I make it to mid-afternoon before I can’t take it any more. My hand keeps reaching for the phone, but I’m sure that Melanie will just leave it to ring and then take it off the hook or unplug it. I know she’s got a mobile, but it’s easy to block a number from them and I’m sure she’ll have done it. I daren’t call DeeDee’s mobile as that will definitely make Melanie call the police, and I’ve never known Steve’s number. Which leaves me no choice but to visit her, and hope that she’ll listen to me for long enough for me to make my case. And I’m pretty certain she won’t.
The bus drops me off two streets away. I find myself walking slower and slower as I approach her house, more and more scared about what Melanie will do. I’m still not sure what I’m going to tell her anyway; I want to tell her what I told the police but I don’t think she’ll listen, because I have to tell her that Michael and Nico attacked me. Three doors away, her front door opens, and Steve comes out. I stop, and he walks over to me, his face set, looking a little older and maybe greyer than usual.
“Damian, she’s not going to see you,” he says. No hello, no trace of warmth in his voice. “She said she told you that.”
“On the phone,” I say. “I have to tell her what happened last night though,”
“I do! I don’t want her thinking that I--”
“That you what?” There’s no anger in his voice, almost no emotion at all. “That you won’t offer to pay for the damage you caused? I think she’s going to make sure you do that anyway. That it’s not your fault? I don’t think even you believe that.”
“That I’m sorry.”
Steve sighs and turns away from me. “I don’t think that’ll ever be enough, Damian. I just don’t think you understand what you’ve done.”
“I brought DeeDee out of a coma! That should count for something!”
He doesn’t turn round, doesn’t face me, and his voice is low, monotonous. “And you’ve been acting weird ever since. Mel will never admit it, but I think we’d all rather have DeeDee still in a coma than have all this going on. I’m sorry she ever involved you.” He walks off, and I start to follow him but then I stop. As he closes the front door, shutting me out of their lives, for a few brief seconds I hear strains of slightly hesitant violin music and all the hairs on my neck stand up on end.
I’ve barely been back home a half-hour when someone knocks on the door again. This time I put the security chain on before opening it, and peer through the narrow gap. Bark is stood outside, looking slightly uncomfortable and carrying a thin, glossy brochure. I let him in, sit him in the kitchen, put the kettle on, and put the bag of noses in front of him. He looks at me quizzically.
“What the hell?” He’s pretty direct.
“The Ilmatu left them for me. Before this it left me a bag of ears, but it took them back again.”
“Sounds like it’s sweet on you then. Think you’ll get any more gifts from it?”
“No-o. I don’t know.”
I tell Bark the truth about last night, about destroying the guitar, tearing it apart by breaking the bindings on the tattoo symbols, and how an Ilmatu clambered through a window torn in thin air and then vanished away. I tell him about Michael’s death, Nico’s disappearance, and the Ilmatu who wore the skin of the pink-haired girl from the Lady Cthulhu concert. By the time I’m finished there are four dirty cups on the table in front of us and Bark is looking extremely thoughtful.
“If I’d known what you had in mind,” he says, his voice heavy with recriminations,
“I’d have stopped you. These instruments aren’t toys, Damian.”
“I guess I know that now.”
“I have, let’s call them colleagues, who are responsible for tracking down these instruments and gathering them together,” he says. “I’ve not told you about this before, and we won’t have much occasion to talk about it again, but it’s the reason I’m here. If you’d left it to us, we would have quietly acquired that guitar and seen to it that it was put somewhere safe. Now I have to go back and tell them that a priceless instrument has been casually destroyed, and that it’s probably let some kind of monster loose as well. They are not going to be happy.”
I feel worse than I deserve to; Bark’s words piling on top of my sister disowning me are starting to drown me in my own misery. Bark pushes the glossy brochure over to me.
“Page three; you’ll see a picture of a violin. In our circles it’s called the Monaco violin because it’s where my colleagues, let’s say liberated, it. It’s existence is being systematically hidden; we’re deleting or hiding references to it, we’ve produced near-copies of it that are ordinary violins and are exhibiting them. We’re doing a very good job of making the Monaco violin a secret. Or at least we were until last night, when someone broke into a repair shop that we use and stole it.”
Bark looks surprised. “An alley off Flitcroft street. How did you know?”
I tell him about the police visit, and he nods. “Fine. I shall let my colleagues know. But this violin is similar to the guitar you recklessly wrecked.” Neither of us smile. “We need it back, and I need to know if DeeDee has it. Can you find out?”
I stare at him, wondering if he’s listened to my story at all. There’s no way I can get close to DeeDee now.
“You can go to her school,” he prompts. “You don’t have to see her or talk to her. Just get a look at the violin.”
I start to reply, but there’s another knock at the front door, polite but firm.
“Answer it,” says Bark. “I can wait a little.”
But when I open the door, the security chain in place, an Ilmatu is stood outside.