By Blood We Live Page 25

“Ever since I met him I’ve had this feeling,” I repeated, determined to get it out without fuss, “that this isn’t just all random crap. It’s as if someone’s watching it all, or making it up.”

“Like we’re in a TV series.”

“Exactly. Exactly.”

She took a drink, thought about it. Shook her head. “See that’s the difference between you and me,” she said. “I don’t care if we’re in a TV series as long as it’s good. As long as I get … you know, a good part.”

“Seriously? You wouldn’t care? You wouldn’t want to know?”

More thought. “It’s like …”

Madeline isn’t used to framing similes and metaphors, Jake had written. But she can blow her nail polish dry with unparalleled eloquence.

“Like when you watch the extras on a DVD, behind the scenes and all that. I don’t watch those bits anymore. It ruins it for me.”

I started thinking: That’s not the same, that’s not analogous—but let it go. The precision of the analogy didn’t matter. I knew what she meant. And it was a fundamental difference between us. In college there’d been a band called Miserable Socrates and the Happy Pigs.

“Well, either way,” I said, “I can’t get him out of my head. I’m dreaming about him, if you can believe that.”

“Sex dreams?”

“Yes. And then we’re walking on a beach at dusk, looking for something.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I wake up.”

She handed me the Bacardi and I took another bracing pull. “Anyway, fuck it,” I said. “I can’t start living life according to dreams at my age. Tell me how the Last Resort’s going. It must be nearly finished by now.”

Not a very convincing segue, but she let it go, for now. “Be finished in three weeks,” she said. “All the electronics are in. Steels. Floors are done. You wouldn’t recognise it.”

The Last Resort—Fergus had called it that, jokingly, and the name had stuck—was a bunker in Croatia, designed by Walker and Konstantinov, project-managed by Madeline, built by a hand-picked team who’d been made to understand what breaking confidentiality would cost them and kitted-out with state-of-the-art security systems to be supported, eventually, by enough hardware to deal with a small army. Financed by the ludicrous fortune I’d inherited from Jake. We were all resigned to a life more or less on the run, but ever since what had happened two years ago I’d been determined to have a place of my own to die in, if it came to dying. Somewhere to put your back against the wall, as Fergus said.

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“The upper floors are habitable,” Maddy said. “But I should warn you now I’ve ignored your paint-everything-white crap. With all the steel it’d look like a bloody hospital. And don’t have a benny. It’s not floral wallpaper or anything. It’s nice.”

It was just after noon when we arrived at the villa. I’d been telling her about Trish’s planned Harley trip around the Southern U.S.—but stopped mid-sentence as we pulled up at the end of the drive. She’d felt it, too.

Something was wrong.

“Wait! Lu! Wait!”

But I was already out of the car, blood loud, limbs dreaming, sprinting up the steps to the open front door.

20

DEATH VIVIFIES DETAIL despite the blur. The hallway’s white floor and maple hatstand, the convex mirror that suddenly evoked the one in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage, the red and green tricycles I’d bought the twins when we got here.

The twins. The twins. The twins. My sick heart was ahead of me, nosing the rank air beyond their loss/​death/​mutilation while the rest of me flung up like a black wall simply No … No … No …

There was the stink of blood, giant, unarguable with, mixed with the smell of meat cooked in wine. Onions. Fresh peaches, cut. Cigarette smoke. A human scent I didn’t recognise.

You should’ve taken them with you to the airport. But they were so weary of airports. Now they’re dead. And all the labour for nothing. Nothing.

But the blood was human. Only human. And Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” was playing on the CD in the kitchen.

I knew before seeing.

He liked to kick us all out so he could cook and sing along in peace. I felt precisely the little portion of time left between my realisation and what would be Madeline’s. Collective intuition had been part of the reason for her visit. The other part was here, on the floor, butchered, in a pool of blood.

Cloquet.

You don’t speak. You don’t go “Oh God.” Not straight away. In the first pure moment of comprehension you simply dissolve into the reality of what you’re seeing. It’s transcendence, of a kind.

Then the same reality forces you out again, separate, compelled to negotiate, compelled to accept.

I ran to him, aware as I did so of Madeline arriving in the doorway behind me.

He’d been shot in the head then hacked with what must have been a hatchet or a machete. Or hacked first then finished with the bullet. Either way it was over. Either way he was gone. The solid fact—he’s dead—expanded, filled the room, continued expanding. In spite of which, thanks to Hollywood, a part of me was waiting for the rasp, the gasp, the cough and flutter back into life. All the life we’d shared rushed up like a crowd that couldn’t believe it wasn’t going to be let in. The crowd that didn’t realise the thing it had come to see was already over. I was imagining the twins’ faces when I told them. Cloquet has had to … Cloquet has gone to … Old habits. My children didn’t need euphemisms. Not for death, at any rate. They knew what death was. They watched their mother deal it. Cloquet is dead. Zoë would cry. She loved him. She had loved him. Lorcan wouldn’t cry. Lorcan didn’t cry. He was too curious for tears. My fault. The ordeal of his infancy I’d failed to prevent. He’d been introduced too early to loss, isolation, betrayal. He’d been introduced too early to not being able to count on anyone. Not even his mother.

Madeline put her bag on one of the kitchen chairs, very carefully, as if it contained a bomb. She stood over me, looking down at the body. She didn’t touch him. They’d been occasional lovers for almost two years. Against all expectations something intense and quiet existed between them. Had existed between them. To me it was as if she’d given him a part of her old self, her human self, for safe-keeping. Only a human would be able to keep it safe. Only a human would want it.

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