Talulla Rising Page 78

‘You still there?’ Madeline asked.

‘Something’s happened.’


‘I think Walker’s gone.’

‘Gone? What do you mean?’

‘Hang on a second.’

Konstantinov came out onto the verandah.

‘Listen,’ Madeline said. ‘I wasn—’

You always know a split second before. At all the big moments it’s as if, for the tiniest fragment of neural time, you realise your whole life’s been leading up to this.

A figure didn’t spring or leap but seemed to walk very rapidly out of the darkness to my left. I had time. I had mute leisure to notice he was dressed like a cat burglar in close-fitting black, balaclava’d and gloved, leisure to recognise his packed scent, leisure to realise I was no longer visible from the verandah and to wonder where Walker could’ve gone and what Madeline had been about to say – before the man in black smashed his fist into my face.

I felt my jaw break and my knees flood. My arms seemed to spend a long time softly churning nothing. Something jabbed me, hard, in my left thigh. I was aware of trying to hold onto the phone as the ground swung up. I tasted cool dust and heard the blood bang once in my head. Then what felt like a paving stone hit the back of my skull, and all my lights went out.


My first feeling, on opening my eyes, was relief: the hunger told me I hadn’t slept through transformation. It told me via wracking spasms and futile nausea, but still, it told me. Lorcan was alive, though there couldn’t (the hunger also told me) be more than three or four hours till moonrise.

That was the end of the good news.

I was lying on my back in a bolted-down cage in what I knew within seconds – the ribbed flanks and steel-flavoured cold – was a cargo trailer. My left ankle and left wrist were cuffed to one of the bars, my right mysteriously at liberty. Two brilliant storm lamps hung from hooks outside the cage. I could taste dried sweat on my lips.

‘Happy solstice,’ Murdoch said.

I struggled up, first onto my side, then with the aid of the bars into a sitting position. You give thanks for small things. I gave thanks that I was wearing jeans, not a skirt. People start trying to kill you, you stop wearing skirts. He moved into the storm lamps’ bleaching light and there was the height and the poise and the white crew-cut. He was still in the cat burglar get-up, minus the balaclava and gloves. He’d lost a little weight, but retained the facial expression of a calmly deranged hawk.

‘What do you want?’ I asked. My throat was sore. Dehydration was a dog doing the same shrill bark repeatedly in my head. Wulf, at the end of its patience, was trying to break the rules in my bones. But they were the moon’s rules, and by them my bones were condemned to hold their form. Since it was its departmental job a bit of my brain was racing through possibility flowcharts, Jake’s despised strings of ifs and thens, in what the rest of me knew was a pointless exercise. There was no way out. There was no way out because there was nothing Murdoch wanted. Or rather whatever it was he wanted necessarily entailed me having no way out. In spite of which, and aside from the redundant calculations, animal motherhood launched a giant dumb imperative: plead with him. Offer him money. Offer him anything.

‘Reinstatement,’ he said.

Please, please, please. Motherhood insisted there was some elusive tone that would do it, if only I could discover it. Idiocy at the cellular level. I pushed myself, quivering, to my feet. New sweat needled. Wulf breathed hot in my palms and breasts and scalp.

‘Do you remember our conversation about the relationship between sex and chaos?’ Murdoch asked.

Mentally I was going through the contents of my pockets. Nothing in the jeans, some euros, a tissue, a gum wrapper, fluff. The jacket? It was one I hadn’t worn much and didn’t particularly like, black canvas, a bit big across the shoulders. In fact it had only survived to Crete by never having been unpacked from the tote bag I’d been using since I left New York what felt like a decade ago. It had only made it out of the bag now because the island had turned out cold and it was the one heavy thing I’d brought. In any case I didn’t remember its pockets ever holding a penknife or a corkscrew or a hatpin or a screwdriver or anything that could conceivably serve as a weapon. I’d taken to carrying the Springfield in a shoulder holster, and had been packing it when he’d jumped me, but it had been removed, naturally, along with keys, watch, phone.

‘I’m sure you do remember it,’ Murdoch continued. ‘I said that sex was a rogue force. Let into that arena it would’ve meant distraction, conflict, insubordination. In a facility like that it’s not just an unaffordable luxury, it’s a potentially lethal virus.’

The moon was close. Astronomy was counting down via spheres and shadows to my son’s murder. All that time – vast bergs of it – since he was snatched, and now here we were down to the last melting lump, barely big enough to stand on. The death of a loved one brutally vivifies everything, Jake had written; here was my sickening preview of its truth, the violent still-hereness the world would inflict through its cars and vending machines and weather and TV ads, through my own stubborn body that would need its nails clipped and its bladder emptied and its itches scratched. The world betrayed the dead by continuing without them in it, and you, full of shamefully reliable life, collaborated.

‘But we’re not at that facility any more,’ Murdoch said. The sound of his own voice fascinated him because no matter what he said it bounced around in the vast mathematical silence. He didn’t smile or leer, cinematically. Just turned and walked into the darkness beyond the storm lamps’ glow. From the slight bounce as he moved I could tell the trailer was still on its truck. Where? How far from the Disciples? Did he even know they were here? He had to. Otherwise too much of a coincidence. But if he was here, who else was? Reinstatement. I understood. He’d been demoted or kicked out. We’d escaped on his watch. Our recapture was his only way back in. Herr Direktor, I present, for your consideration, Subject A, Talulla Demetriou, escaped werewolf, nymphomaniac, absent mother—

A cramp jack-knifed me, yanked my cuffed ankle and wrist. Someone had been killed in here before. Not recently, but there was no fooling the burgeoning bitch nose. The moon tugged at my blood. Closer than I’d thought. Maybe two hours. It was impossible to see past the wall of artificial light but a current of air with a flavour of dry grass and pine resin said the trailer door was still open. Since it couldn’t possibly make matters worse, I screamed for help as loudly as I could.

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