By Blood We Live Page 51

“Are you—”

“Be quiet!”

Are you still looking for her? Caleb had been going to say. His screen was hopeless. Stunted. Another juvenile disadvantage. As soon as he’d begun “Are—” the room’s latent store of meaning had surged. Every atom opened its mouth to say: This. Now. Pick this thread up and follow it. It leads. It leads. Mia had cut him off in Russian. But since Russian is one of the countless languages I speak, the werewolf was out of the bag. You see? It’s this story after all.

For a moment, I remained silent. Then I said to Caleb, “Could I have one of those?”

He looked at his mother. There was a raggedness to both of them beyond the bike accident and the ruined clothes. In Mia, particularly, the exhausted ghost of entitlement. She was almost—almost—past raging against the pain of whatever it was she’d lost. She’d almost accepted it. She looked at me. Every remaining ounce of her instinct and judgement rose up, leaned against me like a host of the dead. I remained passive. She knew I could get into her son’s head if I wanted to. She knew I was refraining. I gave it to her: I WON’T. NOT BY FORCE. LET US UNDERSTAND ONE ANOTHER.

Her shoulders relaxed slightly. Her face said she was getting used to these capitulations, these relinquishments of authority. Caleb, taking his cue from her, extracted the pack of Lucky Strikes and brought them over to me. Lit up me, his mother, himself. All vampires smoke. Smoking’s high on the list of Things You Take Up To Pass The Time.

“What happened to you?” I asked, very gently. It was a wretched effort not to dash off there and then in a southeasterly direction. Justine had only two hours on me, after all. But the chances of finding her before sun-up without a city to go on were risibly small. “Southeast” was still a quarter of the available compass. Which was another way of saying she could be a quarter of anywhere.

Mia took a deep drag, rolled her lovely, cold, jewel-eyed head on its flawless neck, exhaled through her nostrils. “We fend for ourselves,” she said. “That’s all. We have no choice.”

NOT IN FRONT OF.

I understood. There was no way of telling their story without it sounding like it was at least partly the boy’s fault. She opened enough for me to see: She’d broken the long-standing Fifty Families law by Turning a child. And the child had got himself captured. The Family had found out. She’d been stripped of her assets. Cast out. Effectively excommunicated. There were, of course, other pariah vampires in the world, but she’d get short shrift from them: as a former member of the House of Petrov (one of the oldest and most powerful of the elite—and elitist—Fifty) she’d probably spent years scorning them. She was the bankrupt aristocrat suddenly in jail with the mob. We’re not that broke, she’d said. But you can tell a lot about a vampire’s bank balance by where she hunts, and if Balzar Avenue was any indicator, flat broke wasn’t far away. The Harley was probably the last thing of material value. Now gone. A great deal of her weariness had come from having to adjust to the loss of the countless ways wealth removes obstacles. The loss of the unimpeded exercise of the will. It had probably been hundreds of years since the world had said No to her. Now the world said No every day. No. Fuck you. What are you going to do about it? Show me the fucking money. She had been eroded. For a while her arrogance had been a substitute currency. But now even that was gone.

“I think we can help each other,” I said.

She knew. She’d felt me catch where Caleb’s “Are you—?” was going. Are you still looking for her? We know where she—

“We don’t get involved,” she said.

But she didn’t move. If she’d been alone in the world, if she’d been the lone term on her side of the equation, she would have got to her feet there and then. I felt her reflex to do just that like a small electrical discharge in the air, as if her ghost had stood up and started for the door. Only to be halted. Only to be pulled back. Because there was the child. She had made him. Now there would aways be the child. Now there would always be love.

“Listen to me,” I said. “I can give you some of the things you need. Money that will last you … Well, not perhaps your entire lifetime, but a long time. Long enough for you to make it into other money. Enough to give you a second chance. In this country I own property in every state. I have places around the world that will be shelter for you whenever you need it. If you want a permanent home you can take your pick.” I could feel Caleb letting the vision have its way with him. I could feel her influence on him: Say nothing. Say nothing yet. And I could feel her own desperation. She was like someone who had been tortured with sleep deprivation now standing looking down at the perfect bed, crisp white sheets, soft pillows, unimaginable comfort, rest. All she had to do was lie down in it.

“In return?” she said. Not her voice but her spirit was hoarse. For weeks, months, years now it had been screaming. “Assuming we can deal with the question of why we should trust you.”

“In return two things. First, you help me find the person I’m looking for. Second, you tell me where Talulla Demetriou is.”

“Yeah, but how do we know we can trust you?” Caleb said. He was excited. This was the first thing with any promise that had happened to him for a long time. What felt like a long time, to someone as young as him. “We’re just supposed to take your word for it? You’re going to have to …” He looked at his mother. But his mother was looking at me. She sat hunched forward, white wrists bent on her knees. Her cigarette had burned down, but for the first drag, unsmoked.

“Your mother will know you can trust me,” I said, smiling at him.

“How?”

I looked back at Mia. She did know. Had come to know, in the last minute or so. Now she, too, through the exhaustion and threadbare hope, was letting a little excitement touch her. Like a shy cat half-accepting the first stroke of an unfamiliar hand.

“I don’t make false promises,” I said. I promise to live as long as I can. I promise I won’t leave you, angel. (So she had left me, to leave my word intact.) “But no one trusts promises, these days, do they?” I rolled up my sleeve.

Mia held my eye a few moments. She was old enough to recognise a turning point. And deep enough in misery to take it. It would be a relief to her, to commit to something. For too long now her life had been merely reactive. Her will bristled. Her will needed exercise beyond survival. Lights were on in her eyes whether she liked it or not. The terrible promise of the freedom she’d thought she’d never see again.

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