Chris Boyce was a California golden boy, a brilliant young man everybody liked, a handsome charmer everybody knew would have a wonderful career. So everyone was stunned when the golden boy turned out to be a spy for the Soviet Union and faced a term in federal prison.

Then he stunned his jailers by escaping from the maximum security prison near Lompoc, Calif., precipitating a 19-month international manhunt. His arrest last weekend in the wild Olympic peninsula of Washington adds another chapter to his saga.

His story is the stuff of suspense novels: the fugitive who charms his way into the hearts and homes of a series of fishing and drinking buddies in a rugged land where people don't ask too many questions about a person's background.

Boyce didn't always fit in among the burly, tattooed, suspender-wearing loggers and fishermen, but they liked him for his quiet friendliness and respected him for his intelligence.

Finally caught through an informer's tip, Boyce remains a mystery man, cloaked in layers of aliases and identities. Authorities say there's no evidence that the Soviets helped him, and many questions remain about where he lived and how he supported himself. He is, federal agents say, a possible suspect in a number of bank robberies.

But from interviews with people who befriended him and those who chased him, a profile emerges of a rebel who yearned to be free, free to flout society's rules and free to roam the rugged, remote areas of the West.

Now Boyce is in jail in Everett, Wash., refusing to eat in what his lawyer says is an attempt to starve himself to death, in a final bid for freedom. He hasn't eaten since he was captured nine days ago, and he may be force-fed intravenously.

Federal officials say he's not talking about where he was and what he did during his 19 months of freedom, but that he's in despair, wondering what mistakes he made that led the agents to him.

Born 28 years ago to a middle-class family in Palos Verdes, near Los Angeles, Christopher John Boyce excelled in school with an IQ of 142, and served as student body president of his grade school.

He ran in a fast crowd, but was able to get a job, through his father, a former FBI agent who worked in the aerospace industry, at TRW Inc., a defense contractor. Later, the young Boyce got top security clearance.

Apparently restless, bored and disillusioned with the U.S. government, he agreed to give top-secret information to a friend, Andrew Daulton Lee, who would then take the material to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City.

Over the next 18 months, Boyce passed on extremely sensitive information, about secret codes and surveillance satellites, to Lee, who handed them on to the Soviets in exchange for a total of about $70,000.

Lee was caught in Mexico City in January, 1977, and Boyce was arrested soon afterward. A federal judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison, but in January, 1980, Boyce hid in a tunnel at the Lompoc federal prison in southern California, then used tin snips and a makeshift ladder to escape.

He vanished, leaving no clues except for his known fondness for falconry, vitamin E and Etonic running shoes. Investigators checked out reported sightings all over the world, with no success. Then, more than a year later, Boyce's pursuers got the break they needed, and the net began to close.

Charting Boyce's trail, from the interviews with authorities and the people he met along the way, goes back to last February, when he surfaced in Beaver, a tiny logging and fishing hamlet in northwest Washington state.

Jerry and Kay Sullivan remember that Boyce seemed out of place -- too clean, too neat -- when he showed up in Beaver looking for a place to rent. He said his name was Sean Hennessey, and he seemed to be a rich or middle-class kid, rather than the brawny, hard-working types around the northern Olympic peninsula.

Jerry Sullivan, a powerful man whose biceps roll and bulge as he moves, was a fisherman without a boat, so when Boyce bought a 30-foot trolling boat they decided to work together. Boyce came by the house often, and they became close friends. The Sullivans didn't ask where the money to buy the boat came from.

"I liked him. I loved him," said Kay Sullivan, a plump, spirited woman who sometimes does the talking for both of them. "He reminded me of my brothers. I would have mistrusted my brothers before mistrusting him."

At the end of February, Boyce rented a small trailer in nearby Bear Creek, saying he wanted something secluded, away from the main road. Finally, he and Alex Cooper, a friend who apparently had come to town with him, paid $250 to owner William W. (Bill) Black to rent a trailer. A third man, Joel Pratt, also lived with them in the trailer.

Two days after Boyce moved in, Bill Black and his wife, Helen, were sitting in their living room, talking about the newcomer. "He looks like he escaped from prison," Helen said, not really meaning it.

The new tenants moved out at the end of March, without giving notice and leaving the place a mess, Black said. When he saw Boyce next, in the local tavern, he told him off, swearing and shouting at him. Boyce sat quietly through the tirade, then got up and left.

Boyce lived on his boat in April, patching it up for the approaching fishing season. He and Jerry Sullivan fished together in May, staying out on the ocean for two or three days at a time before returning to the harbor in La Push with the hold full of king salmon.

When the fishing season ended May 31, Boyce stayed for about a week with the Sullivans. Then, they say, he left to visit friends in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. He returned in late June. and spent July on and off with the Sullivans, sometimes going away for a few days and once going fishing to earn some extra money. In late July, he left the Sullivans' and moved into an apartment in Port Angeles, a nearby town of about 7,000, just a ferry ride from Canada.

During this time, the U.S. Marshals Service was looking into reported "sightings" of Boyce all over the world, from South Africa to the Dominican Republic, but not in Beaver or La Push.

Boyce was getting money from somewhere. He paid $6,500 for his fishing boat in March, he bought a couple of cheap cars, and this month he paid about $1,000 for flying lessons at the Port Angeles airport. In between, he had pocket money and enough to pay the rent, yet he earned little money fishing.

The FBI is looking into the possibility he may have been getting money by robbing banks, and agents are investigating bank robberies in Washington, Idaho and Montana. Some photos taken by automatic cameras at banks show robbers who resemble Boyce, and when agents searched his car they found a knapsack containing possible disguises. Court records show the sack's contents included two wigs, a pair of sideburns, three jars of nose putty and 12 spray cans of instant touch-up.

Officials of the FBI and the marshals service are investigating whether any of the people who knew Boyce knew his true identity, but none of the authorities has indicated any evidence to that effect.

Bonners Ferry, Idaho,, is in rough, wild Boundary County. A local official says the county probably has a higher proportion of fugitives than anywhere else in the country. Nestled in a mountain range close to the Canadian border, the town is surrounded by wilderness. Katka Road, which runs southeast of the town along the Kootenai River, has a reputation as the wildest of the wild.

David N. Worley, 40, a farm laborer who lives on Katka Road, said he was helping build a cabin in the wilderness in February when a stranger walked up. The stranger introduced himself as Jim, and said he was writing a book. Jim, the name Boyce used in Bonners Ferry, was cold and hungry.

"I thought he was a real nice guy," Worley said in a telephone interview, and others felt the same way. Gloria Ann White, 40, the mother of six, who lives too far out on Katka Road to get electricity, running water or telephone service, also hit it off with Boyce.

When Boyce went to the Olympic peninsula, Gloria White kept in touch, and they telephoned each other regularly. Boyce returned to Boundary County every now and then, staying in White's house, Worley said. She left on a huckleberry-picking expedition -- such trips are common in the area and can last several days or more -- the day after Boyce was arrested, and hasn't returned yet, Worley said.

Boyce rarely went into the town of Bonners Ferry, although one woman remembers him coming into the food co-op to put up a notice that he wanted to buy a car. Worley said neither he nor White, nor anyone else he knew, was aware that Jim was really Christopher J. Boyce.

Boyce moved around among the small fishing communities of the Olympic peninsula, eventually surfacing in Port Angeles in late July. He told his landlord there, Gerald G. Austin, that he was waiting for a ship and would be around for just six weeks.

Boyce told Austin his name was Tony Lester. He already had obtained a driver's license under that name, presenting a birth certificate of an Anthony Edward Lester.

Boyce apparently used the name Tony Lester for formal occasions and Sean Hennessey the rest of the time.

Under the name Lester, he went to Pearson Air Service in Port Angeles to take flying lessons. Arthur Managan, the chief flight instructor, recalls that Boyce, saying he wanted to get his pilot's license by the end of August, went to the airport nearly every day and studied full time.

Boyce was days away from getting his license, and he later said he would have flown away, but by the beginning of August the lawmen were closing in on him.

The FBI and marshals service contacted the local sheriff's office to say that Boyce was in the county. Agents said they tracked Boyce largely by focusing on his interests: the falcons, the shoes and the vitamins, but it's not clear how they could have done that.

Boyce no longer kept falcons, although some inhabit the Olympic peninsula. He had Nike shoes, not Etonics. And while he remained a "vitamin freak," taking a handful of pills each day, there is no evidence this habit helped lead to his capture. Instead, officials acknowledge privately, the breakthrough came when an informer connected Boyce to some bank robberies in the Pacific Northwest, and said he lived in the area of Beaver and La Push.

Authorities then found the driver's license of a man who looked like Boyce, lived in Beaver, and used the name Anthony Lester. With that information they began their search in earnest.

Officials won't discuss their informer or whether he was paid a reward. Nor do they say how they got their information for the stakeouts they conducted in the area. They also won't discuss Alex Cooper, who had shared the trailer with Boyce and Joel Pratt in Bear Creek.

Cooper drove a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and was more the burly logger type than Boyce. Cooper told his landlord, Bill Black, that he didn't have any identification, and signed his name in a painstaking, child-like scrawl: "Alex Coopre."

After moving out of the trailer, Boyce avoided Cooper, the Sullivans say. Boyce told them he didn't like Cooper and didn't want to get mixed up with him. At the beginning of this month, at the same time that federal officials contacted the local sheriff's office to say Boyce was in the county, Cooper began calling the Sullivans, asking where Boyce was. Knowing that Boyce didn't like Cooper, the Sullivans falsely told him that Boyce was staying at his boat in La Push.

At about this time, federal agents focused their stakeout on the boat and on the Sullivans' house, as well as the nearby area. Authorities said, however, that they had no reason to believe the Sullivans knew Boyce's true identity. More than two dozen federal agents infiltrated the area, posing as loggers, fishermen and tourists.

In these small communities, they were noticed quickly. The Sullivan children and townspeople wondered why strange men were watching the family with telescopes.

Meanwhile, Cooper kept calling the Sullivans every few days, insistently asking about Boyce.

Then, on Aug. 19, Cooper dropped by the Bear Creek Tavern, where Boyce often had gone to drink Budweiser and chat with his friends. The bartender, Gordon U. Hamilton, a beefy man with a crewcut, remembers telling Cooper, "I seen your buddy in town, in Port Angeles." The focus of the stakeout shifted to Port Angeles, the county sheriff's office says. A local law-enforcement officer says federal agents told him that someone in a bar had seen Boyce in Port Angeles.

The Sullivans were growing concerned about these peculiar men who followed them and peered at them, so when Cooper called they told him that if he saw "Sean" he should tell him about the snoopers.

Boyce never got the message. On Friday, Aug. 21, two days after the bartender told Cooper that Boyce was in Port Angeles, agents spotted Boyce eating at the Pit Stop, a drive-in fast-food restaurant on the main street of Port Angeles. Eight agents grabbed him as he ate a cheeseburger and onion rings.

Alex Cooper hasn't been seen since.

Where was Christopher Boyce in the year before he turned up in the northern Olympic peninsula? Federal agents don't know, because Boyce has refused to tell them, but they think he may have spent the first few months in the sparsely populated hills near the prison.

Boyce may have been in Aberdeen, Wash., immediately before coming to Beaver. As Sean Hennessey, he had an appointment with an Aberdeen dermatologist, apparently to remove warts, on Feb. 10. The doctor, Eugene J. Blum, who now lives in Eureka, Calif., said his records show that Boyce listed his address as general delivery, Moclips, Wash. Moclips is a tiny ocean resort town near Aberdeen, but no one there remembers him. Alex Cooper and Joel Pratt also told people they were from the Aberdeen area.

Life goes on in Beaver and Port Angeles. The loggers and fishermen talk about "Sean" over beers, not as a curiosity but as a friend. They worry about his fast: he'll kill himself, they murmer sadly, and they look down at their mugs in silence.

The Pit Stop is considering offering a spy special of a cheeseburger and onion rings, the meal Boyce ordered just before he was arrested. The Port Angeles Daily News, which originally ran the story of Boyce's capture as the second story on its front page, while newspapers in the East were treating it as the top story, ran a follow-up, "The Spy Among Us," on the top of the front page.