CHAPTER 5

Gage smiled when he saw the number appear on his ringing cell phone, and then calculated the time difference. His smile died. It was long past midnight in China.

He connected and asked, “Are you all right?”

Milton Abrams looked over at Gage from across the kitchen table.

“Fine. The kids, too. There was an earthquake. Just a few minutes ago. What phone circuits are left will be jammed in a few minutes, so I thought I better call.”

Gage pointed at Abrams, then at the television on the counter.

“How bad?” Gage asked.

Abrams grabbed the remote and turned it on. It was tuned to CNBC.

“Huge. The worst I’ve ever seen. I can see fires spreading in Chengdu valley. But I think we can hold out for a while. There’s an army garrison nearby.”

“I’ll contact the consulate in Chengdu and let them know you’re all right,” Gage said, “and see what they can do about getting you out of there.”

“I doubt that they’d be able help, at least for a while.”

Gage noticed the worry on Abrams’s face as he looked back from the television.

“She’s fine,” Gage said, and then circled his finger to tell him to scan the channels. Abrams paused when he arrived at CNN, the screen flashing red with breaking news.

“It just came on TV,” Gage told her. “Looks like it was an eight-point-one. Centered in the mountains west of you.”

Gage heard her sigh. “What?”

“I’m glad it wasn’t to the east.”

Neither had to supply a place name. She meant the six fault lines near the Three Gorges Dam. Had the quake been centered there, fifteen million people would’ve drowned and their bodies swept down the Yangtze River from Yichang to Wuhan to Shanghai and finally into the East China Sea.

Abrams’s cell phone rang. His mouth twisted into a smirk when he looked at the screen, and then he shook his head. He glanced at Gage and said, “It’s God’s representative in D.C.” He turned away and connected the call as he headed down the hallway toward the living room: “Yes, Mr. Vice President.”

“What was that?” Faith asked.

“I’m with Milton Abrams in New York. He may be getting some more information about the earthquake. Maybe I can leverage his connections to get you out of there.”

“Let’s wait and see. There are people who need the help more than we do.”

“If I can get through, I’ll call you back in an hour and let you know what I find out. Be careful.”

Gage stared at the phone for a moment after he disconnected, trying to retain Faith’s image in his mind, then walked to the living room. He found Abrams still on the phone, standing at the window and looking out over a snow-covered Central Park. He glanced back as Gage entered, then pointed toward the sofa, indicating that he didn’t mind Gage overhearing the conversation.

“At this point, I don’t know enough to make any kind of assessment,” Abrams said. He then blocked the microphone and again looked back at Gage. “How could the president have picked this lunatic as his running mate? And make the same mistake twice.”

Abrams listened for thirty seconds, then said, “Yes, Mr. Vice President. I’m in a meeting in New York right now and can’t make it down to Washington, but I’ll get my staff looking into it. We’ll have something for you by 11 A.M.”

Abrams disconnected.

“You have any idea how many calls I get from him? He seems to think that a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in the galaxy will not only cause a tornado in his neighborhood, but that some crook will use it as a diversion to pick his pocket.”

Gage raised his eyebrows. “So chaos theory really does explain an irrational universe.”

Abrams shook his head, mouth sour. “He’s not that sophisticated. He just likes butterflies, and says he’s a firm believer in Einstein’s opinion that God doesn’t play dice. Of course, he’s never read Einstein.”

“What’s he going to make of the earthquake?”

Abrams bit his lip, thinking. Then he nodded and said, “I think he’ll make it into a lesson in faith-based economics. Somehow he’ll construe it as God’s punishment for something the Chinese did, maybe for inventing Confucianism. If he could construe the Holocaust into a divine hint that the Jews of Europe should create the state of Israel in order to set the stage for the Second Coming, his mind is elastic enough to wrap any tragedy inside a theory about God’s purpose.”

Abrams looked down at the phone in his hand. “I hate this thing.” Then back up at Gage. “Just say the word if you need help getting Faith out of there. It can be used for good as well as for nonsense.”

Distant thumping drums drew them both to the bay window overlooking Central Park West. The sound was approaching them from the north.

“If the antiglobalization groups are marching,” Abrams said, “it must be World Trade Organization Friday.” He chanted along, “No. No. WTO,” and then said, “I wish they’d go back to rioting down on Wall Street instead of up here. You’d think they’re trying to interfere with my work.”

“Do they pass by or stop out front? “

“Pass by”-Abrams tilted his head in the other direction-“on their way to Columbus Circle so they can jump onto the subway after the march and get to class or to the Starbucks where they work.”

“Then I guess they don’t know you live here.”

Abrams shrugged and smiled. “Not yet, but they will, and the dictators on the co-op board will not be pleased to pay for all of the windows they’ll break.”

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