Talulla Rising Page 14

‘How badly are you hurt?’ I asked.

‘The bullet went through. You?’ He was avoiding looking at me because despite the jacket a lot of me was on show and he was still weirdly delicate about all that.

‘I’m okay,’ I said. ‘They took him.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

They took him. Having language back made it precise and ugly and real. Suddenly there was the scalloped space in me, the hole left by the scooped-out avocado stone, shocking, raw, basic. The room held a pungent memory of what had happened in it, like the smell of cordite after a gunshot. I saw them sticking the skewers in me and prising my fingers from his warm body and stuffing him in the bag. I saw myself pinned and felt the helicopter’s dark mass lifting, higher, further, quieter, silence, gone. The mental re-run filled me with anti-energy, a self-perpetuating mass of weakness. The scalloped space wasn’t empty after all. It was full of failure.

I imagined myself saying to Cloquet: I’m going to get him back. I saw the future saying it would commit me to, all the things I’d have to do, Jake’s loathed rubbish heap of ifs and thens, the certainty that I wouldn’t get him back but would die trying and leave my daughter an orphan. I mustn’t think about her. Her brother had left her behind so I’d never forget what I’d let them do to him – and why I’d let them do it. Again I imagined saying to Cloquet: I’m going to get him back. I knew that’s what I should say. This calf, the animal documentary voiceover said, has been rejected by its mother. Weak and unprotected, it offers an easy target to predators on the lookout for a quick kill. I thought how long it would be before I’d be able to take pleasure in buying a beautiful pair of shoes, or walk on a beach in the evening, or sit at a café with a cup of coffee and a cigarette watching total strangers go by. Probably never. Amongst other things I hated him for having been taken. I could have laughed at that. A different hilarity, not dark, but the colour of nothingness.

A wolf got up, stretched, yawned. A third time I imagined myself saying to Cloquet: I’m going to get him back. It made the nerves in my mouth wilt.

‘It was her,’ Cloquet croaked.

‘What?’

‘The woman. The vampire. It was Jacqueline Delon.’

Au revoir, Talulla. It had registered, that she’d known my name. Well, now I knew hers. Jacqueline Delon. Jake had fucked her, of course (and according to the diary got her off, orally, as I recalled), for which my obsolete self resented him, unfairly, since I knew all too well how it was on the Curse. The last he’d seen of her she was being used as a human shield by – ah, the little grey-haired vampire with the neat demeanour. But she’d survived. And somehow become his superior, if I’d read their dynamic right.

‘I thought she was dead,’ I said.

‘Moi aussi.’ He’d been in love with her. The ramifications of which were obvious. I was amazed he’d been able to deceive me. I could have laughed again.

‘Calme toi,’ he said, reading me. ‘It wasn’t me. I don’t know how they found us. You think I betray you? Ask your wolves!’ He said it with mad fracture, but he was right. The animals would have known if he was false. I could feel it in the current that moved between them and me. Power over canines Jake had used to get their young lady owners into bed. I missed him, his voice saying my name, his arms around me. The stupidest part of me still expected to see him soon. All this while being aware of what had happened like a gaping hole in the room, in the wall, in the fabric of things, knowing that if I looked into it I would see pure black nothingness, going on for ever in total silence.

‘Ahhh,’ Cloquet said. ‘Dieu est miséricordieux.’ He’d found yesterday’s not-quite-empty bottle of Jack Daniels by the side of the couch. He took a swig, closed his eyes, sighed. His shoulders relaxed.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I know you loved her.’ Gentleness. Out of the extremity of my failure. Out of the peace of having no further to fall. These amoral relations were available everywhere. He took another swig.

‘I have a feeling,’ he said. ‘Like when your body tells you you’ve hurt it with too much booze or coke or whatever poison. You understand?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s like that – but my soul. I feel sorry for what I let her do to my soul. I was nothing. I was un drogué, a fucking useless junkie.’

‘Okay.’

‘Je suis libre.’

‘I understand.’ I did understand. He’d replaced Jacqueline with me. Not a beaten addiction, just a different drug. And I wasn’t even sleeping with him. Maybe I should sleep with him, haul his sexual self back to the land of the living to seal the allegiance, fuck his brains out and to hell with the werewolf protocols. Either that or kill him. I’d have to if I couldn’t trust him. Meanwhile distance unravelled in the helicopter’s wake. Miles already. Hundreds. I thought of all the things the vampires knew that I didn’t, all the preparations they would have made, all the powers they had at their disposal. Their advantage was laughable. It was a joke. Couldn’t I just forget him? Take my chances with my daughter and run? I conjured the first recurring daydream, the two of us a few years from now in the white Los Angeles villa – Brentwood or Marina del Rey or the West Hollywood Hills – with bougainvillea and the cactus garden and the turquoise pool, quietly going on with our life. We’d get tennis lessons and take trips to the mall and have occasional parties and somehow manage to kill and feed once a month without anything going wrong or anyone finding out what we were. I’d love her tan legs and arms and good balance and shyly-worn jewellery and her plucking up courage to ask me difficult things.

But the first recurring daydream only brought the second, of the little werewolf boy in a shredded school uniform, covered in blood.

And the second brought the third. With compliments of Delilah Snow.

Cloquet closed his drained eyes. Right up until I opened my mouth I didn’t know what I was going to say.

‘I’m going to get him back,’ I said.

As soon as I’d said it I knew it was hopeless. Knowing it was hopeless was a relief. The relief of discovering after all your rushing and madness to get to the departure gate you’ve missed your flight, and now there’s just the weight and heat of your own body and time stretching ahead.

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