Talulla Rising Page 48


Thirty feet across from me a doorway opened into the next room. Walker appeared in it, beckoned me to come ahead. The second room was bigger than the first. Daylight pencilled through several large holes in the brickwork. A precarious stone staircase ran along one wall to the upper floors. Konstantinov, Hudd and Carney were up there, going room by room. The soccer-shirted goon lay dead in the open front doorway. A second body lay by the stairs, and a third was visible, lying face-down in the adjoining chamber.

‘Through here,’ Walker said.

I followed him into what might once have been the house’s kitchen, where Pavlov stood guard at a doorway from which more stone stairs led down to a basement.

‘We wait for the upstairs clearance,’ Walker said.

It was a peculiar few minutes. There was nothing to say. The house, since it had no choice, started offering us its ruined details: a sunlit patch of yellowy green lichen; bits of rotten wood; gothic cobwebs; the smells of damp stone and cat piss and mould. As with strangers waiting for an elevator every second increased the absurdity. Then Konstantinov came through the doorway, followed by Carney and Hudd. The rooms upstairs were empty.

‘Okay, so what I’m thinking here is—’

Konstantinov wasn’t waiting. He went past Walker without a word and started down the stairs.

‘Pav, take point here,’ Walker said, then followed Konstantinov into the gloom. I went after him, with Hudd and Carney on my heels.

Cold air came up. The stairs were narrow, steep, mossed and damp, but the two men ahead and Hudd behind lit the way with torches. Fourteen steps. Buckling heat and an adrenal stink from the four human bodies. Wulf swelled and jabbed in the liminal zone under my skin. Memories of the kills popped and bloomed: the French widower’s cock on the floor like a king prawn in a puddle of blood; the Mexican pimp’s bare leg kicking, repeatedly, despite my arm rummaging elbow-deep under his ribs. Something was struggling to come forward in my mind, had been trying to form while we’d waited by the door at the top of the stairs.

‘Mikhail!’ Walker hissed. ‘Jesus, slow down.’

Konstantinov had moved quickly away from the steps and was opening the darkness section by section with his torch. The space underground appeared to occupy half the house’s footprint. Undressed stone walls and floor, what looked like the remnants of broken crates and bottles, rusted oil cans, shelves hanging, more fantastic cobwebs.

‘Okay, check it,’ Walker said. ‘Easy does it, gentlemen. Miss D, stay close. Pavlov, you good up there?’

‘Good,’ Pavlov answered. ‘Take your time.’

The team moved around the cellar’s perimeter, guns and torches trained. Konstantinov’s silent furious energies were palpable through the darkness. The rest of us had dropped away for him: he was alone in the inscrutable universe.

For as long as it took to cover the ground we kept up a token suspension of judgement, but no one was really in any doubt: there was nothing down here.

Konstantinov was on all-fours searching the floor – for a trapdoor or hidden way to a lower level. Out of awkwardness Carney and Hudd joined him. The thing that had been struggling to come forward in my mind got through, with a strange inner sensation of wulf suddenly falling, clawing space. I couldn’t believe it had taken this long. ‘Walker,’ I said. ‘If he was here I would have felt him by now.’


‘My son. And the vampires. They’re not here. There’s no smell.’

Konstantinov’s method was unravelling. He got up off the floor and began running his hands over the nearest section of wall.

‘Mike?’ Walker said. ‘Something’s not right here.’

Konstantinov ignored him.

‘Pavlov,’ Walker said. ‘Anything your end?’

No reply.

‘Pavlov, are you reading me?’


Carney and Hudd leaped to their feet, weapons readied. Konstantinov rested his head against the wall. The torch in his hand made a pointless fierce ellipse of light on the wet stone.

‘Here,’ I said to Walker, giving him the pistol. ‘You might as well have this. You need it more than I do.’

At the top of the stairs we found Pavlov unconscious with a tiny dart in his neck. The land around the house was attentive again. Wulf in me was muddled and fiery, as if a burn had swollen its eyes shut. My human had to re-establish itself, haul control back to the inferior system.

‘Fuck,’ Walker said. ‘We’re in troub—’

I don’t know what deployment reflex the four men were about to manifest, but I never got to find out, because at that moment a figure appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the next room, paused for a moment, attempted a step forward, then collapsed.


It was a man and he was naked. He was also, courtesy of what had happened to him, barely recognisable as a man. It was hard to understand how he’d been on his feet. In the mess of his injuries – the facial swellings like a cluster of grotesque fruits, the bruises psychedelically curdling yellow and puce – two details registered: that the ulna of his left arm was sticking out of the skin just above the wrist, and that his penis was covered in what looked like venereal sores but which the context made clear were cigarette burns.

‘Oh, no,’ Walker said, quietly.

‘Who is it?’ I asked.

‘It’s Hoyle.’

He took a step towards the collapsed man. As he moved, the light altered slightly and everyone turned to the gap in the kitchen wall, where the goon in the blue soccer shirt and leather jacket stood, smiling. Walker, Carney and Hudd all fired – but the guy just stood there, waving, I thought, until I saw he was holding in his hand the torn remains of a small plastic pouch: formerly, it was now obvious, filled with blood. Animal blood. Stage blood. Either way not his blood.

‘The beauty of you relying on us for guns,’ a voice said, ‘is that it leaves us at liberty to load them with blanks.’

We all turned again.

Standing above Hoyle was a tall man in his mid-forties dressed in black Hunt fatigues and carrying a machine gun. He had close-cropped grey hair and blue eyes that seemed to have an extra iris. A slight frown you knew was perpetual gave him a bald eagle’s look of dignified madness. I felt Walker’s energy dip like a plane in an air pocket.

At least two dozen fully-armed members of the WOCOP Hunt filed into the building, some through the gap in the wall, others in the bald eagle’s wake as he stepped over the man on the floor and approached us. An odour of clean canvas and leather and medicinal soap preceded him. ‘I thought I’d bring Hoyle along,’ he said to Walker. ‘So you could see what you’d got him into. It’s been a long night for us all.’ He turned to me. ‘Miss Demetriou,’ he said. ‘You must be regretting getting mixed up with these men. Not that I blame you. Little one goes missing, a woman gets desperate. You take help where you can find it. That’s understandable.’

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