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Cody Gets Some News
After he and Helen had teamed up in their on-the-run ad hoc arrangement, Cody had managed to take some personal leave. He had accumulated quite a number of vacation days, and when it came to teaching his classes, he was between terms. That was settled easily enough via email. A few of his friends in Lynch- burg had wondered casually if he had fallen off the earth, but he was able to put them off without actually lying about anything. You can lie in a war, but not to your friends. Even so, appealing to “personal time” was much more duddy than saying he was on the lam with a beautiful atheist. But he could tell everybody about that later, he hoped.
He was flipping through his emails on his phone while Helen went into a CVC to get a few personal items, and he was nearing the end of the stack of emails when she opened the door and hopped back in the car.
“Go ahead and finish,” she said. “We are just driving in circles anyway. And we are not in any real hurry to get back here.” Cody got to his last email, read the subject line, suddenly started, and sat up straight. “Oh my,” he said, before catching himself.
“What?” Helen asked.
He started to answer her, and then stopped. He hurriedly opened the email and scanned the first paragraph, grinning widely. He wasn’t sure how he was going to explain it to her. His article on a second-century fragment of the book of Ephesians had cleared the hurdle of peer review and had been accepted by one of the more prestigious journals of textual criticism. That fragment covered a chapter and a half of the epistle, and Cody had sought to demonstrate that the original of this manuscript necessarily belonged to the Byzantine text type, as opposed to the Alexandrian. The fact that the editors of the journal were strong advocates of the anything-but-Byzantine text type meant either that they were feeling unusually charitable, or that the peer reviews came back unusually strong. Or maybe the editors were just trying to demonstrate their even-handedness so they could justify lambasting him and his argument in a future issue. So Cody explained the outline of his article, sort of, and Helen thought she understood most of his explanation, sort of. At least she understood peer review, and the importance of publishing. “Well, that is good news,” she said. “Congratulations.” The news of this acceptance had also been cc’d to Cody’s department head, who had been a thorn in Cody’s side ever since he had arrived at Liberty. It was pressure from him, actually, one Dr. Jerry Sommerville, that had made Cody get serious about writing for publication in the first place. But the congratulatory note that was sent from the journal included at the bottom the abstract of the article Cody had submitted, and this is how it happened that Sommerville took an interest in it for the first time, having read something about it for the first time. And this is why, about fifteen minutes later, Cody’s phone chirruped a new notification at him. It was Sommerville, saying that it was essential that Cody come down from Annapolis at once. They needed to talk. Like, right now.
“Well,” Cody said, turning to Helen. “It is not that far to drive. I don’t think anybody knows for sure that you are with me, and we might as well drive in a straight line as drive in circles in the Washington/Baltimore metroplex. Nobody’s looking for my car, at least that we know of, and I can get the back windshield fixed in Lynchburg. I can talk to Sommerville, allay any concerns he might have, and that will signal to anybody who inquires that my life is still doing its ordinary, somewhat boring, thing.”
“Allay any concerns he might have?” Helen said. “What possible concerns could someone have over an article about an ancient manuscript?”
“Well,” Cody said, “the people who are after you are not trying to kill you because you have a disagreement over how much sunshine all of us are getting. They are coming after you because of money. They have a racket going, and you have some information that threatens that racket.”
“Well, sure. True enough,” she said. “But how does that apply to this?”
“I don’t know that it does,” Cody replied. “But it could. In fact, I have been praying that it would.”
Helen didn’t roll her eyes when he mentioned his prayers, but if we are being frank with ourselves we have to acknowledge that she did think about it. But she was still interested, in spite of herself.
“Yes. But how could it?”
“Well, you see, over 100 million Bibles are printed annually. It is really big business. Most of them are copyrighted translations, and they are translated from a particular manuscript family. If anybody important paid any attention to my article, if it caught fire in any way, a lot of people could be really unhappy. And they will be unhappy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. But there are lots of ifs in there.”
“But obvious enough that your boss wants to have a heart- to-heart with you?”
“Yeah,” Cody said. “Looks like it.” And he took a moment to write Sommerville back to say that he could be down there the next day, and would 2 pm work? “Yes, it would,” the reply came back a moment later.
* * *
The next day, Cody walked into Jerry Sommerville’s office confidently enough, at 2 pm on the dot, but he was inwardly tentative. He didn’t really know what Sommerville was going to say or do.
“Hi, Jerry,” he said when he came in.
Jerry grunted. He was the kind of gruff character who would grunt, even if he were delighted. He looked like a scholar, or perhaps like a mad scientist. His white hair stuck out from behind his ears, and his goatee was closer to gray than white. The grunt sounded like something in the neighborhood of “sit down,” and so Cody shut the door, and sat down.
Sommerville didn’t mess around. He got straight to the point. He didn’t put any varnish on his words at all. He had apparently been stewing about it all night. And as one of the senior editors of the soon-to-be-released Discipleship Study Bible, he had gone through several very awkward conversations with his publisher the night before. They had gotten wind of the article around the same time that Sommerville had, probably from one of the scholars who had been on the peer review board.
“Cody, you have to pull that article. You need to ask them not to publish it. You need to say that certain critical information has just come to your attention.”
“But it hasn’t,” Cody said. “No critical information has come to my attention.”
“I was referring to the fact that if that article runs, you are out of a job. I would say that was critical information.”
Cody rocked back in his chair. He wasn’t expecting anything like this. “I don’t understand,” he said finally.
“What’s not to understand? Pull the article or get fired. We can’t have a member of our department publishing an article like that on the eve of the release of the Discipleship Study Bible. I am telling you straight up, not going to lie. Of course if you repeat any of this, I will deny it in cold blood, also straight up. In that case, you were fired for insubordination and a few other items in your personnel file that I would rather not go into.”
“But . . . what about academic freedom? . . . what about my arguments? . . . what about the truth?”
“What did you get your doctorate in? Idealism? On hobbits dancing in meadows?”
Cody sat still for a moment, still stunned. Sommerville started up again, not unkindly. “I don’t know how much lead time it would take for you to get the article canceled. But if you were just notified about the acceptance yesterday, I am sure I can give you a day to think about it. But at the end of that day of thinking about it, I need that article deep-sixed.”
Cody looked up at him. “Oh, I don’t need any time to think about it. The article stays right where it is. And the arguments need to be answered. And you wouldn’t need to fire me. I can have a letter to you by tomorrow morning. Whichever you prefer.”
Sommerville sat for a moment, surprised himself at the turn things had taken. After scratching his goatee for a minute, he said, again not unkindly, “I’ll take the letter.”
With that, Cody stood up, half-saluted Sommerville, and headed out. He had left Helen with the car at the Windshield Doctor that was just a few blocks off campus. He would walk back out to the shop, gather everything up, and they could hit the road again. He found himself smiling to himself as he imagined himself telling Helen about it. “It seems we both have trouble with bosses.”
An hour later, they were back in the car, heading north on 301. They had grabbed some fast food, and were eating as they drove. They had decided some time before that they would have to put everything on Cody’s card, and not Helen’s, because if at some point they found themselves tracked by pros, as it looked like they might be, the bad guys would probably have ways to track any activity that had anything to do with Helen’s accounts. So her accounts had been entirely inactive the last few days, as silent as a really silent grave. But as they pulled out of Burger King this time, Helen felt she had to say something again.
“Remember that I will pay you back, at least fifty/fifty, when this is all over. Promise.”
“That was our deal,” Cody had said, “although I am not worried about it.”
“Well, thanks,” she said. “But I want you to be worried about it.”
“A guy in my position doesn’t get many opportunities to date an evolutionary atheist, and so the least I could do is pick up the tab.” He realized, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, that he was flirting. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Reel it in, Cody.
“These aren’t dates,” she said. “We are on the run from killers, or I am at least, and you are a very nice man who is helping me. That is not what I call a date.”
“I know,” he said. “They can’t be considered dates technically. But I can pretend, can’t I?” Stupid man! Flirting with an atheist? Cody suddenly realized that his internal moral monitor, his robust conscience, was going to wake up any minute and start swearing at him like a machinist mate on a tramp steamer. That would not be good. That would be unsettling. Evangelical consciences usually don’t cuss like that.
Cody promptly decided he needed to change the subject, and then that would keep him from flirting with her anymore. So he trotted out his observation about the trouble they were both having with their bosses. It was the wrong move.
“You really think that getting fired is equivalent to a hit man showing up at your place at dawn in order to shoot you? You really think that?” She had understood at least the beginnings of a flirtation and decided she needed to restore some distance.
He was cute and everything, but he was still a Jesus freak, and he wrote articles about which piece of paper came from where two thousand years ago.
“Well, of course not . . .” he began. He was going to continue with his explanation of his lame attempt at humor when the back windshield, newly installed just that afternoon, exploded. Someone had shot at them again. This time it was on the driver’s side.