By Blood We Live Page 63

Talulla was unconscious on the floor of her cell. For a moment I thought she was dead. Then the scent and tremor of her life hit me, hit Zoë. In the moment it had taken I’d asked myself whether I’d look after the kids if Lula was dead. And the goodness of Zoë’s weight on me said, Yes, I would, somehow. There are these unexpected measurements of love. When you least want them.

“He’s in charge, believe it or not,” Alyssia said, indicating the guy Eleanor had by the throat, toes typing thin air. The effects of the nose-paste were wearing off. The corridor’s confined space was dense with the vampires’ reek. Zoë was pressing her nose into my shoulder to block it out. Eleanor was holding her nose with her free hand. Alyssia tossed me the keys. “Fast,” she said. “This is becoming intolerable.”

Fewer keys on this bunch, and the third one opened the cell door. Zoë slithered from my back and rushed to Talulla.

“Mommy! Mommy, wake up. Wake up.”

“It’s okay, honey,” I said. “She’s just asleep. They gave her sleep-medicine.”

“Anyone alive behind you?” Alyssia asked.

“Only Miro.”

“Drinking.”

“Yeah.”

She shook her head. “Asshole. Okay. Out the way we came in.”

“Can you take the kid?”

The logistics. I’d have to carry Talulla. The vampires looked at each other. The face of the man Eleanor was holding by the throat was purple. His feet tap danced. Neither of them wanted to get any closer to me or the kid. Carrying her?

“Jesus, fuck, okay. I’ll have to take them both. Fuck.”

“All right,” Alyssia said, taking fresh scent-block from a tube in her pocket and virtually filling her nostrils with the stuff. “Give her to me.”

I liked her. She had a sexy controlled impatience. And her hands were the most beautiful I’d ever seen. Because your mind goes where it goes, regardless, I had an image of her sliding them into her panties, looking at me.

“Fuck,” she said. “I didn’t sign up for this.”

She was spared the trouble. Lucy appeared with Nils at the far end of the corridor. She looked like a miniature person next to him. The pair of them were spattered with blood.

“We good?” Alyssia called.

“Good,” Nils answered.

Lucy rushed up and put Zoë on her back. I fireman-lifted Talulla. I wondered what I would have said to her if she’d been awake. I wondered what she would have said to me. Holding her like that, unconscious, elsewhere, it suddenly felt like there wouldn’t have been anything to say. I realised how much we hadn’t looked at each other over the last few months. Or how much she hadn’t looked at me.

Eleanor hurled the guy she’d been strangling head-first at the bars of the cell. His body dropped, heavily.

“Well, that’s that,” she said, bored. “Let’s go.”

Part Five

The Wrong Twilight

58

Remshi

THE LOGISTICS, AS always, were wearisome. Daylight. Darkness. We had to make the bulk of the flight in the blackout room, to arrive in Italy after sunset. Mia and Caleb refused to take the bed, insisted on curling up on the floor. There’s ivory silk and wool shag-pile in there, mind you, and cushions aplenty from the cabin, so they weren’t uncomfortable. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a heel.

“You’re not well,” Caleb said to me, after we’d been up for half an hour. “You don’t look right.”

We were back in the main cabin. The jet was an hour from Rome. Damien and Seth were in the cockpit. Mia was taking a shower. Caleb was thrilled with the experience, though he was trying not to effervesce. The luxury was a shock to him. The cabin’s corpulent cream leather recliners, the cherry woodwork, the blackout room, the dense technology slotted snugly together like a Chinese puzzle. Every fixture and fitting said precision cut and quality finish. You forget these things until you see them through fresh eyes. In their old life his mother had had access to wealth, yes, but not like this. Not comprehensive fingertip control. He’d taken a copy of Browning’s Men and Women from the shelf (which reminded me of the Collected Works I’d never yet picked up from the floor of the study at home at Las Rosas) but he’d done little more than glance at it. He wasn’t, his aura said, a reader. I thought of all the textual pleasures he had awaiting him, if someone would only get him started. I resolved to speak to Mia about it in a quiet moment. But at the same time wondered where one did start, these days. These days young people found The Catcher in the Rye … sorta dull, kinda boring. Not to mention the new cognoscenti of all ages, for whom the test of whether a book was worth reading was whether they’d want to be friends with the protagonist.

“You’re sweating, in fact,” Caleb said.

This was the tone he’d decided on with me: equals. Tangents, blunt observations, non sequiturs. Overcompensated adulthood. I didn’t mind. I still felt sorry for him.

“Maybe you need to drink some more? Shall I get you another bag?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Believe it or not, flying’s never really agreed with me. Even flying in one of these.”

The truth was I wasn’t feeling well. Not just the effects of the dream, which I’d had again, which I’d been having every night and understood I would go on having every night for as long as it took, but a higher than usual (or comfortable) rate of snapshots from the improbable past, memories that came like rounds of machine-gun fire or occasionally like flashbulbs exploding in slow motion. Botticelli woken by a nightmare of his own discovering me in his workshop studying by lamplight the all but finished Birth of Venus and backing away, barefoot in his nightshirt, crying out, knocking over a small wooden table and a vase of irises. I would have killed him to have a moment longer with the image (the smell of oils remains one of my favourites, along with mown grass and a brand-new packet of tea bags and the first whiff of the ocean when you get near enough to the coast) but the thought of cutting off his talent and depriving the world stayed my hand. And the young private in an Ypres ditch, close but not close enough to death, stomach wound bubbling, skin tight and damp in the moonlight, knowing what I was and saying in a voice that sounded twelve years old, Please, sir, can you kill me? I can’t stand it anymore. Please, please … These were the slow-motion flashbulbs, yes, but the rest was vertiginous, an impossible compression of thunderstorms and dark rivers and neoned cities and constellations and news reports and night-marching legionaries and one of the big moonlit stones of Djoser stained with blood where a slave had dropped from exhaustion and cracked his head and a blind singer in a torchlit Athenian courtyard that stank of vomit and piss and spilled wine draining his own cup and emptying the dregs for the gods and beginning in Greek “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’s son, Achilles …”

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