Talulla Rising Page 47

Along with the satellite images of the house was a Xeroxed portrait of Konstantinov’s wife, Natasha. All the guys have a copy, Walker said, so no one shoots her by mistake. The picture showed her looking straight into camera, not smiling, a slim-faced woman with dark hair pulled back and tied. No glamour, but black eyes there would be no deceiving. She sees right through you, people would say. She looked at least fifteen years younger than Konstantinov, yet I could imagine the two of them together. Same intensity. No fear of death – especially now they had love. If she was in a room with Madeline nine out of ten men would ignore her. Konstantinov was the one out of ten for whom there would be no one else in the room.

‘Okay,’ Walker said. ‘This is it.’

We’d pulled over on a narrow, chalky road that ran along the side of a steep hill. Trees going up the hill on our right, open farmland going down on our left. Around a bend some seventy-five yards ahead, according to the map, the road ran past the entrance to Casa del Campanile. We’d follow Walker and Carney to the south side of the orchard and wait for their signal to proceed.

‘Obviously the vamps will be below ground,’ Walker said, once we’d grouped a little way under the trees. ‘So will the prisoners. They’ll have someone watching the kid, so however many familiars we make above ground we should assume at least one more and probably two in the basement. Everyone good?’ Silent tense collective affirmation, a diluted version of what I’d shared with the Alaskan wolves. Carney gave a slow thumbs-up, and for no reason, while I watched him make the gesture, everything caught up with me and gathered in my body: the lack of sleep, the flight, the foreign country, the nearness of my son, the realisation that this place – smelling of fallen leaves and cold stone and dead wood and drying grass – was where I might die. Exhaustion was there but wulf dismissed it. Not because its child was near, but because there was something to be stalked and killed. Transformation was eighteen days away, but the human in hunt mode had dragged the ghost animal hot and shivering to the surface. I could feel her in my fingernails and feet, backbone and scalp. I could feel her frustration at what she had to work with. But thanks to her all five senses had been violently upgraded. Gladness went through my limbs like fast-acting booze. Plus, the pain in my breasts subsided.

Walker looked at Konstantinov. ‘Not long now, Mike.’

Konstantinov said nothing.


We waited, me, Konstantinov, Carney and Pavlov, for what felt like a very long time at the broken fence where the wood met the orchard. Then Walker’s voice came through, quietly. ‘You guys reading?’

‘Roger,’ Konstantinov said. ‘Go ahead.’

‘Okay, we’ve got two goons, repeat, two goons visible, both armed with machine guns. First goon just inside the front entrance wearing a navy blue soccer shirt and black leather jacket. Second goon doing slow circuits of the roof, green sweatshirt, dark glasses, black woollen cap. Acknowledge.’

‘Got it.’

‘On my Go, come ahead slowly through the orchard. Keep low and move fast and you’ll get here before the roof watch is back on this side.’

‘Roger that. On your signal.’

It took us less than two minutes, and when we joined Walker and Hudd the roof goon still hadn’t reappeared. ‘We’ve got to get a closer look,’ Walker said. ‘This is a big house. There could be fifty guys in there.’

‘Intelligence says four,’ Konstantinov said, without emotion.

‘Mike, you know we only get one shot at this.’

‘We need to get closer,’ Hudd said. His bald head and bulging eyes and black goatee made him look like a chaotic deity. All he needed was to stick his tongue out, Maori haka-style. ‘Ninety percent of this place we can’t see. There’s three floors, for fuck’s sake.’

I knew what Walker was thinking: even if they got closer and discovered fifty guys, it wasn’t going to stop Konstantinov going in.

‘Wait here,’ Konstantinov said – and before anyone could argue he was out of the orchard, going at an extraordinary low sprint across the open ground to the side of the house.

‘Jesus Christ,’ Carney said, quietly.

After so much stealth Konstantinov looked appallingly visible. For the few seconds he was exposed it was as if the sun had turned up its dial, desperate for him to be seen. But he made it to the end of the building and got his back against the wall.

‘It’s not so bad,’ Pavlov whispered, covering his mic. ‘The front door guy can’t see him from this angle, and the roof guy won’t see him unless he comes to the very edge and looks straight down.’

There was a window space – no glass – six feet from the Russian. He edged towards it. Got upright. In tiny increments stole a look inside. Signalled back. Empty. He moved quickly past the window to the building’s rear corner. Paused. Slipped around it.

A minute passed. Two. Four. Five. Heat came off Walker’s flank next to mine. The Dorchester seemed weeks ago. For the first time since the kidnapping I had a sense of what pure relief it would be to have my son back – but wulf scotched it: it got in her way. She was impatient. The scents of the four bodies close to her tugged, prematurely, at the hunger.

Konstantinov reappeared at the edge of the rear corner. He held up three fingers. Walker said: ‘Pavlov, guy on the roof, now.’

Pavlov stood, raised the AK-47, fired a short burst that seemed to splinter the sky. The man on the roof fell backwards. We heard his weapon clatter. ‘Go!’ Walker said – and everyone, including me, moved. Konstantinov swung himself up through the window into the house. The long grass was a maddening soft impediment. Carney tripped, swore, got up, felt a spray of bullets go past him and hit the turf. He looked at me with a face of mild surprise, as if being shot at was the last thing he’d expected. The three-second dash stretched, distended, took a dreamy hour. Pistol shots sounded from inside the house. Walker leaped through the window. Carney and Pavlov went around the back of the building, Hudd took position at the opposite corner for a moment, then he too disappeared. Another two shots fired. Then silence. Suddenly there was the Italian countryside in complete peace again. Wulf chafed and writhed in its human traps, the inadequate arms and legs, the laughably labouring muscles. I hauled myself onto the window-ledge and dropped into the big empty room on the other side.

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