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 Write for The Iranian

Conspiracy at Desert One
A novel

By Bernace Charles
The Iranian

Chapter Thirty-Nine

February 15th

In Washington, D.C., the day was mild. Fred Southgate was meeting Carousel. Southgate worried about not having a reply from Laleh through the past three weeks. Laleh hadn't acknowledged any signal from David out of Istanbul. There hadn't been any public statement that the Iranians were holding an American other than those of the embassy. There was nothing but the continued debate of whether the Iranians were going to put the American hostages on trial. Fred asked in a tired and worried voice, "Is there any date that this might be going to happen?"

Carousel said, "I don't know. It's going to be a last minute decision. They're deploying much of the needed support staff. Most everything is in place. They believe they have a secure area for the first night's insertion."

Southgate asked, "They haven't decided? The president hasn't decided?"

The man facing Fred Southgate said, "It's exactly why Carter needs to go." He turned to the road leading into the bowels of Arlington Cemetery. Seeing no one who might notice their meeting, Carousel turned back and said, "Have you heard from her?"

Fred gave a worried look and stepped to the edge of a grave to light a cigarette. As he did, he said, "No. We don't know what has happened."

Carousel stepped beside Fred. "They already have the trucks positioned to take Delta Force into Tehran. Can't someone on our side ask about her? Those having her are going to think it's strange no one is."

"The publishing company has made an official request of her whereabouts. The Iranians say she may have left the city. They say she may have been a victim of bandits operating along a remote section of the Asian Highway."

"I don't believe it."

"It's what they say."

"I'm telling you they know something. If she doesn't respond soon, this has to be put away no matter what the president decides."

Fred knew the man was right. He said, "We'll give her until this Friday. Maybe she feels they're watching her and she's waiting until its safe for her to try to reach us."

Carousel said impatiently, "That doesn't help if the effort goes forth."

"We have no choice. Perhaps we'll reach her at the last minute. I know Laleh, and I don't believe she would break under pressure. She knows the country and she knows the people."

"There are good and bad just as there were in NAM."

Fred Southgate stared at the man and said, "Let's just hope she hasn't run into any bad ones." He walked to his car leaving a man having access to the planning staff of Operation Eagle Claw. Now, Fred Southgate knew The Brass had selected a landing site in the Iranian desert and code named Desert 1.


In Tehran, Laleh lay in a hospital bed. She had slipped into and out of consciousness for the past three weeks and unable to see others. Today, waking, her eyes followed the walls of the room. Her vision returned in a cloudy daze slightly blurred. Laleh saw a young man sitting beside the bed. It was the young man with the code name Mashhad. As she focused her tired gaze on him, Laleh's head felt as though a great bell rang through it. She managed a tired, "Hi . . . where am I?"

Karim answered, "You're in the hospital."


"Nirouye Daryae off Pasdaran Park."

"Was I raped?"

"Yes. The young men died for it. I'm sorry. They're not part of the revolution. They were a group of street punks."

Laleh felt her eyes tear and she asked, "Do you have a name other than Mashhad?"


Laleh asked in a weak voice and feeling lost and alone, "Can you tell me what it is?"

"Other than Mashhad, no . . . I can't tell you."

Laleh looked past Karim. She found she was in a private room. She brought her gaze back to the Iranian and asked, "How long have you been here with me?"

"Three weeks. Some day I'll send you a bill."

The words caused Laleh to smile and Karim was glad. The American was a very beautiful woman. The young men raping her overstepped their instructions and were dead for it. Karim knew it didn't make it easier for Laleh Sanders. She didn't know there was a worst shame to it. Karim said, "It is good to see you smile."

"Can I get out of here? What about your revolution?"

"The revolution will do fine without me."

"My things . . . my motorcycle?"

Karim said, "I took it to your home in Darband. The motorbike is in the garage. Your cameras and purse are in your room."

"Thank you."

Karim stood. He said, "I'll be back in the morning to check on you. If they allow you to leave, I'll take you to your home. Try to rest. I'll tell them you're awake and to bring you some cheese and bread. You need to eat."

Laleh pushed at her head to push a layer of hair from her eyes to find her head bandaged. She asked before Karim could leave her. "What happened to me . . I mean my head?"

"You suffered a fractured skull and concussion. You're going to have to stay off the motorbike or you could kill yourself. Allah has taken care of you."

Laleh said, "I appreciate what you've done for me."

"I'll bring some clothes for you tomorrow. Maybe you can go with me to one of our council meetings."

"I would like that."

Karim turned to leave the room. As he did Laleh felt her eyes tear, and she felt a tremendous anger for the wrongs of the world. Laleh wondered if the rescue-effort had taken place. Karim hadn't said anything about such a penetration into the country. It was a question, she hadn't asked.

The next day Karim came late. As he entered the room, he found Laleh sitting on the bed after trying her legs. She found them weak and wanting to fall from beneath her. Now, Laleh was irritated that the only thing she had to wear was a hospital gown.

Karim carried a shopping bag from a department store. He said, "I see you're up today. You must be feeling better."

"My protector has returned."

Karim handed the bag to her and asked, "Can you dress without help?"

"Yes, thank you."

"The doctor said you could leave the hospital tonight providing you take it easy."

"Thank you. I appreciate you being here. Otherwise, I would be alone."

"I'll wait outside." Karim turned and closed the door behind him.

Going through the shopping bag, Laleh found a black hijab. The dress would cover her from head to foot. She also found underwear. In addition, knowing women wore the fashion of dress in defiance of the shah's effort of westernizing Iran, Laleh knew she would fit in on the street. The dress covered the bandage around her head. There were black flats and Laleh wondered how Karim knew her size.

There was a practical side to the dress. It would hide the fact she still fought her sea legs beneath her. After dressing, Laleh navigated her way across the floor. As she pulled the door open, she knew the careful steps she took the prior afternoon and that morning, helped strengthen her. So did the cheese and bread ordered by Mashhad. Breakfast and lunch gave her further strength.

Now, Laleh felt ravished for a restaurant meal. In addition, knowing she lost a minimum of twenty pounds, Laleh feared she looked like a scarecrow and thus felt a second gratefulness for the Islamic dress. The dress did away with pretense.

Nevertheless, strength needed nourishment, and food was what Laleh craved. Karim was waiting in the hall. Laleh stepped to him and Karim said, "You look as God intended you to look. Islamic dress is not so bad."

Laleh responded with, "I'm not so sure about that. The color is rather drab."

Karim wore a white shirt, slacks, jacket, and loafers. He wore no tie. It wasn't the dress of the student revolutionaries in the street. He said, "You can change at your home."

Laleh asked, "Does that mean I can actually leave this place."

"Yes. Where would you like to go?"

"To a restaurant. A good one."

Karim said, "It would be my pleasure. You look lovely. The dress leaves room for one's imagination. Perhaps it has something to offer over the dress of western women."

Laleh held to Karim's arm and said, "Maybe so." It was all she said as she walked with Karim to an elevator. With each step, Laleh knew she gained further equilibrium. She was glad to be on her feet and leaving the hospital and wanted the outside air, the wind, and the sun. Exiting to the outside, Laleh found the day had turned to dusk. The late air was cold. Karim said, "Stay here. I'll get the car."

Laleh leaned against a wall and watched the young man leave her. She knew she found him attractive, and he saved her life. He hadn't said anything about why he was at the hanger, and she wondered how he came to be there.

Karim soon turned his old Volkswagen to the hospital entrance. He was quickly out of the car and coming up the walk. Reaching Laleh, he took her by an arm to steady her. Laleh asked, "How did you happen to be where they took me?"

Karim answered, "After meeting you on the street, I assigned a boy to follow you. He's very good, and he had a portable radio. He followed you until you turned off the Ozgol Avenue toward the foothills. He followed the taxi and radioed me."

Laleh asked. "What did I do to deserve such attention?"

"I thought maybe you were an American spy. You apparently like to take drives into the desert and foothills. You must be careful. If your motorcycle should break down, you could get lost out there."

Laleh laughed at his words as they reached the car. Karim opened the passenger door and Laleh said, "During the time that I lived here I liked to get away to the solitude of the open desert. I still do."

Karim closed the door and hurried around the car. Entering the car and behind the wheel he asked, "Where to?"

"I don't care. Just make it some place where they have good food. I think I could eat a horse."

Karim laughed. He had heard the saying while a student at Harvard Law School. He said, "It's my treat."

Ten minutes later, Karim turned the small car to the curb before a restaurant in downtown Tehran. It was one Laleh remembered eating in with her parents years ago. After entering and seated, she realized that most of those eating there were reporters. Karim managed a corner table. After ordering lamb on skewer and Koufteh Berenj, Karim ordered from the wine list of the restaurant, a restaurant not yet in line with Islamic law about consuming alcohol. Karim faced Laleh and asked in a serious tone, "Why did you come to Tehran?"

The question surprised Laleh. She said, "As I told you. I came to do a pictorial essay on your revolution."

Karim's dark eyes reflected the dancing light of a candle centerpiece. He said, "Ah, I forgot. To photograph our glorious revolution."

"Yes. It is why I'm here. Is there something wrong with that?"

"No, but I don't believe it. It doesn't matter. The main thing is that you're alive. We don't want to explain the death of any American. Just don't get caught doing something illegal. The trips you make into the desert don't make sense for someone wanting to photograph our revolution. Tell me about your father. Was he part of the American's CIA?"

"No. My father was an economic analyst and a teacher."

"What about you? Are you with the CIA?"

Laleh wondered if the young man was a setup. She wondered if others hoped he could draw her out and lessen her guard. She said, "No. I am sorry to disappoint you. I'm just a regular person on a not so regular assignment."

Karim said, "You're beautiful."

"Thank you. You're a very handsome young man. Do you have a girlfriend?"

Karim's face became a blank sea. He said, "I did. Her family fled the country after the revolution hit the streets. Her name was Maryam. This happened after years of talking about the change this country needed. She lost interest because of demanded sacrifice."

Laleh felt the young man's sense of loneliness. She said, "I'm sorry."

Karim turned to the arrival of a waiter. Though clerics outlawed alcohol, the waiter opened bottle of wine for Karim to taste. The waiter then poured two glasses half full. Laleh didn't hesitate to take hers, and Karim wondered about western women and their use of alcohol. The restaurant was the only one in the city continuing to serve wine with its dinners. Laleh drank the half glass and said, "That's what I need."

Karim drank from his glass. He set it down and asked, "Do you have a husband?"

Laleh answered, "No. My husband died in Vietnam. His plane was shot down over Hanoi."

"I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault. Our country had no business being there."

Karim was glad to hear the words. All student revolutionaries despised the American Army. They despised American Imperialism. He could think of few countries that the Americans hadn't managed to influence following the Second World War. He asked, "Was your husband a fighter pilot?"

Laleh knew that to say Allen flew with Air America could lead to a catastrophe. She said, "He flew the F1-11."

"The plane the Americans had problems with?"

Laleh appreciated Karim's depth of reading. She only said, "Yes." She extended her wineglass for him to fill as she said, "You're such a sweetheart to bring me here. I know you didn't have to. You owe me nothing."

Karim saw their dinner brought to them. Following its arrival, Laleh ate as though she hadn't eaten in weeks. Karim was glad. The woman knew she needed her strength back. The only problem Laleh was having was manipulating the food into her mouth due to the long sleeves of the Islamic dress.

It was dark when they left the restaurant. Laleh was laughing at something Karim said as she held to his left arm. There was something about the young man that made Laleh feel secure.

Karim was silent as he drove Laleh to her home in Darband. There, he stopped the Volkswagen before the garage, turned the ignition off, and exited to walk Laleh to the door.

As they walked, Laleh surprised herself by holding to Karim's right hand. She didn't let it go as she unlocked the door. With the door pushed open, Laleh led Karim inside knowing she needed him to stay with her. She needed someone to hold to her through the night. The wine mixed with the pain medication given her at the hospital made her light headed and dizzy. Being alone wasn't something she could now endure while knowing she betrayed another. That love was back in the United States and she was alone.

Moreover, knowing she was giving her self over to one of those she wanted to hold in contempt, Laleh knew she didn't blame them for their anger. Laleh also knew Karim said nothing about any rescue-effort. The conversations of those at other tables said nothing about such an effort. The Americans were still waiting and Laleh was certain of it. Tomorrow, she would drive into the desert to send a signal saying she was alive and waiting for instructions.

Now, there was the night to survive, and Laleh didn't want to be alone. She wanted Karim to stay with her and she held to a hand as she walked up stairs to her grandparents' bedroom. Laleh wanted Mashhad to take the pain and loneliness away. Bringing her mouth to Karim's, Laleh felt him loosen the tie around the dress. While knowing she betrayed Fred Southgate, Laleh guided Karim to the bed.


Laleh woke the next morning to find Karim gone and her head pounding as though some devil attempted to break his way out of it. Finding a prescription bottle of morphine pills given her before leaving the hospital, Laleh took one and lay back on the bed. As she lay on her right side, her eyes stared on the blue-green wall of the room, and she thought of her rape. She longed for Roya and Fred.

But Laleh also knew Karim didn't push questions at her. He was patient, and she knew he would again see her. Laleh wondered at his intent, or if he were like her, and needed someone to hold to as the world around him ruptured at every turn. Laleh thought of these things as she waited for the morphine to take effect. As soon as it did, she would ride out of the city, and send a signal saying she waited for instructions . . . instructions she now hoped would never come. >>> Go to Chapter Forty

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