Prague, Czechoslovak Soviet Republic
April 26, 1970
As had apparently become the local custom, the gutter outside Bar Vodnář hinted at a small personal story of excess. But Edith, who had become inured to such things, stepped over the mess with hardly a wrinkled nose. Tonight of all nights, she had other things on her mind. As did Josh: things that required marination in the strongest possible alcohol before they could be digested.
Which is how, after an indeterminate time wandering the city in a cloud of mutual befuddlement, Josh and the Langley investigator had found themselves sitting at the same table—in the same chairs, even—as they had several weeks ago. For all Josh knew, even the Beatles ditty blasting from the Wurlitzer might have been the same.
It was almost déjà vu. Almost.
Last time, he and Edith hadn’t staggered into the bar like extras in a George Romero movie. They hadn’t been favoring bruised limbs, the scent of smoke hadn’t wafted from their hair, their clothes weren’t stained with soot, their skin wasn’t stippled with gunpowder residue. Last time, Jordan hadn’t recoiled at the sight of them. Last time, the dark city hadn’t echoed with the wail of sirens racing to and from the docks.
Josh took a long draw from his beer bottle. It clinked against the peanut bowl when he set it down. Edith stopped swirling the ice in her gimlet, shook her head as if in silent argument with herself, then downed the whole thing in one go. Same drinks, too, Josh realized.
And yet everything was different. Last time, the world had made some goddamned sense. It was complicated, but it’d had fucking rules.
Last time, Gabe had been here, a welcome and essential intermediary. Tonight, however, Josh had fled the docks as if the man were radioactive. Everything about his op had gone to shit, but Josh couldn’t and wouldn’t stick around to do damage control. He needed time to process what he’d seen.
But speaking of Gabe—
Edith slammed her empty glass on the table, spilling peanuts far and wide. The pattering on the floorboards made Josh think, for some reason he really didn’t want to investigate, of hailstones made from children’s teeth.
From behind the bar, Jordan watched their mess grow, but she just sighed and shook her head. Good bartenders knew when to keep out of it. Smart. Trust me, lady, if you had seen what I’ve seen tonight—
Edith broke the silence that had enveloped them since they fled the docks. “Just what, in the name of Jesus’s shriveled blue balls, happened back there?”
Her breath smelled of juniper and lime. It was the only nice thing about this very not nice evening.
He coughed, as though his body refused to voice his confusion. Speaking of it meant confronting it. “Did that fire seem a little—”
“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, no.” Then, after a moment’s contemplation, she added, “It seemed a lot.”
He nodded. “Uh-huh.” A laugh escaped him, so sharp it left fine shavings of sanity on the floor at his feet, where it belonged. Because surely he’d imagined the rest. Because only a madman would believe . . .
“I could have sworn I saw Alestair . . . I thought for sure he’d been . . .”
“He was, Josh.” Edith’s whisper had an edge, too. “Twice. In the chest,” she said, eyes focused on something only she could see, fingertips lightly brushing a spot just over her heart.
He didn’t want to think about that. Not yet.
“But the fire.” He finished the bottle with another long swig. “I mean, it really looked like there was a, uh . . . person . . . inside it.”
“Oh, thank Christ,” she said, sighing and burping at the same time. “I was certain I’d imagined that shit.”
He blinked. “You know, you swear a lot when you’re upset.”
“I swear a lot when my day takes a turn through the fucking twilight zone.”
“So,” he said, drawing out the vowel as if it could keep the world sensible just a few seconds longer, “I guess we saw the same things.”
“And that’s a comfort?”
He sighed. “Not really. I’d hoped to chalk this up to the Soviets field testing some kind of psychotropic agent.”
But there wasn’t such a thing as a shared hallucination, was there? Not when the details agreed right down to the number and placement of bullet holes in a man’s bespoke windowpane suit. The one Alestair’d had made in Hong Kong, the one with the burgundy sateen lining, the one with the delightful story about the tailor—
Josh shook his head. Even the Reds couldn’t do that. Nobody could do the things Josh had seen tonight.
He caught Jordan’s attention with a raised finger, silently indicated his empty bottle and Edith’s empty glass. Before she came to relieve them, he screwed up his courage and met the investigator’s gaze.
“Edith. What will your report say?”
“I don’t know. What the hell happened tonight?”
“It’s me. Open up.”
Nadia’s voice carried a hard edge. Diamond hard. It startled Tanya, even though she’d been expecting the visit. They’d gotten...