By Blood We Live Page 54

I almost said: You’re not serious. But I’d been in the world long enough. I knew they were serious. The seriousness of madmen is one of the most exhausting realities. Bryce’s eyes had livened. I wondered if he was on coke. He looked the type. As Salvatore looked the type not to care if the instruments of his purpose were on coke. Or under-age girls. Or murder. Or anything else. There was only the purpose.

“Every month,” the Cardinal said, “you change. You become a monster. Your hunger for killing and eating a human being is unbearable, a compulsion against which no power on earth can be brought to bear.”

Theatrical pause. Me filling in the gaps.

“No power on earth,” Bryce said, and actually gave me a wink. Partly in delight at the prospect of “televisual history,” partly in acknowledgement of the Cardinal’s religious lunacy. He, Bryce, had purposes of his own. Unrivalled directorial credit and a slice of the advertising revenue. I wondered if he had something on Salvatore that had got him this gig.

“You will pray,” the Cardinal said, taking a few paces away towards flushed Lorenzo. “For the strength to overcome the hunger. I will be with you. You will receive the Sacrament. You will have access to a human victim. And you will not touch him. Or her, rather. Sister Carmelina is our first volunteer.”

They were still serious. They were still perfectly serious. Through the roiling sickness my strategist flailed for ways of making this work. Assume Zoë’s somewhere in the building. Assume they’re not lying about the others. Assume—

“I know what you’re thinking,” Salvatore said, turning on his heel and facing me. “You’re thinking there is no such thing as the power of Christ. No such person. No such mystery. No such God.”

“I wasn’t thinking that,” I said. “But since you mention it, yes. The major flaw in this show is that if you put Sister Carmelina or anyone else in with me on the Curse, I’ll kill them. And eat them. You can feed me all the bodies of Christ you like. It won’t make any difference.”

A not entirely comfortable pause. The Cardinal moving his lips around a little, looking past me out the window. Bryce was smiling at me. His lips were very red in his beard. With a haircut he could have played D.H. Lawrence. Lorenzo—the other Lorenzo—was at some edge of himself, as if on the verge of transfiguration. At the thought of the power of Christ, presumably.

“I’ll leave Bryce to go over the details,” Salvatore said, turning away again and heading to the door, which Lorenzo opened for him. “Your daughter,” he said, raising his hand. “I know. Very shortly. When you have your sea legs.”

“Now,” I said.

“Very shortly,” he said. Then something quietly to Lorenzo. Then he was gone.

I looked at Bryce.

“You won’t touch Sister Carmelina,” he said. “You won’t need to. You’ll be full.”

He took a softpack of Chesterfields from his pants pocket and lit up with a brass Zippo. Exhaled with deep gratitude, looked down at me. “You with me? You’ll be full because you’ll already have eaten. As much as you like.”

The scam penny dropped. The power of Christ—with an insurance policy. What had I been expecting?

“More volunteers?” I said.

“We have an arrangement,” Bryce said. “Don’t worry. Nobody who’ll be missed.” A pause. “You don’t need me to tell you you don’t have a choice.”

“Let my daughter go and I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Not going to happen. Salvatore’s wedded to the monster Madonna-and-child thing. It’s his idée fixe.”

“Not that there’s any point in asking,” I said, “but how exactly does all this square with me living happily ever after?”

He nodded. In terms of our ifs and thens at least, we shared a logical economy. “Lorenzo?” he said, turning to the boy. “Mr. Avery is in the room next to mine. Could you go and ask him to meet me at the car in thirty minutes?”

Very slight discrepancy between the immediacy of the boy’s obedience to Salvatore and this, to Bryce. But with a little nod of the delicate head, off he went.

Bryce looked at me. “No need for bullshit, obviously,” he said. “The Cardinal’s line is that you do your thing—convert, cured by faith in God’s grace—and depart incognito. Plastic surgery, new ID, the whole thing.”

I raised my eyebrows: How stupid does he think I am?

“I know,” Bryce said. “I told him. But you can’t tell him. He has these idiotic blind spots. Anyway, regardless of the line, the reality is once we’ve got what we need you’ll be killed. Both of you.”

To which, the momentum said, there was an alternative. It was unpleasant that we understood each other so well. It created an obscene feeling of kinship.

“So here’s what I’m offering,” Bryce said. “I’ll get your daughter out. Keep her safe. To be returned to you when I’ve got what I need.”

“Which is?”

“Salvatore’s thinking’s one-dimensional. The fact is half the audience just isn’t going to buy the religious angle. The religious angle will undermine it. It’s so obviously a vested interest. People will assume it’s fake. What I’m talking about is the no-holds-barred fully secular version. Not just you. I want 24/7 access to the pack. All of you. You’ll be masked, obviously. I don’t expect you to kill and eat people on camera with the whole world knowing what you look like. But everything else, completely up-close and personal. It’s Big Brother with werewolves. Live coverage for a month, leading up to a group kill on full moon. Then I’m gone. You get your daughter back, no one knows what you look like, I make history.”

“As an accessory to mass murder,” I said. “You’re stupider than Salvatore.”

He shook his head. “You let me worry about that.” Then a flash of irritation: “Do you seriously think I haven’t got that covered? Christ.”

The choice wasn’t much of a choice. But Bryce’s project had at least the virtue of me not being in religious captivity.

I managed—just—not to say: You’re all fucking insane.

Instead I said: “I want to see my daughter.”

50

I DIDN’T GET what I wanted for another twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours of not knowing if she was alive or dead. Twenty-four hours to feel sick with fear and filthy rich with self-loathing. The thing you swore you’d never let happen again. And now here it was, happening again. Congratulations.

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