By blood we live, p.26
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       By Blood We Live, p.26

           Glen Duncan
 

  But I did go on. What else was there to do?

  I searched online for everything I could find on the Karl Leath murder story. As far as I could tell there was no CCTV footage, no identikit or police-artist sketch of Justine Idiot Cavell, no suspect. I’d left the gun and my prints all over everything, but since I didn’t have a record there wouldn’t be a database match. (All the low-life years before Fluff took me under his wing flashed, the miracle of never getting busted for anything. A blessing I never even appreciated at the time. Well, I fucking appreciated it now.)

  The Internet was pounding out werewolf and vampire content with a new intensity. What I’d done to Leath was just one of countless cases of what more and more people were seeing as the work of monsters. Not tabloid monsters. Actual monsters. The Churches were loud. Twitter was full of people asking how much longer was the government going to sit on its fat stupid ass and Do Nothing. Not so many “exposed hoaxes” as there used to be. A group of scientists publishing as far as they were concerned irrefutable DNA evidence. Monster-deniers were on the same shrinking bit of polar ice as climate-change sceptics.

  I must have spent a couple of hours in the bathroom trawling through all this on my phone. I told myself it was necessary. Information gathering. An end to me rushing blindly into things. But I knew what it really was. Delaying tactics. Putting off what I knew couldn’t be put off.

  Feeding.

  When I’d thought about it I’d imagined finding the poorest area. Homeless. Less chance of investigation. Some piss-stinking old guy with a bag and a bottle. But the Internet told me Istanbul’s slum districts were fast disappearing. Sulukule, formerly home to the Roma, had been pulled down to make way for fancy new buildings. There was hardly anyone left in Tarlabasi. One barber shop pointlessly still open surrounded by rubble and condemned tenements. I took a cab there soon after sunset, but I couldn’t. When it came right down to it I just didn’t believe I’d find someone. I stayed in the cab and went back to Taksim Square. I was so insane and freaked out I nearly just took the fucking cab driver when we stopped at a red signal in a quieter street. He was only about twenty, a thin guy with oily skin and a small head and a too-big moustache and an Adam’s apple that seemed to move around way too much when he talked to me, glancing up in the rearview. I actually felt myself leaning forward towards his seat, smelling deodorant and some kind of hair product and a samosa or something spicy he’d eaten and breath that was a mix of cigarettes and Turkish coffee. It’s possible I would’ve bitten him if the light hadn’t changed when it did. Instead I sat back in my seat horrified that I’d been so close. Was this what it was going to be like? A constant battle with your own loose will? I had a list of Escort Services. Not many supplying male escorts. Male gay escorts, yes—but very little for straight women. A sort of religious hypocrisy, I guessed. But the thought of phoning (they all advertised “English Spoken”) to find an in-call, going there, being let in, doing what I had to do, getting out … I was afraid the calls would be recorded. I’d have to use a card for the agency booking fee. The apartment building might have CCTV. I don’t know, maybe it was just the fucking surreality of it, of calling up a company to make an appointment to kill someone.

  In the end I just asked the cab driver to drop me at the nearest night club.

  “Fuck me, I’m starvin’,” the guy said, when we got back to his hotel. “But it can definitely wait. Come here.”

  His name was Mick. He was English, from Manchester, not bad-looking, in a monkeyish, Robbie Williams sort of way, and enough success with his cheeky-chappie routine and gym-worked body (he was in black Levis and a tight white t-shirt that showed it off) had given him a twinkly confidence I knew would fly with a lot of girls. He and his “mates” were in Istanbul for a “lads’ week,” but he’d got separated from them on the club crawl. I hadn’t had to do much. He was drunk when he hit on me at the bar—“Orright, love? What you drinkin’?”

  At first, having to pretend like I was reluctantly interested was awkward and made my face feel swollen. I couldn’t concentrate on playing my part. God only knows what I said to him. But after a few minutes a little thirst-pleasure crept in. The thirst gets fascinated by the mystery of everything that’s on the inside. The pleasure’s like the pleasure of the moments before you unwrap a Christmas present. It feels good to make the suspense last, but the longer you wait the more fascinating it becomes. Talking to him (I said I was only drinking mineral water, but he bought me a Budvar anyway, which obviously I didn’t touch) was like holding the gift up to your ear, smelling it, shaking it to see if it rattled. But I knew there was only so long I could stand it. There was a darker edge, too: the pleasure of knowing the most important thing about someone’s life when they didn’t. The most important thing was that it was going to end. The most important thing was that you were going to take it. It made me feel sick and thrilled. Nothing like the blind need, nothing like the sort of body-reflex that had made me take Leath (his spirit had gone quiet in me, sort of introverted, like a child who’d accepted it was never going to be let out of its room). This was something else: a mix of delight and power and disgust and loneliness. I knew I’d get better at it, at enjoying it. But I knew too that there was a thin line somewhere down the road between enjoyment and emptiness. It frightened me—and suddenly I missed Fluff. You couldn’t do this without knowing there were others doing it too. You’d be the loneliest thing on earth. How did solitary psychopaths survive? In a crazy moment (he’d touched me for the first time, put his hand on my hip when he leaned close so I could hear him over the music and his breath tickled my ear) I found myself thinking it was kind of amazing that psychopaths hadn’t formed a secret society. Like the Freemasons.

  “Where are you staying?” I said, returning the touch.

  In the cab, he kissed me. Every instinct screamed push him away.

  Every instinct except the one that counted. The new one.

  His mouth was hot and soft and through the sour aftertaste of beer the big, pounding fact of his blood came up. I found myself kissing him back, hard, greedily, with desire.

  Just not the desire he imagined.

  In his hotel room, I said: “I need to use the bathroom. Take off all your clothes and lie down on the bed.” I can’t believe that’s what I said. I could see it sounded robotic to him even through the booze-blur. He gave me a sort of smile-frown (like a bad actor) then (also like a bad actor) a shrug and a raised-eyebrows thing that meant: Okay. Weird. But a fuck’s a fuck. Whatever floats your boat, babe.

  In the bathroom I took of all my clothes and stuffed them into the cupboard under the sink. Then I looked at myself in the mirror. My whole life I’ve hated looking at myself in the mirror. I’ve hated seeing my face. Now I looked and saw something new looking back at me: curiosity.

  He was lying on his back on the bed, naked, with his hands behind his head. He’d been thinking up something to say to me when I came out, but now that I had, whatever it was, he’d forgotten it. It was interesting to see him suddenly existing without any kind of strategy or schtick. There was a sort of purity to it.

  When I climbed onto the bed, on my hands and knees above him, his cock thickened and brushed my thigh.

  My teeth livened. My finger- and toenails. The thirst was like a bigger, stronger body inside my own, wearing me like a glove. I had a weird little vision of Fluff talking to someone on the phone, frowning, but it passed.

  The blood was like a child reaching out to me. He opened his mouth to say something.

  So instead of letting him, I sank my teeth into his throat and bit down as hard as I could.

  It was easy to hold him. His struggles felt so slight. I locked my legs around his thighs and forced his arms behind his back. I didn’t even have to lift my head, just kept my teeth in him. He weighed nothing. The more he struggled the more his strength went into me. A sort of removed part of me wanted to say to him: Look, don’t fight me. It’s pointless. Why waste your last minutes doing something
pointless?

  A very removed part of me, the tiny part of me watching all this on TV.

  The rest of me was huge and warm and dark red. His blood went into me and the feel of him under me, straining and utterly without power while I drank, was like nothing I’d felt before. Different from Leath. With Leath the whole thing had had to go through a filter of rage. With Leath I’d tried to erase myself, blot myself out from what I was doing, but the rage had kept forcing me back. This was heavy and sweet. This was as if his blood wanted to come to me, was desperate and full of desire to come to me. It was the joy. Drinking him was a suffocating joy.

  The images came fast and randomly. Not images. Understandings. Him three years old sitting on a rug in the middle of a tiny circular train set and his delight going round and round with the clockwork train and his mother, a soft-faced woman with dark hair standing watching him with her arms folded, laughing because his delight was so pure and simple and him loving her and the train and the thing going because he moved the little metal switch and when you moved it back it stopped and when you moved it forward started again and it was as if he had magic in him because it was up to him, up to him the starting and stopping of the train. His face suddenly hitting the damp turf of a soccer pitch and in the blur of the game the good smell of the mud and grass and a sudden glimpse of the world as being made of this stuff with the seas and oceans somehow clinging because of gravity and there was the game going on around him under the white and blue hurrying sky and for a second or two a kind of thrill at nothing, just the reality of it … A girl’s face close to his and the blondeness and softness and her hot wet cunt tight and good around his cock and the smallness of her in his arms giving him everything with a confused eagerness and his own confusion which was like wanting to split her in half and at the same time worship the softness she gave him and the moment in the bar when Tony had said it’s going to kick-off and him feeling his arms and knees filling with adrenaline and suddenly you were in the middle of it and though you were kicking and punching you were removed in a different kind of softness like when he’d had fever and his bedroom had gone strange and the air fat and full of silence and someone breaking a beer bottle and him imagining what the glass would feel like if the guy mashed it in his face you’d have to get plastic surgery and they all kidded him about being a vain bastard and he knew he was but he was fond of himself for it he was fond of his face and body and the good feeling of having shaved and you step out and the city says anything could happen and you think of the colours and lights of the bar all the bars and clubs and the women in them and he knew he could never get tired of women the way they flashed their eyes and it meant yes and he loved the way they rested their handbags on one bent knee to look for something in it and especially that weird way their arms came around their shoulder blades to hook or unhook their bras it looked physically impossible but it was so pretty the way they did that—

  STOP.

  The heart. You don’t let the heart stop. Your own heart warns you.

  I rolled off the bed onto the floor and for a few minutes lay there, dazed, swollen, it felt like, not just the blood but all of his life that had gone into me. How would you keep finding room? How? Six months like this? Five years? Ten? Twenty thousand? It was impossible.

  But Stonk had said: You keep finding room because every life makes room. Every life you take—like every book you read, even the bad ones—makes you a little bigger.

  I must have lain there like that for fifteen or twenty minutes, listening to the AC’s hum. And the compressed loud silence around Mick’s dead body. I knew that if I wasn’t careful I’d be lulled into lying there all night. Or what was left of the night.

  Couldn’t afford that. More stupidity. I had to get back to my own hotel. There were less than three hours till daylight. I had to hole-up and be ready for the flight to Delhi at nine. It hit me, lying there thinking these things, that thinking these things was already not weird to me, was already normal.

  I took a shower. Scrubbed. Watched the water running red around my feet. I thought: This is the first of many times you’re going to be standing in a shower, seeing this. I was thinking, too, about the physical logistics of a murder. How long before the hotel staff realised something was wrong in here? How long did a dead body take to start smelling?

  My own body felt crazy good. There was live restless strength in my calves and fingers. I wanted someone to attack me on the way home, to give all the power somewhere to go.

  I dressed. Used a towel to wipe away everything I thought my hands had touched, which seemed sort of lame since it’s all micro-fibres and DNA now. Then, using toilet paper to prevent prints (I congratulated myself on not forgetting this last set—the idiot set—on the door handle), I let myself out and closed the door behind me. If my geography was right, it was no more than a half-hour walk to my hotel. I wanted to walk, to feel the night and the living human beings around me.

  63

  Walker

  SHE’S GONE. IT’S a relief. Endings always are.

  I spent the morning and afternoon checking the systems. You give yourself things to do. Couldn’t face being with the kids. Lorcan’s his usual superior self, but Zoë doesn’t like letting me out of her sight. She forgets for a little while—lets Lucy read to her or Maddy try nail polishes and lipsticks out on her—then suddenly remembers and goes: Where’s Walker? At least as often as she goes: Where’s Mommy?

  Mommy has gone to see a witch-doctor, honey. Mommy has gone on a wild motherfucking goose-chase. We don’t say it, but it’s what we’re thinking. Tough to screen it from them. Maybe they know. Kids always know more than you think.

  “Would you take it?” I asked Lucy. I was up on the walkway, or rampart, or balcony, checking the gun mountings. They’re hidden under concrete flower boxes that’ll roll back at the flick of a switch. “If you could go back to being normal, get a fresh start—would you?”

  She was leaning against the parapet wall, drinking a glass of white wine. She was barefoot, wearing a pale green summer dress with a print of tiny yellow flowers. Every now and then the breeze blew her hair forwards, made her skirt flap. The sky was crisp and blue, a few white clouds travelling happily. I was thinking: We could hold out for a long time here. But not forever. If they came in real numbers, sooner or later, we’d go down. (And they will come in real numbers, eventually. Of course they will. It’s only a matter of time.)

  “This was my fresh start,” Lucy said. “I don’t need another one. I don’t want another one.” She took a sip of her drink. I could smell the grapes in it. It made me want one myself. “But then I don’t have kids to worry about,” she said. “If I had kids, then maybe, for them.”

  Lucy’s ready for a man. I can feel it. Not me. But it’s coming off her. It’s in her radius. Our little clan’s not enough for her. Why should it be? It’s not enough for me, now. It would’ve been. I tell myself it would’ve been. With Talulla.

  Later, in the small hours, there was a knock on my door. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, staring at the floor. I’d just taken a long, hot shower. Shaved for the first time in a week. Cut my finger- and toenails. It felt ritualistic. Like making a commitment to going on. It felt pathetic, too. When I looked ahead into the future I couldn’t see anything. The world seemed small. Full of rooms to be alone in. I’d been going, in my mind, to situation after situation—travelling with Mike and Natasha; finding a new crowd; starting an organised force to prepare for what was coming—but all the visions drifted into seeing myself sitting in airport departure lounges, or walking in the quiet, depressing streets of small Mediterranean towns, or in a pick-up, driving through the nowheres of the Midwest. Jake had done more than a hundred and fifty years in that kind of solitary. I couldn’t see how.

  “Come in.”

  It was Madeline. I’d known it would be. I’d wanted it to be. Or part of me had. She was in an ivory silk nightie that stopped a long way above her knees. She came over and stood in front of m
e. For a long while neither of us spoke.

  “I’m not the consolation prize,” she said, eventually. “This isn’t for you. It’s for me.”

  64

  Talulla

  HAVING ALL THE travel arrangements taken care of made me realise what a fucking horrendous journey it would have been if I’d had to make them myself. Zagreb to Delhi, Delhi to Kolkata, Kolkata—via small, precarious jet—to Bhubaneswar, where Olek’s gofer, Grishma (a natty little guy with a small but dashingly dark-eyed and high-cheekboned face) met me with a car. From there what felt like an interminable drive southeast to Jogeswarpur, five miles north of the Balukhand Konark Reserve Forest.

  I felt lousy by the time I got there, anyway. Full moon was just over forty-eight hours away and wulf was busting the usual tedious moves, the premature lunges and twists, the pointless clawed spasms and swipes. I hadn’t slept properly since Zagreb. My eyes were raw. The nerves in my nails throbbed.

  Olek’s … what? laboratory?—was a former ashram on the edge of the reserve, but barring a few weathered statues of the smiling Buddha in the garden, you’d never have known it. The garden itself was spectacular, dense, lush, a sort of willing stereotype of the exotic East, blood-reds and splashy yellows and simmering pinks, though with the exception of bougainvillea, jasmine and oleander I didn’t recognise any of the flowers. There were two huge banyans and, dotted here and there, lemon, tamarind, guava and peach trees, all heavy with fruit. Three green ponds with long, fat, drowsy fish—koi carp?—and a paved, semi-circular patio at the front on which a large abstract sculpture—a torqued ovoid with a hole in the middle, in some kind of polished blue stone—took pride of place. The building itself was three large, intersecting, flat-roofed concrete rectangles, with three floors above ground (on arrival there was no telling how many below, but I had to assume at least one) with tinted windows and an iron-railed balcony going all the way around between the second and third storeys. He’s dug-in here, I thought. Maybe that’s what happens in the end. The wandering stops and you just accept a place as home. No matter how many centuries you have ahead of you. I hadn’t noticed any security on the drive in, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any.

 
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