Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
On day 5, after traveling by tourist coach from Tehran, Roya, Wes, and
the others of United Tours visited Qum and Kashan. The sixth day took them
to the city of Yazd. Following a late afternoon tour of the city's bazaar,
Wes and Roya retired for the night. The tour group stayed at the Safavieh
Hotel. Roya had remained quiet and subdued after meeting with Mashhad.
Now, she found herself in another hotel room. She traveled as Wes' niece
to lessen concerns about why she and Wes were not traveling as man and
The next morning they were scheduled to tour the Zoroastrian fire temple,
Amir Chakhmagh mosque, the city's underground water storage caverns, and
to see the wind towers used to collect wind to cool homes and public buildings.
Wes and Roya excused themselves the next morning to stay at the hotel,
rest, and escape the day's heat.
Ten minutes after the tour group left the hotel, Roya and Wes exited
into the morning ready to make a trip into the great salt desert to the
north. Yazd was a desert city having the air of an outpost left by time;
it was brown, holding its own against the desert heat, and mostly ringed
by stark, arid rises of mountains. Fearing they might easily get lost in
the desert if they rented a car to drive there Roya asked a cab driver,
"Can you drive us to Desert 1 . . . the area where the Americans landed?"
Ramin Behnoud, a wiry, thirty-six-years old man . . . a man who once
believed in the Islamic Republic . . . gazed on Roya in suspicion. He also
thought her crazy for asking him to drive more than a hundred and thirty
miles to view a patch of worthless land. The governor of Yazd Province
once announced he would build a memorial at Desert 1 for the "Miracle
in the Desert" but hadn't done so. There was no water or anything
else there. The helicopters that the Americans had left behind ended displayed
in Yazd years past. Little evidence of the nightmare remained in the desert.
Ramin asked, "Why do you want to go there? There is nothing there
Roya lied, "My cousin died there. My uncle and I would like to
pay tribute to him by going there."
The Iranian seemed to hesitate then said, "One Hundred American
dollars. No less."
Roya answered, "Forget it." She then slammed the dusty door
of a BMW whose air-conditioning had retired years earlier.
Ramin Behnoud pushed open his door, jumped out and said, "seventy-five.
I promise I get you safely there and back. Others might rob and leave you
there to die."
Roya didn't smile at the words. She said, " $75. No more. Is your
car capable of getting us there and back?"
Ramin smiled a wide smile. "Yes. It is safe. I take my brother
with us incase of trouble. There may be bandits. Drug smugglers sometimes
use the road."
Roya stared hard at Ramin. "We leave your name with the hotel in
case we don't come back."
"Do. Yes. It will save me explaining to the police where I take
Roya changed direction in her thoughts. She didn't want anyone knowing
she and Walker were going to the landing site. It might draw questions.
She said, "No police . . . no hotel."
The Iranian again smiled and added, "You are safe with me and my
brother. We'll take guns to protect you."
Roya knew there wasn't a way to discover the man's honesty. However,
others would know of her and Wes going into the desert if she spent time
shopping for a driver. She decided they would take their chances with the
Iranian. She opened the BMW's back door and sat on a dusty seat. Walker
walked around the car and followed to sit beside her.
After Ramin Behnoud picked his brother up at the carpet bazaar, Ramin
drove to a home on the edge of the city. There, Ramin and Parsa Behnoud
lifted a fifteen-gallon drum of petrol and secured it in the BMW's trunk.
Parsa filled the car's tank and filled two water jugs to tie to the front
of the car to help cool the radiator.
Back behind the steering wheel, Ramin said, "No problem. We take
you there and back." With these words he pulled the transmission shifter
into drive and exited the security of Yazd. It was a short drive before
entering a land that was totally barren of life. As they rode through the
desert environment, Roya and Wes sat in silence, listening to a tape in
the car's player, not knowing it was music banned inside the country. All
around them desolation presented its absolute resolution to kill life.
The world was nothing but rock, sand, and broken mountains looking like
dragon's teeth and breathing fire and destruction. The car passed through
long, barren stretches of country, over jagged mountains, and back onto
the flat, arid land.
It wasn't long before the car's interior temperature reached into the
90s. Roya marveled at how her mother and Mashhad had managed to ride though
such emptiness on a motorbike. With each passing mile, Roya wanted to burn
the entirety of the trip into her memory. They were miles defining her
mother's life, and now they would become miles defining hers.
Two and half-hours later the BMW reached the section of dirt road running
through the landing zone known as Desert 1. Ramin Behnoud turned the dust-laden
car to the side of the road. A small passenger bus passed going south.
As it did, Roya thought of her mother's written account of a bus that fateful
night and of the Americans stopping it.
Roya and West looked to southwest where the twisted, engine of the Ec130
had burned after the helicopter crashed into it. They walked in its direction
with the two Iranians remaining at the car and smoking cigarettes in the
near noon sun. Wes walked beside Roya and remained silent. As he scanned
the desolation, he attempted to visualize what it was like a night nearly
twenty years in the past. He wondered if the Americans might have pulled
the raid off if bad luck hadn't ended the effort.
But there was something about being on the spot that made Walker feel
proud of what his fellow Americans had tried to do while risking their
lives. It was as though he walked on ground much like the battlefields
of Gettysburg and the beaches of Normandy. There was something inspiring
about the desolation of the place. He looked at Roya as she stood near
the knoll where her mother once concealed herself. Roya turned back, and
attempted to visualize what she read from her mother's letter. Roya said,
"It was such a waste . . . such a waste."
Walker took Roya's hand and surprised himself at his words. "I
don't know, Roya. Someone has to stand against wrongs even if deserved.
They did what they thought was right. Your mother did what she thought
Roya remained silent and turned to the west. She wanted to go west until
she bumped into the Statue of Liberty. However, in the thought, Roya wondered
if she belonged in America. Until the story was in the hands of a publisher
she and Walker were on the run.
Roya said, "I want to go home."
"I'm sorry. Your mother lived with years of guilt for nothing."
"Yes, she did. I needed to see it. There's nothing here for me."
Roya held to Wes' right hand as they crossed the sandy flat.
As she entered the BMW, Roya wasn't certain she would be with Walker
as long he would have her. But, Wes Walker brought answers to questions
about her mother's past. He brought a sense of peace to her life, and she
didn't want to lose it. The cottage in southwest England with its cold
seemed alive compared to the desolation they were leaving. Roya turned
on the seat to make one last view. It brought closure to things she hadn't
understood. She hadn't understood the scars on her mother's back, she hadn't
understood her times of depression, and she hadn't known that her mother's
staring into the past brought scenes to her mother she hadn't known.
Roya now knew what those things were and somehow they helped ease the
pain. Soon, the BMW was turned out of Desert 1 and traveling Southwest.
Now, she and Walker had the remainder of the tour to endure before returning
Go to Chapter Sixty-Two
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