Talulla Rising Page 32

The masturbation memory had made me risibly wet. Wulf was properly awake now, curling her lips and licking her teeth. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. As the mother of a missing child my existence was supposed to be unrelieved agony. There wasn’t supposed to be room for anything else, especially not this. Still, here it was. Whatever is happening, something else is always going on. It’s only bad art and gutter journalism that insist otherwise.

‘How long before we hear anything?’ I asked him.

‘Can’t say,’ he said. ‘Jacqui’ll split her people up. It’s not like you can move three hundred vampires in somewhere without somebody noticing. She’ll disperse the bulk of them but keep her favourites close. She’ll keep your kid with her, for sure, but Natasha? I don’t know. You understand that’s our priority, right? I mean, no offence, but the only thing Mike gives a fuck about is his wife.’

‘I know,’ I said.

‘And look – ’ the smile again, the slip back into sparkling defence – ‘if we get her out and I’m still alive, I’m guessing that’ll be about where I quit while I’m ahead. Unless of course you and I have fallen in love by then.’

‘We never discussed fees,’ I said.

‘No, but you were going to fork out for Aegis, and I know they don’t come cheap.’

‘That’s true. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I’m not very good at this.’

‘Let’s talk about it later. It’s ruining the atmosphere. That’s one quiet kid you got there. You know, if you need to breastfeed her, I won’t be embarrassed.’

‘I’ll bear it in mind, but I just fed her.’

‘Does she never cry?’

‘Hardly. I think maybe four times since birth. She’s like the little Lord Jesus. Or maybe she’ll be a mute.’ It was true Zoë was an extraordinarily quiet child. She slept, she woke up, she fed, she peed and threw up and negligibly pooped – but she rarely shed a tear.

Silently judging you on her brother’s behalf.

‘What are you going to do with her?’ Walker asked. ‘If and when we’re good to go?’

Well, yes, that was the question. Leave her with Cloquet? Stay home with her and trust someone else to rescue her brother? Take her along? The first two options were hard to swallow. The third was farcical. So far I’d dealt with the problem by hoping something would come along to magically solve it. ‘Ask me when we’re good to go,’ I said. ‘In the meantime, what’s the story with – Fuck!’

‘What’s wrong?’

Someone walked over my grave.

Or rather ran over it, dragging a rake. Zoë’s body against mine registered it, as if we’d shared an electric shock or an explosion of pins and needles. I felt her tighten, then relax. Two seconds and it was over.

‘What is it?’

‘I don’t know. Some weird... Since I’ve been here I’ve had these little episodes of...’

‘Of what?’

‘Of something being close. Something passing close to me.’

‘Something bad?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Do you want me to stop the car?’

‘No, it’s okay. Actually, wait, can we not go on the freeway? I mean, can we just stay in the city?’ Whatever it was it was here, I was certain. No matter how much I wanted it to be Jake’s ghost hurling itself at the barrier between us, I knew it wasn’t.

‘No problem,’ Walker said. ‘You sure you’re okay?’

‘I’m fine. Sorry.’

It was a reminder to him of what I was, what he was in the car with. I could feel sanity working in him against the attraction. Last night’s adrenaline had said anything was possible. Now he was marvelling at himself. He wanted to say something, make a joke about it, but the moment had left him adrift. The road lights slid over his pretty profile. His pretty profile. See what you’ve done now? See what you’ve let loose?

‘I’ll ask you what I was going to ask you,’ I said. ‘What’s the story with Konstantinov?’

I wasn’t intending to listen, whatever the story was; it was just to give him something to do while I continued groping after what I’d felt a moment ago (fear? déjà vu? a kind of abstract arousal?), but once he started talking I got drawn in in spite of myself...

Konstantinov, he told me, grew up on a State Farm in Morshansk and at fourteen fell in love with the director’s daughter, Daria Petrov, who was his age, and had his depth, and was in love with him.

‘And when I say in love,’ Walker said, ‘I mean unholy intensity. These two could’ve sat down with Romeo and Juliet and held their heads up. You can’t talk to Mike about it, or at least you couldn’t, for years. Even now you’ve got to pick your moment and watch your tone.’

The young lovers were in the habit of sneaking out late at night for erotic trysts in a nearby woods. One such night, in the summer of 1980, they were joined by an uninvited guest. A vampire.

‘It was one of those lousy synchronicities,’ Walker said. ‘Up until then they’d fooled around, but they’d never actually fucked. That night, for the first time, under a big oak tree, they went all the way. It changed Mike for ever.’ Walker shook his head, as in sad amazement. ‘I guess there are only a handful of first times like that per millennium,’ he said. ‘Everyone else’s seems to be a horror story. Or a comedy.’ He gave me a quick look.

‘Horror-comedy,’ I said, thinking in spite of the lingering disturbance of my first time, when I was sixteen, with Luke Peters in the dunes at a Rehoboth beach party. Everything was going okay until a breeze blew a torn garbage bag onto his bare ass and he got the fright of his life, and I couldn’t stop laughing, then had to crawl away and throw up because the evening’s booze and weed had caught up with me.

‘You were lucky,’ Walker said. ‘Mine was straight horror. Anyway, as far as Mike was concerned that was it: this was the girl he was going to spend the rest of his life with. It’s a Russian thing, that epic certainty. Americans aren’t built for it.’

Blissfully razed, sensually reinvented, the young Konstantinov had walked a few paces off to empty his bladder. When he came back, he saw a strange sight. Daria seemed to be asleep, but with her back arched and her head several inches off the ground. Her arms were limp. It was as if an invisible magician was halfway through levitating her. For a moment Konstantinov stood, uncomprehending. Then he perceived the large white hand at the base of her neck, and cried out – at which the vampire looked up, and the visual puzzle solved itself. The creature – a mature male, dark-haired, long-bodied – was hanging upside down from the lowest bough, one hand under Daria’s back, the other under her neck. It must have been in the tree the whole time, watching them. It stared at Konstantinov for a few moments, then raised Daria further off the ground and returned its teeth to her throat.

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