The last few weeks had been a whirlwind for Cameron. He ran through as many interviews as he could for the story, sifting and sorting. Whenever he could, he did the interviews on-line or by phone, spending the rest of his free time studying the specially marked Bible Rayford had given him, or meeting with Rayford's pastor, Bruce. And whenever he could, he attended Sunday services and bible study. It wasn't entirely religious devotion... there was one other regular attendee he looked forward to seeing each time.
When the GW article finally went to press, Cameron was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. He had to re-write large parts of it just hours ahead of the deadline, and he wrestled long and hard with that decision. The pastor had actually been fairly helpful, though he did tend to eye Chloe at bible study ever since.
That relaxed feeling vanished the very next Wednesday. Chloe was conspicuously absent from the prayer study, and when asked, Rayford just looked sheepish and embarrassed. (then again, Rayford looked sheepish a lot, in Cameron's opinion) Buck spent half the meeting writing a note for Rayford to give his daughter, but even simple writing gets tricky if you know that the father of the girl you're sweet on will be reading the note, and reading it first.
Cameron was too nervous to attend the Sunday service, plus with his boss jumping ship to work for Carpathia, things were starting to slip around the office. But when he showed up for the mid-week prayer group, and Chloe still wasn't there, he started getting really confused. Rayford somehow picked up on that, and told Cameron to ride back to his house.
Rayford walked Cameron up to the door, then gently laid a hand on his shoulder.
"She's out back, on the porch. She's really mad at you."
"She wants to talk to me?"
"She doesn't know I brought you here, but she's mad, and you don't know what it was that you did to make her mad, and she's not the type to go calling, so you go back there and figure all this out with her. Now, go!"
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A solid slap on the shoulder sent Cameron stumbling through the house, towards the back porch. Chloe was sitting on a bench, smoking when she heard the door open. She quickly ducked the cigarette out of sight before she realized it was Cameron.
"Oh Bucky, come to apologize have you?"
"I'm... not sure what I have to apologize for, but I did sent you a note. And I did try to send you some flowers."
"Hmmph. They were trashy flowers."
"Yeah, well... I kinda picked 'em myself. Seems all the florists were either closed, or sold out for all the... um, remembrance ceremonies. Sorry you didn't like them, but isn't that enough of an apology for - "
Chloe started to blush, then flushed with anger.
"Are you kidding! Flowers you were so cheap you picked doesn't even come close to what you did!"
"OK... I'm going to sound a little stupid here-"
"... but what did I do?"
Chloe sneered, grabbed a book bag from under the porch, and pulled out the latest copy of "Global Weekly"
"What could the cause of these mysterious disappearances be? asks Global Reporter Cameron "Buck" Williams", Chloe read in a mocking tone, shifting to a hick drawl, "I think it was the great Christian God, taking away the innocent and the virtuous before the final battle with Satan says airline pilot Ray Steele, expressing a common fear of the supernatural..." Chloe flung the magazine at the already-cringing Buck.
"I know my dad isn't as well-spoken or educated as a world-flying reporter, but how dare you mock him! You know the truth, know that he's telling the most important truth that anyone on this planet today can ever hear! And you put him next to a neck-beared UFO-ologist! Oh, and it's an extra-nice touch to mention his job, because if there's one thing that goes over well at airlines is newspaper articles suggesting their pilots might be mentally unstable or just plain stupid! He's had to walk into work for almost a week and act like he isn't under a microscope. Do you have any idea what you've done?"
"YES, ACTUALLY," Cameron barked back, his voice slowly trailing off," I do know what I've done."
Cameron shut his eyes for a moment and balled his hands. He was trembling with anger, sudden and unexpected. When he opened his eyes again, Chloe looked slightly shocked, but was also biting her lower lip. Cameron took a deep breath.
"I was in Botswana. I was supposed to be there for a story about AIDS medications donated from major pharmaceuticals. I was at a bush bar, when a villager, half-drunk, approached me. God knows how a scrap of my picture found its way there, but he knew I was a reporter. He gave me a lead on a story about-"
"Child prostitution." Chloe cut him off. "The sex trafficking story?"
"You've read it?" Cameron's mental balance was thrown; it was becoming a common occurrence around Chloe.
"...while I was waiting for the story with my dad to go to press, I decided to do a little reading up on your work. Which, might I say, tends to be better than this last-"
"Hey! Please, let me finish. Yes, it was about a sex trafficking network backed by former military. It was an important story, it needed to be told. But once the story broke, the mercs went looking for someone to blame. The harassed everyone I had been seen talking to. Every person at every hotel I stayed at, every cab driver, everyone. The guy at the bar? He was half-drunk because his niece was missing. He didn't know how not to draw attention. We talked at the bar, in plain sight of a dozen people."
"They found him?" Chloe asked, already sick from suspecting the end of the story.
"Of course they found him. And yes, they killed him. One of the first rules of journalism is that you must protect your source!"
Cameron waited to see if Chloe was putting the pieces together. He couldn't tell, so he went on.
"I was researching a story on 'The Event' and the vanished persons. I wound up doing over forty interviews with scientists, religious leaders, politicians, and kooks on the Internet. While everyone could find out who I talked to, anyone looking closely would find out I was spending a lot of time at a certain church..."
Chloe blinked a few times, and looked down. Cameron was sure she was thinking it through to the conclusion, but kept going.
"Nicolae Carpathia gets elected SecGen of the U.N., gets all kinds of absurd agreements signed, and Bruce thinks he's the AntiChrist. If I used Global Weekly to shout from the rooftops, I'd be killed or taken away in a black van. And then those thugs would do the same thing thugs did in Botswana, what thugs always do. And that would mean they would come here, and they would take you, and..."
Chloe's face paled halfway through Cameron's speech, but by the end, she was staring intently at his face. She heard the catch in his voice, saw the despair on his face... Cameron wasn't hurt at the idea of 'thugs' hurting Bruce or Rayford or anyone else at New Hope.
Buck drew a heavy sigh, and pressed on: "So Ace Reporter Bucky Williams writes... a bland article leaning heavily on the U.N. propaganda about radiation, acting as a mouthpiece for an official explanation. I'm sure my old boss is pleased by that, but I know any of my peers that read that article will think I've been feebleminded."
"Isn't that a spell in Dungeons & Dragons?"
Buck twitched like he'd be struck, looking confused and slightly embarrassed as he glanced over at Chloe. How did she know that I played... Buck flushed as he realized he didn't know until he gave it away just now.
Chloe got up off the bench and walked over to Cameron.
"You did a very noble and good thing. And you don't owe me any apologies. I owe you one for jumping to conclusions. I just wish you'd give me and Dad a little heads-up."
"Oh. OK. I, um... well, it was a last minute change really. But um... look, since I missed you -er missed seeing you last Sunday and you weren't at Bible Study group, would you..."
"...see me off at the airport? I have to fly out tomorrow morning, but if that's all the time I have for a while, I'd like to spend it with you."
She twisted her lips around in a smirk. "Just don't ask me to carry your luggage."
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