END OF STATE
Tyndale House Publishers
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Local Time 1:21 a.m.
Bradley Benton stared at the television for long seconds after the signal went out. His top-of-the-line satellite service had failed, leaving a snowy mess on his flat-screen TV. But that wasn't what was worrying him.
Before the set went blank, he'd been watching a basketball game. The live feed from the West Coast was just what he'd hoped fora tough match between the Lakers and the Knicks. Then, with two seconds remaining, the score tied and the ball in the air looking like it might just sail into the net for three points that would give the game to the Lakers, the unimaginable happened. Both Laker forwards disappeared from the court.
Their uniforms and shoes fell to the floor in crumpled heaps. A couple of eerie seconds passed as the other players reacted, skidding to a stop in horrified disbelief. The unnatural sudden silence in the capacity crowd allowed the squeak of a tennis shoe on the boards to be picked up by the broadcast mikes.
The camera zoomed in on the Lakers guard who stood staring at his teammates' uniforms where they lay on the floor in impossible silence. A slight movement near the guard's feet caught the cameraman's attention, and he zoomed to the floor where a single gold wedding ring, once worn by one of the forwards, rolled along the boards until it bumped into the guard's shoe and rattled to a stop. The noise seemed unnaturally loud in the huge arena, but it seemed to galvanize the stunned crowd.
The spectators began to murmur, then cried out in disbelief as their shock gave way to realization. As the camera had panned from the missing players to the sellout crowd in the Staples Center, Brad saw the panic level beginning to rise. The realization hit Brad that over a third of the crowd was missing as well. Empty seats in what had been a packed arena were everywhereas clearly visible to the camera as to the crowd in the stands. Thousands of people had disappeared, leaving crumpled piles of clothing, dropped sodas and beers, spilled popcorn, and all sorts of other belongings behind.
When the red phone on his living-room desk rang, Brad jumped. It wasn't that he was startled by the sound. The knowledge that what he had just witnessed on his now-defunct television wasn't a figment of his imagination was what jolted him. He wasn't dreaming. There could be only one reason that red phone was ringing right now. On the third ring, he lunged for the phone. As White House chief of staff, he was used to taking calls at all hours, but something told him that this summons would be worse than any he'd experienced in the two years he'd worked at the White House.
"Benton," he said into the receiver.
"Situation Room. Status Eagle," came the response.
He prayed that whatever had happened in the Staples Center hadn't affected Christine and the kids. It couldn't haveit couldn't have happened at all, even in the arena. It was all an illusion. His family was safe. He had to believe that.
But Brad wouldn't feel better until he spoke with his wife.
And the gnawing fear in the pit of his stomach was getting worse.
Excerpted from END OF STATE © Copyright 2004 by Neesa Hart. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
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