By Blood We Live Page 91

The house was quiet, but I found Olek in the study, reading. The lamps were lit and the wall-mounted TV was on with the sound down, showing a sunlit cricket match.

“Where is he?” I said.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he said. “You slept very long, my girl.”

“Where is he?”

He paused, and though his smile didn’t shift I could tell he was put-out by my manners. I wondered how old he was. Whether manners would still matter to me in a thousand years. Every time I thought about the time ahead it was like the last few paces before plunging off a cliff into total darkness.

“He’s with Talulla,” he said. “They have …” he laughed, “gone out.”

“Where?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. But I can tell you he was manifestly much better. I do wish everyone would stop being so hysterical.”

“What do you mean? Was he all right?”

He closed the book he was reading and got to his feet. I thought: He’s only being nice to me because he’s scared of Fluff. He’d have ripped my head off by now, otherwise.

He went to the window and looked out. Dawn couldn’t be more than an hour away. I couldn’t believe I’d slept so long. Almost the whole night.

“Let me give you the full state of play,” Olek said. “Your maker has absconded I know not where with Miss Demetriou. You’ll have to fill me in on what’s going on there, I might add. Mia and Caleb fed from my larder when they woke several hours ago and went out to enjoy the night. I expect them back momentarily. Our Russian lovebirds, infected by the same anxiety that has you in its grip, dashed off in search of Talulla. Now, are you content? Can I offer you anything?”

“Which way did they go?”

He sighed. Put his hands in his pockets. “Second star to the right, straight on till morning,” he said. “You know, considering the openness of my home, considering the hospitality … Ah, well. I really don’t have a clue. They left from Talulla’s window, if that’s any help, but beyond that I’m no wiser than you. You’re very young. I forget. You’ll live in a world I can’t imagine. How sad everything turns out to be.”

I went to the door.

“I wouldn’t wander too far, little cat,” he called after me. “Sunrise in one hour and thirty-six minutes.”

But I was already running.

Not that I knew where to go. I went down the driveway to see if I could pick up his scent—or hers. But they were too long gone. Or I just wasn’t good enough yet to catch it.

Then I saw the guy with the binoculars.

He was standing a hundred metres away at the side of the road with his back to me, but even in silhouette he looked vaguely familiar. The shape of his head, the big rounded shoulders. I imagined a paunch. He was wearing dark combat fatigues. He looked weirdly wrong in them. There was an automatic rifle slung across his back, holsters on either hip. As far as I could see he was alone. But seeing had nothing to do with it. I knew there would be others.

It would take a matter of seconds to get back to the house and tell Olek. But for all I knew Olek was in on it. Whatever it was. Whatever this was.

Whatever this was, it was nothing good.

Don’t kill him. Get him to talk. You need to know how many are with him, where they are.

Oh God, Fluff, please be all right …

Silence was like something that came out of my body. It was so easy to move through the trees without making a sound. In spite of everything there was still the thrill of the huge gap between what I was capable of and what he was. A human. Humans. Fluff used to use the word with me as if I wasn’t one. As a joke. Not a joke anymore. The darkness was tense around me. Tense because it knew we didn’t have much time.

I drew parallel with the armed man. It was as if the jungle was dying to tell him I was there, but knew it wasn’t allowed to. I’d reach him in a single leap. I could imagine what it would look like as a scene in a movie. They’d shoot it from the other side of the road: him in profile, looking through the night-vision binoculars; the wall of dark lush trees beyond him; me suddenly bursting out, the curve of my jump, the second of pure silence. Then contact.

It was all there in my haunches and bent knees. The way the distance between us would become nothing. I flexed my fingers.

At which moment he lowered the binoculars—and I saw the surgical dressing across his nose.

It was the guy from the Sofitel lobby in Bangkok.

I guess it might have made a difference if I hadn’t hesitated just then, my mind racing backwards to try to make the connection, figure out who the fuck he was, why he was following me or even if he was following me—it might have made a difference, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I straightened up when I recognised him.

Which meant the first half-dozen wooden bullets went through my guts instead of my heart.

87

Talulla

WHEN I OPENED my eyes, the stars were faint and different. Too much time had passed. He was asleep, but woke when I shook him. I watched him go from complete blankness—no idea where he was, when it was, who he was—through the shockingly reassembled history. Three blinks, four, five, the last hours coming back to him in a series of explosions. I thought: He shouldn’t have been asleep. That’s not normal for him.

My voice, when I spoke, sounded alien, as if I were hearing it with my ears blocked. I said: “It’s late. We … You have to get back.”

The gentle abrasions of dressing. I had a humble gratitude for my body, its finite uniqueness, fingerprints, lips, nipples, eyelashes. I thought: That’s the gift the void gives you, the knowledge, when you come back, of how good it is to be mortal flesh and blood. We didn’t speak. He was busy with his own confused enrichment. It would take three or four more times before we could begin to talk about it, about how it was. The filament-ghost, desperate to resume normality, desperate to establish that nothing had changed, offered things like So, was it worth the wait? Or You sure you haven’t been practising? There would be time for playfulness, for bringing it gently into language, but it wasn’t now. Now there was just the big raw darkness, the new reality, the changed world. There would be time for everything. There would be time.

And the fear, like a whispering virus, that I was wrong. That whatever this meant to me it meant something different to him.

Prev Next