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After an ultra-right-wing militia seizes truckloads of highly volatile weapons, the president turns to Illinois attorney general Martin Vail. His job: nail the terrorists in their tracks. Vail plunges...
After an ultra-right-wing militia seizes truckloads of highly volatile weapons, the president turns to Illinois attorney general Martin Vail. His job: nail the terrorists in their tracks. Vail plunges into his new, near-impossible mission, one that soon explodes into a personal nightmare as his most chilling adversary, Aaron Stampler, returns--seemingly from the dead--to exact a vengeance that could bring Vail to his knees. . . .
The dusty RV wailed along the flat interstate, its tires whining on the hot pavement. Behind the wheel was a gaunt, reed-thin driver, his thinning black hair whipping in the furnace of hot air that streamed through the open window. He sucked on a bottle of water to keep from dozing, arcs of sweat staining his white shirt. It had been unmercifully hot since they left Omaha, heading south and then due west on Interstate 80, with towns and small cities--Kearney, Cozad, Gothenburg--blurring past them as they paralleled the river. He drove straight into the sun, into the hot June afternoon, whizzing past the Nebraska farms and fields, uncluttered, lonely, and dull in their sameness.
As was his wont, he bitched to himself as he drove.
What's the use havin' air-conditionin' if he don't let me turn it on?
A few miles later. Shaking his head.
Never knew nobody loved the heat like this one. Must be a hunerd-ten out there, he wants the damn window open.
Another couple of miles.
Nobody t'talk to. Won't let me play the radio when he's sleepin'. One of these days I'm gonna just doze off ...
Nodding to himself.
... bug off the road, we'll both end up wrapped in this RV in the middle of godforsakennowhere ...
Tapping the flat of his hand on the steering wheel.
... damn buzzards eatin' our eyes out.
Brother T was stretched out on a futon spread across two seats.He was uncomfortable sleeping in the main suite, as he called it, while the RV was on the highway, preferring instead the double seat behind the driver. He was napping, getting his strength together for the confront. That's what he called the meetings, confronts.
"What we're doin', Mordie, we're confrontin' the devil," he would say. "Gonna whip that fire-scald, son-bitch to his knees again t'night," he would say. "Praise God, praise JEE-sus."
Like they were going to war or somedamnthing.
But the driver wasn't complaining. It was the best job he ever had, even though he hated driving the flat plains where you could close your eyes for ten minutes then open them and appear to be in the same place you were when you shut them.
Suddenly he perked up.
"Shhhew," he said under his breath.
There was a sign far ahead, dancing among dervish heat monkeys. He squinted through his sunglasses: "Brady two miles."
"Thank you Jay-sus," he said aloud, mimicking his boss in his own rolled-out south Georgia accent.
Behind him, Brother T stirred. He leaned up on one elbow and craned and twisted his neck, popping the muscles, a husky man with long blond hair that hung down to his shoulders and a heavy beard.
"Where we at?" he asked in a voice that was low as a whisper and harsh as a file.
"Smack dab in the middle of the Lord's oven."
Brother T cupped the palms of both hands under his jaws, raised his eyebrows, and very lightly rubbed the sleep from the corners of his eyes with the forefinger of each hand.
"Sometimes I think Gawd jes' took ten square acres of Kansas, Xeroxed 'em, and laid 'em out end on end all over the whole damn middle of the country."
"Sounds like you're flirtin' with blasphemy there, Mordie."
"Flirtin' with the truth, what I'm doin'," Mordachai answered, coming to a stop and turning right onto a narrow two-lane blacktop.
"What's the name of this place again?"
"Brady. 'Bout twenty miles this side a North Platte."
"That doesn't tell me a thing."
"We've driven a little over two hunerd miles. Over halfway 'cross Nebraska since we left Omaha. It's flat, hot, and I ain't seen another car for at least an hour."
Brother T opened his eyes and stared through orbs the color of milk. Stared at absolutely nothing. "You ought to feel right at home. Sounds like south Georgia."
"No trees. Nothin' but hay growin' everywhere."
"Wheat, Mordie, wheat. Hay is what it becomes after it's shorn from the bosom of the land."
"I'll trade a hunerd miles of whateveryacallit for one tall pine tree."
"Unhappy, Mordie?" Brother T admonished gently.
Brother T chuckled. "Good for the soul."
"And I'm soppin'. Since you never sweat, I drip fer the both of us."
"Jesus is the great leveler."
"Easy fer you t'say, you ain't the dripper."
"True. Cold's more your fashion." Brother T shivered involuntarily at the thought, rubbed his arms, then felt around the floor for the ice cooler. He snapped it open, took out a can of Coke, bent the tab under, and took a long swig.
"Ahhh," he said. "My mouth was as dry as stale toast."
Near the cooler on the floor were four flat, varnished boxes. A sound came from one of them. Briefly. Like a babe in its sleep rolling against a rattle.
"Easy, children," Brother T said softly, leaning over and brushing his fingertips across the smooth top of one of the boxes. "Curl up and go back to sleep." Then to Mordachai: "What are my arrangements?"
"You're staying with one'a the preachers, name's Harmon Jasper. Got a room fixed up in his barn for a farmhand but the feller quit and moved to Lincoln."
Mordachai paused for an instant.
"Daughter in high school."
The driver stared uncomfortably at Brother T in the rearview mirror before he said, "I dunno. Fifteen, sixteen."
The preacher took a swig of Coke. Then he stroked his long blond locks with one hand and smiled.
"All the publicity you been gettin' on the radio," Mordachai said, "and the state papers, we could maybe see a hunerd er two hunerd folks tonight. But out here in the middle a nowhere, hell, we won't scratch doodley. Times're so bad, nobody's got two nickels to rub t'gether." He paused for a moment, then added, "If we'd a stayed outside Omaha a couple nights, bet we woulda had a thousand people every night, maybe took in four, five, maybe even ten thousand a night."
"You know I don't like the big towns. Press is too nosy."
"People don't give two hoots 'bout that. You got apostles, T, apostles. They know lies when they read 'em."
"I appreciate your ardor." The preacher leaned back and took another deep swig from the can. "Besides, we've had some good one, two thousand dollar nights lately." He leaned back in his seat, his glazed eyes flicking sideways occasionally. "Tell me what you see."
"A drought. Fields all wilted, ground cracked and dusty, heat squigglin' off everything ... farmhouse off the left, coupla oak trees givin' it shade and behind it's the barn, got a advertisement for chewin' tobacca painted on the side ... can't tell what kind, it's all faded and cracked."
"Everybody out here's hard-timin'. Ya might throw in a word for some rain, t'night."
Brother T leaned his head back, like a wolf baying, and his voice rose suddenly, still harsh and tormented, but quivering with emotion. "I beseech you, sweet Jee-sus, in the name of my suffering brothers and sisters ... bathe this thirsty dust with your tears ... and give life to its parched earth and wilted fruit."
"Amen, Lord, a-men! Which Book's that from?"
"My very own treasury of injunctions," Brother T answered, and chuckled.
The Jasper place was a pleasant if somewhat spartan white frame farmhouse, boxed by the porch that surrounded it. A dusty red Chevy pickup was parked beside it, and a sturdy barn that looked recently painted stood behind it. Fifteen or twenty skinny pigs rooted and wallowed in a sty at one side of the barn. Behind all that, a field of scorched grain spread across the flat land toward the town of Brady, a few miles away, a large cluster of low buildings surrounded on four corners by silos, which from a distance, in the clear but heat-heavy air, looked like sentinels guarding a prairie fortress.
The big tent was stretched out, fifty yards or so from the house at the edge of a parched field, its canvas side flaps rolled up and tied. A vague and inadequate breeze stirred the grass around it. Nearby, several vehicles of all makes and models were parked haphazardly along the road and on the grounds.
There was a sense of revelry here, of people escaping from the moment in anticipation of comradery and redemption: a dozen women and children scurried about, chatting and laughing and setting out plastic plates and eatingware on four long tables; a young teenage girl in a blue dress spun around and danced to a song in her head; a small boy sat on the ground staring mutely at a squirrel in one of the oaks, while other children played tag around one of the larger trees; two men in shirtsleeves attended pieces of chicken sizzling over charcoal on twenty-gallon drums that were halved and perched on sections of old train rails; four women fussed over a table abounding with bowls of biscuits, coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, chocolate layer cakes, and pitchers of freshly made lemonade.
At the edge of the dirt road leading to the farmhouse, a mobile sign announced:
Revival Meeting 7:30 p.m. tonight
Pastor, Church of Christ Wandering
"Preparing for Parousia"
All you can eat country dinner, 3$
Mordachai walked across the hard earth, flapping his damp shirt against his chest. He asked someone where he could find Jasper and was pointed to a short, rather beefy man with sparse brown hair and skin as tanned as leather. Jasper's handshake was as vigorous as it was earnest.
"I expect a good turnout," he said enthusiastically, in a flat, nasal twang. "Folks comin' down from North Platte and churches hither and yon. Could get maybe three hundred."
"Well, that'd sure make Brother T happy."
"Is that what he prefers to be called, Brother T?"
"That'll be jes' fine."
"And you are ...?"
Strange-looking fellow, Jasper thought. Mordachai towered above him, tall and lean as a cornstalk, with a long, narrow face, a sharp nose, and flashing eyes that mirrored the fading sun. Sweat had formed a dark stain on the front of his wrinkled white shirt and under his arms, and he kept sweeping his disheveled black hair away from his eyes.
"Come along, like you t'meet the missus and our daughter," Jasper said, and led Mordachai toward the small group of women arranging the food. "We need this revival, brother. This drought's the worst I can remember. People's faith gets shaky when things go bad and don't get better. I prayed the good Brother would bring his message to us."
"And the Lord answered yer prayer, that's why we're here, Brother Jasper. Brother T heard yer prayers and took heed of yer call."
"Me and m'family are doubly graced that the good Brother is going t'spend the night in our home. We don't have air-conditioning, I'm sorry to say. Just fans."
"The hotter it gets, the better Brother T likes it."
"Praise the Lord."
"Oh yeah, praise Jay-sus."
Mordie had parked the RV behind the tent, as close to it as he could get to make Brother's entrance as easy as possible. The preacher was sitting in the revolving easy chair near the large window on one side of the RV when Mordachai returned. He had showered and his tresses were lustrous, the color of corn silk. He was wearing a shin-length, earth-colored caftan with a cross embroidered across the chest and full sleeves that hung halfway to his elbows. The preacher's braille Bible lay in his lap, and a bunch of Concord grapes lay in the palm of one hand. He picked them off one at a time, squeezing and sucking the meat from each while staring toward the sounds of people talking and children laughing and a dog playfully barking.
"And how're things with Brother Jasper?" he asked as Mordachai, wiping sweat from his forehead with the palm of his hand, slumped in a chair.
"He's tickled white-eyed. Shew, sun's already on the line and it's still hell out there. I hope yer gonna do a rain dance fer 'em tonight."
"I might just do that. Me and my friends."
"Tell yuh what, if it did come down rainin', you could probably get elected governor a Nebraska."
Brother T smiled. "Interesting notion. What time's the confront?" He leaned on the first syllable, pronouncing the word confront.
"Preacher Jasper'll take the floor at seven-thirty, do a little warm-up with the locals, bring you on about 7:45."
"Good. Should be through by nine. Maybe earlier, if it starts raining."
"Yeah, right." Mordachai laughed.
"Tell me about the Jasper girl. Did you meet her?"
"Uh-huh. She's helpin' serve the food."
"Describe her," Brother T said, still staring toward the sounds.
"Not your kind, T."
"Kinda short, five-three er -four, light brown hair. She's got light eyes, blue'r green, couldn't really tell. Maybe 110 pounds."
"You know what I mean," the preacher rasped.
Mordachai hesitated and looked down at the floor. "She's got ... nice, full buds. Tight little body."
"What's she wearing?"
"Cotton dress. Blue."
Brother leaned close to Mordachai's ear and his voice lowered to a whisper. "And is she sanctified, Mordie? Could you tell if she's sanctified?"
"Hell, I don't know whether she's ... out here I reckon so. Small town, y'know, and she couldn't be more'n sixteen. Prob'ly."
"What's the young lamb's name?"
"Penny. Lovely. And bright as one, I'll bet."
"Seems pretty smart. A Bible thumper, I can tell ya. Quoted somethin' from Psalms, but I don't remember what it was."
"Splendid. How about the mother?"
"Aw, Jesus, T ..."
"I'm just curious about my congregation, Mordachai."
"Well, she definitely ain'tcher type and she definitely ain't sanctified."
Brother T laughed. "Why don't you suggest the young lady fix me a plate and bring it on over here."
"Aw look, T ... things're going real well fer us. We don't need no trouble. Why doncha jes--"
"Shut up, Mordachai. Shut up right now and do what I tell you."
Rebuked, Mordachai winced and stood up. "Gotta change m'shirt," he said sullenly.
"Hurry along with it, then, I'm hungry."
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted April 12, 2009
I Also Recommend:
No doubt in my mind at all!
"Primal Fear" and "Show of Evil" hold down two places in the pantheon of the finest, most frightening thrillers ever written. William Diehl should be proud that, as a starring villain, Aaron Stampler can hold his evil head high in a terrifying literary rogue's gallery that would include the likes of Hannibal Lecter, Voldemort, Lord Sauron, Count Fosco, Bill Sikes and Moriarty. But, as a sequel trying to stand up to that kind of advance billing, "Reign in Hell" falls flat on its face.
"Reign in Hell" is actually a very competently written political thriller but, for some reason, presumably some added suspense and chills, Diehl felt compelled to shoehorn a resurrected Aaron Stampler into the plot. And, sadly, it just doesn't fly! Stampler's appearance is artificial, clumsy, forced, predictable and entirely lacking in the kind of knee-knocking, teeth-chattering, bone-deep shivers that readers of the first two novels will have been looking for.
So if we set this rather pitiful effort around Aaron Stampler aside, what are we left with?
Martin Vail, former Chicago prosecuting attorney, has been appointed by the president to a pro tem posting as Assistant Attorney General. His near impossible mission under an unbelievably tight deadline is to put together a racketeering case under the RICO statutes against a number of ultra-right wing militia groups. Far from your run-of-the-mill collection of loudmouth skinheads, these groups with adherents now numbering well into the thousands, have recently stolen several truckloads of high-powered weapons, robbed banks to finance their efforts and clearly ratcheted their mobilization efforts into high gear towards an ultimate declaration of war against the US government. President Pennington is determined to bring these militia groups to heel through the courts and, at all costs, wants to avoid a face to face encounter such as the one that embarrassed the government in Waco, Texas, with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.
"Reign in Hell" has got a lot to say for itself - plenty of great political discussion; some fairly heavy characterization and criticism of the US political and religious right-wing agendas; some truly exciting slam-bam military action in the final confrontation as the army and marines confront the militia group, completely boxed in inside their Montana mountain enclave; and, a satisfying climax that leaves a hint of suspense to come together with a predictably sour taste about the overall politics of the event.
Too bad, Diehl decided to clutter it up with Aaron Stampler. At least, Stampler lives on . so perhaps his next appearance will be back up to the standard of terror that we didn't get here!
Posted December 16, 2005
I loved this book! I am going to say just one thing though, it was good...but not as good as the first two in this series. It completes and excites, but doesn't leave us wanting any more. The story is now over....which is what any good author wants.
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Posted November 24, 2001
You will never look at some things the same way after reading this book for it gives you a look at subjects that not just explore but tantalize your mind and give you thought about what some people may or may not be thinking.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 27, 2010
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