TSoA: Chapter 17: Old Friends (Sorta)

In preparation for his magical, mystical trip to Mount Ararat, Murphy heads to Virginia, to talk to his old pal, Vern Peterson.  Vern is a helicopter pilot, and lives with his wife, Julie, and their three-year-old son, Kevin, in Norfolk.

(btw, I’m a bit surprised that a guy in his (probably) late thirties is named VERN.  That’s a name that hasn’t broken the top thousand most popular boy names in over forty years.  I knew a Verna growing up, but she was an elderly lady.)

Despite the unusual name, Murphy is buddies with Vern: Vern and Julie were the best man and maid of honor at Murphy and Laura’s wedding.  Guess that makes them all pretty good and longstanding friends, though there is no mention of Vern and Julie in Babylon Rising, attending Laura’s funeral and giving their support to Michael.

Funny, that.

In greeting the family, Murphy is a charmer who knows the best way to a woman’s heart:

“Julie, you seem to be the only person round here who hasn’t gotten any bigger since I saw you.”

Julie, you are, like, SO THIN.  Good thing, too, as a woman’s worth can be measured by how well she conforms to conventional beauty standards.  Too bad your husband got so FAT.  But, hey, it’s not like that matters.  Vern’s worth is only measured by his ability to bring home the bacon.

But first, a shout-out to RTCs never drinking: Julie serves homemade apple cider with dinner, not wine or beer, since she’s a good little RTC homemaker.

Also, probably, because she just found out that she’s pregnant again.

So it has become extra-important that Vern bring home even more bacon:

“The baby coming means we need every cent I can lay my hands on.  I could even build that extension Julie’s always talking about.  Anyway, Ararat’s a pretty rough place to fly a chopper, but it’s not like Kuwait.  I mean, there won’t be anyone shooting at us, right?”

“I hope not,” Murphy said.  “I hope not.”

One would hope that, as a fellow RTC, Vern w0uld see this as the weaselly not-an-answer-but-not-a-lie that it is, and run like hell from this whole plan.  Murphy knows damn well that this trip could be deadly, yet he’s inviting his buddy, a married man with one small child and another on the way, without fully apprising him of the (very large) potential risks.

What a great guy, our RTC hero.

Posted on October 6, 2012, in Babylon Rising, Books, The Secret on Ararat. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Redwood Rhiadra (@redwoodr)

    But first, a shout-out to RTCs never drinking: Julie serves homemade apple cider with dinner, not wine or beer, since she’s a good little RTC homemaker.

    Oh, I don’t know – homemade apple cider could easily be the hard variety…

    (Note to non-American readers – due to Prohibition, “cider” in the U.S. refers to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic apple beverages. It’s often not obvious from a casual reference which variety is being discussed…)

  2. Grammar Police

    Hmm. All my instincts predict that Vern will be burnt toast before the climax of the book, but then again . . . he’s an RTC with a pregnant wife.

    Oh, what am I saying? He’s an RTC with a pregnant wife — twice the “anguish” at his death and a guarantee that He’s In A Better Place. (Plus, the option of having Murph step in to “comfort” Julie and then they form a couple because dammit, Isis needs to stay awesome.)

    Yup. Vern is toast.

    • I can’t remember. Is Murph the dude who talks women out of their dresses like they’re going out of style or is that Paul Stepola?

    • With that emphasis on how he’s going to “need every cent I can lay my hands on,” it sounds to me like he’s being set up to set Our Hero (gag) up. Of course, that would pretty much guarantee his burnt-toastness that you predict, not contradict it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        RED. SHIRT.

      • You’d think there’d be a youtube clip of that scene from Hot Shots! where the pilot Pete ‘Dead Meat’ Thompson walks to his experimental plane, under a ladder, meeting a black cat, dropping and breaking his wife’s mirror, and talking about how he found a sollution to global warming and what really happened with the JFK assasination, and he’ll tell everyone when he gets back.

        Alas, I couldn’t find it, so the above transcript will have to do.

        And from now on, I’ll refer to Vern as Dead Meat. Even if he doesn’t actually die this book, I still find it appropriate.

        • At this point, it’s just a matter of counting the pages till Vern catches a starling in the jugular.

        • What?? This cannot stand! I’ve had a long habit of using Dead Meat as the name for my first character in games I’m new to, in the expectation that there will be a learning curve, and he’ll be under it.

  3. Well, if you’re going to be dragging Vernas into it, too, let’s not forget our favourite sensible-shoe-wearing Verna Zee!

  4. Oh wow, I really am getting a feel for this book. One post after my rant about RTC weasel words, Murphy delivers.

    And yeah, this is complete moral bankruptcy on Murphy’s part. “Oh no, I hope you won’t be shot at, my longstanding friend who has a pregnant wife who has no source of income and would not just be emotionally but financially devestated if her husband died. I already know a (somehow) effective serial killer is interested in this project and has killed four people over it last week. But I hope he won’t shoot at us, and will just stick with slitting throats. But hey, if you die, I promise I will not only feel really bad about what Talon did to me by taking another loved one away from me, but I’ll keep lobbying for the government to give no support to slutty single mother harlots. If our church can dislodge its head from its own ass for long enough to care about others, we may hold a little wip around for some petty cash for your widow. Just like our Lord intended, giving tablescraps to needy people who accept the right religion, not because the Lord really gives a crap but so he can see we are properly charitable.”

  5. Yes, “Vern” is a name that leaps out at me in a way that the others here don’t. Incidentally, I recommend http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/index.html for anyone writing fiction involving Americans born after 1879 – it’s got lists of popular names for every year since then.

    The sudden appearance of an old friend is hardly unique – TV does it all the time, often to kill him off to get the hero involved in something – but this is pretty clunky; with a relationship that close, he ought to be way up the list of people we’ve heard about before.

    In the UK, of course, “cider” is always the fermented stuff, as opposed to “apple juice”. This has led to the downfall (literally) of many a US serviceman posted here.

    • Heh, when I was posted over there for about a month back in ’99, I discovered Strongbow, for just £1/pint. I knew perfectly well what I was getting into, though, or more properly, what was getting into me. Too bad it’s so much more expensive over here.

    • In my experience both in the States and in Canada, “cider” is almost always nonalcoholic to American ears, but could be either one to Canadian ears.

      I have no doubt that Jenkins expected all of his readers to think “nonalcoholic apple cider,” because that’s how he thinks of it. Still, it is amusing to imagine Julie pulling a fast one on her husband and Murphy. Surely neither of them has any kind of tolerance for alcohol.

      Vern: “And then, and then, I’ll fly my chopper over the mountain—ZOOOOOM!!!”

      Murphy: *sniffles* “I love you, man. You’re…you’re the man.”

    • In addition to “Vern” I noticed that “Chuck” seems more like a nickname a Baby Boomer might have than someone born circa 1980. Looking at the name popularity graph on Behind the Name, It looks like Chuck peaked in popularity in 1960, and then dropped off sharply after that. Same with Shari; it peaked in popularity around 1960 and then fell out of fashion. I’m guessing that’s because LaHaye was born in 1926. It was his generation picking out baby names like Chuck, Vern, and Shari and not names like Courtney, Keisha, Jeremy or Brandon like you’d expect university students in 2001 to have.

      I’m not trying to diss anyone’s name, it’s possible that people could have unusual names (Isis) or be named after a grandparent, but this IS a pattern I’m noticing.

      • We’ve noticed that Jenkins does the same in his Underground Zealot series (Soon, Silenced and Shadowed). Those stories take place halfway in the 21st century, and yet the old characters all have names that are much more for old people a few years ago, when logically they should have the names that young people today have.

        • Geez, even Twilight bothered to mention that high school kids with names like Alice and Jasper was odd in 2001-ish.

        • Yep. As I’ve mentioned before, Ranold and Margaret are of my generation. I can almost maybe see a way to give Jenkins a pass on Ranold, since his name is part of a Jenkins anagram that he is apparently compelled to include, but I have never once met a Margaret my own age. Why not name her Megan or Jennifer, Shannon or Heather? Really shows a lack of forethought.

          Oh, and by the way, I hate to give away a major plotpoint, but later in the book, Ranold meets up with an old friend from the Army.



          Because naming him Brian or Justin or Kevin would have made way too much sense.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy

    (btw, I’m a bit surprised that a guy in his (probably) late thirties is named VERN. That’s a name that hasn’t broken the top thousand most popular boy names in over forty years.

    Well, this IS written in Christianese, and BABBECs are notoriously late adopters. Remember the female names in Left Behind? Awful “See How Clever I Am?” attempts at puns and names popular in the 19th Century (including a couple unintentional 19th Century prostitutes’ working names).

  7. So does this make Murphy, Chekhov’s Travel Agent?

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