to audit every single class he ever teaches, forever?  I mean, dude, she has a job.

And, in further news of Occasional Characters, Murphy notices that Paul Wallach has shown up to class.

It had been quite some time since Paul had dropped out of his class.

Uh-huh.  So why then does he get to just show back up whenever he wants?  I mean, I get that this is the easiest and most pointless course on campus, but I doubt the registrar is similarly incompetent.  Dean Archer Fallworth has shown us repeatedly that some people at Preston University do actually care about their jobs.

Interestingly, Murphy reaction to Paul’s presence is:

I guess he and Shari are really trying to put their relationship back together.

Wow, so even Murphy understands his own class is pointless.  Because Paul couldn’t possibly be there to get his degree (which he should already have, but whatevs); he could only be in that classroom to win Shari back.

Murphy begins class by briefly reviewing the previous weeks: lectures on “the concept of God…[spawning] many cultures to create pagan gods and idols,” and “thinking about both good and evil angels.”  And again, he seems to be openly admitting that nothing about this course has anything even remotely to do with archaeology.

Now we’re on to false teachers, which Murphy of course interprets to mean anybody who preaches or teaches anything that is not RTC-ity.  He starts with a Letterman’s Top Ten list.  Well, it’s a list of ten people.  I don’t feel like tracking down all of them, but one I picked at random was Abu Isa, who never actually claimed to be Christ at all.  So…whoopee?

Murphy blathers on for pages about these and a second list of ten “false Christs and teachers,” sprinkling in a sentence or two about some (but not all) of them, in such a way that absolutely none of it will stick in the minds of his students.  Moving a bit further forward in history, Murphy mentions Ann Lee, whom I only mention because she was a Shaker leader, and I recently heard a radio preacher snarking about Shakers.  I had not known this was a Thing in RTC-ity, but apparently so.

And this list is odd in another way: Maitreya is put in the same list with Marshall Applewhite.  Seems to me that a guy who leads a mass suicide belongs in a different category than the potential future Buddha.  (Interestingly, Murphy puts a year next to each name.  Maitreya gets 1959.  Why, I’m not sure, except that 1959 was the year the translation of a book containing the prophecy of Maitreya was released.  Top notch researching there, Murph!

And this goes on for EIGHT PAGES.  Eight pages of Phillips’ distillation of his glances at Wikipedia.  And he tops it off with a full page of FALSE TEACHERS who made predictions surrounding the year 2000.  And again, this list is just bizarre with regards (or lack thereof) to proportionality: the leader of a mass suicide is once again featured in the same list as someone who just made some bizarre claims.  (Why do I get the feeling that in LaPhillips’ eyes, it is much worse for a woman to make bizarre claims than a man?)

Now, as we’ve discussed before, these students are friggin’ pros at this point in the fine art of Dealing with Michael Murphy.  So it should come as no surprise when, instead of calling Murphy on the fact that plenty of RTCs have made claims that have not come true,  a student asks the following:

“Dr. Murphy, hadn’t there been predictions about Jesus Christ…like where He was going to be born and how he would die, for hundreds of years before the event?”

Yeah, she knows what’s up.

Murphy is just waiting for such a question, because the claims of RTCs are totally different from all other spiritual claims.

Murph cites one Peter Stoner, a Christian mathematician who was in turn cited in Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  (In true incestuous RTC tradition, McDowell cites Stoner’s book, which was “carefully reviewed” by the American Scientific Affiliation…a group co-founded by Stoner.)

The “staggering odds” Murphy cites is that there is a “one in ten to the twenty-eighth power [chance of Jesus] fulfilling eight prophecies.”

LaHaye was a YUUUGE fan of using giant numbers to make “dramatic” points.

Now, aside from snarking on the completely unquestioned prophecies that may or may not have been referring to Jesus, and may or may not have come true (though if you want to, try this or this), the bell is about to ring (because I guess this is middle school), and one of the most laugh- or cringe-inducing moments in the entire series happens:

“With odds like that, when Christ returns, I don’t think there will be any doubt about it.  So think about the importance of following a true teacher as compared to a false teacher.  It could affect the future of each and every one of you.”

The bell rang and the students treated Murphy to a standing ovation for a particularly inspired lecture.  He blushed and gave a nod of gratitude.

I mean, wow.  There are really too many comments for me to make.

First of all, again, the authors have not been to college.  I have been in a LOT of college and graduate and professional classrooms, and the only time I have seen a professor applauded for a lecture is when it is either 1) a guest lecture or 2) the last day of classes.  Standing ovation for a random weekday lecture with PowerPoint lists and a handout?  Not so much.

Especially because (and I do so love to hammer away at this point), this lecture had ZERO to do with archaeology.  ZERO.  It was about false (non-RTC) teachers, most of them from the 20th century.  Dean Fallworth, where are you when we need you?

So there is no way I can read this standing ovation as being the least bit sincere.  It’s coming right on the tail of a brown-nosing question that was fishing for a self-serving response from an egomaniac.  Student asks the brown-nosing question, Murphy pontificates on Biblical “statistics” for two full pages, gets a standing ovation.  There is NO WAY that was not planned ahead of time.  It’s a faux-spontaneous act to kiss up and raise grades and put the narcissist in a good mood.  For a darker image, think of the opening scene of USS Callister (and yes, I’ll just reference the opening scene, because SPOILERS).

Image result for uss callister gif

Sure, we have all the many, many times Rayford Steele has insisted on being called “Captain,” and DOCTOR Paul Stepola, the besets spy in the history of the world, but this standing ovation for a normal lecture may be the single best example of this world heaping unearned praise and adulation on its author avatar heroes.

Brilliant PowerPoints, Professor, just brilliant!

TEoD: Chapter 29: Ichabod

It is still hard to believe how slowly we’re working through these Back-in-the-Bible chapters.  Chapter 20, the last one, covered the first part of 1 Samuel 4, and this chapter covers the second part of 1 Samuel 4, about the Philistines capturing the Ark, and two guys dying, and then some other guy goes back and finds out the one dead guy’s wife is in labor, and sensitively doesn’t wait until she’s done pushing the baby out to tell her that her husband’s dead.  So she dies, but not before naming her son Ichabod, because she was a big fan of Sleepy Hollow.

TEoD: Chapter 28: Christian Movie Kiss

Murphy has Isis over for a home-cooked meal of grilled steaks and beers and Netflix and chill water and a “rented movie.”  Over the course of a whole page, this “cutely” turns into a series of “passionate kisses,” Isis on top of Murphy!!!

Annnnd just as you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Ruby, that doesn’t sound like your common or garden RTC novel.  There’s passionate kissing and the woman is on top of the man and this is all happening in the evening at the man’s house when the woman lives a four-hour drive away so she’ll presumably have to spend the night—” welllll…

It Was All Just a Dream

Yup, Murphy conked out on the couch and dreamed about Isis.  Not California Swedish Blonde Volleyball Surfer Summer, but Isis.  So, I mean, it’s kinda nice…then again, this is Isis’s first “appearance” in nine chapters, and it’s in a dream.

Anyway, Murphy is woken from his dream by a call from Levi Abrams.  Levi has made two appearances in this book so far, but they were before my Glorious Life Event Hiatus, so here they are if you’d like to review.

Levi is actually returning Murphy’s call to his answering machine (man, the little things that date books, eh?), because as usual, Murphy only contacts his “friends” when he needs their help.  He’s actually calling Levi in, not to thank him for the surveillance equipment that helped them kinda-sorta expose Sonstad, but to loop him in to Isis’s Ashdod issue.

It’s 10:30 at night, but Levi doesn’t want to talk about Ashdod now.  Instead, he invites Murphy to the gym first thing the next morning for a workout and sparring.  Now, not that there’s anything inherently romantic about going to the gym with a friend, but it just seems odd to juxtapose that invitation with Murphy’s realization that the homey and sexy scene with Isis just now wasn’t real.

And I’ll add something else too, especially in light of the last chapter, in which Murphy imagined heroically finding artifacts instead of, yanno, actually going out and finding artifacts.  Murphy doesn’t do anything—he doesn’t archaeologize, he apparently doesn’t date, but he imagines doing these things.  Now, even in the most cliched context I can think of, such imaginings would be not something dismissed as quickly as they are brought up, but springboards to actual action.  The love dream especially—how many movies have we seen where dreaming/thinking ’bout love leads to a Grand Romantic Gesture, a Race for Your Love, or simply an Anguished Declaration of Love?  This could be Murphy’s big moment, when he realizes that a blonde surfer can’t actually turn his head from the (new) love of his life.

But no.

He just goes to the gym with Levi.

Because what’s love and happiness when compared to the wonder and ecstasy of the INCREDIBLE REVERSE PUNCH???

“Levi, your reverse punches are like hammers.  How do you develop them?”

Well geez, Murph, Levi thought you’d never ask.  A page and a half was spent on Murphy’s sexy-domestic dream about Isis, and the EXACT SAME AMOUNT OF SPACE is used to describe in vivid detail how Levi suspends pieces of paper from the ceiling (his wife loves that, I’m sure), and punches the paper, trying to rip it in the middle with the punch.  It’s just as riveting as you might imagine.

FINALLY, they actually get around to discussing Ashdod and Aaron’s Rod.  And by “discuss,” I mean that Murphy just straight up asks that Levi “push through the paperwork for an archaeological dig.”  As usual, our Brave Hero is incapable of doing the simplest of preparations for his own expedition without his Mossad contact.  Levi even offers to send his friend from the Mossad, Moshe Pearlman, to go to Ashdod right away to “check it out.”  Because I guess Moshe doesn’t have anything better to do with his time.

And then, secure in the knowledge that he has absolutely no work to do whatsoever, Murphy gets back to perfecting his reverse punches.  Because that’s what’s important here.