New York Times bestselling author Simon R. Green has another Secret History to reveal...
Call me Drood, Eddie Drood. Some know me as Shaman Bond and most simply don’t want to know me at all. For centuries, my family has been keeping the things that lurk on the darker side of existence as far away as possible from humans like you, without you even knowing we’re there.
Unfortunately for us, not everybody appreciates what we Droods do. Recently, I personally managed to survive yet another attempt on my life, but the rest of my relatives weren’t so lucky. My parents are missing in action. My grandfather has been murdered. And the future of my family lies in the iron grasp of the Lady Faire, an incredibly seductive, mysterious, and powerful being.
She possesses an ancient object that can save them. I have to steal it from her. Easy enough to say, difficult—and very, very dangerous—to do...
About the Author
Simon R. Green is a New York Times bestselling author of the Secret Histories novels, including Casino Infernale, Live and Let Drood, and For Heaven's Eyes Only, as well as the Nightside Series, and the Ghostfinders series. He lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
ALSO BY SIMON R. GREEN
I was just breaking out of a Top Security section of the Vatican, after an entirely successful burglary, when a voice spoke my name. I had been padding very quietly down a corridor that wasn’t on any plan, in a building that didn’t officially exist, and the last thing I expected was to hear my name spoken aloud by a voice I was almost sure I recognised. I stopped and looked quickly about me. I was half-way down a long, unlit hallway, heavy with shadows, with not a light on anywhere in the dozen or so adjoining offices. I was completely alone.
I knew that, because I’d gone to great pains and trouble to make sure of it. Because if the Vatican Security Forces ever found a Drood field agent operating anywhere inside the bounds of the holy city, they would quite definitely never forgive me. The Church might have made occasional use of the Droods down the centuries but has never trusted my family an inch. And I think it is only fair to say, vice versa.
The corridor was so dark I could only just make out its far end, but I was positive there wasn’t another soul anywhere near me. The deep shadows lay undisturbed, and it was so quiet all I could hear was my own slow, controlled breathing. And then the Merlin Glass shot up out of my pocket to hang on the air right in front of my face. I didn’t quite jump out of my skin, and I didn’t actually make the strangulated scream I very much wanted to, but I did regard the hand mirror hovering before me with more than usual interest. Because if your very secret mission has just been utterly compromised and is now lying tits up in the gutter, you might as well enjoy it.
The sorcerer Merlin Satanspawn—and yes, I do mean the one you’re thinking of—had made a present of the Glass to my family some fifteen hundred years ago. We’re still trying to decide whether that was a kindly act or not. Ever since the Merlin Glass fell into my hands, not that long ago, it has proved itself to be highly useful, intensely irritating, and constantly surprising. Not least because I can never lay my hand on the operating manual when I need it.
The Glass looks like a perfectly ordinary hand mirror, with a chased silver handle and back. It can show me views of anywhere on Earth, and grow into a dimensional Doorway big enough to take me there. I’d grown used to that. But I wasn’t at all used to seeing my reflection vanish from the mirror and be replaced by the shifty features of the notorious Harry Fabulous.
I grabbed the mirror by its handle and pulled it close to my face. A pale yellow light was spilling out of the Glass from wherever Harry was, and I didn’t want it to attract unnecessary attention. I was almost out of this very secret part of the Vatican, but almost isn’t is. Burglars should not hang around at the scenes of their crimes, not if they want to grow up to be very old burglars—particularly if the local security forces are authorised to use extreme and distressing levels of violence. But Harry Fabulous had got my attention. No one had ever used the mysterious Merlin Glass as a mobile phone before. I hadn’t even known that was possible.
I tried the door handle on the nearest office, and it turned easily in my grasp. I pushed the door open and slipped silently into the darkened room, pulling the door almost but not completely shut after me. Just in case I needed to make a sudden and hurried exit. The pale yellow light from the hand mirror showed me the rough outlines of furniture and filing cabinets, and not much else. I looked into the Merlin Glass and gave Harry Fabulous my best intimidating glare.
“This had better be important, Harry,” I said quietly. “I am rather busy just at the moment. How did you get this number, anyway?”
“Trust me; this is really very important, Eddie,” said Harry, smiling nervously. “And I mean seriously important, with a heaping side order of urgent. As to how I was able to tap into the Merlin Glass, you really don’t want to know. It would only keep you up nights.”
There was no point in pressing Harry. If he wasn’t prepared to give up his source, it was only because he was more scared of whomever he was working for than he was of me. Mind you, Harry Fabulous was scared of a great many people and things, usually with good reason. Harry is a creature of the shadows, or at least those very grey areas where Law and Morality and Good Sense are only passing things. Harry is a master of the illegal deal, the crafty con, and the kind of borderline business agreement you just know you’ll end up regretting later. Harry Fabulous is your go-to guy for all the things you’re not supposed to want, all the things that are supposed to be impossible to get. Whether it’s a drug or a dream, a girl or a grimoire, a memory from yesterday or a promise of tomorrow, Harry has sources. He can get you anything, for the right price.
He’s not much to look at, but then his kind never is. In his business, it’s never a good idea to stand out from the crowd. A shabby man in shabby clothes, with a hard-worn face and unreadable eyes, Harry always said he could run a game on God, and be well out of town before the penny dropped. But then something went horribly wrong for Harry Fabulous, in a secret back room in one of those very private Members Only clubs well off the main drag in the Nightside . . . And now Harry leads a desperate life of penance and atonement, to make up for . . . whatever it was he did. Doing good deeds, for the good of his soul. Before it’s too late. He hustles around, happy to be helpful to all the right people, mediating between people and groups who couldn’t otherwise talk to one another.
Harry Fabulous wouldn’t normally say boo to a Drood, so for him to contact me at all was . . . interesting.
“What do you want, Harry?” I said. “And can’t it wait till I’ve broken out of the Vatican?”
“Not really, no,” said Harry. “I have a client in desperate need of your help. As in right now!”
“Keep your voice down!” I said, glancing quickly out through the crack at the door. The corridor still looked empty, but I wasn’t as convinced of that as I had been. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was creeping up on me. And not in a good way.
“What are you doing in the Vatican, Eddie?” said Harry.
“I could tell you,” I said, “but then I’d have to exorcise you.”
“Come on, Eddie, you know me,” said Harry. “I am the soul of discretion. Mostly.”
“I do know you, Harry Fabulous,” I said, “and I would not trust you as far as I could throw a wet camel.”
“Lot of people say that,” Harry said sadly.
“Can we please get on with this? I am rather in the middle of something here . . .”
“Something I am entirely sure both my family and all the Powers That Be at the Vatican would not want you to know about.”
“Fair enough,” said Harry. “I currently represent the management of the Wulfshead Club. And no, I don’t have a clue who they are, just like everyone else, so there’s no point in asking me.”
“Then how do you know it’s really them?” I said craftily.
“They were very convincing,” said Harry. “I still get the shakes when I think about it.”
“All right,” I said. “I’ll come straight to the Wulfshead, as soon as I’m outside the Vatican buildings.”
“No!” Harry said quickly. “You can’t! The club’s new privacy shields don’t allow anyone to teleport in. Even the mighty Merlin Glass would bump its nose. I’ll meet you in the alley outside the main London entrance. As soon as you can, Eddie. Please.”
“Give me ten minutes,” I said. “Unless I run into Security . . . then make it fifteen minutes.”
Harry’s face disappeared from the Merlin Glass, replaced by my own reflection. Even in the dim light of the empty office, I thought I looked tired and hard done by. As one of the most secret of the hidden world’s secret agents, I go to a lot of trouble to appear ordinary and anonymous, but people like Harry Fabulous put years on me. I would have preferred for him to hang around just a little longer, to answer a few pointed questions about exactly why I was needed so urgently, but that was probably why he’d disappeared so quickly. I slipped the Merlin Glass back into my pocket and stood still for a moment, thinking.
I knew all about the Wulfshead Club. Everyone in my line of work does. A very private drinking establishment, for very private people. A covert bolt-hole, for those of us who operate in the hidden world. The Good, the Bad, and the In-between are always welcome, as long as they’ve got money to spend. More importantly, it’s neutral ground for those of us who feel the need for somewhere safe and secure to let our hair down. Many of us who work in the supernatural Intelligence community tend to end up there. If only because we all need someone we can talk to, about the things we’ve seen and the things we’ve done, who won’t judge us. The kinds of things only people like us ever get to know about.
The world doesn’t need to know. It would only worry.
There are a great many secret entrances to the Wulfshead Club, in any number of cities, scattered around the world. Though getting in, or out, can be murder. The club’s been around for as long as anyone can remember, in one form or another, but no one knows for sure who owns and runs it. Despite a clientele who make their business digging out answers, the Wulfshead’s management remains determinedly anonymous. And they have never, ever, asked a member of my family for help before. I had to smile. This was just too good to turn down.
My head came up sharply as I heard soft running footsteps outside the office, approaching rapidly from the far end of the corridor. Not good. Not in any way good. I couldn’t use the Merlin Glass to teleport out until I was completely outside the building and back in the official world.
I pulled the door open and slipped back out into the corridor, not making a sound. When you’re a field agent for the Droods, moving unseen and unobserved comes as standard. I glared into the gloom at the far end of the corridor, back the way I’d come, and could just make out a number of dark, indistinct figures heading my way at more than human speed. Charging down the corridor, they shifted their shapes subtly as they moved. I couldn’t hear any bells or sirens; the advancing shapes were doing nothing to raise the alarm. Presumably they intended to bring me down before anyone else found out I was ever there. I had to smile. Being chased by a small army of angry priests and warrior nuns was probably every good Catholic boy’s worst nightmare. Good thing I was raised Church of England.
I ran down the corridor at full pelt, not even trying to be quiet or unobserved any more. My feet hammered on the floor, and my arms pumped at my sides as I made good speed, leaving my pursuers behind. I was still hoping to make my escape without having to fight my way out. I didn’t want to make more of a fuss than was necessary. Scrapping with priests and nuns inside the Vatican, even the parts that don’t officially exist, is never going to be profitable. And I really didn’t want the Vatican Security Forces to even suspect they’d had a Drood in the house. Which was why I hadn’t raised my incredible Drood armour. Just the presence of so much golden strange matter in the holy city would set off every alarm they had and bring everyone running at once.
I risked a glance back over my shoulder. My pursuers were catching up fast, moving so quietly now that their feet didn’t even seem to be brushing the bare wooden floor. I could see robes and wimples, but no faces. Even as I looked, though, the dark shapes changed, flowing like water. Legs and arms lengthened, backs became hunched, and great black membranous wings stretched out, their tips brushing against the corridor walls, beating loudly on the still air. The whole atmosphere in the corridor changed, becoming horrid and oppressive. There was a sudden stench of blood and brimstone. It seemed the rumours were true, after all. The Vatican had contracted out for its most secret security forces, drawing on denizens from the Lower Reaches. The remote activating of the Merlin Glass must have alerted them to my presence.
I was in real trouble now.
I pounded down the corridor, forcing the last bit of speed out of my aching muscles. It had been a long night, and I’m not really built for running. I could hear my breathing coming fast and hard, and my heart was hammering in my chest. I finally reached the door at the far end, skidded to a halt, and rattled the handle. It was locked. Of course it was; it was that kind of night. I grabbed a handy piece of heavy marble statuary from its niche (almost certainly centuries old, and valuable beyond price) and used it to smash the lock. The statue came to pieces in my hand, but the door jumped open. I threw the pieces aside and charged through the opening. I didn’t dare look back. I could hear the flapping of huge wings right behind me, like wet blankets on the air.
Outside, an old-fashioned black iron fire escape clung precariously to the ancient stone wall. I hurried up the steps, heading for the roof. Having to pass through the door one at a time should slow my pursuers down nicely, especially if they stopped to argue over who had precedence. I hauled myself up the shaking metal rungs, making a hell of a racket, grabbing at the railings with both hands to hurry myself along. I made it onto the slanting tile roof and then stopped to get my breath and my bearings.
I could hear heavy things hammering up the fire escape, their combined weight almost pulling the metal stairs away from the side of the building. I didn’t look. I didn’t want to see, didn’t want to know. I could hear angry buzzing voices, only just trying to be human, saying bad things. I went to stand on the very edge of the roof, planting one foot on the iron guttering, and looked out over the view below.
It was a hell of a long drop down to the ground below. Hundreds of feet, at least. But I could see the whole of the holy city stretched out before me, the great white buildings glowing and gleaming in the fierce moonlight. You get to see some of the best views in the world in my job. Though mostly not for very long.
I took out the Merlin Glass, shook it till it was the size of a Door, and then gave it the correct Space Time coordinates and threw it off the edge of the roof. The Glass fell away into the moonlight, an open Door full of the bright lights of London. I took a deep breath and jumped off the roof after it.
I heard a roar of frustrated buzzing voices rush by behind me, but I didn’t look back at the fire escape. Some things you just don’t want to see. I went hurtling down, gathering speed all the time, the ground rushing up to greet me. Cool evening air battered at my face and tugged at my clothes. The fall would be more than enough to kill any ordinary man. Good thing I was a Drood. I subvocalised the activating Words, and the golden armour contained in the torc at my throat rushed out to cover me from head to toe in a moment.
I could hear flapping heavy wings behind me, as dark things launched themselves in pursuit, but I was concentrating on the open Door falling away before me. The added weight of my armour sent me hurtling down faster than ever, and it was the easiest thing in the world to catch up with the falling Merlin Glass and plunge right through it, without even brushing against the sides. The Door slammed shut the moment I was through, cutting off the last angry screams from my pursuers.
• • •
And I crashed back to earth in a dark and deserted back alley in London’s old Soho. I hit the ground at appalling speed, but my armoured legs absorbed most of the impact. I stayed where I was for a moment, crouched on one knee in the crater I’d blasted out of the alley floor, getting my breathing back under control. It never ceases to amaze me, all the things I can do in my armour. I muttered the Words, and the golden strange matter flowed back into my torc. I straightened, adjusted my clothing, and grabbed the hand mirror–sized Merlin Glass out of mid-air, where it had been hovering above me. I slipped it carefully back into its hidden pocket, and only then looked around me.
After the bright moonlight of the Vatican, it felt something of a step down to be standing in the grimy amber light of a London street lamp, interrupted now and then by the flickering glare of malfunctioning neon signs. I was back in Soho, all right. For someone whose job description genuinely is globe-trotting secret agent, it’s astonishing how often I end up hanging around in grimy back alleys in the seedier parts of civilisation.
The never-ending roar of London’s traffic blasted by at the far end of the alleyway. All rushing shapes and blaring horns. The alley itself was dark and foul and smelled of appalling things. Quite definitely including fresh urine. Assorted garbage lay in scattered heaps, troubled only by rats with really strong stomachs. The stained brick walls were covered with the usual overlapping graffiti: Dagon Has Risen! Cthulhu Has Bad Dreams. And, more worryingly, Eye Can See You. And there, standing right at the end of the alley, sticking to the shadows because that was where he felt most at home: Harry Fabulous. He stepped forward, just a little, and nodded jerkily, doing his best to look like he was pleased to see me.
“Nice of you to drop in, Eddie. You Droods do love to make an entrance.”
“Stick to what you’re good at; that’s what I always say. Why am I here, Harry?”
“Good of you to get here so quickly,” he said, avoiding the question. “Here, let me show you into the Wulfshead.”
He moved quickly over to the left-hand wall, being very careful where he put his feet, and muttered certain secret Words. A massive silver door appeared in the brick wall, as though the silver had shouldered the brickwork aside for being less important, or less real. The door was big enough to drive an elephant through, and it shone with its own dull light, painting the wall opposite with a shifting, uncertain glow. The solid silver door was deeply carved and etched with a great many threats and warnings, in angelic and demonic script. The Wulfshead Club doesn’t discriminate. There was no bell, no knocker, not even a handle. It isn’t meant to be easy to get in. Harry placed the palm of his left hand flat against the silver, and after a moment that stretched on just a bit longer than was comfortable, the door swung slowly back before him. He snatched his hand back and smiled weakly at me. There were beads of sweat on his face. I wasn’t surprised. If your name isn’t on the approved guest list, the door will bite your hand right off.
Bright, cheerful light spilled out through the door and into the alley. Harry hurried in, and I moved quickly to follow him. It only took me a moment to realise I wasn’t in the Wulfshead. Instead, the door had let us into a small business office. All very basic—just a table and two chairs. No windows, no decorations; a door behind us and another door on the other side of the room. I had a very definite sense of being observed. I turned to look thoughtfully at Harry, and he backed quickly away, holding his hands out before him.
“It’s all right, Eddie! Really! That far door leads into the club proper—I promise you!”
“What are we doing here, Harry?” I said, and he actually flinched away from something in my voice.
“This is one of the private offices used by the club’s management. For when they . . . want to keep an eye on things. It’s just somewhere private, where we can discuss the management’s current . . . problem.”
“And why are you speaking for them, Harry?”
“Because they’re not stupid enough to reveal themselves to a Drood. And because I owe them,” Harry said flatly. His words gave him a certain amount of courage, and he did his best to look at me defiantly. “They didn’t want you in particular, and the Drood family in general, knowing who they are. You’d only take advantage . . . And anyway, if you did know who they were, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t approve.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” I said. “My family doesn’t approve of most people. And nearly always with good reason. So why are the management asking for my help? What could be so bad?”
If anything, Harry seemed even more jumpy now. He looked quickly around him, at the bare walls and the closed doors, and edged a little closer.
“Are you sure you’ve finished your business with the Vatican, Eddie? No loose ends that might turn up to . . . distract you?”
“It’s all done,” I said firmly. “And that is all I am going to say on the matter.”
Harry Fabulous didn’t need to know that I had broken into the Vatican not to steal something but to make them a present. I had taken in with me a single significant volume of forbidden lore, and deposited it in a certain place on a certain shelf, in the Vatican’s Very Secret Library. This particular copy, an almost exact copy of the book already in place there, had been compiled by the Drood Librarian. Just a few small changes, overseen by the family. I replaced one with the other, and took the original out with me. Because there were certain things in the original that we didn’t want the Church to know about. It would only have upset them and kept them up nights. Vatican Security might know someone had been poking around, but they wouldn’t know who, or why. Which added up to a completely successful mission in my book.
Harry still didn’t look at all happy. “I just hope no one saw you arrive out of nowhere.”
“Come on, Harry,” I said. “That was old Soho. One of the few bits they haven’t got around to gentrifying yet. You could set fire to a giant Wicker Man stuffed full of merchant bankers, and no one would give a damn. In fact, they’d probably applaud.”
“I hate to put it this bluntly, but I’m going to because the management insisted,” said Harry. “You can only enter the Wulfshead Club as Shaman Bond. The management can’t allow Eddie Drood to set foot on the premises. Not after what happened the last time he was here. Apparently, it took ages to get all the bloodstains out.”
“Understood,” I said shortly.
The last time I’d had reason to come to the club as a Drood, it had been during the Great Satanic Conspiracy. I’d forced my way in, in my armour, because I didn’t want Shaman Bond associated with what I was about to do. What I had to do. I needed answers to some questions, very urgently, and I didn’t have the time to be patient or reasonable. So I just beat them out of the man. And a few good people who got in the way. I looked thoughtfully at Harry.
“How long has the club’s management known that Shaman Bond is a cover identity for Eddie Drood?”
“I find it best not to ask them questions,” said Harry. “Are you sure you don’t know who they are?”
“I’m sure my family could find out,” I said. “If we ever really wanted to know. But they’re not important enough. For now.”
Harry sighed, and sat down on one of the chairs. He looked tired. I pulled up the other chair, sat down facing him, and then looked at him expectantly.
“There’s trouble at the Wulfshead Club,” said Harry. “We need you—that is, we need Shaman Bond—to ask questions quietly and discreetly, among the club’s clientele. Because secrets are leaking out of the club. Things said in confidence here have started turning up in the outside world. Which is supposed to be impossible. The club management guarantee that whatever happens in the Wulfshead stays in the Wulfshead. You can say anything, do anything, and no one will ever know. That’s why people like you and I come here. But now, secrets are getting out, and often appearing where they can do the most damage to everyone involved.”
“How long has this been going on?” I said. I was honestly shocked. Wulfshead security was supposed to be second to none.
“Almost three weeks now,” said Harry. “The management thought they could handle it themselves at first. But it seems they can’t. So they found me, to find you. They want you to discover exactly how the club’s privacy is being compromised, and why, and who’s behind it. And then they want you to put a stop to it.”
“But why me, of all people?” I said, honestly curious. “I mean, given the mess I made the last time I was here?”
“That was a Drood,” said Harry. “You expect things like that from Droods. The management wants Shaman Bond. Because he is a regular here, and knows everyone. And everyone knows him.”
I frowned. “They think this is an inside job?”
“Has to be,” said Harry. “Someone here is telling tales out of school. We need you to find out who.”
“What do I get out of it?”
“I have been instructed to tell you,” Harry said carefully, “whatever you want. The club’s management agree to owe you a favour. You personally, that is; not your family. There are limits. It will be a personal favour to you, that you can call in at any time.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said cheerfully. “But you do realise I won’t be able to keep this from my family?”
“Understood,” said Harry. “The management merely asks that you be . . . discreet in how much you tell them.”
“Understood,” I said. A thought occurred to me. “If the club’s management is so concerned about what’s going on, why haven’t they called in their own security big guns? The Roaring Boys?”
Harry winced. “Because you don’t use a nuke to crack a walnut. The Roaring Boys . . . do tend to favour a scorched-earth policy. You can do this, Eddie. People will talk to Shaman Bond, where they wouldn’t talk to anyone else. Because they think he’s one of them.”
He got up abruptly, strode over to the opposite door, and pulled it open. Savagely bright lights and disturbingly loud music blasted in from the club beyond. I rose unhurriedly and strolled to the door. Wild drinks and wilder music, just like always. I stepped through the door into the club, then stopped and looked back as I realised Harry Fabulous had stayed in the office.
“You not joining me, Harry?”
“Best not,” he said. “I don’t need the temptation. Can’t afford to risk it these days.”
“What did you do, Harry?” I said.
He smiled briefly. “Let’s just say I met someone who was better at the art of the big con than I was.”
He shut the door firmly in my face, and I moved on, into the Wulfshead Club.
• • •
The joint was jumping—loud and colourful and packed with all the usual unusual suspects. People coming and going, along with a few individuals who weren’t in any way people, talking in small groups or muttering in corners or crowding together at the long bar. Winding down after a long day, or night; or gathering the courage of their convictions before they went out to do appalling things in the world. Some were plotting cons, or jobs, or glorious insurrection; others were just letting their hair down in convivial company. Lots of loud, blaring music. Apparently tonight was Let’s Celebrate Sixties Film Music Night. I recognised the theme from the original version of The Italian Job: “We Are the Self-Preservation Society.” A lot of people were singing along.
I strolled easily through the packed crowd, smiling and nodding, and being smiled at and nodded to. Shaman Bond has a carefully cultivated reputation for being part of the Scene: a well-known face, always around, always just turning up . . . always on the lookout for a little profitable trouble to get into. No one was surprised to see Shaman Bond at the Wulfshead, because no one was ever surprised to see him anywhere. I clapped my hand on a few shoulders, kissed a few cheeks, and kept moving.
Everywhere I looked, people were drinking and dancing and making deals. Laughing and shouting in the hot, sweaty atmosphere, the bright lights shining in their eyes and in their minds. Bright primary colours blasted down from above, constantly changing, while the walls were covered with giant flat plasma screens showing ever-changing views from secret locations around the world. Many of which didn’t officially exist. Scenes from underground bunkers and secret laboratories, the hidden lairs of the Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny. And even interesting peeks into the bedrooms of the rich and famous. (Along with other, less salubrious locations.) Lots and lots of well-known faces, doing all sorts of things that would do their public image no good at all.
I couldn’t help wondering whether someone whose secret life had been spied on, and perhaps revealed, might not have decided on some appropriate revenge.
I headed for the long high-tech bar at the far end of the club, a nightmare Art Deco structure of gleaming steel and glass, with computer-assisted access to more kinds of booze than most people even know exist. You want a Wolfsbane cocktail, with a silver parasol in it? Or perhaps angel’s tears, with a depleted uranium swizzle stick? Or perhaps you desire a deep purple liqueur distilled from a kind of moss found only on Mars? Then it’s no wonder you’ve come to the Wulfshead Club.
It is said by many and believed by even more that the club management keep their bar stock securely locked away in a pocket dimension only tangentially connected to the bar. Because the bar staff are afraid of it.
I eased my way through the crowd, being pleasant and friendly to all the right people, because it’s never wise to start a fight you can’t be sure of winning. I caught the nearest barman’s eye and ordered my usual bottle of Beck’s. It arrived almost immediately, ice cold, with little drops of water beading on the glass. I nodded familiarly to the barman. His face was familiar, but it was hard to tell whether we’d ever actually met before—on account of there being a dozen or so barmen moving up and down the long bar, all of them with exactly the same face. Because they were clones. It’s a lot easier to be sure of the honesty of your staff if you grow them all in vats.
I put my back against the bar and looked around me. Just Shaman Bond, chilling out, soaking up the atmosphere. Fitting in, letting myself become part of the crowd and part of the scene, so people would just accept my presence. So I could take advantage of them. I felt a little alone, even in the midst of so many, being there without my partner and my love, the wild witch Molly Metcalf. But I couldn’t call her to come and join me, because it was widely known, in places like this, that Molly Metcalf was currently stepping out with a Drood.
I couldn’t ask her to help out on the Vatican job either. Because while I could get in without being noticed, Molly’s presence would have set off even more security alarms than my Drood armour. Molly had done many impressive and destructive things in her time, to the detriment of organised religions. And as a result, they all really disapproved of her. That’s what you get for boasting you’ve been to Heaven and Hell and everywhere in between.
I studied the crowd carefully, taking my time. You can find all sorts at the Wulfshead—if they don’t find you first. I made no move to approach anyone specific, or join in any conversation. Not yet. I just kept my ears and eyes open: seeing who was in tonight, and who they were with; who wasn’t there but perhaps should have been; and who was getting involved with things and people they would quite definitely come to regret in the morning. Love and lust, or things very like them, hung heavily on the hot and sweaty air. Temptation comes as standard at the Wulfshead. No wonder Harry Fabulous was hiding. I tilted my head surreptitiously this way and that, listening in on the latest gossip. Who was out, who was having who, who’d died, and who was responsible.
There was a lot of talk about what was going on with the Shadow Banks, just recently. Those secret underground financial institutions that funded a lot of the bigger supernatural crimes, and criminals, on the quiet. Something significant had happened, after the last Casino Infernale in France, because the Shadow Banks had stopped loaning money. To anyone. Which was . . . unheard of. A lot of people in the Wulfshead were very unhappy about this. Can’t do the crimes if you don’t have the funding. Everyone knew that. There was a lot of talk, but no one knew anything for certain.
I could have told them. How I broke the bank at Casino Infernale . . . But I didn’t. Because that was down to Eddie Drood. And still the conversations rose and fell . . .
Have you heard about the Great Game this year? They say it’s going to be bigger than ever . . . I hear the man in Cell 13 is finally getting out . . . I heard the Lady Faire has just sent out invitations to attend her annual Ball, for all past and present friends and lovers. Is she handling everything herself? I wouldn’t be at all surprised . . . I hear it’s all kicking off in the Nightside, with the return of the Celestial Children . . . I hear, I hear . . .
Everyone had heard all kinds of things, but that didn’t necessarily make any of them true. There was a lot of gossip about what the Droods were up to—nearly all of it wrong, but worrying. Which was as it should be.
There were certainly a hell of a lot of people in tonight. Packed together so tight you could hardly breathe. Some I knew, some I didn’t. Monkton Farley, the famous consulting detective, was propping up the bar not far from me. Tall and whipcord lean, with a hard-boned face and flashing eyes, dressed very smartly, as always, with a vulgarly large diamond tiepin and immaculate white spats. Holding forth, very much as usual, to a small crowd of his wide-eyed and devoted fans, all of them hanging on his every word as he related his latest triumph. There’s no denying he’s a really good detective, with a razor-sharp mind; but there’s also no denying he’s an arrogant, stuck-up little tit. A hard man to dislike—but worth the effort.
Not too far away, ostentatiously ignoring Monkton Farley, was Ellen de Gustibus. She eats monsters. A pleasant enough sort, but it’s still hard to look at her without feeling a certain chill. She really does eat monsters. Some agents of the Good are scarier than others. A tall, statuesque blonde in a rose-red basque and fishnet stockings, Ellen also favoured a bulky black leather jacket and stiletto heels so high they could be used in close combat, and often had been. She wore a hell of a lot of makeup, under spiky blonde hair, and was always smiling and laughing. And nearly always ready to buy the next round. Her crowd of wide-eyed admirers was even bigger than Farley’s, and her stories were a lot more fun.
No one ever bothers Ellen de Gustibus. If anyone even tries, she just takes out a toothpick and rolls it round her mouth in a meaningful sort of way. Apparently, she’d just got back from cleaning out a nest of vampires in Budapest.
“How did you find them, Ellen?” asked a fan adoringly.
“Tasty,” said Ellen.
Also present, unfortunately for all, was the Painted Ghoul. The clown at midnight himself, dressed in a bloodstained clown’s costume composed of deliberately clashing colours. The Painted Ghoul’s face was daubed with distressing patterns, and when he smiled his big red smile, you could see he’d filed his teeth into sharp points. His over-bright eyes were full of a malevolent glee. There’s nothing funny about a clown with an erection.
I turned my back on him to look elsewhere, because he just lives for the attention, and nodded to Waterloo Lillian, a tall showgirl in a spangly outfit, with ostrich feathers in her piled-up hair and a bravely prominent Adam’s apple.
“Have you heard anything about the Indigo Spirit?” I said, deliberately keeping it vague.
“Oh, him,” said Lillian, sipping delicately from his champagne glass with an extended little finger. “He doesn’t come around here anymore. Not since he got his head handed to him by a Drood a while back. I hear he does his drinking in the Nightside now. Because he knows he can’t trust anyone here.”
I felt bad about that, but I couldn’t say anything. I hadn’t meant to hurt him so badly. He just . . . got in the way.
“How about Charlatan Joe?” I asked, as casually as I could.
Waterloo Lillian sniffed loudly, the tall ostrich feathers shivering as he shook his head dismissively.
“The club management banned him permanently, for being dumb enough to bring the wrath of the Droods down on us in the first place. I mean, yes, this is supposed to be a sanctuary for one and all, but there are limits. And it’s not like anyone misses Charlatan Joe, after all.”
I moved away. I wasn’t prepared to feel any more guilty. I’d done my penance.
Also present at the Wulfshead that night was Jumping Jack Flashman. Wearing a mind-blowingly colourful three-piece suit so bright and distinctive that blind people would have winced at it, complete with a black carnation in his buttonhole. He was looking even more smug than usual—which could only mean he’d just pulled off a really big score. Everyone knew he was a thief and a burglar, but we all felt safe when he was around. Partly because he was smart enough not to shit where he lived, but mostly because he stole only from the Very Rich and Prosperous. And no one who drinks in the Wulfshead makes enough money to qualify as one of Jumping Jack’s targets. Tall and gangling, and handsome enough in a weak sort of way, Jumping Jack had fey blue eyes, dark stringy hair, and a drooping porn star’s moustache.
He bellied up to the bar, grandly offering to buy drinks for one and all, and loudly announced he’d already set up his next challenge. A victim who would make everyone sit up and take notice. We all just laughed and nodded, because that was what he always said. No one doubted he could bring it off, though. No one did the short-range teleport burglary better than Jumping Jack Flashman.
I looked around, carefully, but no one seemed to be paying undue attention. Even though you would have thought that was just the kind of secret information the people spying on the club would want to know.
I moved unhurriedly on through the crowd, working the room with easy grace, chatting amiably with one and all, and just sort of casually bringing up the subject of secrets going missing. It seemed like everyone had heard something, though rarely the same something, but no one knew anything for sure. They weren’t even particularly on their guard, or watching what they were saying. This was the Wulfshead, after all. They still felt safe here, because they always had been.
Monkton Farley bristled at the very thought, but he made a point of dismissing his faithful devotees so we could discuss the matter privately.
“The whole point of drinking in an establishment like this,” he said, “is that you can feel free to speak openly. Share a confidence, in the certainty that it will remain an understanding between the persons concerned. If that is no longer true, I may have to take my custom elsewhere.”
“And we should miss you so, Monkton,” said Ellen de Gustibus, easing in beside us and considering us solemnly over a very large drink. “But what secrets might you have, Monkton, that you’re so concerned about? You’re always saying your life is an open book.”
“My professional life remains transparent to all,” said Farley with quiet dignity. “But damn it all, a chap’s private life should remain just that. The whole point of secrets is that they should stay secret.”
“Two may keep a secret, if one of them is dead,” Ellen said wisely.
The Painted Ghoul sniggered loudly as he forced his way into our group.
“I have no secrets, because I wear my heart on my sleeve. Look! There it is!”
We all looked, despite ourselves, and sure enough there was a human heart stitched to his billowing silk sleeve. It was still beating, slowly. The Painted Ghoul took a firm grip and wrenched the heart away. We all winced just a bit, as we heard the stitches tear. The Painted Ghoul offered the heart to each of us in turn, but we all declined. Even Ellen. Perhaps she was full, after Budapest. The clown shrugged and bit deeply into the heart. Blood dripped thickly from his chin, as he chewed happily.
He didn’t care; but he loved it that we did.
“Your loss,” he said indistinctly.
“I wouldn’t touch anything you’d touched, clown,” said Ellen. “I have scruples.”
“Really?” leered the Painted Ghoul.
“Yes,” said Ellen. “Bags full of them.”
The clown actually stopped chewing for a moment.
“I think it’s the Droods,” Monkton Farley said abruptly. “They’re the ones behind all this.”
“Why?” I said.
“Because it always is the Droods!” Farley answered.
“Well, yes,” said Ellen. “Very nearly always. But I don’t think they’d go to all the trouble of listening in on our secrets just to give them away for free. The Droods use the secrets they acquire for leverage. Or blackmail. Or store them away for some future time, when they might come in handy.”
“Nothing sells for a better price than a secret,” said the Painted Ghoul.
“You should know,” said Farley.
“You wound me, sir!” said the clown, throwing what was left of the heart to the floor and wiping his bloody fingers on the front of his outfit. “I tell everyone everything, just to see the look on their faces.”
“Whoever it is that’s listening in,” said Ellen, “they’re becoming a real nuisance. I come here to relax, far away from a judgemental world. Can’t you figure out what’s going on here, Monkton? Please? Pretty please?”
She actually went so far as to flutter her eyelashes at him. Monkton Farley smiled, despite himself. He never could resist a pretty face.
“I am a detective, and the current situation does . . . intrigue me. I know for a fact that the Wulfshead Security people have turned the whole bar inside out, and failed to discover even a hint of a scientific or supernatural eavesdropping device. There’s nothing here that isn’t supposed to be here. Which suggests to me that this has to be some kind of inside job. And whoever is behind all this . . . would have to be pretty damned powerful in their own right, not to be scared of what the Wulfshead management might do, if they ever find out.”
We all looked at each other. We were all thinking of the Roaring Boys, but none of us wanted to say their name out loud, in case that was enough to make them appear. The last time the club management unleashed them, after that unfortunate business at last year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, the police were fishing bodies and bits of bodies out of the Thames for more than three weeks. And the media never said a word. Funny, that . . .
“Who do you think it is, Shaman?” said Ellen. “You’ve usually got your ear closer to the ground than anyone else.”
“Yes,” I said, “but I’ve been away. It does seem to me, though, that we’re all missing the obvious question. Who profits? Who stands to make the most, out of all our secrets being made public? Or . . . if they’re not doing it for the money, what are they getting out of it? I mean, just setting up an operation like this can’t have been cheap . . .”
“Good point, Shaman,” said Farley, frowning heavily. “If it’s not about the money, it must be about the secrets themselves. Who wants to know?”
Jumping Jack Flashman just happened to be passing by at that moment, heading to the bar for a refill. He smiled charmingly on us all.
“Don’t look at me; I only steal proper valuables. Secrets and information are just too hard to sell. You need brokers, and middlemen, and binding agreements . . . I prefer to keep things simple. Nobody really cares if you just steal their valuables. Everybody’s insured these days.”
I went with him to the bar and ordered myself another bottle of Beck’s. Talking is thirsty work. The barman who served me might have been the same one as before, or he might not. It didn’t matter; they all had the same colourless professional personality. Though this particular clone must not have known me as well as some of the others, because he tried to interest me in some of the evening’s special offers.
“Could I interest you in our special Dirty Pink Champagne, sir? Tinted, or perhaps more properly tainted, with a delicate diffusion of demon’s blood? Atlantean ale? Lemurian lager? Ponce de Leon Sparkling Water, takes years off you. Or there’s our new Cannibal Cognac—comes complete with a human finger at the bottom of every bottle. For when eating the worm just isn’t enough . . .”
I looked at the bartender, and he decided he was urgently needed somewhere else. I put my back to the bar again, and looked up and down the length of the club. The place was packed, everybody talking at the tops of their voices, and men and women and certain others were huddling together in corners, doing things that would have been illegal if only the Government had known about them. That said, everyone was playing nice, because the club had raised its security levels. There were golem bouncers at every exit, standing unnaturally still in their oversized formal tuxedos. Their eyes burned fiercely, the yellow flames jumping slightly with every movement in the air. The golems were on guard, and they missed nothing.
And then I heard Ellen de Gustibus say, “Hey! Where did the Painted Ghoul go? He was standing right beside me just a moment ago!”
We all looked around quickly, but there was no sign of the clown at midnight anywhere. Which was . . . more than odd. He wasn’t the sort to just leave without making a big production out of it and upsetting as many people as possible . . . And given the sheer press of the crowd, there was no way he could have gone far in just a few moments. Even as I looked around, there were more raised voices up and down the length of the club as people suddenly noticed that people they’d been talking to only a moment before just weren’t there any longer. More and more names were shouted of people who’d disappeared. The music shut down abruptly as someone behind the bar realised something was seriously wrong. Panicking voices rose up throughout the club, demanding to know what the hell was going on.
It was only then that I realised how much the crowd had thinned out in the last few moments. The club was nowhere near as packed as it had been. Other people had already realised that, and were making a mad dash for the exits. Only to find that the doors wouldn’t open. And I was pretty sure that wasn’t down to the club management. We were being held where we were, like rats in a trap. People surged desperately this way and that, looking around for an enemy—or just someone handy to strike out at.
People at the sealed doors were yelling at the golems, demanding that they do something, but the tall, hulking figures didn’t speak or move. Their grey stone faces remained utterly impassive, and the fire had gone out of their eyes, as though someone had turned them off. And the more I looked around, the more it seemed to me that there were even fewer people in the club than before. As though they were being taken when I wasn’t looking. Just snatched away.
Suddenly the Wulfshead looked barely half full.
Men and women, friends and enemies, moved quickly to stand back to back so they could watch every direction at once and defend themselves against whatever was coming. Some threw accusations at one another, but most had already realised this had to be a threat from Outside. The shouting and screaming died quickly away, as people prepared to fight their corner. Weapons were appearing in everyone’s hands. I turned and gestured urgently to the nearest barman.
“Why aren’t the security measures kicking in?” I said loudly. “I thought they were supposed to defend us automatically, if the club ever came under attack from Outside?”
The barman looked back at me, confused. “I don’t understand it! If there’s a problem, any problem, the club should protect itself! If Security can’t react, for fear of injuring the patrons, then all the doors should open automatically! And if that fails, then the Roaring Boys should appear, to sort things out. But nothing’s activating! The computers back here are telling me they haven’t been interfered with, or sabotaged, or even bypassed . . . They’re just not activating. As though as far as they’re concerned, nothing is wrong!”
I turned away from the barman as Monkton Farley grabbed me by the arm. His face was full of a sudden insight.
“Shaman! Have you noticed only people on the edges of the crowd have been disappearing! The people in the middle haven’t been touched!”
“So whatever’s grabbing people is only able to get at those people nearest the walls!” I said.
Farley fought his way into the crowd, yelling for everyone to stand together in the middle of the club and stay well away from the walls. Nobody argued. They were happy to go along with anything that might make them feel a little safer. They huddled together, back to back and shoulder to shoulder, glaring about them, defying any outsider to come too near. They all had some kind of weapon at the ready now. Everything from machine pistols to energy guns, enchanted knuckle-dusters to aboriginal pointing bones. We’re an eclectic bunch at the Wulfshead.
There were even a few pieces of alien tech being brandished, dangerous enough to make me feel distinctly nervous. On the grounds that they looked powerful enough to destroy the whole club and everyone in it. I just hoped no one started shooting at shadows, because the moment one started, everyone else would be bound to join in.
I wanted very much to call on my armour so I could protect the crowd, as much as myself. But if I did that, everyone would know Shaman Bond was really a Drood. My cover identity would be lost forever. And I liked being Shaman Bond. I wasn’t ready to give him up just yet. I put my right hand to my forehead, subvocalised the activating Words, and allowed just a trickle of strange matter to run down my neck from my torc, and then streak along my arm to my raised hand, until it could jump onto my face and form a pair of golden sunglasses. With so much going on around me, I was pretty sure no one would notice anything. And with the golden sunglasses in place, I could suddenly See the whole situation a great deal more clearly. I could See everything that was there, including the things I wasn’t supposed to see.
The problem was the club’s plasma screens. The huge screens covering the walls. Someone had tapped into them from Outside, and was watching everything that was going on inside the club from the other side of the screens. I could See them, dark figures sitting and listening on the far side of every screen—though they were almost certainly some distance away in reality.
This was how the secrets had been getting out. And no one had noticed because the screens were part of the club. Just taken for granted. They probably hadn’t been physically altered, nothing to give away their new nature; they just had their signals piggybacked, so that the sound and vision went both ways.
I jumped up onto the bar and shouted at the crowd. Every eye and every weapon were immediately turned on me.
“It’s the plasma screens!” I said. “Someone’s made them two-way! Someone’s looking in from Outside, so they can see and hear everything that happens here! And now they must be reaching through the screens to take people!”
I really shouldn’t have been surprised when everyone present immediately opened fire on every plasma screen at once. I jumped down just in time and huddled up against the bar as all kinds of firepower were unleashed. The din was almost unbearable in the confined space. But when the shooting died raggedly away, and I looked up again, I saw that not a single screen had been so much as cracked. Whoever had tapped into them had clearly also reinforced them with all kinds of protections.
Everyone stood very still, looking around, and then a whole bunch of dark hands burst out of every plasma screen at once, on the end of rapidly elongating dark, rubbery arms. The hands shot forward with incredible speed, grabbed the nearest people, and dragged them bodily towards the plasma screens, struggle as they might.
The dark hands clamped onto arms and shoulders with inhuman strength. Sometimes that was enough, if the victims had been caught off guard and off balance. The victims were dragged over to the screens, and then into and through them, all in a moment. If the victims fought back, then the hands would just hold them in place long enough for their arms to whip round and round them, wrapping them in dark, unrelenting coils. And then the arms would retract, dragging the still struggling victims through the plasma screens to whatever awaited them on the other side. People everywhere screamed and swore and fired their weapons wildly, and none of it did any good at all.
Of course, the kind of people you get at the Wulfshead Club often aren’t the type to depend on weapons. Many were powerful enough or crafty enough to put up a fight on their own.
Monkton Farley ducked back and forth, hiding behind other people, using them as shields while he put his great mind to the problem of how to shut down the screens. He was already assembling an impressive bit of tech from various things he dug out of his pockets.
Ellen de Gustibus grabbed the nearest dark arm as it shot past her, held it firmly in place with both of her hands, and then took a large bite out of it. It bucked and jerked spasmodically as Ellen chewed her way through it. There wasn’t any blood that I could see.
Waterloo Lillian stabbed an aboriginal bone at a dark hand as it went for him, and the hand just withered and fell apart. The attached arm disintegrated into dust. But even as Lillian whooped loudly in triumph, another dark arm looped itself quickly around him from behind. Half a dozen coils were enough to pin his arms to his sides, and then they squeezed hard, crushing all the breath out of him. The bone fell from Lillian’s nerveless fingers, and his mascaraed eyes rolled up in his head. The arm dragged him off to the nearest screen.
Jumping Jack Flashman had already discovered he couldn’t get out of the club. The main security shields were still in place. So he just went teleporting back and forth around the interior, appearing and disappearing before the hands or arms could get a grip on him. One dark arm did whip around him, but he was gone again before it could tighten. The next time he reappeared, though, a dark hand was waiting for him, hanging on the air. It formed itself into a fist and punched him hard in the side of the head the moment he appeared. The arm caught his unconscious body before it could hit the ground, looped around him, and hauled him away.
Whoever was in control on the other side of the plasma screens, it was clear they were no longer content just to take secrets. With their presence blown, they were taking the people who knew the secrets. And even with all this mayhem going on around me, I still couldn’t help wondering . . . who could be brave enough, or stupid enough, or just plain desperate enough to make enemies of the club management? And all the friends and families and organisations attached to the people they’d taken? Even my family would hesitate to make so many significant dangerous enemies at once.
It wouldn’t stop them, but they’d definitely think about it first.
A dark hand on the end of a rapidly lengthening arm came flying directly at me, only to slam to a halt at the very last moment. It hung quivering on the air, just a few inches short of my face, and then turned away, in search of another victim. I put a hand to my throat, where my torc was tingling wildly. The hand had detected the torc and turned away rather than antagonise the Droods. Which was . . . interesting. I looked quickly around, and then sent another trickle of golden strange matter down my arm, under my sleeve, to form an armoured glove over my right hand. I needed to do something before I was left standing alone in an empty club.
A dark hand flew past me. I grabbed it out of mid-air and crushed it with my golden glove. I felt bones crack and break in my grasp; and when I let the hand go, it whipped quickly back inside the nearest screen. Through my golden spectacles I watched it go, and saw vague figures moving agitatedly back and forth on the other side of the screen. One of them was clutching his hand to his chest, as though it was injured. And another figure . . . was quite definitely giving orders to the others. I punched the screen before me with my golden hand, and instead of cracking or breaking, the screen just let my armoured hand pass right through, into the place behind.
I concentrated hard, and my armour connected with the screen’s operating systems, infiltrating their command structures. And then it seemed like the easiest thing in the world for me to reach all the way through the screen and grab the figure who’d been giving all the orders. I took a firm hold and hauled him back through the screen and into the Wulfshead Club. I threw him to the floor and stood over him . . . and was quietly astonished to discover that I knew him.
He just sprawled there, shaking and shuddering, not even trying to get up. He looked at me piteously, like a child expecting to be punished for something that really wasn’t his fault. I made my golden sunglasses disappear so he could see my face clearly. I wanted him to be able to see just how angry I was.
It was Alan Diment, the current head of MI 13, the British Government’s very own secret spy organisation, dedicated to protecting Queen and Country from unnatural threats. They weren’t very big, or particularly well budgeted, but they tried hard. They handled all the day-to-day supernatural threats that my family, or the Department of Uncanny, were too busy to deal with. Normally they had enough sense not to mess with the Big Guys. And certainly not with established power bases like the Wulfshead Club. A lot of MI 13’s higher-ups were supposed to be Members . . . Which was probably how they’d got access to the plasma screens in the first place.
Alan Diment was a middle-aged, grey little man, as quietly anonymous and nondescript as any professional secret agent should be. I knew him mainly as a courier, passed over for more important things for a whole bunch of good reasons. Diment was blonde and blue-eyed, in a minor aristocratic sort of way, the kind who got into Intelligence because that was what Daddy did. What his family had done, for generations. Only to discover that he wasn’t any good at it.
The last time I encountered Alan Diment, very briefly, it was during the Great Satanic Conspiracy business. Which had turned out to be run by the previous head of MI 13, that treacherous little shit Philip MacAlpine. It also turned out that a lot of the higher echelons of MI 13 had been a part of the Conspiracy, and my family had to hunt them all down and kill them, root and branch. Because some things just can’t be forgiven. Presumably Alan Diment had been one of the few older agents left untouched by the scandal. I had heard they’d put him in charge, but I’d never thought he’d be dumb enough to do something like this.
I grabbed him by the shirtfront, pulled him up off the floor, and slammed him back against the bar. I thrust my face right into his. He didn’t even struggle, just looked back at me with his big, sad eyes. I showed him my golden fist, and his eyes widened even more as I made golden spikes rise out of the knuckles.
“You are in trouble, Alan,” I said. “Real trouble. Tell me what you know. Tell me everything that’s going on here. And this would not be a good time to grow a pair and fall back on your supposed authority.”
“No one’s dead! No one’s hurt!” Diment said quickly. “This was just supposed to be an information-gathering operation! That is what spies do, after all, isn’t it? Look, they made me be head of MI 13. I didn’t want the job; I was looking forward to taking early retirement. But after that stupid Satanic Conspiracy thing wiped out all the top levels of the organisation, I was the only one left who knew how things worked. The only one with any real experience. I’d put the years in, so they gave me an office and a secretary and told me to get on with it. Keep your head down, they said, and don’t make any waves. Just hold the fort until we can find someone more suitable to do the job.
“But . . . the Government had been through its own purge, because of the Conspiracy, and there were a lot of new faces around, settling into positions of power, desperate to make their mark. They were the ones who put the pressure on. They wanted to prove MI 13 was still fit for purpose. That it was still capable of bringing in the bacon . . . I was told I had to do something, come up with some big new idea, to keep them from . . . disposing of me.
“So I talked to a few old friends, chaps I went to school with, who were working for Black Heir. You know, the Government department tasked with clearing up the mess left behind after alien encounters . . . Of course you know. These friends loaned me a few useful bits of alien tech, and I talked some of my people who were Members of the Wulfshead into quietly introducing that alien tech into the plasma screens. Wasn’t difficult . . . The club management may be absolute fiends when it comes to external security, but they never considered there might be a threat from inside their precious club.
“Anyway, I soon had some of my people sitting on the other side of the screens, keeping their eyes and ears open and writing down anything that seemed . . . interesting. I sorted through it all and sent anything that seemed important Upstairs. And that should have been it. But then certain people in positions of power started deliberately releasing the secrets, to do damage to people they disapproved of. I think a lot of that was down to interdepartmental fighting . . .
“They said they were very pleased with me! At first . . . Enough to take the pressure off, for a while, but then they started getting greedy. They didn’t just want the secrets, they wanted the people who knew the secrets. Because they weren’t seen as people any more, just useful assets to be exploited. So the word came down, and it was more than my life was worth to say no. I was told to grab a few useful people from the Wulfshead tonight. They even gave me a shopping list. Take a few, they said, not enough to draw anyone’s attention. But no one expected you to be here. They took one look at you and panicked. Said, ‘Take everyone!’ Make a clean sweep of it, while we can. Before you figured out what was happening and shut it down. I told them it was a bad idea! But they wouldn’t listen . . .”
I turned Alan Diment around with my armoured hand and showed him to the nearest plasma screen.
“You know who I am!” I said loudly. “Give back the people you’ve taken, right now, and I’ll give you back your head of MI 13. With all his important parts still attached.”
There wasn’t even a pause. A voice from the other side of the screen said, “Keep him.”
Diment looked shocked, but not particularly surprised. I sighed inwardly and tried again.
“All right,” I said. “You want to escalate? I can do that. First, you’ve already seen that I can pass through the screen. Don’t make me come there in person and show you just how much damage I can cause to things and people when I’m in a mood. Second, do you really want my family at your throats? Now, and forever?”
There was a long pause, and then all the dark hands on their long black arms whipped back into the plasma screens and were gone. The few people left in the club, who’d managed to fight the hands off, raised their heads and looked slowly about them. And then all the people who’d been taken came flying back through the screens into the club. They poured through in a rush, piling up on the floor. Those still conscious cried out at the impact, but didn’t have enough strength left to make a fuss. No one seemed badly injured; but a lot of them looked like they’d been hit with some heavy-duty sedation. I glared at the dark figures moving uneasily about on the other side of the screens.
“There had better not be anyone missing!” I said sternly. “Not even one. Or I will come and find you.”
Four more bodies came flying through the screens. Interestingly, I didn’t recognise any of them. But apparently someone thought they were important . . . I looked at Alan Diment.
“This was a really bad idea. Don’t ever try it again. Not here, or anywhere else.”
“I wouldn’t,” said Diment. “But someone else might.”
I looked at him thoughtfully. “Who was it, exactly, who pressured you into doing this?”
“The current Government has an awful lot of new people in it,” Diment said carefully. “Obsessed with secrets, and the power having those secrets would bring them . . .”
“Names,” I said.
“Sorry,” said Diment sadly. “You might kill me for not talking, but they definitely would, if I did.”
I nodded, turned him around, and booted him back through the nearest plasma screen. It swallowed him up in a moment, and then every screen in the club went blank, shut down from the other side. I had no doubt that by the time the club’s management had the screens up and running again, all ties to the other side would have been cut. Not a trace left behind, to point the finger at anyone.
People were getting to their feet now, and looking at each other and the blank plasma screens with equal confusion. Whatever they’d seen on the other side, and whatever had been done to them, they clearly didn’t remember. I discreetly made my golden hand disappear, and then moved through the crowd, checking that everyone was all right. Ellen de Gustibus was leaning heavily on Monkton Farley, exhausted. He comforted her as best he could. He understood all there was to know about people, except how to be one. I gave him bonus marks for trying. Jumping Jack Flashman left through the nearest exit, the moment someone discovered they were working again. And the Painted Ghoul . . . just brushed himself down, briskly. As though this kind of thing happened to him all the time. And for all I knew, it did.
“Light my cigarette, lover,” said Waterloo Lillian, and I did, though I had to hold his hand steady with my other hand while I did it.
“You all right?” I said.
“As close as I get,” he said, smiling briefly. “Do you understand what just happened here?”
“Me?” I said. “No, I’m just passing through.”
I spotted Harry Fabulous, slouching in the open doorway at the far end of the club, and excused myself. I wandered casually over, to have a quiet word. Harry half retreated into the shadows of the door, preferring not to be noticed or recognised by the clientele. He needn’t have worried; everyone else was far too concerned with their own problems.
“I have been authorised to thank you,” said Harry Fabulous. “The club’s management are . . . reasonably happy with the way things have turned out. They wish me to assure you that they can take things from here. And do whatever may be necessary to ensure this never happens again.”
“I’ll still be having a word with my family,” I said. “We’ll sort out whoever it is in the current Government who’s been getting ideas above their station. Can’t have politicians messing around with things that really matter. One of us will have a quiet word with the Prime Minister. It’s been a while since we made a PM cry, and wet himself.” I gave Harry a firm look. “Remind your masters they owe me a favour. A big one.”
“That was the agreement,” Harry said steadily.
“So,” I said, “can I take it I am no longer banned from the Wulfshead Club?”
“Shaman Bond never was,” Harry said carefully. “But Eddie Drood still is. Because a lot of the clientele here would rise up and do their level best to strike him down, first time they saw him.”
“I get that a lot,” I said.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Secret Histories Novels
“A dynamite new entry in this rollicking adventure series, with its James Bond–of-the-supernatural style.”—SFRevu
Live and Let Drood
“Simon R. Green has done it again....Fantastic!”—Crooked Reviews
For Heaven’s Eyes Only
“Clever world building, madcap characters, cheeky one-liners, and a James Bond feel.”—Publishers Weekly
From Hell with Love
“A ripping good yarn.”—The Green Man Review
The Spy Who Haunted Me
“Green’s Drood books are fun, funny, and action-packed, and Eddie is one of his most entertaining creations.”—Booklist
Daemons Are Forever
“A rapid-fire paranormal suspense.”—Monsters and Critics
The Man with the Golden Torc
“A hard-boiled, fast-talking, druidic James Bond who wields ancient magic instead of a gun...a witty fantasy adventure.”—Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I could sit around a read Simon Green all day. The great thing is that I just discovered hem recently so that I have years of his work to choose from. Read on.