Eli closed his eyes tightly and strained to focus on the speech he was about to give. He had just reopened them when the speaker, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, turned towards him, hand outstretched in welcome.
â€śAnd now I give you Mr. Eli Bookman.â€ť
Just as Eli stood, he saw a bright, starburst flash slightly to his right and projecting from the rear of the Convention Center floor. He heard a pffft sound, followed by a brassy twang, like the breaking of a guitar string and looked up to see the huge, blue Southern Baptist Convention banner falling from the metal rafters far above his head. He saw a look of fear in the Presidentâ€™s eyes as he dove away from the podium and under a table to Eliâ€™s right, upsetting a vase of flowers and knocking Eli down in the process. Glass, water and white lilies crashed on the floor beside Eli.
Eli continued to watch the falling banner as he scrambled to his feet. He made a feeble attempt to avoid it by dodging slightly in all four directions, but it was too late. The banner folded around him like the tentacles of a huge octopus. He felt a surge of panic and began to punch at the beast, but before he could extend his arms in a full swing, he felt a stronger pair of arms surround him at the chest and force him to the floor. He felt a heavy body cover him. He heard a deep voice telling him not to struggle and to lie as flat as possible. The voice spoke through the fabric of the banner directly into his right ear, â€śMr. Bookman, Iâ€™m security. Someone has just fired a weapon in this direction from the rear of the Convention Center, and theyâ€™re not yet restrained. Please lie still!â€ť
Eli yelled the first thing that shot through his mind, â€śAlly, are you okay?â€ť
He heard a faint answer coming from near his head, â€śYes, Iâ€™m right here. Stay where you are.â€ť
As he strained to lift his chest from the floor to get a breath, he felt Allyâ€™s soft hand work its way under the banner and grab his arm.
â€śDonâ€™t move, heâ€™s still out there. Iâ€™m okay. Just lie still. I can see whatâ€™s going on. Heâ€™s being chased by several security guards at the rear of the building.â€ť
Within a few seconds they heard a cry, â€śIâ€™ve got him. Heâ€™s been disarmed!â€ť That cry was immediately followed by another, â€śOne day Iâ€™ll have you, Eli Bookman. You are the Antichrist! One dayâ€¦â€ť The rest of the words were snuffed out by a security guardâ€™s gag.
The arms let loose of Eli and began ripping at the banner to free him. As soon as his head was uncovered, he felt Allyâ€™s tender face press against his. He could feel her tears on his cheek.
As he held her, his life, their life together, flashed before himâ€¦