By Blood We Live Page 26

I took out my cell and dialled Walker.

“Hey.”

“Are the kids with you?”

“Yeah, we’re at the beach. What’s—”

“You need to get back here. Something’s happened. Someone’s been here.” Pause, to give reality a chance to change its mind. Reality declined. “Cloquet’s dead.”

Irreversible now. I’d said it. I felt Madeline hearing the words. Involuntarily looked down at Cloquet’s face. It was turned to the left, eyes (thank God) closed. His mouth was open. I thought of all the times he’d done small things for me. Lit my cigarette, handed me a cup of coffee, fastened the kids’ shoes or hassled them to brush their teeth. He insisted on a cooked breakfast, for the two weeks in the month we ate regular food, whipped-up fresh herb omelettes, mackerel paté, soft-boiled eggs and soldiers for the twins. It was good to come downstairs in the mornings and find him, tow-haired, scowling, barefoot, making coffee, smoking. Sometimes with Zoë sitting up on the counter, talking to him, sharing the momentous business of her life.

“Are Lucy and Trish with you?” I asked.

“Lucy’s here,” he said. “Trish is shopping. Christ. Is Madeline there?”

His maker. For a second or two I hated him. For the connection. For how much the kids loved him. For not being, in spite of love, enough for me.

Then I wanted him there with me, the casual strength in his arms, the familiarity.

“She’s here,” I said. “We just got back from the airport and he was …” It was only now I noticed the Le Creuset casserole dish upturned on the floor, the food spattered, the sauce nudging the edge of his blood. Madeline reached over and turned the range’s burning gas ring off.

“Take the kids straight upstairs when you get here,” I said. “They can’t see him like this.”

“Have you checked the house?”

Idiot. Idiots, both of us. We should be better than this by now.

“Get Lorcan and Zoë in the car,” I said. “You and Lucy stay with them. And call Trish. Don’t move until I’ve called you back.” I hung up, knowing he was going to say something else, issue some warning or advice, the male habit. Madeline was still standing, staring down at the corpse. Blood had gathered around my knees, her booted feet. My head felt hot, suddenly. Wulf had livened at the whiff of carnage. The hunger flickered, shrank back at the smell of the bourguignon.

I got to my feet.

WE HAVE TO CHECK THE—

I KNOW.

It was a relief to her, to have to do something. Her allowance of deferral was nearly spent. I could feel the reality coming to her: Never hear hold feel his voice laugh life again. Never. Dead. Gone. Her force field was heavy. The longer she stood still the worse it would be.

There was a Luger on the third shelf of the crockery cupboard and a Colt behind Uncle Vanya in the lounge. We moved silently, room by room.

Nothing. Sunlight on the waxed floors. Languid mote-galaxies. The odours of old rugs, crayons, mould, the kids’ clothes, Lucy’s new leather coat and faint whiff of Chanel No.19; the edgy sex Walker and I had had this morning, before the twins were awake. All the smells and colours of the life that no longer had Cloquet in it. The life that was nothing to him now. The house, the daylight, the hills that led eventually to the clamour of the world—all of it would go on without him. We would go on without him. That was how we honoured and disgraced the dead. And if there was an afterlife? A place of comeuppance or reward? Neither his love for us nor ours for him would count. Thanks to the arrogance that came with being (until recently) top of the food chain, betrayal of your species didn’t feature in any of the human world’s moral codes. But it wouldn’t be a head-scratcher for heaven. Conspirator and accessory to murder. If there was a hell, he was going there. With which realisation, as usual, the ghost of my childhood faith withdrew. That hell was for people like Cloquet meant there was no such place.

I called Walker and told him the house was clear.

“Look at this,” Madeline said. We were back in the kitchen. She’d put a cushion under Cloquet’s head, closed his mouth. There was a precision to her movements. Death so close and ugly recharged her beauty, her finite perfections. She was in a different phase of shock, balanced between denial and belief. There was a lightness to it. I knew the feeling. “What does this mean?”

She was looking at a mark on one of the kitchen cabinets, drawn by a finger evidently dipped in Cloquet’s blood. A vertical line with a small circle on top. Something that looked like the symbol for pi next to it. Something else that might be a crescent moon. It meant nothing to me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But whoever did this knows we’re not going to the police. There are fingerprints everywhere.”

Your voice coming out is an offence, a blatant demonstration of your continuing life. Thinking, fingerprints, cause, effect, strategy, action. Life. Consciousness. Every time it registered it refreshed the fact of his death. It’s one of the things that drives the impulse to remove the corpse, burn it, bury it, give it to the sea. The dead body makes the living one obscene. It’s why we close the eyes, too. The dead shouldn’t have to look on the lewd aliveness of the living.

“It’s a religious thing,” Madeline said.

“Is it? How do you know?”

“It’s the fucking Angels. I’ve seen this sign in the ads.”

“The Catholics?”

“They’re killing familiars. Not just us. Everyone who helps—” Her voice cracked slightly on the word “helps.” The balance between denial and belief was tipping. Belief. He’s dead. Thinking of what losing him meant to her postponed what it meant to me. Mon ange. Chèrie. The casual endearments taken for granted. The life taken for granted.

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said. “If they knew he was here they’d know we were here. Why give themselves away?”

She shook her head, let the theory go. Let the thinking go. I knew what she was realising.

LOVE.

She closed her eyes. Swallowed. Didn’t cry.

21

IT TOOK WALKER a lot of calls to get a boat at short notice. High season, everything booked. Eventually he told the hire company to call anyone they thought might be willing to return their vessel early for a fee. Which the hire company did, as well as translating it into an opportunity to slap on an extra twenty per cent. Even in our state the little rip-off registered, dismal, reliable, an affirmation of the world’s shrugging, grinning continuance. Blackly funny, in fact, if you let yourself see it that way.

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