Talulla Rising Page 72

‘I was just telling her,’ Madeline said. ‘We’ll help her get her little boy back. Fergus and Trish are up for it. Although – ’ to me, with exaggerated disdain – ‘Fergus will want to talk money. You’ll help, won’t you, Luce?’

Lucy’s eyes met mine. I saw what she wanted me to see, that she didn’t want anything taken for granted, that she hadn’t accepted this yet, that she’d done what she’d done last night for the money because she needed to buy space and time, that she didn’t have Madeline’s desperation, that there was a connection but it would only take us so far.

‘It’s no one’s responsibility but mine,’ I said. (Yes, I know. I understand.) ‘But I’ll take whatever help I can get. I don’t expect anything. You’ve all been so kind to me already.’

Zoë, on her back in my lap, opened her eyes. My love went to her again, with hopeless panic because it knew it would have to fall away. It occurred to me, as it fell away (like the disintegrating tail-end of a Fourth of July skyrocket), that I’d never seen her brother in human form. If you showed me his picture I wouldn’t know who he was.

Trish came bounding down the stairs. She’d changed into tight black jeans and a mohair sweater almost exactly the green of her eyes. Bare white feet, toenails painted cerise. She looked like she’d slept for a week and woken completely renewed.

‘You lot on the vodka already?’ she said. ‘Where’s mine?’


Lymington is a Georgian market town and sailing resort on the Hampshire coast. Immediately south, the Solent strait separates England from the Isle of Wight. To the north is the New Forest, a hundred and forty-five square miles of ancient heath and woodland. Southampton and Portsmouth lie to the east, and to the west is Keyhaven Marsh, a four-mile nature reserve ending at a long shingle promontory known as Hurst Spit. The house Konstantinov had secured was at the very edge of the town, just where the saltgrassed marsh began, a detached, five-bedroomed property, high-ceilinged, wood-floored, draughty, chipped, scuffed and generally knocked about by decades of vacationing families.

The crooked doctor, Budarin, was a small Russian in his late forties, dark-haired but severely balding, with surprised pale blue eyes and a ridiculously cherubic little mouth. A functioning alcoholic. Konstantinov had known him for years. He didn’t ask me a single question. In fact he barely spoke at all, and when he did it was in Russian. As requested he drew a pint of blood each from Konstantinov, Cloquet, Walker, me (kept marked and separate) and, when I threw another three hundred his way, himself, though some joyless joke about its quality passed between him and his countryman. He was staying at a hotel in nearby Keyhaven, and, courtesy of our retainer, would be ‘on call’ indefinitely. He could get us more blood, but it would take forty-eight hours and ten grand. I told him to do whatever was necessary.

Madeline and Lucy had come with us. Trish had gone back to London to take her motorcycle test. For her the rescue mission pay-day was going to finance a year’s travelling: South East Asia through spring, then the US and South America in summer and fall. Fergus’s plans were uncertain, but Madeline was confident we could get him at short notice. Devaz had gone AWOL.

‘Give me Mia’s number, hon, so I can tell her where you are.’

Caleb was on a camping cot in the cellar. I’d given him a quarter-pint of Cloquet’s blood. Just enough to haul him into woozy consciousness. ‘I have a phone right here. You can talk to her.’ I moved his hot hair off his forehead, watched his eyes swim-up to focus. Lousy instinct told me he was sufficiently reduced to want his mother. Weeks of sickness and isolation and degradation and pain. He was seventeen. Seventeen was nothing. ‘You just tell her you’re okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll tell her where we are and she can come get you.’ His face dramatised a brief inner struggle. A dark pink tear crept out of his left eye. Then he gave me the number.

I let him talk to her for a minute – a slurred and confused narrative of our time incarcerated – then commandeered the phone and hurried back upstairs to the big lounge at the front of the house. The lights were off. It was dark out, but I could still see the long front lawn, the hedge, the fifty yards of saltgrass down to the water’s edge, where Lucy had gone, warmly wrapped, frowning, for a walk. Yellow boat-lights twinkled on the Solent. I could hear Madeline talking softly to Zoë in the kitchen. Something spicy for the humans was simmering on the stove: Cloquet’s handiwork. The phone was hot and heavy in my hand. Lucky I’d had all these months to get used to monstrosity.


‘Yes, who is this?’ Very slight Russian accent. Calm as a frozen lake.

‘My name is Talulla Demetriou. You need to listen very carefully.’

‘Where’s Caleb?’

‘Shut up and listen to me or you’ll never see your son again.’

Silence. Immediate recalibration. No hysterics. She was used to things not being the way they first appeared. I stared out of the window, aware of the room’s normally shapeless sentience suddenly gathered tight. I gave her the instructions: She would find out where the Disciples were. She would join them. She would help us get in and get my son and Natasha out. Then her son would be returned to her. She listened without uttering a sound. Konstantinov appeared in the doorway.

‘What makes you think I’ll be able to find them?’ she said, when I’d finished and, like an idiot, asked: Are you still there?

‘Because your son’s life is at stake.’

‘Put Caleb back on.’

‘No, that’s all for now. You know he’s alive. We have blood. He’ll be comfortable and cared for, I promise you. I have absolutely no desire to harm him. But understand: there’s nothing I won’t do to get my child back. You fuck with me and I’ll make it very bad for him. Is that clear?’

A pause. ‘If you’re going to talk like that,’ she said, ‘try not to make it sound like such hard work.’

I had a vivid image of her from Jake’s journal: the fine-cut blonde woman dressed in black. White face, blood-covered mouth, blue eyes. Legs that would’ve been at home in an ad for quality nylons. Thank you, Jacob Marlowe.

‘It doesn’t help you to make me your enemy,’ I said.

‘You’re holding my son prisoner. You’re already my enemy.’

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