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Cover story

 Write for The Iranian

Conspiracy at Desert One
A novel

By Bernace Charles
The Iranian

Chapter Fifty-Four

Desert One

The sight of the arrival of the helicopters and their marshaling behind the C-130s was one of near fantasy. To Laleh, everything seemed to move as the final act of some tragedy. There were four c-130s and six helicopters now setting to the east and west of the graded road. The area was awash in the sound of plane engines and helicopter rotors. Blowing swirls of sand and the drone of engines were the common denominators of the shared space. Minutes earlier, Karim returned from making his way to the north and across the road where he viewed two planes and two helicopters to the East Side of the road.

Having the starlight scope affixed to the rifle, Laleh watched the helicopter nearest her position. Three helicopters were before her. Laleh hadn't changed position and running the risk of someone seeing her.

Now, as Laleh sighted the rifle on the shroud of the transmission of the nearest helicopter she knew six helos made landings. The Delta Force commander needed at least six helos to ferry those needed for the embassy takedown. Laleh didn't know a helo to the east had shut down its engine in fear of hydraulic problems. As the helicopter nearest her lifted, Laleh sighted the Starlight Scope to view the transmission shroud. Laleh stayed low. Neither her nor Karim heard the commander of Delta Force say to Colonel Keller. "We're out of here. Without the sixth chopper there isn't any way to get the needed equipment and men in position."

Keller asked, "Can you strip it of twenty men? We have five helicopters. I hate to lose this night. It'll be our only opportunity!"

The Delta Force commander angry for the night's bad luck said, "It's over! We're out of here! Get everyone loaded! We're running on bare bones as it is."

Colonel Keller climbed aboard hello four. Reaching its pilot he said, "We're aborting. Get the five hellos back to the Nimitz. We'll destroy the one left behind before the last plane leaves. We have to get helo three and you moved. We have to get tanker four turned for takeoff. It's damn low on fuel and needs to get into the air. Get this thing moved to the west!" Colonel Keller exited the helo and headed to the northeast side of the road to tell Camron to get his aircraft into the air.

As Laleh sighted the rifle on a helo's transmission, the blowing sand hampered her sight. Pulling the trigger, Laleh lay stunned by the following seconds. Colonel Keller heard a whack before hearing a loud explosion. Keller turned and saw a huge fireball reach into the sky. It was swallowing the left side of tanker four. Helicopter 4 had launched, drifted to the right, and into the EC-130. The rear of the helicopter was on fire with the rest of the machine settling topside the tanker cockpit. The helo's rotors turned in the firelight. The horrifying scene was nauseating. "Dear, God, not after all the effort!"

As Keller ran to help get those off the plane, he didn't see the figure to the southwest. Laleh knelt atop the sand. At first, the fiery explosion stunned her. But Laleh quickly retrieved her camera knowing the inferno offered enough light for the high-speed film. She took pictures of the fiery inferno through a telescopic lens with the fire a hundred yards from her. As the high-speed film caught the scene, Laleh watched the nightmare before her. She saw a man run covered in flames. The sight brought tears to her eyes. Nevertheless, even in the nightmare of hell before her, Laleh continued shooting the scene until Karim tackled her to pull her down.

Karim saw a man with an automatic assault rifle scanning the west. The man thought the plane had come under attack.

Karim held Laleh down and saying, "Stay Down! You want to get killed?" He came off her and crept to the sand's ridge to see if anyone came in their direction. No one did. Instead, the Americans were busy attempting to save those men piling out of the plane and getting the tanker to the right moved. Men were dying. The sight sickened Karim. The American woman came to prevent death and men were dying before them. As they watched men fan out to the north and west one of them walked to the southwest and came within thirty feet of Laleh and Karim.

The man stared into the darkness without his night-vision goggles he had lost in the confusion. He turned back. Karim and Laleh watched the remaining force move to the north as the C-130 next to the fire increased its engine power and turned to the southwest. To the east of the road, Russ Camron got his plane turned and ready for takeoff. The chemlights laid down by controllers lined him up to the southwest. Camron brought the engines to full power and released the brakes.

Laleh stood, ran to the south, and squatted on her knees. As Camron's plane bore down on the road, she snapped the second of the last two frames of the camera. The plane shook violently as it plowed through the sand along the shoulder of the road. Laleh snapped her last photograph as Cameron's plane continued straight toward her. The plane lifted over her to rise into the night.

Turning back to the other planes preparing to leave, Laleh couldn't believe the sight of another plane heading toward her. The pilot also lined up on the wrong lights. With luck on its side, the plane broke through the graded shoulder to lift into the sky. Laleh squatted and watched as it passed fifty feet above her. As the last plane loaded with Colonel Keller, Karim reached Laleh to again tackle her and ask, "Damn it . . . you're crazy? Don't you realize if someone saw you they'd kill you?"

Laleh said above the sound of the engines racing along the west of the road. "I don't give a damn! I'm who caused the accident! Do you think I give a damn whether I live? It went wrong! It isn't what was to happen! No one was to die!"

Karim held Laleh as she released her anger. As Laleh openly cried, Karim knew she hadn't caused the deaths.


Within an hour, the scene was quiet. The group of released Iranians stood to the east and gazed on the fire as it burned itself out. They didn't see or hear the motorcycle as it stayed in the distance before turning back to the dirt road. As Laleh had secured the rifle sections as part of the motorbike frame, Karim had buried the starlight Scope and the thermal blankets.


Now, as the motorcycle sped into the last hours of the night, Laleh sat in a dazed state of anguish and fury. Karim stayed to the secondary road and driving southwest. He would stay on the road until they passed through Yazd to take the highway north. This time there would be no slow pace along the western edge of the desert. He wanted as close to Tehran as possible before the morning light. Behind the motorcycle, a boiling cloud of dust rose into the late night.

However, Fred Southgate lied to Laleh. She did what he instructed, and it enraged her that she did. She caused the deaths of Americans. The motorcycle would leave tracks, and a motorcycle with a sidecar wouldn't be that common.

Laleh was thankful that the light of the fire had failed to fall into the shallow depression hiding her and Mashhad. Now, as Karim guided the bike, Laleh knew men would become interested in where she had spent the past hours. She knew they would be interested in Karim's whereabouts at the time the Americans entered the country. They would want to know why he failed to report the American plan that Laleh told him about, and men would want to know why he had helped it succeed. >>> Go to Chapter Fifty-Five

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