When the Devil Drives Read online

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  “There was a guy in the building we brought down, boss.”

  It was my demolition foreman Sam Karol bringing me this particular bit of unwelcome news. I sat with it for a moment then asked the obvious next question. “Do we know who it is?”

  “Not yet, Mister Matthews. I wanted to let you know right away. Auntie Gravity did her teke thing, lifted a block of concrete and there was all this blood and bones and stuff. I pulled everybody off the site.”

  “Well done. Have you done anything else?”

  “No, sir, I haven’t even called the cops yet.”

  That was a relief. “Good man.” I stood, grabbed my black leather jacket off the coat racket and shrugged into it. New York was having an unusually cold autumn.

  “Auntie’s real upset, sir. I wanted to send her home, but figured you should talk to her first.”

  “You would be correct. Have you told Rusty?” I was concerned that big, slow, stupid and very kindly ace, the actual agent who brought down buildings, had been informed. Rusty would have immediately told the police. Which was not something I wanted.

  “No, sir. Figured it would upset the big doofus.”

  “And you would be right.” I clapped Sam on the shoulder. “Let’s go take a look at this body.”

  “It’s bound to be ugly, boss. All that blood. It’s all crushed and smashed. Eeoch.“ He gave a shudder, then looked embarrassed.

  “I expect I’ll survive,” I drawled.

  Sam gave me an “it’s-your-funeral” look. At first and even second glance I’m your typical Englishman. A bit too skinny, rather horse faced, and I’ve got that prissy BBC accent thanks to the fact my mother is a Cambridge don. Sam also knew that in addition to running Aces in Hand I’m a rather famous stage magician. It was no wonder he’d concluded I was a delicate snowflake.

  What none of my employees knew is that the magic show had merely been a cover. My real career was as an ace assassin for MI-7, the British equivalent to the American CIA. To be more exact, I killed for the ace division of MI-7 known as the Order of the Silver Helix. Dead bodies bothered me not in the least. Most of the ones I’d seen I’d ushered into that state.

  But those days were in the past. I’d parted company with my former employers, and it hadn’t been particularly amicable. They tried to hurt people I cared about so I stole a number of their dirty little secrets. They know I’ll release them if they fuck with me or mine. Hence we have each other nicely by the short hairs.

  After the birth of my son I curtailed my performance schedule, but worries about money—I wanted Jasper to have the best of everything—and my basic restless nature had begun to set in and I walked out on my wife and child. At times I wished I still had access to the shrink who counseled MI-7 agents. I love Niobe and adore my son, but I had left them, and was filling the void I’d left in their lives with money instead of the husband and father. Why? In my more reflective moments I suspected it was because I didn’t want Jasper to learn about the less savory parts of his dad’s resume. If he knew my true nature would the adoration in those big eyes turn to disgust?

  In an effort to keep the money flowing I’d founded Aces In Hand, a company that is designed to deal with real world problems using the extraordinary ace powers bestowed by the wild card virus.

  We specialize in building demolition, toxic waste disposal, and nearly instantaneous travel for busy executives. I also design security systems for banks, corporations, and wealthy individuals. Since I had spent years learning how to defeat such measures it was fun to try to counter my own skills. Of course I always left a small imperfection that I could exploit should the need arise.

  We had been steadily building, profits were up—well up—so I bloody well didn’t need a dead body in one of my job sites affecting our prospects. All of these considerations made me decide that I didn’t want to sit in a cab while it fought Manhattan traffic, or take the numerous trains that would be required to ride the subway out to Queens. “Come along, Sam, Ilya’s going to pop us over there.”

  “Uh… I’d really rather not, sir. I’ll grab a cab.”

  “We don’t have time for that.”

  “I hate that Between thing.”

  “It’s only for an instant. Don’t be such a pussy.”

  I wasn’t going to admit to Sam that I felt the same way. Teleporting may seem instantaneous, but there is a moment in the transition when you are someplace not of this world, or perhaps even this universe. I call it the Between and my employees have picked up the phrase. It had always been a disturbing place. Even more so since the recent unfortunate events in Talas, when eldritch horrors from an alien dimension had invaded the Earth. Now a raging, brooding, inhuman presence washed against any traveler through the Between. Sometimes I thought it reached for me. I didn’t want to contemplate what would happen if it ever caught me.

  We left the office. My assistant, Dogsbody, a particularly ill favored joker, looked up. Dogsbody doesn’t actually look like a dog. He looks like a vaguely human shaped turd. His body is covered with black and brown lumps. His eyes are mere slits peering out from between the knobs of flesh. He manages to type and answer the phone because his fingers narrow down to twig-like appendages. “Trouble, sir?”

  “I’m afraid so. Can’t say when I’ll be back. Sam, wait here.”

  I went to the next door office. The name plate read Ilya Kuusikoski. I stepped inside, closed the door, stripped, and changed into the clothes stashed in a filing cabinet. They hung on me, but not for long. I accessed my ace and let the bones and flesh start to shift and change. Within seconds I had become a much taller and broader man with red gold hair and gleaming golden eyes.

  This other me has had a lot of names over the years—Bahir, Etienne, Christian. Right now he was Ilya Kuusikoski, the teleporting ace who could travel to any part of the globe. I created this bogus employee because we made a lot of money ferrying very busy and very important business leaders and government officials around the world in the time it takes to inhale. I had another persona to handle trips that took my clients in the dark of night. A lot of people know that I’m an ace, that these avatars are just me. Billions more don’t know, nor do they particularly care. Wealthy executives certainly didn’t care who ferried them around the world, any more than they care to know the name of the pilot on their private jet.

  It was a damn shame I’d never managed to access my teleport power without assuming one of these alternate forms. My old handler at MI-7 had raged, cajoled, mocked, and pleaded, but I was unable to overcome the psychological block. I could only teleport as my male and female avatars. Lilith was the queen of the night. Ilya the sun