Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
Through the first moments of meeting Fred Southgate, Laleh Sanders thought
him to be quiet and private. He was a man living in his own private hell.
Allen Sanders stood with Fred in the doorway of Allen and Laleh's home
in Reston, Virginia. Allen said, "Laleh, I want you to meet a good
friend of mine."
Fred Southgate stood beside Allen. Fred's tanned face traced a hesitant
smile. Laleh assumed that it came from a feeling of intrusion. It was eight
months since Laleh and Allen were together. Now, here was Allen showing
up with a friend. It was late afternoon. Their plane was late out of San
Francisco. Even with the irritation of having to keep the dinner warm,
Laleh noticed more about Fred Southgate than she felt she should. The man
had the blondest hair she could remember seeing, and he looked upon the
world through deep-set blue eyes.
Stepping forward and extending a hand, Fred said, "It's nice to
meet you. Allen said you were a very attractive woman. I must say, I have
to agree with him."
The woman before Fred had dark hair, light tanned skin, sea green eyes,
and a face sculptured of high cheekbones, and soft skin. She was wearing
a snug-fitting, white, tee top, a mid-thigh, knit skirt, and white flats.
She wasn't wearing any hose and Fred Southgate's eyes immediately took
in the perfect shape of her form.
Fred wondered why Allen insisted on bringing him home to intrude on
their time together after such a long separation. He didn't have a wife
to come home to for the Thanksgiving Holiday. His parents in Miami were
expecting him the next evening. Fred added, "I appreciate you taking
"We're glad to have you. Allen has told me about your work. Laleh
remembered there was more to the story of Air America than merely helping
the mountain tribes of Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Laleh turned and the
two men followed her into the home's kitchen.
Fred remembered meeting another woman like Laleh Sanders. He met the
other woman in Saigon before her family left the country. Her name was
Lin Thi. He remembered the inner strength she presented. He was certain
Laleh Sanders carried the same determination and fire for life. Lin Thi's
family left Saigon after the 1968 Tet Offensive to immigrate to Vancouver,
Now, upon meeting Laleh Sanders, Fred pondered Laleh and Allen's relationship.
Allen came from a proper New England family, yet he was unschooled in understanding
love or romance. Pure sex was his interest, and Fred knew Allen spent time
with enough women in Saigon and Bangkok to amount to an impressive list
of betrayals. With such an incredible woman waiting for him, Allen's adultery
didn't seem reasonable.
Fred also knew from Allen that Laleh held a gift for language skills.
The Middle East Section of the Central Intelligence Agency employed her
as a reader of the printed Persian language out of the Middle East. The
Middle East remained an agency flash point no matter the war in NAM. He
extended a large basket. It held a precooked ham with fruit. He said, "I
brought you this for taking me in. We stopped at a deli on the drive from
"Thank you. This is very kind of you, but it wasn't necessary."
"It's the least I can do."
The man before her was not only attractive for his physical appeal.
Laleh sensed there was something about him that told her he recognized
her inner loneliness. It wasn't just the intensity of his study but something
deep inside Laleh made a connection with Fred Southgate. It was a connection
that never happened between her and Allen. Laleh felt drawn to the man.
Laleh knew Allen invited Fred Southgate home for Thanksgiving because he
possessed no need to be with her. She and Allen came from different species.
Life threw them together by some terrible misunderstanding and their differences
Allen said, "We need something to drink."
Laleh answered "After dinner, OK? I've warmed it twice."
Coming from the jungles of South Vietnam, Allen didn't like Laleh scheduling
his time. He said, "We'll have a short one. After eating we can get
Laleh gave Allen a tolerating look and set the basket on the kitchen
counter. She emphasized by holding up a finger, "One and no more.
I've been cooking all morning and I don't want dinner ruined any further
than it is."
Allen frowned. He put his arm around Laleh's waist and gave her a mechanical
kiss on the cheek.
Fred admired the woman. She was beautiful and knew who she was. He also
knew he was viewing someone with a deep and silent appeal that was waiting
to bloom. Laleh Sanders wasn't happy. Fred Southgate could feel it in his
soul, and he thought it odd that he could. He recognized the same loneliness
within himself. He felt the woman press against his inner being and countering
the boiling agony that resulted from all the killing he saw in Southeast
As Laleh excused the two men to the living room and liquor cabinet,
she said, "Try not to get drunk before dinner."
At the dinner table, Allen pronounced his outrage for the government's
failure at not shooting those war protesters taking to American streets.
He said, "They should lock the son-of-a-bitches up and throw away
the key. Better yet, they should ship them to NAM and let them serve as
human shields for the brave men willing to serve their country."
Laleh knew that she and Allen's difference in the perception of the
war traveled a different course. She had listened and watched the news
through the Tet Offensive. There were those who knew there was no light
at the end of the tunnel. The antiwar effort spread off university and
college campuses and into the streets. It spread into the home of average
Americans giving their sons to die for a cause becoming a flagrant lie.
The past two years saw a reduction in American troop withdrawal. Moreover,
there was talk among those of the agency of a new policy of Vietamzation
and a program called the Phoenix Project. The rumors were of brutality,
murder, and bringing the fight down to the Vietcong level of combat.
Laleh said, "Allen, why drink any more tonight? You're going to
feel like hell tomorrow and you have to take Fred to the airport."
Allen stared at Laleh with a look of contempt. He said in cold words,
"Why don't you shut the hell up. Do you think that working inside
makes you better than those in the field? You people sitting on your ass
in Langley don't know what it's like! They should kick the bunch at the
top into the field. It might teach them something!"
Fred's words were firm, "There's no reason to be rude. What we
go through. . . we chose."
Allen shot back, "Yea, man, we surely did; didn't we? What a screwed
world! Screw it all!" Allen turned quiet and sadness washed across
Laleh knew Allen was drunk to a near stupor. Allen continued drinking
before dinner, through it, and she saw the look in the past. She asked,
"Allen, why don't you let me get you to bed?"
Allen asked Fred, "You wouldn't mind?" There was a look of
sexual intent in Allen's face.
"No, I'll be fine."
Allen pushed away from the table and stumbled in the process. Fred caught
him and said, "Come on . . . you need to lay down."
"You don't mind if we excuse ourselves." With Allen's words
he put an arm around Laleh and drew her beside him to kiss her.
Laleh said, "Come, on, Allen, you need to sleep."
"Sleep . . . Hell! I need sex!"
"Allen, you need to sleep. Come on. Help us get you upstairs and
With Fred and Laleh on either side they walked Allen up the stairs to
the second floor bedroom where Laleh slept alone the past months. They
managed to get Allen into the bed and lay him across it. Fred said, "I'll
see you two later." He left the bedroom and closed the door behind
As he came down the stairs, Fred wondered how Allen could treat his
wife the way he did. The woman was an exquisite delight and someone special
with a passion within her that Allen didn't recognize. Back in the living
room, Fred opened a sliding glass door to step onto the back patio and
out into the November cold. There, he looked on Reston's Lake Anne and
the Lake Anne Center across from the townhouse. He lighted a cigarette
and inhaled the smoke along with the cold air. Gazing across the lake to
his left, Fred thought the home to be an ideal place to get away from the
hassles of life. The lake and trees gave peace and removal from the dark
river waters of Thailand and South Vietnam. A few minutes later he heard
the sliding glass door open and close. Laleh stepped out onto the patio.
She walked to an iron rail and said, "Allen gets this way each
time he's back. The war is killing him on the inside but he can't admit
to it. It gets worst each time. He won't wake until late tomorrow. I'm
sorry. I can drive you to the airport in the morning. He won't remember
what took place. He's sound asleep without any. . ." Laleh paused
and felt embarrassed but said, "We seldom sleep together when Allen's
Fred felt uncomfortable with the words. He said, "I'm sorry."
"He's always been in competition with his father. It's a wasted
race that he can't win. His father was an undersecretary of state under
"He told me."
Laleh pushed her hair off an ear and said, "I think it's too cold
out here for me. I better get the table cleared and the food put away."
Fred said trying not to be too forward, "I'll help. Believe me,
I know Allen will sleep. We can visit. I can't say I'm much for forced
conversations . . . especially after not being in the civilized world for
the past months."
"I would be happy to have your company." There was something
about Fred Southgate that troubled Laleh Sanders. She found him attractive.
There was a natural drawing to him.
When the dishes were in the dishwasher. Fred followed Laleh into the
living room. There, Laleh fixed herself and Fred bourbon. After that she
put a stack of forty-fives on the stereo, and turned the volume to medium
while knowing Allen wouldn't wake. Sitting in a sofa chair, she slipped
her feet out of the white flats, positioned her legs under her, and laid
her head against the chair's back.
Fred Southgate sat on the sofa. He asked, "How did you and Allen
Laleh closed her eyes and listened to a rendition of Ray Charles signing
"Georgia on my Mind." She reopened them and said, "My father
worked for the state department. It was in Tehran. My parents live in Tehran.
My father met Allen's father and worked closely with him in economic matters
in Washington. I met Allen after we moved back to the states. It was in
Washington at some reception. He claimed to be infatuated with me. I guess
I fell in love." Laleh paused and added, "Maybe I thought I did.
I don't know about love and oneness with someone. I'm not sure what happened.
I know Allen's not faithful." Laleh studied Fred Southgate and Fred
knew he couldn't offer a defense for Allen. Laleh continued, "I was
born in Tehran and took dance lessons and was going to be on stage someday.
I guess dreams die. Dancing became lost to learning the subtleties of language."
Fred said, "I'm sorry it didn't work out. Allen said you speak
seven languages. He said the agency's Middle East Section hired you."
"There's nothing to be sorry for. Life deals us our disappointments.
We trade one thing for another. It's life's challenge." Laleh took
a sip of her drink, laid her head against the chair's back, and closed
her eyes as she listened to a recording of Nat King Cole that dropped on
the record player's turntable.
Fred studied the woman with dark hair, dressed in the white tee top,
and mid-thigh, knit skirt. The voluptuous fullness of her breasts beneath
the stretch top, and her rounded hip line beneath the skirt aroused a sensual
and seductive appeal. Fred was certain the woman dressed for her husband
whom she hadn't seen for eight months. Instead of appreciating her exquisite
being and coming home to be with her, Allen showed up with him in tow and
got sloppy drunk. Feeling awkward Fred asked, "Would you like to dance?"
At first, it seemed she didn't hear the question, then surprising Fred,
Laleh opened her eyes. She said, "I'd love to."
Standing, Laleh pushed a coffee table to the side of the room. Fred
took her right hand in his and put a timid hand around her waistline. Laleh
surprised him by pulling his hand and arm further around her as she laid
her head on his shoulder. She said, "It's been too long since I have
danced with someone."
With the sounds of music flowing through the room, Laleh's soul moved
with the man holding her. A minute later Fred felt tears running down Laleh's
cheeks. He felt them as they wet his shirt and chest.
Without stopping her motion, Laleh lifted her face. As she inhaled the
scent of Fred Southgate's cologne, Laleh kissed him on his neck. Fred brought
his hand to hold her head against him while feeling the soft texture of
her hair. Laleh brought her face to his and her lips tasted a man's she
knew to be the opposite of her husband's. In the kiss, there was something
natural and meant to be . . . Laleh knew it with all her heart. Allen delivered
the man into her life with whom she should know. The unity was deeper than
physical. The kiss broke and Laleh took Fred Southgate's right hand in
Fred asked, "Are you sure this is right for you?"
Laleh again kissed Fred and drew back to say, "Yes." She led
Fred Southgate by the hand, down a hallway, and to the family room. She
released his hand to pull out a sofa bed before stepping back to face Fred.
As she stood before him she pulled the tee-top off and exposed a sensuous,
filled pink bra. After unzipping her skirt she pushed it off her hips,
let it fall, and stepped out of it. Fred couldn't remember a time he saw
a more attractive and sensitive woman. Laleh fired his inner being. He
unbuttoned his shirt with Laleh stepping to him to push it off his shoulders
and lightly kiss his neck and chest.
Laleh then stepped back to undo her bra and step out of her panties.
After laying back on the sofa bed, she watched Fred Southgate undress,
and wondered if she were mad, or if the entire world was mad. Her husband
returned from a far off war that was being lost. He got drunk to the point
of being in a stupor, and she was now waiting in bed for a man who was
his friend. As she waited on the bed, Laleh knew her body felt on fire.
It was a feeling she had never felt toward any man. Somehow life delivered
her soul mate, and she was certain of it.
As Fred lay beside her, Laleh eagerly brought her mouth to his. After
a deep, sensuous kiss she pulled back and said, "Make love to me .
. . I want you inside me." Fred burned on the inside to the point
of exploding and took her receptive body to his. Laleh added in a near
whisper, "There's something about you telling me you're the one and
I don't understand it . . . I don't understand it." As Fred entered
her, Laleh felt the depth of joy in lovemaking never before dreamed possible.
Fred knew Laleh's words were a truth beyond his understanding. Laleh
Sanders was a part of him, and he only met her that mid afternoon. She
was part of his very being, and he knew he betrayed a friend. >>>
to Chapter Nineteen
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