Talulla Rising Page 46

‘What if you don’t come back?’

‘I’ll come back, I promise.’

‘You can’t promise.’

‘No. I can’t. I’m sorry.’

It was two a.m., raining heavily, audibly. The first flight Walker could get us on left in three and a half hours. I was meeting him at Heathrow. I’d wire-transferred extra funds to Cloquet’s account and written a letter to my dad Cloquet would have to hand deliver if I was killed. The will was with the Manhattan lawyer who’d handled my divorce. I’d thought of writing a letter to Zoë (to both of them, since it was theoretically possible Lorcan would survive even if I didn’t) but I couldn’t do it. It felt bogus, something for me disguised as something for them. Better to be a clean mystery. Better to leave them free to imagine the mother they would have wanted. As they’d have to imagine their father.

I gave Cloquet Madeline’s number.

‘You’re not serious?’ he said.

‘If they survive they’re going to need their own kind. I know you’ll look after them, but you’ll need help. Madeline’s not a bad person. Trust me, I know. Plus, you know... who knows, right? She could be good for you.’

‘This is—’

‘This is necessary. Don’t argue. Now you’re sure you know what you’re doing with the formula?’

I’d packed, if you could call it that. IDs, cash, cards, Lorcan’s birth certificate, a toothbrush, three changes of underwear. Jake’s last journal. I wanted not to be ready until the car came. I wanted to have to leave in a hurry and not have to think of anything to say. I wanted not to be able to hold Zoë for more than a moment.

To kill time I went into the en suite and put on some make-up. Flossed. Rinsed my mouth with toothpaste. Sat on the toilet for what seemed a long time after I’d peed. Found myself taking in the bathroom’s details they way you would if it was your last few seconds before being executed. The vast mathematical silence was here, in the white porcelain and delighted halogens. Again I imagined moving through the field of long dry grass with no weapons in my hands – and my hands in reality felt as if half their mass had gone. I bent over the toilet, convinced I was going to throw up. Nothing happened. I straightened, trembling.

The room phone rang.

‘Car’s here,’ Cloquet called.

He had Zoë in his arms when I came out of the bathroom. I took her, quickly, held her, looked at her. Felt everything I wasn’t entitled to like a contained quivering tidal wave. Her face was hot from a nap, lined on one cheek where a crease had pressed. She went cross-eyed focusing on me. Quick, before the falling away into nothingness, quick, quick. I kissed her, smelled her head, held my face against hers for a moment, began inwardly I’m sorry, angel, sorry for everything – then stopped. It rolled darkness down over the winking lights of her future. It softened Pharaoh’s heart and I thought I can’t leave her which immediately sent me into the sickening fall away from her because who was I? Who was I? When I put her back in the bassinet the transfer of her weight from me pulled at my insides, a gentle evisceration. Turn away right now or you’ll never be able to leave. Right now. Right now.

Cloquet was suddenly full of realities, all his denial and postponement mechanisms failing. His face was frank with fear. I hugged him, quickly, mumbled ‘Don’t say anything.’ His arms came up around me. I knew if I let him establish a proper embrace it would be a long labour to extricate myself. ‘I have to go,’ I said, pulling away. I grabbed my backpack, crossed the suite and opened the door. I imagined my mother standing behind me like a talisman saying, quietly: Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

So I didn’t.


At Falconara we picked up a Land Rover and a Mercedes saloon. To Walker’s visible relief there were weapons in the trunk of the SUV: four pistols with a clip each and two Lancaster Tactical AK-47s with one thirty-round magazine apiece. Which still left one person unarmed. With Walker and Konstantinov were three other ex-WOCOP agents – Hudd, Carney and Pavlov (all on Murdoch’s death-list) – none of whom would countenance going in without hardware. ‘I guess that means I get the prize,’ Walker said. ‘Presumably no one will object if I bring up the rear, with my lethal kung-fu skills?’

Hudd was in his early thirties, squat, demonic, muscled, with a shaven head and a black goatee. Carney was younger, tall and thin, with a blond crew-cut and a gentle blue-eyed face. Put him in half-mast jeans and a check shirt and a straw hat and he’d be the likeable village idiot. The third renegade, Pavlov, was mid-forties, with straight, shoulder-length greying red hair and a placid, broad-cheekboned face. Narrow hazel eyes full of such amused nihilism that he couldn’t possibly be here for anything other than money. Don’t get ahead of yourself, I kept telling myself, but I had love for them, such a wealth of warmth for them piling up, ready, in case they were the men who helped me get my son back.

We left the airport just after noon local time and headed southwest, Walker, Konstantinov (driving) and me in the Mercedes, the others in the Land-Rover. It was cold. Blue sky and shreds of white cloud. Konstantinov had a calmness and precision of movement that spoke of terrible potential.

‘It’s not far,’ Walker said to me. ‘You should have another look at the visuals.’

These were a half-dozen satellite images from Google maps showing the ruined house and grounds, an enormous square stone building with a castellated roof and broken turret in seven untended acres backed by a low hill and edged at its southern boundary by a narrow belt of deciduous woodland. There were three outbuildings in various states of collapse, and a small overgrown orchard maybe twenty metres from the eastern side of the main house. That was as close as we’d be able get before breaking cover. ‘We’ve got no silencers,’ Walker had said. ‘So once we start shooting we better know what we’re doing.’ We did have, thank God, communications kit. Believe it or not you’re allowed to take walkie-talkies or transceivers on commercial airlines as long as you don’t use them on board, so each of us was equipped with a mic’d headset. The plan was that Walker and Hudd would go ahead to scope the place and make sure we weren’t facing more goons than we’d been warned of. Although the fact is, Walker had confided to me, it isn’t going to make any difference to Mike. One way or another he’s going in. (Which means I’m going in, he didn’t have to add.) After that it was simply a case of eliminating the familiars, locating the captives and bringing them out. Simply a case of, Walker had repeated. That’s my idiom of choice for these things. No point being negative. An hour into the flight I’d wanted to make love to him. Wulf, naturally, kept up its come-rain-or-come-shine demand, mouth open, tongue lolling, eyes glinting with honest filth, but the big aching pressure came from my human, from my girl, who’d only just woken up to the nearness of death and felt a great tenderness for herself and her body and all the rich finiteness that would be lost. She wanted, one last time, to get as close to another human being as it was possible to get. But contrary to what the movies say, it’s not so easy to have sex on a plane. For one thing the plane was tiny. The cabin crew’s work station was practically in the bathroom. For another there was a permanent line of people waiting to use it. I sat there next to him not saying anything about it and feeling increasingly absurd and desperate and ultimately, since it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen, crushed. The flight’s other reality slap was that I’d given no thought to having suddenly stopped breastfeeding. By the time what would’ve been Zoë’s third consecutive feed had come and gone the unsuckled milk had started a knifey protest. Look, I know we’re on a mission – but would you mind if we tried to find somewhere that sells breast-pumps when we land? I did what I could to express a little manually in the bathroom, dropped a couple of ibuprofen and told myself it wouldn’t be long before I’d need the milk for Lorcan.

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