A Day in the Life
The world isn’t what you think it is. Hell, even London isn’t what you think it is. There are monsters around every corner, creatures in every shadow, and more dark conspiracies and secret wars going on than you can shake a really big stick at. You never get to know about this because the Drood family has field agents everywhere, to keep the lid on things and make sure everyone plays nice. When they don’t, we kill them. We don’t believe in second chances; we believe in stamping out fires before they can spread.
My family has been keeping the world safe for almost two thousand years. We’re very good at it.
And then I found out the truth behind the lies, and nothing made sense anymore. The last time I visited my nice little flat in London, my home away from home, my life seemed to make some kind of sense. I was an experienced field agent, complete with use name and cover identity, and the marvellous golden armour that made me so much more than human. I went where the family told me to go, and did what I was told, and it never even occurred to me to ask any questions. It was my job to protect the world from whatever dark and nasty forces needed slapping down that week, and I had a good reputation for getting the job done, whatever the complications. I knew who were the good guys, and who were the bad.
I knew nothing.
My flat was in Knightsbridge, a comfortable first-floor apartment in a really nice area, where no one knew who I really was. I made enough money to live in style as well as comfort, and no one ever bothered me. That was my life, just a few months ago. Until one day, with no warning, my family declared me rogue for no reason, and I had to go on the run to save my life. Searching for answers, I discovered the terrible truth about my family and the world, and nothing has been the same since.
Now here I was back in London again, with the wild witch of the woods Molly Metcalf sitting at my side as I drove my new car through the mostly empty streets. It was the early hours of the morning, the sun only just up, the birds were singing their little hearts out, and the air had that expectant, anything-can-happen feel that all big cities have at the beginning of the day. Molly Metcalf, anarchist and terrorist and a whole bunch of other ists that involved making trouble for the powers that be, stretched happily and beat out a rhythm on the dashboard with both hands to accompany the Breed 77 album playing on the car’s sound system. A short and delicate china doll of a woman, with bobbed black hair, huge dark eyes, and big bosoms. She was wearing a black leather catsuit, with a witch knife hanging around her neck on a long silver chain. Molly used to be one of the bad guys; probably still was, depending on how you looked at it. We had a lot of history between us, even tried to kill each other several times, when we ended up on opposite sides of a mission. Now we were an item, and I’d be hard pressed to tell which of us was more surprised.
Me, I’m just another face in the crowd, trained to blend in without being noticed. And I’ve never ordered a vodka martini shaken not stirred in my life.
I sent my new car roaring through the streets with a complete disregard for traffic lights, traffic laws, and any and all forms of road etiquette. Though strictly speaking, it wasn’t a new car. I’d had to abandon and destroy my beloved Hirondel during my time on the run, so I prevailed on the family Armourer to provide me with a new set of wheels. I was now driving a lovingly restored 1933 open-topped four-and-a-half-litre Bentley, in racing green with red leather interiors, and an Amherst Villiers supercharger under the long gleaming bonnet. The wind slapped at my hair as we roared along, and I changed gears more than was strictly necessary, just to show off. It was a great green beast of a car, stylish as all hell, and calmly glamorous in that way that modern cars don’t even aspire to anymore. I slammed her into top gear and put my foot down, and the Bentley surged forward like a hunting dog let off the leash. Molly whooped with joy, exhilarating in the speed and acceleration.
“This is one hell of a car, Eddie! Where did you steal it?”
“It used to belong to my uncle Jack,” I yelled back over the roar of the engine. “Back when he was charging around East Europe in the fifties, at the height of the Cold War, stamping out bush fires with extreme prejudice. They say he personally prevented three world wars, and very nearly started one, when he was caught in bed with a politician’s wife. And his mistress. Uncle Jack moved on to faster and flashier cars, of course, but he always had a fondness for this one, and kept it going for years. He customised the hell out of it, of course. As family Armourer, he always had to have the best toys.”
I grinned. I couldn’t help myself. “Bulletproof chassis and windows, silicon-gel-filled tyres so they’ll never go flat, machine guns fore and aft firing explosive flechettes at two thousand rounds a minute…EMP proof, spell proof, curse proof, plus all the usual hidden extras. The operating manual is the size of a phone book. All of us kids used to pore over it in the library, dreaming of the day when we’d be field agents and drive cars just like it. And by the way, don’t try and use the cigarette lighter. Flamethrowers.”
“Groovy! Let’s try them!”
“Let’s not. We aren’t supposed to draw attention to ourselves, remember? Wait till we see a traffic warden. Or a street mime.”
It felt strange to be back in London, driving down familiar streets, after so much had happened. The streets looked just the same, and no doubt the people went about their everyday lives as though nothing had changed; but everything had. The whole world was up for grabs with the family out of the picture, even if no one knew it yet. My family didn’t run the world anymore, and the only reason the world wasn’t tearing itself apart trying to fill the new power vacuum…was that all the other powers that be were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Why are we going back to your old flat?” said Molly.
“I already told you. And if you ask Are we there yet ? one more time, I’ll hit the ejector button.”
“This car doesn’t have an ejector seat.”
“It might have. You don’t know.”
“Talk to me, Eddie. You never tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Hey, I’m not used to this whole being in a relationship bit, okay? When you work as a field agent, you learn pretty fast you can’t trust anyone.”
“Not even those close to you?” said Molly, studying me solemnly with her huge dark eyes.
“Especially those. You always know where you are with an enemy; it’s only friends and loved ones who can betray you.” I took a deep breath and stared out through the windshield. “If I’m going to lead the family, and it looks like I’m going to have to, because no one else is up to the job … I have to live at the Hall. If only because there are still far too many members of the family I can’t turn my back on safely. The truth might set you free, but there’s nothing that says you have to be grateful. I need to be on top of things…But if I do have to live in that draughty old pile again, I want some of my favourite things with me. Just a few little things that matter, to make the place at least feel like home.”
“Never get attached to possessions,” Molly said briskly. “They’re just things, and you can always get more things.”
“You don’t have a sentimental bone in your body, do you?”
“If I did, I’d have it surgically removed. I’m always moving on, and I never look back.”
“Well, yes,” I said. “But you live in a forest. What would you take back to the Hall? Your favourite tree?”
“You forget, Eddie, I’m a witch. I might decide to bring the whole forest with me.”
I decided to change the subject, before she set her heart on the idea. You never can tell with witches.
“So,” I said, as casually as I could manage. “How are you getting on with the family? Everyone treating you all right? What do you think of the mighty and mystical Droods, now that you’ve had a chance to see us up close and personal?”
“Hard to tell,” said Molly. The music had stopped, I’d slowed the car, and it suddenly seemed very quiet in the Bentley. Molly produced a small silver snuffbox out of midair, snorted a pinch of something green and glowing, sneezed messily, and made the box disappear again. “Most of your family aren’t talking to me. Either because they think I led you astray, or because I’ve thwarted so many of your family’s plans in the past…It’s not like I killed that many of your people…They need to get over it, and move on. That was then, this is now. All right, so I used to practice the black arts, spread insurrection, mutilate aliens, and abduct cattle; I was young! I needed to get things out of my system! That’s no reason to run screaming when I just try to talk to people.”
“They don’t know you like I do,” I said reassuringly. “Haven’t you made any friends?”
“Your uncle Jack’s okay,” Molly said reluctantly. “But he’s always busy in the Armoury. And Jacob’s good company. For a ghost. And a dirty old man. But apart from them, it’s all been cold shoulders and nasty, pointed comments just in range of my hearing. A few were really quite unpleasant.”