Assumed Identity


By David R. Morrell

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 7, 1993. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From the author of The Covenant of the Flame and The Fifth Profession. Brendan Buchanan is an undercover intelligence operative who has impersonated more than 200 people in the last eight years. But now his multi-personality occupation threatens to destroy him.






A Time Warner Company

ASSUMED IDENTITY. Copyright © 1993 by David Morrell. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

For information address Warner Books, Hachette Book Group, USA, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

  A Time Warner Company

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2417-0

A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1993 by Warner Books.

First eBook edition: May 2001

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"Morrell writes in a lucid and cinematic style, and his works can be read and re-read many times without losing suspense. ASSUMED IDENTITY is Morrell writing at the height of his powers. It not only thrills, but haunts one's memory for a very long time."

—Associated Press


"Another solid Morrell action thriller . . . satisfying . . . recommended."

Library Journal


"Prime Morrell, with the kind of nonstop action and intriguing plot twists we've come to expect from the author . . . impossible to put down . . . a must-read for anyone who enjoys a fine thriller."

West Coast Review of Books


"An exciting look into the shadowy world of military intelligence."

Detroit Free Press


"A classy thriller . . . taut and suspenseful."

Toledo Blade



"A ripsnorter that flows with force and invention."

Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)



"A thriller worthy of the name . . . David Morrell at the top of his form . . . offers abundant suspense and plenty of action."

Mansfield News Journal (OH)



"A thrill a minute. . . . The creator of Rambo has not lost his touch . . . with all the action of James Bond adventure and just a dash of John le Carré."

Publishers Weekly



"Fast paced . . . believable and frightening."

Rocky Mountain News



"The absolute master . . . the craftsman so many of us look to for guidance. . . . ASSUMED IDENTITY is one of the most skillful jobs I've ever experienced."

—Andrew Vachss



"Fast . . . vivid . . . solid entertainment."

New Smyrna Beach Observer (FL)



"Manages to mix successfully an intricate plot with exotic locales, a considerable amount of action, and solid characters."

Baltimore Sun



"What a terrific book! Characterization, plotting, structuring, pacing, all done to perfection."

—J.C. Pollock, author of Mission M.I.A.







First Blood (1972)

Testament (1975)*

Last Reveille (1977)*

The Totem (1979)

Blood Oath (1982)

The Hundred-Year Christmas (1983)*

The Brotherhood of the Rose (1984)

Rambo (First Blood Part II) (1985)

The Fraternity of the Stone (1985)

The League of Night and Fog (1987)

Rambo III (1988)

The Fifth Profession (1990)*

The Covenant of the Flame (1991)*

Desperate Measures (1994)

The Totem (Complete and Unaltered) (1994)*

Extreme Denial (1996)

Double Image (1998)

Black Evening (1999)

Burnt Sienna (2000)



John Barth: An Introduction (1976)

Fireflies (1988)













*Limited edition with illustrations. Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.



To Martin E. Wingate (d. 1986),

"the rock,"

a good friend and a special teacher



No mask like open truth to cover lies,

As to go naked is the best disguise.

—William Congreve

    The Double Dealer


And, after all, what is a lie?

'Tis but the truth in masquerade . . .

—Lord Byron

    Don Juan





MEXICO, 1562

Less than forty years after the Spanish conquerers arrived in the New World, the systematic extermination of the natives was well under way. Much of the genocide required no effort, inasmuch as diseases to which the Europeans had become accustomed—smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza, for example—did not exist in the New World and hence had a rapid effect on the natives, who had no immunity to them. Those who did not die from disease (perhaps as few as 10 percent of the original population survived) were beaten into submission and forced into slavery. Villages were destroyed, the inhabitants herded into labor camps. Every effort, especially torture, was used to compel the survivors to abandon their culture and convert to that of their European dominators.

In Mexico's southeastern extreme, the Yucatán Peninsula, a Franciscan missionary whose name was Diego de Landa reacted with shock to the evidence of snake worship and human sacrifice within the Mayan faith. Determined to eradicate these pagan barbarities, Landa organized the destruction of temples, statues, frescoes, any object with religious connotations—and in so doing, he not only separated the Maya from symbols of their beliefs but prevented modern historians from discovering the clues they needed to decipher the remaining hieroglyphs that described the lost ancient ways.

Landa's greatest triumph of destruction occurred at the village of Maní, where he exposed a secret library of Mayan books. These irreplaceable texts—bound like thin, small accordions and known as codices—"contained nothing in which there was not to be seen superstitions and lies of the devil," Landa reported to his superiors. "We burned them all."

We burned them all.

A present-day lover of antiquity exhales with despair at the self-righteous, narrow-minded confidence in those words. Book burners throughout time have shared Landa's purse-lipped, squinty-eyed, jut-jawed, absolute belief in his correctness. But Landa was deceived.

In several ways.

The codices contained historical and philosophical truths in addition to what Landa called lies.

And not all the codices were destroyed. Three of them—salvaged by Spaniards in charge of the burning and smuggled home to Europe as souvenirs—were eventually uncovered in private collections and recognized for their incalculable value.

Known as the Dresden Codex, the Codex Tro-Cortesianus, and the Codex Persianus, they are owned by libraries in Dresden, Madrid, and Paris. A fourth—known as the Grolier Codex and located in Mexico City—has been declared by one expert a fake and is currently under investigation.

But rumors persist that there is a fifth, that it is authentic, that it has more truths than any other, especially one truth, a crucial truth.

A modern observer wonders how Friar de Landa would react if he could be summoned from Hell and made to witness the bloodbath comparable in intensity, if not in magnitude, to the one Landa caused in the 1500s, the bloodbath that could have been avoided if Landa had never begun his inquisition or else if he had been the professional he claimed to be and had actually accomplished his hateful job. Maní, the name of the village where Landa found and destroyed the codices, is the Mayan word for "it is finished."

But it wasn't finished at all.



"Now I realize you all want to hear about human sacrifice," the professor said, allowing just the right mischievous glint in his eyes, signaling to his students that to study history didn't mean they had to suppress their sense of humor. Each time he taught this course—and he'd been doing so for thirty years—he always began with the same comment, and he always got the reaction he wanted, a collective chuckle, the students glancing at one another in approval and sitting more comfortably.

"Virgins having their hearts cut out," the professor continued, "or being thrown off cliffs into wells—that sort of thing." He gestured dismissively, as if he was so familiar with the details of human sacrifice that the subject bored him. Again his eyes glinted mischievously, and the students chuckled louder. His name was Stephen Mill. He was fifty-eight, short and slender, with receding gray hair, a thin salt-and-pepper mustache, square-framed, wire-rimmed bifocals, and a brown wool suit that gave off the scent of pipe smoke. Liked and respected by both colleagues and students, he was beginning the last seventy minutes of his life, and if it was any consolation, at least he would die doing what he most enjoyed, talking about his life's obsession.

"Actually, the Maya didn't have much interest in sacrificing virgins," Professor Mill added. "Most of the skeletons we've retrieved from the sacred wells—they're called cenotes, by the way; you might as well begin learning the proper terms—belong to males, and most of those had been children."

The students made faces of disgust.

"The Maya did cut out hearts, of course," Professor Mill said. "But that's the most boring part of the ritual."

Several students frowned and mouthed "boring?" to one another.

"What the Maya would do is capture an enemy, strip him, paint him blue, take him to the top of a pyramid, break his back but not kill him—not yet at least; the temporary objective was to paralyze him—then cut out his heart, and now he'd die, but not before the high priest was able to raise the victim's pulsing heart for everyone to see. The heart and the blood dripping from it were smeared onto the faces of gods carved into the walls at the top of the temple. It's been theorized that the high priest may also have consumed the heart. But this much we know for certain: The victim's corpse was subsequently hurled down the steps of the pyramid. There a priest cut off the victim's skin and danced in it. Those who'd witnessed the ceremony chopped the corpse into pieces and barbecued it."

The students swallowed uncomfortably, as if they felt sick.

"But we'll get to the dull stuff later in the term," Professor Mill said, and the students laughed again, this time with relief. "As you know, this is a multidiscipline course." He switched tones with expert ease, deepening his voice, abandoning his guise as an entertainer, becoming a lecturer. "Some of you are here from art history. Others are ethnologists and archaeologists. Our purpose is to examine Mayan hieroglyphics, to learn to read them, and to use the knowledge we obtain to reconstruct Mayan culture. Please turn to page seventy-nine of Charles Gallenkamp's Maya: The Riddle and Rediscovery of a Lost Civilization."

The students obeyed and immediately frowned at a bewildering diagram that looked like a totem pole with two descending columns of distorted, grimacing faces flanked by lines, dots, and squiggles. Someone groaned.

"Yes, I realize the challenge is daunting," Professor Mill said. "You're telling yourselves that you can't possibly learn to read that maze of apparently meaningless symbols. But I assure you, you will be able to read it and many others like it. You'll be able to put sounds to those glyphs, to read them as if they were sentences." He paused for dramatic effect, then straightened. "To speak the ancient Mayan language." He shook his head with wonder. "You understand now what I meant. Stories about human sacrifice are dull. This"—he pointed toward the hieroglyphs in Gallenkamp's book—"this is the true excitement." He directed a keen gaze toward each of his twenty students. "And since we have to start somewhere, let's start as we did when we were children, by making lines and dots. You'll note that many of the columns of glyphs—which depict a date, by the way—look like this." Grabbing a piece of chalk, Professor Mill drew hurried marks on the blackboard.



"Each dot has a value of one. A line—or what we call a bar—signifies five. Thus the first group I drew equals four, the second equals eight, the third is twelve, and the fourth . . . Well, why should I do all the talking?" Professor Mill drew his right index finger down his list of students. "Mr. Hogan, please tell me the value of . . ."

"Sixteen?" a tentative male voice responded.

"Excellent, Mr. Hogan. You see how easy it is? You're already learning to read Mayan symbols. But if you put all the numbers on those glyphs together, the date they depict wouldn't make any sense to you. Because the Maya used a different calendar than we do. Their calendar was almost as accurate as our own. It was also considerably more complicated. So, as our first step in understanding Mayan civilization, we'll have to understand their concept of time. For our next class, read chapters one and two in A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya by Linda Schele and David Friedel. Meanwhile, I'll summarize what you'll be reading."

And so Professor Mill continued, taking obvious delight in his subject matter. With less than twenty minutes remaining in his life, he was enjoying every second. He concluded the class with a joke that he always used at this point in the course, elicited another anticipated chuckle, answered a few questions from students who lingered, then packed his books, notes, syllabus, and list of students into his briefcase.

His office was a five-minute stroll from the classroom building. Professor Mill breathed deeply, with satisfaction, as he walked. It was a bright, clear, pleasant day. All in all, he felt splendid (less than fifteen minutes to live now), and his delight with how he'd performed in class was enhanced by his anticipation of what he would do next, of the appointment he'd made for after class, of the visitor he expected.

The office was in a drab brick building, but the bleak surroundings had no effect on Professor Mill's sense of well-being and eagerness. Indeed, he felt so full of energy that he passed students at the elevator and walked rapidly up the two flights of stairs to the dimly lit corridor halfway along which he had his office. After unlocking the door (ten minutes to go) and setting his briefcase on his desk, he turned to walk down to the faculty lounge but paused, then smiled when he saw his visitor appear at the open doorway.

"I was just going for some coffee," Professor Mill said. "Would you care for some?"

"Thanks but no." The visitor nodded in greeting and entered. "My stomach and coffee don't get along anymore. I have heartburn all the time. I think I'm developing an ulcer."

The visitor was a distinguished-looking man in his middle thirties. His neatly trimmed hair, custom-made white shirt, striped silk tie, hand-tailored double-breasted suit, and thin-soled calfskin shoes were in keeping with his occupation as a highly paid corporate executive.

"Ulcers come from stress. You'd better slow down." Professor Mill shook hands with him.

"Stress and speed are part of my job description. If I start worrying about my health, I'll find myself out of work." The visitor sat.

"You need a vacation."

"Soon. They keep promising me soon."

"So what have you got for me?" Professor Mill asked.

"More glyphs to be translated."

"How many?"

The visitor shrugged. "Five pages." He frowned as a group of students went by in the corridor. "I'd prefer to keep this confidential."

"Of course." Professor Mill got up, shut the door, and returned to his desk. "Mayan pages or contemporary pages?"

The visitor looked puzzled, then realized. "Right, I keep forgetting Mayan pages are bigger. No, contemporary pages. Eight-by-ten photographs. I assume the fee we negotiated the last time is still acceptable."

"Fifty thousand dollars? Very acceptable. As long as I'm not rushed," Professor Mill said.

"You won't be. You can have a month, the same as before. The same terms of payment—half now, half when you're finished. The same conditions pertain. You may not make copies of the pages. You may not reveal what you are doing or discuss your translation with anyone."

"Don't worry. I won't, and I haven't," Professor Mill said, "although there's nothing so interesting in the translation that anybody except you and me and your employer would care. No matter. You pay me so well that I'd be insane to break the terms of the agreement and jeopardize my future relationship with you. I have a sabbatical next year, and the money you've generously paid me will allow me to devote the entire year to studying the Hieroglyphic Stairway in the Mayan ruins at Copán in Honduras."

"It's too hot down there for me," the visitor said.

"When I'm at the ruins, I'm too excited to think about the weather. May I see the pages?"

"By all means." The visitor reached into an alligator-skin briefcase, pulling out a large manila envelope.

With less than a minute to live, Professor Mill took the envelope, opened it, and removed five photographs that showed numerous rows of hieroglyphs. He shifted books to the side of his desk and arranged the photographs so that the rows of glyphs were vertical.

"All part of the same text?"

"I have no idea," the visitor said. "All I was told was to make the delivery."

"They appear to be." Professor Mill picked up a magnifying glass and leaned close to the photographs, studying the details of the glyphs. Sweat beaded on his brow. He shook his head. "I shouldn't have run up those stairs."

"Excuse me?" the visitor asked.

"Nothing. Just talking to myself. Does it feel warm in here?"

"A little."

Professor Mill took off his suit coat and resumed his inspection of the photographs. Fifteen seconds to live. "Well, leave them with me, and . . ."


"I . . ."

"What?" the visitor asked.

"Don't feel so good. My hands . . ."

"What about them?"

"Numb," Professor Mill said. "My . . ."


"Face. Hot."

Professor Mill abruptly gasped, clutched his chest, stiffened, and slumped, sagging backward in his creaky swivel chair, his mouth open, his head drooping. He shivered and stopped moving.

The small office seemed to contract as the visitor stood. "Professor Mill?" He felt for a pulse at a wrist and then the neck. "Professor Mill?" He removed rubber gloves from his briefcase, put them on, then used his right hand to collect the photographs and slide them into the manila envelope, which he held steady with his left hand. Cautiously, he used the left hand to peel off the glove on his right hand, and vice versa, in each case making sure that he didn't touch any area that had touched the photographs. He dropped the gloves into another manila envelope, sealed it, and put both envelopes into his briefcase.

When the visitor opened the door, none of the students or faculty passing in the corridor paid much attention to him. An amateur might have walked away, but the visitor knew that excitement could prime memories, that someone would eventually remember seeing a well-dressed man come out of the office. He didn't want to create a mystery. He was well aware that the best deception was a version of the truth. So he walked rapidly to the secretary's office, entered it in distress, and told the secretary, "Hurry. Phone nine one one. Professor Mill. I was visiting . . . I think he just had a heart attack."



Despite his thirty-six-hour journey and his sixty-four years, Nicholas Petrovich Bartenev fidgeted with energy. He and his wife had flown from Leningrad—

Correction, he thought. St. Petersburg. Now that communism has collapsed, they've abolished Lenin.

—to Frankfurt to Dallas to here, by invitation of the new Guatemalan government, and indeed if it hadn't been for the Cold War's end, this journey would not have been possible. Guatemala had only recently, after forty years, resumed diplomatic relations with Russia, and the all-important Russian exit visas, which for so long had been impossible to obtain, had been issued with astonishing efficiency. For most of his life, Bartenev had one consuming dream—to travel to Guatemala, not because he was eager to leave Russia but rather because Guatemala obsessed him. But he'd persistently, repeatedly been denied permission, and all of a sudden it was merely a matter of filling out some government forms and coming back a few days later to get the necessary travel papers. Bartenev couldn't believe his good fortune. He feared that all of this would turn out to be a cruel hoax, that he'd be refused permission to enter Guatemala, that he'd be deported back to Russia.

The jet—a stretch 727 owned by American Airlines . . . American! For a Russian citizen to be a passenger on a jet labeled American would have been unthinkable not many years ago—descended through clouds, past mountains, toward a city sprawled in a valley. The time was 8:15 in the evening. Sunset cast a crimson glow across the valley. Guatemala City's lights gleamed. Bartenev gazed spellbound out his window, his heart pounding with the eagerness of a child.

Beside him, his wife clasped his hand. He turned to study her beautiful wrinkled face, and she didn't need to say anything to communicate the pleasure she felt because he would soon fulfill his dream. From the age of eighteen, from the first time he'd seen photographs of the Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala, he had felt an eerie identification with the now-almost-vanished people who had built them. He felt as if he had been there, as if he had been one of the Maya, as if his strength and sweat had helped erect the great pyramids and temples. And he had become fascinated with the hieroglyphs.

All these years later, without ever having set foot on a Mayan ruin, without ever having climbed a pyramid, without ever having stared face-to-face at the hook-nosed, high-cheeked, slope-browed visages of the Maya in the hieroglyphs, he was one of the top five Mayan epigraphers in the world (perhaps the top of the top, if he believed his wife's flattery), and soon—not tonight, of course, but tomorrow perhaps or certainly the day after—he'd have managed yet another flight, this one to a primitive airstrip, and have accomplished the difficult journey through the jungle to Tikal, to his life's preoccupation, to the center of his world, to the ruins.

To the hieroglyphs.

His heartbeat increased as the jet touched down. The sun was lower behind the western mountains. The darkness thickened, pierced by the glint of lights from the airport's terminal. Nervous with anticipation, Bartenev unbuckled his seat belt, picked up his briefcase, and followed his wife and other passengers along the aisle. A frustrating minute seemed to take much longer before the aircraft's hatch was opened. He squinted past the passengers ahead of him and saw the murky silhouettes of buildings. As he and his wife descended stairs to the airport's tarmac, he breathed the thin, dry, cool mountain air and felt his body tense with excitement.


On Sale
Sep 7, 1993
Page Count
469 pages

David R. Morrell

About the Author

David Morrell is an Edgar and Anthony Award finalist, a Nero and Macavity winner, and recipient of a prestigious career achievement: the ThrillerMaster award from the International Thriller Writers. He has written more than twenty-five works of fiction, which have been translated into thirty languages. He is also a former literature professor at the University of Iowa and received his PhD from Pennsylvania State University.

Learn more about this author