Shelley Hobson never really intended to jump.
Nevertheless, there she found herself, plummeting backward down the rabbit hole, defying gravity - into the underground maze of narrowly tunneled switchbacks and false passageways that were the 1970’s counterculture. And even in the crystal clear blackness of night, nothing was as it seemed . . .
While the novel "Corners" features some real historic figures, it is historical fiction.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Take these broken wings
The Corner of Everywhere and Nowhere
“Still ‘round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.” – J.R.R. Tolkein
Barb gave Yonas the New West article to read when she got home from dinner that evening. Later, after they lay down for the night, Barb tossed and turned until exactly 2:14 am by the big black hands on the plastic clock radio, Yonas rubbing her back now and then as he drifted in and out. Finally she dropped into a wild, sweaty dream-infested sleep.
More than an observer this time, she was on the jungle floor with Roger, but invisible. Where he went, she went; when he moved, she moved. He carried a rifle ready and aimed, the butt jammed into his armpit and his hand on the action. A hot, sticky rain pelted straight down on them as they stood at the edge of a clearing, looking into a sheltered area fed by little roadways, all awash with mud. Hundreds were crammed into a giant knot under the shelter and spilling out, like sheep, a voice booming at them over a jerry-built megaphone loud speaker. Others were hiding from the voice in the jungle behind them, some fleeing between the trees. Those Roger could see, he shot. Other hands were grabbing whoever they could catch, jamming hypodermic needles into their backs and releasing them to scatter, then to drop to their knees, foaming at the mouth. A sign hung over the horrific scene, crudely lettered, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
“Mother, mother, mother, mother, mother,” the voice chanted, shrill and maniacal. Babies were screaming, children struggling, some foul liquid being siphoned into their little mouths or injected into their arms. They began to convulse. They gave up their tiny spirits, which floated free of them as they fell, twisting and bolting like fireflies upward, high and fast, disappearing into the night sky with arms wide, then darting back down, hovering around the faces of the grieving ones who had just held them, kissing their cheeks with their vapor, then disappearing into a star studded velvet darkness that was velvet only for them.
At once Barb and Roger were free of the jungle’s edge, up in a high place above the crowns of the trees where there was no rain, and they were face to face. “Voices, so many” he moaned, his head melting in and out of shape from ghastly mask to Roger and back again.
Then his face became stable, and he was Roger, but somehow cleaner, sweeter, more pure, a spot of hot yellow light glowing above his left iris as he spoke. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
The two of them darted, hand in hand, down below the crowns of the trees, hovering there unseen. Roger’s voice came again, this time softly, “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Tiny souls batted around their heads as they hovered there, the souls pointing their faces upward as if listening to something radiant, then darting into the sky and gone.
Again she and Roger were transported to the jungle floor, sodden and flooded, but no more rain from above. On their knees, they screamed, and Barb snapped awake, a blinding pain shooting through the back of her head.
She sat bolt upright, drenched with sweat, mouth wide, a heart rending primal scream piercing the room and jolting Yonas awake. He jumped up to his knees and bent over her, sheltering her with his body and wrapping his arms around her.
“What, what? What is it?” he cried out, still dazed, but shot through with adrenaline.
Stunned and drenched, she looked at him blankly and then began sobbing, trembling. After she found her voice, she whispered, “They killed the babies, Yonas. They killed the babies. But Jesus took them, all of them. They knew His voice.”
* * *
Excerpt from Jacki’s Diary
September 10, 1977
It’s been a while since I’ve written, but it’s been insane. I kept telling myself I would start again as soon as we got settled, but there’s no such thing as settled in this place.
Paradise it ain’t. It’s a good thing we have all their passports locked up, because I know there have got to be some that would be risking their lives in that jungle to get out of here if they had theirs in their pocket. This is my job: to keep a brave face on it so everybody else stays steady. The fewer people we have to keep medicated in the infirmary, the easier it will be. After all, we can’t keep everybody in the infirmary. Crowd control and maintaining peer pressure is key. At a time like this, even Jim’s thing about the Guyanese waiting in the jungle to break their kneecaps and torture them if they catch them alone is a help. Whatever it takes.
It’s weird being out of touch with society, but at the same time the fact that we are is good for me, because it gets me out of here a lot. As long as I keep his trust and stay tied to the outside world, I can get away to run errands or carry messages or do business whenever I want. I’m pretty sure I’d go crazy real quick if I couldn’t.
September 29, 1977
Jim has reached the boiling point with the custody battle over John Robert Schoenfeld. The Guyanese authorities have issued a bench warrant that Jim is subject to arrest if he doesn’t turn over the boy. Jim will kill us all before he’ll let that boy go. If Grace and Tim ever got their kid back, they would spill every weird thing they’ve ever seen in here. What would they have to lose?
Now that we’re here and Tim has left us to side with Grace, it’s straight-up war, especially with him having been our attorney. If that’s how he felt, he should never have taken a position of trust with us to begin with, because a girl like Grace was going to wind up servicing Jim, and then everything gets grey. And on top of it, he did sign the paper saying Jim was the boy’s dad. It’s not cool to go back on your word.
Jim has been communicating with Cuba trying to see if they’ll take the whole community, now that he feels like the government here has turned against him, but Cuba’ll only take him and a few more. Nobody understands a socialist but another socialist, he said. So he said it’s everybody or nobody, and he’s ready to stand here and die to keep that boy, but nobody’s going to arrest Jim Jones, nobody’s going to violate his rights. He broadcast words to that effect over the shortwave while he was preaching to the congregation – he said “we’re gonna die if anyone comes to arrest anyone,” that it’s the vote of the people.
Angela Davis and some of our other people in California heard this and got concerned, so Angela broadcast back over the radio to the whole Temple that everyone in California is on our side and not to worry because she knew about the conspiracy against us and wanted us to know that people across the United States supported us, and that they would work to make sure we were safe. Then Huey Newton got on there with her and said that the Guyanese government ought to know that Jim Jones was nobody to be messed with. The crowd went nuts. What pulls us apart, brings us together.
Mostly it’s a roller coaster – one minute we’re up, the next some psycho thing is going on. I just live ready. My only sanity is Stokes. Thank God he’s here.
Roger Fagin is so cute, I hate to see him stuck in here. It seems like he’s doing pretty well, as long as we keep him worn out. But then that’s the Temple way anyway – keep them worn out and they’re too tired to complain. He’s kind of a favorite of mine. We were talking one day and I found out that the girl he left back home, the one he left Moon for in Berkeley, is Barb! Totally freaky, man. For real. I remember her talking about that guy.
He’s kind of become a go-to guy for small things – guard duty, errands to town and stuff. He’s trustworthy, because he’s so radical, but I can see he’s still lonely for somebody. Nothing like good hard work to keep that stuff under control, especially considering Barb is married to somebody else anyway. I’ve been letting him go to Georgetown to carry the mail run with Gene; he likes getting out, and he’s earned it. He’ll be fine. He has to be. We have his passport.
October 9, 1977
Marceline and Deb and I have been in the States this week – hallelujah – and Marceline went to see Ptolemy Reid’s wife while we were here, considering Jim was in a high level freak attack over the custody thing and had the whole place on suicide alert. Reid’s the Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana and they were visiting the city.
Marceline talked to his wife woman to woman, which I’m sure helped, and while she was doing that Deb and I called Reid himself, on Jim’s orders, and told him that if he didn’t stall the court action, the whole population of Jonestown was going to kill themselves in a mass suicide by 3:30 that day. That had to have been what did the trick. So now Reid has called off the bench warrant and stalled the custody proceedings, and promised that no one will bother us.
So Marceline called Jim that things had gone well, and he called off the suicide alert. Still, he’s going to keep looking for friendly socialist places for us to go, because I think this kind of took the bloom off the rose for him with Guyana. Especially considering the amount we have to pay to ship food in, since nothing grows here.
You know, when Huey Newton was talking about revolutionary suicide – that’s who Jim gets it from – he didn’t mean the same thing Jim does. He meant that when you go to battle for your principles as a socialist, you might have to die for the revolution at the hands of the enemy. That means laying your life down, yeah, but not taking it yourself. Jim has it twisted. Of course, he is a little twisted. He says his movement is the only true socialist movement in the world, and he wants it to go out with “grandiosity.” Wow. Hopefully, no one will ever read this.
December 19, 1977
Finally we have the issue with the Social Security checks resolved. It’s been a nightmare – can you imagine the Temple losing $35,000 in budgeted income? The feds seemed to think they could decide when and where they would pay people the benefits they have earned. Health Education and Welfare has been blocking all of our members from getting their checks ever since we moved out here, patently illegal.
This has been no way for us to get off to a good start. We barely just got here and already we’ve been having to live hand to mouth.
But Congressman Burton came to the rescue – he stepped in and got the checks freed up so our people could get paid, and they finally came into Georgetown post office in a giant sack. It took several letters and some phone calls to get things moving, but it’s done. Now comes the business of banking them, but that’s a better problem to have than not having the checks at all. Once the checks are signed over to the Temple, we can finally start operating in the black again.
The up side is, people have gotten used to living with less than we would have given them if we’d had the checks in the first place. That means, now that we have the income, maybe we can use it for other things, kind of like found money. Every bit counts.
* * *
Above Port Kaituma
“There is no place in my soul, no corner of my character, where God is not.” -
Even with Russ there to be the anchor his footloose soul had always craved, somehow Bob and I were still drawn to each other in a way even we couldn’t describe. Between us was still a knowing, a common, timeless understanding at the soul level, a level where you look in someone’s eyes and you know, and they know, and you both know that there are souls, and that you both have one, even share one, and that these souls will never die. It was on that level that Bob and I became lovers for a short time, this time in the flesh. This was to be our secret, no one else’s to share. And while this was not destined to last forever, the bond our love created would tether us, one to the other, across time and space for at least that long, and longer.
And all the while, the tide continued to rise around us, lifting us all up together, each one separate, then dumping us into the trough beneath, Yonas and Barb and Jacki and Shelley and Bob, afloat in a sea of connection, pulled apart to our own separate ways.
At one year of age, Amira was toddling all over the house, and followed mommy wherever she went as if she were tied to her ankle. She jabbered words both familiar and unfamiliar, babbling in English and Amharic and a language all her own in equal amounts. She was already a heartbreaking beauty, her large aquamarine blue eyes fringed with long curly lashes that batted like Scarlett O’Hara when she smiled and flirted, which was often.
Every day she and Barb would walk down to the mailbox together, Amira sidestepping down the wildly floral Victorian carpeted stairs of their Potrero Hill apartment building to the landing, holding onto mommy’s hand, and they would go through the ads and letters and bills together to see what they had before climbing back up to their second floor flat. Sometimes there would be a card from Grandma Mayhew with a lipstick kiss inside, or pictures of her cousins from Uncle Dawit and Auntie Amara to stick to the fridge with a plastic fruit magnet.
One day in early spring, when it was still cold but the blooms had come out on the trees, Barb was flipping through the mail with Amira hanging onto her leg and found two letters in tissuey envelopes rimmed with red, white and blue, one with a toucan stamp, and the other stamped with brightly colored butterflies.
“Look, baby, so pretty!” Barb cried, leaning down to show the butterfly stamp to Amira, who let out a high pitched squeal of approval and bounced up and down, flapping her little hands like the midnight blue and orange creature in the picture. “And here’s a birdie, too. What a big nose he has!” Amira wiggled and pointed and stamped her feet. “Beak!” she cried.
Barb snatched the baby up onto her left hip, clutching the two exotic looking missives in her left hand along with the bills and the ads, and mounted the stairs, certain that the two letters were from Roger.
As soon as she got upstairs she looked at the stamp cancellation. Guyana Post Office Corp, GPO, Robb Street, Georgetown, Guyana. She was right. Roger.
Barb set the envelopes down on the hall table and put Amira on the floor to play with her stuffed animal babies. Then she put the letters out of her mind while she made lunch. She poured herself one small glass of white wine. Just one.
She took her time, putting whatever was inside the envelopes in perspective. As the two of them ate and chattered, she meditated, giving up her fears, and Roger’s future, and the lives and hopes of all those in the Temple, including the babies, to her God, being anxious for nothing. She knew He had them, she had no doubt. Still, it was a conscious effort. So by the time she put Amira down for her afternoon nap, the peace of God that passes all understanding was keeping her heart and mind in Christ Jesus. She was ready.
She took what was left of her wine and the letters, while Amira napped peacefully in her bed, to the living room sofa and curled up with her legs under her, wrapping around her shoulders an afghan that her mother had made for her when she was still pregnant. She took a sip of the wine, rolling it around in her mouth, and set the glass down on the side table next to her.
She decided on the toucan letter first, gingerly ripping into the flap on the back of the tissuey envelope and pulling out two four by five sheets of yellow lined paper, written in pencil on both sides. She began at the beginning.
“Dear Barb, Somebody else did the mail run to Georgetown last week, so I am mailing this letter and my last letter together.”
OK, she said to herself, I’m starting over. She reached for the butterfly letter and opened it less carefully than the first, but preserving the stamp. Inside she found the same format of paper, written on both sides, but white with blue lines, and four pages. Nerves steady, she jumped in.
“Dear Barb, I hope you and Yonas are good. The baby must be getting really big by now. First off I want to say I’m sorry I tried to come between you and Yonas, and I’m really glad you didn’t listen and come out here to this God-forsaken place with me. If I had known you were pregnant I would never have done that, but I still shouldn’t have done it anyway, begged like that. I should have known you would never leave Yonas, with the two of you being the way you are.”
He was right about that, for sure, she thought, reading on.
“You know I’m not as strong as you are. You’ve always had so much common sense. That’s why I loved you so much, because I needed you to keep my head on straight. But I always managed to screw things up for the both of us even when I had you, didn’t I? I miss you like crazy, but I’m really glad you have Yonas, because he’s right for you and can give you what I couldn’t, what you deserve.”
Her throat closed a little and a tear welled up, but she caught it in time before it got a grip on her.
“I had a lot of time to think in prison, and I spent most of it studying and meditating and praying, looking for a vision or a sign. You know how I am. I started out still a full on rasta man. I even studied Amharic so I could read the Haile Selassie Bible. Yeah, I speak Amharic now, just like you. But not really like you, right? I miss being in school.
“But guess what vision I got instead? It ain’t Selassie, man. It isn’t any human being, Moon or Jones either. It’s Him.” She smiled. “But I screwed up because when I got out, I got blinded by all the good stuff that was going on in the Temple, helping the poor and kids and old people, and lost it again. I saw Jim Jones and all I remembered was I didn’t have a Dad. I keep looking for a Dad, a man to tell me I’m OK. When will I grow up?
“Now here I am in the heat breaking my back and carrying a gun, keeping people in line when I know they only need keeping in line because they have it more together than Jones. And I have to tell them they’re in the wrong, or the crowd will shout me down and I’ll get half beat to death in front of everybody. That’s what he does to you if you try to turn on him. So you can’t show this letter to anybody, that I wrote this to you, because I will be in deep trouble if anyone finds out I sent somebody a letter that had this kind of stuff in it, and didn’t turn it in for censoring besides.
“Jones is crazy, no lie. He is on that loudspeaker from 6:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night. I don’t get how any person can talk that long about anything, but you should hear the stuff he talks about. He says the government here is out to get us, and if we run away into the jungle they’ll catch us and torture us and throw us in jail, especially the Black people. The guy says he’s for equality for all, but I think he’s really a racist. All of us whites have jobs where we can drive back and forth to town, if we act nice, or running a crew or something, jobs where you’re trusted some, but he has all the Black people in the kitchen or in the fields doing sweat labor. And his top people are all white women except for one or two, and he’s screwing every one of them, and some of the men. He had his eye on me for a while, but I just keep so busy he doesn’t want to stop me at what I’m doing. I think he’s forgotten about me for now, I hope.
“The food here is really bad, too. Before everybody got here, when it was just a few of us doing construction, the food was a lot better, I think because they were practicing or something. Jones came down here to make movies and take pictures with the cute little monkeys and birds, and the bananas all hanging there in bunches looking delicious so he could sell the place to people who weren’t here yet. Then we got to eat the leftovers, or the props, or whatever. Now it’s just rice and a few chunks of vegetable, and it’s dry. And Kool-Aid to drink. Some days I feel like I’m going to get sick.
“Now there’s almost 1,000 people here. The week everybody started coming in, they organized us on how to “manage” them. Some of the new people even got off the bus high on drugs already. We went through their pockets and patted them down and got their passports if they still had them, and their wallets with their ID, and their watches and jewelry and stuff. We told them we were keeping it safe for them, but we haven’t tried real hard to keep peoples’ stuff together, and it’s all just mixed up. We took a lot of cash, too.
“If you complain, you get this thing called catharsis where they beat you in front of the congregation and people scream at you about what you’ve done wrong, or that you don’t have the right amount of revolutionary fervor. Or you have to have a boxing match with another guy, and they keep putting new people in until you’re beat. If none of that makes you act better, you have to go to the infirmary and they give you something to calm you down. There’s a lot of drugs down here, Barb, more than you’d ever want to believe. And most of it’s not for sick people.
“There’s this girl here, Jacki, that knows you. She and I met when I first got out of jail, right after I joined the Temple, but we just now figured out we’re connected through you. She’s pretty cool to me, even more since she put two and two together that you and I had been together in Berkeley. I can talk to her about stuff and she helps me see it in perspective, because I think really she’s not crazy either. But she’s high up in the Temple, and some of the stuff she does I would not want to be responsible for. A lot of people think she’s really mean. But I think she’s really just doing what she’s gotta do, like the rest of us. Jim expects a lot from her because she’s smart and a good speaker, plus she’s cute. She’s one of his Angels, as he calls it, so I’m pretty sure that means she has to screw him. But I’m not too sure that she has any say in that either.
“OK, babe, I still miss you, and give that little one a kiss for me. If I get caught writing this, I’m in trouble because everything is supposed to be censored. I’ll slip this into the mail with the other stuff next time I make the mail run, but I’m going to have to be sneaky because we always have to travel in twos or threes. And please don’t try to write back. They’ll just read it, and I’ll get hard labor at best if they figure out I got a letter out of here, and that I complained. I’ll mail this as soon as I can.
For a moment Barb just sat there, staring at the pages in her hands, rifling through them again and again, incredulous at some of the things Roger had written. Even though she had read similar things in the magazine article Bob had given her, it was overwhelming to see it in Roger’s words, and to hear about what was going on now that they were in Guyana. She leaned her head back and looked up at the ceiling, eyes closed, not surprised, but still wounded by what she had read. She felt compelled to do something, but she wasn’t sure what yet. Maybe she should give Roger’s letter to the police, or to her Congressman. But then she remembered what Roger had said about being beaten if it came out he had written about these things.
She meticulously folded the letter and put it back in the envelope, shaking her head.
“I’ll show this to Yonas when he gets home. He’ll know just what to do,” she thought. She smiled at herself, remembering a time when she had thought that about Roger, and all the events that had followed. She decided she had read enough for one day, and set the other letter aside on the hall table for the next morning, then went upstairs to check on her sleeping beauty.
When Yonas got home, she put her arms around him as soon as he came through the door and held on for longer than usual, then pulled back and looked up at him, smiling and grateful.
“I’m so glad you were on the Moonie bus that night,” she whispered. “Remember the Moonie bus?”
“How could I forget?” he laughed. “A beautiful blonde speaking broken Amharic with a bad accent.”
“You never mentioned I had an accent!” she cried, socking him in the bicep. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Actually,” he said, “it seemed somehow unimportant at the time.”
“You’re right, it was unimportant,” she answered flirtatiously, kissing him on the ear. “But here’s someone who is,” she said, lifting Amira into his arms. “Come in and sit down while I get dinner.”
The two of them shared Barb’s ratatouille, her special dish, with big firm mushroom caps and the corner market’s best plum tomatoes, and house-made angel hair pasta from the deli. She poured them both a glass of red wine and set out a loaf of crusty bread, while Amira daintily spooned chopped pasta with tomato sauce into her mouth.
They finished their meal quietly. Yonas gave the baby a bath and put her to bed while Barb cleaned up, then joined her on the sofa for their usual time alone.
“I have something I want to show you, babe. Look,” she said, handing him the butterfly envelope. “There’s another one on the hall table that he wrote after this one, but after reading this, I decided to give myself until tomorrow to open it.”
He pulled out the folded pile of pages, tight pencil script filling all eight sides, and did not look up until he was done.
Finally he raised his head and looked at Barb, his eyes very direct. “Barb, you have to open Roger’s other letter right now. I know it’s a lot to take in for one day, but I think we have every reason to be very worried about him, and everyone else who’s stuck out there, just as the reporter feared.”
Barb looked back at Yonas blankly at first, and then nodded, knowing he was right. She brought the other letter to Yonas and put it in his hand.
“I haven’t read it yet. Will you read it? Out loud?” she asked in a small voice.
Yonas took the two yellow pages, a slimmer pile than the first letter, and unfolded them. He looked them over for a moment, and then began to read.
“’Dear Barb,’” he began, “’Somebody else did the mail run to Georgetown last week, so I’m mailing this letter and my last letter together. I had a lot of explaining to do after I wrote to you last time because I tied up the bathroom so long. We’re almost never alone here, and people are awake night and day. So this one’s going to be short.’”
Yonas looked up at Barb and stopped. “He must have had to hide in the bathroom to write the other one.”
He went on. “’I’ve been hearing voices the last week or so. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired or if it’s really Him talking to me, but what I’m hearing is verses from the Bible, usually when I’m almost ready to fall asleep, or right before I wake up. Just last night ‘the Voice’ recited John 10:1-5, word for word in Amharic, you know, the passage about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice, and how only the shepherd comes in by the door, but the one who is a thief and a robber climbs up another way.’”
That’s the same one from my dream, Barb thought, not wanting to stop Yonas until he was done.
“’You’re about the only person I can say this to who won’t think I’m crazy. I think the Lord is speaking to me Barb, and I think he’s telling me the thief and the robber is Jim Jones.
“’I don’t know how long this can go on out here, but I can tell you this. There are a lot of people in this jungle who have lost their minds to Jim Jones. The congregation has turned into a mob, and I’m scared for us. What’s weird about it is that a lot of people don’t trust each other any more anyway, no better than they trust the Guyanese or the American government. But there’s also this bond that can’t be broken, like we’re all refugees out here together, so we’ll follow Jones and his people to the end of the line. Like they’re all we have.
“’It’s hard to explain. But we’re just so tired, and dirty, and it’s hot and then it’s cold, and it just gets hard to think at all. So we depend on each other, and we try to keep each other solid and grounded.
“’A few people talk about trying to escape when they think no one is listening, and some don’t even care who hears them any more. I will tell you one thing, though. No matter how I feel about Jim Jones, I will not leave these people. They’re my family now. There might not be anything much I can do for them, but I’m not a weak man by nature, and I’m not a deserter, not any more. If the time comes, and I’m needed, I’m not going to be escaping through the jungle. I’m going to be right here where He tells me to be.
“I think if Jones could just let up on everybody a little it would be better, maybe let us sleep longer, eat a little better, work a few less hours. If he could just ___’” The line trailed off.
“Somebody’s coming Bye’”
They looked at each other in silence.
“That’s where it stops, like he didn’t get to finish,” Yonas said.
“What does he mean, if the time comes?” Barb asked in a flat voice.
“I don’t know,” Yonas replied, “but it doesn’t sound good. Barb, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take these tomorrow and see if I can find out who else might know about this and might already be doing something about it. May I do that?”
“I don’t want to betray Roger or put him in danger, but I don’t want others to be in danger either. Do what you think is best. I trust you.” Barb moved over close to Yonas and put her head in the crook of his shoulder, resting there. “The passage Roger wrote about in John, the one about the sheep, that’s the same one he spoke in my dream. I believe the Lord is taking care of him. But the armor I prayed about with Bob and Shelley – Roger is going to need every single bit of it.”
“I think what I need right now is the helmet of truth,” Yonas replied. “Somehow, what Roger said has to be brought to light, and fast. So I’ll try my best to speak for him, and pray that God will do the rest.”
“Belt, honey. It’s the belt of truth.” He smiled. They were like two halves of the same brain. She completed him. They sat where they were for a long time, and after a while Barb fell asleep on Yonas’s shoulder. Finally, with the city deep asleep around them, she woke up long enough for them to get themselves to bed.
When Yonas got done with classes, he went to meet his faculty advisor for about an hour, and then retreated to the little office he had shared at McLaughlin Hall ever since he became a graduate assistant in environmental engineering. The office overlooked the Mining Circle on the north side of campus, a little aerie up among the treetops. It was a place where he felt spiritually connected to the generations of groundbreaking researchers that had gone before him at Cal, the ones from whom he would tap strength now as he launched into new frontiers in his chosen field, environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology. He hoped one day to bring state of the art systems to third world countries where clean water supply was a significant public health, safety, and economic problem, as it was in his homeland of Ethiopia. On the desk in front of him, he had a stack of undergraduate papers he still had to read on water pollution and its effects on human health and the environment.
But he could not shake the thought of the humid enclave where Roger was currently trapped. His alarm at what he had read in the two letters the night before had vibrated beneath the surface of his consciousness all day, and now finally compelled him to act. He found a number for New West magazine in the telephone directory and dialed it, asking for the editorial department.
A young woman answered. “May I speak to either Marshall Kilduff or Phil Tracy, please?” he asked nervously, wiggling his left knee up and down.
“I’ll see if one of them is available,” she answered, putting him on hold.
She returned to the line about five minutes later, seemingly an eternity. “What may I say this is regarding?” she asked.
He paused for a minute, then set aside his concerns about going against Rogers’ wishes. “I have two letters that were written to my wife from a young man at the Peoples Temple project in Guyana, and I was hoping to talk to one of the reporters about them.”
“Please hold. Don’t go away,” she said firmly, and the line went silent again, this time only briefly.
Yonas’s knee was going a mile a minute, the receiver starting to get slick with sweat in his hand.
Soon a male voice came on the line. “Kilduff speaking. Are you the gentleman with a letter from Guyana?”
Yonas began hesitantly. “Yes. I actually have two letters. They’re written to my wife from a college friend of hers, and the contents have caused us to worry about his safety. I’m wondering if you know of anyone who’s keeping an eye on conditions out there, one that I can contact.”
“May I ask, what is it in the letters that worries you?” he probed.
There was a pause. “Well, the letters are personal, at least some parts, and I hesitate to share them because I fear for the writer’s safety. That’s why I’m wondering if you know of anyone who may have more information about the Temple, maybe a Congressman who’s working on it – Dellums, or Burton, or Ryan – or maybe some group that’s keeping tabs.” Temporarily, it seemed, they were at a standoff.
Kilduff sighed, and finally spoke. “If you’re worried, I can tell you that you probably have good reason to be worried. There aren’t any Congressmen really involved yet, except on behalf of Jones, not the members, but I think there will be soon. Dellums and Burton have both been pretty supportive of Jones already. You probably know that the Temple does a lot of charitable work in the community, and they work closely with elected officials to get it done. Ryan hasn’t been involved with them yet to any great extent, but he tends to be a maverick, and if he were to become convinced that there was anything wrong out there, I think he would get involved very quickly.”
Both ends of the line were quiet. Then Kilduff spoke again.
“If you wouldn’t mind giving me your name and number, there is someone I would like to have contact you, if she’s willing. There’s an advocacy group that’s been formed from the relatives of Peoples Temple members. If I can give this woman your number, I’m pretty sure she’ll contact you, and then the two of you can take it from there. Would that be alright?”
Grateful, Yonas gave the reporter his contact information, relieved at how well it had gone. As soon as they hung up, Yonas called Barb at home so she could be prepared in case anyone called. His mind finally free of distraction, at least for the moment, he turned to his stack of papers and delved in, already impressed by the quality of the one on top of the pile.