WENDY'S CHOICE

SHE WAS PROMISED SHE COULD ADOPT A RUSSIAN BABY IN EXCHANGE FOR HUMANITARIAN AID. IT WASN'T THAT EASY.

And so shortly afterward, when Davis tried to slip past the agitated crowd without saying anything to anyone, a clothing designer from Clarksville, Tennessee, named Pamela Bowman stopped her. Davis tried to put off her questions until the morning, but Bowman was firm: "You will meet with us now," she said.

"I don't have to discuss this with you," Davis said.
Bowman persisted, because Davis had told her personally that all had been approved. Davis waffled and then said that she had, in fact, discussed it with the Minister of Health that very day.

All eyes turned to Levens, the photographer, and someone asked if Davis had talked about adoption. "No," he said.

Davis blew up, told Levens that he didn't know what he was talking about, that she had had a private conversation in the corner. The tone of her voice confirmed everyone's worst suspicions: Davis was bluffing.

The room was spinning; parents called Davis a fraud and a liar; frightened and indignant, she turned to walk away. Roberta Grimm, from Apple, who had been friendly and cordial until this moment, jumped to Davis' defense and tried to shout the crowd down. "You all have extreme baby lust, and you ought to step back and take a closer look at this," she yelled, then jumped on an elevator and was whisked away.

The parents exploded with anger; the "baby lust" remark mocked their deepest emotions, the love they wanted to lavish on a child, and the very thing that had kept them from questioning the mission in the first place. Finally, a Protestant minister from Columbus calmed the people by asking them to kneel in the lobby and pray for divine guidance.

@rule:
@body:That night, someone left dead fish wrapped in newspaper, a symbol of Russian enmity, at the door of Davis' hotel room.

Margo Smith, Wendy's mother, called home to stop payment on the check for $1,000, the additional fares they'd paid in Columbus; several other trip members did the same.

Wendy called husband Tim to tell him of her disappointment and disillusionment. He was angry and said that she had been taken advantage of. That night Wendy wrote in her journal, "Rebecca has really let us down."

Five months later, many of the trip members still wonder what possessed Rebecca Davis to make promises she couldn't guarantee, and why she continued to bluff them when everything fell apart. And they wonder how they ever believed her.

"These were not people off the farm," says Mike Dundon, a parent from Columbus, "but they never would have taken such a risk in their professional and social lives on such spotty information." He, like others, had harbored secret doubts, but still was shocked by the moment of revelation in the hotel.

Wendy and Margo had avoided the meeting in the lobby, but engaged in a screaming match of their own later that night. "I kept questioning Wendy as to what was going on," says Margo, "and she didn't have any answers. We don't usually fight, but she got really angry." Wendy counters: "She told me I was spoiled rotten, that there was no hope, and to admit to myself that this whole trip was a joke, and she knew it and everyone else knew it. But I said, 'There's something here to be had, and I don't know what it is, but I'm going to find it.'" Both women were right in the end.

@rule:
@body:In Brigid Dwyer's little book of phone numbers was the name of a Russian businessman named Peter Vassilev. Recently, she had sat next to a fellow on a flight from Denver to Seattle who told her if she were ever in Moscow to look up his friend Peter. She had accepted the number in that way one accepts invitations to "do lunch sometime," but with no other card to play, she called it.

They met Peter over a lunch of peanuts and vodka. He was an intense and handsome young man with cropped black hair and Slavic features. He had studied in Colorado, had worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., but now was an international business consultant in Moscow. Graciously, he offered the three women the use of his office, his typewriters, fax machine, telephones, car and driver. And he started to set up meetings for them.

The first was with a minor functionary whom Wendy described in her journal as "the minister of mental and handicapped something or other." And so while Margo rode a bus out of town to tour an orphanage--a trip put together by the other trip members--Wendy and Brigid went to see the minister. He could not help them, but he politely brought them food.

"We were sipping the strongest, foulest coffee I had ever tasted and eating funky-assed biscuits that we had to eat because he offered them," Wendy recalls. They whispered to each other through tightly clenched smiles. "Brigid was chowing down on them. I asked, 'Are they good?', and she whispered, 'No.'"
When they returned to Peter's office, they found that he had arranged a meeting with a Dr. Nina Tchernyavskaya, head of a children's hospital, where they might see some babies. "The next morning," Wendy says, "we put together our suitcases with our stuffed animals and perfumes and lotions, soaps and pantyhose--those women go nuts over those things, remember that." Loaded down with trinkets, like Dutchmen looking to buy Manhattan, they commandeered a translator arranged for by Apple--Violet, a large and compassionate woman whose smile was a flash of gold dentistry--and raced off to the hospital in Peter's car with Peter's driver.

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