Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
In Jerusalem Roya was up early. She wore silk pajamas for the coolness
against her skin and she stood before the open window over Christian Street.
She turned to see Lewis standing at his window and looking on her. Roya
closed her window. After entering the bath, Roya stepped into a narrow
shower. There, she turned the water on to wash her short dark hair and
lather her body, turned the water off, and washed before turning the water
back on to rinse. In all, the water didn't run more than a few minutes.
As she stepped out of the shower, Roya remembered long showers in Chicago.
Jerusalem wasn't Chicago, and Jerusalem didn't have the water to waste.
Thirty minutes later Roya carried breakfast to her mother. At the bed,
she set the breakfast tray on a stand, placed a hand on her mother's left
arm and said, "Mother, it's time to eat. I have to open the shop."
Laleh opened tired eyes. She tried to open her mouth and saliva ran
out the right corner. Roya wiped it away. Her mother's words came in a
slur as she said, "I love you."
"I love you, Mother. I have to get you fed and open the shop. I
need to get your catheter drained." Laleh gazed on Roya. In her mother's
eyes was the fixed look of despair Roya had seen the past two months. Roya
knew her mother was giving up the fight to stay alive. "It's going
to be OK, Mother. You're going to get better. You will. You'll see."
Laleh's words were cold and sounded as though they were coming from
the grave. "No, Roya, I'm dying. I'm dying, and I worry for you."
"Mother, you're going to be fine, but you have to eat." Roya
held a spoon of oatmeal to her mother's mouth. Her mother at first refused
to accept it. Roya said, "Please, Mother. You have to eat."
The words were dull, "I'm dying, Roya."
Roya saw a look of fear in her mother's eyes.
Laleh saw that her daughter's eyes held a frightening concern. Instead
of taking the oatmeal she pushed it away and again said in a struggling
voice, "Roya, there are papers detailing the reason we left Chicago.
They're in a vault in Zurich. I placed them there. The key is in the planter
in the kitchen." Her mother caught her breath and continued in a struggling
sound. "Roya, watch for The Raven. It won't be him. I know it won't
be him. The Raven. Watch for The Raven." Her mother settled back exhausted
It was the first time her mother said the words, "The Raven."
Roya answered, "Mother, no! I won't listen to any talk of you dying.
I won't!" Laleh saw tears form in Roya's eyes. She tried to encourage
Roya but her own tears blinded her. She awkwardly reached for a tissue
to wipe her eyes and caught it between her bony thumb and forefinger like
some bird's claw. After her mother made a clumsy wiping of her face, Roya
took the tissue to throw it into a wastebasket. Roya said, "Please,
Mother, try to eat."
After eating Roya looked into a large round planter holding a rubber
tree plant. The plant was three feet in height. Leaving the kitchen, she
found her mother sleeping. Roya turned from the room to go down the outside
stairs. She didn't see her mother open her eyes. Roya didn't see her mother
reach for a prescription of sleeping pills refilled two days earlier. She
didn't see her mother cram seventy-five pills into her mouth in a nearly
uncontrollable hand. She didn't see her mother reach for the pitcher of
fresh water she had set on the bed stand of the room. Her mother refused
Roya bathing and Roya didn't change her mother's catheter while thinking
it best not it fight her mother about it.
In her bound world, Laleh knew Fred Southgate was coming to his final
moment after the years of worry. She felt it in the very marrow of her
bones. If Roya's father faced death, Laleh knew she belonged beside him.
While she lived, Roya wouldn't be able to stay one step ahead of others
hunting for them. The thought of Fred Southgate dying was a knife piercing
Laleh's soul. In addition, no matter how he had used her, she remained
in love with him, but she couldn't forget the betrayal.
The papers in the safety deposit box in a Zurich bank would explain
to Roya the further truth than that told in Tel Aviv. The papers to protect
Roya were in Zurich. Laleh knew her daughter became independent and responsible
the last few years. With the pills taking her into a deep sleep, Laleh
allowed her thoughts to see a different time and a different Jerusalem.
As she did, she saw a city with stone towers and walls protected from a
noonday sun that was blood red. Instead of cars, there were various animals
and hordes of people moving in fear and confusion. She saw Roman soldiers
make their way through the city gates and killing the innocent.
After getting the padlocks off the roll-up metal door to open the shop,
Roya pulled a box of olivewood crosses from beneath a screened table. She
placed a handful in line with those already on a shelf before pushing the
box back out of sight.
Across Christian Street Lewis opened the shutters of the small cafe.
He said, "Good morning, Mary. I hope you have a good day."
"Good morning, Lewis, I hope you do also." After her words,
Roya turned her attention to a pious man with spiral curls and wearing
the black coat of the Jewish Quarter as he passed down the street.
Lewis Kolleck crossed Christian Street and stepped into the shop of
souvenirs at eleven-thirty a.m. Lewis said, "Mary, there's an American
film showing in the New City. Would you like to go see it? They're going
to provide security."
Roya turned to Lewis. She just finished straightening a display of Bibles
left askew by a group of women from France. The women moved on to another
shop. They hadn't bought anything and it angered Roya that they pulled
the Bibles out and hadn't replaced them. For Roya, the morning moved in
slow motion writing every detail into her thoughts for later review. Roya
didn't understand it and knew it came by the mysterious conversation with
her mother that morning. "I don't know, Lewis. My mother is more depressed
today than I have ever seen her. I need to check on her."
"Why don't you go up and see how she's doing. I'll watch the shop."
"You wouldn't mind?"
"No, I'll be happy to. Stay with her for a while if you like. My
parents can watch the cafe. They know where I am if they need me."
Roya stepped to Lewis and kissed him on his left cheek. The act surprised
both. Lewis knew something deeply troubled the young woman. She never expressed
any affection for him other than being friends. He said, "Really,
take all the time you need."
Roya turned to step outside the shop, unlocked the iron door to the
stairway, and locked the door behind her. She climbed the stairs, entered
the kitchen, took a soda from the refrigerator, opened it, and walked to
her mother's bedroom. As she entered the room she said, "Mother, Lewis
is watching the shop."
Laleh Sanders didn't open her eyes. A cold frightening fear washed through
Roya. She stepped to the foot of the bed knowing her mother wasn't sleeping.
The soda dropped from Roya's hand, she fell to her knees, her heart breaking
as though the stones of God's temple had fallen upon it. With her eyes
wet with tears Roya managed to reach the side of the bed where she rested
her head on her mother's left hand. The broken water pitcher lay scattered
on the floor. When a piece of glass cut her right knee, Roya didn't notice
the pain or the bleeding. But in a voice of anguish reaching above the
sounds of the street, Roya cried out, "Oh, God, help me!"
Seconds later, after climbing over the wall sheltering the home's narrow
courtyard, Lewis stood in the bedroom door gazing on the saddest scene
he could remember seeing. The daughter was beside her mother. Her mother's
eyes no longer looked on the darkness and lies of the world. Roya's left
arm crossed her mother and her head rested against her mother's left side.
Lewis stood in silence not knowing what to say. He went to the kitchen
where he found the name and number of a doctor on the refrigerator door.
The doctor's medical card held to the door by a magnet shaped as the Azadi
monument in Tehran. The doctor came round each week to check on Mary Goldwaith's
mother. As he dialed the number, Lewis heard the sound of Roya's broken
heart that came with her cries.
The doctor who had been treating Laleh came to the house to examine
her body. After doing so and taking a blood sample, he pronounced no need
for an autopsy. It was evident the woman ended her life to escape the pain
of it. At three p.m. men carried the lifeless body of Laleh Sanders down
Before men carried the body down to the street, the doctor took the
glass from Roya's knee, gave her an injection for pain, sterilized the
wound, and sutured the cut together before bandaging it. At the street,
Roya closed the shop as men placed Laleh's body in the back of a small
European pickup. A shell over the small truck's bed allowed it to serve
as a hearse. Roya climbed into the back and Lewis accompanied her. The
truck maneuvered through the narrow streets as people moved out of its
way as it left The Old City. The small pickup soon drove in the direction
of Shamgar Avenue and toward the Municipal Funeral Parlor. Three years
back, Laleh arranged for cremation before leaving the hospital. She told
Roya to one-day return her ashes to the United States.
Lewis had remained silent but now asked, "Mary, what are you going
Roya sat in the back of the pickup with her mother's body. She sat with
her right leg so she didn't tear the stitches in her knee while holding
her mother's left hand in her lap. She looked at Lewis who sat at the tailgate.
Roya looked on him through empty eyes that betrayed a lost soul. Roya said,
"I don't know, Lewis. But I know why she did it."
"Why, Mary? Why did she do it?"
No longer believing she cared whether others knew the truth Roya said,
"Because she was afraid she would hold me back and I wouldn't escape
them. She did it because my true name isn't Mary Goldwaith. My name is
Lewis was lost to the words. He asked, "Escape who? Why change
"Men who'll one day find me and fear my mother told me about them."
Roya stared through Lewis and saw another time in Chicago. She remembered
the violent words between her mother and a man with whom her mother was
living. The man had once been a father to her. Roya believed her biological
father died in Vietnam before she was born. Fred Southgate had lied to
her mother about her mother's time in Iran, and it damn near killed her
mother on the inside. Now, the lies did their job. Roya added, "It
was years ago. Years ago."
Lewis didn't speak as the small truck moved over the street and toward
a business for the dead. On the New Jerusalem streets, the city buses and
cars pressed on to their different directions. Aware of the traffic not
yet at a rush hour, and not really seeing it, Roya knew there would come
a day she would return her mother's ashes to America. She would return
them to throw them in the face of men in Langley, Virginia.
Lewis broke his silence and said, "Mary, listen to me. I don't
care what name you have. You can stay where you are. I can help you with
the shop. I don't mind. I want to help you get through this."
Roya's voice sounded lost. "I don't know, Lewis. I don't know.
It's too soon to think about it." As Roya turned her attention to
the back of the small truck, she thought of how the small truck was nothing
compared to an American hearse she remembered passing in Chicago. The large
hearse trailed other cars carrying mourners. There were no cars following
for her mother. Roya swore a silent oath and remembered her mother telling
of the incident in the Iranian Desert. Her mother told her of it in Tel
Aviv. Now, she knew there were papers in a safety deposit box in a bank
in Zurich to prove her mother's story. Roya said, "Lewis, you must
listen to me. If anyone comes with the name of The Raven, or any other,
and asking for my mother, or me, don't tell him anything, Lewis. Do you
understand? Don't tell him anything. Don't tell them of my mother's death.
You must say nothing."
Lewis Kolleck looked on Roya's face and saw a near look of terror in
her eyes. He asked, "Who is The Raven?"
"I don't know, Lewis. I don't know. If I did, I would kill him."
Lewis knew Roya spoke the truth. Never had he seen such a look of concentrated
hatred as that now emanating from the girl before him. >>>
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