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 Write for The Iranian

Conspiracy at Desert One
A novel

By Bernace Charles
The Iranian


12:00 a.m.
Tehran, Iran
January 12, 1979

Tehran's noon hour gripped a day that was cold. The city was a chilled, purplish-green pearl lying against the lower slopes of Iran's snow topped Alborz Mountains. Within its hayats (courtyards) and kooches (alleys), the city was awake for its second call to prayer. But its current government denied an awakening to historical change. The pearl rested in a Persian slingshot, held back, waiting to lose its energy upon the forehead of Pahlavi rule. It pointed at a regime supported by SAVAK's pillars of repression, torture, and murder. The Peacock Throne sat on a scared foundation.

Karim Sa'edi, a young man with the code name Mashhad, exited an apartment in Shemiran, one of Tehran's affluent, northern suburbs. Karim stood at medium height and weight, but with muscular definition and strength. His dark hair lay straight back with its cut reaching to the collar of his coat. Deep, dark eyes stared through the morning. Karim presented a handsome face. His mind was intent, determined, and he played a most dangerous game. He purposely stayed off the street through the morning hours.

Now, and presenting a staged intensity for past days, Karim unveiled a rehearsed, hidden anguish. It was an anguish taking control away to witness its rebirth by fire and political madness. Karim walked through the cold wearing the street garb of a waist-length, leather coat, shirt, jeans, and street shoes. The left coat pocket held a ski mask. Sunglasses filtered the cold sun that filled the day. He entered a ten-year-old, faded-blue Volkswagen, and the biting cold reminded him of Washington D.C. After slipping into the car, starting it, and getting a cranky transmission into gear, he turned to drive in the direction of central Tehran and Tehran University.

Up until three months past, Karim had been teaching at Iranzamin High School located in Shahrakeh Gharb in northwest Tehran. But Karim's teaching of history classes had given way to street fighting. Karim moved within those close to Abbas Abdi, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, and Mohsen Mirdamadi. Three years earlier, Karim completed his degree in Political Science from Columbia University. His return to Tehran was by having a CIA control officer and the U.S. Immigration Service deporting him as a student radical for his writing printed in "Resistance" the paper put out by Iranian expatriates living in America.

Fifteen minutes later and on Shah Reza Avenue, he met Habib Hosseini, Pavel Ferlinghetti, and Khosrow Ehsan. They met on the sidewalk at the avenue's, white, striped, pedestrian crossing marks before Tehran University. Karim asked, "Has anyone driven passed?"

Habib, a stout, young man, with a thick neck, and bear like strength, ate salted melon seeds and peanuts. He answered, "Those we suspect as SAVAK did. They'll be back, but they're beginning to know fear. You can see it in their eyes." Habib's waist-length, leather coat was a size too large. His dark eyes studied the distant street. He added, "We're living in chaos." He handed Karim a half handful of salted melon seeds taken from a coat pocket. An army green truck stopped a block to the east.

Karim cracked several melon seeds between his teeth, spit the shells out, and insisted, "Better chaos than fear. SAVAK agents will soon die."

Khosrow Ehsan watched as troops piled out of the truck. Khosrow, an engineering student added, "There's rumor of a replacement cabinet and marshal law."

Just as Karim had driven into the heart of central Tehran, the day had been forcing its way further out of a deadly past. The Volkswagen's heater hadn't functioned and the day's temperature made a difference in Karim's comfort. Tehran's day would remain cold. Many would carry on in a distorted normalcy while the city woke to ongoing anarchy, and the expected, further clash between the Iranian Army and pro-Khomeini forces. A street war was the city's reality; the day a chorus of dissent sparking the overthrow of a repressive past. The Communist, Leftist, Nationalist, Clerics, and the Mojahedin moved through the streets toward the university. The past month, troops loyal to the shah, killed students taking up the cause of an Islamic Republic. Now, hard line clerics stood beside pro-democracy youth. Who was using who depended on one's perception. It was the end of being watchful as expectation swelled the hope for change. The central enemies were the shah and America, The Great Satan. Those holding to hope of the birth of Iranian democracy included student revolutionaries of Tehran University.

As he now studied the avenue, Karim saw hundreds of students advancing to join the day's demonstration. He answered, "We need to plan further ahead than today. We need action that will shock the Americans into understanding this country is no longer part of their imperial agenda."

Habib asked, "Karim, what can we do? We have no army to fight the Americans. The Mojahedin and their People's Army don't have the strength to do it." Habib was close to the central figures in the student movement. As, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, Abbas Abdi, and Mohsen Mirdamadi, he knew the Americans wouldn't easily give in to losing Iran's alignment with them.

Karim answered, "We need to hold to the Americans' belt as the V.C. did. We need to take the American Embassy. The time will come."

Others knew that those leading the students listened to Karim. Karim wasn't suspect for studying in America. Habid asked, "Karim, you can't be serious? Take the American Embassy? The Americans would never stand for it. Not now . . . not ever."

A look of contempt for America formed on Karim's face. "Do you think they will start a war over their embassy? No, they'll sit and wait for the release of their people while they strangle life from us. Their embassy will become a nest of CIA operations to reinstate the shah after he flees. They tear gassed our people in America because we demonstrated against his repression and terror. Carter is a fool. The Americans have no sense of history. Carter didn't learn from those before him. He hasn't learned yet."

Habib's words were insistent. He asked, "Have you talked with Abdi, or Mirdamadi? Do you think they'll agree to it?"

Karim had known that he faced grave risks as his midday's route had delivered him to Roosevelt Avenue. As he had driven passed a wall of the American Embassy Compound he had read the words, "My army brother, why do you kill your brother?" The words were in Persian and in red paint. The words spoke to the changes taking place in Tehran. Even with Khomeini not yet returned from France, the Monarchy was falling. It was crucial for the Americans that Karim infiltrate the student movement and the Mojahedin. He had been part of the January 9th. demonstration near 24 Esfand. During the demonstration, Karim had carried a large poster of Ayatollah Khomeini. Karim was also present the day Army troops gunned down students on "Black Friday" December 11, 1978. He had been in Laleh Park on May 5th when Islamic militants fought a pro-democracy rally. The People's Army wasn't well armed but dedicated. Karim knew the Americans learned, during their war in Southeast Asia, that student political movements played heavy in shifting American Foreign Policy. Student unrest would also change Iran. He said to his friends, "We take the embassy for only a few hours and give it back. The American people will realize our desperation."

When he had turned toward Shah Reza Avenue in his drive, Karim first saw the crowd that gathered strength before the iron gates and concrete vaulted entrance to Tehran University. Staying secure within a classroom was anathema to the revolutionary spirit. Yet, he felt sadness for Iran.

One minute later Karim had turned north, drove one block, parked the Volkswagen, exited, and walked back to the south. He had walked at a quick pace with puffs of warmed breath condensing into clouds of vapor. The broad avenue was where students clashed with troops on November 20th. On that day, the air wasn't as cold.

Along with the day's cold there was the question of whether troops or SAVAK agents would show to fire on the crowd. It hung in the morning and solidifying the students' fears. Would the army leave further martyrs with their blood soaking the street? Would there be blood for the demonstrators to wash their hands in and holdup to the world while exposing the shah's government for being in bed with the Great Satan? Both questions hung over an expectant and growing crowd. After turning onto Shah Reza Avenue Karim walked to a group of students emerging from noon cold shadows. They were a large part of the thousands again attending classes following the government reopening Tehran University after closing it because of student unrest. It was like the American universities after Kent State. It was as though the shah took all sense of precedence from the Americans. Karim saw his friends Habib Hosseini and Pavel Ferlinghetti. As he did, he wondered if each of them would end in a morgue or Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. Graves were already dug and waiting for further victims of the shah's repression.

Now, and as an organizer of the day's demonstration, Karim wondered how many SAVAK agents were mixed among it. They would be there as a volatile part of a cocktail made up of Marxists, nationalists, clerics, and the Mojahedin with its mix of Marxism and Islam. The avenue before the university was a bowling lane. The blue-green marble would roll down it and crush the demonstrators.

Habib said, "But taking their embassy? It's sovereign ground of America."

Karim's answer was solid, "No, Habib, no part of Iran belongs to America. This country's oil no longer belongs to either the Americans or the British. No more oil goes to Israel."

Habib's question was one of dismay, "We sell oil to Israel?"

Karim recognized how little the Iranian people knew of what went on in their country. The shah needed foreign currency. Israel paid dollars for oil. "If we take the embassy, it will tell Israel their American puppet no longer protects or brokers deals for them. If we take it . . . we don't release the Americans until the shah is returned to stand trail."

"But he hasn't left Iran."

"He will. The ministers tremble with fear while proclaiming strength. There are those encouraging the appointment of Bakhtiar as Prime Minister. Maybe he might make sense to all things done in the name of Allah. Khomeini's call for strikes has the country at a near standstill. How many of us can the Imperial Guard shoot?"

"And what if Ayatollah Beheshti, or the revolutionary committee, don't go along with the appointment? Then what?"

"There are some who believe the shah will flee the country within the week. There's a rumor he has cancer. If it's true, the Americans will allow him into the U.S. as a compassionate show of not abandoning their servants. Mohsen will agree. We need to take the embassy twice. The first time will be to find out if the Americans ask for assistance from SAVAK or the Imperial Guard. If neither come to protect the embassy compound, we know we can again take it and stay until the Americans return the shah to stand trial.

"Karim, you're crazy. The American's will never stand for it."

"No one is going to send troops. Who is going to let them into the country? We don't do it tomorrow, but before the year ends."

Habib asked, "What about Khomeini?"

"He'll soon return. He isn't a fool. He'll need to solidify his power. The Marxists and opposition clerics need defeated. Khomeini will allow the embassy takeover. He needs the rhetoric of the left."

"But those not Marxists will think you work for the Soviets. The nationalists will brand you as a communist."

"Screw them. Mohsen went to Cambridge. How many from Cambridge spied for the Soviets. Mohsen will think twice before making accusations."

Habib said, "But others will suspect you. They'll say you usurp their leadership. Not all are so brave or stupid."

Karim grinned at Habib and Khosrow before again spitting melon shells out of his mouth and lighting an American brand cigarette. He added, "I'll make it their idea. Let them believe what they want. The first takeover will happen after the shah flees. Count on it."

Habib Hosseini turned his attention to the growing body of those spilling into the avenue off from side streets as their voices warmed to, "God, Qoran, Khomeini! God, Qoran, Khomeini! God, Qoran, Khomeini!" and "Become martyrs in the path of righteousness! An Islamic Republic, Khomeini says must be formed! An Islamic Republic, Khomeini says must be formed!" The chorus filled the cold air and pushed down the avenue.

Being a part of the voices demanding change, Karim Sa'edi believed it was a sad day for his country. He believed it was a sad day for America and its president. Carter needed defeated in the coming presidential election. There would be a year to get through before the election might change the presidential administration. Habib didn't know his friend worked for the American Central Intelligence Agency. No one in Tehran did. Neither the American Ambassador, nor the CIA Station Chief knew it. Karim pulled his ski mask from his coat pocket, glanced at it, and threw it into the street. The game was over. It no longer mattered if SAVAK agents knew his face. He also knew he planted a seed in Habib's mind. It would spread to others. The students would take the American Embassy before the year ended.


2:00 p.m.

"God, Qoran, Khomeini! God, Qoran, Khomeini! God, Qoran, Khomeini!" and "Become martyrs in the path of righteousness! An Islamic Republic, Khomeini says must be formed! An Islamic Republic, Khomeini says must be formed!"

A slogan held up by the energy of outrage, rose into the air, rattled around in the cold sky, then descended to bring a feeling of doom. It did so of its own will and permeated the cold sky as a brittle eggshell waiting for further fracture. Karim, Habib, Pavel, and others led the chant that elevated its purpose in a resounding demand and expectation.


Two hours later and from the joined voices of more than ten thousand students, a member of the Iranian Workers Communist Party lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it. It landed on the payment, shattering, and spraying burning petrol. A soldier didn't escape its reach. He burst into a living torch. Iranian soldiers lifted their rifles and fired into the crowd. Pavel fell to the street. He died before he hit the pavement.

Karim and Habib reached out as the soldiers rushed the demonstration with batons and rifle butts. With Karim kneeling over Pavel, he didn't see the truncheon that swung hard down upon him. He fell to the street.

Before the day ended more than a dozen demonstrators were dead and more than three hundred seriously injured. That night, a cold wind pushed off the Alborz Mountains and chilled both body and blood.


Karim gained consciousness and found he was in the bedroom of the apartment of his fiancée, Maryam Dormanesh. The apartment was several blocks from Tehran's Iranzamin High School. A young Iranian woman sat on the side of the bed and holding Karim's right hand. As her dark eyes held to Karim's face, Maryam feared what the night would bring. She feared the agents of SAVAK would show at the door and arrest them.

Karim lay with his forehead cut and beginning to turn a purple and dark blue bruise. Khosrow Ehsan and Habib Hosseini had picked him up to carry Karim to his car. Khosrow deliver him to the house. Khosrow had been on the right of Karim and Habib as soldiers fired on the demonstration. He and Habib had risked being shot as they picked Karim up and carried him to safety. The demonstration became another bloody killing field.

Karim opened his eyes. He looked on Maryam, tried to smile and feeling the pain in his forehead. He said, "Hi. I guess someone rescued me."

Maryam wore a heavy, wool sweater, slacks, and her dark hair was held back by hair clips. Dark eyes were frightened. She said, "Khosrow did."

"Did he say how many were killed?"

Maryam didn't want to answer the question. She said, "The TV news says thirty. It has to stop, Karim. I can't live like this . . . wondering if I'll see you again after some demonstration that turns violent. The high school students are shouting for an Islamic Republic. What is it that people want? We will lose all freedom."

Karim knew Maryam wasn't in favor of the madness sweeping through their country. "I'm sorry, Khosrow shouldn't have brought me here. Damn, my heard hurts. Do you have any aspirin?"

"Yes. Stay still. I'll be right back." Maryam stood to walk to the kitchen. She quickly returned with a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin.

Karim pushed up to sit on the side of the bed. He knew he was lucky to be alive. The soldier firing on Pavel swept his fire from right to left to leave Pavel dead but himself only suffering from a headache.

Maryam handed the glass of water to Karim along with three Excedrin. "What are you going to do, Karim?"

After swallowing, Karim answered, "I don't know. I don't know if they'll go to the apartment."

"And if they do?"

"SAVAK agents will arrest me." Karim reached for Maryam's right hand and she sat beside him. "How was your morning?"

"They canceled classes. The administration is frightened of losing control. The girls carry their enthusiasm for this madness. The clerics will demand that all women and female students wear the hijab. The women of this country are fools if they believe they will gain freedom from this revolution. They won't. After the clerics gain power, the women will lose all freedom." Maryam was educated in America and a graduate of the University of California. She taught English at Iranzamin High School. She presented an energetic personality. She pressed the girls she taught to exercise control and decide their future.

Karim answered, "No they won't."

"Why don't we leave before it's too late?"

"I can't. I'm needed here."

Maryam knew Karim was part of the madness of Tehran. She didn't understand why while knowing he was also educated in America.

With her sitting beside him, Karim put an arm around Maryam. He said, "I have to be here. I have no choice."

"But why? I can't stay in this country any longer. It isn't home now with all the madness. I came back to teach because I thought I had something to offer. This country is isolating itself from the remainder of the world. It makes no sense. Even my parents are preparing to leave. They've been transferring money to banks in America." Tears formed in Maryam's eyes.

Karim turned Maryam's face to his to kiss her. He knew Islamic law forbid that they be together without marriage. Karim broke the kiss and said, "I want you out. I want you out this week. If I can, I'll follow later. Once things settle . . . we can be together."

Maryam pleaded, "But why? Why can't you go now? The Americans aren't going to give visas to those demonstrating against them."

"I know. I'll manage. I promise. Did you get your visa?"

"Yes. I left the school early. The demonstration stayed away from the American Embassy. It's the only good news for the day. There weren't many demonstrators on the street there."

"What about the school?"

"I'll finish the week. I told them that my sister in America is ill, and I need to visit her. My parents have said the same. I want to be with you." Karim knew he wouldn't follow Maryam to America. Men needed him in Tehran. Pulling Maryam to him, Karim kissed her, and she and Karim leaned back on the bed.

"Karim, I'm afraid that I won't see you again. Do you promise you will join me?"

"Yes, I promise."

"Will you stay with me tonight?

"Yes." Maryam held to Karim and he felt her tremble in fear.

He said, "It'll be alright. I promise. I will join you."

Their lips met and they held to each other.

Maryam added, "I'm scared, Karim. I am scared for you. Promise you will join me in California. I'll stay with my sister. You have her address and telephone number. Promise me, Karim. Promise me that you will come to America."

Karim held Maryam tight and answered, "I promise I'll join you."

Maryam buried her head in Karim's chest and held tightly to him. As she did, Karim knew he wouldn't again see Maryam after she left Tehran. >>> Go to Chapter One

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