By Blood We Live Page 55

They moved me—in wrist and ankle restraints à la Guantanamo and in the mute company of four Militi Christi, including beatifically beaming Lorenzo—to a twelve-by-ten cell with an unsurprising thin bunk and a pair of buckets. I was given a litre bottle of water and a ham sandwich I wouldn’t have been much interested in even if I was eating regular food, and told to get some rest.

There was no rest to be got. Rest isn’t available when you don’t know if they’ve killed your child. Nor had the journey from the interview room to the cell helped me much. Three long corridors, two left turns, striplights and ammonia-scented vinyl floors, half a dozen other cells. I didn’t even know what country I was in.

Then Salvatore showed up with a couple more armed guards (silver buzzed my bones from the Uzi magazines), toting a digital camera.

“Put this on, please,” he said, hooking a tiny wired earpiece through the bars. “The wire goes down the back of your shirt. The earpiece you can conceal with your hair.”

For a moment I sat still on the bunk. He smiled. The same implacable delight. The same patience. The same certainty. The exercise of his will all but visibly swelled him, as if his body were receiving rich nourishment.

“It’ll be painless, I promise you.”

“My daughter,” I said.

He nodded. “After this. Please. The earpiece.”

I got up and fitted the device. Awkward, given the restraints.

“I’m going to interview you,” he said. “I will ask you just a very few questions. The responses you’re required to give will come through our little friend in your ear. Obviously there will be an unnatural delay in real time, but don’t let that worry you. Bryce will edit it, he assures me, seamlessly.”

One of the guards pulled a chair up for the Cardinal, at a safe distance from the bars.

“Tell me, Talulla, do you believe in God?”

The voice in my ear—female, filled with surprising clipped passion—said: “ ‘Of course not. God’s a fairy tale to calm frightened children.’ ” I hesitated, then repeated it, verbatim, feeling my jaws tightening. It made me weary to see the thinking here: Atheist monster converted to the one true religion. The more entrenched her faithlessness at the start, the greater the miracle by the end.

“So obviously it follows that you reject the authority of the Catholic Church?”

“ ‘Are you an idiot? The Church is nothing. A house of lies.’ ”

“Please,” the Cardinal said. “A little less robotic.”

“I wouldn’t talk like this,” I said.

“Nonetheless, try not to sound like you’re reading the ingredients on a packet of washing powder. Now. You reject the existence of God, the mystery of the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the power of the Sacraments?”

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The voice in my ear actually laughed, before replying: “ ‘The Sacraments? Hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo. You might as well carry a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny.’ ”

“You don’t think we can help you, then?”

“ ‘I don’t need help,’ ” I parroted. “ ‘And even if I did, there’s nothing for me in your sad bag of tricks. If anyone needs help it’s you people. You’re all fucking lunatics.’ ”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Salvatore said. He looked genuinely pained, the genial uncle whose niece’s wayward behaviour had let him down. “I truly am sorry. But I’m also filled with gladness.” He leaned forward in the chair, clasping his kneecaps. “Because I happen to know that we can help you. I happen to know that Christ died for all our sins, even yours, and that the Sacraments are real and mighty gifts.”

“ ‘You’re pathetic. Go ahead. Give me the full treatment. It won’t make a scrap of difference.’ ”

“God loves you, Talulla,” he said, frowning at what an incomprehensible contortion this would be for anyone other than God. “And it’s our job, as His hopelessly flawed representatives on earth—it’s our highest duty—to help you to see that. We have a long and difficult time ahead of us. But understand something: I have absolutely no doubt of the outcome.”

“Neither have I,” my prompter said, with such scorn that I wondered if this role-play wasn’t an outlet for some doubts of her own. I wondered who she was.

“Very well,” Salvatore said. “Soon, we will begin. But that will do for now.” Then, after the guard had switched off and lowered the camera, he said to me: “Not bad for a first attempt. We need to see more emotion, but I know you’ll get the hang of it. You can take the earpiece out now.”

I opened my mouth to speak but he held up his hand: “I know, I know. Your daughter. Calm yourself. I’m as good as my word. We’re taking you to see her now.”

She was in a steel-doored white room three times the size of my cell, to accommodate in addition to its infant prisoner, chairs and a table for two nuns. Zoë sat on the edge of the bed in a miniature version of my wrist and ankle restraints, the ankle chain fastened to a steel loop bolted to the cell floor. She had a movement radius of about five feet, marked (the Sisters needed to know if they were anywhere near within range of a scratch or bite) by a yellow chalk semi-circle on the floor. All of this visible to me on a wall-mounted monitor outside the cell door, which was overseen by yet another guard at a fold-out table and chair. (How many guards so far? Four for the move to the cell, two from the cell to here, and this one at the desk made seven. But the air in the facility said more. There must have been fifty or sixty for the assault on the farmhouse. Maybe they were all here? Maybe there were hundreds?)

The nuns were ordered out. I got five minutes.

She’d been holding the tears in—but they came when I put my arms around her, though I had to lift my cuffed hands over her head to do it.

I DON’T LIKE IT HERE.

I KNOW, ANGEL, ME NEITHER. WE’RE LEAVING SOON. VERY SOON.

PROMISE?

Oh God. Oh God.

YES, I PROMISE.

I WANT TO GO NOW.

NOT YET, ANGEL. BUT VERY SOON. ARE THESE LADIES HORRIBLE TO YOU?

The compact soft warm smell of her hurt my heart. The precise weight and shape of her pressed tight to me. The bravery she’d had to summon so far unravelling now that Mommy was here and she didn’t have to be brave by herself.

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