Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
January 6, 1980
The January cold was sharp and biting. Laleh purposely waited for the
sun to come close to its position of noon. The ride to Tehran would begin
at midday. At eleven-thirty a.m., Laleh steered the motorcycle before a
gerdarmerieon office in Qazvin to register the motorcycle transfer of ownership.
After coming in out of the cold a police official in uniform stepped to
a counter. Laleh said in Farsi, "I need to register the transfer of
ownership of a motorbike. I purchased it yesterday evening." Laleh
presented the signed registration card, her insurance papers, and international
Zarin Behravesh's piercing study stayed on Laleh for several seconds
before it turned to the papers. As he studied them, he asked, "May
I see your passport?"
Laleh dug it out of her shoulder bag as though it was no consequence.
She also brought out a copy of her visa to leave with the officer. She
handed both to Zarin and asked, "Will this take long?"
The Iranian didn't smile. Instead, he picked up a telephone and called
Qazvin's city hall. He gave the information on the papers and waited. Several
minutes later Behravesh replaced the receiver after verifying the name
of the man selling the motorbike. Back at the counter, he asked, "The
man selling the motorbike . . . why did he sell it?"
"Because I was dumb enough to pay to much for it. He needed the
money. I need the bike."
Zarin asked, "You're American . . . why are you buying a motorbike?
Why are you in Iran?"
"I'm on assignment for a publisher in New York City. The Iranian
consulate in Turkey was kind enough to give me a visa." Laleh pointed
to the visa for entry into Iran stamped in her passport as well as its
copy. She said, "I completed a pictorial essay of Istanbul. I'm to
photograph the revolution in Tehran. I was born there. I lived in Tehran
until I was sixteen years old. My father taught at Tehran University."
Laleh said the words she was supposed to say. She needed to acknowledge
she had lived in Iran and was sympathetic toward its people. "My mother
"You're going to do this on a motorcycle?"
"I used to ride one in Tehran. It's a good way of getting around
The officer stepped from behind the counter and to the door. He opened
it letting in cold day.
Laleh followed Behravesh outside where the bike sat next to the curb.
Laleh stood on the sidewalk and watched as he walked around the bike and
stopped to check its license plate. There, Behravesh compared its number
to the registration card. He stepped back onto the sidewalk and Laleh followed
him into the police station. She asked, "Is there anything wrong?"
Hard words said, "I hope you're not from the American CIA or other
intelligence agency. Men will shoot you if they suspect it. Also, be careful
in Tehran. Though there are many other Americans in Iran, the ones held
by the students stay until America returns the SHAH. He raped this country
and he will die for it."
Laleh answered, "I'm not into politics. I'm into what people go
through during such a transition as that being made in your country."
Zarin pulled a rubber stamp from beneath the counter and said, "That'll
be ten thousand rials."
Laleh knew that half or more of the cost was a bribe for title transfer.
She said, "I'm sure I got a bad deal on the bike. As I said, I am
a photographer to do a pictorial essay. It will be easy for me to get around
in Tehran. I'm no spy."
Zarin Behravesh wondered why the American used the term. He answered,
"I didn't say you were."
Laleh feared she said the wrong thing and her stupidity angered her.
She quickly recovered. "I'm here to see how the city has changed and
how the revolution is affecting the everyday person in the street. The
American hostages are not my concern. We just need a new president to get
the issue resolved. Maybe there's hope." Laleh shouldered her purse
strap and pushed the papers back into it, stepped to the door, opened it,
and stepped into the day's cold before pulling the door closed behind her.
Reaching the motorcycle, she dropped her purse into the passenger sidecar
and started it.
Zarin watched her through the window. He returned to his office and
read though a listing of telephone numbers for the office of Iranian Minister
of Internal Affairs.
Laleh stopped at a telephone booth to make a single telephone call to
Tehran. It went to an apartment that set behind and to the side of a gate
to the entrance of her grandparents' once hone in Darband.
As she drove the Asian Highway, the cold turned Laleh's face a rose
color. She wore a white wool scarf, and reached with a free hand to bring
its wrap from inside the Pustin jacket. She brought the scarf over her
mouth, nose, leaving a thin slit for her eyes to watch the highway ahead
of her. To the north, she could see the snow on the peaks of the Alborz
Mountains. Now, she wished it were early spring. During spring, the days
wouldn't be hot, and the nights wouldn't be cold. Nevertheless, she needed
to be in Tehran no matter the weather. Assuming no one would have particular
interest in her going there, Laleh settled into the ride taking her to
At two p.m. Laleh passed the turnoff to the Valley of the Assassins.
She kept her attention on a section of highway while remembering an old
two-lane, dirt track from years in the past. The section of highway wasn't
paved at that time. Laleh remembered a time her father, mother, and she
made a three-day camping trip out of Tehran and traveled into the valley
to see the mountains and hike to the old walled forts. She also remembered
the afternoon that she drove the motorbike there for Fauzieh Nassan to
see her cousin Fouad. She remembered the aunt, Niki Nassan, and she wounded
what became of the boy she remembered meeting at the old petrol station
with the single petrol pump. She knew that Fauzieh's family had immigrated
to Los Angeles the year after her father moved her and her mother to the
Washington D.C. area.
Another hour she drew near Tehran. As she did, Laleh saw the spread
of outlying factories. Twenty minutes later she passed the Arya Mehr Stadium
and entered the northern part of the capital city. After driving the circle
of Azadi Square, she turned the motorcycle east onto Azadi and Enqelab
With Azadi Avenue opening the city before her, Laleh soon found herself
in central Tehran as she drove through Ferdowsi Square. Laleh arrived into
the heart of Tehran. No one stopped her other than her time spent with
the officer in Qazvin when registering the motorcycle. But, with the revolution
entering its second year, a truck filled with Revolutionary Guards angrily
waved Laleh to the side of the avenue.
Laleh turned the bike to the curb. Three young men with pistols dropped
off the back of the truck to walk to her. The one in the middle, and presenting
a deep scar below his right eye, said in an angry Farsi, "Why aren't
you wearing the hijab."
Laleh answered, "I am an American. I have been sent to Tehran to
photograph your revolution." Laleh left the engine of the cycle running
and reached to the sidecar for her shoulder bag. She pulled it open and
took out her passport and a second copy of her visa.
The young man studied them, kept the copy of the visa, and handed Laleh's
passport back to her. He said in cold words. "Don't hang around with
other women who refuse to wear the hijab. If caught with other women or
girls refusing to wear it . . . men will beat you. Iranian women will learn
to obey the Prophet's Law."
The young men turned back to the truck and climbed onto it's bed. Another
slapped against the cab roof and the truck roared away. Laleh watched it
and knowing that Iran and Tehran had changed since last being in the city
for her grandparents funeral. Guardian's for the Islamic faith were determined
to keep women down when first declaring them to have equal rights. But
the Family Protection Law had been suspended the past February, and Islamic
fanatics saw it as their right to demand women and young girls' obedience.
But Laleh was determined she wouldn't be harassed into obeying any man's
demand to wear Islamic dress.
A block east of Ferdowsi Square Laleh turned the motorcycle to the north.
She drove several blocks until turning east and passing the east wall of
the American Embassy Compound. She slowed the bike while watching the traffic
on the street. As Laleh studied the students standing along the wall, she
saw they carried AK47s. She had returned her scarf over her face and only
revealing her eyes. No other young men stopped her but only watched her
past down the street.
At the next cross street, Laleh turned north, and followed the eastern
wall of the compound. The sight of students along the wall caused a deep
sense of regret. Laleh wondered what would be in store for the average
Iranian after the political dust settled. She was certain both women and
the peasantry would be little better off than they had been in past years.
If they were, she was certain it would be token presentation.
After driving past the American Embassy Compound, Laleh drove to Ostad
Motahhari. There, she tuned east, and drove to Doktor Ali-Ye-Shar'Ati before
turning north. She soon passed through the suburb of Shemiran and ascended
the foothills to Darband that sat against Touchal Mountain. She remembered
how she and Fauzieh Nassan lied about making a climb into the mountains
and their being caught in the coming night after their ride to see Fouad.
Laleh drove Darband Road until reaching a street that served the early
migration of those able to afford to build in the foothills north of Tehran.
Darband Road ended at the old Darband Hotel where the road became a path
for those willing to hike a trail along the Darband River to reach higher
into the mountains. Now, with it being winter, few would make the outing.
Five minutes later Laleh turned off the street, through an open, wroth
iron-gate that was part of a white, rectangular, walled acre of ground.
A two-story home sat fifty yards up the drive entrance, past a grove of
Tabrizi trees, and a quarter-mile off the slope of Touchal Mountain. Laleh
stopped the bike inside the open gate. She stopped before a small apartment
off the side of the drive. The apartment had once been used by a man and
woman serving her grandparents. The call made before leaving Qazvin instructed
that she would reach the home that afternoon and to have the gate open.
Go to Chapter Thirty-Three
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