Read Interlude Online

Authors: Lela Gilbert

Tags: #ebook, #book

Interlude (7 page)

Their eyes met, for once mirroring unhindered love and understanding. The moment was almost too much for Harold.

“What do you mean, I didn't buy you anything for Christmas?” he barked. “You'll get your presents tomorrow morning, just like you always did.”

Betty returned home to piles of mail. Tired after the long drive from Oregon, she tried desperately to concentrate as she leafed through dozens of envelopes. A large manila one had come from the couple she'd met at Erica's dinner party. Doris and . . . what was his name? “The Walkers” said the return address.

The note read,

Dear Betty,

Here are the things you'll need for the trip we promised you. We sincerely hope you'll find it to be an encouraging and helpful time. The gentleman whose card is enclosed will pick you up at the airport—he works for Henry's news service.

Henry . . . that's right. Henry and Doris.

Enclosed in the envelope, along with the note and the business card, were a United Airlines ticket to Washington, D.C. and a confirmation memo from One Washington Circle Hotel. Betty was to leave January 6 and return four days later.

Jim Richards had agreed to take her to the airport. Just as they were going out the door, the telephone rang.

“Let it go . . .” Jim suggested. “We don't want to be late.”

“I'll just see who it is . . .” Betty never ceased to imagine that Jon was somehow going to call her.

“Hello, is this Betty? This is Vince Angelo. Did you get my letter about Jon?”

Vince Angelo. Vince Angelo. Oh yes, the writer who was with Jon in Beirut.

“Yes, thanks, I did . . .”

“I'm calling you from Washington . . . D.C.”

“Vince, as a matter of fact, I was just going out the door to catch a flight to Washington. How long will you be there?”

“The rest of the week. Where are you staying?”

“At One Washington Circle.”

“Shall I call you there?”

“Yes. Of course. I'd love to talk to you.”

After making the arrangements to meet, Betty hung up and headed out the door. Something troubled her about the call. For some reason she didn't want to hear the details of Jon's abduction. Yet, logically, she ought to be willing to sit down with the last person who saw Jon, to hear what he might have to say. She sighed loudly enough for Jim to notice.

“Betty, don't worry. You'll enjoy your time in Washington. It'll be good for you.”

“Jim, all of this is so unreal. It's like a long, long nightmare. I don't want to go to Washington. I don't want to be on television. I don't want to talk about the hostages or think about the hostages or hear about the hostages. I just want to wake up and find Jon here, beside me.”

Betty surprised herself by crying. In recent days tears had seemed to be forever spilling out of her eyes. She hadn't really laughed in weeks. And there was no relief in sight.

Catching her flight out of LAX, she dozed on and off during the flight. She awoke to find the aircraft banking over D.C. Although it was dark, she quickly recognized several buildings and monuments that were bathed in floodlights. The Jefferson Memorial. The Capitol building. The White House. An incurably proud American, Betty was exhilarated at the sight of such beloved landmarks.

I can't believe I'm here!

It was about 7:00
P.M.
when she deplaned at National Airport. Betty scanned the crowd until she saw a young man holding up a sign bearing her name. She waved to him. “I'm Elisabeth Casey.” He immediately took her bag and introduced himself. “I'm Derek Davis. Did Henry Walker by chance tell you that you're invited to a dinner tonight?”

“No, he just said you'd meet me.”

“Well, it was sort of a last-minute decision. We happened to check with Peggy Say, and there's a dinner at a downtown restaurant for the hostage families. She's invited you to join them if you aren't too tired.”

Betty was, in fact, exhausted. But she'd come all this way to meet the others. She was especially anxious to meet Peggy, and feeling slightly troubled that she'd not answered her kind note.

“I'll go,” she said. “But I'd like to drop my stuff off at the hotel first, if it isn't out of the way.”

“Not at all, Ms. Casey,” Derek smiled at her, picked up her luggage, and they were on their way.

When they arrived at Le Petit Chat, a crowded café several blocks from the hotel, Derek led Betty to a woman whom she immediately recognized from television. Peggy Say glanced up, blew a plume of smoke over her shoulder, and smiled. “Hi, I'm Peggy.”

“I'm Elisabeth Casey—from California.” Betty extended her hand.

“Sit down! We're just talking about the usual insanity at the State Department. I'll introduce you once everybody's here.”

Betty listened for the next two hours to an ongoing conversation that nearly left her breathless. Her not-so-positive reaction to George O'Ryan of the State Department had been mild compared to what she was hearing. Several hostage families were represented at the table, and not one of them could find a kind thing to say about O'Ryan.

“I think he's history,” Peggy commented amidst clouds of blue-gray smoke. “I hear there are changes coming. There've been so many complaints about him, he's being transferred—out of the country.”

“The farther away the better. Just as long as they don't replace him with another spook,” someone muttered and everybody laughed.

Betty looked at Peggy in bewilderment. “What's a spook?”

“CIA. Be careful who you're talking to,” she chuckled.

On and on the free-ranging conversation went. Betty listened as closely as possible. Most of these people had been at the heart of the Lebanon hostage crisis for years. They weren't afraid to name names disrespectfully, from the president of the United States on down. They weren't reluctant to criticize—even condemn—U.S. policy. They had survived Irangate, heard every excuse, seen every cover-up, and come up without their loved ones in the process. But, in spite of it all, they were able to laugh, even in the face of such horrendous circumstances.

The more Betty listened, however, the more unclear she was about one particular matter. Who was responsible for getting the hostages out? It sounded to her like the State Department was at odds with the Justice Department on the subject. And the Justice Department wanted no action whatsoever from the Defense Department. And, although the President seemed to be sincerely troubled about the matter, he was committed to no direct negotiations. Although a handful of congressmen were expressing continuing concern, Congress itself was irresolute on the subject.

Who was responsible for the hostages? Everyone, it seemed. And no one at all.

When the dinner ended, Betty shared a cab back to the hotel with Peggy. “I want to thank you for writing to me at Christmas. Betty pulled Peggy's handwritten message out of her purse. “I've been carrying it around with me since the day it arrived. I'm sorry I didn't answer. You wouldn't believe the pile of mail on my desk.”

“Oh yes I would,” Peggy laughed. She took Betty's hand and looked at her diamond. “I'm sorry about your wedding. But I have a feeling Jon will be out long before Terry is. You just hang in there.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I think he's being held by a different group of captors, and they aren't as hardline as the guys who have Terry.”

“How do you know?”

“I've been around this hostage business for a long time, Elisabeth . . .”

“Why don't you call me Betty.”

Peggy nodded as she lit another cigarette. “I hear a lot, and I know a lot of people, Betty. You hang in there and keep praying. God's going to take care of both Jon and Terry. You've got to keep the faith, not just for yourself, but for Jon. Know what I mean?”

Betty nodded. She looked at Peggy in amazement. Again and again Peggy had ridden a heartless roller-coaster from soaring hope to crushing disappointment. She'd lost both her father and a brother since the kidnapping and was forever hearing the promise that Terry might possibly be coming out “this weekend.” She had spent endless months and years waiting for a phone call that never came. And now, here she was, encouraging Betty to pray.

“You're a remarkable woman, Peggy,” Betty hugged her as they said good night.

Peggy laughed. “Be in the lobby at nine-thirty. There's a hostage remembrance service at the Capitol building at ten. I'm going to have to leave town after that, but call me when you get home, okay?”

“Okay.”

Betty unlocked her room, undressed, and got into her nightgown as quickly as possible. She clicked on the television, requested a wake-up call, brushed her teeth, and started to get into bed. Suddenly a peculiar thought struck her. Perhaps it was because her lower back was aching with fatigue. Or maybe it was inspired by the feminine hygiene product commercial that had just graced the television.

How long had it been since her last period?

Had she had one since Jon left?

Had she had one since . . .

She caught her breath. It had to have been at least six weeks. She stared at herself in the mirror, shivering with a new fear. Again, tears. Maybe she was emotional because . . .

Betty got on her knees beside the bed. Was this a nightmare within a nightmare? Did God care about her? “Keep the faith,” Peggy had said.

Oh, Lord. Please.
By now she was crying so hard that she could hardly speak. It had been many years since she had felt so utterly, helplessly alone.

Oh God. Don't let me be pregnant. I can't face it. It's too much. I can't go through something like that without Jon. And Lord, everyone will know. The whole world will know—I've been on every network, in every newspaper. Oh God, please. Help me, Lord!

Exhausted and frightened beyond words, she crawled into the bed, shivering and sobbing. In less than a minute's time she had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Next morning's prayer vigil at the Capitol building was a sweet, moving occasion sponsored by several humanitarian groups that had taken on the hostages as a special project. Music was performed, prayers were offered, and words of encouragement were spoken by several leading clerics, congressmen, and journalists. Betty was touched by the event but frequently distracted by the fear that had so unpleasantly introduced itself to her the night before.

Afterward, a brown-eyed man with a finely chiseled face and graying hair approached Betty. “Are you Elisabeth Casey?”

“Yes, I am,” Betty eyed the man curiously.

“I'm a friend of Jon's”

“Oh, you must be Vince Angelo.”

“No, I'm not Vince, but I know him. My name is Mike Brody, and I'm doing some work on the hostage situation. I wondered if you could spare a few minutes. I just want to ask you a few questions.”

Why did Peggy say, “Be careful whom you talk to?” Was she serious?

“I'll help if I can.”

“Let's sit down over here.” Betty was glad to sit down. Her back was aching again. “Tell me, to your knowledge, did Jon have any contact with Lebanese nationals?”

“No, I don't think so. Jon had a last minute call to go on assignment there, and from what he said I don't think he'd been to Lebanon before.”

Betty felt like an outsider in her fiancé's life, and even more so when Mike replied, “Yes, we know that he had been there before. We're just trying to piece some information together.”

“What exactly do you do? Are you with the State Department?”

The man laughed disarmingly, quite prepared for her questions. “I work for the government, Elisabeth, and I do work in cooperation with State. We're all in this together—I'm sure you're aware of that.”

“Mike,” Betty tried to hide the defensiveness she felt. “I've known Jon for a couple of years, but he certainly hasn't told me everything about himself. There just hasn't been time, with all his traveling around.”

“Well, Jon is a well-traveled man, and he's gotten acquainted with a lot of people around the world. I'm just interested in knowing whom he might have been planning to see in Beirut.”

Betty was fascinated by Mike. She could quickly see that he was extremely intelligent. It seemed to her that he had something specific in mind—something he wasn't about to reveal. His eyes reflected an inner calm. He seemed to be very much in control of himself. And, for some reason, he made her want to talk to him.

“Mike, can I ask you something? Is anyone doing anything about getting Jon out?”

Mike smiled affably. “The hostages are a very important issue to the Bush administration, Elisabeth. More important than you might imagine. Clearly, a great deal is being done on their behalf. But past experience has taught this administration that it's best not to involve the families in any hostage release efforts. Emotion and good judgment don't always go hand in hand. Just ask Ronald Reagan.”

Mike checked his watch and seemed surprised by what it said. “Look, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get going. If you come across any names or addresses Jon might have gathered in Beirut, give me a call.”

Mike wrote his name and two phone numbers on a note pad, ripped it out, and handed it to her. Apparently, he didn't have a business card. “The second number is my home. Call anytime, day or night. Thanks for taking the time. Oh, by the way, that's Vince Angelo over there. Weren't you looking for him?”

Mike seemed to be in quite a rush, but he pointed out a small, balding man in his early thirties. Vince had a halo of curly black hair, a cherubic smile, and a nervous manner. Betty introduced herself to him.

“Betty! I was going to call you this afternoon!” Vince winked at her and spoke with a strong New York accent. “My you are a beauty, aren't you? Jon told me, but I didn't believe him.”

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