Talulla Rising Page 33

‘He could’ve run,’ Walker said. ‘She was dead anyway. Anyone else would’ve run. I would have.’

Konstantinov didn’t. He bent, searched the ground, picked up in his left hand what he knew was an inadequate bit of dead wood, and advanced on the creature.

‘He had a pencil in the other hand,’ Walker said. ‘In his jacket pocket, hidden. That’s Mikhail. A pencil. He’s going to feint with the deadwood in his left and punch this pencil in as hard as he can with his right. I asked him why he didn’t run. You know what he said?’


‘He said: “Have you ever been in love?”’

We passed Kew Bridge station, and in a moment were crossing the bridge itself. Londoners were under umbrellas, or hurrying, shoulders hunched, faces crimped, or steaming in shop doorways, talking on cellphones. The human world I wasn’t entitled to any more but couldn’t ditch. Have you ever been in love? The words had softly alarmed both of us, in the van’s little fan-heated space. I had a piercing feeling of love moving through history like a thin glimmering waterway. Suddenly in the middle of things you suffered these poignancies, found yourself blinking or swallowing or having to look the other way.

‘According to Mike,’ Walker said, ‘the vampire was surprised, maybe even a little moved. He put the girl’s body down and dropped to the ground. Mike was five feet away. He could smell Daria’s blood. He said that was the first time he realised blood had a smell, you know?’

Walker had forgotten what I was again. I didn’t answer. Then he remembered. Yes, she knows about the smell of blood. Still, there was part of him that didn’t care, that had gone on ahead and was waiting for the rest of him to catch up. If it ever did there was no telling what shape his life might take. I imagined my mother saying: Have him, Lulu. Do you know how few men there are worth having? I imagined the feel of his hard waist between my hands, the sweet shameless sensation of wrapping my legs around him, around all the delicious complications...

Konstantinov never got to find out if his pencil plan would’ve worked. Something disturbed the air very close to his head. Simultaneously, he saw the vampire jerk, as if someone had jabbed him with a cattle prod. At that moment the moon slipped clear of the clouds and he saw the wooden shaft – thicker than an archer’s arrow – stuck in the monster’s chest. A man’s voice said, in Moscow Russian: ‘For Christ’s sake, kid, I nearly took your fucking head off. Why didn’t you run?’

‘And the rest,’ Walker said, ‘is history.’ The vampire’s killer was a member of the Hunt’s Soviet division. He and his partner had been trailing the booch for a week. Mikhail would’ve left with them there and then, but they wouldn’t let him. It took him two years to track the organisation down and get in, but once he’s set his mind on something...’

Since then, for thirty years, Walker stressed, Konstantinov had refused to get close to a woman – until twelve months ago, when he’d met Natasha. ‘Who knows?’ Walker said. ‘Maybe there was a specific enormous amount of not loving anyone he’d set himself to do, a penance he had to complete. I think he didn’t even know himself until he met her. But when he did meet her he reacted as if she’d been sent to him by God.’

And since God was never satisfied, Konstantinov had lost her to the Undead, too.

‘It’s my fault,’ Walker said, as the Thames reappeared on our left. ‘He was only two verified kills away from a serious bonus, and the money would’ve been a big help to him and Natasha. They were going to buy a little bar in Croatia or Turkey or Greece. He wanted to get out as soon as he met her, but I talked him into holding out for the bonus.’

Which was my cue to tell him it wasn’t his fault, but my mind had gone back to someone walked over my grave. I still couldn’t pin it down, not even whether I’d been afraid. The only thing I knew for sure was that Zoë had felt it too.

‘The vampire body back at Merryn’s,’ I said. ‘You said it was one of Jacqueline’s priests. What’s the story there? You think one of Merryn’s goons killed it?’

‘Well, it was decapitated, so I’m guessing not. There wasn’t anything there it could’ve been decapitated with, as far as I could see.’

‘So... ?’

‘I don’t know. Maybe there was someone else there we don’t know about. I’m waiting for a call from my WOCOP guys. They’ll have discovered it by now. They’re slow, but they get there eventually.’

We drove back to the parking lot under the Hammersmith mall. The place smelled of freezing concrete and aluminum ducts and exhaust fumes. Now it had come to getting out of the car I didn’t want to. The thought of the journey back to the hotel made me feel exposed. The city’s spaces would be full of abrasive surveillance. I wondered what Walker would do if I kissed him. Amongst other things he’d think of all the human flesh and blood my other mouth had chewed-up and swallowed.

‘You okay?’ he said.

No, I’m not. I’m lonely and exhausted and no kind of mother and on top of all that migrained with fucking idiotic desire.

‘I’m fine,’ I said, and opened the passenger door.

At which moment a silencered bullet went with an unmistakable tch clean through its window and just past the side of my head.


Walker yanked me towards him and slammed the vehicle into gear. ‘Stay low,’ he said, very calmly. A second bullet – daintily audible despite the gunned engine and screeching tyres – pierced the windshield and buried itself in the back seat. Silver? Zoë’s head had just missed the stick-shift. I swivelled quickly to get myself between her and the dashboard as the van lurched and swerved out of its bay, passenger door still open.

‘Watch her head,’ Walker said. There were other tyres squealing somewhere behind us. The passenger door smacked a concrete pillar and slammed shut. Its window shattered – as if it had just remembered what, being glass, it was supposed to do. My face was in Walker’s lap. Khakis with a washed smell that reminded me of the laundry room in the basement of the 11th Street brownstone – this and the connotation of fellatio, since even in these moments the connections are the connections, the brain says Don’t ask me I just work here. Zoë, startled by the slam and crash and live to my shot-up heart rate, started crying. Which added the precise minor torture of not being able to comfort her properly.

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