Part 1

17 Oct

1910

Nikola fumbled around in his coat pocket until he was able to locate his cigarettes, but could not find his matches.  He swore under his breath, which turned into steam as it hit the cold Serbian night air.  “He’s late, he’s always late, does he know how cold it is out here? And why did I have to wait for him outside the cafe?” He pulled his coat tighter about himself, its hem barely reaching the top of his trousers, which were also too short, leaving his bare ankles exposed to the biting breeze that blew off the river running through the town.

Just then Nikola heard running on the pavement and knew that it must be Dimi.  “Hey, I’m sorry I’m late,” “shut up Dimi, why did we have to meet this late at the cafe? I have class in the morning,” “You know how I’ve been in contact with members of the Black Hand?  I’ve been telling them about you, and they want to meet you.  Tonight.”

Nikola shifted his weight and looked uneasy.  The Black Hand was a terrorist group dedicated to the founding of a Greater Serbia…but why did they want to meet Nikola?  Sure he has been apart of numerous demonstrations against the Austrians, and has even led a demonstration of his own, but did they think that he wanted to be apart of the Black Hand?

“I’m not sure, Dimi…it seems risky, why me?”  “I hear they are planning something, something big, lets go into the cafe, its freezing out here, we’ll catch our death”

They walked into the smoke filled cafe, and even though it was close to two in the morning, the place was still full of men huddled together over their coffee or beer speaking in hushed voices.

As they stepped close to the bar, a small man with a very large beard approached them and spoke to Dimi in a very low whisper while Nikola ordered two coffees from the barista.

They were led to a small table crowded with three men back in the corner of the room, where the lights seemed to be the most dim.  As they sat down, Nikola thought he recognized two of them–he had seen them the day before being let out of the city jail with public warnings not to protest the government any more or more severe punishments would follow.

Knowing that political protesters were dealt with harshly and they were sometimes violent people, Nikola decided to take it easy, he was cautious and did not speak for much of the meeting, letting Dimi do all the talking…until they spoke directly to him.

“Now Dimi tells us you have led student protests before?”  The one with the beard leaned in closely and studied Nikola’s face as he tried to form his answer.

“Yes, I have been apart of a few protests, but not many, and I really wasn’t the leader, it was others, they organized the events, they rallied the students, it was not really me,”

“Don’t be modest, we believe Dimi, he would not lie to us, right Dimi?”  “No! No! Of course not…why would I like to you?” Dimi’s voice shook as he answered, his face had gone pale as it was made clear they were threatening Dimi, but not outright. I do not think this is somewhere I need to be, with people I do not need to be with, Nikola was getting nervous, they seemed to really take an interest in him, and he was dreading what they were going to ask him sooner or later.

But the question never came.  One of the men made a joke and that got all of them laughing, and then that was followed by a funny little story about a priest who went fishing and then the conversation smoothed out and did not seem to be that intimidating anymore.

As the sun started to peek in through the dark curtains of the cafe, they got up to leave.  “We hope to see you around Nikola, get to know you more,”  “Yes, I think I would like that,” Nikola said, being sincere in his statement, after coming to the conclusion that these were not bad men, they just wanted to protest the government for more rights, for more food and better wages.

After they departed, Nikola and Dimi walked back to their campus, where in about an hour Nikola had class.  They talked about the night and about how delighted the men were to meed Niki.  Nikola was very delighted to meet them, and wanted to meet with them again.

As the men left the cafe, they talked in hush voices, not wanting to be heard by passers-by, “Well, what do you think Rezik?” The bearded one asked.  “I think he might be alright, but do you think he could handle the job?” “I am not sure yet, but I think he could be useful to us, at least in one small way or another,” “How so? You want him to be a scapegoat or something?”  “No, but he could do something like drive the car, or make sure the gear is ready, something like that,” “Really?  Is that why we met that student? So he could drive the car?  No, I think that if we use him, we need to really put him to use,” “What were you thinking then?”  Just then the only one to not take part in their conversation spoke up “We will use him, not as a driver or to check the gear, but we will train him to be the assassin we are looking for, he will kill the Archduke.”

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