The Last Werewolf Page 66

“Would you just tell me what’s going on?”

He held up his hand. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Let me get a refill. You want?”

I did not. While Ellis fixed himself a fresh cup I picked up the few items of Talulla’s clothing that lay scattered around the room and put them out of sight. Covered the bed, too. It was horrible, him seeing the evidence of our intimacy now that it was wrecked. I couldn’t stop thinking of the way she’d taken my hand last night and neither of us had been able to say anything. As if we’d shared a premonition of loss.

Ellis put his head round the French window. “You want to sit out here? It’s a beautiful day.”

Teeth clenched, I joined him on the veranda in dazzling light. The sun said maybe three o’clock. Below us a scatter of small white houses dotted the hill down to the village, where Konia went about its absurdly picturesque business. A brown-skinned fisherman sat on a capstan mending a net. A waiter leaned against a lamppost, smoking. Four teenagers lounged around an orange Vespa. I took the seat opposite Ellis with the light behind me. The sun’s heat fit the back of my head like a hellish yarmulke.

“Okay,” he said. “Research on werewolf infection stopped officially five years ago. Unofficially, our boys carried on. It was tough, with the shortage of live specimens—but we had Alfonse Mackar. Alfonse was our golden goose—until he got away. Escaped , for Christ’s sake. Can’t believe we were so slack there. Some of those young guys …” He looked away, shaking his head. “Anyway,” he continued, “that night in the desert we were trying to recapture him. Failing that, get a shot of the latest version of the antivirus into him. What happens? The shooter hits Talulla with the dart by mistake.” He leaned forward, eyebrows raised. “And who is the shooter? Me! Fucking Dead-eye Dick!” He relaxed and leaned back again, smiling. “Serendipity, Jake, every time. All along we’d been trying to treat the werewolf. Suddenly, accidentally, we treated the victim. Talulla’s the first person to survive the bite—and Turn—in more than a hundred and fifty years. She survived and Turned because the meds our eggheads cooked up actually work. We still don’t know if they kill the virus in an established lycanthrope, but they obviously kill it in a new one. A dose of this when you’re bitten and bingo—brand-new werewolf. That’s Poulsom’s thinking, anyway. He’s the brain. These are exciting times.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said. “You killed Wolfgang. You . You’re Grainer’s surrogate son. You’ve killed loads of us.”

He nodded again, lowered his head. Ridiculously, sighed . “You’re right, Jake,” he said. “It took me too long. I was under the man’s spell. He’s got the gift, you know, the charisma. He has been like a father to me. But I had to stay close to him to find out who the crucial players in the organisation are. He’s got access to everyone. Even now the thought of him not being around makes me a little ill, and it’s a year since I joined the renegades. There’s the ghost of ambivalence like a spirit that can’t cross over. It’s the price of double agency.”

I felt ill myself. Not least because it was clear Ellis was mad. His inner universe was impenetrable. He might be telling the truth. He might be suffering a protracted hallucination. The fundamental reference points and parameters weren’t there. You had to make a decision to take him at face value. Easy enough, since the alternative was a void where another explanation should be.

“By the way,” he said, “it’s only fair to tell you: You’ve had the antivirus yourself. The new one. More than once.”

“What?”

“Drinks at the Zetter. Again in Caernarfon. Poulsom’s still after a version that destroys the virus in the biter. Talulla got bitten, and got the antiviral, and as a result Turned. But we still don’t know if she can Turn anyone herself. Plus, having the drug that allows successful infection in the bitten victim gets us nowhere in the big picture. I mean, think about it: We’d have to be there every time someone got bitten to administer the drug. It’s completely impracticable.”

There was a memory of a Scotch at the Zetter that hadn’t tasted right. I ordered an Oban, I’d said to Harley. I think they’ve given me Laphroaig.

Harley.

My life, I thought, is a list of people I’ve failed.

“Trouble is of course you haven’t bitten anyone,” Ellis went on. “That’s another condition of the deal, obviously. You’re going to have to start leaving survivors. We’re thinking two living for every one dead. You guys are going to be in clover while the numbers go up again.”

The light sheeting off the white veranda was irritating my eyes and the heat was an angry sentience. In spite of their irrelevance the details maggot-tickled my brain.

“Why didn’t you take her?”

“Say again?”

“Talulla, in the desert. Why didn’t you take her in then?”

Ellis’s phone rang. He glanced at the number. Ignored it. “We would have,” he said, “but another unit turned up. Regular WOCOP with one of the goddamned Directors on board. They didn’t know what had gone down, obviously, no clue a civilian was involved, but they wanted us to get Alfonse’s body out of there ASAP. Poulsom had gone back to surgi-tag Talulla, but beyond that there was nothing he could do on his own. The Director transferred to our chopper to fly Alfonse back to the Phoenix HQ. Poulsom had to leave her where she was and hightail it. We picked him up a mile from the highway.”

“What do you mean ‘surgi-tag’?”

“It’s a bug,” Ellis said. “A transmitter. ’Bout half the size of your pinkie nail. Surgically implanted. It’s in her chest. Poulsom was curious about what effect the antivirus would have on her. I guess even then he had a hunch. The guy’s uncanny with these things. Anyway, we lost her. We thought she must have died like all the others because for the longest time we got nothing. Then, two months back, beep … beep … beep . I wanted to bring her in right away but the vote was against me. Rumours were rife we had a mole ourselves. Climate of paranoia. One of Poulsom’s guys had disappeared. The whole movement nearly collapsed. But we waited it out.”

Actually I do still get a slight pain in my chest sometimes. As if there’s a splinter in there. God, that tequila’s gone to the tips of my toes . The thought of them knowing where we were the whole time, all the miles across the States, all my pointless caution, gave me a feeling now like sensual capitulation.

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