Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
April 25th, 1980
It was two hours before twilight. Karim and Laleh were up and preparing
for a 290 mile ride. Though a highway could take them through Isfaran and
to Yazd, Karim knew they needed to avoid the highway. He found two five-gallon
petrol cans in the garage, and figured a way to secure them to the motorbike.
If they traveled the highway others would remember seeing them. In addition,
there was no way to hide a Volkswagen in the desert. Hiding or securing
a motorbike would be difficult enough. Laleh wore the Islamic dress Karim
bought her to lessen anyone's suspicion should others see them. She knew
she could pass as Iranian. Being hot was a better alternative than someone
Karim would have to turn off the highway south of Tehran before it turned
into a toll road. He would follow the old caravan trail. The old route
followed the eastern edge of the desert and the location of the ancient
outpost along it. He and others had made the trek in their late teens at
a time they tested their endurance in the desert. Unknown to Karim, Laleh
was wearing the camera attachment made in Istanbul and fashioned to look
like a woman's bracelet. Packing her camera with a single roll of high-speed,
black and white film, and a knapsack of food they set off through the city
before others woke.
Before they reached the tollgate for the highway south of Tehran, Karim
turned into desolate land to drive south out of site of anyone on the highway.
He would bypass the city of Qum, Kashan, and all others. If they didn't
experience a breakdown, Karim figured they could reach the coordinates
by late after noon.
The desert route was arid, rugged, and jarring. Karim hoped that it
didn't hurt Laleh. Nevertheless, Laleh and he both knew it was the route
they needed to take so no one might remember them being on the highway.
As the sun rose over the vast Dashi`v Kavir salt Desert to their east,
Laleh sat in the sidecar. In hope of softening the jarring ride, she had
slipped pillows between the sides of the car and her body. A sawed off
broom was pushed to the side of her legs. Karim cut the length so it didn't
extent above the mold of the sidecar. The two petrol cans lay strapped
atop the rear fender.
Early, during the ride both Karim and Laleh felt the morning's cool
breeze. The late April weather now reached into the mid-nineties. After
driving for more than an hour and a half, attempting to lessen the jarring
ride for Laleh, Karim stopped on the dirt track rarely occasioned by someone
without an adventurous mindset. He turned the engine off and stared into
the desolation of the country before them. Laleh climbed out of the sidecar
to stretch. She looked at the map knowing they still had a good distance
to travel. The wasted land seemed to swallow their presence.
Karim asked, 'Are you Ok?
Laleh answered, "I'm fine. It makes no difference about my discomfort.
I'll survive." Laleh climbed back in the sidecar. Karim knew the coordinates
of the landing zone put the Americans between the village of Tabas and
the city of Yazd. It was a stretch of wasteland not covered by shrub or
rock. Karim had an uncle living in Yazd and a cousin in Tabas. He knew
the unpaved road and it worried him.
It was nearing eleven before Karim made a second stop and pulled a compass
from his Jean pocket. Laleh realized she had overlooked the need and thankful
Karim was wiser. A person might easily lose his sense of direction in the
arid environment around them. Karim said, "Hand me the map."
Laleh handed the map to Karim and asked, "Are we lost?"
Karim studied the map before handing it back. "No, but we've got
to turn to the southeast. I haven't been across here. I doubt anyone has."
"Well, we have water, gas, compass, and a map. What could go wrong?"
Karim didn't answer knowing that a simple breakdown could kill them
along with the heat. He didn't want to think about that possibility. Instead,
Karim pushed the left break handle in and turned it counterclockwise to
bring up the radio's antenna.
As he did, Laleh stood to stretch. Karim handed her the receiver and
pushed in the clutch handle. Laleh waited for the eleven a.m. call. Checking
her watch, Laleh listened. A minute passed before she heard the word "Red"
through the earpiece. She squeezed the clutch handle and tapped in a response
of "Green." The color green was the color of Islam, and the color
red the color of the blood defending it. Laleh waited, listened, and watched
the second hand of her wristwatch. From Istanbul, David Rice repeated the
word "Green." This time Laleh responded with "Blue."
Laleh pulled the earpiece from her ear to push it back into the right fork.
On her face was a look of despair.
Laleh's words were weak and sounded regrettable. "Yes. They're
at their forward base. They'll be landing at the coordinates given yesterday.
It's coming down. The fuel carriers, C-130s will land at the coordinates
at or near eleven tonight"
Karim turned to the east. Instead of being on the highway were they
might pass through Natanz and below Vulture Mountain where Alexander The
Great killed King Darius III they were in the middle of nowhere. They weren't
waiting to pass through Isfahan before turning into the county's desolation
of the great desert. There would be no villages or petrol stations. Karim
and Laleh also noticed how an early night's rain had kicked up a fine dust
as it crossed the desert at one a.m. that morning. It left minute grains
of sand suspended in the air. The rain had moved to the south. If not for
the dust, and jarring ride, Laleh thought the trip endurable. But following
the caravan road hadn't been a trek her family made during their years
in Iran. There was an inner release felt by being alone in the wasteland
around them. It was as if it removed them from the cares of the world.
The dust now covered Laleh and Karim in a powder like coating. Ten minutes
later, they headed deeper into a nomad's land that offered no contrast.
It was early afternoon before they encountered the secondary road running
between Yazd and Tabas. To turn the wrong direction would waste time, petrol,
and possibly bring discovery.
Karim studied the map and said, "It's your choice. The coordinates
suggest a section where the road runs due southwest and northeast. With
no landmark, it's hard to know. It's a gamble either way. Laleh climbed
out of the sidecar and wiped her face and neck. She took a bottle of water,
rinsed her mouth, and spit the water out. As she did, she thought of the
condition of suspended dust met earlier in the morning. The dust could
rise into the thousands of feet. Now, Laleh wondered if men planning the
mission into Iran considered the phenomenon. If occurring in southern Iran,
where the Americans would penetrate the country, it could affect the flight
of the American helicopters or the C-130s.
Karim held a different concern. He said, "I don't want to push
it and jar you anymore than needed. If we go the wrong direction it's going
to add time on this thing." As Karim sat straddling the bike he added,
"I can't understand their choice of landing sights. If I'm right,
and the coordinates are correct, they're going to land near the road. It
makes no sense if they're delivering fuel. Why aren't they landing somewhere
that's removed from any road? But why out here?"
Laleh held to Karim's left hand, climbed back into the sidecar and asked,
"Yes. Why? They risk someone coming along and discovering them."
Laleh said as she poured a small amount of water on a cloth to wash
the dust from her face. "They'll spend minimum time on the ground."
"Still, it doesn't make any sense. Men run alcohol on the road.
Busses take others between Yazd and isolated villages. There could be one
traveling to Tabas."
Laleh said, "I don't know, Karim. All I know is that they're coming
and they're doing it tonight. We have to find the coordinates and be waiting
for them. If the helicopters link up with the planes . . . I need to disable
three. It depends on how many get through."
"Are you feeling OK? I can do this."
"Where do you think you're going to leave me? No, Karim, you can't
do it. I'm fine. Your people will kill you if they know the truth. They'll
kill you if they know you helped me. As it is, you can say I tricked you
into bringing me out here. If no one discovers us we won't have to worry
Karim said, "I wish it were a simpler time." He then checked
the gas tank. Seeing it again low for the second time, he got off the bike
to fill its tank from one of the petrol cans, closed it, and slung the
empty container to the side of the road. Depending on their direction and
luck of finding the landing area the remaining petrol might get them back
Laleh sat in the sidecar and positioned the pillows supporting her.
As she did, she thought of the Starlight scope fitted into the bottom of
"If its dark? How will you see?"
"I'm sitting on a starlight scope. Once the scope is out, after
using it, we'll have to bury it."
Karim tried to find a sense of hope. He started the motorcycle and turned
to the east and into the growing heat of the day. He was glad they reached
the graded road. At least it pointed to a sense of security. Now, he didn't
look forward to the return trip and feared there would be those in helicopters
searching for them. >>>
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