WIP: “The White Dragons”

Seal of the United States Department of State.

Following is chapter 2 of my current work in progress, The White Dragons. In the prologue, an attack leaves two officials of the government of the fictitious country of Dagastan dead. In chapter one, the desk officer for Dagastan, working at the State Department in Washington, DC is slain in what is thought to be a mugging gone bad. As we pick up in chapter two, with one of the main characters, Alison Chambers, an intelligence analyst at the State Department, we get another view:

Alison Chambers arrived at her office, a windowless space on the State Department’s seventh floor at the end of the building opposite the office of the Secretary of State himself, and unlike his sumptuous office, one without fancy carpets, or expensive pottery and artwork; a utilitarian space with institutional green walls covered with soundproofing and behind layers of steel doors requiring special codes for entry, and restricted to all but a few of the building’s inhabitants.

Not that the lack of windows made much difference; it was five thirty in the morning, and the sky outside was still dark. She knew it would be dark before she again emerged from the warren that was the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, known to everyone simply as INR; home to the small number of intelligence analysts who tried to make sense of the reams of data and information flowing in from all over the planet, and then communicating the meaning of that flow to those who had to make decisions that affected the fate of the free world – or so Alison and her colleagues told themselves.

At least, she thought, it was Friday, and she could look forward to two days of relaxation; maybe a trip to Ocean City to sit on the beach; provided some little hot spot of simmering revolution didn’t erupt.

She put her thermos on her desk and turned to open the gray, three-drawer safe that sat next to it. From the top drawer, she pulled a thick brown folder; the project she’d been wrestling with for several days, and opened it on her desk. Quickly, her mind began to drift as she stared down at the rows of meaningless figures. The Friday blues were kicking in before her day even started.

Closing the folder, she opened the thermos and poured some of the still warm coffee into the top and took a sip. She had a strong feeling that she’d have to make at least one trip, maybe more, to the cafeteria in the basement of the building to refill the thermos if she was to make it to the end of the day without falling asleep at her desk.

Just as she was wiping out the thermos cap with a tissue from a box she kept on her desk, the section secretary, a tall black woman with iron gray hair, stepped in and handed her a brown messenger envelope.

“Is this all you have for me this morning, Earline?” she asked.

“Hey, girl, it’s Friday; be glad you only gettin’ one,” the woman said, laughing. “Some of the other folk gettin’ theirs delivered on a cart.”

Alison laughed. “Thank God for small favors.”

“Now, you just keep your fingers crossed something don’t come in just before you gettin’ ready to leave for the day.”

Alison smiled up at the older woman, who beamed back at her in return. The secretaries, almost all women, and many black or other minorities, liked Alison, one of the few female senior analysts in the bureau. Unlike most of the men, who mostly ignored them, or treated them like domestics, she took the time to talk to them, and more importantly, listen.

“Let’s hope nothing pops before you get out of here for the weekend either,” Alison said. “How’s that new granddaughter of yours?”

“Growin’ like a weed, and already talking even though she’s just fourteen months old. She’s gonna be a smart one; like you.”

“By the time she’s in first grade she’ll probably be able to do what I do,” Alison said, laughing derisively. She’d not been given anything more challenging than analyzing the impact of reduced rainfall on the wheat crops of Central Asia since being assigned to the office two years earlier, despite being one of the more senior people in grade, all of the sexy assignments seemed to go to one of the male analysts.

“Don’t sell yourself short, honey,” Earline said. “Your time will come.”

The woman smiled again, warmth in her light brown face, and left quietly.

Alison’s face screwed up in frustration. She’d been waiting for two years for her ‘time to come,’ and it wasn’t yet in sight as far as she could see. She toyed with the idea, as she so often did, of approaching her supervisor, Dudley Lakeworth, the GS-15 who was chief of the office, and demanding she be given something more interesting or important to work on. But, she knew what his response would be.   Previously, when she’d complained that the projects she worked on were boring and uninteresting, he’d informed her that in the intelligence game, every fact and incident was important; even the most seemingly insignificant fact could be of critical importance under the right circumstances. In other words, ‘get back to your desk and quit complaining.’

She looked at the messenger envelope, noting that it was from Lesley Carter, the new Dagastan desk officer. She’d met Carter a few days back, and had developed an instant liking for her. She was one of those uncomplicated, straight forward Midwesterners, so different from the kind of people she’d grown up around in her native Atlanta, Georgia. A bit old for a junior desk officer, but she’d informed Alison that it had taken her four tries to pass the Foreign Service examination, so she was a few years older than most of the other officers in her Foreign Service orientation class, and one of only two women. Like Alison, Lesley Carter had been assigned backwater duties; Dagastan, as Alison recalled from her study of the region, was a small, insignificant state, surrounded by Russia, with no strategic importance, and an economy about the size of Washington’s Georgetown area.

She unwound the string used to keep the messenger envelope opened and extracted the single sheet of paper, tossing the empty envelope into her out tray. She laid the paper on her desk and glanced down at it. At first, it made no impression; given the lack of importance of Dagastan, she’d been expecting some personal note; but, as she read, her interest perked up.

The message, in neat handwriting, was short: “ALISON: I READ AN INTEL REPORT SAYING THAT TWO DAGASTANI OFFICIALS WERE ASSASSINATED IN AN ISOLATED AREA OUTSIDE KAZBEKTUN A FEW DAYS AGO, AND THERE WAS SUSPICION OF FOREIGN INVOLVEMENT. EMBASSY HASN’T REPORTED THE INCIDENT. DOES INR HAVE ANYTHING? LESLIE”

She looked down at the note. There was nothing strange about desk officers sending notes to analysts in INR, but it was usually to double check embassy reporting. She wondered why the political section of the embassy in Kazbektun hadn’t reported such an incident, which would be a bit more interesting than the usual rehash of local newspaper reports they usually sent in. At a minimum, she thought, there should have been a short report from the station. The agency folks in the embassies usually kept an eye on the political happenings in country, and tried scooping the political officers with their reports.

It wasn’t in her usual portfolio, but it looked like it would be more interesting than what she was currently working on, so Alison got up and went outside to the main area where Earline, the section secretary worked.

“What can I do for you, hon?” Earline asked as Alison approached her desk.

“I need to check on intel reports for a few days ago regarding Dagastan,” she said.

The secretary pointed at a row of six four-drawer gray metal cabinets that lined the wall behind her desk.

“Dagastan; that’ll be second cabinet from the left, probably third drawer. You want to tell me what you looking for; I can get it for you.”

Alison waved her hand in a polite dismissal. “No need, I can do it.”

Earline smiled broadly. Another thing she liked about this middle height, bordering on skinny white girl with the slight southern accent and the dark brown hair pulled back severely; unlike the other analysts, who would have expected her to drop everything and fetch things for them, she didn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

“Okay, go ahead; but, if you need help, just yell.”

Alison went to the second cabinet, which was unlocked as they all were during normal work hours, and, bending, opened the third drawer. She flipped folders, scanning the labels, and, as the secretary had said, the Dagastan Intelligence Digest for the current month was there, third folder from the front. She pulled the buff-colored folder from the drawer. It wasn’t half as thick as the folders for other countries, indicating that little ever happened in this backwater. This made the note from Lesley Carter even more puzzling. In a country where little happened, she would have thought the embassy would have been all over an assassination for no other reason than it was a break in an otherwise boring routing.

She pushed the drawer shut and took the folder back to her office.

There weren’t too many pages in the folder, and she found what she was looking for about halfway down. It was a report from the Central Intelligence Agency, less than a page long; basically a summary of an article in the Dagastan Daily, the state news organ. Following a string of cryptic acronyms and numbers that identified this as an agency report, without specifically identifying the reporting officer, it accorded with what had been in Carter’s note:

SUMMARY OF DAGASTAN DAILY, MAY 6, 1975 – THE HEAD OF THE NATIONAL POLICE, GENERAL LIEUTENANT COMRADE MIKILAI GVORIC, REPORTED THAT THE REMAINS OF THREE INDIVIDUALS, BELIEVED TO BE COMRADE VASILY SHERMOV, AN OFFICIAL OF THE STATE ECONOMIC PLANNING COMMITTEE, PYOTR VKSOLVI, ASSISTANT TO COMRADE SHERMOV, AND LEONID KAZONIK, A DRIVER FOR THE COMMITTEE, WERE FOUND IN THE BURNED WRECKAGE OF AN AUTOMOBILE ON THE HIGHWAY OUTSIDE THE CAPITAL KAZBEKTUN YESTERDAY. COMRADE GVORIC TOLD THIS NEWSPAPER THAT IT APPEARS THE VICTIMS WERE SHOT BEFORE THE CAR WAS DESTROYED BY EXPLOSIVE, AND THAT EXTERNAL ENEMIES OF THE STATE ARE THOUGHT TO HAVE COMMITTED THIS HEINOUS ACT. ALL RESOURCES OF THE STATE WILL BE EMPLOYED TO BRING THE KILLERS TO JUSTICE, COMRADE GVORIC SAID. (ANALYST NOTE: THERE IS NO INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION OF THIS REPORT, AND THERE HAS BEEN NO FURTHER REPORTING. VASILY {SHERMOV} IS REPORTEDLY THE FIRST COUSIN OF FIRST SECRETARY OF THE DAGASTAN COMMUNIST PARTY DMITRI KOVASC).

That was it; she flipped through the entire folder, and there were no other reports of the incident. Strange that the embassy wouldn’t have reported the death, no the possible assassination, of a relative of the country’s leader, she thought. She could understand the desk officer’s puzzlement, but wondered why she hadn’t just queried the embassy about it.

She pulled the department phone book from the shelf over her desk and looked up the number of the Dagastan country desk, then dialed the five digit extension. The phone rang ten times, but no one answered. Alison looked at her watch. It was already a quarter past seven; well past the time when all the desk officers in every bureau and office throughout the building would already be slaving away at their desks, the purported 8 am start of the work day be damned. Maybe she’s in a meeting with the country director, Allison thought. Other than generating reams of useless memoranda, that floated from desk to desk collecting initials, the other product of the building was hour after hour of meeting, where everyone sat around reading from their prepared talking points, each speaker attempting to outdo the previous speaker by proving that he, and, in some rare cases, she, knew more about whatever unimportant topic that was being discussed than anyone else around the table. I’ll try her later.

She closed the folder and pushed it aside; and to pass the time until lunch, decided to go ahead and work on the boring rows and columns of figures.

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

4 thoughts on “WIP: “The White Dragons”

  1. Pingback: WIP: “The White Dragons” | Asnycnow Radio

  2. Hello Charles, I am not sure if you’ll remember me from your time in Saigon, but I used to run The Metropolitan Tower opposite the cathedral, and owned a small Thai restaurant “Chao Thai” where one of the: meet the new Consul General evenings was held.
    I enjoyed your snippet from The White Dragons, and look forward to reading the finished masterpiece;
    Kind Regards
    Simon Millard

  3. Pingback: WIP: Chapter 3 of “The White Dragons.” | Charles Ray's Ramblings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s