Sunday, June 30, 2013

WIP: Chapter 2 of "In The Dragon's Lair."

Chapter Two

     They hadn’t even taken their seats before Duggan rounded on Morgan, his face reflecting more anxiety than both of the other men.
     “Dave,” he said. “I’ve been getting some disturbing news from my military contacts.”
     “Come on, Pat,” Larson said. “We should give him some background before springing it on him like that.”
     Dennis Larson had a political officer’s habit of prefacing every briefing with background information – ‘to provide nuance,’ he was fond of saying. Morgan personally preferred to get right to the point, and appreciated the army colonel’s bluntness, but he had to give moral support to Larson, a man with a somewhat fragile ego, who always seemed to be intimidated by Duggan, and therefore, overcompensated by correcting him at every opportunity. Morgan spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to stop what he thought was counterproductive behavior – so far, to no avail.
     “Dennis has a point, Pat,” he finally said, coming down on the side of backing up his number two. Duggan was, as usual, unruffled.
     “Yeah, I suppose so,” he said. “My old contacts have finally decided it’s okay to talk to me. In fact, since your meeting with Dragov, they’ve been downright garrulous. They’ve been telling me everything, a lot I really don’t want to know. Lately, though, I’ve been picking up some signs of nervousness among the more senior officers. Last night, at a reception hosted by the British attaché, a Daggy colonel finally told me why.”
     Morgan didn’t like the use of the term ‘Daggy’ to refer to their hosts, but the local employees in the embassy didn’t seem offended, so he didn’t make an issue of it. He never, though, used the term himself.
     “Okay, I’ll bite,” he said. “Why are they nervous? Is Dragov doing another one of his purges?”
     “No, nothing like that. He’s pretty much cleaned the upper ranks of anyone whose loyalty was the least bit doubtful. Lots of new farmers out in the hinterlands. No, this has to do with their neighbors, the russkies.  Seems they’re frontier units are reporting a buildup of Soviet forces near the western border crossing points.”
     “What kind of buildup?” Morgan asked.
     “Well; his exact words were, Russian forces massing near the border. Now, you and I know that Ivan’s always moving units around. Who knows why? Maybe they just like playing chess with military force. But, it seems a little far-fetched that they’d be planning a major move on a little back water like Dagastan. But, the guy was adamant; said he’s sure they’re planning to invade.”
     “Did he tell you what they’re doing about it?”
     That, for Morgan was a critical bit of information. If what Duggan was saying was true – hell, even if not true, the fact that a senior member of the local military was relating it to a foreigner – it would have to be reported to Washington, and the numb nut bureaucrats there, who had nothing better to do than ask endless, mind boggling questions, would immediately fire off cables asking for reams of supplementary information. By trying to answer as many of the questions in advance as possible, he knew he wouldn’t prevent the cables, but at least he would know he’d given them the best possible information, and wouldn’t feel too bad about ignoring the inevitable queries.
     Duggan was shaking his head. That wasn’t a good sign.
     “Well, Dave,” the colonel said. “I tried to wheedle that little piece of info out of him, but he just kept shrugging and saying there was nothing to be done; whatever the fuck that means.”
     “It means the Dagastan military couldn’t whip a gang of unruly girl scouts,” a deep voice said from behind Morgan. He turned and saw that the station chief, Carlton Raine, had entered the office. He’d probably breezed past Mary Sung before she could react. “Sorry for busting in unannounced, but I was on the line to Langley, and just broke free.”
     Morgan could almost swear that there was a faint smile on Raine’s brown face as he dropped his muscular frame into the empty chair at his left.
     “You know anything about what’s going on, Blood?” Morgan asked.  Blood was Raine’s nickname, but he would never tell anyone what it meant, leaving them to think it might be a reference to his race. Morgan suspected, though, that it was not.
     “Not a whole hell of a lot more than Pat here,” he said. “My contacts are being cagey, but when I talk to them, they’re antsy, so I know something’s up. They talk about worrying Soviet troop movements in the west, but I can’t get anything beyond that – yet.”
     Morgan looked at Larson and Jeffers. “You two have anything to add to that?” he asked.
     Larson looked at the young security officer.
     “Tell him what you told me, Pete,” he said.
     “Well, boss,” Jeffers said. “There’s probably nothing to it, but some of my security guards are telling me that people in their neighborhoods are stockpiling food.”
     “To me,” Larson said. “That’s a pretty good indicator that something’s brewing.”
     “Yeah, but what?” Morgan asked. “Hell, this place is on edge ninety percent of the time, and has been even antsier since the coup. Maybe there’s an indication of a poor crop year; you think of that?”
     Larson’s cheeks reddened.
     “Uh, well, not that hadn’t occurred to me. I’ll have Joe and his section check it out.” 
     Joseph Wade was a bean pole of an economics officer who ran the embassy’s economic reporting section. His ‘section’ consisted of himself, one junior officer, and a secretary he shared with Larson’s section. To Morgan, he resembled a shaven version of Abraham Lincoln, and had the work habits of an absent minded Thomas Edison, but the man was a whiz at crunching numbers and making sense out of arcane events.
     “Do that,” he said. “Not, mind you, that I don’t think your first hunch is right. It’s beginning to fit together into an ugly picture; but, before we run to Washington with a cable claiming the sky’s falling, I want a few pieces of sky to show them.”
     “You’re right, of course,” Larson said. “I guess I just got a little ahead of myself. So much has been happening lately, I didn’t stop to think that there might be other factors that need consideration.”
     Morgan laid a hand softly on the younger man’s arm.
     “No harm, no foul, Dennis,” he said gently. “We’re all under a little pressure at the moment, myself included. There’s no doubt we need to report this to Washington, and the sooner probably the better. But, we have to have our ducks in a row before we put anything in writing for the record – especially in light of recent events.”
     It had never been said, but Morgan knew in his gut that some in Washington were looking askance at him after Ellingsworth’s death. Pete Jeffers worried about being an RSO who’d lost an ambassador, but many in the bureaucracy viewed the DCM as the individual in the embassy who had the responsibility for the care and feeding of the ambassador. During all his time in the service, Morgan hadn’t heard of an ambassador being killed under similar circumstances. All that meant, though, was that the bureaucrats didn’t have a precedent. Damn, he thought, what a way to get your name in the history books. Getting your ambassador assassinated in a country that American wasn’t at war with. He had little doubt that what lay in store for him would be anything but pleasant.
     “Here’s what we do,” he said, shaking himself out of the reverie that threatened to become a blue funk. “Pat, throw lines out to all your contacts, at all levels. See what they have to say. Blood; I know your sources are close hold, but see if you can get anything from any of them. Pete, get your guards to snoop around their communities and see if they can get any details about what’s going on. Get all your reports to Dennis who’ll coordinate a summary and do the first draft of our cable to Washington.”
     Everyone nodded. Larson and Duggan took notes.
     “Let’s meet back here at sixteen hundred hours,” Morgan continued. He noticed a puzzled look on Larson’s face. “That’s four pm, Dennis. Sorry, I guess I lapsed back into a military mode of thinking and speaking. Anyway, we’ll meet then and see where we are on this.”
     For Morgan, the rest of the day moved like a fat man in the supermarket checkout line who has to stop and read all the tabloid headlines, just when the ice cream you bought has started to melt. He wasn’t a micromanager by nature, having learned in the army that the sure way to kill initiative and piss your subordinates off is to look over their shoulders while they’re trying to get done what you’ve told them to get done. In this case, though, he had to restrain himself from popping into Dennis Larson’s office to see what he’d learned. He forced himself to focus his mind on the other paperwork that seemed to copulate and reproduce in his inbox every night; initialing reports of vehicle usage, making marginal notes on a dense report on sorghum crop yields prepared by one of the youngsters in the economics section, and annotating one of the consular section’s reports with a ‘well done’ in his characteristic script.
     With the routine stuff out of the way, he turned his attention to the items he felt he not only had to read, but understand. Things like Pete Jeffers’ report of criminal activity, or information reports from the defense attaché or the station – information reports, because they didn’t become intelligence until the analysts in Washington vetted and checked them. Some of the reports were days old – having gone through other hands for ‘concurrence’ before reaching his desk. None of them contained anything of real interest. The report that would be interesting reading hadn’t been written yet, because they didn’t know enough.
     He ate his lunch at his desk; not because he had so much work to do, but because if he ate in the embassy cafeteria, he’d have to make small talk with members of the staff, and he didn’t feel like small talk. Mary Sung was kind enough to fetch him a ham sandwich and a coke from the cafeteria, which he wolfed down without even tasting.
     When four came, he was waiting at his office door. Carlton Raine, followed closely by Dennis Larson, came into the executive area precisely at four. A couple of minutes later, Duggan and Jeffers arrived. Morgan ushered them into his office.
     Just as they were settling themselves around the low table in the corner, Sung came in, a frown on her round, brown face.
     “Dave, Laura Pettigrew is here to see you,” she said. “I told her you were in an important meeting, but she insists that what she has is more important.”

     “A damn sight more important than a meeting of the good old boys,” the hefty consular chief said as she pushed past Sung and walked into Morgan’s office.