Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
David Rice landed in Chicago. He rented a car at O'Hare Airport to drive
to a home northeast of the city center. The home belonged to Thelma Southgate.
Thelma was a retired teacher of English Literature. Now, she was alone
in the world because of the murder of her brother.
On the third day after her brother's burial, Thelma answered the door
not thinking anything of the man standing at the front door. It was David
Rice and he held a package. He delivered it in an UPS uniform. Thelma would
be sixty-five the next week. Through the past years she thought of Fred
as her little brother.
David asked, "Miss. Southgate?"
"Yes. Can I help you?"
"The package is for Thelma Southgate."
Thelma Southgate didn't recognize the man and felt no threat from him.
Her brother never showed photographs of men he told her of, and she never
thought they would threaten her. Thelma pushed the home's screened door
open. She said, "Please, come in. I need to get my glasses."
After entering, David closed the door behind him. Not suspicious of
him doing so, Thelma stepped into the kitchen to get her glasses. She had
been sitting and reading from the Bible when the doorbell rang. Rice struck
her from behind. Suddenly, a blinding pain rose from her neck. The strength
of the blow blacked out the world around her.
Fifteen minutes later Thelma recovered consciousness. David was holding
an ammonia capsule before her nose. As she regained consciousness, she
knew the man had removed her clothing. The cool air of the home's air conditioning
cooled her skin. The man had gagged her and caused her to breathe heavily
through her nose. The pungent order of ammonia made her nauseated. As she
gained control of her vision, Thelma saw the man sitting before her. He
dragged her heavy sofa-chair from the living room into the kitchen. The
man had tied her arms tight to the chair arms, and her ankles were bound
to its front legs.
David smoked a cigarette and looked on her. It was the first time anyone
smoked in the house. Thelma hadn't allowed Fred to smoke in it when he
visited her. Thelma thought it odd that the smoking angered her. She wanted
to tell the man to put the cigarette out but she couldn't speak because
of the gag in her mouth.
Rice gazed at her and said in cold words, "Your brother made a
way possible for a man to call you. He told you that he renewed your garage
door opener's warranty. Who was the man who called you?"
Thelma stared at David Rice with contempt. She now knew the truth of
her brother's words. She listened to them months back after he found he
had a terminal, heart condition.
David repeated the question, "The man calling you . . . who was
he? Why did he call? What was the meaning of the words?" Thelma Southgate
boiled with an intense hatred and Rice added, "No one will hear you
if you choose pain before telling me. Nevertheless, you will tell me. They
did in NAM. Don't think of yourself any differently."
Again, Thelma studied David with hatred. She turned her gaze off him
and stared at the wall.
David leaned forward and put his cigarette out on the thigh of Thelma's
right leg. As he did, he watched her face wrench in pain. David lighted
another cigarette while saying. "It'll get worst. I want to know where
Walker went. I want to know where he has gone to write."
Thelma fixed her mind on Christ and deep inside she swore she wouldn't
betray her brother. Nevertheless, how did the man know her brother contacted
a writer with his story of betrayal and death?
Moving the flame of the lighter before her, David held it before her
right breast while thinking the older woman retained a great physical endurance
and shape for her age. Drawing the flame back and putting the lighter out
he said, "We know Fred spoke with Wes Walker. We know he told him
how to contact Laleh Sanders. We know she lived in Jerusalem. She's now
dead. Where did Fred say Walker would go to write? He told you. Maybe casually
. . . but he told you. Where is he?" Again, David lit the lighter.
This time he allowed it to touch the nipple of Thelma's right breast. Thelma
Southgate wrenched in pain and attempted to speak. Rice pulled the lighter
back. He stood to loosen the gag but only enough that Thelma could release
a muffled sound. He again asked as he sat before her, "Where is he?"
Thelma stared at David and hoped God forgave her for swearing. She said
a muffled, "Go to hell."
David's face turned angry. He stood, tightened the gag, and went to
the kitchen counter to find the silverware drawer. From it, he took out
a knife. He returned to again sit before Thelma and said, "I'll ask
you one last time . . . where did Walker go to write? Where did he go to
write about Desert 1?"
Thelma stared through David and tried to witness the passion of Christ.
She knew Christ suffered and now she was to suffer. The man before her,
a man of her country, and the man who undoubtedly killed her brother wasn't
supposed to be like the nonbelievers in the world. She glared at Rice and
didn't attempt to speak.
David waited for a response indicating Thelma would talk if lessening
the gag over mouth. There was none and he leaned forward to draw the knife
blade into Thelma Southgate's right thigh. In a slow motion, he pulled
the blade six inches while cutting an eighth of an inch into the muscle.
Thelma Southgate would bleed, but she wouldn't bleed to death. Not yet.
The woman wanted to scream out. As she sat tied to the chair unable
to break free, Rice stood to go to the kitchen stove and turn on a burner.
He lay the knife blade on the flame and returned to the seat. He said,
"I'm going to cauterize the cut. I'll not let you bleed to death.
Where is Wes Walker? Where has he gone to write?"
Thelma glared at David through tear filled eyes and wanting to kill
him. Mixed with these thoughts, she tried to think of the scourging of
Christ. She offered no signal of answering. Rice returned to the stove
where he found the knife blade turning a tinge of blue-red. He took up
its wooden handle and returned to the seat. There, he held the hot blade
before Thelma before laying it along the cut where it seared the flesh
of the open wound. Thelma passed out and her bladder released its flow.
David stood, walked into the living room, and turned on the television.
He sat smoking a cigarette as he watched the evening's national news. Within
several minutes, a reporter updated the nation on a case out of Tulsa,
Oklahoma. The effect of the story was to keep Walker in hiding. As he listened
to the reporter, Rice knew that Walker would stay hidden until he came
forward with a manuscript. The television report switched to a taped interview
given earlier that morning with a man of the Israeli Mossad. The man stated
they too were looking for Wes Walker. The Israelis wanted Walker for the
deaths of two men.
Rice thought of the foolishness of the words. But Walker was somewhere
writing. It was what would give him time to find Walker before others.
The sister knew where Walker was. Somewhere in his conversations between
her and Fred, Fred would have explained why he chose Walker to write the
story. The sister knew and she would tell him. >>>
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