By Blood We Live Page 52

She stood, dropped the cigarette on the floor, stubbed it out with the toe of her boot. Walked over to me and knelt.

“Mother?” Caleb said.

“It’s all right, angel moy,” she replied, without looking at him. Then to me: “It mustn’t be much. I’ve already—”

“I know. Take just enough for what you need. Enough to know.”

I thought, briefly, of the change this little house had been through in the last few hours. Leath’s years made themselves felt for a moment, decades of crammed emptiness. Then Mia took my wrist, put it to her mouth, and bit.

48

AFTERWARDS, SHE SAT back, breathing. For a few moments closed her eyes. Caleb, involuntarily, had come and knelt beside her. He took her hand.

“Mat?” he said. “Mother?”

“It’s all right,” Mia said. “I’m fine.”

Caleb looked at me. It was the first time he’d been in a room with someone more powerful than the woman who’d made him. And a male, too. He was fascinated by and afraid of adult males. It was his mother’s other guilt, that she’d condemned him to a life without a father.

“He’s not false,” Mia said. “The promise is good.”

“Then you’ll help me?”

She got, unsteadily at first, to her feet. Caleb took her hand.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” she said.

I looked at her. Probably like an idiot.

She rolled up her sleeve.

In Russian, I said to her: “It’s not necessary. I’ve lived long enough to know.”

“That’s foolish. I have no love for Talulla.”

“Me neither,” Caleb said, manifestly trying to convince himself. It warmed my heart. The sweet lawlessness of the affections.

“It’s not blind trust,” I said, switching back to English. “We were meant to meet. This was meant. I’ll drink if it makes you happy, but I promise you there’s no need.” What could I tell her? That the rightness of this was constellated around the two of them? That from the moment they’d walked in they’d formed an all but visible necessity? That the story had grinned and winked with their arrival? “Besides,” I said. “You know enough now not to want me as an enemy. No?”

Mia, belatedly, wiped the blood from her lips. “Who is the new girl?” she asked.

“I’ll explain on the road,” I said, getting to my feet. “We’ve spent enough time here.” I was thinking it would be a squeeze for three in the VanHome’s blackout compartment.

The blood was fresh enough in her to read me.

“It’s okay,” she said. “We have a place nearby.”

In the VanHome I got five minutes into Justine’s story before I realised both my passengers were starting to look uncomfortable.

Not sunrise. We still had more than an hour.

“What is it?” I asked. I felt the road drop away from beneath the wheels. Lightness. The world tilting away.

“If you want the werewolf,” Mia said, “you’re going to have to move fast. She doesn’t have long to live.”

Part Four

The Believers

49

Talulla

CONSCIOUSNESS GATHERED ITSELF, tightened, struggled up through the darkness.

“Talulla?” a voice said. “There you are. Back with us.”

English spoken by an Italian.

I opened my eyes. I was sitting in a leather chair with restraints around my wrists and ankles. A collar gripped my neck and a strap around my forehead kept me looking where they wanted me to look: straight at them. The chair’s absolute immobility said it was bolted to the floor. I felt sicker than I’d ever felt before—even when carrying the twins, mid-hunger. I was wet with sweat. My skin ached. Giant nausea. And eclipsing all physical phenomena the grinning face of justice: It’s your fault. It’s all your fault. You lost your son. You got him back. You should have been content. You should have preserved what you had. But it wasn’t enough. Nothing is ever enough for you. You are nothing. Nothing but dirty, insatiable appetite. For whatever it is you haven’t got. Whether you need it or not.

Facing me, in a small room with bare concrete walls, were three men. The first, nearest me, wearing the lightweight combat gear of the Militi Christi, was in his fifties, tall, heavy-limbed, but with a soft, rounded middle and a big, plump, smiling, boyish face. Side-parted glossy brown hair and gold-rimmed glasses. He looked wrong in the outfit the way Idi Amin looked wrong in army fatigues.

“Talulla Demetriou,” he said. “My name is Cardinal Salvatore di Campanetti. I’m delighted to meet you. This is my friend and colleague Daniel Bryce, of whom you may have heard.”

“How are you feeling?” This—native English, resonant, posh—came from the second guy, of whom I had not heard, standing a few feet to the Cardinal’s left, wearing an ivory linen suit, sky blue cotton shirt and red brogues that had seen better days. The whole ensemble bore the crumples of a long-haul flight. Late thirties, slight build, bearded, with longish dark hair and an alert, intelligent green-eyed face. It would be unpleasant to see that alert face shut with passion if he was lying on top of you, fucking you.

“What do you want?” I said. I was very tired. My mouth was dry. Whatever drug they’d shot me with still lolled in my bloodstream. I was shivering. It was an effort to stop my teeth from chattering. That said, a curious little sixth sense told me there was a large window directly behind me—which surprised me—and that we were several floors up—which didn’t. No sixth sense needed to clock the third guy: none other than the angelic androgyne I’d glanced down at mid-flight from the roof. He was the only one visibly armed: an automatic assault rifle the make of which I couldn’t immediately identify. Next to him was a low steel bench with an open laptop on it. Packard Bell logo screensaver.

What do you want?

I don’t know why I asked. You wake up drugged and strapped to a chair, you already know what the people observing you want—or at least what their want is going to involve, namely your suffering. Disgust was a tidal wave waiting to break over me. The face of the youngster at the door was dewy. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-one. If you were this passionate blank-canvas type with a talent—violin, physics, ping-pong—you became a virtuoso or a Nobel winner or an Olympic champion. If you were this passionate blank-canvas type without a talent, you found stamp collecting or Middle Earth or totalitarian religion. I felt vaguely sorry for him, the misdirectedness of him, the huge, pointless, wrong decision he’d made.

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