Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
February 3, 1970
The knock on Gabe’s door ripped him from sleep with the force of a gunshot. He clutched at his chest, sucking down air, cold sweat wreathing his forehead as he tried to get his bearings.
Dark. Night. His apartment. He glanced at the wall beside his twin bed—he was alone. (No surprise there.) His sidearm was where he’d left it; he pressed the cold metal to his forehead and tried to think.
The knocking continued. Gabe racked his mind, trying to think who or what it could be now. Everything was going well with Drahomir; he’d handed him off neatly to Josh, so any issues that might arise—which they shouldn’t—would be Josh’s problem, not Gabe’s. Surely neither Josh nor Drahomir had already done something stupid. And he hadn’t been in Prague long enough to develop any other agents. Hell, he’d barely been in Prague long enough to make nemeses of the rival services. Except for that goddamned Ice woman, he’d barely roused their notice at all.
Ice. Magic. Right. The “Ice,” who had an honest-to-God KaGeBeznik in their midst.
Gabe swung his feet over the side of the bed and slid into his slippers. The thing inside him was awake, as far as he could tell; maybe it never really slept. Sometimes he thought it ran in circles, senseless, like squirrels scampering through an attic at night. Well, if it had any warnings as to who waited on the other side of the door, it kept its silence.
Gabe slid the cover for the peephole up and was greeted with an outsize Wimbledon-blue eye on the other side.
“Jesus, Alestair.” Gabe fumbled with the chain locks and deadbolts that scaled the side of his door—his fine motor skills still hadn’t fully woken up. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Oh, I reckon it’s never too late for a few fingers of single malt.” Alestair jabbed his hand into Gabe’s for a forceful shake as soon as the door cracked open. “How’ve you been doing? Glad the office isn’t keeping you out late, wining and dining some mustachioed Slavic goon or another.”
Gabe suspected Alestair had consumed a few hands’ worth of scotch already. “Just trying to get some goddamned sleep. Shit,” he added, weariness filing off the edges of his temper. “Next few weeks are going to be hell. Station inspection, and then . . .” Were the Brits in on ANCHISES? Shit. Maybe this whole midnight visit was an elaborate ploy of Alestair’s to pry information out of him. He’d have to remember this trick for the future.
“All the more reason I think you’ll be glad I dropped by.” Alestair dug around in Gabe’s cabinets, in what Gabe knew was a fruitless search for glassware free of water stains and detergent rinds. “Has our fellow been letting you sleep?”
Gabe stopped in the doorway to his cramped kitchen. “He, uh . . . it . . .”
Gabe was still bothered by the strange pull he’d felt tailing Morozova and her Czech student. The strange pull he’d felt by the Vltava River. Almost like the thing inside him, the . . . hitchhiker had been—unsettled. Scared, even. Something to do with the Flame? Or something Morozova had done? It felt like the river itself, the water running beneath its frozen surface, something elemental had been ringing through him, plucking him like a string in a natural symphony. Not that it had sensed something malicious, so much as it had been overwhelmed. But ever since then, his new passenger had rested more easily within him. As if it had aligned with something, clicked cleanly into place at last.
“It’s been . . . behaving,” Gabe finally said.
Gabe wondered, now, whether Morozova’s pursuit of the university student was part of her spy work or witchcraft. The puzzle he’d gotten so good at, the East-West game, had suddenly popped into a confounding third dimension. It hurt his head. Not that his head needed the help these days.
Alestair nodded to himself, apparently satisfied, and set two glasses on the wobbly kitchen table. “A start, then.” He uncorked Gabe’s bottle of Grant’s and poured them both generous shares.
Gabe pinched the bridge of his nose. It figured that the first night he wasn’t suffering the unsettling mental hangovers of the . . . thing roiling inside him, or else out late on “official” business, he’d come down with a stuffy Brit infestation. “What do you want, then?”
Alestair took a gulp of scotch, then recoiled as if he’d been punched. “Dear God. Certainly not whatever this abomination is.” He shuddered, pounded one fist to his sternum, then took another drink, daintier this time. “I was at the Vodnář, chatting with Miss Rhemes, you know how it goes, and she voiced her concerns over your struggles in handling whatever it is that’s jerking your chain, so to speak.”
So this was all Jordan’s fault. Gabe winced.
“Seeing as how you’re so reluctant to take Miss Morozova’s assistance . . .” Alestair drew a circle in the air with the glass. “I thought perhaps I’d volunteer my own services to educate you on the finer points of...