Illustration to accompany Photograher's Closet. Copyright(c) 2018 by L.A. Spooner. Used under license

The Photographer’s Closet

Story by Tannar Miller

Illustration by L.A. Spooner

He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Though size, was a big issue. He had, just recently, come to New York. His uncle had gotten him a small, unfurnished, studio apartment above a flower shop. A trailer was already loaded up with used furniture; all he really needed now, was a closet. It wouldn’t be a normal closet…yes, it would hold his coat and hat…but he found that a closet worked perfectly, when developing photographs. He found it shoved between stacks of chairs. It was unassuming. Not old, just unassuming. It stood as tall as him, and twice as wide. It was deep, with many drawers and had enough room to hold everything he would need. They were asking twenty-five dollars. Never one to pay full price, he took it home, for fifteen.

It ended up fitting perfectly, right between his fridge and his front door. He had picked up a polish and rags along with the wardrobe, and began by rubbing it down. The polish brought out the fading colors of the ancient wood. Deep red cherry, contrasted by the pop of white oak. He took his time, putting all his focus, all his dreams and hopes into each slow, steady stroke. It would be his office, his livelihood, and his one chance to live his dreams. He wasn’t going to squander that chance.

It was late when he finished, but the light was good. He set everything up, found the perfect angle and took a picture. Capturing the beauty of the closet, frozen in time. The film went into the soaking tub, his camera delicately in the wardrobe, and he, asleep in his bed.

He had made it a habit to wake early, before life started ebbing into the city. Because that was his art, capturing life. He drank his coffee and read last week’s paper. He didn’t make enough to buy the paper, so only splurged, when they would be publishing one of his pictures. He actually didn’t make much at all, but he did what he loved.

He checked his developing photos, and pulled all his things from his closet. He loaded his case careful and precise. Telephoto, wide angle, speed, and other various lenses, his flash unit, bulbs, a spare, just in case; and finally his camera.  A three and a half by four and half, Graflex made, “Anniversary”, Speed Graphic camera, with 24 shutter speeds, and photoflash synchronization. It was an amazing camera, American made and built to last. With everything ready, he pulled his coat on, laid his hat on his head, and started his day.

If you asked him what he loved most about his city, he would give a little smirk, take you by the hand and lead you to the nearest corner. What he loved most was the movement, the life, and the utterly magnificent amount of it, all packed together. The way he described it was like a room full of candles. The light filled the room and yet, each candle was its own. That is what he did, for a living. He took his city and stopped it, frozen in time. He captured the moments. Each candle lighting the room, each story filling the city. The joy of a little girl selling lemonade on the street. The sadness of the boy, alone on a swing, missing his best friend. Pining for his truest love, after she ran away with another. Singular people, singular moments, in a city of multitudes.

His day consisted of moving through the city and taking it, in three and a half by four and a half doses. Completely freelance, he could be found all over the city, taking pictures. Some commission work for the “Times”, to run the next morning. A murder scene in Queens, helping out the N.Y.P.D. A wedding in central park, later that evening. Lunch was a street gyro on Forty-Fifth, and dinner would be the regular. A corner booth at the café, down on Twenty-Third…a table on the street, if it was nice out. A burger, fries, coffee and a slice of pie. Whatever pie was new on the menu, and if nothing was new, he’d have cherry. Simple. Routine. But he would tell anyone, that he was the happiest man in New York City.

In his own way, he owned the city. If ownership consisted of the most use, of possessing something, then it was his city. He possessed the city, every day. He used it and he filled it up. He had a way of moving with the city, flowing through its veins. They say that New York is alive, and if so, he was part of it. The living, breathing, thing that it was.

His day ended at the closet. The apartment’s front door caught on its hinges. He would fix it someday. His closet, on the other hand, opened without, so much as, a whisper. He hung up his coat and hat. At the table, he took every tool out of his bag. He polished each lens, until it shined. His camera, he took apart, cleaning each separate piece. With the same precision and care, everything went in its place. He switched out his photos, developed and undeveloped. Each finished photo was marked…date, time, place, and title. He took his time on naming each photo, telling the moment, naming the idea. Most got filed away, to be hand delivered. The few special ones, the ones that spoke the loudest, were taped to the doors of the closet. Here went, the boy on the swing and the girl selling lemonade. With a shower and a glass of wine, his day would find him asleep, in bed.

The war had been raging for two years. For most Americans, it seemed to be on the outside. America was simply a spectator, waiting for it to blow their way. The bombs fell on Pearl Harbor and they no longer had to wait. The war was thrown, front and center, into the minds of Americans. Millions of men were drafted into active military service. His number was drawn. He left his city, his job, and went to join the war effort. The tests took very little time, but supposed complications in his results, forced him to stay waiting, long after they were done. Eventually, he was approached by a man, dressed to the nines.

He always remembered his first impression, of the head of the Office of Strategic Services. William J Donavan. It was that of a snake oil salesman, smooth, sly, and dangerous. One who believed wholeheartedly in his own poison.  Agents for the OSS were handpicked, agents of opportunity. They were those who spoke multiple languages. Those who found themselves in a foreign country in a time of need. Those already possessing the expert skills needed. In that way, he was a perfect opportunity. The OSS had made contact with a high ranking Nazi defector, one who agreed to spy for the allies. The OSS and their British counterparts felt it wise to send a second man, to aid in their efforts. That is where he came in. He spoke German fluently…his mother being German and his father an American. His skills with a camera were unmatched, and he would soon found himself in a foreign country, in a time of most dire need. Without so much as a slap on the ass, and a weeks’ worth of training at Camp X, he was moved to the heart of the beast. Berlin, Germany. Operation “Fox and Hound”, was officially underway.

They set him up in an apartment, on the banks of the Spree River. His things arrived soon after, his closet among them. Officially, he was a member of the Field Photographic Branch, of the OSS. His job was simple. Report any and all information, directly to base. A weekly report was to be sent and he was to keep “tabs” on the German defector. Unofficially, he was a glorified secretary, a go-between for the defector and the OSS. His camera lay in its drawer, gathering dust. Too busy to take it out, to clean it or take a single photo. He reported early, every week. All information went directly to the OSS, and he waited for contact, with his Nazi counterpart.

Six months into the assignment, with nothing more than a formal greeting from the defector, his restlessness kicked in. The need to move, to flow through the city. He thrived in the big city. Berlin, was as good as any, he figured.  So, he found himself, donning his coat and hat and taking out his camera, once again. His hands moving over it, tuning and focusing. They felt more at home than they had in six months. He locked the door on his way out. Heading into the city, his soul reached out to find the few “candles”, left burning.

He had only met the defector, “Hound”, once. The man had explained how, “he” was the “Hound”…the man the allies really needed, not some boy or “Fox”, with a camera. Funny how unconfident the “Hound” seemed, when he was dead. He found the “Hound”, dead, shot in an alley for his pocket change. That’s what he named the photo, “Pocket Change”. He wondered what the boys at base would think of the name, and realized how much easier it was, to capture a picture of a dead man, than it was of a living one.

The day was an eventful one. He found the door broken through. The apartment, ransacked. His closet lay on its side; its drawers flung across the room, all his developing photos were destroyed from the exposure to sunlight. He picked up a chair and surveyed the mess. It was horrible, yet it gave him an idea. He laid his coat on the back of the chair, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work. He worked hard to get everything back to its place. Trash had been thrown all around, furniture overturned. It took him until the early hours of the morning, to finish. Done, he slumped at the table with a glass of wine. To make his idea work, he had had to rearrange everything. The closet now stood, prominently, in the center of the room. Facing directly out the big windows. The windows with a view, of the Spree River.

Back at the base, they sat in stressed silence, waiting for the report. After six months of, on-the-dot reports and surface information, a late report was a worrisome, but welcome change. The boys were in for a surprise. “Fox and Hound “was about to become an epicenter of information. In the span of a second, their lives changed.

The report simply read, “Slight hitch in safe house security. Change in circumstance. Obstacles removed. Communications breach. Will report to P.O box 1450, Whitby, Ontario.”

After that day, his days became the same. Donning his coat, hat, and his camera, he would step out his door, into the dangerous, dirty world of counterintelligence. He never locked his door again, figuring his plan would work or fail, epically. Either way, it saved him the cost of replacing the door every time. He knew from the minute they had raided him, that he was now on the “watch list”. There was no way to be sure that they had not tapped into all his communications. There wasn’t another secure line in the city. The OSS had sent “Fox and Hound”, in, as quickly as possible, to avoid any suspicion. So, they only secured one line of communication. His solution was to simply do what he did best. Take a picture, of everything. That was the sole purpose of the post office box. By the end of the war, “Fox and Hound” had a personal courier service. It consisted of twenty men, spread out over Europe, dedicated solely, to, “getting the mail delivered”.

His “closet” became something, much more, sinister. No longer a door to his dreams, it became the only thing keeping a bullet from between his eyes. It stood in the middle of the apartment, an obvious temptation. Light hit its doors constantly, and if, at any time of day, it was opened, all photos within, would be ruined. Drying or soaking. The catch was, that not only, was it practically impossible for the Nazis to get his photos…it was also impossible, for him, to get to them. His solution was taking each picture, blind. Waiting until the darkest part of the night, then slipping them into large manila envelopes. Each shot had to be perfect. In four years, he never saw a single photo that he captured. It was a crude system, but it worked. He found he had a certain knack for intelligence work, and together with his unmatched skills with a camera, he became a force to be reckoned with, in the “shadow war” of World War Two.

He became known as the Fox of Berlin or simply Fox, to the boys at base. In the darker alleys of Berlin, they told stories of his cunning, his speed, and his stealth. They said he could disappear at will. That he could, single handedly; take on a platoon of men. They were all rumors. Rumors he had started. It all came surprisingly natural to him, being a spy. As natural as taking a photo. Along with a few special missions, including a foray, deep into The Wolf’s Lair, he worked Berlin for three years. He was there at the surrender. He was there, at Fuhrerbunker…the day Hitler shot himself, dead. It was an exciting day. Allied troops flooded the city. They routed the enemy, and took the city.

He found himself, striding through the streets that day. Feeling the excitement, seep into his bones. It made him careless; and it made him make a mistake. In three years, his apartment had been raided at least fifteen times. He came to the point of even leaving a note on the door.

“The door is unlocked, come right in. Try to leave things as they are. The photos are in the cabinet.” It read

Never once was he there, when they raided the apartment. With help from a friend inside, he always found himself in another part of the city. It never crossed his mind, that today of all days, the literal victory of the war; that they would come for him. At his apartment, he sent a message, the first he had sent in almost three years, to the Fox and Hound operation. It was as simple as the last.

“Fox Reporting. My job here is done. Get over here. Bring me home.”

He had suspected the line had been compromised, long ago. He had never taken the time to confirm his suspicion, but he had been right, all along. The Nazis were hurt, wounded and slapped down, by the Allies. Like a cornered animal, they lashed out; with ferocity he had never seen. They had intercepted his final message. Finally, they had their chance. The fabled Fox of Berlin…alone and unsuspecting. The attack came, without warning. Explosions rocked the building and threw him off his feet. He had minutes, if not seconds, to act. They knew which building, but not which apartment.

He didn’t think. His instincts kicked in. The Fox found himself, in one last battle. Fire raged through the building, as the Nazis continued to pelt it with explosives. Chaos abounded, as a group of men rushed into his apartment. He was weaponless. All he had was his camera, and his wits. It was all he needed. The explosions knocked out all the power in the building. The Nazis moved, slowly, through the apartment, to trap him. With a full flash of his camera, he blinded half of the men. He threw one at the closet, knocking it over and spilling all its contents…including at least ten pounds of flash powder…across the room. It hung in a cloud throughout the room. He turned to find one man, legs akimbo, bringing their gun up to shoot. He had done it on accident, before…igniting a whole four pounds of flash powder. Not only, did it blind him, it left his ears ringing, for days. This time he was ready for it. With the swiftness of a man about to die, he forced the man’s shot up. The explosion was magnificent. Outside noises came as dull thuds. All he could see was the outline of the closet, against the window. He didn’t hesitate. He took his chance. He ran full force and shoved the closet out the window. He jumped inside it as it fell, towards the river.

The crash knocked the air out of his lungs and he could feel the cold water of the Spree, starting to seep into the closet. But the wardrobe held true. The photographer’s closet saved his life, one last time. He sat up and looked up at his apartment and the bewildered men looking out the shattered window. With a smirk and a salute at the men, he leaned back in the closet. The river would take him to the edge of the city; he might as well relax and enjoy the ride. Turns out, the closet floated.


She wasn’t sure what she was looking for.  Though size wasn’t an issue. They had been blessed with a new home, a new start. They had already ordered a truck full of furniture, to be delivered. This last piece had to be special. A closet. It wouldn’t be used like a normal closet. She had discovered that a closet was great for displaying photos. It would hold all her captured moments. She wanted something old, something with a story. She found it, standing out against the rest. The outside was unassuming, but the inside would have all the room she needed. With a little work, some polish and some rags, she could bring out the natural colors of the wood. She didn’t know why, but she felt, as if, it was made for what she had in mind. If only she knew, how well it floated.

— ♦♦♦ —


Next Week: Thumbnail illustration to accompany Hell Hounds.  Copyright(c)2018 by L.S. Spooner.  Used under license

Hell Hounds.  By John W. Dennehy, Art by L.A. Spooner

Thinking back to before the battle, Stevens recalled the British and French troops were battle weary from a long war. The recent advance by the Germans, fortified with troops removed from the Russian front, made fresh, eager allied troopers a welcomed prospect. General Pershing finally conceded to deployment of the Marines to the front, but assigned them to the far end of the line near the Marne River.

Stevens understood a lot was at stake, maybe the future of the Marine Corps.  He had offered his men these encouraging words…“We’ve come a long way together,” Stevens finally said. He glanced at their quiet faces. “From preparing for this war, to the French front. Now, this is the real thing. It’s what you’ve trained for and what you’re meant to do.”

Read about the battle fought by the The Devil Dogs or “Hellhounds”, as those Marines would become known.

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