"What would be a hero's death?" asked Theodora. "A vindicating death?"

"He must be shot, killed, publicly and conspicuously, by an Englishman who can be proved to have been working for the SIS. Simple logic-if we considered him worth killing, obviously he must have been a Soviet hero."

Theodora laughed incredulously. "My dear boy, do you have any conception of the havoc that would cause? Consider the abuse the United States endured when one of their mere U-2 spy planes was shot down over Russia four years ago! It would not start World War III, I suppose, but we would lose all credibility worldwide-the present Conservative government would collapse, we'd have Harold Wilson and the Labour Party in charge!"

"Haven't you got-I seem to recall-ears, in Number 10 Downing Street? How likely is it that this Conservative government will survive the year in any case? The Profumo scandal drove Macmillan out last year-how long do you think Douglas-Home can hold the Conservative reins?"

"Until a general election, in October," Theodora said glumly. "And then, yes, I do happen to know that we'll have Harold Wilson for Prime Minister. And I have similarly good reason to believe that Wilson will not…expand the scope of the secret services."

"Then it's now or never," said Hale. "The Conservatives may as well have some decisive reason for going out, don't you think?-not just the declining pound and rising interest rates."

Theodora was nodding, squinting out across the newly green spring lawns. "It's impossible, my boy. You'd need a real SIS purpose in going to Moscow, a plausible cover story for Whitehall, and you could never sell the Foreign Office on any particle of what you've told me."

"What would be a plausible cover story to sell to the Foreign Office?"

"Well! Just for the sake of argument-something fairly low-key, routine administration type of thing." Theodora swiveled on his heels, crushing the thyme. "The KGB resident in London, Nikolai Grigoryevich Begrichev, has been increasing the size of the residency outrageously; and all these Tass representatives and cultural counselors are servicing the Soviet trade delegations and the Soviet students at our universities, all of them active agents-MI5's mobile surveillance operations are already completely compromised. And it's likely to go on escalating. And the Foreign Secretary knows that a Labour government will only be interested in appeasement, not any saber-rattling. And our embassy in Moscow is simply a KGB snuggery-we are required to hire all the maids, janitors, chauffeurs, even translators, from the Moscow Burobin employment agency, which is simply a branch of the KGB Second Chief Directorate, the counter-intelligence directorate. If the SIS could get some evidence of Burobin treachery, it would serve as an excuse for Douglas-Home to expel a good number of the Soviet Embassy staff in London. It would arguably be the last chance to do that."

"Most natural thing in the world, then, for the SIS to send an agent to Moscow under journalistic cover. An old wartime leftover agent; experienced but ulitmately unreliable, as it will turn out."

Theodora revolved on the sundial, staring blankly at the lawns and high walls of Batsford House, as he estimated the flurry of decipher-yourself telegrams that would erupt from the Moscow embassy after Philby's assassination-and then the international headlines, the outraged statements by Khrushchev, and then by Douglas-Home. Lyndon Johnson would weigh in with denunciations, McCone would scramble to distance the CIA from the lunatic British secret services.

But two or three years from now, he thought, the Soviet Union would stop being a Union. The gross, artificially maintained flower of Communism would lose its hothouse protection, and it would wither in the unhindered winds of the world, and brash young weeds would spring up from the fallow Russian ground and choke it.

"You'd have to find your own gun," he said at last. " Whitehall could not possibly provide you with the gun."

Hale kept his face expressionless and simply nodded, but he felt the tension of the last thirty hours relax out of his shoulders. "I can find my own gun."

"I gather you don't intend to be caught, but you do intend to be identified, as a British SIS agent. Do you seriously think a retirement identity for you in the United Kingdom is a question that need occupy me?"

"I'll make my way back across the Channel," said Hale.

Theodora frowned, possibly with genuine concern. "You've got plenty of field experience, my boy, but you've never been on the wrong side of the Curtain. It's a whole other world. Moscow was Looking-Glass Land even when I was there with Lockhart and Reilly, back in the innocent days of 1918, when our great plan was to capture Lenin and Trotsky, and then pull off their trousers and parade them through the streets in their undershorts, to make laughingstocks of them." The old man smiled, showing the shape of his skull under the wrinkled, parchment skin. "We were MI1C in those days, and the Petrograd station chief vetoed our idea; but I still think that would have nipped the whole Communist enterprise in the bud."

"I'll nip it in the…sere and yellow leaf." Hale released the grip of the Seecamp.32 in Nigel's trouser pocket and stretched in the chilly spring morning breeze. From somewhere high up on the stone wall he could hear pigeons cooing, and the sound made him sleepy-he hadn't slept or eaten or changed his shirt for thirty hours, and above the spicy scent of crushed thyme he could smell his own old sweat. "Do keep in mind too that I'm the only one who can do this. If you establish the truth about me, then you won't ever be able to do the same for Philby, much as you might one day wish to. He's vulnerable to injury on his birthday, of course-but you know the Kremlin will keep him in a bomb-proof subterranean vault on that day, every year; and on any other day of the three-hundred-and-sixty-five, the only person who can get past his magical defenses to injure him is the one other person who also is him, at least according to the angels' silhouette-recognition cards."

"But they're all dead. The angels."

Hale stared at Theodora. "Jimmie. The ones on Ararat are all dead. With luck. But in Arabia, Egypt, India -no. China, even, probably."

"Oh. No, of course not, I do see. China. Hmm."

Watching the old man's sagging gray face now in the morning sunlight, Hale thought that in fact Theodora had not known that Declare had killed only one major colony, albeit probably the biggest colony in the world, of djinn. And for several seconds Hale didn't speak, but let Theodora arrive on his own at the conclusion that the destruction of the Soviet Union must stand as the major accomplishment of the old man's career. And don't forget the risk of cremation if you wait, Jimmie, Hale thought.

"I came across the Channel on a French cattle boat," Hale added finally, with some tension, "because I can't fly in an airplane over about ten thousand feet anymore. I learned that bit of data on an Air Liban flight out of Kuwait a month ago-the plane had to land in the gulf, off Bahrain, with half the fuselage ripped off. The spirits of the upper air are still up there in the Heaviside Layer, and they're aware of me when I get up that close to them; and they're-angry at me, still."

"Really." The old man was staring off across the lawns, nodding slowly. "That must have been exciting. You'll have to travel by boat, then, and overland by rail-but that will look good, actually, not at all the behavior of a modern spy."

He sighed heavily. "Yes, very well, I'll get you reactivated and assigned to Moscow, under journalistic cover, with orders to investigate the Burobin employment agency. Human interest angle, ostensibly, focus on the little people who keep the show rolling, as it were; hobbies, filthy ethnic foods, framed pictures of the old Bolshevik parents on the shabby apartment walls. There are still newspapers that will let us force a foreign correspondent on them. And then-I'll be as shocked as anyone else, if you do something crazy while you're in Moscow."

"And of course in the meantime," said Hale gently, "you'll make sure that any old verification orders concerning me are switched off."

"Oh, my dear, I'm sure there never was anything like that!" Was there an ironic glint in the old man's eye? "You insult me. But of course I will get on the telephone and explain your status. It might be best for you to stay here tonight, not try to go into the city. Right? We should certainly have you in Moscow by the middle of April, even at your slow rate of travel."

That will do, thought Hale. He allowed himself to sit down on the damp green grass.

He recalled a story in the Thousand Nights and One Night, in which a poor traveler had been hired by a jewel merchant to allow himself to be sewn into the skin of a freshly killed mule. When it had been done, an enormous eagle snatched up the dead mule with the traveler hidden inside and flew to an otherwise inaccessible mountain peak, and the bird flew away in surprise when the man climbed out of the carcass. He found that the mountain-top was littered with human and mule bones, but also that the stones lying about were all jewels; and, from the valley below, the jewel merchant was calling up to him to throw down as many of the gems as he could lift. The traveler obediently flung down more than two hundred fabulously valuable stones, but eventually he paused to rest and called down a question about the route he would have to take to get back down-and at that point the jewel merchant gathered the jewels scattered in the valley, packed up his own mule and departed without a backward look. The abandoned traveler had pressed onward up the mountain and eventually after many hardships found a green valley, where he met and fell in love with a daughter of the djinn. She had loved him too, and had taken him down the mountain and dwelt with him as a human woman for a year. At the end of the year she had flown away-and the grief-stricken traveler had found his way back to the city where he had started; the jewel merchant did not recognize him, and hired him again to be sewn into a fresh mule skin. And this time, after the eagle had carried the carcass to the mountain-top and taken flight after a living man crawled out of it, the traveler ignored the jewel merchant's cries from the valley and threw down no jewels, but set off at once for the remembered valley where he might once again find the daughter of the djinn.

"I'll impose on your hospitality for a bath," he said, "and some food and drink-and sleep."

And then, he thought, you can sew me up, Jimmie.

Theodora drove Hale to London two days later in his old Continental Bentley, but instead of crossing the river to Century House he proceeded to Artillery Mansions near Westminster Hall. London Station ran a department from Artillery Mansions known as DP4, which was in the business of inserting SIS agents into eastern Europe and Russia -students, businessmen, journalists; as a lowly DP4 operative, Hale would be beneath the notice of Dick White, who was still C.

Theodora's proposal was approved without objection by Dickie Franks, the DP4 chief, with routine authorization from the Foreign Office, and at the end of the week Andrew Hale boarded the Polish liner Topolewski. After three days at sea, with stops at Rotterdam and Copenhagen, Hale arrived at the Baltic Sea port of Danzig in northern Poland. His British passport identified him as Varnum Leonard, a non-staff foreign correspondent for the Evening Standard, and its pages were stamped with many visas from Eastern Bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic; and in the Brest railway station on April 8, the passport's last empty page was stamped with the red star of the U.S.S.R. visa.

Across the Soviet border now, he boarded a crowded train that took him over the course of several days through Minsk and Smolensk, and finally on the evening of Sunday the twelfth he watched through his sleeping compartment window as the outlying villages of Moscow, quaint snow-covered log cabins and narrow lanes animated with horse-drawn sleds, gave way to paved streets and new apartment buildings with television antennas on the roofs. It was full dark by the time his train squealed to a steaming halt in the Belorussia Station on the Leningrad Prospect, only a short Metro ride from the apartment which Intourist had assigned to him on the Sadovaya Samotechnaya ring road.

His apartment building proved to be an elegant Stalinist-baroque ghetto for Western journalists, insulated from surrounding buildings by high cement walls and a sentry box manned by KGB agents in police uniforms. During his first days there, he picked up from the other foreign correspondents the habit of referring to the broad avenue on which they lived as "Sad Sam." The term was just a two-syllable abbreviation to the Burobin Russian interpreters who generally accompanied the journalists out into the city, but for other Westerners it carried a flavor of good-humored desperation. The other correspondents always spoke of coming "into" or going "out of" the Soviet Union, never saying simply "to" or "from," and even the ones who were most at-home in Moscow, speaking the language and knowing where the bars were, were careful to schedule frequent trips back out to London, or New York, or Rome, or any other place where the standard drink was not "a hundred grams" of vodka, and where people didn't select a wine by its alcohol content, as in "give me something at 19 percent."

Hale quickly learned enough phrases in the Russian language to apologize and ask directions, and he began exploring the city without an interpreter-the Intourist and Novosti Press Agency authorities permitted this, since all press releases were censored and no photographers could be obtained except from Novosti.

Moscow within the Sadovaya ring was physically daunting-the streets and squares were vast, though automobile traffic was sparse, and it seemed to Hale in his first days that the industrial-Gothic architecture of the Stalinist skyscrapers, crowned with giant red stars that lit the night sky like the Devil's own landing-lights, were contrasted only by the medieval bastions and towers of the Kremlin wall and the new blocks of modernist pre-fabricated apartment buildings, which appeared to have been assembled with rust streaks and pock-marks already applied. Later he found the Bolshoi Theatre with its ornate Corinthian pillars, and the wrought-iron balconies and bridges and hanging lanterns of the vast GUM department store on Red Square, but these were forlorn remnants of the tsarist nineteenth century-like the palatial Gastronom 1 on Gorky Street, where grim-faced shoppers now waited in long lines to buy turnips and bottles of cheap red and blue syrups under the old gilt cherubs and chandeliers.