The streets are dark and quiet, and that’s a blessing. I ache all over, and my head throbs like I have a headache but without the pain. The sounds around me are a little muted, like the morning after a concert when your ears haven’t recovered from the volume of the night before. I walk steadily even though I just want to stop, sit down and wait for someone to come along and help me; pick me up, take me home, and tell me that everything will be alright.
I reach a crossroads and turn left. A car drives past, its engine purring to itself, its headlights on half-beam. I’m trying not to think, but the thoughts keep pushing their way in. Michael’s hurt, badly. If he survives, I doubt he’ll tell DeeDee or Melanie the truth, but I’m sure he won’t have anything good to say about me either. Nico’s disappeared, and I can only hope that the Ilmatu killed him too. There’s another Ilmatu loose, so there might even be two of them out there now. I’m so far out of my depth that it looks like there isn’t a bottom any more, just endless down. I curse softly under my breath and start counting my steps to keep my mind away from these things.
It takes me a little over three thousand steps to get home, nearly an hour. I stumble in, locking the door behind me, and head straight for bed where I fall over and fall asleep, not even managing to take my clothes off first. The sleep is deep and dreamless; for the first night in what feels like forever I don’t dream of the Ilmatu or their rotten, frozen city.
When I wake up it’s nearly midday. I undress, peeling my clothes off where my blood has glued them to my skin, and shower cautiously. The hot water is heavenly, but I have to edge into it, letting each cut and ache respond and numb before bringing the next under the water. Normally I shower in five minutes, but this morning it’s nearly half an hour before I’m dry and dressed again, in need of a shave and a coffee, but almost respectable.
I phone Melanie while the kettle boils and I’m only slightly surprised when she answers. I say hello, and she interrupts immediately.
“Michael died in our car just before we reached the hospital, Damian. I’m not accusing you of killing him, but I can’t speak for DeeDee. I think you should forget you have family until you can find someone to teach you what family is all about. Don’t call. Don’t visit. I will call the police.”
I only put the phone down as well when I realise that the insistent whistling I can hear is the kettle on the stove telling me that the water is boiling.
The coffee sits on the kitchen table going cold; I sit in front of it feeling frozen to the bone. I keep hearing Melanie’s words over and over again in my head: Don’t call. Don’t visit. I will call the police. I believe her. She had the same determination even when we were children. When she drew a line and told you not to step across it, she meant it. Finally I reach out and sip the coffee, letting the black, bitter liquid take the place of the tears I don’t seem able to cry. For minutes it’s just a drink, and then something inside me relaxes a little, something thaws, and I shudder with the effort of not crying. When the cup is empty I put it back down, rest my head in my hands, and cry until my tears run dry.
The knock at the door is brief but firm. Someone wants to come in. I make myself answer it, knowing it can’t be Melanie but wondering if maybe, insanely, Steve has taken the day off work and has come over to talk to me. When I open the door, two men in police uniforms are standing on the other side, their faces impassive.
“May we come in, sir?”
“Yes, of course.”
At the kitchen table they ask questions about the night before: what I was doing at Melanie’s house, what happened while I was there. They answer none of my questions, ignoring them and carrying on with their own quiet interrogation. They ask me three times about the gang I told Melanie about, and caught now in my lie, I pretend to myself that Nico, Michael and the Ilmatu make up a gang, and describe the events with just that white lie substituted in. When I mention Michael, they look a little more interested.
“Are you aware, sir, that this Michael died this morning?”
I nod, and since they don’t say anything, feel compelled to explain. “I called my sister this morning and she told me.”
“That changes this to a murder investigation. Do you understand that?”
“That’s ridiculous! My sister didn’t kill him, he was in her car so they could take him to the hospital!”
The policemen exchange looks, and then the first one speaks again. “We don’t suspect your sister or her husband or daughter of any involvement in his death.”
I don’t know what to say to that, and the silence draws out until the other policeman turns a few pages in his notepad, squints at something, and says, “Do you know Flitcroft street?”
I shake my head, the name doesn’t mean anything to me.
“Central London, just off Charing Cross Road. There are a number of music shops there.”
“Uh, well, maybe,” I say. “I can think of a road with a lot of music shops on it.”
“When were you last there? Or in the vicinity, perhaps?”
“I don’t know. Not recently. Perhaps a couple of months ago, I walk down it sometimes if I’m going to Holborn.”
“Thank-you. We’ll be in touch, sir. Please don’t do anything... rash.”
They let themselves out, and I get up to make a sandwich, hoping that some food will help make everything seem more normal again. I open the bread-bin, and the bag of noses that the Ilmatu left me falls out on the counter. I just stand there, wondering what would have happened if I’d done that while the police were here.