Read Interlude Online

Authors: Lela Gilbert

Tags: #ebook, #book

Interlude (6 page)

Thus far, her only background source on the subject had been the myriad journalists who contacted her when Jon was first abducted. They had given her bits and pieces of the story, and what she learned made no sense.

For example, what distinguished the little groups that took credit for kidnapping the various hostages? The Islamic Jihad. The Islamic Holy War for the Liberation of Palestine. The Revolutionary Justice Organization. Jon's kidnappers had called themselves the Islamic Revolutionary Organization. Supposedly he was their first victim. No statement had been issued regarding demands, ransom or anything else. Who were the kidnappers? What did they want? Why did they take Jon?

The day before she left for Oregon, a Christmas card arrived from Kentucky. Inside it was a note,

Dear Elisabeth,

I just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers this holiday season. I know how painful this time of year can be for you, and I hope you'll keep yourself surrounded by friends and family. Please feel free to call me if you ever need to talk.

God bless,
Peggy Say

Betty knew that Peggy was Terry Anderson's sister.
Why would she take the time to write to me? Her brother's been in there for years!
Betty was deeply moved by the note and tried to recollect whether she'd seen Peggy on television and what she looked like.
She must be a very kindhearted woman. I'll call her before Christmas. Or maybe I'll just write to her.

Instead of putting the note in the pile of unanswered mail that was gathering dust on the left side of her desk, Betty impulsively folded it and slipped it into her wallet. It gave her hope, somehow, and reminded her that her situation could be worse.

She woke up early the next morning and methodically put her luggage in the car. She found herself moving in slow motion. Silently she prayed,
Lord, if there's a call I'm supposed to get, let it come now, before I leave the house.

What if Jon got out? What if they allowed him to telephone her on Christmas day and she didn't answer? Fear clashed with reason. She'd put her father's phone number on the outgoing recording “in case of emergency,” and she had tested and retested the code for retrieving her messages. Jim and Joyce at OMI had agreed to check her mail every few days, in case some sort of communiqué came through from Lebanon. In short, there was no way Jon couldn't reach her.

I'm homesick and I haven't even left the driveway!
She fought back tears, double-checked the front door lock and drove away.

The eighteen-hour drive to Medford, Oregon, was more enjoyable than she'd hoped. There was a certain peacefulness in the solitude. By the time she pulled up to Harold's mobile home, she was too tired to be concerned about anything but sleep.

Next morning she woke up in a small, tidy room. She knew Harold was up. He was sneezing, and every time he sneezed the whole structure shuddered slightly.
Talk about close quarters . . .
She got up, brushed her hair, and quietly dialed her home telephone number. “You have no messages,” the mechanical voice reported.

As she entered the living room she was greeted by a blast of hot air.
Geez, it's like walking into a nuclear reactor.
An enormous wood stove glowed red, heating the room to an ungodly temperature. Beads of sweat broke out on her face as she sipped at the strong, scalding coffee her father poured for her.

“Daddy, it's got to be ninety degrees in here!” Harold Fuller had always been partial to warm indoor environments.

“It's cold outside! I'm heading out for more wood.” Harold shuffled off in his bedroom slippers toward some unseen woodpile, and as the front door opened a welcome Arctic blast swept across the living room. He quickly returned, laden with firewood.

“Why don't you have a Christmas tree?”

“Trees are a waste of time and money,” he grumbled, stacking the wood against the stove. There was an awkward pause. “Why, did you want a Christmas tree or something?”

“I thought I came up here for Christmas, Daddy.” Betty looked at her father affectionately. He was a character, to be sure. “Of course I want a Christmas tree.”

“What about that plastic one we used to . . .”

“Forget it!” she interrupted him without apology. “I'll get us a real tree. Where are we going to put our presents if we don't have a tree?”

“What presents?”

Betty sighed and shook her head. She looked around the room. It was cluttered with familiar objects that she remembered from childhood. But not a single Christmas decoration could be seen.
He probably misses Mother too much to celebrate Christmas.

“Look, Daddy, if I get us a tree, do you think you can find our old boxes of ornaments?”

“Oh, they're probably out in the shed. Yeah, I'll find them but you'd better be careful—they're probably full of black widow spiders. Go ahead and get dressed. I'll take you into town and we'll look for a tree.”

Harold was whistling an unidentifiable tune and stoking the fire yet again when Betty went into the little bathroom to take a shower. She located a thin, tattered bath towel and looked inside the shower stall. “Daddy, do you have anything besides Lava soap?” she shouted.

“What's wrong with Lava soap?” he shot back. “I think maybe I've got some Boraxo somewhere.”

“Never mind . . .” Betty sighed again and rummaged around in her overnight case until she found a small bar of hotel soap.
This could be a very long, very hot visit,
she thought to herself. And then she smiled. In fact she almost laughed. On the wall of the bathroom was a miniature plaque that said in tiny pink letters,

BE STILL AND KNOW THATTHAT I AM GOD

Harold Fuller wasn't about to pay for cable television, so Betty was without her faithful companion, CNN. The only thing she could tune in on her father's venerable radio was an annoying combination of static and country music—not one all-news station could be found anywhere on the dial. ABC's “World News Tonight” was her sole source of daily information. Jon seemed farther away from Oregon than from Los Angeles.

Days passed with a penetrating sameness. Finally, after an uneventful week had come and gone, Red Jeffrey appeared on Christmas Eve. He blew in with a mighty gust, bearing a foil-wrapped object under his arm.

“Venison,” he announced as he dropped it on the table. Red was aptly nicknamed. His ruddy face was crowned with a ring of graying auburn hair. He wore a red-and-blue plaid wool jacket, jeans, and workman's boots.

“You're Betty? I'm Red. Got any coffee?”

A man of few words,
Betty noted as she plugged in the percolator. She scrounged up some ancient, crumbling cookies, put them on a plate, and took them into the living room.

“It's hotter ‘n hell in here, Fuller,” Red complained, yanking off his jacket and unbuttoning the top two buttons of his flannel shirt.

Harold chuckled and glanced at Betty. He leaned back in his recliner and after a few USMC amenities said, “Well, Red, what can you tell us about the Beirut hostages?”

Red pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his brow. “Best bet for those suckers is a commando raid. Otherwise they're never gonna get out. That officer I told you about, Samuels, he says the city used to be crawling with CIA, but they've probably pulled out most of the agents by now. He says the federal government's washed its hands of the whole damned place. They've lost too much blood and screwed up too many times. Nobody wants to touch it.”

Harold scowled. “So who'd stage a raid? Marines?”

“Delta Force, probably, if Bush approved it. But my guess is that the Israelis might like to win some points in this deal. I'm voting for that.”

Is he speculating or does he know something?
Betty studied Red's face. It was inscrutable. He was a career Marine, near retirement age. Who did he know? What had he heard? He and Harold had met when Red was “wet behind the ears,” as Harold described it. For some unexplainable reason, the two men had remained in contact.

Betty wanted more details. “Red, what do you mean the government's washed its hands of the whole thing?

Do you mean they aren't doing anything?”

“I mean that the hostages in Beirut aren't particularly high on anybody's list these days. Most people won't say it, but they're convinced that those guys never should have been in there in the first place. It's risky business.”

“Jon was promised a Druze guard . . .” Betty said, feeling protective of Jon.

“Yeah, right. So was Terry Waite. The Druze are useless. Their warlord, Jumblatt, is a junkie. Why would anyone trust the Druze?”

Red looked at Betty as if she were a complete imbecile.

In response, her voice grew sharply defensive. “How would an ordinary person know whether or not to trust the Druze? Jon was told by the people who hired him that they would protect him.”

“Well, he should have done his homework before he trusted his life to them. No offense, but guys like your boyfriend put the old US of A in a terrible spot. They make foolish decisions, and then expect somebody else or the government to bail them out.”

Betty was extraordinarily angered by Red's words, but for some reason she was even more enraged by his arrogance. “Look, Red. You don't know Jon. And you don't know any of the other hostages. How dare you sit there and criticize men who are chained to a wall somewhere, and . . .” Her voice was growing loud and shrill.

Red was perfectly capable of rising to the occasion. His face was more florid than ever. “Hey, little lady, don't you lecture me! I'm the one who'll end up bustin' his butt for some little ignoramus like your boyfriend.”

Betty jumped up, grabbed her coat, and stormed out the door. The northern wind cooled her cheeks and ran soothing fingers through her hair. She was too incensed to think orderly thoughts. Red's insensitivity overwhelmed her. How could he sit there and blindly insult and practically assault the man she loved? Didn't he understand her grief? Her loss?
Oh, God. I would have been in London with Jon right now if this hadn't happened.
For a moment pain knifed through her chest and anguish blackened her senses.

She walked down one country road after another. Twilight was stretching long shadows across the landscape. Brittle ice was forming along the edge of puddles, and the stark silhouettes of pine trees stood black and tall against the silver sky. Her nose and lips were numb with cold. She thrust her hands deeply into her pockets.

What an obnoxious
. . . but only obscenities came to mind. Red Jeffrey had managed to breathe new life into a couple of them.

The man's words rankled, to be sure. But beneath his cruel diatribe, Betty gradually realized some seeds of truth. Drifts of the same sentiment had come her way before, albeit never so harshly: Lebanese hostages were victims of their own poor judgment, or, worse yet, losers in a deadly gamble. As for the government's posture? Concern for the future of the hostages was expressed in effusive public statements, while in actual policy resolution of the predicament seemed to have been left to the winds of chance.

An even deeper issue troubled Betty, although she'd never mentioned it to anyone. Jon was neither fish nor fowl. He wasn't an American citizen, but he had an INS green card, which probably indicated to the New Zealand government that he really wasn't their concern, either.

Did New Zealand have a hostage policy? Was it the same as Britain's? Was anyone anywhere concerned about Jon Surrey-Dixon's release besides Elisabeth Casey?

After a couple of hours of cooling off, literally and figuratively, Betty crunched her way up Harold's gravel driveway. Red's car was gone. She quietly opened the door. Was Harold upset with her for walking out?
Ask me if I care
. . . Betty was mentally repacking her bags.

“Hi, Betty. Did you have a good walk?” Harold had plugged in the lights on the little Christmas tree, plainly a conciliatory gesture. “Sorry about Red. He's a Marine, and that means he's got a mind of his own.”

She sat down and looked at her hands, absently watching the reflected Christmas lights dance across her diamond. “Do you agree with what he said, Daddy?”
Because if you do, I'm leaving here, right this minute, Christmas or no Christmas.

“Betty, I'll tell you how I feel. I think Jon is in God's hands. You know I'm not the Bible scholar your mother was, but I want to read you something I read this morning. I think it's something to hang onto for him.”

Pages rustled as Harold fumbled through his well-worn Scofield Bible. His thick fingers tried to turn the delicate, gilt-edged pages. He cleared his throat, and read,

I called upon the
LORD
in distress: the
LORD
answered me, and set me in a large place.

The
LORD
is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do unto me?

The
LORD
taketh my part with them that help me; therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.

It is better to trust in the
LORD
than to put confidence in man.

It is better to trust in the
LORD
than to put confidence in princes.

“That's verses 5 through 9 of Psalm 118,” he said as he raised his eyes and searched his daughter's face. Was she listening or had she tuned him out?

“Betty, you're going to hear a lot of opinions, a lot of rumors, and a lot of political nonsense as long as Jon's over there. And the fact of the matter is, there's nothing you can do except pray. And wait. And try not to blow your top.” He closed his Bible, got up, and walked over to throw some more wood on the already raging, snapping fire.

“Daddy,” she waited to see if she had his attention. She did. “You may not have bought me anything for Christmas, but you just gave me the best present ever.”

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