Mac McCullum scanned the Petra perimeter with high-powered field glasses. Rayford should have reached him by now.
Mac's watch showed 1300 hours--one in the afternoon, Carpathia Time. It had to be more than a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Sweat ran down his neck from the grayish red hair peeking out from under his cap, soaking his shirt. Mac detected not even a wisp of wind and wondered what his freckled, leathery face would look like in a few days.
Without taking his eyes from the lenses, Mac unholstered his phone and punched in the connection to Chang Wong in the computer center. "Where's Ray?"
"I was about to ask you," Chang said. "He left here forty-five minutes ago, and no one else has seen him either."
"What do we hear from Buck?"
Mac noticed the hesitation. "Nothing new."
"Uh, Rayford heard from him late this morning."
Another beat. "Nothing to speak of."
"What're you sayin', Chang?"
"I gathered. What's wrong?"
"Nothing that won't be cured in a little--"
"I don't need double-talk, buddy." Mac continued surveying the rocky slopes, feeling his pulse quicken despite his years and experience. "If you won't tell me, I'll call him myself."
"Well, who else?"
"I've tried. My sensor shows his phone inoperable."
"Unlikely, Mr. McCullum."
"Well, I should guess so. Malfunctioning? Damaged?"
"I'm hoping the former, sir."
"Global Positioning System active, at least?"
Chaim Rosenzweig had not slept, and after only two light meals of manna, he expected to feel the fatigue. But no. The best he could calculate, this was the day. He felt the swelling anticipation in both his head and his chest. It was as if his mind raced as his heart ached for the greatest event in the history of the cosmos.
The old man's senior advisers, a half-dozen elders, sat with him deep in the stone compound of Petra. Eleazar Tiberias, a broad globe of a man, offered that the million-plus pilgrims under their charge "are clearly as restless as we. Is there nothing we can tell them?"
"I have an activity in mind," Chaim said. "But what would you have me say?"
"I am newer to this than you, Rabbi, but--"
"Please," Chaim said, raising a hand. "Reserve such a title for Dr. Ben-Judah. I am merely a student, thrust into this--"
"Nonetheless," Eleazar continued, "I sense the populace is as eager as I to know the exact moment of Messiah's return. I mean, if it is, as you and Dr. Ben-Judah have for so long taught, seven years from the signing of the covenant between Antichrist and Israel, does that mean it will be to the minute? I recall the signing being at around four in the afternoon, Israel time, seven years ago today."
Chaim smiled. "I have no idea. I do know this: God has His own economy of time. Do I believe Messiah will return today? Yes. Will it trouble me if He does not appear until tomorrow? No. My faith will not be shaken. But I expect Him soon."
"And this activity you mentioned?"
"Yes, something to occupy the minds of the people while we wait. I came across a videodisc of a dramatic sermon from before the turn of the century by an African-American preacher, long since in heaven, of course. I propose calling the people together and showing it."
"The Lord may come while it is playing," an elder said.
"So much the better."
"There remain unbelievers among us," Eleazar said.
Chaim shook his head. "I confess that puzzles and disturbs me, but it also fulfills prophecy. There are those who enjoy the safety of Petra, even many who believe Jesus was the most influential person who ever lived, who have not yet put their faith in Him. They do not recognize Him as the long-awaited Messiah, and they have not acknowledged Him as their Savior. This sermon is also evangelistic. Perhaps many of the undecided will take their stand before Messiah appears."
"Better than waiting until the event itself," someone said.
"Gather the people for a two-o'clock showing," Chaim said, rising. "And let's close in prayer."
"More than you know, Eleazar. Let's pray for him right now, and I will call him in a few minutes. I would love to share his greeting with the people and hear what has been happening in Jerusalem."
Mac's magnified vision fell upon colorful, metallic pieces glinting in the sun, perhaps a mile from his position. Oh no.
A red fuel tank and a tire looked very much like parts from Rayford's all-terrain vehicle. Mac tried to steady his hands as he panned in a wide arc, looking for signs of his friend. It appeared the ATV could have been hit by a heat-seeking missile or smashed to bits by tumbling. Perhaps, he thought, no sign of Rayford nearby was good news.
Mac raised Chang again. "Sorry to be a nuisance," he said, "but what does your sensor say about Ray's phone?"