Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
As the 747 out of Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport made its
landing approach into New York's Kennedy Airport, Laleh watched the passing
of thousands of lights reaching toward the west and north. Fred would be
waiting at a CIA safe house on Long Island. There, Roya waited for her.
An hour after the plane landed a taxi delivered Laleh to a home off
Long Island's south beach. She knocked on the door. The door opened. Fred
Southgate stood beside Roya.
Roya rushed to her mother and put her arms around her. Roya was seven
years old, and Laleh feared the time apart might have caused Roya to be
angry with her. The daughter's words warmed her. "Mother. I'm so glad
you're back. I want you to stay."
Laleh lifted Roya and said, "I missed you, Sweetheart." Laleh
smiled heart-felt thanks for Fred Southgate. She stepped to him and kissed
him on a cheek. "Hi . . . have you two been having a good time?"
"We're doing fine. We both miss you. Tomorrow we'll do something
together . . . maybe we'll go for a hike along the beach."
Roya asked her mother, "Could we?"
Fred said, "I don't see why not. Right now, I think we need to
let your mother get some sleep. The jet lag is going to hit her in a few
hours." Fred took up the suit-bag and traveling case setting on the
porch. As he did, he remembered the day he returned from Southeast Asia.
The role now reversed and he didn't like it.
A fully decorated Christmas Tree presented its existence in the living
room. Roya said, "We decorated a tree. We bought you presents."
Laleh again gave Roya a kiss. She put her down, and said, "I have
a special one for you." She stepped to her suit-bag that Fred held.
From it, Laleh took out a Pustin, sheep skin jacket. The jacket came from
Iran, but purchased in Istanbul. It was a jacket with a floral design of
Roya slipped it on saying, "It's beautiful."
"I got it in a far away country. I thought you might like something
from there. Laleh knew Roya was too young to remember their trip to Tehran
when her great-grandparents were killed."
"Thank you. It's beautiful."
Laleh gave Roya a hug and said, "You need to go to bed so we can
go to the beach tomorrow." Roya held to her mother fearing she might
become lost to something that she didn't understand. Laleh said, "I
love you. You go to bed and we'll go for a long walk tomorrow." Roya
turned and left the adults to go to a bedroom where she earlier unpacked
Fred asked, "Would you like a drink?"
Laleh knew alcohol might help her sleep. Tomorrow, she would go over
every detail Mustafa Liddell passed to her. She and Fred would be together
for only two days. Now, she wanted Fred Southgate beside her. She wanted
to sleep the sleep of the dead where she might reclaim the sharpness in
her mind dulled from the weary hours of flight. She said, "I have
missed you. I can't say it has been worth being away."
Fred placed his arms around Laleh's waist with Laleh wearing a loose
fitting traveling suit. She looked lovely and Fred Southgate was glad to
have her back. He didn't want to dwell on the thought that he was sending
her into Iran. He kissed Laleh and said, "I love you."
"And I love you. You'll be lucky if I don't pass out on you."
Fred gave Laleh another kiss. After it broke, he walked to the kitchen
and took a bottle of wine from the refrigerator. Laleh followed, getting
glasses from a counter and followed Fred in the direction of a bedroom.
Laleh was thankful to be back in the States. In the hallway, she placed
an arm around Fred's neck and said, "I need to say goodnight to her."
Fred pointed her to the door of a room. She entered the bedroom to step
to a large bed where she sat beside her daughter. Roya moved to lay her
head on her mother's lap. Laleh said, "You're supposed to be going
"I know, but I have missed you."
"I have missed you." Laleh turned her eyes off her Roya's
face to the jacket now lying on the foot of the bed. She asked, "Have
you been doing OK with your grandparents?"
Roya didn't want to answer. She said, "I guess . . . but they want
to talk about my father and I never knew him."
"What about school? Have you made any friends?"
"Yes, but I miss my old school." Roya asked, "Do you
have to go back?"
"Yes, Dear, I have to go back. It's part of my job. I wish you
could be with me, but you need to be in school."
Roya didn't answer for long seconds before saying, "Mom, Fred is
a father to me."
Laleh was tired and knew the words could bring her to tears. She said,
"I know. He loves you. Right now, you need to go to sleep. OK?"
Roya rolled onto her back. She said a tired, "OK."
Laleh kissed Roya and stood. She left the room and closed the door behind
Fred remained leaning against the hall wall. There, Laleh laid her head
against his chest and tears formed in her eyes. For the second time, he
felt the wetness of Laleh's cheek against his face as he kissed her. He
said, "You need to get some sleep."
"I need a glass of wine and for you to make love to me. It's been
too lonely without you."
"I love you."
Fred's words came in a near whisper. Fred took Laleh by the hand and
led her into their bedroom. There, he set the glasses and wine bottle on
the bedroom dresser. Laleh's suit bag and suitcase sat on the floor at
the end of the bed. Laleh ignored them and unbuttoned her blouse. As she
did, she thought of the nights in Istanbul. After pulling the blouse off,
she dropped it to the bed. She took a glass Fred handed her and said, "To
Tehran, for I know you're going to send me there."
The next day, following a late Christmas Dinner, Laleh, Roya, and Fred
Southgate walked a section of beach. Fred watched Roya as she walked ahead
of the two adults. Knowing she was a safe distance and not hearing him,
Fred said, "We don't have any choice. If we don't stop it . . . this
will turn into a bloody disaster."
"Who's going to stop it?"
"You are. Are you sure you want in on this? We can get someone
"How? You know I have the perfect cover by doing the work in Istanbul.
I can check on the home there. I could also say I was there to document
the revolution. I could do it without any attention drawn to myself. Besides,
I speak perfect Farsi."
Fred was holding one of Laleh's hands. He stopped to turn and look on
the ocean. Turning back he said, "It's already set. The publishing
house got it cleared. You're to return to Istanbul in two days. There's
much we need to review."
Laleh felt surprise. She said, "You're kidding? That soon?"
"It's been ongoing since you left. We needed to check out the boy
you have been meeting. David has been watching you. We needed to know if
anyone was following you. If anything should endanger you while in Tehran,
you'll be on your own. There are bound to be other Americans working for
the military side of this. We have to be careful. If anyone should suspect
why you're there . . . they won't hesitate to kill you."
The fact that David Rice had watched her in Istanbul, and her unaware
of it, brought a flush of anger to Laleh's voice, "Why was David watching
"To make certain no one was interested in you."
"He must be damn good."
"He is. The problem is, there isn't anyway David can guard your
back in Tehran. You'll be on your own. You'll enter by crossing into Iran
by bus and train to Qazvin."
"To purchase a motorbike a man will sell you."
"Why am I to purchase a motorbike?"
Fred turned back to Laleh who also wore a jacket she purchased in Istanbul.
It matched the one bought for Roya. The cold wind off the water blew through
her dark hair and turned her face pink. Fred said, "You're to pretend
to have need of it to get around in Tehran. The man is a contact and the
bike has been in the country for several years. It's a British style and
used in the war. Men modified it. If I remember right . . . you once told
me your father bought you a bike with sidecar before he return to the States
with you and your mother."
Laleh's voice sounded tentative, "Why has it been held in reserve?"
Fred turned back to the ocean. He said in words that were as cold as
the wind. "It was there in case the shah turned against the west.
It didn't happen . . . we didn't need it."
"Needed for what?"
"To kill him."
Instead of offering a disbelieving laugh, Laleh asked what she thought
was a comical question, "Was someone expected to run over him?"
No reaction came from Fred. Laleh saw the serious intent in his blue
eyes that now looked like ice. Fred continued, "It's not a game, Laleh.
Our country has its host of enemies as it has its friends. Sometimes it's
hard to know who is who."
Laleh remained silent for a minute, released Fred's hand, and stepped
to where the roll of the ocean ascended the beach. She stopped at its last
ending of a surge before the water rushed back down it. She turned back
and glanced down the beach toward Roya. Laleh asked, "What am I to
do if the rescue attempt penetrates the country?"
"You're to intercept it and stop it."
"Any rescue attempt?"
"How am I going to do this with a motorbike?"
"We machined parts of the frame to carry the making of a sniper's
rifle. It has a flash suppressor and night sighting scope."
Laleh's words were firm and unshakable. "I'm not going to kill
any American or Iranian for a bunch of revolutionaries."
"No one is asking you to. No rehearsals are taking place during
the holidays. It gives us time to get you in place. The rescue attempt,
if it comes down, will be from the south or southwest. They'll come in
by C-130s and eight, long-range helicopters. The right projectile can penetrate
a helo's transmission. It'll cause them to pull back. They'll have no choice.
They'll attempt to penetrate Iran with eight helicopters. They must have
at least six refueled to reach Tehran. If six reach any refueling site,
you'll have to hit at least one of them."
"How will I know where the fueling area will be?"
"David will radio you by low frequency radio out of Istanbul. He'll
relay the coordinates. The bike also has a radio."
Laleh asked, "And you believe this will work?"
"It has to. If the military pulls this off the Carter presidency
will use it as an excuse for further downsizing. The country cannot take
further cuts. Neither can the agency. Politics lost the war in NAM where
Allen died and--"
"You don't need to remind me of Allen's death."
Fred allowed the aggression to slide past and continued, "It was
lost because of politics and fifty thousand men of one service branch or
another died there. The country is still playing politics. If you don't
feel you can handle it, someone can replace you."
Laleh said, "I can do it. What I don't want is anyone getting killed."
"They're not going to be."
"Can you guarantee me they won't?"
"Can you still handle a rifle?"
"You know I can."
"There shouldn't be any problem. All we need to do is disable a
couple of the choppers, three at the most if all eight make it into the
country. They couldn't overcome the loss. They'll have to come in where
they can offload people and fuel from the C-130s."
Laleh fixed her eyes on Fred and knew he was right. The agency had been
downsizing and going through a restructuring process since the Carter Administration
took office. From the massive amount of material she continued to read
out of the Middle East, she knew it was a boiling pot waiting to erupt.
If American military forces reached the embassy in Tehran, it would cause
a bloodbath. She was born in Iran and spent her first sixteen years in
Tehran. She knew the significance of the Islamic faith for those following
it. There were those who would be glad to die in the streets before the
embassy compound. Any force reaching the embassy would face an enormous
crowd willing to become martyrs. Laleh said, "You must guarantee me
no one dies."
Fred studied Laleh and knew he couldn't make such a guarantee. Things
went wrong in NAM and things could go wrong in Iran. He said, "Laleh,
no one is going to get hurt. They'll abandon the helos. They can't accomplish
their mission without them. You'll make your way back into the city. After
the dust settles, we'll bring you out. The revolutionaries aren't going
to kill any hostage over the effort. They're playing to a world stage and
they know it. Time will resolve the hostage situation."
Looking across the ocean, Laleh felt Fred take her hand in his and they
walked toward Roya. Laleh knew she would do as Fred ordered her to do because
she loved him, trusted him, and was one only with him. She would do what
he asked because he knew Allen and because he allowed his daughter to think
another man was her father.
Still, there was another reason. Laleh knew she wanted to see Tehran.
She wanted to see how the city changed since she was last there. It would
be a trip home. >>>
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