Prague, Czechoslovak Soviet Republic
April 30, 1970
The cop hit Gabe again.
He let the punch knock him to the concrete floor of his cell. He landed wrong. His shoulder screamed. He let some of the pain show, and lay on his side, still, bleeding from the mouth. Cut his lip. Tongue still whole. Blood tasted dull. People said it tasted like copper, but Gabe didn’t have much of a sense of how copper tasted. Blood, he knew.
He panted through his nose, and curled around his stomach as best he could, in case the boots followed. He had two kidneys, after all. Burst intestines would kill him faster. He thought.
There’s a fine art to getting the shit kicked out of you. Field operatives don’t learn it at Langley, because the kinds of people who go into the field tend to already have experience getting the shit kicked out of them, or kicking the shit out of others. Most everyone’s comfortable with the basics. But sometimes people traded techniques, in case they came in handy.
Like now: With his hands cuffed behind his back, three big guys in the small room (he’d christened them Meatface, Pugsley, and Bob), no weapons, and no backup, his options didn’t look good. A stiff kick might break Pugsley’s ankle, but that left two more guys with guns they hadn’t drawn yet. No. Best lie here and bleed and act like he wasn’t a threat.
He didn’t have to act that hard.
Far away, a door opened. He heard murmuring in Czech, too quiet to make out. Hands seized him and lifted. The hurt shoulder wrenched badly in its socket. “Where are you taking me?” he asked, through the blood, and received a shove in answer. Considering his last question had led to the punch—he wasn’t even sure what he’d asked, which was a bad sign—the shove was an improvement. He staggered down a narrow, dirty hall, Pugsley to his left, Meatface to his right, Bob presumably around somewhere. They turned, and turned again, and climbed a narrow stair to a door that opened into the night.
It was still night. Or was it night again?
An unmarked car waited, running. Gabe didn’t recognize the driver.
Meatface tossed him in and slammed the door. Gabe’s head rang off metal; an engine roared and he rolled in the backseat. Through the rear window he saw Meatface, retreating, glowering as if he’d just lost his favorite toy. The fucker’s knuckles still dripped with Gabe’s blood. Served him right.
“What’s going on?” Gabe asked in Czech. The driver did not answer. Gabe tried again in Russian, in English. No response this time either, save a sharp turn that knocked Gabe back over. Blood stuck his cheek to the leather seat.
For the first time in the last—how long? An hour? Two? More? Less?—well, however long, he had a moment to himself without someone screaming questions, or hitting him. Time to plan. Just a wire mesh screen between him and the driver. Could kick it out, maybe, if he had leverage. He tried the doors; they didn’t open from inside.
This was bad.
Czech cops were bad. Czech jail was bad. An unmarked police car driven through the streets of Prague by night, by a man who did not speak, that went a few steps past bad.
And then there was Edith.
God damn it.
He saw her again, still and sprawled on cobblestones, haloed by streetlight reflections in blood. Felt the sick panic as he tried to remember how he’d come to stand over her body, and found only a gray cotton haze.
He had not killed her. He could not have killed her. But what had he been doing in that street? Who had struck him, and how? Had he been drugged by the Russians? Enchanted, somehow, by the Flame?
Edith. Christ. She tried to play the game, and they took her off the board.
He had been so sloppy, all along, ever since he’d come to Prague, since Cairo, even. If he’d caught the mole in the ANCHISES op in time, Langley would not have needed to send a counterintelligence officer. If Gabe had been better at hiding his own tracks, Edith would have never learned about the magical cold war happening beneath the real one. If Gabe had been able to protect her, she would be off in some other station, making somebody else’s life miserable with her books and her lukewarm mug of tea. But she was dead. And it was his fault.
The blood shining on the pavement. The blood shining on his hands.
Gabe wrenched his hurt shoulder trying to work the cuffs’ chain around his legs. He grunted through the pain, and gave thanks for his long arms. His back muscles pulled like hot taffy, but the handcuffs came around. The driver glanced in the mirror, but said nothing.
“This isn’t the way to the embassy,” Gabe commented when they turned left. He didn’t specify which embassy. Always a chance the driver might get sloppy.
He did not.
They stopped in a back alley in a rundown district of shuttered shops. The driver opened the rear door and stepped back, gun drawn. With his free hand, he gestured for Gabe to get out.
He did. Slowly. No sense coming off all badass when you’re down....