By Blood We Live Page 49

A car I’d nearly hit honked, protractedly.

“Explain,” I said to Hannah.

Pause. Recalibration. She was wondering if this would compromise my ability to pay her.

“Three years ago,” she said. “Alaska. You don’t remember?”

I remembered Alaska. The lodge. Talulla. Vali. But I had no memory of how I’d known she was there. The driver of the car I’d just missed, having stopped honking, realised he hadn’t vented sufficient spleen, and honked again.

“You traced her?”

“Yeah, and I don’t want to have to do it again. The woman has aliases like fucking Imelda Marcos had shoes. I don’t know who’s doing her IDs, but whoever he is, he’s the best in the business.”

I clamped my jaws together for a moment, let the fact sink in. You forgot.

“Be that as it may,” I said. “Same job. Do what you can.”

“For God’s—”

“Get me what I need and I promise you can retire.”

Silence. She knew enough to know I had it within my power.

“Call me as soon as you have anything,” I said, and hung up. Justine’s face flashed. Just following her around gave you dementia and nearly fucking killed you. Some fulfilment.

I called my chief pilot and transportation logistics guru, Damien. He, too, had been sleeping. He cleared his throat. “Sir?”

“Has Justine asked you to prep the jet?”

“No, sir.”

“Nothing about flying to Thailand?”

“No, sir.”

“What about Detroit?”

“No, sir. I haven’t heard from Ms. Cavell since you were … Since we got back from Europe.”

Since you were doolally. Since chasing that werewolf gal nearly killed you.

“Listen carefully. If she contacts you, you are to let me know immediately. Without her knowing. Understood?”

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“Understood, sir.”

“She may want to fly at short notice,” I said. “But do not go anywhere until you’ve checked with me. Make up a problem with the plane. But stay on the ground until I get there. Okay?”

“Absolutely, sir.”

“I’ll be contacting Seth and Veejay with the same instruction, just in case. If you hear from either of them—anything unusual at all—you must also report it to me straight away. I know you’re fond of her, Damien, but you have to trust me, this is for her own protection.”

“Sir, if she comes to me in person, do you want me to keep her with me?”

“Not by force. And in any case, you wouldn’t be able to do anything like that. Not anymore. Just call me straight away. Delay tactics only. Understood?”

“Absolutely, sir.”

“We’re going to be travelling soon, one way or another. You up to snuff?”

“Absolutely, sir. You can count on me.”

“Good man. Everything all right in your world?”

“Peachy, sir. Couldn’t be better.”

“Call me as soon as you hear anything.”

“Standing by, sir.”

Very well. She wasn’t going to Thailand first. That made Vegas favourite. She wouldn’t go to her mother.

Not yet.

47

NORTH VEGAS TOLD me she’d been here but I’d missed her. I nosed the VanHome around for more than an hour before I caught (windows down, the city’s smells a stadium crowd I was searching for the one beloved face) the first strand on the ether, a psychic stink like the odour of cordite after a gunshot.

Elusive, though. I had it and lost it. I stopped the VanHome and got out. Urban deadspot. Three empty, garbage-strewn lots between an out-of-business repairs garage and a cluster of one-storey homes that were barely more than shotgun shacks. A small freight trailer lying on its side, covered in graffiti. A couch reduced by weather and fire to its rusted sprung frame. A butchered space-hopper. A defeated army of filthy plastic carrier bags. One gets used to these occasional anti-oases in American cities, with their inexplicable inhabitants and remains (I once saw a live parrot sitting in the mouth of an abandoned tumble dryer) but even I was surprised when I noticed the horse.

Not least because it had taken me this long to notice him. He limped out of the shadow by the overturned trailer, took a half-dozen unsteady steps, then stood, trembling. He didn’t appear to be tethered.

He didn’t move when I approached him. (Not knowing, quite, why I was approaching him. Except at the soft insistence—Lash-enriched—of the air around me, that even in its reek of engine oil and human shit said to approach him.) It was very quiet. One of the street lights buzzed. I was aware of time, of wasting valuable seconds and minutes in which Justine’s trail could only be cooling—but I couldn’t help it. My practical self was working through the understandable questions: How could a horse be …? Whose …? Surely a permit … And not even tied … How could …? While the rest of me had accepted the moment’s obscure gravity.

I couldn’t remember when I’d seen an animal in worse shape. Aside from his grotesque thinness and distended belly there were unhealed gashes all over him. His left eye was swollen shut by a hot, delighted infection. There were maggots in one wound on his right foreleg. Sepsis oozing from another on his haunch. When I put my hand gently on his quivering neck, he urinated, a hot arrow of blood. Via an impenetrable association he reminded me of the old beggar man I’d seen on the drive at Las Rosas. I’d forgotten about that. The crutch, the grinning face, the cryptic remark: You’re going the wrong way.

“Shshsh,” I said, though the horse hadn’t, beyond his laboured breathing, made a sound. I rested my forehead against his muzzle. His shivering was almost a thing of disgust.

I don’t quite know how long we stood together like that, out of time. I was thinking of the scene in Crime and Punishment that never failed to wreck my heart, the milk-cart horse whipped to death by his driver, the crowd laughing, egging the driver on—but there was something else it reminded me of, something …

It didn’t matter. I fetched the pistol, a Glock 32, from the VanHome’s glovebox (Justine insisted on a gun in every vehicle) and drew his head down and placed the barrel in his ear. I worried for a moment that the noise would attract attention. But the area had already made it clear that gunshots weren’t rarities here. In any case, I was resolved.

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