By Blood We Live Page 16

By the time I met him it had petrified into dogma: Don’t bother looking for the meaning of it all, Lu, he said. There isn’t one. I’d inherited it. Repeated it verbatim to Walker when he was still new to the Curse.

But as soon as I’d pulled the book from the Jiffy bag I’d known. Quinn’s journal. Maybe the truth of how it all began. Maybe the truth of what it all meant. A dizzying rush, and under the rush, boredom: This was Life, at it again, trying to flog you connectedness, pattern, structure, trying to flog you a plot. (It’s Life’s suppressed Tourette’s: months, years, decades of clean contingent smalltalk—then a sudden foul-mouthed explosion of X-rated coincidences and symbols and narrative hooks, a frantic and ludicrous claim for story.) But I repeat: the boredom was under the rush. The rush was no less real. My hands were nerve-rich, face full of soft heat. I’d grown up Catholic, and though the Curse doth make existentialists of us all (monthly murder will do that; watching your victims’ lives end, feeling all their lights go out in the darkness, all their hopes of heaven met by … by the vast mathematical silence) my childhood self kept its stubborn flame burning. Suppose Quinn’s book reopened the questions? Suppose there was a magical architecture, transcendence, a supernatural scheme of things? Design, intent, meaning. Morality. Suppose there would be, after all, consequences?

There was a folded slip of paper sticking out from between the pages like a bookmark, about a third of the way in. I opened it there. Forced myself to avoid what was on the diary pages (in spite of which I registered beautiful sloped handwriting in sepia ink and the words “Enkil” and “in tents” and “sacrificed to the gods”) and focused on the sender’s note:

Dear Talulla,

Here, believe it or not, is the last journal of Alexander Quinn, and in it is contained the oldest known account of your species’ beginnings. It isn’t complete. As you can see I’ve removed some of the pages and retained them—for reasons which will become clear when we next speak. I have, as you will by now know, a mutually profitable proposal to put to you, but it won’t make much sense until you’ve had a chance to read this.

I suppose it’s possible you’ll doubt the authenticity of the document—yet something tells me you won’t. A superficial examination by an antiquarian will at least confirm it fits the period, and more rigorous analysis will only strengthen its claim. But my gut tells me you won’t need any of that. Let me at least tell you that the previous owner—Mme Jacqueline Delon (who is well known to you, I realise)—has no idea she’s been relieved of it. I have no love for her, but that’s another story, and really, if you don’t believe me about the book, why should you believe me about anything else? Let me nonetheless also tell you that with this book belongs a stone tablet, the second part of Quinn’s strange legacy. This I also have in my keeping. Fortunately for both of us.

Listen to my idiom! I sound like a solicitor. God only knows why. Presumably the content determines the style. Anyway, I don’t sound like this at all, normally. As you’ll discover if and when we meet.

Call the number below when you’ve read the journal. Keep this to yourself. It isn’t meant for anyone else. Not yet, at any rate.

Yours,

Olek

Keep this to yourself.

Impossible. Everyone had seen the package. And even if they hadn’t there’s only so much wulf telepathy will miss. Details, yes, but not the fact of the thing. Plus there was Walker. I might scam pack consciousness, but there’d be no fooling him. Keep fucking the same werewolf and mental privacy suffers.

And wherefore, dear Lula, I could imagine Jake saying, all this talk of fooling and scamming and keeping it to yourself?

Yes. Thank you, Mr. Marlowe. Because I had to be in control of it. Whatever it was. And it was something. My nose for Life’s addiction to plot insisted: This is something. This is dangerous. This will throw out effects like the spars of a spiral galaxy. Be careful. Knowledge is power, someone said. (Who? Jake would’ve known.) Knowledge is power. Yes. And if there was power to be had it was better to have it than not.

But there was more to it than that. Irrationally more, nonsense more—but nonetheless, more. I believed—why? why?—it was connected to Remshi. Wishful thinking. Desperate thinking, derived from nothing more than him saying I’ll see you again and then not seeing me again. Two years, the repeated dream, this. This has something to do with him. Me and my savvy rational self sneered at our intuitive partner (bagged with astrology, dowsing, faith healing, crystals) but we both knew she’d win this one.

My phone rang again.

“So?” Walker said.

“Well, it’s not a bomb.”

I could hear Lorcan kicking-off in the background.

“Great. We’re coming in.”

“Wait.”

He didn’t ask why. He’d already heard it in my voice. The appeal to collusion. The appeal for a partner in crime. My heart softened. It wasn’t perfect between us, but it was very, very good. It needed a specially perverse soul for it not to be enough. At which thought I pictured Jake and my mother watching me from the afterlife (for the two of them a place like a Vegas casino, bottle blonde waitresses, booths, the murmur of happy gambling) smiling and shaking their heads. A specially perverse soul? Oh, Lula!

“Whatever I say to the others,” I instructed Walker, “go along with it. I’ll explain later.”

“Whatever you say, Miss D.”

Miss D. It was what he used to call me. It hurt my heart to hear it now. It hurt my heart not enough.

14

IT WASN’T EASY. Doubly difficult since I mixed truth with lies.

“It’s one of Jake’s journals,” I said. “I thought I had them all, but apparently not. There are at least another half dozen.”

We’d gathered in what we called—since it had an untuned old upright piano in it—the Music Room. Seating was two cream corduroy sofas and a wicker rocker. Eggshell walls, a black cast-iron fireplace, an odour of patchouli and fresh air and dust. The big bay window looked out into a front garden as beardily overgrown as the one at the rear, with the added attraction of a pond of thick dark green water watched over by two lichened demurely kneeling stone Nereids, one with a missing nose. Zoë had calmed Lorcan down, though he sat under the piano with a face of compressed fury. Two nights ago, in a rage, he’d put his bare foot through the conservatory’s glass door. I’d had to hold him down while Walker tweezered the shards from his flesh.

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