Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
As Wes exited the parking area, no other cars were on the highway. As
he drove across the dam, he knew something frightening but exciting had
entered his life. A rush of adrenaline sent his mind whirling and forced
him to forget his sorrow. Life was a pain-filled void and now he sensed
his life might have a new meaning; it might take a different direction.
It was nine years since he had been in Israel. He was then researching
the history on the West Bank. Now, Walker turned on the car 's interior
light and unfolded the paper given to him. After reading a Chicago telephone
number, a woman's name, and a street address in The Old City of Jerusalem,
Wes turned his Cadillac to the side of the Keystone Highway. Blessed with
a photographic memory, he lighted the paper with a gold-platted, cigarette
lighter, and dropped the paper into the car's ashtray.
When he returned to his home in North Tulsa Walker stepped into his
study, poured a drink of whiskey, and slumped into a high-back chair at
his desk. There, he picked up a page of the novel he was forcing himself
to write the past months. The words were sterile and void of feeling. It
was a story going nowhere. Wes turned his examination to a photograph of
Sally. Sally was a younger woman with fiery, red hair and sensual form.
Now, she was a memory. Sally was only twenty-three at the time she lost
her life. He met the attractive, energetic, and fun loving employee of
a chain of bookstores in L.A. He was also tired at the time. They met in
a bookstore in Los Angeles with him on a book tour. Sally's striking hair
and bright blue eyes riveted his attention. Her smile seized his heart.
Tulsa was the city of Wes Walker's youth. His first wife, Lin Thi, and
who left him, was now living in Porthleven, England, on the Cornish Coast.
He purchased a home in the village with book profits made during his thirties.
He also bought a second house in Scotland. He placed the second home in
Lin Thi's father's name in order to escape the public eye. Now, Walker
remembered how he met Lin Thi in Vancouver. She was a student at Vancouver
University. Lin Thi managed a way for her and her parents to get out of
Vietnam before the fall of Saigon. Now, Wes wondered at the circumstance
of The Raven knowing Lin Thi. Walker also thought of how Lin Thi was also
younger and he wondered if younger women were his way of maintaining some
misguided hope for his youth.
As he turned his attention to the blank screen of his word processor,
Wes brought the present back to focus. He stood and thought of the instructions
for calling Chicago. As he stepped out of his study to enter the loneliness
of a bedroom Walker knew he was tired. He was tired of everything and he
now wanted sleep. Possibly, the morning might bring a different course
for the empty hours and days ahead.
The weather in Jerusalem was hot. August was insufferable and though
the night cooled, a new day returned the sun. Long shadows were being cast
across The Old City and coming out of a forest of television antennas.
From the Muslim Quarter, the minarets cast their shadows like arrows to
point their way to the Christian Quarter. The brilliance of the Dome of
the Rock reflected the sun off its thin layer of gold.
By the Via Dolorosa beginning in the Muslim Quarter, Christian Pilgrims
mingled there and were out early to avoid the day's heat. A group began
their walk and followed The Way of the Cross. They would walk to the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre.
In the Christian Quarter, a young woman born as Roya Sanders but now
bearing the forged name Mary Goldwaith was awake. She was in the kitchen
of a small home. Roya Sanders was a beautiful young woman. She carried
a striking and firm form, dark hair, and green eyes. She was up early,
bustling about the kitchen, and preparing a breakfast for her mother.
For the past five years, Roya and her mother lived in the home in The
Old City on Christian Street. They moved there after leaving an apartment
in Tel Aviv. After immigrating to Israel, they lived in Tel Aviv where
Roya attended and graduated from Vigal High School. There, Roya became
active in the drama department of the school. The high school was the largest
in the city and one to serve Laleh Sanders' purpose. The size of the school
offered a hiding place from anyone searching for her. During the years
in Israel, Laleh Sanders used the name of Phyllis Goldwaith. At the time
that Laleh and Roya lived in Tel Aviv, Laleh had taught word-processing
and dictation skills.
Roya and her mother moved on to Jerusalem following Roya's high school
graduation. The Khan Theater, Jerusalem's only Repertory Theater, accepted
Roya as an understudy. But, financial freedom to act was lost after Laleh
Sanders suffered a stroke. Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Neurological Institute
released her to go home as an invalid. Only Laleh having purchased the
small shop prevented her and Roya from becoming wards of the state. In
addition, by Laleh and Roya having become Israeli Citizens, the country's
National Health Insurance Program allowed partial payment of a normal wage.
The stroke removed Roya from national service in the IDF. Roya didn't know
the hidden reason for her mother's stroke.
This morning, and from an open window of squared limestone the scent
of jasmine entered the apartment's still, morning air. Below the home,
a flowerbed of jasmine struggled against the press of a sidewalk. A ten-speed
bicycle leaned against the wall and over the flowers. Setting before it,
a motorized scooter set half on a walk separating the narrow courtyard
from the street. The bicycle was a mental necessity. Roya joined the organization
of Jerusalem for Bikes. She was once a member of the Tel Aviv chapter,
and she had joined the Jerusalem Chapter. Roya purchased the scooter to
ride to the theater. Now, it sat unused unless Roya felt the city closing
in on her. At those times, she would ride a highway leading out of it.
The Goldwaith house gave no appearance of abnormality for someone hiding
from others. It was public and harboring a public business. The other residents
along Christian Street gave it no thought other than knowing it housed
a woman and her daughter. Roya was twelve when they left the states, and
she resented moving away from friends in Chicago. Now, after time in Tel
Aviv, and in The Old City, Israel became home. But, it was a home of conflicting
cultures, ideas, and one's perceptions of God. Not until Laleh sat down
with Roya to explain the reason for leaving America did Roya accept the
move. Only then, did Roya fully comprehend the importance of The New Life.
After her mother's explanation, Roya left their apartment off Tel Aviv's
Ariozorow Street to ride to Ha-Yarkon Avenue where the city's beach hotels
and the American Embassy were. With the winter's wind blowing off the sea,
Roya passed the American Embassy. She stared at it and felt a sense of
contempt for what The United States of America did to her mother. Roya
had then gone to the city promenade before going onto the beach to walk
in the cold, winter day. That day, her heart and mind grew cold toward
America. Still, she missed it.
But, Roya knew she only marginally fit in with the traditions and customs
of the Middle East. She perceived her life as an island. To Roya, and for
her being Catholic, living in Jerusalem was like living in the midst of
life's boiling pot. Living there meant being a coal in the heart of anyone
attempting to understand his relationship to God.
Roya's mother was once able to converse in multiple Arabic dialects
and in French and Hebrew. Now, Roya could barely understand her mother.
Roya Sanders wasn't uncertain that the God of Jerusalem failed her mother.
Roya finished preparing oatmeal, set a full bowl on a tray, sprinkled
it with cinnamon, placed a napkin and a spoon on the tray, and walked to
her mother's bedroom. There, Laleh Sanders lay paralyzed and only able
to move her left arm and hand. Laleh lay in an isolated and lonely world.
As Roya placed the tray on a stand she said in a firm voice, "Mother,
here's breakfast. You have to eat. You're getting weaker."
Laleh looked on her daughter with a vague sense of her presence and
muttered, "Where am I?"
Every morning since leaving a medical center known for its quality of
care, and for its collection of Ardon Tapestries, Roya heard this question.
Roya yearned to have her mother back in The States while realizing the
Shaare Zedel Medical Center held respect throughout the world. Roya insisted,
"Mother, you've got to eat." As Roya lifted a spoonful of oatmeal
to her mother's mouth, Roya offered her a tired smile.
Her mother again asked, "Where are we?"
After getting the oatmeal into her mother's mouth Roya answered in weary
words, "We're in Israel, Mother. We've been here for ten years. We're
Roya's green eye color was as tired as her words. "Because it's
where we're safe."
"Safe from what?"
The questions were as repetitious and disheartening as her mother's
near-lifeless gaze. According to neurologists, the effected portion of
her mother's brain held no hope for full recovery. An old injury made itself
known in permanent form. Roya added, "It's where we're safe. You know
why. I don't want to think about it."
Laleh Sander's expression of languid existence didn't change. She said
in a confused voice, "The shop. Is it open?"
"I'll open it shortly." Roya spooned further oatmeal into
her mother's mouth. "But first you have to eat. It's the only way
you can keep up your strength."
Laleh attempted a smile. The right side of her mouth-line failed to
follow the signals her brain tried to send. Oatmeal dribbled out of the
corner of her mouth and Roya wiped it away with a napkin. "Don't try
to talk. Everything will be fine. I'll open the shop after I get you fed
and bathed. It's going to be another hot day."
At 7:30, Roya descended stone steps to pass the bed of jasmine and sidestep
the scooter to unlock the iron door of the narrow courtyard. She stepped
into the street. There, she turned to her right to remove padlocks from
both sides of a metal roll-up-door. The door secured a shop filled with
an array of copper emblazoned replicas of The Last Supper, Christ's ascension
to Heaven, olivewood crosses, and pendants of silver and mother-of-pearl.
The shop was twenty-five feet square with shelves occupying its sides and
Roya's bedroom was directly over the shop. As she opened the door, Roya
breathed in the aroma of the morning. She knew the cool air coming off
the stone street and walls would soon turn to blistering heat.
Across the narrow street, a boy opened a coffee shop to the morning.
The young man lifting its roll-up, shuttered windows knew Roya by her alias.
He said a friendly, "Good morning, Mary."
Roya wanted to ignore the young man. He was three years older, interested
in her, and persisted in asking her to go on walks. She said in a wooden
tone, "Good Morning, Louis. It's going to be hot."
Louis Kolleck's wavy black hair rode over the collar of a blue shirt.
His voice was sure of itself, "Winter will be cooler."
Roya didn't answer the words. A man and woman walked in Roya's direction.
Roya knew the couple was on their private pilgrimage by their dress and
a video camera the man carried. She broke into her sales litany; "We
have very fine olivewood crosses and many other souvenirs."
The woman stepped into the shop. She surveyed the merchandise, then
sorted through crosses laid out on a table. A portly woman picked up a
cross carved from a single piece of olivewood and with Christ in crucifixion.
She asked in a Southern Baptist inflection, "How much for this one?"
"In American . . . it's twenty dollars."
"I'll pay fifteen?"
Roya found the Americans amusing at how they made the best customers.
They didn't know the first thing about haggling as the Arabs or Jews did.
Roya answered with, "Make it eighteen and I'll wrap it."
The woman grinned. She handed Roya a twenty-dollar bill. Roya pulled
two dollars from a pocket of her Levis and handed them to the woman. She
wrapped the souvenir in brown paper, bound it with string, and handed it
to the woman. The woman asked, "Are you an American?"
"My father was an American. He died in Vietnam. My grandmother
was Iranian. My mother and I are Israeli citizens."
"What a privilege it must be to live so close to the presence of
Christ! You are very fortunate."
"I have Bibles with olivewood backing. They make wonderful gifts."
The woman's husband spoke. "We're on our way to the Via Dolorosa."
He turned to his wife saying, "We better go, Dear. I'm sure you'll
want to stop in other shops."
Roya watched the couple as they walked away. She turned to see Louis
setting out a wicker chair. He signaled with a thumb up. Roya ignored it.
As she straightened the crosses, she thought of how both she and Louis
lay trapped by life's circumstance of not having the money to flee elsewhere
and know further places.
In Roya's thoughts, there was always a fear someone might come out of
the past to discover her mother and her.
Putting the thought away, she glanced down Christian Street to see another
group of Pilgrims walking in her direction. Roya also knew the group was
American. She could tell by the way that they walked in silent reverence
for the very stones that lay beneath their feet >>>
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