By blood we live, p.18
By Blood We Live, p.18Glen Duncan
I thought I was getting to my feet, but I found I’d fallen, crashed to the floor. For a moment everything went black again. I could feel the room swinging. The blood was heavy on my chest and in my limbs, but as soon as I started to move, started to get to my knees, I could feel it changing, dissolving into an energy I’d never, ever run out of. I ran for the door—but found I’d got there in one huge high stride, as if the invisible soft arms had lifted me there. All I could think of was getting as far away from his body as fast as possible.
The house seemed to shrink behind me. A dog barked three times somewhere close. A mile away a truck downshifted. My hands were hot and wet with blood. There was blood all over me. I was soaked with it.
I got to the Jeep, got in, slammed the door. I’d left the keys in the ignition. Stupid. So stupid. But in those moments my stupidity and the risks I’d taken seemed like small things. Little objects far away.
Ten miles from Boulder City I realised I’d left the gun in the house, and fingerprints—in his blood—everywhere.
I KNEW SHE’D gone before I opened my eyes. A rip in the newly visceral fabric, a hole in the weave of shared blood.
Fear for her went through me like a delirious disease. I promise I’ll never leave you. As far as she was concerned I already had. The lines of the note she’d left me like grit in my blood:
Go and find her. I’m sorry for what I said. I’m sorry for everything.
Go and find her. Talulla. Vali reborn. The prophecy awaiting fulfilment. All reduced, as I stood in the study with the note in my hand, to the risible American pop ethic: Follow your dream. Naturally I’d had the dream, again. The twilit beach, the boat, the someone walking behind me. Naturally He lied in every word had woken me with its tongue in my ear. Naturally I’d sat up in the basement bed sickened and thrilled by the feeling of knowing something without knowing what it was.
Go and find her. Go and find the werewolf you believe to be the reincarnation of your lover of seventeen thousand years ago? Go and find her. Because after all, you’ve had a couple of dreams and scribbled down a prophecy or two, stoned out of your mind in a witch-doctor’s hut. Because after all you’ve had the beginnings of a hard-on after millennia of your dick being as much use as tits on a boar.
The full absurdity of it hit me, settled on me like a giant … Like a giant vampire bat. (Why not?) I saw myself for what I was: a confused fool. A pitiful fool. And there’s no fool like an old fool, the saying goes. Which made me the biggest fool in history. Only God could be a bigger one.
Not, of course, that the full giant vampire-bat weight of absurdity was the whole story. (Nothing is the whole story. The self’s curse—and the writer’s.) Yes, there was the concession to the pitiful old fool and his dreams—but there remained, whether I liked it or not, the prickle of meaning on the ether, the design-wink of the world, the story-glimmer that wouldn’t be denied. There remained, stubbornly smiling, the beguilement.
Go after Talulla.
Go after Justine.
There was an old philosophical chestnut, Buridan’s Ass. Faced with two identically appealing haystacks—and therefore unable to prefer one to the other—the donkey starves to death.
But donkeys, of course, lack whim and intuition. More importantly, they don’t smoke. I reached for the almost empty pack of American Spirits on the desk (one left, slightly crumpled) and found that they were right next to Justine’s laptop.
I opened it and powered-up. Justine’s desktop image is the Apple logo. She doesn’t feel entitled to the personalisation of her technology. Even the former recorded Bette Davis greeting on her phone had been my doing.
I rummaged in the blood. Dissolved myself internally and swam in the red dark. It’s not the same ease of access as when the other person’s nearby. It’s like holding your breath underwater. Sooner or later you have to come up.
I came up. The external world shivered back into authority.
My fingers didn’t hesitate.
The document opened.
She’d deleted everything.
I loved her for her precautions, her stubbornness, her decision to be strong enough to do it all on her own. That was Justine: she decided how much strength she would have, then acted as if she had it. And in doing so, had it.
I took a deep drag on the cigarette, exhaled. Try again. Browning’s Collected Works, I noticed, was still lying where it had fallen the other night. I ignored it—though the act of ignoring it made the ether shudder for a moment. I ignored that, too.
Tougher this time. Facts occluded by feelings. Heavier water choked with weeds. It began to hurt.
I surfaced a second time.
Not much. Karl Leath was still in North Vegas. The other man, the one they called “Pinch” (his actual name eluded me, but I knew it sounded odd … I struggled … Dale … Wayne … Schrutt) had won $814,000 in the Texas state lottery. Retired early. Gone to live in Thailand.
That was all. The house addresses were beyond me—though Leath’s and Pinch’s faces were in her like bloated twin suns, her system’s colossal binary star.
She’d go after Leath first, closest to home.
I looked at the clock; it was just after midnight. I’d slept so late again. A little portion of consciousness like a lone schoolboy at a solitary desk had been busy fretting about these lie-ins, this pissing away of darkness I’d been guilty of. I ignored it. In the VanHome I could make North Vegas in three and a half hours. If she was there, I’d find her.
IN THE BOULDER City apartment I lay on the bathroom floor in the dark, the door locked with all its locks, the little gap at the bottom blocked with a rolled-up towel. Leath’s life going into mine was like flashes of fire and sudden sheer drops and a sick feeling of certainty that it was in me forever now and what happens is that inside you make room somehow you have to make room and it hurts but you know that one day it won’t, one day it’ll be totally familiar the way like I said before you know driving a car will be. I didn’t want it. The image of the little boy pressing himself awkwardly into the corner of a big green velour couch and the sudden switch to his point of view seeing the big pale penis and snuff-coloured pubic hair and a tiny yellow-headed pimple buried in the hair on a man’s thigh. And like a reflex to it all the video-game footage and the peace of the intricacy of muscle car engines the peace of the cold grease smell of the workshop and the tools in your hands like friends. But the peace never lasted because you went back and those first pictures were when he was fifteen and he thought it was buried but the pictures when he saw them were like a warmth going through him and it was like the warmth of coming home and his face had felt so full and tender with this feeling of ashamed homecoming that even then he’d known would never be free of rage and boredom and sadness and he’d never be anything except alone and what he was.
I was lying on my side on a doubled comforter and pillow, knees drawn up, next to the base of the washbasin, which every now and then I would reach out and touch because my palms were hot and the coldness of the porcelain felt good. I was remembering something Fluff had said. He was always teasing me about not reading books, but one day he said: Reading a book is a dangerous thing, Justine. A book can make you find room in yourself for something you never thought you’d understand. Or worse, something you never wanted to understand. I thought now: He wasn’t just talking about books. He was talking about this. He said: You know the people who dread getting called for jury duty? Big readers. The more you read, the harder it is to condemn. Then he’d frowned and added: Assuming, that is, you’re not reading execrable pap.
Execrable pap. He uses words and I don’t know what they mean, except the context makes it obvious. I missed him, suddenly, really badly. The last couple of nights it had been nice falling
Thinking of the Jeep brought up all the unbelievably stupid things I’d done, all the ways I’d fucked this up. The Jeep itself, for starters. Should’ve used a rental. The gun. Fingerprints, sneaker prints. There were probably tyre prints in the spilled oil. I’d driven out of the city breaking every speed limit. In clothes covered in blood. I hadn’t even changed. Just driven to the building, put the Jeep in the underground lot and taken the elevator up to Four. It wasn’t that I was trusting to luck not to run into anyone. I wasn’t trusting to anything. I wasn’t thinking. I was just blind soft heat, and the first violent movement of the new blood finding room in me. If the police acted fast I’d probably left enough evidence for them to be here before sundown tonight. Practically a trail of goddamned footprints in blood. Weirdly, there was a sort of comfort in knowing that even if that were true, there was nothing I could do about it now, and nowhere I could go.
I realised I still had my socks on, so I pulled them off. Underneath the raging sort of enrichment I was deadly tired. Obviously I couldn’t see the daylight, but I could feel the four hours the sun had already been up. We can stay awake, Stonker had explained, but it’s not much fun. It wasn’t. There was a dry, hard ache behind my eyes. It was like the blood couldn’t settle or knit properly until I slept and let it. Until I stopped watching it.
The harder it is to condemn.
That was the thing keeping me awake, of course. Like a snake trying to unknot itself. A blood snake jerking and writhing. It had happened to him. Shouldn’t that make a difference? Didn’t it?
You keep wriggling like that you’re gonna make me come.
I turned and rested my face against the cold of the porcelain. It felt so good. That was something you could say about the world, that some things didn’t change, that if you were hot it was nice to feel something cool against you.
THERE WERE CALLS to make en route. I have relationships with people such that when I call, they answer. Even in the early hours. They answer because each of them carries a phone on whom I’m the only person who calls. For some humans money and a dedicated phone makes any relationship possible.
First, Olly Maher, of the Amner-DeVere International Private Bank. He wasn’t asleep. He was at a party of what sounded like restrained indulgence. There were glasses clinking. There was music playing. Bowie from the live Ziggy Stardust album. “My Death.” Hardly party music. But this, I reminded myself, was the twenty-first century.
“Norman,” he said.
I was on the hands-free in the VanHome, heading east on the 10. Ontario Mills. Hotels and retail parks. Neoned slabs and slivers that reminded me of the days when there was nothing but dust and sage scrub and giant wildrye and mallards quacking with a kind of dour introversion on the river. You blink, you miss it. A long time ago, in a cave, in the darkness, I’d said: “Why?” and the voice had answered: “Someone must bear witness.”
“Justine Cavell,” I said. “I need to know as soon as she uses any of the cards.” She has half a dozen, and only one of them is Amner-DeVere, but that presents only modest difficulty to Olly.
“No problem,” Olly said.
“You call me anytime, day or night.”
“Day or night?”
I’d be sleeping with the cell right next to my ear.
“Day or night, Olly.”
Next I called my girl at the FBI, Hannah Willard.
She was asleep.
“Jesus Christ,” she said. But even in the Jesus Christ I could hear her money-self waking up, eyes wide.
“Two people,” I said. “First, Dale Schrutt. Or possibly Wayne Schrutt. In any case Schrutt. U.S. national, now resident in Thailand. Start in Bangkok.”
“Look,” Hannah began.
“Double,” I said. “Start now.”
There was a pause. “This has to be the last time,” she said. She says this every time. She says this for herself. Three or four more jobs like this, she knows, she’ll be able to quit the Bureau for good. She’ll be able to quit doing anything she doesn’t want to do for good. Which, by and large, is all any human wants. Or thinks they want.
“Spell the last name,” she said. Which I did. “You got anything else on this guy?”
“Spent some time in North Vegas. Nickname ‘Pinch.’ Lottery winner sometime within the last ten years. This is easy money, Han.”
“None of it’s easy,” she said. “This isn’t the movies. And the other?”
“Are you kidding?”
“What do you mean, ‘again’?”
I could hear her adjusting her position. Sitting further up in bed. She lives alone. She has a hard blonde face and an impatience with idiots. She’s waiting to be rich enough to really pick and choose.
“I mean I already found her for you. You lost her again?”
My foot came off the gas a little. Images tumbled: the Forum in Rome at night, torchlit, crowded and vivified because Cleopatra had entered the city that afternoon. Three soldiers with their sandals off at a bar’s outside table, drinking cheap wine from wooden cups. A pretty twelve-year-old girl with starved dark eyes huddled in the doorway of a Saffron Hill slum, her legs covered in syphilitic sores. A young woman with her clothes ripped and half her hair pulled out tied to a stake atop a pile of brush and firewood, the lantern-lit faces of a large crowd, some rapt, some jabbering, some bored, the terrible distinctness of teeth and fingers and eyeballs.
A car I’d nearly hit honked, protractedly.
“Explain,” I said to Hannah.
Pause. Recalibration. She was wondering if this would compromise my ability to pay her.
“Three years ago,” she said. “Alaska. You don’t remember?”
I remembered Alaska. The lodge. Talulla. Vali. But I had no memory of how I’d known she was there. The driver of the car I’d just missed, having stopped honking, realised he hadn’t vented sufficient spleen, and honked again.
“You traced her?”
“Yeah, and I don’t want to have to do it again. The woman has aliases like fucking Imelda Marcos had shoes. I don’t know who’s doing her IDs, but whoever he is, he’s the best in the business.”
I clamped my jaws together for a moment, let the fact sink in. You forgot.
“Be that as it may,” I said. “Same job. Do what you can.”
“Get me what I need and I promise you can retire.”
Silence. She knew enough to know I had it within my power.
“Call me as soon as you have anything,” I said, and hung up. Justine’s face flashed. Just following her around gave you dementia and nearly fucking killed you. Some fulfilment.
I called my chief pilot and transportation logistics guru, Damien. He, too, had been sleeping. He cleared his throat. “Sir?”
“Has Justine asked you to prep the jet?”
“Nothing about flying to Thailand?”
“What about Detroit?”
“No, sir. I haven’t heard from Ms. Cavell since you were … Since we got back from Europe.”
Since you were doolally. Since chasing that werewolf gal nearly killed you.
“Listen carefully. If she contacts you, you are to let me know immediately. Without her knowing. Understood?”
“She may want to fly at short notice,” I said. “But do not go anywhere until you’ve checked with me. Make up a problem with the plane. But stay on the ground until I get t
“I’ll be contacting Seth and Veejay with the same instruction, just in case. If you hear from either of them—anything unusual at all—you must also report it to me straight away. I know you’re fond of her, Damien, but you have to trust me, this is for her own protection.”
“Sir, if she comes to me in person, do you want me to keep her with me?”
“Not by force. And in any case, you wouldn’t be able to do anything like that. Not anymore. Just call me straight away. Delay tactics only. Understood?”
“We’re going to be travelling soon, one way or another. You up to snuff?”
“Absolutely, sir. You can count on me.”
“Good man. Everything all right in your world?”
“Peachy, sir. Couldn’t be better.”
“Call me as soon as you hear anything.”
“Standing by, sir.”
Very well. She wasn’t going to Thailand first. That made Vegas favourite. She wouldn’t go to her mother.
NORTH VEGAS TOLD me she’d been here but I’d missed her. I nosed the VanHome around for more than an hour before I caught (windows down, the city’s smells a stadium crowd I was searching for the one beloved face) the first strand on the ether, a psychic stink like the odour of cordite after a gunshot.
Elusive, though. I had it and lost it. I stopped the VanHome and got out. Urban deadspot. Three empty, garbage-strewn lots between an out-of-business repairs garage and a cluster of one-storey homes that were barely more than shotgun shacks. A small freight trailer lying on its side, covered in graffiti. A couch reduced by weather and fire to its rusted sprung frame. A butchered space-hopper. A defeated army of filthy plastic carrier bags. One gets used to these occasional anti-oases in American cities, with their inexplicable inhabitants and remains (I once saw a live parrot sitting in the mouth of an abandoned tumble dryer) but even I was surprised when I noticed the horse.
By Blood We Live by Glen Duncan / Horror / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes