THIS IS THE THIRD book in my series of mythologically titled spy stories. All the characters, incidents, and institutions are fictitious, except for the FBI and the KGB, which are used fictitiously. The Northside Church is intended to represent no actual religious denomination. The town of Kirkester and its neighboring towns are invented as well.
The only factual element of the story is the running catalog of Soviet atrocities, which are well documented, though you wouldn’t think so if all you see are regular American media.
As in Cronus and Snark, the previous books in this series, I want to stress that while there is a Congressional committee that oversees American intelligence operations, and it has a chairman, the character called the Congressman is in no way intended to represent anyone who has ever held that office.
Finally, I wish to thank Richard Meyers, for help on some technical details, and Barbara Gonzo, without whom Azrael would never have flown at all.
Kirkester, New York, May
HE HELD THE BOY’S head under until the bubbles stopped, then gently lowered it through the last few inches of cold, clear stream water until it rested on the bottom.
He was—had been—a fine-looking boy, Saturday Evening Post material, sandy hair, bright hazel eyes, freckles. He had just landed a sunny when Roger spoke to him for the first time.
“Nice fish,” Roger said.
“Not bad for a sunny,” the boy conceded. His name, Roger knew, was Keith Smith. He was three weeks short of his tenth birthday.
“I didn’t expect anyone to be out here,” Roger said.
“Usually isn’t,” the boy told him. He finished unhooking the fish and put it in a water-filled plastic bucket. Then he reached into a plastic bag that sat beside him on the rock, took out a slice of white balloon bread, tore off a piece, wadded it into a ball, stuck it on a hook, and tossed his line back into the stream.
“The trouble with sunnies is that they’re too easy to catch. Nobody usually comes here, because the water’s too calm. All you get here is sunnies, and little ones, at that. All the real fishermen are upstream, where the water is faster and the good fish are. Except, every once in a while, I see a couple of colored guys on the other bank fishing for eels. Did you ever eat an eel?”
“Sure,” Roger said.
Keith looked at him skeptically. “Okay, well, I never have. Sounds gross to me. Still, the black guys swear by them.”
“Are they here today?”
“Naw, never on a weekday. They used to. They’re pressmen. When they worked the night shift, they were here a lot, but they got rotated onto days, so they can only come on Saturday and Sunday.”
“Sounds like you’re here a lot,” Roger said.
“Sometimes. I like to go where the bigger fish are, but my dad has to take me. I was going to go there today with him—he’s on vacation—but he got called in special because of that thing in the Middle East.”
“Is your father a diplomat?” Roger asked, though he already knew what Frederick Smith did for a living.
“No,” the boy said. “He’s associate managing editor of Worldwatch magazine. He’s on call all the time.” Keith’s voice held a mixture of pride and a sort of wistful resentment.
“But what brings you out here?” Keith asked. “Not fishing.”
Roger grinned at him. If he let himself, he could get to like this boy. Of course, there wouldn’t be time. “That was easy enough to figure out,” he said. “No gear.”
Keith grinned back; Roger went on. “No, I just like to walk in the woods, by the stream. I’m new around here, so I try to take a different direction every day. Except when it rains, of course. Didn’t expect to find anyone to talk to. My name’s Roger.”
“Mine’s Keith,” the boy said. “I don’t mind talking.” He slid over to make more room, but Roger never joined him. Instead, taking care to walk only on the rocks (it wouldn’t do to leave footprints), he circled around to the side of the boulder the boy sat on. At one point he lost his balance and went down. One knee and one hand landed in the water.
“Are you okay?” Keith asked.
“Fine, fine. Just slipped. The sun will dry me out in no time.” He rose again. In his hand, he could feel the weight of a moss-covered stone. He showed it to Keith. “I think this is the one that got me.”