In The Left-Hand Way, the second book of Tom Doyle's contemporary fantasy series, the American craftsmen are scattered like bait overseas. What starts as an ordinary liaison mission to London for Major Michael Endicott becomes a desperate chase across Europe, where Endicott is both hunted and hunter. Reluctantly joining him is his minder from MI13, Commander Grace Marlow, one of Her Majesty's most lethal magician soldiers, whose family has centuries of justified hostility to the Endicotts.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul and Tokyo, Endicott's comrades, Scherie Rezvani and Dale Morton, are caught in their own battles for survival against hired assassins and a ghost-powered doomsday machine. And in Kiev, Roderick Morton, the spider at the center of a global web, plots their destruction and his ultimate apotheosis. After centuries of imprisonment, nothing less than godlike power will satisfy Roderick, whatever the dreadful cost.
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The Left-Hand Way
By Tom Doyle
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Tom Doyle
All rights reserved.
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 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 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 towards 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 UK 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 UK.
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.
Excerpted from The Left-Hand Way by Tom Doyle. Copyright © 2015 Tom Doyle. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Table of Contents
Concerning Craftsmen and America's Secret History,
Part I: The Innocent Killers Abroad,
Part II: On Her Majesty's Spiritual Service,
Part III: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Mage,
Part IV: Kicking Edgar Allan Poe and Murdering the Orient Express,
Part V: Ukraine Ghosts Really Knock Me Out,
Part VI: Look Homeward, Killer Angels,
Part VII: Terrible, Swift Sword,
Appendix: The Marlow Family,
The Story of the Marlow Family,
About the Author,
Tor Books by Tom Doyle,