By Blood We Live Page 76

I’ll miss it.

At the door, Mia turned. “Are you going to be all right?” she said. “Do you want me to …?”

For a moment I thought she meant, Do you want me to stay here with you? But then I realised she meant, Do you want me to help you into the bathroom?

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’m sorry. You must think …”

“I think you say sorry too much.”

Don’t cry again. Do not start that obscene blubbering again.

“Sleep well,” Mia said, and a moment later she was gone.

Leaving me to face sleep—and the dream—alone.

68

Talulla

I WASN’T SHOWN or told “the method.”

“After you’ve seen the proof,” Olek said. “Believe me, it’ll sound too incredible without it.”

He was a little tedious. This was his show, so he would have it played his way. He did, however, tell me what he wanted from me. I followed him back up the stairs to minus one, and through the first two rooms of the lab. Another vault door (where the fuck did he get these from? did he have them airlifted in?) opened onto a third room, similar to the first, although more obviously the site of physical experiments. There was unfathomable kit here, in glass and steel, but plenty of minimally winking hardware too. Also a single very large—keypad entry, again—refrigeration unit.

“WOCOP, as we know,” he said, “is no more. It was always a sloppy, unwieldy organisation—in fact ‘organisation’ was a misnomer—but in its death throes it was in chaos. Total chaos. I don’t know whether you know but we bought pretty much all the research material they had, all the science. Outbid the Militi Christi on the lot. The Directors were simply flogging everything for cash.”

He was turning the gold and garnet ring on his finger as he spoke. It looked very glamorous against his dark skin.

“Their science division was all over the place,” he went on. “They’d had so many personnel changes, conflicting directives from the suits, people running for the hills. Murdoch—whom you knew, of course—was operating as a law unto himself … Well, I shan’t bore you with the details. The long and short of it is that by the time the whole thing fell apart they didn’t even know what science they had. They’d spent God only knows how much money and time on lycanthrope research. Which also happens to be one of my areas of expertise.”

He hit the keypad buttons and the fridge door gasped open. Colder than a regular icebox, I gathered. The little wisps of expanding air cleared in a moment, to reveal several shelves of black canisters. He beckoned me over. In among the black was a single white flask.

“I won’t take it out,” he said. “Can’t afford a significant temperature drop until we’re ready to use it.”

Pause. For dramatic effect. He couldn’t quite suppress a smile.

“Okay,” I said. “I give up. What am I looking at?”

The smile broadened. “Haven’t you guessed? It’s the virus.”

He didn’t say anything else. Just let me put two and two together. Then he closed the refrigerator door.

“They had all the bio-chemistry they needed to synthesise it. It was all there in the notes, in the samples, in the data. They were just too dumb to see it. A simple business of joining the dots. I hate to lean on a cliché, but you really can’t make this shit up.”

I felt tired. My ex, Richard (my human ex), was annoyingly fond of the French saying Plus ça change (plus c’est la même chose). The more it changes, the more it stays the same.

“And you want to infect me with it,” I said. “Again. Are you serious? Actually, scratch that. I know you’re serious. I’ve got depressingly good at knowing when people are serious.”

“Of course I’m serious,” he said. “Vampires bitten by a werewolf carrying the virus show increased sunlight tolerance. Do you know how old I am, Talulla?”

“You know I don’t,” I said.

“I was born as a vampire more than seven thousand years ago. I’m old, even by the reckoning of my kind. I know I don’t have much longer. Even in a world as perversely fascinating as this one fatigue sets in. Plus, I know I’m not what I once was. There are signs of … Well. Let’s just say everything I’ve learned tells me I’m not going to live forever. Do you read Bowles at all?”

“Bowles?”

“Paul Bowles. The novelist. I saw him in his last days, in Tangier. Charming man. Do you know he and his wife once shared a house in Brooklyn with W. H. Auden and Gypsy Rose Lee? Dalí was there for a while, too. What evenings they must have had! Apparently they took turns cooking. You will perhaps have seen the movie, The Sheltering Sky?”

I had seen it. With Richard. In the old life. Debra Winger. Bedouin. Sex. I couldn’t remember much more about it. It was a movie that didn’t encourage you to read the novel. I was annoyed (why not?) by his assumption that I was more likely to have seen the movie than read the book. Especially since he was right.

“Bowles himself makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film,” Olek said, “where he gives a famous little speech in voiceover. It’s from the novel, obviously. He says: ‘Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.’ ” He smiled again. To my astonishment, his eyes had tears in them. “I want to see the blue of the ocean again, Talulla,” he said. “I want to see leaf-shadows on green grass. I want to watch the sun rise. You will forgive the whiff of portent, but I feel the finiteness of my days.”

Well. Surprise. Was there anything other than sunshine a vampire ended up wanting? Is there anything other than what we don’t have that we all end up wanting? Who knew that if not me?

“It costs you nothing,” he said. “You’ve had the virus before. You carry it, you bite me. We go our ways. I’ll even throw in a shot of the anti-virus, too, so you don’t have to be a carrier any longer than you like. Everyone wins. And in return, your children get a normal life, free from persecution. You, too, if you want. Your face is known, certainly, but I know several very good plastic surgeons. The identity paperwork will be your own business, but you have the contacts and the resources for that. I’m offering you a door back into the life you lost.”

Prev Next