Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
December 25, 1979
Laleh Sanders and Fred Southgate sat within the living room of the home
on Long Island. The lights of the Christmas tree were on, and Roya sat
on the floor, where she opened presents. Fred sat beside her.
Laleh sat on a sofa studying a diagram of a British motorcycle with
sidecar. She paid particular attention to sections of its frame circled
in red ink. Each section studied assembled to form a Sniper's Rifle. The
motorcycle was vintage.
The past night Fred Southgate went over the route Laleh was to take
by bus through Turkey, cross into Iran, and travel to Qazvin. There, she
would buy the motorcycle from a man riding it to a monument Fred instructed
her to visit.
Now, Laleh sat dressed in a cotton robe allowing her eyes to wonder
from the diagram to Roya and Fred. Glancing at Roya, she knew Roya had
mastered French and Arabic. Laleh said, "I'm going to miss seeing
Roya turned from the presents and said, "Can't you stay? I don't
like spending all my time with grandparents."
"I'll be back. I was just thinking how I'll miss seeing you two
Fred said, "We'll be fine. I'll drive up on the weekends. Roya
and I'll make a day of it." He rubbed Roya's head and starting a wrestling
match on the carpeted floor.
Watching the match with Roya ending astride Fred Laleh said, "You
two make a fine pair. I love you both."
Roya giggled and said, "I'll miss you. I want you home."
"I'll be back." The words were ones Laleh would remember having
said through coming months. They were words to haunt Laleh's very soul.
Fred asked, "How about we stop to eat? Anyone hungry besides me?"
"Yea, I am." Roya piped. "Let's go out for a hamburger
Laleh asked, "Do you think anything will be open? It's Christmas."
Roya insisted, "Why not? There should be a McDonalds open!"
Laleh pushed off the sofa and said, "I guess I better dress."
Fred watched Laleh leave the room.
January 2, 1980
Before leaving New York, Laleh received Turkish and Iranian visas. The
State Department authorized the visa in hope an American publishing company's
pictorial essay might show the west the intent of the Iranian Revolutionary
goal. Laleh's flight landed at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport.
As she rode a buss into the city, Laleh knew she needed to spend time with
a jeweler in the Grand Bazaar. A lens attachment for a camera rolled around
in her thoughts. She memorized the sighting mechanism for the Starlight
Scope hidden in the motorcycle in Iran. It would be two days later before
she would set off by bus to Ankara, Turkey.
The crossing was on the Bosphorus Bridge. After hours on a bus, Laleh
traveled to Ankara, southeast, enduring a tiring ride to the border of
Iran. She spent the night at a tourist inn. The next morning, her trip
extended through the day, first taking her into the Iranian province of
Azarbaijan and over the Asian Highway to Tabriz. Through the day, she made
certain to wear a plain scarf to cover her hair. She allowed no lose strands
to show, and she discarded all makeup before entering Iran. At Tabriz,
Laleh got a room at the International Hotel before spending what was left
of the day touring a city once the capital of Iran and home to Turkish
speaking ethnic Azeris.
In late afternoon light, she walked the Amir Bazaar. The last time Laleh
was in the city was more than twenty years past at a time of her youth.
After registering at the hotel, she entered its restaurant to order
Chelo Kebab, and Koufteh Berenj, as she remembered her grandmother making
the Iranian dishes. Now, she listened to the Armenian, Turkey-speaking
Azeris, and the Farsi language around her. Deep inside, Laleh felt a compassion
for the people of Iran. She felt it for the sinewy merchants and skilled
workers who could form silver and other metals into any jewelry ordered.
They were people working with their hands and making delicate and exquisite
merchandise as the Pustin jackets she bought in Istanbul before returning
The next morning, leaving the hotel to go to the bus station, Laleh
decided to take the train to Qazvin. Hiring a taxi to take her to the colonnaded
rail station she purchased her ticket and sat waiting for the train. She
would arrive in Qazvin in the afternoon. The contact with the British motorcycle
was to meet her at the Shrine of Shahzadeh no later than 5 p.m. In Ankara,
she had got her carnet de passage along with insurance papers and her international
As she sat on the train Laleh endured the stuffy, warm air of a heated
compartment making its way through the early January cold. About her was
a mix of Arab nationalities, cultures, and customs all seeming to come
together in their travel to Tehran.
The train reached Qazvin in the early afternoon. There, Laleh hired
a taxi. It took her to an unpretentious tourist hotel. After resting on
a single bed in a narrow room, she made her way down several blocks of
the city. Forty minutes later, and after taking photographs of the local
bazaar, she hired a taxi to take her to the Shrine of Shahzadeh Hossein.
There, she checked her watch, and knew she was thirty minutes early.
After touring the shrine, with the evening light near dusk, she walked
toward the street. Sitting on the curb was seventy year old Hossein Dehghani.
He sat and smoked a cigarette. As Laleh walked past him, she purposely
dropped a legal notebook she carried. Hossein Dehghani reached for it and
said in Farsi, "You dropped something." He stood and handed it
to Laleh. "Do you need to hire a ride. I can beat the price of the
taxis." The code words were correct. Laleh wondered how they reached
the old man.
Dehghani was wearing an Arabic turban, heavy jacket, and corduroy pants.
He wore scuffed shoes needing replaced.
Laleh asked in Farsi, "Would you be willing to sell the motorbike?"
Hossein acted insulted, "No! No! Why would I sell such a fine motorbike?"
Others heard his words.
Laleh said, "I'm a photographer and on my way to Tehran. I had
one when I was young."
Hossein Dehghani gave her a look that showed he considered the sale
of the motorbike. He asked, "How much would you give me for it? It's
a fine bike and in fine shape. I've had it several years."
Laleh walked around the bike to inspect it. As she did, her eyes picked
out the sections of the frame assembling into a rifle. Three shells lay
buried inside the bottom of a camera case she carried. They were high velocity
and titanium tipped. They were armor-piercing, incendiary charged, and
able to shred the transmission of a helicopter. Laleh said, "I can
pay 800,000 rails for it."
The Iranian acted insulted in front of those on the walkway. The Iranian
rail was now an unstable monetary exchange. He said, "No. American
dollars . . . one thousand. No rials"
Laleh knew she needed to bargain. Not doing so would present an incredibly
foolish woman. Five hundred. No more."
Hossein shook his head. "No. One thousand . . . no less. No U.S.
traveler's check." Hossein Dehghani started to get on the bike and
Laleh said, "Seven hundred American dollars. No American traveler's
check. No rails." Laleh knew that no matter the country's revolution,
the American dollar reigned on the international monetary market.
Hossein nodded his head before asking, "Do you have a motor license?"
"Yes. I got an international one in Ankara."
Dehghani extended his hand for the money. Laleh pulled a bunch of bills
from her wallet and handed them to him. After taking it Hossein asked,
"Do you know how to start it?"
Laleh frowned at the patronizing question. She placed her purse and
camera case in the sidecar and straddled the bike. After lifting its kick-starter,
she stood to kick down on it. The bike started and Laleh knew from the
sound of the engine that the motor was in excellent condition. She turned
to the Hossein and said, "The papers."
The older man looked at Laleh as though forgetting them. He took the
registration card from a wallet, signed it in the dimming light of the
day, and handed it to the American.
Laleh pushed it into the right pocket of the Pustin jacket and said,
"Thank you." She shifted the bike into low gear and set off down
the street. Tomorrow, she would continue to Tehran. >>>
Go to Chapter Thirty
is important to us.
to "Conspiracy at Desert One" main index