Talulla Rising Page 24

‘Easy, easy, easy,’ New York said. ‘With the drama, this guy, always. You must be hell to share a kitchen with, Slim. We’re just talking about going somewhere that’s not quite so much of a murder scene. Have you seen the lady in the hall? I don’t know about you but I’m not—’

‘Let’s go,’ the Russian repeated. ‘Now.’


New York, smiling, held us just behind the gates. My skin tingled. Adrenaline forced its way through exhaustion. Cloquet buzzed with pointless action calculations. Less than a minute and the Russian pulled-up in a mirror-windowed BMW 4x4. The only available blindfold was Cloquet’s vast handkerchief. Could I be trusted to keep my eyes closed? Or was I going to have to have a jacket over my head? The Russian drove. New York turned in his seat to make sure I wasn’t peeking. He should have been a surfer. His face was full of masculine prettiness and immensely likeable. Which, by horror’s law of inverted aesthetics, made me sure we were being taken to our death.

We travelled for less than ten minutes, then were hustled stumbling from the car into the lobby of what I assumed was a projects block. A shuddering graffiti’d lift that stank of urine and hash took us up to the twentieth floor. The Russian checked the landing before we crossed to the unnumbered door of a flat. From a floor below someone was singing with a karaoke machine, Paul McCartney’s ‘Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time’, completely out of tune. ‘Beyond doubt the worst Christmas song ever written,’ New York said to me, quietly. ‘Like a request to God to end the universe. Watch your step there.’

Inside was dismal second-hand furniture, threadbare carpet, a spartan bathroom with exposed pipes and the side of the tub missing, and a tiny but surprisingly clean blue and white kitchen off the living room. Smells of Chinese take-out and empty beer bottles and stale cigarette smoke. A dartboard broken almost completely in two leaned in a corner. The living room’s one large window gave a view over night-time London: St Paul’s; Canary Wharf; the Eye; the Gherkin. A sprawl of lights under the low soft cloud. The beauty of it hurt my heart for a moment, the way the Christmas tree in the diner used to when my dad turned the fairy lights on for the first time. To the left of the window a glass door opened onto a narrow balcony occupied by a rusty bike frame and a broken clothes rack. It was just after two a.m. The rain had stopped. I thought, This is the way of it: a place turns out to be the place you die.

They shut us in the living room and went into murmuring confab in the hall. Mainly New York, by the sound of it. Cloquet had turned how terrified he was into simmering fury. He tried the door to the balcony, which wasn’t locked, and did us no good, unless we wanted to jump twenty storeys. Jumping twenty storeys wouldn’t kill me – or Zoë – but even with wulf’s recuperative powers it would be a while before we got up from the concrete. I walked back and forth with Zoë, rocking her. In a minute or two she was asleep. I was thinking about what she meant in this situation. In this situation she meant they could make me do whatever they wanted. There was no end to the things they could make me do. (How come? Hadn’t I hardened my heart to her?) I started thinking about these things. I thought about how slowly time would pass once they began. I thought about how familiar the drab room would become, the broken dartboard, the faux leather couch with the stuffing coming out, the oil stain on the green carpet. I thought how familiar they would become, the two men, the feel of their hands and mouths and cocks, the sound of their voices, the unique smell of their violence. I thought how if they were WOCOP – even ex-WOCOP – they’d have silver ammunition or the means to cut my head off. That meant they’d do whatever they wanted to do knowing that when they’d had enough, when they were sick of me, they could kill me, and that would be that. I imagined Jacqueline showing the footage to my son. I’m sure you must have been thinking maman will be coming for you. Well, as you can see, she won’t be, now.

I hadn’t realised but while all this was going through my head I’d been scouring the place for any kind of weapon. There was a bread knife in one of the kitchen drawers. A sharp little fruit knife in another. I filled the electric kettle and put it on. That would be boiling water, if I could get to it. There was nothing else. I gave Cloquet the bread knife. He tore the lining of his jacket and slid it in. I tried the fruit knife in my jeans back pocket but it cut into me if I sat down. In the end I put it in my jacket pocket and told myself I’d have to make whatever move before they made me take it off.

All with a baby strapped to me.

The kettle switched itself off just as they came back in.

‘Okay,’ New York said, taking a seat at the battered dining table and giving us another delighted smile. ‘Who wants to start?’

The Russian, who’d been poking around in the kitchen, emerged carrying an almost full bottle of Stolichnya and four (odd) glasses. He set them down on the dining table, poured us each a large measure and handed them round. Which he surely wouldn’t do, I thought, if the two of them were going to kill Cloquet then rape, torture and murder me? (Not necessarily. One thing didn’t always mean another. Reality could be serving drinks first. The world was free with its extraordinary juxtapositions. Even the movies had cottoned on. These days you rarely met an on-screen psycho who didn’t hum Bartok or reel off chunks of Paradise Lost.) I knew I was supposed to avoid alcohol when breastfeeding (or rather I knew humans were) but since we were going to die here anyway what difference did it make? I took a big gulp. Instant benevolent fire in my chest. The first liquor since the road to California with Jake. It reminded me of him, brought the raw space where his ghost should’ve been. I thought of meeting him in the afterlife I didn’t believe in. Our dead children wouldn’t be there. They’d be somewhere else. We’d never see them again. He’d say: It wasn’t your fault, Lu. I don’t blame you. But he’d seem strange to me, a version of himself I didn’t know. The version that lied.

‘Hey,’ New York said, glass raised. ‘You didn’t give me a chance to say stin iya sas!’

‘It’s stin iya mas,’ I said. ‘Unless you’re excluding yourself from the toast.’

‘Damn. I always screw that up.’

‘What?’ Cloquet said. ‘What does he say?’

‘Nothing. He’s saying cheers in Greek.’

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