Allan Trotter’s counter-espionage service began at birth: His father, the head of an ultra-secret intelligence wing of the US government, deliberately conceived him with a gorgeous Russian spy. Raised to navigate a crooked world, Trotter was immersed in deception, danger, and narrow escapes. He’s a perfectly honed agent, but he desperately wants a normal life. Trotter is pulled out of his life of seclusion, though, when the Russian spy outfit Cronus sends their Angel of Death, Azreal, to a sleepy town in Upstate New York to knock off innocent people. The aim? To scare back a stray agent: Petra Hudson, now the happy CEO of a media conglomerate worth billions, who has put her spying past behind her—or so she thinks. Ignorant of her mother’s double life, Hudson’s daughter, Regina, a newspaper editor, has unknowingly alerted the Agency. And since fighting Cronus is the one thing that can give Trotter’s life meaning, when he learns that Regina—a kindred victim of the organization—is at risk, the stakes feel even more crucial.
About the Author
William L. DeAndrea (1952–1996) was born in Port Chester, New York. While working at the Murder Ink bookstore in New York City, he met mystery writer Jane Haddam, who became his wife. His first book, Killed in the Ratings (1978), won an Edgar Award in the best first mystery novel category. That debut launched a series centered on Matt Cobb, an executive problem-solver for a TV network who unravels murders alongside corporate foul play. DeAndrea’s other series included the Nero Wolfe–inspired Niccolo Benedetti novels, the Clifford Driscoll espionage series, and the Lobo Blacke/Quinn Booker Old West mysteries. A devoted student of the mystery genre, he also wrote a popular column for the Armchair Detective newsletter. One of his last works, the Edgar Award–winning Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), is a thorough reference guide to sleuthing in books, film, radio, and TV.
Read an Excerpt
A Clifford Driscoll Mystery
By William L. DeAndrea
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1987 William L. DeAndrea
All rights reserved.
She would have had more fun if she'd gone to the funeral.
Not, of course, that the funeral wouldn't have been gruesome enough. God knew the other ones had. Weeping mothers. And fathers. Regina had been shocked and disappointed in herself to discover that a weeping man upset her much more than a weeping woman. A minister of God telling the mourners, as if he thought they didn't already know, what a tragedy it was for a life to be snuffed out so young, with so much ahead of it. Back in May, the minister at the service for Keith Smith had told everyone to take comfort in the knowledge that God knows what he's doing but that it is not always given to man to understand. He also assured them that God Never Tries Us Beyond Our Strength, and that Faith Would See Us Through. The priest at the services for Lou Symczyk had been much simpler about it—Lou was in heaven, and for that we should be happy.
Maybe so, Regina thought. It was hard, though, to be happy for someone whose head had been crushed by a '77 Firebird slipping off a jack onto his head. Heaven had also been problematical, considering the number of speeding tickets and public scalps Lou had managed to accumulate with a succession of faster and faster cars in the three years between his reaching driving age and his death. He had even had the nerve to ask Regina to "go for a ride" with him once. She had, of course, refused. It would have been ridiculous. Regina was aware, though, that if she had been Lou's age or younger, instead of four and a half years older, she might have been tempted.
Regina had spent an August morning sweltering in black at the side of Lou's soon-to-be grave, hating every minute of it, as she had hated the glorious late-spring day she'd spent with the box containing little Keith Smith. She'd gone because, as her mother said, the Hudson Group was more than just a publishing concern. To the millions of people its two-hundred-odd local newspapers, radio and TV stations and cable systems reached, it was a spokesman, a teacher, and a goad. It informed them, spoke up for them, challenged them. To the readers of Worldwatch it was a fresh and different look at each week's national and international news.
To the people of Kirkester, especially to those who had given up Manhattan or Chicago to come work here in the boonies at the home office, the Hudson Group was family.
Regina grinned. Speaking about the billion-dollar business Father and she (mostly she) had built, Mother had a tendency to sound like a rough draft of the introduction to the annual report.
But she meant every word of it, including the business about family. When tragedy struck, the Hudsons had to be there. It made no difference if the employee involved was top management, like Fred Smith, or a janitor, like Kasimir Symczyk. Duty called; Regina went.
But not today. Today they were burying a baby.
Clara Bloyd, age nine months, daughter of Tina Bloyd, typesetter. Sudden infant death syndrome. Crib death. Parents awoke to find perfectly healthy infants dead. Regina remembered it had been one of the first Worldwatch cover stories.
Regina had decided enough was enough. Yes, a journalist should be inured to all sorts of suffering and tragedy, and yes, Regina was going to be a first-rate journalist in spite of her name and connections. But she was damned if she was going to spend a beautiful, cool, October Thursday, with the sky bright blue and the trees trying to make up in a week for a year of single-color drabness, listening to sermons and lamentations over a small white wooden box. She'd stay in the office instead. Go over circulation reports. Relay her mother's instructions to writers and artists and researchers. Wait for late-breaking stories.
And petty, and cowardly, and like a phony. Mother was at the funeral. Jimmy was at the funeral. Regina's brother seemed to like nothing about the family business except the people who worked for it. He probably thought of, supervised and carried out more community and charity work than any nineteen-year-old in the world, with the possible exception of European royalty. Regina loved him, but she didn't understand him very well.
She did understand that her mother and Jimmy were right about noblesse oblige. The way Old Man Symczyk had carried on, you might have thought it was a privilege for him to have his grandson die, if only as an occasion of proof of the respect in which he and his were held by the first family of the community.
Regina felt guilty about that, too, and guilty at the thought that at the age of twenty-four, when most of her friends were already disillusioned or divorced, she was still worried about her right to avoid an unpleasant experience versus her obligation to help other people get over theirs. Maybe she should suggest a Lifestyles piece on it—the Me Decade Meets the Old Guilt.
She was about half ready to start taking herself seriously when the phone on her mother's desk buzzed.
And kept buzzing. Her mother's secretary should have picked up, but he was probably in the bathroom or something. Regina sighed, punched a button, and picked up the phone.
"Petra Hudson's office," she said. She had always loved the idea of somebody's office answering the phone. One of Regina's small triumphs at the Kirkester Chronicle, the hometown paper her mother had given her to run the way other mothers give their children the wooden spoon to lick, was to forbid the practice of sending memos attributed to your desk. Some of the old-liners, the I-was-working-here-before-anybody'd-ever-heard-of-your-father crowd, had grown very protective of the authority of their desks, but Regina was in charge, Regina had made a decision and Regina had made it stick. Desks did not send memos, people did. If a newspaper couldn't say what it meant, what good was it?
Regina's mother had watched the memo war with a sort of absent amusement. Petra Hudson could have settled the matter by fiat at any time, but Regina would be damned if she was going to ask, and Mother, to her credit, did not volunteer. It was one of the things Regina admired about her mother—she didn't meddle.
Regina admired a lot of things about her mother, and respected her, and even loved her, but it was a distant kind of love, communicated through the media of nannies' reports and letters to and from boarding schools here and abroad, while Mother fought the good fight to keep the Hudson Group in Hudson hands after the death of James Hudson, Sr.
Sometimes it seemed to Regina that she was not so much a daughter as she was a Chosen Successor. The feeling had been stronger over the last few years, since it had become obvious that Jimmy had no interest in the family business, but it had always been there. Why else had they named her Regina, for God's sake, if they didn't expect that someday she would reign?
Thank God she loved the business.
Now Regina sat (temporarily) on her mother's throne, holding her mother's electronic scepter to her ear.
"Western Union calling," a voice of indeterminate sex announced.
Regina smiled. It was appropriate that somebody's office should pick up the phone to find an entire corporation on the other end of the line.
"We have a message for Ms. Hudson."
"I'll take it."
Regina wondered when Western Union had gotten so picky. "I'm Ms. Hudson," she said truthfully. Her mother was going to be in no mood to chase down messages after she got home.
"Deepest condolences for your loss," the voice began.
"What?" It took a split second for Regina to realize this was the beginning of the message, rather than some kind of gentle insult, but it was still bewildering. Petra Hudson hadn't suffered any loss her daughter knew about.
"Deepest condolences on your loss," the voice said again. "It is well known how you feel about your family. Tragedy can strike at any time, but strength and wisdom can see us through. Best personal regards."
There was a silence. Regina doubted it was a pause for effect, since the whole thing had been read in the mechanical singsong of a court stenographer.
"Is that it?" she asked.
"There is a signature."
"Okay," Regina said. "Whose?"
"It's signed, Cronus."
There'd been some expression in the voice that time, and there could be no doubt that the pause had been intentional. Regina was losing her patience.
"Cronus," she said.
"You heard me correctly," the voice said. It was less Western Union-like all the time.
"And who the hell," she said, "is Cronus?"
But even if she'd been expecting an answer, she wasn't going to get one. The owner of the voice had hung up before she'd even gotten to "hell."CHAPTER 2
The people may have come to the child's funeral to mourn, but they stayed to gossip. Petra Hudson had good ears, better ears than the gossipers thought she did. They kept choking off their sentences or lowering their voices a split second too late. Petra heard the fragments of insult and insinuation all the way from the gravesite to the car.
"... her 'driver.' Too democratic to say 'chauffeur' ..." This with a finger pointed through the crook of an elbow at Wes Charles, who held his cap in one gloved hand and his employer's elbow in the other, helping her over the muddy spots.
"... sleeping with him?" another voice said.
"... never needed a driver before this year. Drove herself. Said she liked it that ..." Petra recognized that last voice, one of the photo editors on Worldwatch. She was ready to whirl on the man and fire him on the spot, but that would have been madness. A child had just been laid to rest here, an infant. A young mother was facing the greatest grief imaginable. This was no time to make a scene.
And, she decided, there never would be a good time to fire the man. Not for gossiping about her, at least. It was, she reminded herself, a free country, and this was part of the price you paid for being the boss.
They reached the car. Charles let go of her elbow and attended to the door. Petra Hudson sat on soft white leather and let her breath go with an undignified whoosh. She unpinned the hat and shook her hair loose, thick black hair that halfway through her fifties needed no touch-ups. Which was something else they gossiped about.
When journalists wrote about Petra Hudson (and they frequently did, the only thing journalists like to write about more than crooked politicians being other journalists), two words never failed to appear—statuesque and handsome. She had no complaints, even when they managed to work in the information that the late James Hudson, Sr., had been a mere five feet five inches tall. As if there were something perverted about a small man marrying a large woman.
To hell with them. James might have been attracted to her because she was big. She had, in fact, counted on that before she ever met him. But anyone who thought that was what their marriage was based on was pathetically wrong.
James Hudson had a small body, a moderate amount of capital, and a genius for the communications business. He took joy in it, and he shared every bit of that joy with his wife, so much so that when he died, she was able to take over and to build on his plans without missing a beat. Her happiness in the growth of the Hudson Group was doubled by the knowledge that she was carrying on for the man who'd changed her life.
Had changed her life so profoundly, in fact, that until late February of this year, she had almost managed to put her old life from her memory.
In February there had been a letter for her that reminded her of what her life had been before. That same day, she had the new security system put in at her home. She began to pressure her daughter subtly, relentlessly, but so far unsuccessfully, to give up her apartment in town and move back home. From the security company, she got the name of a very special employment agency, and they sent Weston Charles.
Charles was an excellent driver—actually better than excellent, since he was a master of antiattack maneuvers. The employment agency had insisted on bringing her out to some deserted roads and having Charles demonstrate his skills. That, Petra was grateful, had been the only time he'd needed to use those particular skills, or his black-belt karate skills, or his world-class pistol marksmanship.
With all that it was an undeserved bonus that he was such a nice man. He was polite without being subservient. Both her children liked him, and he them, and the dogs adored him. He was well educated and well spoken, and he had a sense of humor. He could even, in a pinch, cook. She wouldn't go so far as to say that finding someone like Charles had made facing the threat worthwhile—nothing could do that. But he did make things easier to face.
Charles blotted out a large percentage of the October sunlight as he got into the car. He was large enough to make the statuesque Petra Hudson seem petite. He had short, wavy blond hair and a florid complexion. He wasn't handsome, but he had a nice smile. He never talked about himself, which was, of course, the quickest way to get anybody remotely connected with journalism fascinated with you. Aside from his name, age (forty), and previous employer (a European businessman who'd died of natural causes), Petra knew nothing about him. Except she liked him as a person and valued him as an employee.
"Back to the office, Mrs. Hudson?" Charles asked.
"Yes, Charles. Regina's watching the office for me." She tried to keep her irritation at her daughter's refusal to come to the funeral from her voice.
"Very good, Mrs. Hudson."
Petra Hudson opened a compartment and brought out a pile of computer printout, circulation reports from around the chain. There was a whole group of papers in eastern Kansas that wasn't earning as well as it should, and she was going to find out why.
But not now. She looked at the neat figures on the neat little stripes of pale green and paler green, and all she could see was the senseless death of a little baby. Nothing she told herself about journalistic toughness, or about being a "good soldier" (one of her husband's favorite phrases), could get her mind off the tears and the sobbing from little Clara Bloyd's mother and grandmother. Petra Hudson would have cried with them, but no one would allow her to be the kind of woman who wept. No one would believe it.
Instead, she had to be the kind of woman who patted arms and said calm, soothing words, insisted she be notified if there was anything she could do.
The kind of woman so smooth and in control that strangers had to wonder what (or who) she spent her passion on.
"I'm sorry, Charles," she said.
"About what, Mrs. Hudson?"
"You must have heard. As we were leaving."
"Oh, that. Don't concern yourself. At least on my account. There's always talk like that."
"Really?" Petra was interested. This concerned her, and the part of her brain that was always working suggested that there might be a back-of-the-book article for the magazine in the life of someone like Charles.
"Yes, ma'am," Charles said. "Apparently, so many people can drive cars, they can't conceive of someone doing it for a living, so a driver is always sized up for what other services he might be providing."
"Like body guarding."
"Most people's imaginations run to other things. Even when the employer is so old the idea approaches science fiction."
"That must be embarrassing."
"You get used to it. Not that you have to."
"Have to what?"
"Get used to it. I can make people stop if you'd like. At least in your hearing."
"No, Charles. That would make people believe it, wouldn't it?"
The driver chuckled. "I doubt it, ma'am. Lovely, successful woman like you could do a lot better than a beat-up old bodyguard."
Petra Hudson smiled for the first time all day. She was still smiling when she walked into the office.
"Hello, Regina," she said.
"Hello, Mother. Where's Jimmy?"
"He went off with Mr. Polacek from the hospital. Something about a blood analysis machine or something. Any messages?"
"Yes," Regina said, and scowled.
"What's the matter, trouble with the computers again?"
Regina shook her head, picked up a sheet of paper from the desk, and handed it to her mother as the older woman stepped around to reclaim her seat.
She slipped on her glasses and read the words Regina had taken down.
She went numb. It had to be wrong. Cronus. She read the note again.
"Cronus," she whispered.
"Mom? What's wrong? You're white as a glass of milk. Mother?"
Petra Hudson didn't answer. Couldn't. Her last thought before she fainted was that she was glad she'd sat down before she read the note.
Excerpted from Azrael by William L. DeAndrea. Copyright © 1987 William L. DeAndrea. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.