By blood we live, p.7
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       By Blood We Live, p.7
 

           Glen Duncan

  “Whatever I say to the others,” I instructed Walker, “go along with it. I’ll explain later.”

  “Whatever you say, Miss D.”

  Miss D. It was what he used to call me. It hurt my heart to hear it now. It hurt my heart not enough.

  14

  IT WASN’T EASY. Doubly difficult since I mixed truth with lies.

  “It’s one of Jake’s journals,” I said. “I thought I had them all, but apparently not. There are at least another half dozen.”

  We’d gathered in what we called—since it had an untuned old upright piano in it—the Music Room. Seating was two cream corduroy sofas and a wicker rocker. Eggshell walls, a black cast-iron fireplace, an odour of patchouli and fresh air and dust. The big bay window looked out into a front garden as beardily overgrown as the one at the rear, with the added attraction of a pond of thick dark green water watched over by two lichened demurely kneeling stone Nereids, one with a missing nose. Zoë had calmed Lorcan down, though he sat under the piano with a face of compressed fury. Two nights ago, in a rage, he’d put his bare foot through the conservatory’s glass door. I’d had to hold him down while Walker tweezered the shards from his flesh.

  “God knows how this Olek character’s got them, but he’s offering them in exchange for something. I don’t know what yet. Probably just money. He sounds a little desperate. He wants to meet.”

  The wulf in Lucy and Trish was trying to get hold of whatever it was I wasn’t saying, the other thing … something … But I kept it moving, just out of reach. The room’s atmosphere was dense.

  “You’re not going to meet him, obviously,” Lucy said. She was in the rocker, not rocking but tipped forward, elbows on knees. She’d changed into black jeans and an olive green blouse. Any green set off the auburn hair and hazel eyes. She’d put on mascara and eyeliner and warm peach lipstick. The Curse had rebooted her interest in the way she looked, now that she was never going to look any older.

  “No. Not yet.”

  “Not yet?”

  “I’m thinking about it.”

  Trish, who’d been looking out the window at two scuffling feral puppies (our canine vibe kept the grounds full of them), turned. The Chili Peppers t-shirt had been replaced by a white cheesecloth kurta and sawn-off 501s. Bare legs of lovely Gaelic whiteness. But her wulf’s irritation (this thing I wasn’t saying was like the comedy bar of soap every grab flipped from one hand to the other) had reddened her small face.

  “How can you be thinking about it?” she said. “Thinking about going to meet a vampire? It’s a trap. It can only be a trap.”

  “I’m not so sure,” I said. I had Quinn’s book in my hand. My hand pulsed, surely visibly. I thought: Any minute one of them’s just going to snatch it from me.

  “Look, I don’t want to make a big thing out of it,” I said. “It’s not something … I don’t have to decide anything right now. Besides, we’ve got Saturday to get through.”

  Saturday. Full moon. The kill. And everything that went with it. Only the fourth time we’d be going as a pack. It had become an occasional necessity. Not every month, and not on any recognisable cycle; but when the need spoke none of us argued. None of us except Madeline, who went her own way, who had fuckkilleat partners queueing, who had honourable reasons for staying out of mine and Walker’s way that one night of the month. She was stopping by tomorrow en route to Spain, where she had arrangements in place. She would land early in Rome, spend the day with us and the night fucking Cloquet’s brains out (it had become a pre-Transformation ritual for her, a last hit of human warmth before the beast got out) then leave on Friday. She had to keep their encounters brief. It was bad enough he was in love with her. If she fell in love with him, she’d end up killing and eating him. Since that would be the worst thing she could do to a human. Since doing the worst thing to humans is the thing we do. Hot tip: If you’re a human having a fling with a werewolf, break it off. Now.

  “I don’t like it, either, chérie,” Cloquet said to me. He was still in green silk pyjama bottoms and black towelling robe, nursing a claret hangover of his own, albeit with the aid of a bloody mary and a Gauloise. His bony face with its large mouth and big black eyes was crimped with morning-after misery. His dark hair looked like a mouse had spent a rough night in it. “He phoned you,” he said. “He had a package delivered. He knows where we are. We’re going to have to fucking move again. Merde.” It had been our intention—mine, Walker’s and Cloquet’s—to stay here for six months. We were sick of perpetual flight. Transit lounges and hotels and border controls and time zones and languages and currencies; continual adjustment breeds deep fatigue. But the equation doesn’t change: Stillness is death. Keep killing on the same patch and watch the investigation noose tighten. Rudy Kovatch, the documents and ID specialist I’d inherited from Jake, had furnished us all with several EU passports to complement the U.S. fakes; either side of the Atlantic, that gave us a lot of room to hunt. Europe made more sense: you could be in and out of three countries a day. Tough to track.

  “Lula, this is bollocks,” Trish said. “I can’t believe you’re talking about going to meet a fucking vampire, after what you’ve been through—after what we’ve all been through with those arsewipes.”

  What we’ve all been through. Quite. When the vampire religious nuts had kidnapped Lorcan, Lucy and Trish had been two of the team that had helped me get him back. At mortal risk to themselves. Partly pack gravity, yes (no one ever referred to me as being any kind of leader, but I was the one they’d constellated around; there was something, some latent power), but partly because they were generous beings. Unless you happened to be one of their victims. In which case generosity wouldn’t be the first of their personal qualities that sprang to your mind.

  “And while we’re at it,” Lucy said, “aren’t you remotely curious as to how he got your mobile number?”

  Walker was negotiating quiet angry agony. He knew about the night two years ago when the vampire Remshi had made ambiguous contact with me. He knew because I’d told him. I’d told him because nothing had happened. Nothing had happened and I had nothing to confess. Nothing had happened and I had nothing to confess except that from that night the vague expectation that I’d see Remshi again had grown into an insistent mental mass. Now here was another vampire seeking me out. Another—or the same? When he joins the blood of the werewolf. I’d forced myself to tell Walker that, too. Made a joke of it, the phrase’s B-movie portentousness, the surely bogus archaism. Once or twice we’d tried to make it a private language idiom for anything that was never going to happen, as in, when hell freezes over, when he joins the blood of the werewolf—but the words had hung awkwardly in the air and we’d stopped trying.

  “Mike and Natasha will help,” Walker said, forcing himself into practicalities. “If we take this any further it should be with them as back-up.”

  I hadn’t thought of that, but he was right. Mikhail Konstantinov, Walker’s former colleague, and his wife Natasha Alexandrova. Natasha had been made a vampire against her will. Mikhail had made her Turn him so they could be together. Outdoors, with ten feet between us, we could bear each other’s odour. We had to. We were friends. They would help.

  “I’m not taking it further,” Trish said. “Your kids, Lu, that’s one thing. But I’m not walking into a vamp trap for half a dozen books, even if they did belong to Jake. Sorry.”

  “Please,” I said. “Can we just forget this for now? I’m not asking anyone to do anything. The likelihood is I won’t take it any further. If you hadn’t all already seen the goddamned package I wouldn’t even have mentioned it. Seriously. Forget this. It’s no one else’s problem.”

  Unless we’re being watched. Lucy didn’t say it. Didn’t have to. Instead she said: “It’s a bad time to be getting involved in anything we don’t have to. The way things are out there.”

  “Out there” was the world, which, courtesy of our population explosion, wasn’t what it used to be. Full moon these days you cou
ldn’t open a cupboard without a howler jumping out at you, if Internet gossip was to be believed. The virus that had brought the species to near extinction had died at last in me, and Jake too, by the end. Every werewolf since could trace its infection to either him or me. The good or bad old days were back: Survive the bite and the Curse was yours. Estimates ranged from six hundred to ten or twenty thousand monsters roaming the earth. No one really knew. Transformations were all over YouTube. Demand for werewolf porn, which, since it invariably centred on fuckkilleat, was also snuff porn, was growing, according to Playboy magazine, “at an exponential rate.” Governments had taken the line of lumping us in with crop circles and the Loch Ness Monster. The U.S., UK, German and Russian administrations had posted counter-videos online, “showing” the alleged transformations were cleverly manipulated effects and props. “Hoaxers” had “confessed.” Up until two weeks ago the Christian Churches had sung the politicians’ song. Then the Vatican had volte-faced and stunned the world: Not only are werewolves and vampires real, their statement said, but Rome is secretly training an army of warriors to destroy them. The announcement launched an all-platforms ad campaign, a TV, print and online assault on the faithful’s credulity, filled with testimonials from believers—and more importantly former non-believers, now converts—who’d been attacked by one of these abominations but “saved” by the intervention of God’s holy soldiers, the Militi Christi, whom everyone (except, officially, the Catholic Church itself) was now calling “the Angels.”

  “I know,” I said. “I get it. Don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything without discussing it with you. But can we just agree to shelve it until after Saturday?”

  In the end we let it go, with some abrasion. The temptation was to change the arrangements for Saturday. But as Walker pointed out: If someone was watching us now with a view to following us they could follow us wherever we went. Changing the kill wouldn’t make any difference. Besides, we only had two and a half days. Not enough time to orchestrate an alternative. The only alternative, in fact, would be to abandon the pack kill, go our separate ways and take our chances with victims as and where we found them. None of us wanted to do that.

  Lucy took the local train to Rome to spend the day at the Villa Borghese. Trish went to the beach. Cloquet, who’d evolved a second or meta-hangover, went back to bed.

  As soon as Walker and I were alone with the kids I told him the truth: Quinn’s journal. The possible origin of the species. Olek’s note.

  He was underwhelmed.

  “I wouldn’t get too excited,” he said. We were in the kitchen. Zoë and Lorcan were under the table, Lorcan aggressively colouring a picture of the Three Little Pigs (God being dead, irony still rollickingly alive), Zoë building a precarious tower with empty cotton spools she’d found somewhere. I had maybe six months before the thrill-discrepancy between things like cotton spools and Xboxes registered.

  “Don’t get excited?” I said. “Are you serious?”

  “Just because there’s a story doesn’t mean it’s true.”

  I managed not to say: “Jake thought it was.” Too much Jake, lately. Jake too often invoked. Instead, I said: “I know that. But wouldn’t you rather know the story and disregard it than not know it and spend your life wondering?”

  “I won’t be spending my life wondering,” he said. “I’m not the wondering kind.”

  Zoë said, apropos of nothing (except to a three-year-old everything is apropos of something): “Elephants don’t eat beans.” She doesn’t like beans. Especially kidney beans, which she calls “bugs.”

  In spite of everything else going on it made Walker and me laugh. Then made us infer a kid’s instinct for when the adults need help, which made us both sad again.

  “Whatever the origins are,” he said, “we’re here now, two arms, two legs, full moon every month, life to live. It’s different for you. You had the Catholic childhood. You’re hardwired to think there’s got to be something up there, out there, wherever, some meaning to it all, no matter how many times you quote Jake. I didn’t grow up with any of that. I grew up with McDonald’s and Pets Do the Craziest Things.”

  Every so often he said something like this and I realised I’d forgotten his past, the tumour around which his character had formed. When he was seven years old he’d killed his father, an NYPD cop. I shot him with his own gun. Standard issue Glock nine-millimetre. He was smashing my mother’s face into the television. I remembered the way he’d told me. In a tone that conceded that his horror story—any horror story—was only ever one among many. Especially to me, multiple murderer, eater of human beings, werewolf. It can’t be anything other than minor to you, he’d said. It wasn’t minor. Nor was it his only horror story. It was the told one. There was also the untold one. The story of what had happened to him when he’d been captured with me by WOCOP two years ago. Inside the detention facility they’d kept us apart. We’d never spoken about what they’d done to him. Torture was a given, but we’d never used the word “rape.” All this had happened to him before he’d been Turned. His embrace of wulf had been (amongst other things) an attempt to shed the dirty skin. Expect the absurd, Jake had written. It’s the werewolf’s lot. And since he was right, here was someone who’d chosen one monstrosity to blot out another, the principle of violent eclipse. Not total. The seven-year-old boy was still in there, the raped man, all the shadowy selves that even in the blood din of the Curse could still, at moments, be heard. I felt sorry for him, loved him afresh—but felt too my heart’s appalling approximateness, its devious generosity, its room for other things.

  The journal was in my left hand. I hadn’t put it down the whole time. Couldn’t. Had to know. True or not.

  Lorcan, whose “colouring” had evolved into gouging holes in the pages, got up and stormed out of the room.

  “Go ahead,” Walker said. “I’ll keep an eye on these two. I’ll read it when you’re done.”

  15

  Long ago, long before Hattia and Assyria, before Sumeru, before the Pharaohs raised their big stones, palm shadows danced on the waters of Iteru under the eyes of the gods. These were the old gods, before Ra and Horus and Zeus and Hera, before young Yaweh and gentle Yeshua. Before An and Enlil, before Nin-khursag and Enkil, before even Taimat and Abzu, who were not the first. Before all these a travelling people stopped for a season by Iteru, thousands of years before it became the Nile. They built no stones, but lived in tents of skin and fur. Thin strong men and women. They loved the desert sky at night, where the gods wrote in stars that touched the earth’s face. They ate the meat of goat, cow and pig. They ate the date and the fig. They sacrificed to their gods.

  The people were the Maru.

  Edu was their king, and his wife was Liku, the queen. They had a three-year-old son, Imut.

  In those days there were passages from the Middle world to the Upper and the Lower Realms. It was given to some among the Maru to open these passages. They opened them with songs and with the blood of the living and with the smoke and fire of burning. They were called, in their tongue, the Anum, the Guardians, and mightiest among them was Lehek-shi.

  Lehek-shi was enamoured of Liku, the queen, and she of him. They became lovers. Lehek-shi made a drink of the bark of the aho tree and the berries of the nawar sweetened with dates and coconut milk, and in the evening Liku gave the drink to Edu, her husband, and made love to him. Then when he slept she stole from the tent and went through the darkness to meet Lehek-shi.

  This went on for five moons, and the king never suspected. His wife worked with great care to give him pleasure and his sleep was deep. He confided to his closest friends that he was the luckiest of all the Maru, to know such wifely devotion and to sleep such untroubled sleep.

  But Liku and Lehek-shi were not content. Stolen hours by the grace of drug and darkness were not enough. Their passion was rare and real and fiercer than the sacrificial fire, and its patience with secrecy was at an end. Therefore they resolved between the kisses of their mout
hs to kill Edu. After the period given for mourning, Liku would be free to choose a new husband—and naturally she would choose Lehek-shi.

  But Lehek-shi was full of foreboding. He knew the ways of the Upper and Lower realms. When a Maru of pure heart died, the gods of the Upper realm sent down to earth one of their servants—the Kamu—to put its mouth upon the mouth of the corpse and breathe in the soul for its passage to the Upper realm. Released in the Upper realm the soul would tell its story—and the gods would take vengeance on the murderers.

  “There is an another way,” Lehek-shi told Liku, with his arms wrapped around her in the darkness. “But it is a risk.”

  “What other way?” Liku asked. Her hair was full of the scent of oranges.

  “We can send his soul to the Lower realm. Amaz will take it. But Amaz is a hard god to bargain with.”

  “If Amaz is a risk,” Liku said, climbing astride her lover, “the wrath of the Upper gods is a certainty.”

  Lehek-shi entered her, and the decision was made.

  Lehek-shi sacrificed and made a burning and inhaled the smoke of the branch that gave sight and sang the song that opened the way to the Lower realm and let his spirit go out to seek audience with Amaz.

  The threshold of Amaz’s kingdom was guarded by three of his messengers, those dark opposites of the blessed Kamu, the Izul. Invisible in the Middle realm, in the Lower they were terrible to behold.

  Lehek-shi was a diviner, one of the Anum, and had by birth the right to hold discourse with the beings of the other realms, but still, this was the kingdom of Amaz, and he was afraid.

 
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