By Blood We Live Page 66

Now we lay on our bellies on the ridge with night binoculars trained on what looked like the human equivalent of a smoked wasps’ nest some three hundred metres away. Part of the building’s roof had caved in. There were detonation scars everywhere. The main doors had been blown clean off. Half a dozen dazed personnel moved around, manifestly not knowing whether to abandon what was left of their post.

“She’s not here,” Mia said. Grudging satisfaction. She’d pulled her blonde hair back and bound it in a bun as hard as an eight ball, exposing her fine Slavic cheekbones and the superb whiteness of her throat. Had I not come along, she could have had a career as a model. Night shoots only.

“Apparently not,” I said. I could feel her weighing up whether to take a feed from the shell-shocked victims still in the facility. They looked in no state to offer resistance. She was at least thirty hours early, but her recent travails had made an opportunist of her. The thirst was lifting its head in her, the red snake waking from a light (always light) doze.

“We need one of them alive,” I said.

“They’re not going to know anything,” Mia said. “She’s been taken out by force. I’d say it was her pack, except …” She didn’t need to finish. I could smell it, too: along with the odour of werewolves was the inimitable perfume of our own kind. Vampires had been here.

“Two different snatch teams?” Mia said. “That’s an unlikely coincidence.”

“And yet still more likely than ours and theirs joining forces.”

“How many do you think are left?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Stay here.”

I went fast and low between the gorse bushes. I needn’t have bothered. Militi Christi vigilance had collapsed.

Seventy metres. Fifty. Twenty-five. There were now only two guards outside the building. Take one out, grab the other. I readied myself for the last sprint.

I must have made some sound when I fell, but, either deaf from the explosions or past caring, neither of the grunts heard it. The world swung up and went out. I lay on my side with my left arm trapped under me. Nausea. A rush that dipped me for a second into complete blackness. A moment needed when I came back to organise the rearranged geometry. Grass tickled my face. One huge trodden daisy head beamed at me sadly. I could smell wet earth, rabbit shit, wild rosemary. I retched, thinking, as I retched, of the idiom, as weak as a kitten. I thought, Yes, I’ve never considered the weakness of kittens properly, but that’s how I feel, as weak as a kitten. Briefly, I felt sorry for weak things everywhere.

Something moved, very fast, over my head.

It was a moment before I could lift my kitten skull (on what felt like its broken kitten neck) to see what it was.

Mia.

She was—even in my state—a joy to behold. She took the last thirty feet in an airborne leap. The first guard—a trim woman in her twenties with a long dark plait—lost half her throat in my companion’s single right-hand slash and fell to the floor—or rather knelt, slowly, trying to hold the blood in with her hand, mouth opening and closing. She had marvellously long thick eyelashes. The second guard—a fair-haired, tough-headed guy with a frowning face and a stocky, muscular build—made some vague, slow-motion movements with his hands about his person, in abstracted reflex search for the automatic rifle that was in fact propped against the wall ten feet away, before Mia’s high kick—a gullgi chagi, to be precise—rendered him immediately unconscious, and nearly took his head off into the bargain. Within two seconds she had him slung up over her shoulder (his weight no more to her than a sack of potato chips) and was heading back to the cover of the ridge.

I heard her dump him on the ground and say to Caleb: If he wakes up, knock him out again.

Then she came back for me.

“What’s the matter?”

Good question. I was on my hands and knees, thinking what a distant and futile goal getting to my feet seemed. I had a brief, vivid vision of my old friend, Amlek, the way he’d looked when I found his body one night in Athens, staked through the heart and bound to a wooden post, papyrus scraps driven into his flesh with nails, covered in Greek obscenities. Names in my ears,/Of all the lost adventurers my peers … The vision vanished.

“Fuck,” I heard myself saying, as if from a long way away. “Fuck. I don’t … I …”

At which I was unceremoniously hoisted myself, and carried back to the ridge.

“Caleb,” Mia said, “go and get the car.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Just get the Jeep, will you? Do it. Now!”

Caleb (no slouch overground himself) was back within ten minutes. He nosed the vehicle in second gear cross-country with the lights off (he had to perch on the edge of the seat to reach the pedals) though there was no one outside the facility to hear. I wondered if Mia’s abrasive visit had been observed, and now the remnant force was indoors, collectively and firmly resolved on cowardice. Or prayer. I had a curious little image of them all kneeling, saying the Rosary in unison.

“It’s all right,” I said. “It’s passing. I can manage.”

It’s passing. Whatever “it” was. The kitten-weakness, the nausea, the dip into the vat of pitch. The vortex of memories. Amlek’s corpse. You don’t look well.

We put the guard in the trunk. I got in the back seat and lay down. Caleb slid over and Mia got behind the wheel. I called Damien. He was at the rendezvous, ready, with the truck. No one likes spending the daylight hours in a freight container, but on the road needs must.

Halfway there (I was feeling better) my phone rang. It was Olly, from Amner-DeVere.

“What’ve you got?”

“Two hours ago,” he said. “LAX. She bought a one-way to New York. Flight leaves in thirty-five minutes. Sorry I couldn’t get this to you sooner.”

“Keep tracking it,” I said. “Get me the next transaction as soon as you can.”

“I’m supposed to be going to Napa this weekend,” he said. “It’s my mother’s—”

“Double rate,” I said. “You’re not going anywhere.”

Pause. I could see him doing the imaginary steam-train-whistle-pull celebration. “Roger that,” he said.

“As soon as, Olly. Understood?”

“Understood.”

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