Talulla Rising Page 74

‘You should eat something,’ I said. These things you say that you know are useless and yet not completely because their use is to be there when not saying anything is unbearable.

‘Did she go for it?’ he asked.

Mia Tourisheva, he meant. This was an option. Discuss the objectives, the plans, the practicalities.

‘She seems to have.’

‘You know Natasha’s probably dead.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘When was the last time they sent Mike anything? The novelty’s worn off.’

It hadn’t occurred to me. But now that I thought of it there was an occasional wideness to Konstantinov’s eye that said it had occurred to him. It had occurred to him, yes, but he was going to proceed as if it hadn’t. I didn’t see him surviving it if she was dead. He didn’t have Walker’s talent for staying alive on fascination with his own deformity. Maybe Walker didn’t either, any more.

‘It won’t matter,’ he said. ‘He won’t accept it until he’s seen her with his own eyes. And that’ll be the end of him.’

The bed was a third watchful presence with us. Is that good? Oh God, yes. Yes, it is. The memories of the two of us together were like children he’d been forced to disown. I got to my feet and moved towards him. He didn’t object. I straddled him in his chair and put my arms around him, drew him close. He let me. As an experiment on himself. To see if anything was left, viable. I held him tighter, willing him back. Tiny, faint neural impulses... resulting in nothing. Which meant that in a matter of seconds my holding him was ugly. I got off him. The loss of his body heat was a peculiar distinct bereavement. Downstairs I could hear Cloquet setting plates and cutlery for himself and Konstantinov. Someone uncorked a bottle. Zoë made a single melodious noise of surprise, then went quiet. I wondered if Walker would stay, once he was well enough to travel, and if he left, where he would go. Nowhere would be right for him. He’d have to keep moving. Never stay long enough for anyone – especially himself – to start asking the questions that mattered.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. He looked at me, but as if I was an image on a screen, something broadcast to him from light-years away. Remarkable what they could do with technology, nowadays. It disgusted me, the brokenness between us, that there was nothing I could do. Or rather that there was something I could do, but daren’t. ‘I’m sorry,’ I repeated – at exactly the moment he reached for the bottle and his chair ticked, loudly, and the slight clash of the synchronicity snapped something and I turned and walked out of the room.

In the front hall I found Konstantinov and Budarin speaking together in Russian.

‘Either way we’re going to need personnel and weapons,’ Konstantinov said to me, switching to English. ‘Alexi might be able to help.’

‘Either way’ referred to the intractable logistics. If Mia located the Disciples there were two possible scenarios. One was that we went in immediately, as a squad of humans. The other was that we waited till the night of the ritual – full moon, winter solstice, lunar eclipse – and went in as werewolves. If we went in as humans we could go in in daylight, which, obviously, would eliminate the problem of dealing with the vamps. On the other hand we’d be laughable opposition to any half-decent guard of familiars. Only Konstantinov and Walker had combat skills, and Walker was fragile. But if we waited till full moon (making the nauseous assumption that Konstantinov and I could wait, could bear waiting once we knew where they were) to go in at full lupine strength, we’d have to go in after moonrise (ergo after sundown), which would mean God only knew how many vampires to deal with. And the window would be small. Moonrise was 21.03. Eclipse was maximal at 23.14. Two hours to gamble with my son’s life. Madeline, I knew, had been picturing a re-run of the assault on Murdoch’s place in Berkshire, a free-for-all pushover fuck-and-feed fest. All of them had, with the exception of Lucy, who in any case had subtly made it known she didn’t consider herself committed to anything. Either way, as Konstantinov said, we were going to need help.

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Get whoever you can.’

‘These are not good men, you understand?’ Budarin said. ‘These are not soldiers.’

‘I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done. If they’ll fight for us they’re hired.’ I thought of Delilah Snow, for the first time in what felt like years, and heard myself laughing and saying, Who the fuck am I to care?, though I didn’t, in fact, laugh or say that out loud.

‘Very well,’ Budarin said. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

For the second time since Alaska I entered the hell of waiting.

Nothing helped. There sat the cellphone. There yawned around it the whole universe for me to reach out into looking for some way to make what I wanted to happen happen. You get up, walk from one room to another, sit down. Eight seconds have passed. Nothing’s changed. You can’t believe you have the reservoir to cope with thousands more seconds, hours, days. Every moment you enact the koan of bearing the unbearable.

On day five of this, Konstantinov said: You’re going to have to raise the incentive.

I said: Not yet.

Things went on in the background. New papers for Lorcan arrived from Kovatch. Lucy returned to London and handed in her notice, then went missing for a few days, then turned up back at the Lymington house, then went again. Trish came down on her new motorcycle (with word from Fergus that he was ‘professionally available’ when needed) but took off for Cornwall after only a day. Madeline went back to her flat in West London. Libido made all of us claustrophobic, but between her and me it was acute. We both knew if she stayed there was a good chance something would happen – which, while it might have thrilled Walker in his old life, would’ve been a misery to him in his new one. He kept to his room, though sometimes he walked by the Solent at night. I missed him so much it made me angry with him. Then angry with myself because I should never have started it in the first place. I thought of reneging and Turning him. Sure it would make him hate me, eventually, but at least I’d have him now. I don’t know what stopped me doing it. Possibly nothing more than the irrational conviction that in this brittle hiatus doing anything I didn’t have to would be dangerous, a provocation to the God who wasn’t there. Budarin kept the blood coming (no one knew from where and no one asked) and with it I kept Caleb weak but comfortable. He was allowed to talk with Mia Tourisheva just long enough to establish he was alive and unharmed. He stopped speaking to me when I went down to bring him the Camels (and eventually a TV/DVD, a stack of movies Cloquet picked up in town) until boredom drove him to start again. Konstantinov and Budarin were in and out. I met the guys they’d hired, ropey-looking men – three Russians, one Nigerian – with economic vocabularies and a physical self-containment that could have been instilled by an elite military training but intuition told me had been instilled by prison. I didn’t care.

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