Draft of Chapter Two of The Shadow Chamber

More background to get the characters in place for the main event. Chapter 2 and still no Nick Temple in a Nick Temple File. I'm not sure that's a great idea, but I'll see how this all shakes out. At any rate, here's a draft of chapter 2:

CHAPTER 2: Around the Campfire

November, 1945

The “fog of war” is a cliché, an over worn phrase used primarily to excuse the failures of the defeated, to ascribe the success of the conqueror to the vicissitudes of fate, and to rationalize the crimes of both vanquished and victor. The cliché contains, as always, more than a grain of truth. The confusion of war, a natural consequence of its human element, regularly produces consequences few anticipated. While some rail against that confusion, others see opportunities springing from the existential horror of slaughter. 

And an armistice, or articles of surrender, or the laying down of arms will not result in the fog’s sudden evaporation. It rolls along and settles over the physical and psychological debris left to sort out the shattered world once the cannons have stopped. The aftermath of war is regularly populated by the displaced whose wounds run deep. Some were driven from their homes by invading armies; many have no home to which they can return; some resolve to seek permanent respite from a region’s violent history; and others seek safety from the mob that fills the vacuum created by the chaos of war. All are nearly as vulnerable as if they were naked.

More than fifty million scarred souls wandered into, around, and through the fog of post-World War II Europe. Many of them eventually found food and shelter in an official Displaced Persons camp. The responsibility for these camps initially fell to the newly chartered United Nations and its Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Simply keeping the camps free from the ravages of disease was enough of a challenge. The administrators had no chance of ending the exploitation of the war’s civilian populations by those seeking to shape the post-war world to their liking. The Soviets in particular saw the camps as ripe recruiting grounds. They knew the failure of Europe’s democracies followed by fascism’s apocalyptic destruction made their collective ideology an attractive antidote to the brutal struggles of the previous two decades. And they saw to it that they had agents in every camp, sometimes more than a dozen working independently to identify targets who might be useful to the fatherland. The displaced Gavrilo Bogovic was one such target.

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Four men gather around a wood fire burning in a decaying oil drum. The chill of winter is settling on the northern Austrian town of Hörsching, nearly 200 kilometers west of Vienna. The men, all officially Displaced Persons, stand as near to the fire as prudence and respect for the need to share allow.

Bogovic feels the fire’s luxurious warmth bring a fresh red glow to his face. The man to his left rubs his gloved hands together. Bogovic recognizes him, but does not acknowledge his or the others’ presence. In the six days since he arrived he has spoken only when spoken to, and only in official, clipped responses to official, equally clipped questions. Having spent the better part of five months as a lone fugitive, wending his way first to the Adriatic coast, then along the coast north and west to Trieste, and then north from Trieste with Soviet-occupied eastern Germany as his target, he has grown accustomed to going days without human contact, without conversing, without revealing anything about his background, his politics, or his intentions.

“They tell me you arrived last week.”

Although addressed in German, Bogovic easily detects the stranger’s Russian accent. Rather than remaining silent, he decides to test him.

“We can speak in Russian if you’d rather.”

The stranger does not flinch, but a faint smile just at the edge of his eyes betrays how impressed he is with the young man’s candor.

“Russian it is, then. And do I have it right, that you’ve only just arrived?”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“Some people I pay.”

Bogovic can’t help laughing at the stranger’s audacity.

“Pay? Pay? You have money? Then what are you doing in this camp?” he demands through the laughter.

The other two men at the fire, sensing either a conflict or a conversation they do not wish to witness, turn and leave.

“Looking for people who want to help.”

 Bogovic turns to look at the stranger for the first time. Russian, unmistakably Russian. Almost a caricature, and a well-fed, Soviet caricature at that, right down to his proletariat hat.

“You’ve made a mistake. This camp is for people who need help. That’s why they’re here. Maybe someday they’ll help others again, but that day is not today.”

The two men return to warming their hands, neither looking at the other. The stranger, a skilled interrogator, has learned much. The target is a Serb, his accent unmistakable, and that matches the origin revealed by the camp’s records administrator. The target is smart and reasonably discreet, unwilling to engage on any but a superficial level at this first meeting. He looks healthy, if gaunt, for a man–mid-20s the stranger surmises–who recently stumbled alone into this waystation for a continent’s refuse. And perhaps most importantly, rather than reject the stranger’s request outright, he has signaled a willingness to be approached again on the issue of assistance. 

Patience, a Russian trait for centuries, is the key. For the stranger, it’s the long game that counts. He’ll keep his eyes and ears open, continue casual contact with the target, and wait. For as long as it takes.