It’s January, 1778, and William Davis is standing guard for the Continental Army at Valley Forge when he witnesses something sickening: an American selling intelligence to the British. The meeting goes wrong, three men die, and William flees the scene, leaving a swatch of his uniform behind. The next day he’s arrested, tried, and executed for treason as part of a monstrous cover-up to protect the identity of the officer who tried to sell out the American Revolution: General George Washington himself. Two centuries later, a descendent of Davis finds evidence of Washington’s betrayal. Before he can announce his findings, he’s murdered by KGB agents hoping to use the information to embarrass the United States. But the crucial document vanishes, and the only man who can secure it is Nat Underhill, a Harvard professor who truly must publish or perish.
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About the Author
Thomas Gifford (1937–2000) was a bestselling author of thriller novels. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, he moved to Minnesota after graduating from Harvard. After eight years as a traveling textbook salesman, he wrote Benchwarmer Bob (1974), a biography of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Bob Lurtsema. The Wind Chill Factor (1975), a novel about dark dealings among ex-Nazis, introduced John Cooper, a character Gifford would revisit in The First Sacrifice (1994). The Wind Chill Factor was one of several books Gifford set in and around Minneapolis. Gifford won an Edgar Award nomination for The Cavanaugh Quest (1976). The Glendower Legacy (1978), a story about an academic who discovers that George Washington may have been a British spy, was adapted for the film Dirty Tricks (1981), starring Elliott Gould. In the 1980s Gifford wrote suspense novels under the pen names Thomas Maxwell and Dana Clarins. In 1996 he moved back to Dubuque to renovate his childhood home. He died of cancer in 2000.
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The Glendower Legacy
By Thomas Gifford
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Thomas Gifford
All rights reserved.
Bucharest: December 1973
Nat Underhill had never really expected to see Bucharest again, not after fifty years, but here he was pushing eighty and there was the old city below his hotel window, dusted with a dry snowfall that blew like smoke in the grayness of late afternoon. No, he still couldn't quite believe it, that he'd lived to see Bucharest again. He lit his old black pipe, tasted the Louisburg Square mixture he'd smoked for years, heaved a mighty sigh of relief and satisfaction, snapped his braces, and let his mind wander toward the past, beyond his reflection in the streaked pane of glass.
Night was falling sharply, like a shade being yanked down for privacy, and it could have been the city of half a century before. He'd been a student at the time, researching Transylvanian history, and he'd fallen in love with Bucharest, the night life of the cafes, dining at midnight, the almost Spanish feeling of the city without the implied cruelty he'd found in Spain. But, in fact, it wasn't entirely the city which had smitten him, but a fetching Romanian girl with well-to-do and vaguely aristocratic parents. The war and the Russians had erased them like irrelevant markings on a blackboard, leaving Nat Underhill with something approaching a broken heart, one of life's loose ends which seems so important at the time.
But the war had replaced the girl in his thoughts. He had been stationed in London where there were, however, a good many other Romanians. They'd all made pledges to see one another when it was all over, when—as Vera Lynn sang—the world was free. But, of course, they never did. History had never been kind to the Romanians, and the post-World War II era had been no different from any other. Boston and Bucharest seemed hardly to be points on the same planet.
In time, things changed. In the course of his various historical researches he had discovered the world of books, letters, journals, documents, and diaries. Not so much the reading of them—although he read them, too—but the buying, selling, and collecting of them. Coincidence worked its way with his life, and fifty years later two specific events had conspired to bring him back to Bucharest for a bittersweet farewell.
First, there had been the announcement of the convention of antiquarians set for the Christmas holidays in Bucharest—certainly an example of Romania's reaching out toward the West. But he'd needed an excuse to attend; simply seeing the city again was not enough for his frugal New England soul.
Then the Davis boy had come to see him in his elegant, cluttered little shop, tucked away on Beacon Hill literally within a stone's throw of the State House. Bill Davis was a Harvard student, stringy long hair, gold wire-rimmed spectacles, not at all designed to appeal to Nat Underhill's Brooks Brothers aplomb. However, hideously scruffy appearance notwithstanding, the Davis boy had come bearing so incredible a piece of paper that Nat Underhill had required a chair and an immediate fresh-brewed cup of English Breakfast tea.
Was it genuine, the boy had wanted to know. Was there any way to be sure?
As to the document's age, yes, of course there were ways to authenticate it. As to the validity of the contents—historically speaking—that was something else again, falling within the purview of the trained historian and the handwriting analyst. But there had been a feeling in his stuffy little office that morning, a feeling wholly unlike anything else his profession had ever produced. His heart had beaten oddly. His dry wrinkled hands had shaken when he touched the document itself. His mouth had dried up. In all of the years he'd spent in the company of antique bits of paper he'd never seen anything to match it. Never ...
Having urged the lad to put the prize in a safe deposit box after showing it to his most trusted professor—and Harvard's Colin Chandler was preeminent in the field—Nat settled back in his creaking swivel chair and watched the late autumn wind whipping at the politicians who seemed to spend their days hurrying back and forth past his office window conducting the affairs of the Commonwealth. As of that moment, Bucharest was a most reasonable destination. Such a document, dating from the winter of 1778, was almost beyond simple monetary value ... but one would be required to set a figure. But even its very existence would create a storm of interest and debate. And even more than that there was the satisfaction to be derived, the opportunity to place a capstone on his career. That was beyond valuation of any kind. He would now become a footnote in the history books—no, considerably more than that. He smiled. Puffing a pipe, smoke swirling around his head, he arranged for his flight to Basel and the train accommodations thereafter, as well as the reservation at the Athénée-Palace in Bucharest.
Nat had debated when to unveil his spectacular find: he wanted it to be cast in the proper setting, a climax to the week. Europeans were not easy to impress when it came to historical documents, their own histories being so much lengthier and therefore richer than Nat Underhill's. But they were knowledgeable, they knew American history, and the photocopy of the document he had in his possession would astound them, even if it wasn't a thousand years old. It was the sort of thing men in their profession dreamed about, more often than not went a lifetime without ever once finding—the document he was thinking of himself as agent for wasn't simply a nice, bold reinforcement of history ... this one changed history!
The final night of his stay in Bucharest was obviously the time. He arranged for a group of his old friends to dine as his guests at a warm, dark, odiferous cellar restaurant he remembered unchanged from the thirties. There were six of them, as well as a young Romanian called Grigorescu who had ingratiated himself with the older men during the weeks, acting as an informal guide to the new Bucharest. Grigorescu was not yet thirty, full-faced, pale, always seeming somewhat overheated in his sweater and a suitcoat straining its seams. His complexion tended to pastiness with deep-set, cavernously shadowed eyes: he reminded Nat Underhill of certain blind men. But he was quiet, helpful, nervous, anxious to please and gather in the wisdom of the elderly westerners.
Crowded around a large corner table, shoulder to shoulder and made especially convivial by the heat and the rich Romanian red wines, they smoked and relived the past and ate plates of mamaliga and the tiny skewered meatballs called mititei and sausage and steak and the sour soup and devastatingly heavy casserole, leaned back exhausted with fruit and cheese and tzuica. They toasted Nat Underhill, teasing him about his advanced age though three of them were past seventy themselves. Grigorescu smiled shyly, perspired, wiped his forehead, listened, interpreted specifics with the waiter. Finally they lit their pipes and cigars and Nat Underhill looked around at their faces. Then he withdrew a plain envelope from his pocket and tapped it on the wine-stained tablecloth. The candles had burned low, wax melting in ornate patterns, dripping.
"Gentlemen," Nat Underhill said, "I have a story to tell you ... An example of the sort of wonders lurking around each corner in our line of work. You never know, Grigorescu, what may happen tomorrow. You are just beginning ... and I am nearing the end, but Fate can take any one of us by the hand at any time." The fat young man nodded solemnly. "Less than a month ago Fate brought me the most remarkable document of my life ..." He waved the envelope slowly before him, like a conjurer about to produce a rabbit from someone's ear. "It came out of the blue ... and it will force a rewriting of the history of the American revolutionary war! Nothing less ... and you know me, I have never been given to hyperbole. Let me explain ..."
When he was done with the story he passed the photocopy around the table. He recognized true admiration in their faces: such men didn't show it often and when they did there wasn't a doubt. He smiled watching them. This was the payoff, the closest any antiquarian could come to a Nobel: the sincere, unspoken praise of his fellows.
They said their farewells in the grand lobby of the Athénée-Palace. Nat was checking out early in the morning. Some of his colleagues he'd be seeing in New York come spring, others—most particularly young Grigorescu—he would surely never see again. He slapped the Romanian on the back, shook his moist hand repeatedly, and tottered off to bed. Nat Underhill had never, all things considered, been happier than that winter night in Bucharest with the wind rattling the windows of his bedchamber and the radiators banging.CHAPTER 2
Moscow: February 1976
Maxim Petrov, director of the Komitet Gossudarstvennoi Bezopastnosti, arrived for work in a good mood. The carburetor problem on his black Zil limousine, a car worth seventy-five thousand dollars which he felt justified in thinking should work regardless of the temperature outdoors, had at last been solved. His chauffeur was for once in a halfway decent mood, and his wife had been in an excellent frame of mind. She was going shopping at No. 2 Granovsky, The Bureau of Passes, where she had promised to pick him up a case of Courvoisier cognac and a new Louis Vuitton date-book. They were—all three of them—rested and fit, having spent a long weekend at the dacha forty miles from Moscow before returning late Sunday evening.
Though Moscow was in the grip of a winter somewhat more ghastly than usual, Petrov's mind was elsewhere. It was the same every year at this time and the Americans were to blame. He whistled "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" as he entered his private office with its snowbound view of Red Square. The New York Times was folded on his desk, alongside The Sporting News. As director of the KGB there were very few people to whom he had to answer; none of them knew about The Sporting News.
Continuing to whistle he sat down behind his newish, antiseptic, glass-covered desk, took a sip of hot coffee from a cardboard cup, and nipped the Times open to the sports section. His mind was far from Moscow ... in places like St. Petersburg, Orlando, Vero Beach, Tampa. Spring training was under way, the pitchers and catchers and rookies were in camp already. God, how long since he'd seen a ball game! He could close his eyes and watch the ball soaring against the blue Caribbean sky as the crack of the bat lingered like a gunshot trapped in a canyon.
Baseball. It had all begun in the thirties when he'd been at Harvard and continued in New York when he'd worked toward his doctorate at Columbia. The Red Sox at tiny Fenway Park, later the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers ... the Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field. A ball game every day his studies or teaching assignments allowed. Baseball was the real reason he was so fond of Fidel, personally fond; the man had played the game, knew what it was all about.
Petrov had no illusions about himself: he was a relatively lazy bureaucrat whose primary efforts had been aimed all along at preserving his job rather than at carrying off great espionage coups. He had come to intelligence work, both internal and external, during World War II, thereby avoiding as much of the unpleasantness in the West with the Germans as was possible. Beria had liked him, had mistakenly thought he was loyal and uninspired and no threat. In fact, Petrov thought Beria a beast and helped engineer his downfall. On the whole, he found the entire espionage establishment, East and West, a very dim business at the best of times. He had watched with detached amusement as it had grown exponentially, increasing its inefficiency in direct ratio to its size. After all, it was impossible to keep secrets of any kind if the other side really wanted to find out.
In half the countries of the world the spies were falling all over each other. Singularly unimportant and frequently undesirable little men were getting killed in the course of one intelligence agency or another justifying its own existence. Yet the spy himself was outdated; in his place, the technicians and the clerks—the fellows with the high-sensitivity microphones and the long-distance cameras, the scientists who fired the satellites into place overhead, the fellows who read and clipped the newspapers—the boring people with safe, sane, secure jobs were the spies who mattered. The responsibilities of the KGB were so vast that he occasionally wondered how anyone imagined they got it all done, even with the half million employees ... Which was the more difficult task, he'd asked himself, keeping our citizens inside the borders or keeping an eye peeled on the rest of the world? Maintaining surveillance of the forty-two thousand miles of Soviet borders was, for one example, an absurd responsibility on the face of it. Well, at least they no longer had to keep track of the nuclear warheads ...
He sighed, glanced out the wide thermal-pane window at the ridiculous line of people, thousands of them, snaking across the Square, half obscured by snow which seemed to hang from the low gray clouds like a curtain. Every day the line was there, the KGB lads keeping them quiet and orderly and frisking them for bombs. He winced at the thought: some nut blowing Lenin and his tomb to pieces ... Talk about a public relations problem! The unnerving thing was, the friskers found a bomb of one kind or another about once a month. On the other hand, Petrov supposed that a maniac's exploding device might be the only way he'd ever find out for sure if it really was Lenin or a wax figure ... It looked like wax but you never knew. And he'd never had the nerve to come right out and ask anyone who might know.
He finished Red Smith's column and folded the paper back to the entertainment section. He was dying to see A Chorus Line, thought for a moment of taking up the possibility of an exchange program with the snotty bastards in Cultural Affairs. He sipped the coffee which was growing cold and beginning to taste of cardboard. It was Monday morning. He frowned at his gold Rolex. Fifteen minutes yet.
It was a boring age and the Monday morning meetings added immeasurably to his boredom. His mind wandered back to spring training. Arden Sanger, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was a good friend but he could take baseball or leave it, a state of mind Petrov deplored. They did occasionally correspond during the football season since Arden was, predictably, an enthusiastic fan of the Washington Redskins. Like old jocks the world over, they did not shrink from the occasional practical jokes. It fit their natures.
As Petrov walked down the hallway to his meeting, he wondered what new absurdities would come flickering his way like hot smashes to third: that's what he felt like as he approached the large conference room, an old third-sacker whose ultimate responsibility was to get in front of those hot smashes down the line like Red Rolfe at Yankee Stadium so long ago. Well, God help Mother Russia if one ever got past him.
Petrov tried at all times, and usually with considerable success, to keep his sense of history, perspective, and humor intact and on call. But the Monday morning staff meetings were his severest tests. Dull, very serious men each bearing a crumb and the earnest hope of an approving glance or word from Petrov himself. He tried to pass his approval around evenhandedly, tried to present a solid, interested visage upon which they might gaze admiringly for a few hours and from which they might draw some strength. But it was just plain murder as they used to say in Brooklyn, no other word for it.
Midway into the third hour a case officer caught his attention with a report from a fieldman in Bucharest called Grigorescu.
"I search my brain," Petrov said, rolling a very ripe cigar between his broad spatulate fingertips, "and I find nothing about this Grigorescu."
"No, no, Comrade Director, you would have no reason—he's a new man, very junior. Very, very junior, actually."
"God, are things really so slow these days?" He glanced at the severe face of the man scribbling in a shorthand book. "No, secretary, if you'd be so kind as to strike that ... Thank you. Now, comrade, what has this infant Grigorescu to tell us?"
The bald, portly man in a brown suit pursed his plump lips and waved a forefinger before his face like a metronome. "Allow me, please, to preface my remarks with a comment on this report—the fact is, Comrade Director, it strikes me as exceedingly unlikely that you'll believe a word of it—"
"You find that unusual?" Petrov smiled against his better judgment. "You suppose I believe this kind of thing? Ever?" He was the only man in the room smiling. "No," he said to the secretary, "no, you don't need to record that. Now, Rogoshin, go on with your unlikely tale. And allow me to correct myself. The fact is, I find myself willing to believe almost anything these days. Say on ..."
Excerpted from The Glendower Legacy by Thomas Gifford. Copyright © 1978 Thomas Gifford. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Bucharest: December 1975,
Moscow: February 1976,
Boston: March 1976,