Prince Bhadur Khan of the remote, but strategically located, Indian satrapy of Balrampur is an inbred and crazed killer with two fetishes: He has an obsession with military discipline and exotic military hardware and he is just as aroused by man flesh as by his revolving succession of wives. Regardless, the prince has become the linchpin of maintaining U.S. interests in the region. There is enough complex and volatile political and sexual intrigue going on in the court of Balrampur to make Machiavelli’s head spin. The United States has become embroiled in the Balrampur court’s machinations and is heavily committed to keeping the prince happy because Balrampur plays host to a secret U.S. photoreconnaissance jet operation keeping tabs on events stretching from the Near East to Southeast Asia.
Into the center of the palace’s den of scheming snakes is thrust *oung CIA Candy Store unit agent Craig Townsend. Craig possesses the combined needed attributes of being a jet pilot and just the sort of man who revs the Indian prince’s engines . . . and this is precisely what *oung Townsend is assigned to do for the interests of U.S. intelligence.
The palace plots thicken and become more dangerous and volatile by the hour as Craig Townsend is called upon to serve more plots and desires in the palace than he can count, let alone keep in balance. Then a new and unavoidably present threat of terrorism and treachery from within descends on Balrampur and the American contingent there.
When I had been called into Sam Winterberry’s office in Langley and he’d told me I was flying a Fairchild Magnus, a follow-on from the Fairchild Merlin photorecon plane, into Sravasti, India, my initial responses were “Where the fuck is that? I’ve never heard of such a place” and “I’m no longer in the photorecon business. What’s the angle?”
“I’m glad you haven’t heard of Sravasti, Craig. Our operation there is one of our best-kept secrets and we like it to stay that way. It’s the capital of a small Indian state called Balrampur, near the Nepal border. We have a consulate there. But what the consulate really is fully composed of is a CIA station.”
“A consulate? Or even a station. Why would we need either there?”
“For the same reason we need you to fly one of the new Fairchild Magnuses there. We have a secret home strip there for photoreconnaissance over several high-profile target areas there. So we take a great interest in Balrampur.”
“But why me? Doesn’t the Agency have any other jet jockey available to go there? I haven’t even checked out on the Magnus. That has come in since my time in that field.”
“For us to stay in Balrampur, we must keep the local potentate in our pocket. In this case, the local potentate is the Badshah of Shwetambar, and as far as we know, he might be dead. His people—meaning one person, really, his closest adviser—haven’t let us at him for months, and he’s old and feeble—and there has been a rumor of a bad heart for some years. We even have intell claiming his wife is slowly poisoning him. She’s from a rival family for ascendance in Balrampur. She forced her *on, the Rawal, to marry her *iece last year—which led to the Rawal ending all communication with his mother.”
“And you want me to revive him—this Badshah?” I had meant it as a joke, but there wasn’t much humor in Sam Winterberry and I certainly hadn’t drawn any out of him now. “Well, this does bring us to the reason why we are sending you in with the Magnus. You are the only one cross trained in what we need there at this moment.”
“Ah, who needs to be ****ed then?” I asked. If we weren’t going to have a mirth fest, I thought we might as well get down to brass tacks.
“The Badshah’s son is a man of wide tastes. He’s also been very hard to handle. He may stand in our path, though, as soon as there is a change of rulers in Balrampur. He needs to be handled. And so do any of the advisers around the Badshah and Rawal, as necessary. The primary ones all have the taste for it, we understand—in the dominant position.”
“Ah,” I had said. And that was my assignment.