By Blood We Live Page 28

HEY.

HEY.

YOU’VE GOT NOTHING TO—

I KNOW. IT’S OKAY. PLEASE LET’S NOT.

The problem was she knew there was no promise she could make and keep. Promises get sucked into fuckkilleat like paper scraps into a furnace. For a while she stood there, thinking: I’ll go. I should go. I can’t. She’d worn this loop out. Pack gravity compelled us, now. No argument. Without the weakness of grief she might’ve been able to break free, but Cloquet’s death had gone deep. For both of us.

“Where did you get the information?” I asked Fergus.

“Come on, Lu,” he said. “I don’t take risks. Trust me. It’s watertight. Although you’ve got to wonder how tough this was before people decided to start living their lives on fucking Facebook.”

Fergus, fifty-three and a functioning alcoholic sales rep for Toyota with a physique like Baloo the bear when he was Turned, had lost weight and improved his wardrobe. Gone the womanish butt and pendulous paunch, gone the machine washable suit. Money and the prospect of a four-hundred-year lifespan had bucked his aesthetic ideas up. He’d put some time in at the gym, shaved off the perennial stubble, got a trendy haircut and kitted himself out with smart dark casuals that actually fit. I was round his Fulham flat the other day, Madeline had told me with delighted distaste. You should see the bathroom cabinet. It’s like the fucking Avon Lady lives there. Seriously, right, he goes, Mads, these pore minimisers—do they work?

We’d met him at Grenoble as planned. What would not be as planned—sans Cloquet—was the absence of a getaway driver. Which would mean killing late and travelling fast. Fergus, who took a weird delight in the logistics, had had very little time to rearrange.

“This is the way it works,” he said, unfolding a Google map satellite printout. “The house is here, five miles from Charmes sur-l’Herbasse. We leave the vehicles here”—he pointed with a propelling pencil; I noticed he’d had a manicure—“where this trail comes off the road into the woods. One mile in: change site. You know the drill. Moonrise is at 2108. That’s going to mean sitting on our feckin hands for … I’m saying four hours to be on the safe side. Which leaves two hours to get there, make the kill, get back to the site. We’ve got to time it right. Once we leave the house we don’t want to be in the vicinity any longer than we have to.”

We were sitting in the back of a three-year-old Fleetwood RV in a rest area just outside Le Chalon. (I was imagining its former owners as silver-haired retirees in golf slacks. Or a Middle American family the economic meltdown had smashed, all the barbecues and Xboxes and kids’ bikes and bonuses and healthcare gone, all the minor irritations magnified by suddenly not having money. Having money now—a lot of money—I knew one thing for sure: If you had a lot of money and you were miserable, you’d be miserable poor. You’d be miserable, just without the consolation of quality towels and thirty-dollar cocktails.) Second and third vehicles were lined up between Grenoble and Geneva, from whence … Well, that wasn’t decided. It seemed madness to go back to the villa at Terracina since someone—presumably the goddamned Militi Christi—knew we were there, though it was understood between Maddy and me that finding Cloquet’s killers was loud on the inner list. If it hadn’t been for the kids we’d have gone back there and waited for them to try again. Fergus was returning to London to oversee half a dozen land deals, then on to Croatia to push the completion of the Last Resort through. Lucy had planned to come back to Italy with me for a week (there remained two or three Roman galleries she hadn’t seen; the woman was obsessive) and Trish was supposed to go to the U.S., where she had a Harley rented for a two-week road trip around the Southern states. Walker, I’d supposed (in a knot of love and claustrophobia) would come with me, wherever I went. I’d supposed. I had supposed. We hadn’t spoken properly since Cloquet’s death. I could feel him thinking it had accelerated our disease. My disease. My room for other things. I’ll see you again …

From the upper bunk on the left, Lucy groaned. The last few hours before Transformation laid her low. Trish, too; she was in the second bunk, knees drawn up to her chest, cold-sweating, shivering. Walker was on his feet but visibly suffering, face thin-skinned and grey, thread veins you never saw at any other time of the month, cramps and spasms he rode with jaws clenched, shuddering. I wasn’t much better off. Blisters of wulf swelled and burst in my blood, the monster’s idiot insistence that its will could break the moon’s rules. The big skull seemed to form at moments like a leaden helmet around my own. It was a surprise to put your hand up and not feel the snout there, the muzzle, the broad cheekbones, the huge breath. I wandered in and out of the negligible effects of codeine and ibuprofen. Booze would’ve helped—but it would also have made me drunk, and there was too much at stake not to go in sober. Only Madeline, Fergus and Zoë—blessed, randomly—remained pre-Transformation symptom free. Poor Lorcan lay in the fetal position, very still, eyes wide, breathing through his nose, holding Zoë’s hand.

“Everyone clear?” Fergus asked. His Chanel pour homme wasn’t doing Walker and me any olfactory favours.

“For fuck’s sake, Ferg, we’ve got it,” Trish said. “Let’s go already. I can’t stand this waiting.”

It was an hour’s drive to Charmes sur-l’Herbasse. Another half-hour down single-width lanes inadequately supplied with passing bays to the trailhead. By the time we got there I was in my full-of-beans stage. It’s what happens: gastric, osteo and muscular misery morphs into inane energy and the attention span of a gnat. The Curse has a thing for contrast: frivolity one minute, homicide the next. I sat up front with Fergus, who drove, the hunger pounding in both of us. The hunger speaks with diminishing sophistication: starts with glimpses and hints, echoes of previous kills, the multiple accents and notes, snatches of swallowed lives shot from arty angles, a complex prose poem or post-modern score. But the moon insists on simplicity. The free-verse epic becomes a sonnet, the sonnet a limerick, the limerick babytalk, the babytalk the beat of a drum. Eventually there’s nothing but the rhythm of blind and deafened need. It’s peace, of a sort, a return to original silence.

We parked the RV at the trailhead, took our knapsacks and clean-up kits, our liquid soap and our wet wipes. Went into the forest, selected our spots. Walker came with me and the twins, though the vibe between us was strained. The evening was warm and still and smell of the trees gave us the feeling of being in a friendly labyrinthine wardrobe. We settled under an enormous horse chestnut. I was thinking of a line I’d read (1984?): Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me … Moonrise was fifteen minutes away. Fergus’s arrangements never went wrong. I could hear him and Maddy talking softly nearby about an industrial coatings company they were thinking of buying.

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