By blood we live, p.11
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       By Blood We Live, p.11

           Glen Duncan
 

  HEY.

  HEY.

  YOU’VE GOT NOTHING TO—

  I KNOW. IT’S OKAY. PLEASE LET’S NOT.

  The problem was she knew there was no promise she could make and keep. Promises get sucked into fuckkilleat like paper scraps into a furnace. For a while she stood there, thinking: I’ll go. I should go. I can’t. She’d worn this loop out. Pack gravity compelled us, now. No argument. Without the weakness of grief she might’ve been able to break free, but Cloquet’s death had gone deep. For both of us.

  “Where did you get the information?” I asked Fergus.

  “Come on, Lu,” he said. “I don’t take risks. Trust me. It’s watertight. Although you’ve got to wonder how tough this was before people decided to start living their lives on fucking Facebook.”

  Fergus, fifty-three and a functioning alcoholic sales rep for Toyota with a physique like Baloo the bear when he was Turned, had lost weight and improved his wardrobe. Gone the womanish butt and pendulous paunch, gone the machine washable suit. Money and the prospect of a four-hundred-year lifespan had bucked his aesthetic ideas up. He’d put some time in at the gym, shaved off the perennial stubble, got a trendy haircut and kitted himself out with smart dark casuals that actually fit. I was round his Fulham flat the other day, Madeline had told me with delighted distaste. You should see the bathroom cabinet. It’s like the fucking Avon Lady lives there. Seriously, right, he goes, Mads, these pore minimisers—do they work?

  We’d met him at Grenoble as planned. What would not be as planned—sans Cloquet—was the absence of a getaway driver. Which would mean killing late and travelling fast. Fergus, who took a weird delight in the logistics, had had very little time to rearrange.

  “This is the way it works,” he said, unfolding a Google map satellite printout. “The house is here, five miles from Charmes sur-l’Herbasse. We leave the vehicles here”—he pointed with a propelling pencil; I noticed he’d had a manicure—“where this trail comes off the road into the woods. One mile in: change site. You know the drill. Moonrise is at 2108. That’s going to mean sitting on our feckin hands for … I’m saying four hours to be on the safe side. Which leaves two hours to get there, make the kill, get back to the site. We’ve got to time it right. Once we leave the house we don’t want to be in the vicinity any longer than we have to.”

  We were sitting in the back of a three-year-old Fleetwood RV in a rest area just outside Le Chalon. (I was imagining its former owners as silver-haired retirees in golf slacks. Or a Middle American family the economic meltdown had smashed, all the barbecues and Xboxes and kids’ bikes and bonuses and healthcare gone, all the minor irritations magnified by suddenly not having money. Having money now—a lot of money—I knew one thing for sure: If you had a lot of money and you were miserable, you’d be miserable poor. You’d be miserable, just without the consolation of quality towels and thirty-dollar cocktails.) Second and third vehicles were lined up between Grenoble and Geneva, from whence … Well, that wasn’t decided. It seemed madness to go back to the villa at Terracina since someone—presumably the goddamned Militi Christi—knew we were there, though it was understood between Maddy and me that finding Cloquet’s killers was loud on the inner list. If it hadn’t been for the kids we’d have gone back there and waited for them to try again. Fergus was returning to London to oversee half a dozen land deals, then on to Croatia to push the completion of the Last Resort through. Lucy had planned to come back to Italy with me for a week (there remained two or three Roman galleries she hadn’t seen; the woman was obsessive) and Trish was supposed to go to the U.S., where she had a Harley rented for a two-week road trip around the Southern states. Walker, I’d supposed (in a knot of love and claustrophobia) would come with me, wherever I went. I’d supposed. I had supposed. We hadn’t spoken properly since Cloquet’s death. I could feel him thinking it had accelerated our disease. My disease. My room for other things. I’ll see you again …

  From the upper bunk on the left, Lucy groaned. The last few hours before Transformation laid her low. Trish, too; she was in the second bunk, knees drawn up to her chest, cold-sweating, shivering. Walker was on his feet but visibly suffering, face thin-skinned and grey, thread veins you never saw at any other time of the month, cramps and spasms he rode with jaws clenched, shuddering. I wasn’t much better off. Blisters of wulf swelled and burst in my blood, the monster’s idiot insistence that its will could break the moon’s rules. The big skull seemed to form at moments like a leaden helmet around my own. It was a surprise to put your hand up and not feel the snout there, the muzzle, the broad cheekbones, the huge breath. I wandered in and out of the negligible effects of codeine and ibuprofen. Booze would’ve helped—but it would also have made me drunk, and there was too much at stake not to go in sober. Only Madeline, Fergus and Zoë—blessed, randomly—remained pre-Transformation symptom free. Poor Lorcan lay in the fetal position, very still, eyes wide, breathing through his nose, holding Zoë’s hand.

  “Everyone clear?” Fergus asked. His Chanel pour homme wasn’t doing Walker and me any olfactory favours.

  “For fuck’s sake, Ferg, we’ve got it,” Trish said. “Let’s go already. I can’t stand this waiting.”

  It was an hour’s drive to Charmes sur-l’Herbasse. Another half-hour down single-width lanes inadequately supplied with passing bays to the trailhead. By the time we got there I was in my full-of-beans stage. It’s what happens: gastric, osteo and muscular misery morphs into inane energy and the attention span of a gnat. The Curse has a thing for contrast: frivolity one minute, homicide the next. I sat up front with Fergus, who drove, the hunger pounding in both of us. The hunger speaks with diminishing sophistication: starts with glimpses and hints, echoes of previous kills, the multiple accents and notes, snatches of swallowed lives shot from arty angles, a complex prose poem or post-modern score. But the moon insists on simplicity. The free-verse epic becomes a sonnet, the sonnet a limerick, the limerick babytalk, the babytalk the beat of a drum. Eventually there’s nothing but the rhythm of blind and deafened need. It’s peace, of a sort, a return to original silence.

  We parked the RV at the trailhead, took our knapsacks and clean-up kits, our liquid soap and our wet wipes. Went into the forest, selected our spots. Walker came with me and the twins, though the vibe between us was strained. The evening was warm and still and smell of the trees gave us the feeling of being in a friendly labyrinthine wardrobe. We settled under an enormous horse chestnut. I was thinking of a line I’d read (1984?): Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me … Moonrise was fifteen minutes away. Fergus’s arrangements never went wrong. I could hear him and Maddy talking softly nearby about an industrial coatings company they were thinking of buying.

  When Walker spoke, I knew a split second before what he was going to say.

  “Have you seen him again?”

  Weeks without going anywhere near it and now, out of nowhere, this: “Him.” The vampire. Remshi. No point pretending I didn’t know who we were talking about.

  “No,” I said, my face warming.

  “But you’re waiting to.” Statement, not question. We weren’t looking at each other. Amongst other things I was thinking it was a relief to have done with secrecy. It was like taking off a too-tight shoe.

  “It feels inevitable,” I said. “I know that sounds stupid.”

  For a few moments he tossed a pine cone back and forth with Lorcan, who threw it back harder every time, as if the game were an argument. Zoë had climbed into the lower branches of the horse chestnut tree. The moon was touching me, a little lozenge of cold heat under the roof of my skull. Another between my legs. In spite of everything I thought of how its salving and seductive light would feel on my bare nipples and a circuit of pleasure lit up for a moment across my chest.

  Walker said: “Is it like that?”

  Like that. Is it a sexual attraction.

  Lie? (Dream footage flashed.) Walker felt it, picked it up, though he was trying to have this conver
sation the honourable old-fashioned way.

  “Yes,” I said. “But that’s not the … That’s not important.”

  IT IS TO ME.

  “We’re doing this now?” I said. Relief or not, moonrise was close enough to make a domestic heart-to-heart absurd.

  Walker didn’t answer, though I could feel him turning emotional options over like coins of different currencies: anger; jealousy; desire; curiosity; sadness; liberation.

  “It doesn’t have to mean any more than it does,” I said, but the moon was losing patience; the moon was getting a little annoyed. “Zoë, honey, come here. Lorcan? Come on.”

  Walker was on his feet, leaning against the tree, breathing hard. The twins were crouched next to each other, almost touching. The change drove them close, a reminder perhaps of their days coiled together in my womb.

  You may not want this for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children. Because if you don’t act now, they’ll die …

  Walker sank to his knees, then onto all-fours.

  23

  OUR VICTIMS’ HOUSE was a run-down T-shaped chateau set in seven acres—meadow, woodland, orchard, scrub—and we formed a loose circle around it. Zoë stayed close behind me, as she’d been taught (I could feel her half a yard off my right heel), but Lorcan disobeyed me and went with Walker. It was one of many small acts of contempt the boy performed, one of many small punishments: he’d been only minutes old when the vampires kidnapped him, and I’d got him back before he turned three months; too young to remember the details, you’d think. But the grammar of the thing had gone into him, that I’d failed him, that I’d let them take him, that Mother’s first act was to demonstrate she couldn’t be counted on. In the years to come he would refine these punishments, I knew. It would be a rationed violence I’d have to bear. I would bear it, but not, my heart had already told me, forever. I had, whether I liked it or not, the sort of self that would eventually decide enough was enough. He’d have to either forgive me or go his way. My mother’s ghost smiled. Hard Colleen Gilaley, they’d called her.

  The occupants (Fergus’s intelligence is infallible) were two couples, Alan and Sue Yates, sixty-three and sixty-one, respectively, their daughter, Carmel, and their son-in-law, Rory. Carmel and Rory were both thirty-four.

  Sue was in love with her husband, Alan. Or rather Sue was terrified of Alan leaving her. Alan was in love with his daughter, Carmel. Rory had thought he was in love with Carmel when they first met but he wasn’t in love with her anymore. He was simply afraid of her. Carmel was in love with herself. No one, sadly, was in love with Sue, although Rory had surprised himself by having the occasional startlingly satisfying mother-and-daughter fantasy (the woman was sixty-one, for fuck’s sake), usually with Sue being forced by Carmel to go down on her, which she did (in Rory’s fantasy) with visible and arousing reluctance.

  The Restoration (upper-cased in the minds of all four, since it had taken over their lives) was Alan’s idea. He’d made a little money. Two lucky London house moves in the price-hiking Nineties—Denmark Hill, Balham—had left him with a £400,000 profit, and hundreds of episodes of Grand Designs and A Place in the Sun had left him with a vision of himself in benign lordship over a quality B&B—the word gîte was rarely off the familial lips—in France. Which vision might never have progressed beyond idle fantasy had it not been for Rory losing (a) his job and (b) all the money he had in a string of wretched investments. Of course this was the global economic clusterfuck—everyone lost money (even Jake’s satirically huge fortune took a thirty per cent hit)—but what made it tough for Rory was that he didn’t have much to lose in the first place, and he lost the lot, as well as racking up a hundred grand’s worth of debt. In a way it was a relief to him. He’d painted a completely false picture of their affluence for Carmel, for the simple reason that Carmel insisted on a certain level of affluence. There was Bose in the lounge, Prada in the walk-in, Audi in the garage. And more or less permanent fire in Rory’s armpits, livened by the arrival of every windowed envelope. By rights, on full disclosure, Carmel ought to have ditched him—a development which would have been a large part of Rory’s relief—but she didn’t. Who knew why? Well, oddly, in her timid and denied heart, Sue knew why. Because without anything being said between them Alan and Carmel, father and daughter, saw it would be pleasurable to keep Rory around for a little while to make him suffer. Punishment for Lying was Carmel’s superficial rationalisation, while Alan (who had an impregnable image of himself as a Decent Bloke, and began most of his sentences “To be fair …”) went for Giving the Lad a Second Chance. Therefore Rory was, with a sort of stern magnanimity, spoken to by Alan. Carmel, in Alan’s idiom, was invariably “my Carmel” (pronounced “mar Carmel”) and when she was in his thoughts he was never far from intense emotion. He was in unembarrassed tears by the end of the talk with Rory, overwhelmed by the ferocity of his, Alan’s, love for his daughter and by his, Alan’s, financial and spiritual largesse. By the end of what he’d assumed would be a merciless dressing down Rory found himself tremulously—and indeed terrifyingly, Alan being a big, solid man, at that moment radiant with paternal heat—embraced.

  And so The Restoration had begun. Rory was given responsibilities which, being incompetent, he failed to discharge, drawing sighs from Alan, scoffs from Carmel and winces (off-stage) from Sue. It was all grist to the father-daughter mill. Not, of course, that anything improper had ever happened between father and daughter (Alan, quivering with disgust, would do violence to you for thinking it), which was a pity; its simmering latency was nauseating.

  When we entered the building, Carmel was sitting on her bed painting her toenails and listening to Rihanna. Alan and Sue were in the kitchen, Sue preparing the evening’s casserole, Alan going over the paperwork detailing Rory’s latest mismanagements, shaking his head with sad delight and mentally rehearsing his tone of near-exhausted patience: Rory … Rory. These are elemental mistakes, mate. Elemental … Rory meanwhile was simply standing in what would, when it was Restored, be the laundry room, wondering for the nth time how his life had so quickly turned so much to shit and how long it would be before he got his next weary drubbing from Alan and whether he didn’t yet have the courage to tell them all to go and fuck themselves and walk out. Or better still slip away without a word in the middle of the night—

  Sue, midway between countertop and range, saw us first.

  Us. Me and Walker. (Zoë and Lorcan under strict telepathic instruction to stay put in the hall until called to feed; Lorcan not ready to push his luck with me on this one.) So Sue saw us. Me and Walker, two werewolves, standing there looking at her.

  “I mean for Christ’s sake, Rory,” Alan said, momentarily forgetting to keep the rehearsals in his head, “this is fifteen-hundred quid here, mate. It’s not like we can afford—fuck!”

  Sue had, after what seemed an extraordinarily long time, dropped the casserole dish, which had exploded on the stone floor. She didn’t scream. It’s amazing how often people don’t scream. Instead her mouth lost its shape and let out a very quiet, wobbling “ohhhh” which, left unchecked, I knew would just keep repeating, indefinitely.

  “What the—” Alan started but then saw Sue was looking at something behind him—and turned.

  Upstairs, Carmel did scream. Fergus and Trish (who sometimes got it on together in lupine form but never in human) had introduced themselves. A clatter and crash from the laundry room (I pictured Rory backing into a bucket and mop) said Madeline and Lucy had arrived, too.

  24

  IT’S A THING of beauty to see your victim in perfected extremis like that, maximally himself, all his life’s forgotten details recalled in a rush, as if for the first time since birth every cell’s at full, living attention. The individual’s odour at this moment—your odour facing death—is cruelly sweet, an ecstatic tension before the snap that throws us into attack.

  I leaped over the table, over agog Alan’s head, and at the end of my parabola opened Sue’s belly with a con
temptuously casual downward swipe. She sank to her knees—oven-mitted arms still weirdly holding the ghost of the dish—then fell against my legs as if in confused supplication. I grabbed her by the hair, tugged her head back, dropped and sank my teeth into her throat, sensing, as I did, Lorcan peeking round the kitchen door—NOT YET NOT SAFE YET STAY THERE—and Zoë’s little tremor of guilt and excitement because she wasn’t far behind him, while Walker punched through open-mouthed Alan’s chest and laid giant fingers around his hot and haywire heart and upstairs Fergus entered Trish from behind as she pinned Carmel (legs and arms flailing, face fat with backed-up blood) to the bed by her throat and Lucy lifted Rory off his feet by his hair and the house filled with the concussive smell of traumatised flesh and blood and the condensed quiet music of death.

  It’s only the best for us if it’s the worst for them.

  The central truth of the Curse, as succinctly put by one Jacob Marlowe, deceased. No one wants it to be true. But the truth doesn’t care what anyone wants. The truth is innocent. You can’t blame the truth.

  Walker had a huge erection. (Yes, I’m afraid this is precisely what the Curse means by “the best for us.” Long ago in a fetid and poorly lit cellar of the universe a wretched marriage ceremony took place between our arousal and your suffering. God gave you away. No pre-nup: divorce was never an option.) I was in a state myself, but not an uncomplicated one. Wulf’s desire was there, deep and dumb and reliable, but so, undeniably, was the dismal impulse to shit on love’s altar, to force through the bill of betrayal. Once when I was small my mother had found me in the yard in tears because I’d trod on a snail and half mashed it. She’d said: It’s very simple, Lulu. If you know something’s dying in pain, kill it. Then she’d stomped on it and whisked away to answer the phone.

 
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