ONE moscow, the present tuesday, october 12 1:24 pm In fifteen seconds Miles Lord's life changed forever. He first saw the sedan. A dark blue Volvo station wagon, the tint so deep that it appeared black in the bright midday sun. He next noticed the front tires cutting right, weaving a path around traffic on busy Nikolskaya Prospekt. Then the rear window, reflective as a mirror, descended, and a distorted reflection of the surrounding buildings was replaced by a dark rectangle pierced by the barrel of a gun. Bullets exploded from the gun. He dived flat. Screams arose around him as he slammed onto the oily pavement. The sidewalk was packed with afternoon shoppers, tourists, and workers, all now lunging for cover as lead raked a trail across the weathered stone of Stalinist-era buildings. He rolled over and looked up at Artemy Bely, his lunch companion. He'd met the Russian two days back and taken him to be an amicable young lawyer with the Justice Ministry. Lawyer to lawyer they'd eaten dinner last night and breakfast this morning, talking of the new Russia and the great changes coming, both marveling at being part of history. His mouth opened to shout a warning, but before he could utter a sound Bely's chest erupted and blood and sinew splattered on the plate-glass window beyond. The automatic fire came with a constant rat-tat-tat that reminded him of old gangster movies. The plate glass gave way and jagged shards crashed to the sidewalk. Bely's body crumpled on top of him. A coppery stench rose from the gaping wounds. He shoved the lifeless Russian off, worried about the red tide soaking into his suit and dripping from his hands. He hardly knew Bely. Was he HIV-positive? The Volvo screeched to a stop. He looked to his left. Car doors popped open and two men sprang out, both armed with automatic weapons. They wore the blue-and-gray uniforms with red lapels of the militsyathe police. Neither, though, sported the regulation gray caps with red brim. The man from the front seat had the sloped forehead, bushy hair, and bulbous nose of a Cro-Magnon. The man who slid from the rear was stocky with a pockmarked face and dark, slicked-back hair. The man's right eye caught Lord's attention. The space between the pupil and eyebrow was wide, creating a noticeable droopas if one eye was closed, the other openand provided the only indication of emotion on an otherwise expressionless face. Droopy said to Cro-Magnon in Russian, "The damn chornye survived." Did he hear right? Chornye. The Russian equivalent for nigger. His was the only black face he'd seen since arriving in Moscow eight weeks ago, so he knew he had a problem. He recalled something from a Russian travel book he'd read a few months back. Anyone dark-skinned can expect to arouse a certain amount of curiosity. What an understatement. Cro-Magnon acknowledged the comment with a nod. The two men stood thirty yards away, and Lord wasn't about to wait around to find out what they wanted. He sprang to his feet and raced in the opposite direction. With a quick glance over his shoulder he saw the two calmly crouch and ready themselves to shoot. An intersection loomed ahead, and he leaped the remaining distance just as gunfire blasted from behind. Bullets strafed the stone, puffing cloud bursts into the chilly air. More people dived for cover. He sprang from the sidewalk and faced a tolkuchkistreet marketlining the curb as far as he could see. "Gunmen. Run," he screamed in Russian. A bobushka peddling dolls understood instantly and shuffled to a nearby doorway, jerking tight a scarf around her weathered face. Half a dozen children hawkinBerry, Steve is the author of 'Romanov Prophecy', published 2007 under ISBN 9780345504395 and ISBN 0345504399.