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Cover story

 Write for The Iranian

Conspiracy at Desert One
A novel

By Bernace Charles
The Iranian

Chapter Forty-One

Darband, Iran,
April 1980

Laleh exited her grandparents' home at 10 a.m. Today, the weather reached into spring. Five minutes later she had the motorcycle started. Nezar Hindawi watched out a window as she left the property and exited the drive to head to Darband Road. Nezar turned away from the window and returned to a chair before a table. There hadn't been any contact with Mashhad or a signal sent. The men couldn't risk drawing suspicion by sending the simplest of messages. Laleh Sanders would have to inform David Rice that she was alive and back to the task before her. Neither Karim nor Nezar knew what that task was.

Reaching Darband Road, Laleh turned south and drove half a mile before turning east. East of Tehran, and southwest of Dar Abad, Laleh turned into the open, arid foothills. It was 10:30. Laleh directed the bike onto a small knoll out of sight of any road. There, she stopped and pushed the left break handle inward before turning it counterclockwise. The antenna came out of the right strut. Laleh pulled the earpiece, and pushed the clutch handle in before she checked her watch. She sent the word Buy Two. It was one minute until eleven. After waiting, she heard the tapped out words of "Buy One. Buy One."

The American military were deploying to their jumping-off-point. There, they would wait for confirmation to go. Men had chosen an area of desert or airfield for the first night of inserting Delta Force and refueling the helicopters to ferry them close to Tehran. Laleh tapped out the answer, "X-ray."

Laleh waited and listened for longitude and latitude readings. She waited a full minute and repeated her signal after watching the second hand of her wristwatch. If the repeat were less than three seconds off a full minute, David Rice would close shop in Istanbul and return to the states. The numbers came through the receiver as color combinations coding positions of 33*04 latitude and 55*53 longitude. But the code words saying the operation would be within the next days didn't come to her. As she listened to the tapping out of the colors, Laleh wrote them down on a small notebook she held against the straddled gas-tank.

But as she leaned forward to write, Laleh felt her head was going to explode. The ride tired her much more than she expected and it brought a terrible, piercing pain to her right temple. Nevertheless, the signal needed sent saying she was OK. The head injury kept Fred or David from knowing her whereabouts and it angered her that common thugs caused it. Not knowing why, she turned to look to a handlebar's, rearview mirror.

Karim stood twenty feet behind her. He held a pistol. Laleh removed the earpiece, turned to him, and got off the bike. She asked, "How long have you known?"

Karim pointed a German Lugger at Laleh. David Rice instructed him to set up the woman's injury and now he wondered why. Karim knew only Nezar knew he was with the American CIA, and yet, David Rice passed information that The Raven wanted Laleh to come to trust him. For that reason, Karim had sat beside her deathbed praying to Allah to spare her. Not understanding the double game played, Karim said, "I should have allowed them to kill you."

Laleh held a fixed look and answered, "I am thankful that you didn't. I truly am."

"Who do you contact?"

"A man in Istanbul."

Karim knew David Rice was there. "Why?"

"You don't know?"

"Why are you in Tehran? Who sent you? Throw me the notebook."

Laleh threw the notebook to Karim. She asked, "How did you know where to find me?"

Karim pointed to the sky. In the distance and at a heighth lessening its engine noise, and returning to Tehran's Airport, a single engine plane was only a speck in the sky. Karim said, "A friend owns it. Only he and I know. He keeps me informed by radio. He's the one who followed you the day the street thugs attacked you. Before I turn you over to the revolutionary council, I want to know why you're in Tehran?"

"I'm here to stop a nightmare."

Misunderstanding Laleh, Karim asked, "You're here to stop the revolution?"

Laleh answered hoping Karim might help her. "American Special Forces are preparing an attempt to rescue the hostages."

Karim stared at Laleh disbelieving her. A rescue-effort hadn't been on the table the day he and others took the embassy for the second time. He asked, "And you're to help them?"

"No, I'm to stop them from reaching Tehran."

Karim gave a look of contemptuous doubt. He asked, "How are you going to accomplish that? Do you expect me to believe you?"

"It's the truth, Mashhad. I need your help."

Karim expressed a cynical look and asked, "For what . . . to go to bed with you?"

Laleh's face turned to anger. "If you think last night was an attempt to draw you into this . . . you're not half as smart as I thought you were."

Karim studied Laleh for several seconds that seemed far longer. He asked, "Why should I believe you?"

"Because there's going to be a major incident. It could cause a war to spill over into your country."

Again, Karim stared on her. "Show me how the motorcycle works."

"The radio?"


Laleh turned to the bike handlebars. She pushed the break handle clockwise and the antenna recessed. She returned the earpiece and explained how the transmitter worked while thankful the transmission had finished. Karim sat on the ground ten feet from Laleh and the motorcycle studying both them. Laleh leaned against the machine gazing at him.

Karim said, "They tortured the man selling the bike to you. They killed him. Others don't believe your reason for being in Tehran."

"What do they think?"

"They think you are with the CIA . . . a photographer to document the revolution. They believe the American CIA are vain for wanting to document the revolution from inside the city. It's become a joke to them."

Laleh tried to find a smile. Her head was pounding and she wanted to return to the home in Darband where she could crawl back into bed. She asked, "Is that why you stayed with me in the hospital? You were hoping I would say something while unconscious. That was what last night was to you?"

Karim held his penetrating gaze on Laleh and relaxed his grip on the pistol. He said, "At first, yes. After three days . . . no. You were like an angel in bed and I was waiting for God to bring you back to life. I prayed that he did."

Laleh said, "Thank you." She added, "I'm not here to influence your revolution. I'm here because men of your religion wouldn't suspect a woman coming to stop a tragedy."

Karim thought about how both of them connected to Langley, Virginia. He asked, "How are you to stop it?"

Laleh knew she had nothing to lose. If Mashhad took her into custody other men would take the motorcycle apart. They would do so to see if there were aspects to it besides the radio and receiver. She got off the bike and dropped to her knees on the right side of the bike. Reaching, and twisting parts of the frame apart, she put them together into a sniper's rife. Laleh stood and leaned it against the bike.

Karim fixed his eyes on it. He wondered if the entire world was mad. The Americans were going to make an effort at rescuing the hostages and they sent one of their own to stop it. The Raven hadn't anticipated such an effort when plotting the embassy take-over. Karim asked, "How is one rifle going to stop them?"

Laleh's voice sounded tired. "There are three shells. They are titanium tipped with small explosive charges. They're large enough to destroy the transmission of a helicopter. No one is to die . . . not Americans or Iranians. They're sending eight helicopters. They must have six. They'll call the mission off if that many can't make it. With the distances they have to cover, the operation needs two nights. The first flight is to refuel the helicopters and get Delta Force in position. The second night they'll attempt the embassy takedown, secure the hostages, and make their way by helicopter to a second landing zone. The C-130s will pick up the hostages and others and leave the country."

"Where is this to take place?"

Laleh disassembled the rifle's barrel and stock. From the stock-end of the barrel, she pulled out a map of Iran. She said, "I need the notebook."

Karim tossed it back to her. Laleh glanced at it, and studied the map to find the corresponding numbers represented by colors. She said, "It's to the southwest. The coordinates are 33 deg 05' North, by 55 deg 48' East. It's in the Dasht-e-Kavir Desert. From the map, it looks like there's a secondary road going through it. They may be meeting others who are in the country and coming by car or truck. I don't know."

"It's there where you're to stop them?"


"Show me."

Laleh left the rifle barrel unassembled, stepped to Karim and dropped to her knees before him. This time the simple jarring of her body by her knees striking the ground sent a blinding flash of pain through her head. Laleh dropped the map and brought her hands to her head. Karim caught her and the dropped map. He laid the pistol down and Laleh didn't grab for it.

Karim held to Laleh with her head resting against his chest. As she lay against him, he rocked her as gently as a child and said, "It's going to be OK. It's going to be OK. I'll help you." He spoke in English. Laleh wondered how she was going to make a journey to the south. Karim looked at the map. He saw that the coordinates ran through a piece of desert holding a secondary road running between the towns of Yazd that was more than a hundred miles from the site and to the southwest. Tabas was more than 58 miles to the northeast. He knew the secondary road.

With Laleh lying against Karim, Laleh felt Karim possessed the soul of Fred Southgate. They were alike but from different countries and different worlds. The thought of it, and the pain inside her, caused her to want to scream. Instead, Laleh felt Karim helping her to her feet saying, "We've got to put the bike back together. You can drive the car back to the house. I'll follow with the motorcycle. Can you make it?"

"Yes. I didn't take the full number of pain pills this morning. I was afraid they might cause me to have an accident."


Karim returned to Laleh's home in Darband that night. He didn't stop to speak with Nezar but drove to the house, parked, and entered the home. He went upstairs to the bedroom where he and Laleh spent time together and found that Laleh had spent the afternoon in bed. Laleh instructed Karim in how to go out of the city each morning and wait for the code word telling of the operation and its scheduled penetration into Iran. The coded message would come twenty-four hours before the infiltration of the troops to secure the embassy and rescue the hostages.

Now, Karim entered the bedroom, undressed and crawled back into bed. He asked, "Do you want me to stay?"

Laleh answered a tired, "Yes." Reaching her, Karim held Laleh to him. He kissed her eyes, face, and lips. Karim pulled back and said, "Because of your injury, they think you should leave the country."


"They don't want an American dying in Tehran. It would be bad for the revolution. Especially, if she died needing medical treatment."

"I won't leave."

"It's what I told them. They now believe we have become involved and have advised me against having anything to do with you."

"What did you tell them?"

"I told them I'm going to stay with you until I know the true reason you are in Tehran."

Laleh tried to smile but couldn't. She said, "You must understand I have to leave when it's over."

"I know."

"We'll never see each other again. I have a relationship back home. I have a daughter."

"I hoped that you didn't." Karim added, "It's as though I belong beside you to protect you."

Laleh kissed Karim on the mouth and moved her head to his shoulder. She said, "I think we live in a sad world." Karim didn't answer and Laleh continued, "I don't believe it will ever be a place of peace. I would like to think it might change. It won't."

Karim didn't answer. Instead, he lay in silence with Laleh resting against him as he studied the ceiling tiles of a room that was once Laleh's grandparents. Looking on the tile uniformity in lamplight, Karim wondered if everything held a divine, inner structure. The holding of the hostages came out of Langley. Now, the Americans were going to attempt a rescue-effort. With the knowledge, the revolution's rhetoric caused further chaos, and with the Iranian people losing further rights, Karim knew madness swirled about him and the American woman. Now, Karim was tired.

Laleh said, "You'll have to listen for the confirmation and drive me there. There's no other way."

Karim knew he couldn't tell Laleh the truth about him being a CIA employee and that The Raven had ordered him to have Laleh stopped and beaten. He was to intercede to gain her trust. It was the only way to prevent Laleh from doubting him when not informing her of the truth about the embassy take-over. Karim said, "I know. I hope I have the strength to do it. It would be a propaganda coup if the Americans enter the city and there was a fight for the compound. Too many innocent people would die. It's why I'll help you."

Laleh pressed her body against the young man. As she felt her skin against Karim's, Karim wondered if anything in the world made any sense. Another time and place he would attempt to persuade the American woman to stay with him. Now, they somehow gave the other courage. Though he was under control out of Langley Virginia, he would never again see the United States.


A Huey helicopter sat near a drop zone in the Arizona Desert. Out of the night, massive C-141Bs, the Air Force's newest jet transport dropped thirty-five blivets with each securing five hundred gallons of fuel. Along with the fuel, the planes dropped the pumps, hoses, and six tractors to position the fuel to pump it into thirsty, CH-53 helos. Though all accepted Desert 1 for the first night's infiltration, the rehearsal was for the possibility the helos might run into trouble getting out of Tehran. If they did, the extra fuel would be for getting out of the country.

After watching the drop, Colonel Keller, General Wallace, and others boarded the Huey for a flight to Edwards Air Force Base. Reaching several miles off the main airport, Colonel Keller asked an operation's officer, "Isn't our flight pattern going to interfere with normal operations?"

Dick Asten answered, "Edwards is closed for the night. Nothing is coming in or going out. The place is ours. The base commander has turned it over for the night."

Colonel Keller knew little light remained to prepare for the last training flight. He didn't like the fact the entire force sat separated by distance; he didn't like the fact the exercise included a single Combat Talon and a lone EC-130. With the flight leaders trained, their wingman would follow their lead. Still, it was dangerous, and they needed a full rehearsal to ensure all knew their assigned positions at Desert 1 and they weren't going to have one.

At midnight the ground controllers turned on the portable runway lights and got the horning beacon of a TACON operating. Soon, the drone of engines came out of the night. Through night vision goggles, General Wallace, Colonel Keller, and others watched the lead Talon come around and line up on the landing lights. After the Talon set down it taxied to its off-loading position. Minutes later, Russ Camron brought the EC-130 around and set it down. He taxied along side the Talon.

There, men pulled out the hoses and started the pumps to load fuel onto four H-53 helicopters approaching out of the night. The rotors of the helicopters came in with their whoop, whoop sound.

After the Huey landed, Keller asked Camron, "Did you have trouble following the lead?"

Camron answered, "Only on the final approach. I lost the lights but the follow-the-leader tactic will work. We just need practice it."

Keller said, "Good job." He the walked to General Wallace and reloaded on the Huey and were soon on their way back to Yuma Air Force Base. As they were flying through what remained of the night, Keller was thankful there were three different options to go with if needed.

Delta troops and Army rangers had conducted a simulated takedown of an airport; they made the rehearsed fuel drop; they went through the rehearsal of landing a Talon, a tanker, and the helos without problems. There was a margin of safety in having the options. Nevertheless, there wouldn't be a full rehearsal and it worried Colonel Keller. >>> Go to Chapter Forty-Two

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