By blood we live, p.21
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       By Blood We Live, p.21

           Glen Duncan
 

  One of the guards pulled a chair up for the Cardinal, at a safe distance from the bars.

  “Tell me, Talulla, do you believe in God?”

  The voice in my ear—female, filled with surprising clipped passion—said: “ ‘Of course not. God’s a fairy tale to calm frightened children.’ ” I hesitated, then repeated it, verbatim, feeling my jaws tightening. It made me weary to see the thinking here: Atheist monster converted to the one true religion. The more entrenched her faithlessness at the start, the greater the miracle by the end.

  “So obviously it follows that you reject the authority of the Catholic Church?”

  “ ‘Are you an idiot? The Church is nothing. A house of lies.’ ”

  “Please,” the Cardinal said. “A little less robotic.”

  “I wouldn’t talk like this,” I said.

  “Nonetheless, try not to sound like you’re reading the ingredients on a packet of washing powder. Now. You reject the existence of God, the mystery of the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the power of the Sacraments?”

  The voice in my ear actually laughed, before replying: “ ‘The Sacraments? Hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo. You might as well carry a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny.’ ”

  “You don’t think we can help you, then?”

  “ ‘I don’t need help,’ ” I parroted. “ ‘And even if I did, there’s nothing for me in your sad bag of tricks. If anyone needs help it’s you people. You’re all fucking lunatics.’ ”

  “I’m sorry you feel that way,” Salvatore said. He looked genuinely pained, the genial uncle whose niece’s wayward behaviour had let him down. “I truly am sorry. But I’m also filled with gladness.” He leaned forward in the chair, clasping his kneecaps. “Because I happen to know that we can help you. I happen to know that Christ died for all our sins, even yours, and that the Sacraments are real and mighty gifts.”

  “ ‘You’re pathetic. Go ahead. Give me the full treatment. It won’t make a scrap of difference.’ ”

  “God loves you, Talulla,” he said, frowning at what an incomprehensible contortion this would be for anyone other than God. “And it’s our job, as His hopelessly flawed representatives on earth—it’s our highest duty—to help you to see that. We have a long and difficult time ahead of us. But understand something: I have absolutely no doubt of the outcome.”

  “Neither have I,” my prompter said, with such scorn that I wondered if this role-play wasn’t an outlet for some doubts of her own. I wondered who she was.

  “Very well,” Salvatore said. “Soon, we will begin. But that will do for now.” Then, after the guard had switched off and lowered the camera, he said to me: “Not bad for a first attempt. We need to see more emotion, but I know you’ll get the hang of it. You can take the earpiece out now.”

  I opened my mouth to speak but he held up his hand: “I know, I know. Your daughter. Calm yourself. I’m as good as my word. We’re taking you to see her now.”

  She was in a steel-doored white room three times the size of my cell, to accommodate in addition to its infant prisoner, chairs and a table for two nuns. Zoë sat on the edge of the bed in a miniature version of my wrist and ankle restraints, the ankle chain fastened to a steel loop bolted to the cell floor. She had a movement radius of about five feet, marked (the Sisters needed to know if they were anywhere near within range of a scratch or bite) by a yellow chalk semi-circle on the floor. All of this visible to me on a wall-mounted monitor outside the cell door, which was overseen by yet another guard at a fold-out table and chair. (How many guards so far? Four for the move to the cell, two from the cell to here, and this one at the desk made seven. But the air in the facility said more. There must have been fifty or sixty for the assault on the farmhouse. Maybe they were all here? Maybe there were hundreds?)

  The nuns were ordered out. I got five minutes.

  She’d been holding the tears in—but they came when I put my arms around her, though I had to lift my cuffed hands over her head to do it.

  I DON’T LIKE IT HERE.

  I KNOW, ANGEL, ME NEITHER. WE’RE LEAVING SOON. VERY SOON.

  PROMISE?

  Oh God. Oh God.

  YES, I PROMISE.

  I WANT TO GO NOW.

  NOT YET, ANGEL. BUT VERY SOON. ARE THESE LADIES HORRIBLE TO YOU?

  The compact soft warm smell of her hurt my heart. The precise weight and shape of her pressed tight to me. The bravery she’d had to summon so far unravelling now that Mommy was here and she didn’t have to be brave by herself.

  THEY TELL ME STORIES BUT I DON’T LIKE THEM.

  WHAT STORIES, BABY?

  ABOUT JESUS IS MY FRIEND. WHO IS JESUS?

  You forget they’re three years old. You forget all the shapes of the world they don’t know.

  HE’S LIKE PETER PAN. I’LL TELL YOU LATER.

  DON’T GO! MOMMY!

  Because Salvatore had opened the door and our bodies knew separation was coming again.

  “Let me stay with her,” I said, with my back to him. Her tears were wet on my neck. “What possible difference can it make?”

  “That’s not permitted yet,” the Cardinal said. “The environment we’re creating for you—the set, I suppose we should call it—isn’t quite ready. And in the meantime you and I both know you’ll be more biddable if we keep you separate. It’s just to ensure your cooperation in this unfortunate interim. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. Don’t make me behave brutally.”

  Oh, I’m going to kill you, you fucking idiot, I thought. You fucking nothing.

  ZOË, LISTEN TO ME. I’LL COME FOR YOU. BE BRAVE FOR JUST A LITTLE LONGER. I PROMISE I’LL COME.

  DON’T GO! PLEASE!

  REMEMBER HOW I TOLD YOU LORCAN HAD TO BE BRAVE WHEN WE LOST HIM FOR ALL THAT TIME? THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO BE LIKE THAT.

  All the engines of her infancy saying No … No … No …

  CAN YOU TRY? JUST FOR A LITTLE WHILE?

  The two guards were standing over us. The silver in the magazines was making her frown, though she didn’t know why.

  ANGEL, CAN YOU?

  YOU COME SOON.

  It was killing her. I could feel the size and threat of the world to her without me in it. She was small and afraid. The impulse to attack Salvatore was all but overwhelming. But it was like pain. There was nothing to do but bear it.

  YOU COME SOON, MOMMY.

  How could she do this? How could I have given birth to something that could summon this much courage? My heart was breaking. I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it. The inches then feet then yards and walls and closed doors that would come between us. I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it.

  YOU PROMISE YOU’LL COME SOON?

  I WILL. I WILL, ANGEL, I PROMISE. GIVE ME A KISS.

  Her little face was hot and soft, her lips like furled buds. She was scrunching my shirt in her fists.

  One of the guards rested the muzzle of the Uzi very gently on my shoulder.

  51

  THAT NIGHT I had the dream about the vampire again, in a more confused form, with the beach and twilight and the extraordinary fucking all mixed together, his dark face repeatedly in close-up saying something I couldn’t understand. I felt sick with pleasure yet death was a stink wrapped around it, woven through it. The landscape was remote, otherworldly, like something in an old science fiction magazine, Weird Tales. His face kept pushing me right to the edge of waking with what it was he was saying that I couldn’t understand, until eventually I woke myself up saying it myself: I’m coming for you.

  I’d sat up involuntarily on my bunk. My face was full of panic. In the dream I’d suddenly shouted it: I’m coming for you! But of course in reality it had been a mumbled whimper. Enough, nonetheless, to bring the guard to his feet. He was a tall skinhead with long wrists and large hands and big, dreamy grey eyes. Not thrilled with this duty, I could tell. Held the automatic rifle a little too tightly. I hoped he hadn’t made out what I’d said.

  I’m coming fo
r you.

  Impossible to quell the mix of scepticism and excitement. Scepticism because he had, after all, said much the same before—I’ll see you again—but two years had passed without it happening, and excitement because my body was alive with the dream’s instilled conviction, a whirl of butterflies around my heart. I’m coming for you.

  Jake and my mother in the afterlife casino were available, of course, smiling and shaking their heads, clinking glasses (a Mai Tai for my mother, a Macallan for Jake) in delighted incredulity and saying: Really, Lu? Dreams? Dear oh dear oh dear …

  But my palms were wet (as, with characteristic contempt for my predicament, was my cunt; the dream hadn’t neglected its other business), my blood electric.

  The guard was staring at me. A look of fascination that was part fear, part revulsion, part something else. An all but dead aspect of me wondered, wearily, if I’d had my hands down my pants in my sleep.

  “What the fuck are you looking at?” I said to him.

  He didn’t respond, but his knuckles blanched around the automatic. If the weapon had had a voice it would have said, Ow, you’re hurting me!

  “I never forget a face, you know,” I said, scraping the damp hair back off my forehead. “Seriously, we’re like elephants.”

  His lips moved. He was saying something to himself. A prayer, I realised, when he sat down, carefully, and took a rosary of amber beads from his pocket.

  Two more days passed. Same dream, every night. Same unhinging response of conviction and self-ridicule. I was allowed a few minutes each day with Zoë, who was miserable, and who had, whether she liked it or not, begun to get slightly interested in the stories about Jesus. Especially the raising of Lazarus and the healing of the lepers and the wedding feast at Cana. I had a disgusted admiration for the nuns, who had simplified things down to a level a three-year-old could understand—albeit with the aid of large picture books they held up for Zoë to look at, from the safe side of the chalk semi-circle.

  Every waking minute I thought something would reveal itself that would help. A soft guard. A clue to the way out. An opportunity to grab one of the automatics and take my chances. But the minutes passed, and the math remained the same.

  Then, on the third night, Lorenzo came to see me.

  The guard he relieved seemed a little confused, but after a quiet confab slouched away down the corridor.

  “I don’t have much time,” Lorenzo said. Italian, yes, but very good English. He was flushed. Sweat freckled the line above his top lip. “You must listen to me. I can help you.”

  I looked up at the CCTV camera on the corridor wall.

  “It’s all right,” he said. “It doesn’t work. None of them do. Nothing in here works.”

  “Me and my daughter,” I said. “Whatever you want, but it’s both of us. Got it?”

  “I can’t guarantee it,” he said, with a touching honesty. “But I can get you out of the restraints and I can give you a gun. I can also tell you a way out that will not be heavily guarded.”

  “I’m not leaving here without my daughter,” I said. “Where’s her cell from here?”

  “Not now,” he said. “We can’t do it now—”

  “Where is her fucking cell?”

  Lorenzo looked to his left. His nostrils were like two graceful little apostrophes. His day’s odour pounded out of him. Clean sweat, Pears soap, a strawberry yogurt he’d forced himself to eat for lunch. He was breathing heavily. “When you get to the end of here turn right. Then third left. Double doors, but they’re locked and guarded. You’ll never—”

  “How many guards?”

  “Two. But listen—”

  “Through the double doors and?”

  “Second cell on the left. One guard. But not yet. Please. You have to wait.”

  “Now. Right now.”

  “It’s not possible now. Please believe me. Tomorrow—”

  “What do you want from me. Why would you do this?”

  He came right up to the bars. Gripped them with both slender hands. Rested his forehead against them. There was an inner discordant symphony: desperation—but not, as far as I could tell, madness.

  “I want you to bite me,” he said.

  Footsteps.

  “Step back,” I hissed. “Quick.”

  He did—just as the previous guard reappeared in the corridor. Not angry, apparently. Smile-frowning.

  “Lui non’ c’era,” the guard called. My Italian covered it—just: “He wasn’t there.” It didn’t cover the second bit: “Sei sicuro che ha chiesto per me?”

  “Tomorrow,” Lorenzo whispered, then turned and hurried away toward his colleague.

  52

  BRYCE CAME TO see me. He looked exhausted. His face was damp and porous, and the pupils in the roundel eyes were dilated. The cream linen suit had been replaced with black jeans and a green cable knit sweater that almost perfectly matched his eyes. The greens and the beard and the longish hair made me think of him in Sherwood Forest.

  “I know it’s been tough,” he said. “But we’re almost there.”

  It was late—or at least I’d decided it was late. The guard Bryce relieved—a slabbily built guy in his forties with a Saddam Hussein moustache—had been yawning, hugely, for the last hour, though for all I knew it was three in the afternoon. No windows down here, no clocks.

  “They’re moving you both in forty-eight hours,” Bryce said. “Four vehicles, a dozen men. It’s a two-hour drive from here to the landing field. There’ll be a roadblock. Jesus, you’ve no idea what this is costing me. I get an hour head-start with the kid, then you’ll be released. You’ll be given a phone and some cash. You keep the phone and wait for my call. I’ll contact you within twenty-four hours. We’ll arrange a rendezvous then.”

  Tomorrow.

  I can get you out of here.

  I want you to bite me.

  Tough to keep everything that had just happened out of my face. Remshi’s face from the dream swam up. I’m coming for you.

  It took everything I had to stay in character. “You fuck with me,” I said to Bryce, “I’ll find you. If I have to come back from the dead to do it.”

  I was spared the dream that night because I was spared sleep. Aside from my inner strategist going silently insane the effects of not having fed properly were making torturous fiesta in my blood. Wulf never goes quietly even with a full stomach. Denied its monthly due it digs in for prolonged and violent outrage. The way it feels is that if someone were watching you they’d see the big shape writhing and straining under your too small skin, threatening at any moment to tear out. But of course that’s not what they actually see. What they actually see is a woman glistening with sweat, unsteady on her feet, occasionally doubling up or jerking as if at the mercy of extreme cramp and furious muscular spasms.

  Zoë would be feeling it too, although her little belly was easier to fill, and she’d eaten a good few pounds before the assault had interrupted us. I was desperate to see her. I’d have to tell her to be ready. Yesterday I’d felt in her the beginning of resignation: We’re staying here. Mommy can’t do what she said. I have to live with these ladies in the black dresses. I don’t like it. I don’t like it.

  That I’d held her close only confirmed it for her. She could feel my fear. My hopelessness. Today I’d have to do better. Today I’d have to promise and believe it. All night I’d been picturing it. SWEETHEART, WE’RE GETTING OUT OF HERE TODAY.

  YOU PROMISE?

  And I’d lie. Because what else was there to do with a three-year-old you might be carrying to her death?

  YES, I PROMISE.

  The door at the end of the corridor opened and Salvatore appeared, flanked by two guards, the nervy skinhead and the bruiser with the Saddam moustache, both armed.

  “Talulla,” the Cardinal said, smiling, as if my name was the satisfying solution to a riddle. He stood facing me, hands clasped behind his back. He looked larger than usual, big and plump and human. His moony face was roseate, as i
f with joy. Light played on the lenses of his gold-rimmed glasses. Wulf, determined to make its presence felt, breathed deep in me, inhaled his odour of cologne, recently consumed tomatoes, sardines, strong black coffee. His gleaming boots reeked of polish. All this mixed with the guards’ smell of sweat and canvas and the guns’ stink of metal and rubber and grease.

  I got up off my bunk and went to the bars.

  “You’ll be expecting your daily visit to see your daughter,” Salvatore said. “With regret, that won’t be possible today.”

  It was hard to imagine him alone in a room. His faith was a glaze that only ever reflected non-believers. If I thought of him on his own I pictured him shutting down, like an automaton. God only came into play as a Divine extension of himself when others were present. Alone, he’d have no room for God.

  “I must say,” he said, putting his head on one side like a pleasantly perplexed dog, “your naivety surprises me.”

  You might not want this for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children. The distance between me and Zoë was like a spear being dug into my navel.

  “Naivety?” I asked.

  “Bryce,” he said.

  Adrenaline loosened my knees.

  “Big Brother with werewolves,” the Cardinal continued. “Bryce has sunk a great deal of money into a new company developing silver-delivery systems.” He leaned forward. “Gadgets to kill your neighbourhood werewolf, if you understand me. Worthless, obviously, until people believe werewolves are in their neighbourhood. He’s not a man of faith, therefore he doesn’t believe in the faith-based exposé. Hence the secular—the allegedly ‘scientific’—version. He’s blind. He doesn’t have the faintest idea how many people already believe—thanks to whom? Thanks to us! He could have stuck with our arrangement and still made a fortune.”

  Which was the verbal cue, obviously, because immediately the words were out of his mouth Saddam raised his weapon—not, I now saw, the standard Uzi, but something lighter and longer-barrelled—and pulled the trigger.

  The dart hit me in the midriff, and in the three seconds it took for the giant wrongness to coalesce around me I felt the drug start its sweep up my legs—though the darkness seemed to descend from the space above my head. My hands tightened around the bars, but I could feel the weakness like a rapidly escalating argument in my flesh.

 
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