By Blood We Live Page 95

I didn’t go. I watched him pulling away, finding the rhythm with the oars. Ten strokes. Twenty. Thirty. I turned, sloshed back to the shore, my jeans and boots soaked, my eyes burning, my chest emptying. The last of the soft weights dropped from me. For a few moments I stood with my back to the water, looking down at the glimmering sand.

Then I turned.

He was much further out than I’d imagined he’d be by now. It had only seemed a matter of seconds, but the little boat was barely bigger than a matchbox.

It was hard to tell at this distance, but it looked as if he was standing up, facing the horizon. I thought, I never said goodbye. Just thinking of the word, “goodbye,” imagining how it would have felt saying it, brought tears again. I wrapped my arms around myself.

And watched.

He had a few moments. Perhaps even a minute. Deep red and orange light, low feathery clouds in bloody, membranous flakes, water the colour of mercury, flecked with blue, pink, peach. Not pretty, but spectacular, a terrible indifferent statement of the scale of things out there, the giant heat involved, the vast, soulless mathematics that gave incidental rise to everything we knew here, all our murders and poems, our dreams and epiphanies, our boredom, our love.

I think he saw the first segment of the sun ease up over the water. I think he shouted something, laughing. It might have been: “It’s beautiful!”

Then the boat dipped for a second, rose again, and I saw him. A bright tuft of violet-edged flame, a brief, soft flare of brilliance—then he was gone.

90

CARDINAL SALVATORE DI Campanetti, with a big surgical dressing on his nose, was waiting for me when I got back to the BMW. He was holding a gun.

“It used to be, in the old days, that only the wolf’s head would do,” he said. “It was a point of honour with the old Soldiers of Light, to take the monster in its monster form. Even the heathens in WOCOP tried to keep up the tradition. Nowadays we’re a little less fussy.”

My blood jangled. The sick taste in your mouth and the vibration like a tuning fork in your head.

Silver.

Bullets.

Nowhere to run. Nothing. Now. The reality of my children exploded in my heart. All my life rushed to this moment to see if there wasn’t some way, some way to—

Then the Cardinal raised the pistol and shot me in the chest.

I’d never been shot before. It was like I imagined being kicked by a horse would be. I felt myself falling. Just managed to grab the wing mirror and stay on my feet. The pain in my chest was hot and crushing, a detonation of heavy white light filling my lungs and head. I had, what? Seconds? I was remembering—as my eyes, which I hadn’t realised had closed, opened again and the big unidentifiable trees swam back in, vivified, outrageously full of detailed life—I was remembering holding Jake in my arms when he died. How long had it taken? I’d felt it in him, silver racing to map the system, veins, nerves, tissues, bones. I’d felt the silver’s delight, set free in him to do its thing, like a power cut knocking out block after block of a city’s lights. Five seconds? Ten? A minute? I was thinking, too (God being dead, irony still rollickingly alive), that this threw all my big talk of moments ago—of not being ready to find out—in the trash. Finding out didn’t wait until you were ready to find out. Finding out found you out. I imagined Remshi’s surprise, looking back and seeing me so soon on the afterlife road behind him. And of course if that were true, then Vali would be there too, eventually. As would Jake. As would my mother. Awkward disembodied introductions. How ludicrous! The little light dancing part of me laughed.

A second horse-kick. In my gut. Which unstrung my hand’s grip on the wing mirror and sent me, by what felt like pointlessly drawn-out degrees, down onto my hands and knees. Small twigs rolled under my shins, a minor but very distinct irritant. I was thinking of Zoë and Lorcan. Good that they were still young enough to forget me. Walker wouldn’t abandon them. Maddy wouldn’t. They would be all right.

Then I felt it.

Death looking up in the middle of its mardi gras and seeing Life bearing down on it like a tidal wave.

Death trying to recalculate, to assimilate, to grasp.

Reversal.

Giant water hitting giant fire in a deafening inner hiss.

And water always wins.

Something went into me from him.

I didn’t understand.

And of course did.

I’d known I’d never be the same. Just not in what way.

It was very quiet. I don’t know how long I knelt there, staring at the dust and stones of the track. I was aware of the day’s heat building, giving its heavy morning intimation of the suffocating weight it would bring by noon. Something in the BMW’s still-cooling engine tonked, softly. I raised my head. Got up onto my knees. Got one foot under me. Stood.

The Cardinal was, to say the least, surprised. His face had lost its guiding will. I stepped to within arm’s length of him. If I simply reached out and took the gun from him he’d be unlikely to resist. I could take the gun, point it at his head, pull the trigger.

And yet I knew I wasn’t going to. Not mercy. Disgusted exhaustion. The world’s infinite supply of action and reaction, cause and effect, Jake’s hated endless ifs and thens. The little boat and the rising sun and the flare of flame had emptied me. I was tired. I wanted to go home.

I got into the 4×4 and started it up.

Because the universe doesn’t suspend physics no matter your extremis, I had to go through the farcically cumbersome business of turning the car around in the narrow space. The Cardinal watched all of it, mouth still stupidly open, the gun dead in his hand. I thought, Jake would roll the window down for a parting shot: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

But I didn’t even have the heart left for that.

91

IT TOOK ME three attempts to find Olek’s. Grishma, toting an AK-47, was at the edge of the garden, looking out for me. When I switched the engine off and got out the cicadas went quiet for a few seconds, then started up again.

“Ah,” Grishma said. “Ah. Yes. Good. Come in, please come in.”

He filled me in on the attack as we went downstairs. With the exception of the Cardinal it seemed almost certain the whole Militi Christi squad was dead. Olek (now locked in his most secure room—I assumed weapons, escape tunnels; you didn’t make it to his age without covering the contingencies) had nonetheless recalled his security people, who were expected, Grishma assured me, imminently. The others were all alive, all sleeping. Caleb, Mia and Justine covered in blood. Natasha on a comforter in the lab. Konstantinov slumped against the wall next to her with an automatic pistol in his right hand.

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