JUDD felt a tingle down his spine as he and Vicki got in the car. He’d had enough excitement for a lifetime the last couple of weeks, but he had never been involved in anything like this. He had been a rebel, a difficult, stubborn, self-centered teen. Lying to his parents and running with the wrong crowd had been the extent of his adventure—at least until the Rapture.
His world had been turned upside down. Meeting three other instant orphans, having them move in, and all four of them coming to Christ within a few days made his previous life seem eons ago. Was it possible that just a few weeks ago he thought he knew ev-
erything there was to know about just about everything? Now, strange as it seemed, he knew he was more mature and grown-up than ever, mostly because he realized how little he knew about anything.
Everything important to him before now seemed childish and stupid. What he cared about now was God. People. Truth. Justice. Survival. In a way, he missed the carefree youth he had been squandering by playing the tough guy. Rascal though he was, his parents were always there to bail him out. And while they may have wondered what would ever become of him, he knew down deep they would have even forgiven him for stealing his dad’s credit card and running away to Europe. Always, there had been that escape hatch. They loved him, wanted the best for him, and would eventually forgive him and welcome him back. They had modeled God to him, but he had been too self-centered to realize it.
Here he was, on his own now, wondering when or if school would ever start up again. How would they notify the kids when it was time to come back? How many had disappeared? How many teachers? Would school ever seem normal again? And should he go to school? If Bruce was right and Nicolae Carpathia, who had just become the new secretary-general of the United Nations, could be the Antichrist, how long would it be before he signed some sort of an agreement with Israel?
If that came soon, there would be only seven more years of life on earth as they knew it. Did Judd need an education, or would he be wasting time in class while the world hurtled out of control? These were things he and the others were going to have to discuss with Bruce. But that would be later. Now it was time to get to Chicago and to watch the police sting LeRoy Banks and Cornelius Grey. It was a trap he had devised, which had impressed Sergeant Tom Fogarty.
Vicki had done a great job on the phone, pretending to be Maria Diablo, secretary to Tom Fogarty, “the attorney.” Judd had thought of the fake name for her.
“Where did you come up with that name, anyway?” she said.
“Diablo means ‘devil’ in Spanish.”
Vicki shot him a double take. “You think I’m a devil?”
“Hardly,” Judd said, carefully picking his way through traffic. He wanted to look at Vicki, but there was still enough rubble and construction going on that he didn’t dare take his eyes from the road.
Judd’s grades had tumbled during the last year, but he had always been a good memorizer, probably from all the years he had spent in Bible memory clubs as a kid. That memory told him diablo was from the word diabolical, which meant “tricky” or “devious.” That was what his plan was.
How many times had Judd’s mother complained, “But you’ve got a good brain”? She used to say, “Use it like you used to, and your grades will shoot up.”
He knew she was right, but because he had not been controlled by God back then, he had used the gift God had given him, that sharp mind, for his own purposes. He had devised a runaway plan, saved cash he got from the stolen credit card, and made his own plane reservations. Fittingly, God chose the middle of Judd’s escape from his “awful” home life to send Christ and rapture the church.
If it hadn’t been so devastating, Judd might have found humor in it. Though he knew the truth and what he had to do—receive Christ after all—still he found himself facing the despair of the loss of his family. Sometimes he caught himself in such a dark hole of sadness, despite finally settling things with God, that he wondered if he could go on.
Maybe, he thought, that was why God had, in essence, left him in charge of these other three kids. Without that responsibility, he wondered what would have become of him. Keeping track of Ryan and Lionel alone kept his mind occupied much of the time. Then there was reading his Bible and studying what Bruce believed was crucial for him to know. Vicki didn’t take any work. It was good to have someone close to his age to talk to, someone who seemed to understand him.
Judd pulled onto the expressway and found himself in that crazy traffic that had seemed to double since the Rapture. Where was everyone going? With so many having disappeared, it seemed strange that rush hour lasted all day and half the night now. People were desperate, frantic to see how this would all sort itself out. What would happen to their jobs, their companies, their careers, their plans?
It would be months, Judd figured, before the roadways were cleared of all the crashed cars and debris. It seemed all he and the others heard or saw on the news was crime and mayhem. Bad people took advantage of bad times, and times had never been as bad as this.
Judd was grateful Vicki was with him. On the one hand, he thought she was the type of girl he could get interested in, but on the other he realized that, had it not been for the crisis they found themselves in, they would never have even met. In fact, with him being from the ritzier part of Mount Prospect and her being from the trailer park, he wondered if they would have ever had anything to do with each other.
That all seemed so petty now. What was so important about how people looked and acted and dressed, or how much money their parents made, had nothing to do with their personal worth. Maybe some people would have been embarrassed to date someone from a lower class than themselves, but Judd had already seen how shallow that was.
When he talked to Vicki and spent time with her, he realized she was the same person whether she wore his mother’s clothes or whether she wore her own. With or without makeup, with or without jewelry, who she was came through. At first her grammar was lazy and she used a lot of slang. But she knew better. It was clear she had a good mind. She had been even more rebellious than Judd, and it was clear she had seen how wrong she had been too.
Judd wanted to talk about the sting they were about to witness, but there was nothing to say. It had all been planned and laid out, and as far as they knew, neither LeRoy nor Cornelius suspected a thing. The only question was whether Talia had figured out what was happening. She had told Vicki that her brother and LeRoy were looking to cash in on insurance money. That had given him the idea of how to trap them. Would Talia catch on to that? And if she tipped the two guys off, would they avoid the sting or come in shooting?
For sure they would come armed. Both had enough enemies to make them look over their shoulders no matter where they went. That was why Sergeant Fogarty insisted that, while Judd and Vicki could come and watch, they had to be behind the protective one-way mirror, out of the way if anything bad happened.
Vicki wasn’t sure yet what she thought of Judd. She had heard his story enough that she felt she knew it as well as her own. She was surprised at how similar they were, both having been rebellious kids. But she couldn’t imagine why a rich kid would rebel against a setup like he had: his own room in a huge, expensive home, permission to drive his parents’ cars, the latest clothes, the best gadgets, and never having to work. What was to rebel against? While she had always told herself she hated her parents’ religion and rules, it was really where they lived that she hated.
Vicki never would have admitted that to a rich kid. In fact, she would have defended the trailer park and its people over the phonies who lived in the big houses and didn’t seem to care about anyone. Sure, her neighbors could be loud and destructive, but look what kind of lives they led. No one could get ahead. They were all working to just get by. Vicki had wanted to get out of that environment, and she had the sinking feeling it would never happen.
Now, here she was, trying to convince herself she could fit into a different culture. But was it just living in a rich kid’s home that made her look and think and act and even talk differently? She knew better than that. She had grown up overnight, and like Judd often said, the things they used to think were so important weren’t so important after all. Her biggest change, though she looked different, was inside. She didn’t have to apologize for being a trailer-park girl.
She certainly didn’t feel as if she were somehow from a lower class of people than Judd was. He had treated her nicely from the beginning, and she didn’t get the impression he was just condescending to her. He seemed like a good kid, and he sure was smart. She was too, if she could believe her teachers. They had constantly told her she could do better and that she wasn’t working up to her potential. But the idea of sitting up late at night studying instead of running with her friends almost made her gag.
Now she felt like a fool. Like Judd, she missed the family she had squabbled with. She wished she had followed her teachers’ advice. If she ever got the chance again, she would. Everything was different now. What a difference a few weeks made. More than that, she realized, the difference had come in an instant. Everything she ever thought or cared about changed when her perspective changed. And nothing could have changed her perspective more dramatically than millions of people—including her whole family—disappearing, just like they said they might someday.
Vicki shook her head as she thought about it. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, she told herself.
“What?” Judd asked, startling her.
“What what?” she said.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw you shaking your head.”
“I was just thinking,” she said. “How different you and I are from who we thought we were not that long ago.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Are you scared?” Vicki asked, suddenly changing the subject.
“About this? Today, you mean?”
“’Course. Aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” she said, “but it’s kind of fun, and there’s no way I’d miss it. It’s like being in a TV show or a movie—only it’s real.”
Several minutes later Judd found the street he was looking for and parked three blocks away and around the corner. “We’ve got to hurry,” he said. “Fogarty doesn’t want us to be around here in case LeRoy or Cornelius comes early to check out the area.”