Talulla Rising Page 49

Little one goes missing.

Did he know where the Disciples were?

I could feel what it was costing Walker to keep still, the ache for Hoyle; the heart that wanted to scream and the will that knew it would be a defeat if it did, useless to the man on the floor. Walker’s logical working-out was all but audible to me: Hoyle had suffered because he was Walker’s mole. But Walker hadn’t forced Hoyle. Hoyle knew the risks. Any tenderness that passed between them now would be an exquisite satisfaction to their enemy. Hoyle would have agreed, if he hadn’t been incapable of speech. Therefore Walker slapped his heart down and instead turned to me and said: ‘If you saw his wife you’d be amazed. She’s really pretty. Not to mention a sorceress with her index finger.’

Murdoch (Walker’s jibe explained) looked at him for a moment, smiling. Said nothing. Then to one of his team: ‘Mr Tunner, let’s get these people secured and on their way.’

Several Hunters equipped with hand- and leg-cuffs moved forward. Hudd leaped at one of them and was immediately shot in the hip. Carney dropped his redundant pistol and allowed himself to be secured. Three hunters approached Konstantinov. ‘Easy way or hard way, Mike?’ one of them said. ‘Up to you.’ Then before Konstantinov answered shot him in the leg with a tranquiliser dart. Konstantinov slumped to his knees, dropped his pistol. His dark face was slack. With an enormous mesmerising effort he got back onto one knee, got his right foot underneath him, pawed the air once, looking for a hold... then keeled over.

Murdoch returned to Hoyle. I could feel in Walker a kind of exhaustion because he knew how far away from certain things Murdoch had travelled, how pointless it was to hope for compassion.

I wanted Hoyle to be unconscious, but he wasn’t. He couldn’t move, but he was aware of the man standing over him. Feelings I wasn’t entitled to flickered.

Murdoch was at a familiar dead-end of irritation. It was always irritating, eventually, that you could find out exactly how much violence a body could absorb before it died. Every body was initially fascinating and unique. Every body was initially the body of a person. As in pornography. But like pornography’s rituals violence wore through the uniqueness so quickly. Soon the person was gone and all that was left was dumb finite flesh. And the dumbness and finiteness was a dead-end, because your will was infinite and impossible to satisfy. Your will needed the person to last for ever.

(Whereas for the werewolf... What? The person did last for ever? Certainly my victims never stopped being people. Certainly they lived on in me. Certainly the person was never separable from the flesh. Here was a new room in the house of many absurd mansions: I read the books, Murdoch burned them. I was erotica, he was porn. Jake would have been proud of me.)

Murdoch lifted his boot and stomped as hard as he could on Hoyle’s head. Hoyle’s eyelids fluttered. Blood ran from his mouth, exactly as the juice from a can of cherries I once pointlessly punctured with Lauren’s penknife. Murdoch swung his foot back and kicked Hoyle in the face. Hoyle’s head snapped back and a tooth flew out. Murdoch stood for a moment with his thin mouth closed, breathing through his nose. Then he unslung the machine gun and took hold of it by the barrel. He positioned himself carefully, swung the weapon up over his shoulder, then brought it down with all his force on Hoyle’s skull.

He did this repeatedly for perhaps a minute, fifteen or twenty blows, then stopped.

Hoyle was dead, of course. His left eye was on the floor and his brain was half out. A halo of dark blood had formed around what was left of his head. There was a Monty Python drawing it reminded me of, one of Terry Gilliam’s surreally compelling animations. Murdoch poked at the eyeball with his toe. There was a mass of silent energy in the men around us. Murdoch looked at Walker, emptily, for a few moments. It seemed one of them must say something, but neither did. I had a profound sense of all the time and energy I’d spent telling myself not to believe but believing anyway that this was going to bring me to my son. All that time and energy and belief poured into nothing, like trust into a traitor, like billions into a scam.

Then I felt a stinging sensation in my shoulder, and within five seconds everything went black.


I woke to the stink of vampires.

And disinfectant. Joined immediately by the memory of Murdoch’s bored face and Hoyle’s eye out on its optic nerve and Zoë’s hot fragile sleep-scented head when I kissed her goodbye.

I rolled over and vomited.

I was alone on the floor of a prison cell. Ten by twelve, bare concrete on all sides except one, which was a row of four-inch-diameter steel bars even wulf in all her glory wouldn’t be able to budge. A yellow bucket. A large plastic bottle of water. The hum of air-conditioning and the soundproofed feeling of being deep underground. A tired fluorescent buzzed, gave the light an irritating tremor.

Assume Walker’s dead.

The thought was there like a standing stone with me in the cell. I admitted it was there, but that was all. The thought was there and that was all. That was all I had to concede.

For a while I could do nothing but lie curled on my side with my arms wrapped around myself, breathing, humbled. It was like my time on the floor of the safe-deposit cubicle at Coralton-Verne. Every time I told myself, Right, get up, stupid, I found I couldn’t. If it hadn’t been for the smell tormenting me I might have dropped back into sleep.

Eventually, by degrees, I sat up. Dehydration banged in my head. Unsuckled milk stabbed my breasts. Blocked ducts, abscesses, cancer. Hardly mattered now. My neck was numb from where the tranquiliser had gone in. I crawled with what felt like audibly tearing muscles to the water bottle, found I just had the strength to unscrew the cap, then drank, all the while thinking, don’t drink a lot, you don’t know when you’ll get more, but too thirsty to take my own advice. When I lowered the bottle it was half empty.

I got, via a series of wobbling false starts and failures, to my feet. Let the blood in my limbs loosen. My backpack was gone. I stepped up to the bars and looked out.

There were six cells, three either side of a short corridor which was sealed by a bank vault door at each end. Card-swipe entry. A line of CCTV cameras along the corridor ceiling, one trained on each cell. My cell was the middle of the three. I couldn’t see if the ones on my left and right were occupied, but in the cell opposite me was a boy of maybe eleven or twelve, skeletally thin, lying in the foetal position on the floor with his arms wrapped around himself, staring at me. He had a skullish face, large green eyes and tangled white-blond hair. All he had on was a pair of dirty white Adidas sweatpants. His circulatory system showed through his skin. He looked like a thing of porcelain webbed with fractures.

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