Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
In Georgetown, Wayne Phillips' wife was out of the house and Wayne was
in a state of rage. "Damn it, David! The man is already lost! Somehow,
Southgate met Walker before or after going to the rest home. We killed
a man who may not have known a damn thing about this. We have to find Walker
and do it soon!"
"The old man was dying. I helped him along."
Wayne Phillips stared at Rice. He was concerned about Walker's whereabouts
and said angrily, "If Southgate told Walker the truth, and revealed
Laleh's location, we have to find her. Fred sent Laleh into hiding with
the only documents authorizing the operation. We'll have too much explaining
to do if they get into this man's hands."
"I don't remember Fred having to force you to get involved."
Phillips continued, "I shouldn't have signed the authorization
papers. It doesn't make a damn why I wrote them. The deaths in the desert
were nothing to those that would have occurred if the rescue-effort had
reached Tehran. We cannot discredit the agency. If Walker brings this forward,
the Select Intelligence Committee will put two and two together and come
up with the truth. The action papers written to cover this will blow it
out of the waters. Southgate passed them to Laleh. The son-of-a-bitch convinced
me to back the operation. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that has to
David Rice arrived in Washington at seven p.m. Three hours passed. He
listened to Wayne and felt no remorse for killing Harold Rush. David said,
"And where are we going to look for Walker? His answering machine
says he's gone for several months. He took off to who-knows-where."
Wayne looked at Rice, and said, "We have to find him. If Southgate
told anyone, it would be his sister. Thank God, we tapped the sister's
telephone. Fred must have told her about Walker. I don't believe this telephone
call about the woman's garage door opener. I'm going to get a damn voice
analysis done on it."
"I'm supposed to kill Fred?"
"I want you in Chicago tonight."
Rice knew he would have to kill Fred. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
Phillips continued, "Fred was a seasoned operative and a detailed
planner. He was capable of seeing all the angles. He recognized that Walker
had made contacts so he can go underground. If he has, he's probably already
done it. We have to catch up with him before a book shows up on the Times
Best Seller list. If he manages to put one together on this, it'll be selling
like ice water in hell. It'll happen the day it comes out. It'll be too
late to touch him."
"Where do we start?"
"If Southgate told his sister about Walker, he may have told enough
to say where he might work on a book. We may have to come back to her.
Right now, I want Fred dead. His conscience hasn't done anything but open
a wound that needed to be forgotten."
David stood, knowing he was going to Chicago on an evening flight. He
said, "It'll be done. I regret getting involved with this. I don't
like killing our own people. I worked with Fred in NAM and he's a good
Wayne said, "If he wants to cleanse his hands of the past, he can
do it in a grave. I'm not going to jail for falling into an operation he
developed. Our mistake was believing it was the right thing to do."
"We got rid of Carter who didn't understand the world stage. We
got an actor playing to the armed services and the Cold War. His funding
efforts destroyed the entrenchment of the Soviet Block."
"Yea, a frigging high cost if there ever was one."
"Look, I'm not happy to kill a man I've known for thirty years?
Your hands have always been clean."
Wayne knew David was right. He said, "I'm sorry it's coming to
this. Who would know Fred would find a conscience and try to reveal the
story. How could we make certain the loadmaster killed in Atlanta was a
needed killing? Many others have died during service to their country and
never received an ounce of recognition for it. They weren't those possibly
dragging the agency down with them."
"I didn't work with them."
"Damn it, David, if you can't handle it, I'll get someone else."
"Yea, right, we'd really be up to our necks in it with some amateur
getting his ass caught."
Wayne studied David. He knew David would kill Fred and Fred wouldn't
inform any one of Laleh Sanders' whereabouts. He said, "I'm sorry."
Rice walked to the door. Before opening it he said, "You damn-well
better find out where this Wes Walker is. You're going to have to put some
kind of bulletin out with the intelligence services. We need a cover story
for his being sought and hope we find him before he can write a book."
David opened the door, stepped out into the summer night, and walked
down a brick inlaid walk to a rental car. He soon headed toward Dulles
International Airport and a tem p.m. flight to Chicago.
Fred Southgate sat in his home on Chicago's West Side. He watched television
and thought about his sister who called to say she renewed her service
contract on her garage door opener. As Fred wondered at what happened to
cause Walker to not wait, and call at one-week intervals, a truth swelled
within him. Something had taken place in Tulsa and Fred wondered what that
something was. Like a tracer round passing near a man's head to throw him
into battle mode or into penetrating fear, Fred knew Harold Rush was dead.
It was the only explanation.
Though it was late, Fred dialed a number he previously memorized but
never called in fear of what to say to the man. The receptionist at the
Shady Elm in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, answered, and he asked, "Could
I speak to a Mr. Harold Rush?"
The sound of the words coming back to him was hesitant, concerned, and
desiring to say the right thing. Alice Welch said, "I'm sorry, but
Mr. Rush died this morning."
For Fred there was no surprise at the words. He asked, "What was
the cause of death?"
"The police say someone suffocated him."
Fred replaced the receiver and knew someone thought he had gone to the
rest home after losing David. It was something he would have never done.
The killing to cover the operation began before the Americans landed in
the Iranian desert.
At midnight, David Rice parked a rented car a block from Fred Southgate's
home. As he walked the quiet street, he thought of the times he spent in
the home. There were times there for barbecues. At the time, Fred and Laleh
were living together. However, things started going wrong the first minutes
after landing in the Iranian desert. Men knew what happened the night a
helicopter rotated its position of flight to hit a C-130 fuel carrier.
Laleh hadn't known the truth until a night of heavy drinking drove Wayne
Philips to tell her the full story knowing it wouldn't go further than
Laleh's hearing. Laleh was angered to find Fred used her in an operation
she hadn't fully understood. Soon after that night, Fred and Laleh separated.
It was a week later when Laleh and Roya disappeared. David was certain
Fred arranged it knowing Laleh could be a target because of the information
Turning up a dark walkway to a porch, Rice thought no one observed him
as he approached the home. He pushed a doorbell. Fred Southgate had been
sitting on the dark porch and watching the street. He saw David pass beneath
a street-lamp a half-block away before he slipped back into the house.
Now, he turned the porch light on to answer the door and his eyes fixed
on David. Fred said, "Come in. I've been expecting you." Before
going to the door Southgate turned the television on and took thirty codeine
tablets. His mind and body would soon become numb.
David thought the words strange but realized Fred must know of the killing
in Oklahoma. Entering the home's living room, he saw the television broadcasting
the nightly news.
Fred said, "I guess it's too much to expect them to report the
murder of an innocent man outside Tulsa." With those words, Fred sat
in a sofa chair facing the television.
David moved to stand before the mantle of a fireplace and rested an
elbow on it. He asked, "Why did you have to go?"
"Because it's time the truth is known."
"Do you think this damn country cares about the truth?"
"Why did you kill him?"
"We thought you went to see the old man. But it wasn't he you spoke
with . . . was it?"
"You don't know?"
"Yes, we know. But you tell me."
Fred lighted a cigarette and leaned back in the chair. Exhaling smoke
he said, "I was wrong. We were wrong." The codeine hadn't yet
numbed him, so he was aware of Rice's words.
"You don't believe we succeeded in getting someone into office
and receptive to the military and the agency's needs?"
"I've come to believe it's all bullshit."
"It's bullshit that fifty thousand Americans died in NAM?"
"I didn't send them there."
"No, but you were there, and you know what we believed in and what
we hoped to accomplish."
"Beliefs change. Why don't you get it over? I'm dying anyway."
"I know. I don't think I could do it if it were otherwise."
Fred again exhaled smoke, "So, you're free of guilt? You killed
an old man who was dying. Now, you can do the world a favor and do it for
another. That leaves you, Phillips, a few men once doing military service.
I must have been insane to set the operation in motion."
David reached inside the sweater he wore. From his back, he pulled a
twenty-two-pistol with a silencer. He held the gun at his side. "The
others won't talk. They don't know the details. Where is Laleh?"
"I don't know."
Rice raised the pistol and fired a gun that produced a soft, huffing
sound. The slug buried itself into Fred Southgate's left shinbone. It sent
a streaking and racking explosion of pain up his left leg. Southgate grabbed
the leg grimacing from the pain. He knew the codeine hadn't totally numbed
him though he was beginning to feel its effect. He let go of the leg to
ask, "Do you really think I'll tell you? I'm not the one who got drunk
and told the truth that night."
"It was a mistake."
Ignoring the pain as blood from his leg filled his shoe, Fred said,
"You might as well get it over with. I lost track of her a long time
ago. She didn't want anything to do with me after finding out we had used
her. Who could blame her?"
"I don't believe it. She loved you. It was written in her face."
David raised the pistol and fired a round into Fred's right leg.
Again, the nerve-racking pain caused Fred Southgate's face to turn to
a grimace. Knowing the worst was yet to come, he said. "You know,
Rice, you're full of shit. You know damn-well I'm not telling you."
"What you don't know is . . . we're aware of the man you met in
"Really, who did I see?"
"A man by the name of Walker. Wayne found his photograph on a tape
made at the memorial service. It seems he showed up and someone allowed
him to attend. It must have been a left-winger guarding the perimeter that
day. They show up in all the services like a quiet plague waiting for their
day. They'll never have it."
"Why would I see someone named Walker? I've never heard of the
man." Fred thought of his sister's earlier telephone call.
"Cut the bull. We know you saw him. It was Walker who stopped at
the rest home before you met with him."
"You know, I should've let the Vietcong take you the night I saved
David remembered the night along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. North Vietnamese
Regulars shot his C-130 out of the sky. He was the only one on board to
survive. Fred had been on board the helicopter coming for him. The chopper
took multiple hits as The Raven lowered to the jungle floor. There he grasped
him before the chopper rose and headed east with the two of them dangling
more than seventy feet below. It was The Raven's strength holding fast
to him. There wasn't time to get a safety strap secure. Rice said, "Maybe
you should've let me die. Where is she?"
"Screw you. I'm dying. You think your damn pain makes any difference.
Have a seat and watch me bleed to death."
David knew Fred was right. He wasn't going to tell where Laleh moved
to raise her daughter. He pointed the twenty-two at Fred's forehead. At
the least, he owed the man the decency of not making him suffer. With pressure
against the trigger of the weapon, the gun made its huffing sound. Fred's
head went back and his body fell limp to one side.
The shot in the middle of the forehead produced a neat hole. The slug's
power didn't explode the back of the head. It only buried its self in his
brain. A trickle of crimson colored blood oozed out the hole to run down
his face. Rice stepped over to Southgate and placed a finger on the carotid
artery to feel for a pulse. A slight one soon stopped. David crossed the
room, turned the lights off, and stepped out onto the front porch. As he
walked to his car, he noticed it was a clear night with stars shinning
brightly. No matter the night sky, he needed to find Laleh Sanders. Wes
Walker was undoubtedly traveling in her direction. >>> Go to
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