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Satan’s Touch is Ludlum spiced with Le Carré.

The story has fast-paced action, darkened by sinister logic.

The novel is a tale of malice and greed.

It isn’t easy to get inside CIA. The agency is famous, yet governed by compulsive secrecy. In this challenging environment, the author worked on covert projects giving him access to the hidden lives of Eastern European agents and powerbrokers within the KGB. He shared an office with a man who operated listening posts along the Berlin Wall, conducting electronic and photographic surveillance. These experiences inspired his spy thriller, which begins shortly after the Berlin Wall is torn down in the early 1990s.

 

In that era, Hungary needs to cultivate tourism and trade, cementing ties with the West. The country wants its capital, Budapest, seen as the Paris of Eastern Europe. Budapest’s idyllic image is damaged when a psychotic arsonist-killer strikes time and again, appearing unstoppable. World press gives this anonymous killer a name descriptive of his murders. They call him Satan’s Touch, for his ability to incinerate buildings with hellish flames. His targets seem chosen at random. Yet there is a cold, brutal logic to the crimes.

 

Satan’s Touch is the story of a man trained by the KGB and still having its power behind him. Driven by twisted obsessions, he’s determined to find something he was forced to abandon years ago. What’s he looking for? Who really is he? It’ll be difficult to answer those questions. Satan’s Touch destroys all clues to his search with fires so hot they melt concrete into glass. (His arsons are based on a series of unsolved burns, done by professional arsonists who’ve eluded Interpol and our FBI.)

 

Satan’s Touch made certain no one of consequence stands in his way. His only opponent is a broken ex-CIA operative, Alec Ryder, now working for Interpol. Alec Ryder is unprepared to face the brutality of Satan’s Touch. The ex-CIA agent has no crime lab, no staff, no worthwhile clues to find an arsonist who seems intent on destroying the Paris of Eastern Europe. Following the arsonist’s trail, Alec discovers the closer he gets to the truth, the more Ryder himself becomes a hunted animal. Alec Ryder is pursued by a force of destruction coming straight from the corrupt fabric of a dying KGB.

 

The novel is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of the villain and his pursuer. You hunt with Satan’s Touch in the past and Alec Ryder in the present – until the men collide in a stunning twist.

1

1990

The Berlin Wall has been torn down.

Germany will be reunited.

The Cold War is over, yet its legacy remains

in Budapest, Hungary.

 

 

Last night pleasured him, but it was only a taste. There was such eroticism in killing. A lifetime of planning had gone perfectly as that warehouse melted away, killing the firefighters. His KGB backer was pleased, and this was merely the beginning.

 

He sipped tea in a room at the Grand Hotel on Margaret Island and gazed at the twinkling lights of Budapest, pondering his next move. He liked to pace, but this room was too small. He couldn’t get the suite he really wanted, because it would’ve drawn attention, started rumors. But this one would do. It had a magnificent view, very inspiring to his thought processes.

 

He remembered the night his life was given real meaning, here in this hotel, decades ago. Hungary’s beaten Army was arriving home on ambulance trains. He’d never forget the smell at the railway depot of ointments and rotting human flesh.

 

Budapest’s mood was so somber that it came as a shock when he was asked to wait tables at a gala party. There were few young men available for catering an important occasion, you see. They made him feel inferior just by mentioning how few were left, so they had to take even him. Yet the pay was good and food could be stolen from the kitchen. A tuxedo would be supplied, as well as shined shoes. He was required to practice the night before, but he’d be paid for that as well. He must be prepared for his role.

 

They hadn’t prepared him for the splendor that would arrive at the Grand Hotel on Margaret Island, elegant men in top hats and women in furs with sparkling jewels in their hair, on their ears, around their necks and wrists. He’d never known such wealth existed in the world, much less under his nose. They were very gay. Obviously they’d been partying in small groups already, as a prelude to this gala. Their laughter sickened him.

 

He couldn’t help staring when one girl caught her dress getting out of a polished Daimler limousine and was forced to reveal a flash of thigh where hose met garter belt. She caught him gawking at her exposure, but wasn’t angry. She actually looked smug that he was touching her open thigh with his eyes. In a moment, she vanished like the rest of them into the swirl of another world, one where he was only a servant.

 

He caught snatches of her that night when he placed fine china or poured another glass of wine, but never did she return his intense look. It was as though he didn’t exist. He’d been there for one moment when she wanted affirmation of her power. He hated her. She was spoiled and had been given everything in life. Even the war hadn’t touched her.

 

The orchestra played a waltz and he carried a sterling silver tray with yet more champagne for the inebriated guests. He approached a little knot of bystanders that weren’t dancing. They parted to accept glasses for a toast and he found himself staring at her cleavage. He dragged his eyes slowly up her throat onto her lips. She examined him mockingly and he blushed. He was humiliated, furious with himself. He forgot to balance the tray. It tilted and glasses fell. She giggled and stabbed him with a condescending look. He picked up the mess and she dropped her glass on his tray. She gave him a disdainful glance, chose a partner and danced away.

 

The maître d’ scolded him. He would pay for the crystal from his wages. He knew the crystal was worth more than he’d earned, so all his work was for nothing. He wanted to cry, but he wouldn’t give them even more satisfaction.

 

Hours later, as dawn turned the Danube red, he watched the party break up. They no longer looked glittering, just dull, haggard. Where was she, this arrogant rich nymph? He waited for her to leave. He wanted her to feel his hatred.

 

He stopped looking and gave up. He must have missed her. In the kitchen, he changed clothes and hid as much meat as possible inside his folded jacket, carrying the garment under his arm rather than wearing it, even though there’d be a bitterly cold walk across the Danube. He didn’t bother waiting for payment. There’d be none. That was her fault.

 

For reasons he didn’t understand to this day, he wandered from the kitchen into a curious passageway leading him to the hotel’s opulent lobby. He began surveying the ornate coffered ceiling.

 

“Do you have permission for those sausages? They’ll fire you if you don’t, you know,” she teased. Her speech was slurred from champagne. The nymph sat alone, legs crossed, examining him with distant curiosity, as if trying to decide something.

 

He didn’t answer, just stared back, surprised at himself for not being more angry with her.

 

She broke away from his gaze and giggled at him. “Haven’t you ever seen a girl before? Why do you stare at me so?”

 

 “I haven’t seen you before. Where do you live?” This wasn’t what he thought he was going to say. His words tumbled out.

 

 “I live here, in the hotel, at least for a while. My father arranged it. He’s out of the country. When he sends for me, I’ll leave.”

 

He didn’t comment, just stroked her hair visually. His eyes came to a magnificent earring, a brilliant green stone circled by diamonds. “Is that a real emerald? I’ve never seen one before, only pictures.”

 

 “Oh, yes. The gems are real. Each earring holds a carat of diamonds, in platinum setting, with an emerald of unmatched beauty – or so the jeweler assured me. You really have the best jewelers in the world here.”

 

He was supposed to be impressed, so he looked bored and yawned.

 

“I’ll show you something else you’ve never seen before – if it isn’t past your bedtime.” She got up and looked bemused. The nymph walked past, turned around and hesitated to emphasize her offer. Then she continued across an empty lobby toward an elegant stairway. He followed, catching her on the second red-carpeted stair.

 

They stopped outside her suite and she posed a wicked look, slipping polished nails across a breast, sliding them beneath thin silk. She teased a room key from her breasts.

 

He whispered, showing his apprehension. “Where are your guardians?”

 

 “Asleep.” She tossed a hand carelessly across the hall in their direction. She mocked him again. “Don’t come inside if it frightens you.” Then she unlocked the door to a suite he’d wanted to book many years later. He took another sip of strong black tea.

 

Now he was following up on that night and all it led him to do for the rest of his life. He sank into a comfortable chair and savored thoughts of his next move. Success at the warehouse came from elaborate planning and careful execution. But killing the Budapest Fire Department’s arson investigator in the blaze was an unexpected bonus. Afterwards, he arranged for the investigation to be shifted to a washed out ex-CIA agent, Alec Ryder, working as a Hungarian Interpol Liaison. Ryder was another enjoyable piece of good luck. The KGB knew all about Ryder. He was a nobody going nowhere. He wouldn’t be a problem.

 

 

2

Fire

 

 

 

Alec Ryder stood on smooth discolored glass that had once been the concrete floor of a warehouse. Heat from the slab seeped through the thick leather soles of his shoes and made his feet sweat even a day after the fire stopped. The floor had been melted into a block-long scorched glass table top. Acrid stench burned his lungs. All he wanted to do was leave as fast as possible. He had to ask some questions for appearance sake. “Why do you think this is where they died?” Ryder shifted restlessly.

 

“The colors. Yellow for the helmet and boots, black for the coat. Here’s some reflective striping material, I think. But this is the conclusive proof.” The newly promoted Fire Captain poked at a large green disc stuck in the floor. He chipped away with his crowbar until he could pry the disc loose. Using a gloved hand, he turned it over to inspect the rounded bottom. A stamped manufacturer’s name and serial number were legible. “It’s the bottom of an oxygen tank. I found a lump that was probably the regulator a hundred yards away, blown there when the tank exploded.”

 

Ryder stared at twin graves, then looked away at short melted candles, all that was left of steel I-beams. A waxy, reddish-brown hedge only a few feet high had once been a twelve-foot brick wall. He mused aloud. “What burns like that?”

 

“Nothing burns that hot, Inspector, not even magnesium.” The firefighter kept alongside as they walked.

 

Alec stopped when he reached a blackened hulk at one end of the building. He examined a fire truck’s twisted remains. “You know this other Fire Captain. Was this a dumb mistake?”

 

“He trained me, Alec. He was a real pro. I want whoever did this. Find that bastard for me.”

 

“This was probably burn for the buck, an owner cashing in his insurance policy.” Ryder turned away from the young man’s intense stare and watched his own breath condense in the icy morning air.

 

The replacement Fire Captain looked down and scuffed at the concrete turned glass with his crowbar for a long minute. Finally, he jerked his head up and caught Ryder’s eyes. There was fear in his voice when he spoke. It was clear the man wasn’t used to being frightened. “I’m not just looking for revenge, Alec. This bastard will do more burns. How will we know we aren’t walking into a trap every time we get an alarm?”

 

“What makes you think this was a trap?” Alec stared into the man’s eyes. There was something about all this that made the skin crawl on Ryder’s neck.

 

“A night watchman called in the alarm. Said he saw suspicious activity that looked like arson. Thought he saw fire inside the building.”

 

“So?”

 

“There are no night watchmen in this neighborhood, Alec. The call came from a pay phone – and the timing was perfect. I think he was watching with glee the whole time. He’ll want a repeat performance.”

 

“You’re just tired and upset. I’ll find who owned this place and that’ll end it.” Alec patted the young man on the back reassuringly and swung into the patrol car. A knot in his guts told Alec Ryder that he was lying to the firefighter and to himself . . .