By Blood We Live Page 44

But I imagined her face, smiling with a forgiveness that was also a demand at the exposed cowardice. I felt the calm force of her. You can’t. You have to live. You promised. I will come back to you. And you will come back to me. Wait for me.

I didn’t decide to live.

I just postponed killing myself.

It began to rain. I knelt, kissed the cold earth of her grave (still, still thinking, with the idiot part of myself, with all the stubborn stupidity of love, that I would see her when I woke) then rose, turned, and headed deeper into the forest.

39

Justine

STUPID FUCKING IDIOT.

All these years and everything he’s told me and I still do the dumbest fucking thing. I can’t be this stupid again. You think it through, Justine, he told me, God knows how many times. Because if you stop thinking it through, you die. It’s as simple as that.

Well, maybe I’ll die. Maybe I’ve fucked it up for both of us.

Dear Fluff,

Please don’t worry about me. I have to do this. And I can’t do it with you. Don’t come after me.

Go and find her. I’m sorry for what I said. I’m sorry for everything.

Love,

J

I left the note at the top of the stairs that lead down to the vault. I dressed upstairs, in my room, threw a few clothes into a bag, licence, passport, cash, cards, then went down to the garage. Unlocked the fake plates strongbox and found a Texas registration. Swapped it up for the Jeep’s locals and slipped two more (Wyoming and New Jersey) under the spare wheel. I was so busy congratulating myself on how smart I was to remember to do this that it wasn’t until I’d been driving for an hour that I realised I should never have taken the Jeep in the first place: It didn’t matter what state the car was from if forensics swept it and found traces of the body we’d had in the trunk.

I pulled over. Hands shaking. Knees unravelling.

And the thirst like a wasps’ nest I’d just jabbed with a stick.

I leaned against the side of the car, breathing, thinking: You’re on the freeway. You can’t stop. Cameras. Cops. There was a piece of graffiti I’d seen somewhere that said: ONE NATION UNDER CCTV.

I got back in. I told myself there was no reason for the cops to stop me. Anyway the bodies were wrapped and we’d bleached the trunk. Stop being an idiot. Stop panicking and think it through. You stop thinking it through and you die. It’s as simple as that.

Deep breath. I put it in drive. Signalled. Gas. Gently. If they’d seen me pull over I’d say I wasn’t feeling well. That’s what it would’ve looked like. That’s what it was.

Two hundred and fifty miles to Vegas. Eight hours till sunrise. Plenty of time. I’d just drive normally. I’d stick to the speed limit. Nothing would happen.

But my hands felt empty, and the stirred-up swarm of flies around my heart wouldn’t settle.

A McDonald’s M rose up on the left. A Subway. A KFC. Like flags waving from the old life. That book title. You Can’t Go Home Again.

40

I REACHED NORTH Vegas just after three in the morning. The air was hot and damp and full of low clouds. Soft empty greyness. I sat there, hands on the wheel, engine off, feeling sick with aliveness.

1388 Balzar Avenue. A one-storey shithole. Dirt front yard with a broken laundry spinner and a solitary trash barrel. Empty beer cans and a shattered box crate. A screen door with half the mesh gone. All the lights out. Looking at the house a phrase of Fluff’s came back to me. Objective correlative. What? I’d asked him. He’d said: It’s some object in the physical world that corresponds, symbolically, with something non-physical or inner. (He’d said: You see them all the time on The Lash. On The Lash, everything’s—Then he’d remembered it was me, and what I thought about all that.) Now I looked at the filthy, broken-down house and thought: That’s him. That house is Karl Leath’s objective correlative.

Then I thought: No, it’s not.

It’s mine.

I knew he was inside. I would’ve known anyway, even without the new version of myself. This wasn’t the first time I’d been here. I had an apartment forty miles away in Boulder City. Rented a year ago under a false name. Nothing fancy, barely furnished. I didn’t need furniture, except for appearances. Everything was for appearances. The only thing not for appearances was the bathroom without a window and with a heavier than usual door. And locks. Lots of locks. Because I’d known that by the time I came here to do this, that’s what I’d need. I was supposed to go there now. Rest. Get it together. Come back tomorrow night at sunset. That was the plan. This was supposed to be scoping. I wasn’t supposed to do anything now.

I hit the button that rolled the driver’s window down. The smell of warm asphalt and garbage came in. Leaked fuel somewhere. Stale Chinese take-out and hash. A big sudden whiff of piss-soaked concrete. A block away someone was playing rap with too much bass. An annoying thud through everything. Like a heartbeat. Like their heartbeats. I remembered the heat and heaviness and smell of burped whiskey and his heartbeat like something hitting me. It had made me think of the Tin Man, who didn’t have a heart. And the horrible disappointment when the Mighty Oz turned out to be that little old guy with white hair. Their heartbeats against me felt like the dirtiest thing.

You won’t need to feed until Saturday, Fluff had told me. Saturday was tomorrow. He should know, I guess, but it was there in me already, right now, and had been since yesterday, a feeling like a million tiny teeth biting my blood.

Scoping only. Nothing yet.

But it was as if the space around me in the car wasn’t empty. It felt like soft arms and hands prompting me, little pressures at my elbows and wrists, the small of my back, behind my knees. Some part of my brain was grabbing at questions about what if someone sees the car and if he’s not alone and a neighbour or there’s not enough time and the car breaks down and the sun and you’re there in the middle of the highway—But my body, moved by the soft invisible hands and arms, felt like a calm smile. All the things around me—the car’s dials and smell of vinyl, the low-rise houses and the stink of waste and the asphalt’s slight curve and even the spilled trash from a torn garbage bag smiled with me, as if I’d found the one thing that they’d been waiting for to make them perfect and happy.

I got out of the Jeep and closed the door behind me.

41

SOMEONE HAD SCRAPED the “L” from his name on the mailbox and scribbled in a “D.” Leath had become Death. It was just random shit. The sort of thing you’d expect kids to do. Except on The Lash, nothing’s random. I could hear Fluff saying it, shrugging, apologising, half-laughing. It prickled my face. Not excitement. Irritation. As if someone had turned the heating on on an already too hot day. It could become like claustrophobia, if you let it, this beguilement.

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