Let It Come
“IT’S OFFICIAL,” HARLEY said. “They killed the Berliner two nights ago. You’re the last.” Then after a pause: “I’m sorry.”
Yesterday evening this was. We were in the upstairs library of his Earl’s Court house, him standing at a tense tilt between stone hearth and oxblood couch, me in the window seat with a tumbler of forty-five-year-old Macallan and a Camel Filter, staring out at dark London’s fast-falling snow. The room smelled of tangerines and leather and the fire’s pine logs. Forty-eight hours on I was still sluggish from the Curse. Wolf drains from the wrists and shoulders last. In spite of what I’d just heard I thought: Madeline can give me a massage later, warm jasmine oil and the long-nailed magnolia hands I don’t love and never will.
“What are you going to do?” Harley said.
I sipped, swallowed, glimpsed the peat bog plashing white legs of the kilted clan Macallan as the whisky kindled in my chest. It’s official. You’re the last. I’m sorry . I’d known what he was going to tell me. Now that he had, what? Vague ontological vertigo. Kubrik’s astronaut with the severed umbilicus spinning away all alone into infinity … At a certain point one’s imagination refused. The phrase was: It doesn’t bear thinking about . Manifestly it didn’t.
“This room’s dead to you,” I said. “But there are bibliophiles the world over it would reduce to tears of joy.” No exaggeration. Harley’s collection’s worth a million-six, books he doesn’t go to anymore because he’s entered the phase of having given up reading. If he lives another ten years he’ll enter the next phase—of having gone back to it. Giving up reading seems the height of maturity at first. Like all such heights a false summit. It’s a human thing. I’ve seen it countless times. Two hundred years, you see everything countless times.
“I can’t imagine what this is like for you,” he said.
“Neither can I.”
“We need to plan.”
I didn’t reply. Instead let the silence fill with the alternative to planning. Harley lit a Gauloise and topped us up with an unsteady hand, lilac-veined and liver-spotted these days. At seventy he maintains longish thinning grey hair and a plump nicotined moustache that looks waxed but isn’t. There was a time when his young men called him Buffalo Bill. Now his young men know Buffalo Bill only as the serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs . During periods of psychic weakness he leans on a bone-handled cane, though he’s been told by his doctor it’s ruining his spine.
“The Berliner,” I said. “Grainer killed him?”
“Not Grainer. His Californian protégé, Ellis.”
“Grainer’s saving himself for the main event. He’ll come after me alone.”
Harley sat down on the couch and stared at the floor. I know what scares him: If I die first there’ll be no salving surreality between him and his conscience. Jake Marlowe is a monster, fact. Kills and devours people, fact. Which makes him, Harley, an accessory after the fact, fact. With me alive, walking and talking and doing the lunar shuffle once a month he can live in it as in a decadent dream. Did I mention my best friend’s a werewolf, by the way? Dead, I’ll force a brutal awakening. I helped Marlowe get away with murder . He’ll probably kill himself or go once and for all mad. One of his upper left incisors is full gold, a dental anachronism that suggests semicraziness anyway.
“Next full moon,” he said. “The rest of the Hunt’s been ordered to stand down. It’s Grainer’s party. You know what he’s like.”
Indeed. Eric Grainer is the Hunt’s Big Dick. All upper-echelon members of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) are loaded or bankrolled by the loaded for their expertise. Grainer’s expertise is tracking and killing my kind. My kind . Of which, thanks to WOCOP’s assassins and a century of no new howling kids on the block, it turns out I’m the last. I thought of the Berliner, whose name (God being dead, irony still rollickingly alive) was Wolfgang, pictured his last moments: the frost reeling under him, his moonlit muzzle and sweating pelt, the split-second in which his eyes merged disbelief and fear and horror and sadness and relief—then the white and final light of silver.
“What are you going to do?” Harley repeated.
All wolf and no gang . Humour darkens. I looked out of the window. The snow was coming down with the implacability of an Old Testament plague. In Earl’s Court Road pedestrians tottered and slid and in the cold swirling angelic freshness felt their childhoods still there and the shock like a snapped stem of not being children anymore. Two nights ago I’d eaten a forty-three-year-old hedge fund specialist. I’ve been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants. My last phase, apparently.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You’ll have to get out of London.”
“We’re not going to have this conversation.”
“It’s not time.”
“You’ve got a duty to live, same as the rest of us.”
“Hardly the same as the rest of you.”
“Nevertheless. You go on living. And don’t give me any poetic bollocks about being tired. It’s bogus. It’s bad script.”
“It’s not bad script,” I said. “I am tired.”
“Been around too long, worn out by history, too full of content, emptily replete—you’ve told me. I don’t believe you. And in any case you don’t give up. You love life because life’s all there is. There’s no God and that’s His only Commandment. Give me your word.”
I was thinking, as the honest part of me had been from the moment Harley had given me the news, You’ll have to tell it now. The untellable tale. You wondered how long a postponement you’d get. Turns out you got a hundred and sixty-seven years. Quite a while to keep a girl waiting .
“Give me your word, Jake.”
“Give you my word what?”
“Give me your word you’re not going to sit there like a cabbage till Grainer tracks you down and kills you.”
When I’d imagined this moment I’d imagined clean relief. Now the moment had arrived there was relief, but it wasn’t clean. The sordid little flame of selfhood shimmied in protest. Not that my self’s what it used to be. These days it deserves a sad smile, as might a twinge of vestigial lust in an old man’s balls. “Shot him, did they?” I asked. “Herr Wolfgang?”