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 Write for The Iranian

Conspiracy at Desert One
A novel

By Bernace Charles
The Iranian

Chapter Twenty-Nine

December 25, 1979

Laleh Sanders and Fred Southgate sat within the living room of the home on Long Island. The lights of the Christmas tree were on, and Roya sat on the floor, where she opened presents. Fred sat beside her.

Laleh sat on a sofa studying a diagram of a British motorcycle with sidecar. She paid particular attention to sections of its frame circled in red ink. Each section studied assembled to form a Sniper's Rifle. The motorcycle was vintage.

The past night Fred Southgate went over the route Laleh was to take by bus through Turkey, cross into Iran, and travel to Qazvin. There, she would buy the motorcycle from a man riding it to a monument Fred instructed her to visit.

Now, Laleh sat dressed in a cotton robe allowing her eyes to wonder from the diagram to Roya and Fred. Glancing at Roya, she knew Roya had mastered French and Arabic. Laleh said, "I'm going to miss seeing you two."

Roya turned from the presents and said, "Can't you stay? I don't like spending all my time with grandparents."

"I'll be back. I was just thinking how I'll miss seeing you two together."

Fred said, "We'll be fine. I'll drive up on the weekends. Roya and I'll make a day of it." He rubbed Roya's head and starting a wrestling match on the carpeted floor.

Watching the match with Roya ending astride Fred Laleh said, "You two make a fine pair. I love you both."

Roya giggled and said, "I'll miss you. I want you home."

"I'll be back." The words were ones Laleh would remember having said through coming months. They were words to haunt Laleh's very soul.

Fred asked, "How about we stop to eat? Anyone hungry besides me?"

"Yea, I am." Roya piped. "Let's go out for a hamburger and milkshake."

Laleh asked, "Do you think anything will be open? It's Christmas."

Roya insisted, "Why not? There should be a McDonalds open!"

Laleh pushed off the sofa and said, "I guess I better dress." Fred watched Laleh leave the room.


January 2, 1980

Before leaving New York, Laleh received Turkish and Iranian visas. The State Department authorized the visa in hope an American publishing company's pictorial essay might show the west the intent of the Iranian Revolutionary goal. Laleh's flight landed at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport. As she rode a buss into the city, Laleh knew she needed to spend time with a jeweler in the Grand Bazaar. A lens attachment for a camera rolled around in her thoughts. She memorized the sighting mechanism for the Starlight Scope hidden in the motorcycle in Iran. It would be two days later before she would set off by bus to Ankara, Turkey.


The crossing was on the Bosphorus Bridge. After hours on a bus, Laleh traveled to Ankara, southeast, enduring a tiring ride to the border of Iran. She spent the night at a tourist inn. The next morning, her trip extended through the day, first taking her into the Iranian province of Azarbaijan and over the Asian Highway to Tabriz. Through the day, she made certain to wear a plain scarf to cover her hair. She allowed no lose strands to show, and she discarded all makeup before entering Iran. At Tabriz, Laleh got a room at the International Hotel before spending what was left of the day touring a city once the capital of Iran and home to Turkish speaking ethnic Azeris.

In late afternoon light, she walked the Amir Bazaar. The last time Laleh was in the city was more than twenty years past at a time of her youth.

After registering at the hotel, she entered its restaurant to order Chelo Kebab, and Koufteh Berenj, as she remembered her grandmother making the Iranian dishes. Now, she listened to the Armenian, Turkey-speaking Azeris, and the Farsi language around her. Deep inside, Laleh felt a compassion for the people of Iran. She felt it for the sinewy merchants and skilled workers who could form silver and other metals into any jewelry ordered. They were people working with their hands and making delicate and exquisite merchandise as the Pustin jackets she bought in Istanbul before returning to America.

The next morning, leaving the hotel to go to the bus station, Laleh decided to take the train to Qazvin. Hiring a taxi to take her to the colonnaded rail station she purchased her ticket and sat waiting for the train. She would arrive in Qazvin in the afternoon. The contact with the British motorcycle was to meet her at the Shrine of Shahzadeh no later than 5 p.m. In Ankara, she had got her carnet de passage along with insurance papers and her international driver's license.

As she sat on the train Laleh endured the stuffy, warm air of a heated compartment making its way through the early January cold. About her was a mix of Arab nationalities, cultures, and customs all seeming to come together in their travel to Tehran.

The train reached Qazvin in the early afternoon. There, Laleh hired a taxi. It took her to an unpretentious tourist hotel. After resting on a single bed in a narrow room, she made her way down several blocks of the city. Forty minutes later, and after taking photographs of the local bazaar, she hired a taxi to take her to the Shrine of Shahzadeh Hossein.

There, she checked her watch, and knew she was thirty minutes early. After touring the shrine, with the evening light near dusk, she walked toward the street. Sitting on the curb was seventy year old Hossein Dehghani. He sat and smoked a cigarette. As Laleh walked past him, she purposely dropped a legal notebook she carried. Hossein Dehghani reached for it and said in Farsi, "You dropped something." He stood and handed it to Laleh. "Do you need to hire a ride. I can beat the price of the taxis." The code words were correct. Laleh wondered how they reached the old man.

Dehghani was wearing an Arabic turban, heavy jacket, and corduroy pants. He wore scuffed shoes needing replaced.

Laleh asked in Farsi, "Would you be willing to sell the motorbike?"

Hossein acted insulted, "No! No! Why would I sell such a fine motorbike?" Others heard his words.

Laleh said, "I'm a photographer and on my way to Tehran. I had one when I was young."

Hossein Dehghani gave her a look that showed he considered the sale of the motorbike. He asked, "How much would you give me for it? It's a fine bike and in fine shape. I've had it several years."

Laleh walked around the bike to inspect it. As she did, her eyes picked out the sections of the frame assembling into a rifle. Three shells lay buried inside the bottom of a camera case she carried. They were high velocity and titanium tipped. They were armor-piercing, incendiary charged, and able to shred the transmission of a helicopter. Laleh said, "I can pay 800,000 rails for it."

The Iranian acted insulted in front of those on the walkway. The Iranian rail was now an unstable monetary exchange. He said, "No. American dollars . . . one thousand. No rials"

Laleh knew she needed to bargain. Not doing so would present an incredibly foolish woman. Five hundred. No more."

Hossein shook his head. "No. One thousand . . . no less. No U.S. traveler's check." Hossein Dehghani started to get on the bike and start it.

Laleh said, "Seven hundred American dollars. No American traveler's check. No rails." Laleh knew that no matter the country's revolution, the American dollar reigned on the international monetary market.

Hossein nodded his head before asking, "Do you have a motor license?"

"Yes. I got an international one in Ankara."

Dehghani extended his hand for the money. Laleh pulled a bunch of bills from her wallet and handed them to him. After taking it Hossein asked, "Do you know how to start it?"

Laleh frowned at the patronizing question. She placed her purse and camera case in the sidecar and straddled the bike. After lifting its kick-starter, she stood to kick down on it. The bike started and Laleh knew from the sound of the engine that the motor was in excellent condition. She turned to the Hossein and said, "The papers."

The older man looked at Laleh as though forgetting them. He took the registration card from a wallet, signed it in the dimming light of the day, and handed it to the American.

Laleh pushed it into the right pocket of the Pustin jacket and said, "Thank you." She shifted the bike into low gear and set off down the street. Tomorrow, she would continue to Tehran. >>> Go to Chapter Thirty

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