Talulla Rising Page 27

‘Because we just got back from Provence,’ Walker told him. ‘They’re not there. They knew we were coming. The only way they could’ve known we were coming is if they discovered Merryn was a mole. Which is why they killed him.’

‘But they were in Alaska,’ I pointed out.

‘Jacqueline’s got more than three hundred in her posse,’ Walker said. ‘They weren’t all in Alaska. There was no one at the place in Provence. It had been completely abandoned. They found out Merryn was a leak, cleared out and killed him. They could be anywhere by now. Along with Mike’s wife, if she’s still alive. And your son.’

They could be anywhere. A montage of places: airports; fields; city streets. The last six months’ travelling had shrunk the world. They could be anywhere made it vast again.

Cloquet’s discomfort was growing. I was remembering him saying: You think I betray you? Ask your wolves! And the wolves, out of their meaty breath and loose shoulders and the thousands of miles in the pads of their paws said he was telling the truth. What was it then?

‘What did you call Jacqueline’s vampires?’ I asked Walker.

‘The Disciples of Remshi.’ He looked at Cloquet. ‘You know what I’m talking about, right?’

Cloquet didn’t answer. And couldn’t look at me.

Suddenly I understood: the kidnapping was nothing to do with the Helios Project.

It was to do with this. The Disciples of Remshi.

The sound of it made me feel hopeless. The sound of the disciples of anything made me feel hopeless. Cloquet had known, and hadn’t told me. Now he felt sick. So did I.

‘Mike thinks the dead boochie back there was one of their priests. They have a tattoo on the foot.’

Cloquet still wouldn’t meet my eye.

‘Look at me,’ I said to him. ‘What is it you’re not telling me?’

A moment of suspension, his feelings jammed like typewriter keys. Then he mashed the cigarette in the table’s foil ashtray, exhaling his last lungful with a look as if it tasted foul. ‘Remshi is a...’ He stopped. Rolled his head in a rapid tension-easing movement. Started again. ‘According to vampire mythology Remshi is the oldest of their kind. He’s been there from the beginning. There’s no point telling you this, because he doesn’t exist. Jacqueline said that to the vampires themselves he was like le Pére Noël or La Petite Souris, a fairy tale. But she believed in him. She was obsessed. He was supposed to have extraordinary powers. He could change his shape to look like animals or people. He could become invisible. He could make fire out of thin air. It’s why she wanted to become a vampire. Because she believed—’ He stopped, made a vague dismissive gesture. ‘It doesn’t matter. She’s insane. All of this is because her father died. You know he was fucking her from the time she was eight years old?’

Because she believed—

I should be careful. Maybe he couldn’t afford to say what he’d been going to say in front of Walker.

‘He’s right,’ Walker said. ‘To the vast majority of vampires Jacqueline’s just started the boochie equivalent of the Flat Earth Society. There’s always been a handful of vamp astrologers who’ve taken the Remshi myth seriously, but they haven’t been taken seriously for a century or more. Our girl’s started this revival either as a bid to grow a new political power or because she genuinely believes the prophecy.’

‘What prophecy?’

‘Prophecies,’ Walker said. ‘There are a bunch of them. Problem is that The Book of Remshi, which is where they’re collected, is unreliably translated and massively bowdlerized. It’s also tedious beyond belief. But the big prophecy is that Remshi’s due for a return – although it’s never been clear to me where he’s supposed to be returning from, exactly. Suspended animation or whatever. Astrological consensus says it’s now, this year. In fact he’s supposed to already be awake, as yet unrevealed...’ Then to Cloquet: ‘Right?’

My helplessness felt external, as if the space around me was solidifying. Eventually it would hold me like a fly in a lump of amber. I thought how much better it would be if I knew Lorcan was dead. Then I could turn away from all this. Then there’d be just the slag-heap of guilt to clamber over into a new version of myself and a fractured life with my daughter.

‘This Remshi thing,’ I said to Walker, ‘you believe in it?’ I wondered, briefly, what a conversation with the oldest living vampire would reveal. Briefly because almost immediately I knew the answer: nothing conclusive. Maybe not even anything new. Another creature, another set of hungers and fears and delusions and unanswered questions.

‘Who knows?’ Walker said. ‘This job keeps your mind open. My guess is if he exists he’ll be one more character running around wondering where his next meal’s coming from and trying to get laid. Or maybe not trying to get laid, if he’s really a vampire. Although allegedly his sex equipment still works. Anyway, if it’s a religion then what we need to worry about is who does believe in it and what they’re likely to do in its name.’

Konstantinov came back in.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said to him. ‘Stupid of me.’

‘Not your fault,’ he said. ‘Forget it.’

Jet-lag had let time misbehave. There was a fizzing edge to consciousness. I was aware through the blur that Walker had paraphrased my own thoughts. A small satisfaction in the jumble. I had images: the bag closing over the little wolf head; Jake’s dark head moving like a mechanical toy between Jacqueline’s legs; my dad’s look when he’d said, I’m so sad about this, Lulu. Delilah in my hands. Rockabye baby.

‘So according to the prophecy,’ Walker continued, again looking at Cloquet for corroboration, ‘Remshi wakes, establishes himself king of the boochies, inaugurates the era of vampire world domination, and while he’s at it, takes himself a bride, the new vampire queen, with whom he shares all his extraordinary powers. According to believers he can even father children. You’ve got hand it to Jacqui: she doesn’t think small.’

At some point the radiators had come on, and now the room was wadded with copper-flavoured heat. My face was flushed. I knew if I closed my eyes and lay down I’d go straight to sleep. Her son’s kidnapped and tortured and here she is – sleeping!

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