Read an Excerpt
Prince of Darkness
By Barbara Michaels
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Middleburg, Maryland, possessed a population of 9300 and one of the finest small airports one descending passenger had ever seen. For a place
of its size it had a surprising amount of traffic. There were several daily shuttle flights to Washington and New York, and this plane, the Friday
afternoon flight from Washington, had been nearly full.
The passenger in question, a slight, fair-haired man, was the last one off the plane. He stopped at the foot of the ramp and stared across the field,
noting the number of private planes and hangars. The field was miniature, but equipped with all the latest gadgetry; it looked like a rich man's toy. The
setting was equally perfect. Beyond the strips of concrete and the fences a gently rolling country-side had taken on the rich colors of autumn. The
grain fields were stubble now, but much of the land
was wooded; the gold of maples and the crimson
of oak and sumac made vivid splashes of brightness
against the somber green background of firs.
Afaint haze lay over the land, but the day was fine,
almost too warm for October. The visitor reflected
that this must be what the natives called Indian
summer. He shrugged out of his coat, draped it
over his arm, and started off across the field toward
It was small, like the airport, andequally perfect;
built of fieldstone and timber, it looked more like a
private hunting lodge than a public building. The
young man joined the group waiting at the luggage
counter. Only a handful of the passengers had
waited; most of them, carrying briefcases, had gone
directly to waiting cars. Weekenders, evidently;
and weekenders who could afford two separate
wardrobes and homes.
The people waiting for luggage were of the
same type, and the young man categorized them
with the quick impatience which was one of his
many failings. The Rich. Bureaucrats or businessmen
or idlers, they were all alike: people with too
much money and too much leisure, so that they
spent large quantities of the former trying to occupy
He himself did not fit in with the crowd, though
he had a chameleonlike instinct for protective col-oring. The business he was presently engaged in
required another type of costume. His suit--one of
his own, recently retailored to fit his reduced measurements
--was old but good. His tie was modest
in design, but he wore it with a slightly stifled look,
as if he were unused to even that moderate formality.
By the standards of the over-forty generation he
still needed a haircut. He had considered hornrimmed
glasses, and had abandoned them as being
a bit too much, and also as too obviously
fraudulent; his vision, like Katherine More's, was
twenty-twenty. But the most important part of the
disguise was attitude. He had thought himself into
his role so thoroughly that when the man standing
next to him spoke he came out of an artistic fog
with a slight jerk.
"Stupid bastards get slower every week." The
man, a stocky individual, had shoulders like a
bull's and a belligerent, feet-wide-apart stance.
His close-cropped gray hair failed to conceal a
skull as hard and round as a cannonball, or soften
features which looked like something an inexperienced
sculptor had roughed out and then given
up as a hopeless job.
"Hmmm? Oh. I haven't been waiting very
"Stranger here?" The older man sized him up
with a long, appraising stare, and extended a
brown hand. "Volz is my name. U.S. Army, retired."
"Peter Stewart. I'm a writer." He let the U.S. Army, retired, wring his hand, and produced a
pained smile. "General, were you, sir?"
"How did you know?"
"The . . . general air," Peter murmured, and
grinned modestly when the general gave a short
brusque laugh that sounded like a dog barking.
"Very good. The writer's touch, eh? Have I read
any of your books?"
"I very much doubt it."
Suitcases began rolling onto the rack and Volz,
with an unexpurgated comment, darted forward.
Peter followed more slowly. When he had retrieved
his battered case he found the general still
at his side.
"Going into town?"
"Yes. There are taxis, I suppose?"
"Probably taken by now. I'll give you a lift, if
"That's very good of you." Peter spoke stiffly;
then he reminded himself that he was being too
suspicious. He knew the automatic if superficial
friendliness of Americans. This loudmouthed idiot
couldn't possibly know anything about him or
his past--or his present intentions. He added
more warmly, "I've booked a room at the Inn, but
if that's out of your way--"
"No, no, got to go through town anyway. My
place is on the other side. This way."
His car was just what Peter had expected: a
black, shiny Lincoln with a uniformed chauffeur,
who leaped out as his employer came stamping up. The chauffeur was black, six and a half feet
tall, with a profile like that of the Apollo on the
temple of Olympia. Even the flat crisp curls looked
Belatedly Peter tried to conceal his fascinated
stare with an inane smile and a murmured greeting.
The black statue responded with a stiff inclination
of his head and no change of expression
whatever. Chastened, Peter climbed into the back
seat, and the door slammed smartly, just missing
On the way into town the general told four
dirty jokes and a long tedious story about some
minor skirmish during the Battle of the Bulge. Peter
laughed immoderately at the jokes and made
admiring noises during the anecdote. By the time
they neared the outskirts of Middleburg, Volz had
also extracted a major portion of Peter's biography.
It was a good biography, and Peter was
proud of it. He had spent two days composing it
and another week gathering the documents
which backed it up . . .
Excerpted from Prince of Darkness
by Barbara Michaels
Copyright © 2006 by Barbara Michaels.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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