From Hell With Love

CHAPTER ONE

The Return of Doctor Delirium

In the secret agent business, no one is necessarily who or what they say they are. It comes with the job, and the territory. Agents in the field collect names and identities the way normal people collect credit cards; and just like you, we all have to pay the cost when the bill comes due. Use names are common, if only to help us avoid the consequences of our actions. I’m Shaman Bond as often as I’m Eddie Drood. In fact, a lot of the time I think I prefer being Shaman; he doesn’t have the duties and responsibilities of being a Drood.

And it’s not just us poor bastards risking our lives out in the field—no organisation is ever what it appears to be, when seen from the outside. They all have levels within levels, inner circles and hidden agendas, and the left hand is never allowed to know who the right hand is killing. Like the onion, there are layers within layers within layers, and sometimes, just like the onion, we have no heart.

The Droods are a family, as well as an organisation. Anything for the family, we are taught to say, from a very early age. And if you can’t trust your family, who can you trust?

It’s always hot as hell in Los Angeles, but that’s just one of the reasons why the natives call it Hell A. On the one side you’ve got Hollywood, where all your dreams can come true, including all the really disappointing ones; and on the other side you’ve got Disneyland, where dreams are up for sale, or at least rent. And in between . . . there’s all the sin and avarice in the world, just waiting for you to put a foot wrong. Everyone who matters turns up in LA eventually, because LA is a city that deals in temptation. Especially for the kind of people who like to think they’re above the laws and moral constraints that operate in the rest of the world. Las Vegas deals in money, New York deals in deals, but LA deals in sin.

Hollywood is the town where people will sell their soul for a three-picture deal; or a sit-down with a big-name producer; or just for a walk-on in a popular sitcom. Hardly surprising, then, that the place is full of people ready to buy as well as sell. You can buy anything in LA, if you’re prepared to pay the price. Dreams come cheap in Hollywood, because there’s a glut on the market.

I arrived in Los Angeles on a commercial air flight, under the Shaman Bond name. Business class, so as not to draw attention. You have to keep up the character, as well as the name, and Shaman Bond had never gone first class in his life. Ordinarily, I would have simply activated the Merlin Glass, and stepped from the family Hall in England to my destination in Los Angeles, but apparently using a major magical item that powerful would set off all kinds of alarm bells, among all the wrong people. And since I was supposed to be operating under the radar on this one, I did it the hard way. And made a point of keeping all my receipts. The family’s been coming down really hard on expense claims recently; just because a few of us have been known to be a little . . . creative, on occasion.

And I am here to tell you, fourteen hours cooped up in a plane gives you a whole new insight into air rage.

To my surprise, Los Angeles turned