Hey, y’all, Happy April Fools Day and Happy Zombie Jesus Day!
The next chapter of The Edge of Darkness is coming very soon, but in the meantime, and in honor of the day, enjoy my quick critique of The Passion of the Christ.
There’s nothing you get from this chapter of the book that you can’t get from reading the silly Bible chapter. And I get bored of reciting these silly extraneous characters that Phillips creates to presumably humanize the Bible stories, when we know they’re all going to die horrible (but deserving, natch) deaths anyway.
So yeah, if you care at all at this point about these chapters, all it does is get the Ark out of Ashdod, while leaving the relevant artifacts there. Yay.
Murphy remembers as he enters Paul’s room that this is the second time that Paul has been hospitalized due to Talon’s actions. Predictably, this fills him with sympathy for Shari, not Paul:
And now that he was in critical condition as a result of trying to save her life, there was no way that she would leave his side. Shari was one of the most loyal people Murphy had ever met.
Let’s unpack this a bit:
First, Paul did not try to save Shari’s life—he did save her life.
And yes, this is the second time Paul has ended up at the hospital and Shari has kept watch over him. Now this time, and not to be insensitive, but Shari’s apartment is an active crime scene, so she couldn’t really leave even if she wanted to. And more importantly, both times Paul has been hospitalized, he was doing things for her—first attending her church, then bringing her dinner so she wouldn’t have to be alone.
Now of course it is not someone’s fault when something bad happens on their time, but Shari’s “loyalty” extends exactly as far as she thinks her chances of converting Paul go. This isn’t a case of a devoted couple, and something bad happens to one of them at an event the other planned, or something like that. Last time, Shari took Paul to her church to convert him, and this time, not an hour before Talon showed up, Shari was once again pushing Paul to Make the Transaction, because his kind and generous gesture was not enough for her to respect him.
Entering Paul’s room in the ICU, Murphy spares barely a thought for the guy, and doesn’t go near him. He thinks Shari is asleep, so he turns to leave, but his shoe squeaks and Shari opens her eyes.
Has Phillips never been in a room in the ER or ICU before? I mean, lucky him, but there are way too many noises for one little shoe squeak to register with someone.
Anyway, Shari claims she was not asleep, but praying. Sure, Shari, whatever you say.
So Murphy stays to give her a hug (again, not a word or a touch for Paul), and spares two thoughts for Shari’s “pain from her injuries” and “black-and-blue marks,” but again, no sympathy for Paul’s injuries. As a reminder, Shari was knocked over a couch, and Paul was beaten nearly to death, just got out of surgery, and still hasn’t regained consciousness.
“I don’t know why the man tried to kill me and Paul.”
Murphy tried not to wince. He knew.
Yeah, Murph, and thanks for telling everyone. Not like Talon hasn’t made attempts before on the lives of those close to you.
He actually reveals to Shari that “I think the same man that killed Laura tried to kill you.” (Too little, too late, Murph.) Then Murphy hilariously, implausibly, and very dangerously states that because “things didn’t work out for him the way he planned,” that “I think he’ll leave you alone. He made his point.”
So wait, because he didn’t complete the job, he’ll give up? But he’s also made his point? I know you haven’t slept enough, Murphy, but then maybe try not dispensing life-and-death advice when you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Before Shari can react to such idiocy, Summer Van Doren enters, because it’s been awhile since we’ve seen her, and the readers should not be reminded of her existence.
“I had dropped by the church to get some study notes when they told me about Mr. Wallach. The whole church is praying for his recovery.”
Sorry that intercessory prayer doesn’t work, Summer.
Also, methinks Summer exaggerates a wee bit. Phillips has not yet established how much time has passed between the last chapter and this one, but presumably it’s at least the next morning if Summer just wandered over to the church to grab a few Chick tracts for perusal. But the whole church is actively praying for a guy who has been inside their church all of once, and that time he nearly died (again)?
Murphy introduces Summer to Shari, and creepily hovers over the women as they chat.
Summer seemed so warm and sincerely caring. It was a nice gesture.
I can only imagine that Isis would also be warm and sincerely caring in such a situation (even if Murphy probably can’t imagine that because Isis is not RTC), but Isis doesn’t know about this event because Murphy never talks to her.
(And actually, under the circumstances, Murphy has an extra-important reason to contact Isis ASAP—Isis has been a target of Talon in the past, and Murphy knows this, and since he now knows that Talon is again gunning for people he cares about, Isis should be on her guard even more than she usually is.)
I’m also going to make another point, and forgive my churlishness: I kinda wonder if Summer doesn’t have ulterior motives for her little hospital visit. After all, she knows neither Shari nor Paul, and nobody else from the church has shown up—they’re just praying from afar. So why is she there? Well, because of Murphy, obviously. It’s another chance to talk to him, and it’s even extra-difficult to escape when you’re at the hospital. But more than that, this gives Summer the opportunity to meet Shari. And again, I’m just kinda wondering something: has Summer been hearing things about Murphy and Shari at school? Like, say, that Murphy’s assistant’s life revolves around him, to the point that she answers his 2:00 a.m. emails and adopts dogs for him and has no friends her own age and one on-again-off-again boyfriend with whom, even when they’re “on,” she seems perpetually annoyed?
Anyway, Phillips finally reveals that it is 6:30 p.m. the next day, so almost 24 hours have passed since the attack. Murphy suggests they all go out to eat:
“Miss Van Doren, we would love to have you join us.”
Um, would Shari love for her to join them? Murphy sure doesn’t know, because he didn’t ask her. And I really have to wonder if Shari would love to have Summer along—she just met this woman, and sure, they attend the same church and all, but in the last 48 hours, she’s had a bike accident, then had to wake up early to deliver Murphy’s papers, then was punched in the face by Talon, and Paul has been beaten nearly to death, so she’s been in the hospital for almost a whole day, presumably with little to no food or sleep. She might not be feeling very sociable right now, is all I’m saying.
And, indeed, Shari immediately declines. This makes Murphy feel “a little strange,” since Summer immediately accepted, so he can’t very well back out. To make it feel less like a date date, he suggests they grab Mexican at a restaurant right across the street. This inexplicably makes them both feel it is less a date. Oh, and this whole fraught discussion takes place at the foot of Paul’s bed. Sensitive.
Oh, and it is totally a date: Murphy pays, and they chat about hobbies and hometowns and their jobs.
[Summer] was especially enthralled with the stories of [Murphy’s] adventures in foreign countries and meeting strange and exotic people.
Damn, could that sound any more like it was written before 1955? It’s like LaPhillips’ impressions of the world outside Main Street, U.S.A., haven’t evolved at all in a lifetime. It’s like the world is still one in which if you want some really EXOTIC food, you add one-and-one-half teaspoons of curry powder (if desired!) to the dipping sauce for your fried chicken, and say it’s Far East style.
(And yes, I know they’re eating at a Mexican restaurant right now. But I have a feeling that Murphy is the kind of guy to go to Don Pablo’s and order a cheeseburger.)
(Also also, presumably because they’re in a Mexican restaurant and margaritas and Dos Equis might be available, Phillips goes out of his way to show Summer drinking water.)
And speaking of time not being Phillips’ strong suit, a big deal is made out of the fact that Summer has less than an hour and a half to get to the restaurant, order, eat, and get to her Bible study at 8:00. But then Phillips says this:
As the evening progressed they became more relaxed and free in sharing their thoughts and dreams.
“The evening progressed” makes it sound like multiple hours passed, instead of less than 1.5. Also, “relaxed and free in sharing their thoughts and dreams.” It’s totally a date.
They shake hands as Summer leaves, but share A Moment.
As Summer walked out of the restaurant, Murphy noticed a number of men looking at her as she walked by.
Of course! Nothing but the best for our hero. Now he has TWO looked-like-a-models to choose from!
(Also, I have never been in a restaurant where a person was so good-looking that numerous people openly stared. That just strikes me as bizarre and improbable.)
(Also also, Murphy and LaPhillips sure put a lot of stock in physical beauty, don’t they? So much for judging people based on who they are.)
Murphy heads right to his car to drive home, sparing not a thought for going back into the hospital to check on Shari, let alone Paul. Nope, off he goes. Because he is far too busy musing on how many lovely ladies want to bang him. No time to think about (or hey, how about pray about) his student who was just beaten to within an inch of his life.
Nope, Murphy just listens to “an old love song,” and thinks more about Summer’s physical attributes, including her blonde hair, which subject Phillips brings up A LOT.
I figure blonde trumps redhead in the RTC little black book.
Indeed, Murphy once again compares the two women in his mind, and once again Phillips backtracks Murphy’s professed love for Isis.
Murphy had begun to develop feelings for Isis…
…and kissed her and told her he loved her and thought to himself several times before this book that he loved her…
…and now he had mixed emotions.
But his emotions don’t exactly matter, because the real deciding factor is
the blonde hair the religion thing:
He knew that the Bible said not to have a mixed marriage with someone who didn’t share the same faith.
He then hears a line in the “old love song“:
How can you just let go of someone you genuinely care for?
Yeah, that is totally not a line in a song, Google says. It may also be one of the most unromantic lines that I’ve ever heard. I know that my heart was won the day Hank told me he genuinely cared for me. A line to make any girl’s heart go aflutter with passionate sincerity.
He snapped off the radio. That stupid song had wrecked his evening.
Right? And the evening was going so amazingly well before this song, what with your date ending with a firm handshake.
Oh, and the near-death beating of your student and the revelation that your arch-nemesis is in town and gunning for your research assistant.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BUT TALON IS THERE
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…
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 agreeof course thatthe 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?