Lebedev and Novikov had entered the United States using false papers prepared for them by the KGB, taken from Finns captured and executed during the war. Their mission was simple: learn more about Dr. George Ashman, an engineer from Southern Michigan College.

His house was on the outskirts of a town called Hopewell, virtually abandoned since Ashman had no family or close kin. Distant relatives might arrive to divvy the belongings up at some point, but for now no one had realized that the old engineer had gone.

Lebedev let himself in through a back door using a lockpick while Novikov kept watch. The lock had apparently come with the old house; the KGB men could have opened the door with a hatpin. The house was in desperate condition, with boxes of files and technical drawings strewn everywhere. Entire rooms were abandoned to clutter. But when Novikov, who had trained as an engineer himself, examined the items, he shook his head.

“Junk,” he said. “Basic aerodynamic equations, and the books are all written for laymen.”

“Keep looking,” Lebedev said. “He was trying to find plans for military aircraft in Europe; men who do that do not trade in simple equations.”

Indeed, the KGB had found Dr. Ashman in Czechoslovakia, asking after parts and technical schematics for the Avia S-92, a version of the fearsome Nazi Me 262 fighter jet. He’d been going to various aircraft factories involved in advanced technical designs at the close of the Great Patriotic War and asking for whatever plans or drawings he could get his hands on. In the chaos of postwar Europe, he’d actually gotten much of what he asked for.

That’s why the KGB had picked him up in Let┼łany, why they’d shipped him to Moscow, and why they’d interrogated him with “enhanced methods” until he’d died. The stubborn Ashman had refused to say one word to them; that was why Lebedev and Novikov had been dispatched on their fact-finding mission.

“More junk,” groused Novikov, kicking over a tower of notes and popular aeronautical magazines. “And nothing to shed any light on why this stupid American was after airplane schematics.

Lebedev had just opened the door to a large windowed room on the house’s second floor when he paused. “I think I’ve found out why,” he said softly. When Novikov came closer, he threw the door wide.

A forest of model airplanes, skillfully built, hung from wires as afternoon light washed over them.

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