Sneak Peek: The Left-Hand Way by Tom Doyle

The Left-Hand Way by Tom DoyleRead the first chapter of The Left-Hand Way, the newest book in the American Craft series, coming out on August 11th.

Chapter One

For the record, I, Major Michael Endicott, veteran spiritual soldier, didn’t take the news about Roderick’s survival well.

“Major, please, calm down.” My father’s replacement at countercraft ops command, General Calvin Attucks, used a touch of reassuring craft with his raspy Harry Belafonte voice, but that magic hadn’t ever worked on me, even from Colonel Hutchinson.

“I’m plenty calm, sir,” I answered, shaking the pain out of the fist that I had just slammed on my father’s former desk. “But we’ve got to go to Ukraine right now and kill him.” Here I was, an Endicott advocating the assassination of a Left-Hand Morton because no one else here in the Pentagon’s secret H-ring had the sense to see the immediate threat. I sounded just like my father. Like much else in the army, this wasn’t fair. Neither was Hutch’s death. As Attucks’s cousin-in-law, her picture was on his desk along with his wife’s. Hutch had died to get rid of Roderick forever.

“You understand, sir,” I continued, “this isn’t just a Family thing. Dale agrees with me. He said that if farsight spotted Roderick, we should go after him ASAP. He said his ancestor is like a cancer—he’ll only grow.”

The general shook his bald head, probably still a little surprised that, after centuries of interfamily feuding, an Endicott was quoting a Morton as authority. Still surprised me a little too. “Major Morton is hardly an objective voice,” he said.

“Meaning what, sir?”

“Meaning Roderick will want to kill Scherie as much as he wants to kill Dale, you, the Endicott family, or anyone else.”

“OK,” I said, “what are the Ukrainians going to do about it?”

“The Ukrainians have made it distinctly clear that they’ll fight to keep him, and the Russians have been even clearer that they consider this to be within their sphere of influence, so they get to handle it and no one else.”

The Ukrainians. If I ever got my hands on that bastard Roman Roszkewycz, he wouldn’t slip away again without some serious damage. “We should nuke him from orbit. He’s World War III waiting to happen.”

“Michael, we’re working on it. For now, that’s all I can tell you.”

Lord, give me the patience to accept this BS. Amen. My little prayer seemed to help, but only for a moment. “Sir, while I appreciate the news, why are you telling me this?”

“Besides you being a target?”

“Yes, sir. Besides that.” I was always a target.

“I have other news. You’re going to London. Tomorrow.”

“London?” Ah, shoot. Attucks was smiling at me the same way Hutch used to when she’d given me a particularly unpleasant assignment. Some people, like her and the general, had the wrong impression about me and travel. I enjoyed travel, when it was for fun or combat. But my work didn’t mix with pleasure, and some places were just plain hostile to what I did. Though it wasn’t as bad as Prague, London was definitely on that list. American Endicotts running around there using the power of command probably reminded the English of some ugly arguments during the World Wars, or maybe they still remembered the thumping we’d given them during the Revolution and at New Orleans.

“The Brits have been losing craftsmen lately,” said Attucks.

“They’ve been in some high-risk fights,” I ventured, but I knew that wasn’t where he was going.

“They’re concerned about a traitor at a high level. Until we get it straightened out, we can’t cooperate on anything important. We need their Magic Circus cleaned up before any joint ops against Roderick.”

I asked the obvious: “Isn’t that something for Langley to worry about?”

“The Peepshow wants you,” he said. I never cared for those words; when Langley’s center for precognition and farsight had last selected the individual for an assignment, it had meant serious trouble for me and Dale.

“And Roderick is connected to this?”

“That isn’t established,” he said, “but he may try to take advantage of the situation.”

Another high-level mole hunt at MI13? H-ring still talked about the disaster of the Philby years, which was even worse in the spiritual sphere than in conventional intelligence.

“They won’t be happy,” I noted, “to have an American minder.”

“They don’t have much choice.”

When Endicott left Attucks’s office, Eddy Edwards came into the room through a hidden door. He looked more like muscle than the typical man in his post: acting director of the Peepshow at Langley. General Attucks gave him a narrow gaze tinged with a little anger and much doubt. “Edgar, are you certain you know what you’re doing?”

“No,” said Eddy. “If we were certain, they would be too, and it wouldn’t work.”

“My honored ancestor didn’t take a bullet for this republic’s fate to rest on a bad quantum bet.”

Eddy raised his eyebrows, and Attucks didn’t need him to say his thoughts. For the Attucks Family founder, Crispus, taking that bullet had been a bet too. Crispus had wagered his life on very long odds for American freedom, though it would be a long time before his own descendants would see it.

But the odds seemed longer on this current wager, with perhaps even more riding on it. Even if the good guys won, three good craftspeople would probably be lost because of Attucks’s orders.

“If there was another way that even came close…” Eddy’s dark eyes lost the farseeing conviction of his preacher ancestor Jonathan, and held the sorrow of that other Edgar, the storyteller who had come too close to the craft for his own health.

“If there was another way,” said Attucks, “you’d tell me, and I’d order it. But there isn’t, so God help us all.”

Royal Navy Commander Grace Marlow, MI13, reviewed the American’s file with growing unease. This evening, she was working in a small office set aside for her service within “Lubyanka-sur-Thames,” MI6’s glass-and-permastone headquarters at Vauxhall Cross. Her service had been planning to move into new offices in the City at Fenchurch Street, but when that building began melting the parts of parked cars, other arrangements had to be made.

The American major, who would arrive tomorrow morning, bore the code name Sword, as if that in any way hid the identity of a man who carried his heirloom weapon everywhere he went. The surveillance photos and video showed a face that wore the distinctive Endicott features, like a young and beardless version of mad John Endicott. He also closely resembled his great-grandfather, who had been in England during the Second World War.

Grace Marlow’s own appearance was distinctive: tall and athletically slim, a narrow face with a mouth that, though sensually full, enemies would still describe as cruel, and black hair with a curl that hung like a comma over her right eye. The one flaw on her face was a short vertical scar on her right cheek, though it was so thin as to be more of a beauty mark than a deficit. As with Endicott, older members of the service said that she resembled her great-grandfather.

Grace Marlow could neither forget nor forgive what the Endicott Family had done to her African ancestors. Enslavement and torture were not things to be taken lightly even when they happened to strangers, and the Marlow ancestral memory was longer than the history of the United States. But Grace Marlow had gained her position as one of MI13’s best operatives through a cold professionalism even in the face of personal outrage. She certainly hadn’t gained it through moral inflexibility. She could deal with an Endicott or any other fascist Puritan of the American service.

The reason for her unease was a growing sense of attraction for this particular Endicott. Usually, this was an instinctual preparation for a certain type of assignment, where seduction of the opposition or even an ally was thought desirable by the higher ups. Albion had given her and many in her family this spiritual gift—an enthusiasm for what others might consider the unpleasant necessities of duty.

But this wasn’t that sort of assignment. She was not to get too close to this man, who was to be tested, sweated, and generally discomfited in very unerotic ways. If, despite his ancestral history, the land itself was telling her otherwise, she didn’t appreciate the information. This man was associated with the Mortons and the release of Roderick into the world, so at best he was a fool, and at worst he was the enemy. The Endicotts were the opposite of stealthy, so the major’s file held a great deal of early information from farsight reports and physical surveillance. This material dried up around the time of his encounters with the Mortons. His tie to the Mortons and Roderick was the particular problem for which MI13 had summoned him, though he was, she hoped, still duped by the cover story of a mole within the service. Certainly MI13 had some recent setbacks of concern, but the probable source was the very Roderick that Endicott had assisted to freedom.

She flipped through his file’s photos again, though her eidetic memory made this an unnecessary exercise. She was particularly troubled by the source of her attraction. With his blond hair and stormy gray eyes, Endicott was an acceptable physical specimen, but she was rather democratic in that regard, and race, nationality, and gender weren’t excluding factors for her. Despite his apparent lack of poetic imagination, he was sufficiently intelligent not to embarrass his date in company—again, a low bar. None of this explained her focused feeling of heat when she studied his image.

No, it was the barest hint of something she’d seen in the video surveillance. There, almost buried behind the digital technology and beneath the humility of his serious pride, she thought she’d caught a glimpse of his soul, and it was like sunlight seen through semiprecious stones. It was one of the secrets of her practice that when she focused on a soul, its beauty or ugliness was no mere metaphysical abstraction. She saw a person’s psyche as a component of their carnal selves, and she responded carnally to it.

From his file, Endicott did not seem morally or spiritually complex enough to be stimulating such a reaction, though she’d never been able to fully correlate psychic beauty with specific traits. She might be imagining what she’d seen; she’d only know for certain when she saw him in person.

But that wasn’t one of the necessary exams. The first test would begin immediately on his arrival. For that charade, she had hired two of the usual unpleasant muscle from London’s craft underground, after screening them for any Renfield connections—the Renfield Family loved subverting Her Majesty’s Government more than life or payment in advance. Grace Marlow would know more about Endicott’s true powers after they’d tried him by surprise; then, the Walsinghams would get their hands in for the next round. C had signed off on anything within twenty-four hours of arrival that didn’t damage the guest.

It was late, and tomorrow would be a long and probably unpleasant day. She drove her Aston Martin back to Marlow House (her lineage had dropped the final “e”), then sat by her unlit fireplace with a sip of brandy before bed. Above her mantelpiece, paintings of the masks of comedy and tragedy stared back at her, but her family’s ghosts left her in peace. She considered ringing the Don, her former mentor within the service, but he now lived in semiretirement in Oxford (of course), and this was far too trivial an operation with which to bother him at this hour. In any event, she could practically hear what his advice would be in his own professorial voice: “Dear, if you smell trouble, move toward it. Mind your op, bring a gun, and dress to kill.”

Only selecting the gun would cost her any further rest—that, and saying her nightly prayers as she removed her cross necklace.

Before I packed, I sent craft-scrambled text messages to Dale and Scherie with the signal of Roderick’s survival that I had insisted on before they had departed for PRECOG-knew-where: “Evite to a Masqued Ball. RSVP immediately.” This was a breach of security and just a bad idea with agents in the field, but the news was urgent, and as I had told Dale, the regs that made us fail to communicate had nearly gotten us all killed. Sure, if I asked, Attucks and Langley would say they’d informed the Mortons, but I was disinclined to trust anyone regarding Roderick, and if something happened to either Scherie or Dale, I wouldn’t want to answer to the other for my silence.

Within the hour I had their replies, both “Yes” with a “thank you” added from Scherie. Nice of her. Between themselves, they could deal with finding a safe place or retreating to their charming and psychotic House of Morton.

It still felt strange that the centuries-old Endicott-Morton feud was over. But it occurred to me that the other Families would soon find out about Roderick’s survival, and some of those wouldn’t be as disciplined as myself in response. Roderick, Madeline, and my ancestor Abram had killed many of our loved ones, and as I well knew, Family vengeance had a longer history than Family service. But their future actions had nothing to do with my orders.

On my flight to London the next night, I fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up with an electric jolt. I found the flight path animation on my seat’s video screen. We had just passed into U.K. airspace, and for some reason that border was more touchy than Canadian or Irish airspace.

During the Second World War, the American Families had come here in force. The expedition had been effective, but sometimes tense with the locals, so H-ring had reminded me that, despite the special relationship with the United Kingdom, I wasn’t allowed to practice craft, which was the H-ring word for spiritual power, and that I was not to fraternize with the locals, which was the H-ring phrase for no sex. That second rule bothered me, because I wasn’t going to have a problem following it.

Sure, since my father’s death, I’d been searching Christian singles ads with new urgency, but I couldn’t find a category of women willing to commit to a soldier whose gear included supernatural powers of (admittedly) dubious provenance and walking and talking bits of bad theology (aka ghosts), and whose idea of minimum commitment ran unto death and beyond. By definition, those conditions meant women already in the spiritual services, but my family wasn’t even popular among the Christian practitioners. Foreign practitioners, even British ones, were out-of-bounds.

At Gatwick passport control, the ghosts were thick on the ground. I saw ghosts more now after having accepted my family spirits. A World War Two ATS woman in trench coat and helmet, an old man in naval dress uniform, and a more faded First World War teenager with rifle and bayonet eyed me and all others with supernatural suspicion.

The suspicion of ghosts didn’t trouble me, but something else did. My visit was unknown here to anyone outside of a few people at the Magic Circus, and I was dressed as an American businessman, like every other businessman on my flight. Yet the uniformed woman who took my passport paused a few seconds too long with it, the tweedy old man in the next line over kept looking over at me and smiling, and too many English others either seemed to notice me or avoid my gaze unduly. People were paying too much attention to my supposedly commonplace cover. It could be mundanes getting unconsciously caught up in someone’s intense spiritual focus, but that was the level of attention a secret agent might expect in China, and not what a spiritual soldier should feel here in the U.K.

God, what’s going on? No answer. I didn’t have the Morton gift of viewing sins to see if anyone here wasn’t what they seemed. What I could do, without breaking the rules, was get a few prayers ready, so I began meditating on a countercraft prayer, something to silence any opposition.

After clearing customs, I was greeted by two bulky men in cheap suits, craft or craft muscle. They were as H-ring had described them, though in person they appeared more gentlemanly than American muscle, and instead of the flat affect of our thugs, they smiled with their teeth as their eyes tried to drill holes through me. Judge not, lest I report you, I thought. The shorter of the two gave me the call: “Here to see the marbles?”

“I seem to have lost mine,” was my response.

One would think that this sort of spy stuff wouldn’t be necessary on friendly ground, except no ground is truly friendly for spiritual ops, and a problem with working for one or another of the world’s most secret organizations was the frequent uncertainty about whom one was dealing with.

The two men took my luggage, and then the taller one reached to take my sword case. “We’ll put this in the boot.”

“Thank you, but no.”

The shorter one’s smile broadened. “My friend means…”

“I know what he means, and this stays with me.”

A shrug, and then we got in the black limo sedan, the tall man driving and the shorter man in the back with me. I was already thinking about a prayer to make a sharper point when, at the last minute, a third man got in front on the passenger side, lean and pale, middle-aged and too old to be muscle in the strict sense, but with a raptor’s eyes.

“Hold on,” I said. “This wasn’t in the plan.”

“Extra security,” said Shorty. “There’s been some trouble.”

Even though I was in-country because of that trouble, three escorts seemed excessive for any threat between here and London. I would have been more suspicious, but this was typical of the games that a host country played with visiting spiritual ops, so I focused on my prayers and let it go.

We drove up the M23 as I tried to adjust to the usual vertigo of jet lag and being driven on the wrong side of the road. Trees, thick or thin, seemed to line the whole highway, with pleasant autumn colors starting to show. I might have enjoyed the view if we weren’t going so fast. In this, the middle of nowhere-in-particular England, we were passing all other cars, clearly exceeding the speed limit, which was unusual for spiritual ops, as we tried to blend in as much as possible.

“What’s the hurry?” I asked, expecting some more blather about security that would make me feel less secure. Abduction from a friendly airport by men who recognized me and knew the passphrase seemed like paranoid fantasy, even by service standards. But things seemed to be going in that direction at the same excessive speed as the limo.

The taller man at the wheel smiled and said, “Excuse me, sir. I’m going to put up the divider so you can speak with my colleague in private.”

In any version of reality, this was nonsense; I had nothing to say to anonymous muscle, and I wasn’t interested in what he had to say to me. But that wasn’t the serious problem. Shorty, feral eyes and smile and all, was pretending he wasn’t frightened to be stuck with me back here, and his acting was terrible.

The glass divider was already going up, and a staticky screech had started up from the stereo. Despite the risk to the blade, I stuck my sword case between the glass and the roof to stop it, and prayed at the driver. “In God’s name, stop the divider.” But that hadn’t been one of the prayers I’d prepared, and the stereo sonics were distorting and dampening my voice. The power of command didn’t always require the target to hear or understand my orders, but it helped, and the driver seemed impervious to anything less. The third man knocked my sword case back, then pulled a gun and pointed it at me for the second it took for the divider to finish closing. He was sneering at me with ill will and bad teeth. At least the sonics stopped.

Shorty had recovered, not enough to take a swing, but to bark some craft at me, “Die—no, I mean pass out, pass out quicker.”

Lord, please smite him. But I needed to be the Lord’s tool, so I used one of my prepared prayers. “For Christ’s sake, shut up.

His mouth flapped silently, then he cowered against the limo door on his side. He was trying to get me to pass out. Sure enough, the men in front had put on breathers that resembled expanded diving masks. Gas might already be flooding the limo. Lord, fill me with your spirit. My lungs relaxed into stillness. For the next minute, I’d have to fight at full exertion without breathing.

I had always expected this sort of death overseas. I had fulfilled God’s plan by scourging the Pentagon, and I was destined to perish, absurdly and badly.

But not this fine morning. I fumbled my sword out of its case and sheath. Not a lot of room to work with the blade here, but Shorty wasn’t resisting. I thumped the pommel against the glass, directing my captors’ attention to the point aimed at Shorty’s heart. See, I’m going to kill your friend.

Their eyes and cheeks crinkled with amusement, and I saw no deception. They didn’t care. I turned to threaten Shorty to some helpful action, but he was already unconscious. Still breathing, though. That was something—they were trying to capture, not kill me.

Then, the already speeding car accelerated. The third man brought up his gun again, and lowered his window. Behind us, a silver sports car of some British make was racing in pursuit. The third man waited, calmly assessing his shot.

Good, they’d be distracted. The open window would let air in the front, but I suspected that wouldn’t help me enough in the back when I had to start breathing again, and that was seconds away. I thought about punching some air holes, but then another idea came to me.

The divider glass looked thick enough to be bulletproof. But the seats—were they armored all the way through? I thought not. Leather and vinyl tended to respond better to me than glass and metal. I brought my sword back at a slight angle. In Christ’s name, I stab at thee. I jammed the blade with Spirit-aided force through the lower part of the seat. The blade sang where it touched some metal components, but went clean through, only to get stuck at the last. The limo swerved, as the driver arched his back away from the seat. Of course—the driver wore body armor, so I had pricked him, but not run him through. Good—I’d want a chat later.

A minicar and a minitruck squealed and ran onto the shoulder. The pursuing silver car weaved through the chaos with professional style. Friend, or another foe?

My driver had moved away from the sword point; then, focused on avoiding traffic, he relaxed his back. I shoved the blade again toward him, then twisted. Mouth gaping in pain in the rearview mirror, the driver pressed down hard on the accelerator, the motor revved up an octave, and he swerved again, running us through the guardrail and right off the road. We leapt over a ditch and through a fence. Bump after bump, each like a small crash. None of us were wearing our seat belts, and sleeping Shorty and I collided against each other and the divider glass. Then, ahead, a white form turned to face its oncoming doom, dark eyes stupidly accepting its fate.

Baa. Bang! Sisss. The limo had finally stopped, but not before hitting a sheep. Correction: killing a sheep. Bits of bloody wool everywhere. That would look just great on my report to Attucks. I missed my father’s open mocking of these misadventures. Mutton to do about it now.

Ouch. I thought I must have banged my head. My door was still locked. The driver was lowering the divider, probably for the benefit of the thin man and his gun. The sonics screeched again. I pulled to get my sword out of the seat, but the thin man’s gun wasn’t up, and his attention was behind me.

I could have just punched them both, but from the thin man’s reaction, I sensed a weapon was pointed at the back of my head. I risked a glance. Behind us, the pursuer got out of the car, an Aston Martin, and shouted at us. “Police! Nobody move!” A woman. Being in England, I guessed she was of West Indian origin. She held a massive long-barreled gun out toward us in one hand, while the other was making some crafty gestures that seemed to be encouraging us to stay put. “Everybody freeze.” She wore an office suit for people too rich to actually work in offices.

With my sword freed of the seat, I kept it low, and turned my attention again to the men in front, just as all the door locks clicked. Quicker than nature, the passenger door had been opened, and the third man was gone, nowhere to be seen. The woman was running toward us; the one combat-ready feature of her attire was her flat rubber-soled shoes. Despite his wounds, my driver already had his hands up against the roof. Shorty was snoring.

Desperate for breath, I reached for the now unlocked back door. “Hands in the air, Major!” yelled the woman, stopping just feet away from the limo. In a lower voice, she added, “And not one bloody word from you, Endicott.”

As if charmed by her Received Pronunciation, I took a deep inhale of the drugged air, slowly raised my empty hands, and smiled. I couldn’t fight the whole country, and at least she knew who I was. The mission had started as well as expected.

Copyright © 2015 by Tom Doyle

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