By Blood We Live Page 23

“Why don’t you tell me what it is you want from me,” I said. “Because I’m pretty sure whatever it is it’s something I’m not going to give you.”

“Talulla, I promise you, it’s nothing that will harm you. But I don’t want you to make a decision until you’ve seen the proof.”

“The proof of what?”

“The proof that the cure works.”

“Which you have.”

“Which I have. I want you to come and see him.”

Walker had watched the video. He set the laptop down, open, on the bed, and returned to his objectless vigil at the window. I knew it wouldn’t have made any difference to him. I knew he wasn’t, under any circumstances, going back.

“Fine,” I said to Olek. “Let me think about it. I have your number. Don’t call me again.”

“But you mu—”

I hung up.

“Don’t say anything,” I said to Walker.

He didn’t, but he didn’t stop staring out the window either. I kept telling myself to get up off the floor, and kept failing to get up off the floor. The bathroom smelled of unwashed laundry and the villa’s lousy drains. I thought: Symbolic—then was immediately pissed at myself for thinking it. It was an annoying habit I’d acquired, of looking for signs, correspondences, metaphors, the goddamned pointless tic of finding things behind things, things connected to things, things in things. Don’t bother looking for the meaning of it all, Lu. There isn’t one. But ever since the vampire sought me out … Ever since the recurring dream …

The self-disgust was enough, at least, to get me up off the floor. I was about to go to Walker and stand close behind him and wrap my arms around his chest and haul whatever was left of love up into my heart and be thankful, when he said: “That’s becoming the thing you say to me.”

I’d lost track in the reverie.

“What is?” I asked him.

“ ‘Don’t say anything,’ ” he said.


THE NEXT MORNING I picked Madeline up from Fiumicino in the rented Cherokee. I was tired. Lorcan had had a wretched night. Dreams that woke him screaming in a sweat. He wakes and doesn’t seem to recognise me. Fights me, initially. It’s only after I’ve gone and got Zoë and put her in bed with him that he calms, focuses, realises that for better or worse it’s me, his disappointing mother. I hadn’t slept much after that. You might not want it for yourself, but you’ll want it for your children.

“It’s official,” Madeline said, before she’d even got her seat belt on. “WOCOP’s gone bust.”

I was nervous. She and I were close. I wasn’t confident I’d be able to screen my thoughts. She looked, as usual, hilariously attractive: blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, catty little green-eyed face precisely cosmeticised, signature French manicured nails. She was dressed in a pink boob-hugging t-shirt, skin-tight Prada bluejeans and a pair of tan suede Giuseppe Zanotti ankle boots. A soft little aura of Shalimar by Geurlain surrounded her, flashed through—to my kindred nose—by two-days-pre-Transformation wulf. She and Fergus had made fast money on European foreclosures over the last two years, courtesy of my ten-million-dollar investment for a thirty per cent stake. Natural born capitalists. Resign yourself to killing and eating someone once a month and there’s not much point being anything else.

“The whole organisation’s been running on empty for the last three years, apparently,” she said. “Not helped by the top brass using every trick in the book to line their pockets.” She took a softpack of Winstons from her purse (a small Chloé Elsie python-leather shoulder, about two grand) and lit us one each. Running on empty. Every trick in the book. Line their pockets. I thought of Jake wincing at the clichés. Then letting the irritation morph into desire. No end to sexual cunning. Who knew that if not me? Madeline and I hadn’t slept together but the possibility was always there, a sinuous current that slipped around and between us like a fascinated snake. In her human life she’d been Jake’s London escort of choice. Eventually Turned, accidentally, by him giving her a sharper than usual lovebite. This was before he’d met me. Now she and I had him dirtily in common. And not only Jake. It was Madeline who’d turned Walker. Because Walker was in love with me and I’d been in something like love with him. Because I’d been scared that if I did it myself he’d hate me for it somewhere down the line. Oh, forget it, she’d said, when I’d tried to thank her and the two of us had ended up in ridiculous tears. You would’ve gone on agonising forever. He wanted it. You wanted it. I could do it, so I did. Job done, everyone’s happy. Now for fuck’s sake get on with being together, will you?

Every time I thought of how simply and generously she’d behaved it made me feel tender towards her. Followed lately by a dash of sad selfishness, since having been given what I thought I wanted I’d discovered it wasn’t enough.

“Not, frankly, that it makes any difference,” she said, exhaling smoke, “what with these fucking religious nutters taking over the show. Did you see that Cardinal on Sky? They’re like pigs in shit.” The Catholic Church, she meant, thrilled with what the actual existence of diabolical critters was doing for their investment portfolios. “They’ve raised close to fifty million already,” Madeline said. “In this climate! You can’t believe people are that stupid. Except of course you can.” She cracked the window, through which the airport’s smell of baked asphalt and jet fuel and ready meals rushed in. The sky was turquoise. I’d been in Italy two months and the country’s casually piled-up history still made my American reel. The Colosseum like a giant half-eaten cake, its ghost-odours of big cats and urine and death, blood puddles in the hot sand. In Rome a tour guide dressed as a centurion had walked past me outside Burger King in a whiff of sweat and leather and for a moment it all slipped back. I’d thought of the vampire, Remshi. Twenty thousand years, he’d said, you think you’ve seen it all.

“It’s the Catholics now,” Madeline said, “but Fergus says the Russian and Greek Orthodox aren’t going to be far behind. Once the American Fundamentalists and Africans join in there’s going to be billions in it. Careful!”

I should’ve known there’d be no evading her. She’d probably sensed I was hiding something from the moment she got in the car. A few minutes’ misdirect with the WOCOP/Vatican update—then a swift, effective rush in. I’d felt her, a sudden tingling or effervescence in the shoulders and scalp, the so much stranger feeling of someone moving like cold air over your thoughts. I’d nearly rolled the Cherokee. An outraged Fiat driver leaned on his horn. In the stream of Italian that went with it I caught, not surprisingly, vaffanculo and pucchiacca.

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