Monday, 30 November 2015

Spy Tech: The Minox (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

Say hello to the Minox A, an antique bit of spy kit due to be sold at Bonhams Hong Kong in a few days time. If you fancy a flutter, the projected price is hovering at the US$5000 range. Personally I quite like the look of the Expo Police Camera, more modestly priced at $2,000-odd, but then I've always been fonder of Prohibition-era kit.

The Minox line was the spy's best friend from the earliest days of the Cold War. The OSS used them in World War Two, while the KGB were still using them as recently as 1990. If you've seen Doctor Strangelove, for instance, there's a scene in which the Soviet Ambassador uses one. A Minox also became part of JFK lore, when his assassin Oswold was found with one in his possession. John Anthony Walker, the Navy man convicted of spying for the Soviets in 1985, used a Minox C.

Its popularity wasn't because the typical Minox was cunningly disguised as a potted plant, but because it was small and lightweight, with remarkably clear close focus for its size, and very decent long focus. You can get as many as 36 exposures from a single reel of film, on the old cameras. The A series being sold at Bonhams was manufactured until 1969. The C series, used by Walker, was manufactured from 1969 to 1978. The C series was electronic, with a light meter, while the less sophisticated mechanical A series had an aluminum shell, which at least made it lightweight. However the A series was so beloved of Minox fans that a special edition was produced in 1992, completely mechanical, in chrome, black or gold. The Minox brand is still on the market today.

Now, let's take a look at the Dracula Dossier, and see where the Minox might fit in.

As with every other item in the Dossier, the Minox is described as an item of major importance, minor importance, or as a fraud.

SUPPOSED HISTORY: If a 1940s artifact, the Minox was taken by the Van Sloan team on its desperate mission. It's a battered Riga model, modified by Edom for special operations. Built in 1939, Edom saw the advantage in having a miniature camera, but knew that taking photographs of vampires was, at best, a tricky business. The original design was retrofitted with lenses designed by Teman to overcome the vampire problem, but Edom never had a chance to test the design before deployment. If a 1970s artifact, the Minox was used by foreign agents - perhaps KGB - during the mole hunt, but was either captured or lost. The information it contains has been exploded out of all proportion by rumor after rumor, but best guess has it that one of the photos is of the real mole. If modern day, it was until recently the plaything of one of the Legacies, who fancied themselves a modern-day spy. Perhaps it's a tricked-out gold replica A model, all mechanical, specially engraved with the owner's initials. Nobody knows why a dangerous crime syndicate ordered its theft, but for it to be worth so much to that kind of people, the information hidden on it must be damning.

MAJOR ARTIFACT: Not only does it contain a photograph of a very important figure or location within the Conspiracy - Dracula's Castle, for example, or one of the Conspyramid higher-ups - it can also take photographs of the Undead. Not necessarily good photographs, mind you; this is a prototype, perhaps from Edom, perhaps from another manufacturer, and it never got tested. However even if the photographs aren't perfect, everyone from Edom to the Conspiracy to China's Room 452 wants this one, because they think its design can be studied and improved. Of course, whoever originally created the modified Minox also wants it back, and is willing to do quite literally anything to get it. Funny thing; it seems almost to attract Renfields. Perhaps that has something to do with its design, which may or may not have included a drop of rather potent blood.

MINOR ARTIFACT: The Minox contains many interesting, potentially damaging photographs. Even though none of the pictures show important Conspiracy locations or people, there's enough here to wreck careers. At least one significant person, perhaps involved or formerly involved with the intelligence community, is very keen to get the negatives, and will pay any price. There's more than enough blackmail material here to Intimidate that person. At the Keeper's discretion, there may also be pictures of blueprints or other curious documents on the Minox; there's just enough detail here to give the protagonists a clue as to the location or means of manufacture of another Item.

FRAUDULENT ITEM: The Conspiracy, or perhaps Edom, deliberately built this Minox and its photographs for disinformation purposes. It's bait, intended to lure enemies out into the open. Either they reveal themselves when they turn up to claim the camera, or the photos on it lead the owner to a predetermined ambush point. Alternatively, the information contained here is black propaganda, designed to smear a chosen target. If the latter, then the Minox is almost certainly Conspiracy manufacture; there's hardly any point in, say, Edom trying to blacken Dracula's reputation.

["My God! not only does the foul creature drink the blood of innocents, he also strangles kittens! Is there no end to his perfidy?"]

CONNECTIONS: Any of the 1940s people might have the Minox in their possession, or have stashed it somewhere for safekeeping. It might have been left behind by Van Sloan, somewhere in Romania. If it ended up in Conspiracy hands, it could be in any of Dracula's London safe havens, probably long forgotten. A former intelligence operative from the 1970s may still have his old Minox left over from his days on active service. An antique Minox may find its way via Sotheby's to the open market. A modern Minox may still be in the possession of its current owner; it may need to be stolen, or perhaps prised from their cold, dead hands.

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