- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
The Tale of the Body Thief
NOON. I was dressed in the clean new clothes which I had bought on that last fateful day of my wandering-soft white pullover shirt with long sleeves, fashionably faded denim pants. We had made a picnic of sorts before the warm crackling little fire-a white blanket spread out on the carpet, on which we sat having our late breakfast together, as Mojo dined sloppily and greedily in his own fashion on the kitchen floor. It was French bread and butter again, and orange juice, and boiled eggs, and the fruit in big slices. I was eating hungrily, ignoring her warnings that I was not entirely well. I was plenty well enough. Even her little digital thermometer said so.
I ought to be off to New Orleans. If the airport was open, I could have been there by nightfall, perhaps. But I didn't want to leave her just now. I asked for some wine. I wanted to talk. I wanted to understand her, and I was also afraid to leave her, afraid of being alone without her. The plane journey struck a cowardly fear in my soul. And besides, I liked being with her...
She'd been talking easily about her life in the missions, of how she'd loved it from the very beginning. The first years she'd spent in Peru, then she'd gone on to the Yucatan. Her most recent assignment had been in the jungles of French Guiana- a place of primitive Indian tribes. The mission was St. Margaret Mary-six hours' journey up the Maroni River by motorized canoe from the town of St. Laurent. She and the other sisters had refurbished the concrete chapel, the little whitewashed schoolhouse, and the hospital. But often they had to leave the mission itself and go directly to the people in their villages. She loved this work, she said.
She laid out for me a great sweep of photographs-small rectangular colored pictures of the crude little mission buildings, and of her and her sisters, and of the priest who came through to say Mass. None of these sisters wore veils or habits out there; they were dressed hi khaki or white cotton, and their hair was free-real working sisters, she explained. And there she was in these pictures-radiantly happy, none of the brooding melancholy evident in her. In one snapshot she stood surrounded by dark-faced Indians, before a curious little building with ornate carvings on its walls. In another she was giving an injection to a wraith of an old man who sat in a brightly painted straight-back chair.
Life in these jungle villages had been the same for centuries, she said. These people had existed long before the French or Spanish ever set foot on the soil of South America. It was difficult to get them to trust the sisters and the doctors and the priests. She herself did not care whether or not they learnt their prayers. She cared about inoculations, and the proper cleaning of infected wounds. She cared about setting broken limbs so that these people would not be crippled forever.
Of course they wanted her to come back. They'd been very patient with her little leave of absence. They needed her. The work was waiting for her. She showed me the telegram, which I had already seen, tacked to the wall above the bathroom mirror.
You miss it, obviously you do, I said.
I was studying her, watching for signs of guilt over what we had done together. But I didn't see this in her. She did not seem racked with guilt over the telegram either.
I'm going back, of course, she said simply. This may sound absurd, but it was a difficult thing to leave in the first place. But this question of chastity; it had become a destructive obsession.
Of course I understood. She looked at me with large quiet eyes.
And now you know, I said, that it's not really so very important at all whether or not you sleep with a man. Isn't that what you found out?
Perhaps, she said, with a faint simple smile. How strong she seemed, sitting there on the blanket, her legs demurely folded to one side, her hair loose still, and more like a nun's veil here in this room than hi any photograph of her.
How did it begin for you? I asked.
Do you think that's important? she asked. I don't think you'll approve of my story if I tell you.
I want to know, I answered.
She'd grown up, the daughter of a Catholic schoolteacher and an accountant in the Bridgeport section of Chicago, and very early on exhibited a great talent for playing the piano. The whole family had sacrificed for her lessons with a famous teacher.
Self-sacrifice,- you see, she said, smiling faintly again, even from the beginning. Only it was music then, not medicine.
But even then, she had been deeply religious, reading the lives of the saints, and dreaming of being a saint-of working in the foreign missions when she grew up. Saint Rose de Lima, the mystic, held a special fascination for her. And so did Saint Martin de Porres, who had worked more in the world. And
The Tale of the Body Thief243
Saint Rita. She had wanted to work with lepers someday, to find a life of all-consuming and heroic work. She'd built a little oratory behind her house when she was a girl, and there she would kneel for hours before the crucifix, hoping that the wounds of Christ would open in her hands and feet-the stigmata.
I took these stories very seriously, she said. Saints are real to me. The possibility of heroism is real to me.
Heroism, I said. My word. But how very different was my definition of it. I did not interrupt her.
It seemed that the piano playing was at war with my spiritual soul. I wanted to give up everything for others, and that meant giving up the piano, above all, the piano.
This saddened me. I had the feeling she had not told this story often, and her voice was very subdued when she spoke.
But what about the happiness you gave to people when you played? I asked. Wasn't that something of real value?
Now, I can say that it was, she said, her voice dropping even lower, and her words coming with painful slowness. But then I wasn't sure of it. I wasn't a likely person for such a talent. I didn't mind being heard; but I didn't like being seen. She flushed slightly as she looked at me. Perhaps if I could have played in a choir loft, or behind a screen it would have been different.
I see, I said. There are many humans who feel this way, of course.
But you don't, do you?
I shook my head.
She explained how excruciating it was for her to be dressed in white lace, and made to play before an audience. She did it to please her parents and her teachers. Entering the various competitions was an agony. But almost invariably she won. Her career had become a family enterprise by the tune she was sixteen.
But what about the music itself. Did you enjoy it?
She thought for a moment. Then: It was absolute ecstasy, she answered. When I played alone .. . with no one there to watch me, I lost my self hi it completely. It was almost like being under the influence of a drug. It was ... it was almost erotic. Sometimes melodies would obsess me. They'd run through my head continuously. I lost track of time when I played. I still cannot really listen to music without being swept up and carried away. You don't see any radio here or tape player. I can't have those things near me even now.
But why deny yourself this? I looked around. There was no piano in this room either.
She shook her head dismissively. The effect is too engulfing, don't you see I can forget everything else too easily. And nothing is accomplished when this happens. Life is on hold, so to speak.
But, Gretchen, is that true? I asked. For some of us such intense feelings are life! We seek ecstasy. In those moments, we ... we transcend all the pain and the pettiness and the struggle. That's how it was for me when I was alive. That's how it is for me now.
She considered this, her face very smooth and relaxed. When she spoke, it was with quiet conviction.
I want more than that, she said. I want something more palpably constructive. But to put it another way, I cannot enjoy such a pleasure when others are hungry or suffering or sick.
But the world will always include such misery. And people need music, Gretchen, they need it as much as they need comfort or food.
I'm not sure I agree with you. In fact, I'm fairly sure that I don't. .1 have to spend my life trying to alleviate misery. Believe me, I have been through all these arguments many times before.
Ah, but to choose nursing over music, I said. It's unfathomable to me. Of course nursing is good. I was too saddened and confused to continue. How did you make the actual choice? I asked. Didn't the family try to stop you?
She went on to explain. When she was sixteen, her mother took ill, and for months no one could determine the cause of her illness. Her mother was anemic; she ran a constant fever; finally it was obvious she was wasting away. Tests were made, but the doctors could find no explanation. Everyone felt certain that her mother was going to die. The atmosphere of the house had been poisoned with grief and even bitterness.
I asked God for a miracle, she said. I promised I would never touch the piano keys again as long as I lived, if God would only save my mother. I promised I would enter the convent as soon as I was allowed-that I would devote my life to nursing the sick and the dying.
And your mother was cured.
Yes. Within a month she was completely recovered. She's alive now. She's retired, she tutors children after school-in a storefront in a black section of Chicago. She has never been sick since, in any way.
And you kept the promise?
She nodded. I went into the Missionary Sisters when I was seventeen and they sent me to college.
And you kept this promise never to touch the piano again?
She nodded. There was not a trace of regret in her, nor was there a great longing or need for my understanding or approval. In fact, I knew my sadness was obvious to her, and that, if anything, she felt a little concerned for me.
Were you happy in the convent?
Oh, yes, she said with a little shrug. Don't you see An ordinary life is impossible for someone like me. I have to be doing something hard. I have to be taking risks. I entered this religious order because their missions were in the most remote and treacherous areas of South America. I can't tell you how I love those jungles! Her voice became low and almost urgent. They can't be hot enough or dangerous enough for me. There are moments when we're all overworked and tired, when the hospital's overcrowded and the sick children are bedded down outside under lean-tos and in hammocks and I feel so alive! I can't tell you. I stop maybe long enough to wipe the sweat off my face, to wash my hands, to perhaps drink a glass of water. And I think: I'm alive; I'm here. I'm doing what matters.
Again she smiled. It's another kind of intensity, I said, something wholly unlike the making of music. I see the crucial difference.
I thought of David's words to me about his early life-how he had sought the thrill in danger. She was seeking the thrill in utter self-sacrifice. He had sought the danger of the occult in Brazil. She sought the hard challenge of bringing health to thousands of the nameless, and the eternally poor. This troubled me deeply.
There's a vanity in it too, of course, she said. Vanity is always the enemy. That's what troubled me the most about my... my chastity, she explained, the pride I felt in it. But you see, even coming, back like this to the States was a risk. I was terrified when I got off the plane, when I realized I was here in Georgetown and nothing could stop me from being with a man if I wanted it. I think I went to work at the hospital out of fear. God knows, freedom isn't simple.
This part I understand, I said. But your family, how did they respond to this promise you made, to your giving up the music?
They didn't know at the time. I didn't tell them. I announced my vocation. I stuck to my guns. There was a lot of recrimination. After all, my sisters and brothers had worn secondhand clothes so I could have piano lessons. But this is often the case. Even in a good Catholic family, the news that a daughter wants to be a nun is not always greeted with cheers and accolades.
They grieved for your talent, I said quietly.
Yes, they did, she said with a slight lift of her eyebrows. How honest and tranquil she seemed. None of this was said with coldness or hardness. But I had a vision of something vastly more important than a young woman on a concert stage, rising from the piano bench to collect a bouquet of roses. It was a long time before I told them about the promise.
She nodded. They understood. They saw the miracle. How could they help it I told them I'd been more fortunate than anyone I knew who had ever gone into the convent. I'd had a clear sign from God. He had resolved all conflicts for all of us.
You believe this.
Yes. I do, she said. But in a way, it doesn't matter whether it's true or not. And if anyone should understand, you should.
Why is that?
Because you speak of religious truths and religious ideas and you know that they matter even if they are only metaphors. This is what I heard hi you even when you were delirious.
I sighed. Don't you ever want to play the piano again Don't you ever want to find an empty auditorium, perhaps, with a piano on the stage, and just sit down and . . .
Of course I do. But I can't do it, and I won't do it. Her smile now was truly beautiful.
Gretchen, in a way this is a terrible story, I said. Why, as a good Catholic girl couldn't you have seen your musical talent as a gift from God, a gift not to be wasted?
It was from God, I knew it was. But don't you see There was a fork in the road; the sacrifice of the piano was the opportunity that God gave me to serve Him in a special way. Lestat, what could the music have meant compared to the act of helping people, hundreds of people?
I shook my head. I think the music can be seen as equally important.
She thought for a long while before she answered. I couldn't continue with it, she said. Perhaps I used the crisis of my mother's illness, I don't know. I had to become a nurse. There was no other way for me. The simple truth is-I cannot live when I am faced with the misery in the world. I cannot justify comfort or pleasure when other people are suffering. I don't know how anyone can.
Surely you don't think you can change it all, Gretchen.
No, but I can spend my life affecting many, many individual lives. That's what counts.
This story so upset me that I couldn't remain seated there. I stood up, stretching my stiff legs, and I went to the window and looked out at the field of snow.
It would have been easy to dismiss it had she been a sorrowful or mentally crippled person, or a person of dire conflict and instability. But nothing seemed farther from the truth. I found her almost unfathomable.
She was as alien to me as my mortal friend Nicolas had been so many, many decades ago, not because she was like him. But because his cynicism and sneering and eternal rebellion had contained an abnegation of self which I couldn't really understand. My Nicki-so full of seeming eccentricity and excess, yet deriving satisfaction from what he did only because it pricked others.
Abnegation of self-that was the heart of it.
I turned around. She was merely watching me. I had the distinct feeling again that it didn't matter much to her what I said. She didn't require my understanding. In a way, she was one of the strongest people I'd encountered in all my long life.
It was no wonder she took me out of the hospital; another nurse might not have assumed such a burden at all.
Gretchen, I asked, you're never afraid that your life has been wasted-that sickness and suffering will simply go on long after you've left the earth, and what you've done will mean nothing in the larger scheme?
Lestat, she said, it is the larger scheme which means nothing. Her eyes were wide and clear. It is the small act which means all. Of course sickness and suffering will continue after I'm gone. But what's important is that I have done all I can. That's my triumph, and my vanity. That's my vocation and my sin of pride. That is my brand of heroism.
But, cherie, it works that way only if someone is keeping score-if some Supreme Being will ratify your decision, or you'll be rewarded for what you've done, or at least upheld.
No, she said, choosing her words thoughtfully as she proceeded. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Think of what I've said. I'm telling you something that is obviously new to you. Maybe it's a religious secret.
There are many nights when I lie awake, fully aware that there may be no personal God, and that the suffering of the children I see every day in our hospitals will never be balanced or redeemed. I think of those old arguments-you know, how can God justify the suffering of a child Dostoevsky asked that question. So did the French writer Albert Camus. We ourselves are always asking it. But it doesn't ultimately matter.
God may or may not exist. But misery is real. It is absolutely real, and utterly undeniable. And in that reality lies my commitment-the core of my faith. I have to do something about it!
And at the hour of your death, if there is no God . . .
So be it. I will know that I did what I could. The hour of my death could be now. She gave a little shrug. I wouldn't feel any different.
This is why you feel no guilt for our being there in the bed together.
She considered. Guilt I feel happiness when I think of it. Don't you know what you've done for me? She waited, and slowly her eyes filled with tears. I came here to meet you, to be with you, she said, her voice thickening. And I can go back to the mission now.
She bowed her head, and slowly, silently regained her calm, her eyes clearing. Then she looked up and spoke again.
When you spoke of making this child, Claudia... when you spoke of bringing your mother, Gabrielle, into your world ... you spoke of reaching for something. Would you call it a transcendence When I work until I drop hi the mission hospital, I transcend. I transcend doubt and something . . . something perhaps hopeless and black inside myself. I don't know.
The Tale of the Body Thief249
Hopeless and black, yes, that's the key, isn't it The music didn't make this go away.
Yes, it did, but it was false.
Why false Why was doing that good-playing the piano- false?
Because it didn't do enough for others, that's why.
Oh, but it did. It gave them pleasure, it had to.
Forgive me, I'm choosing the wrong tack. You've lost yourself hi your vocation. When you played the piano, you were yourself-don't you see You were the unique Gretchen! It was the very meaning of the word 'virtuoso.' And you wanted to lose yourself.
I think you're right. The music simply wasn't my way.
Oh, Gretchen, you frighten me!
But I shouldn't frighten you. I'm not saving the other way was wrong. If you did good with your music-your rock singing, this brief career you described-it was the good you could do. I do good my way, that's all.
No, there's some fierce self-denial hi you. You're hungry for love the way I starve night after night for blood. You punish yourself hi your nursing, denying your carnal desires, and your love of music, and all the things of the world which are like music. You are a virtuoso, a virtuoso of your own pain.
You're wrong, Lestat, she said with another little smile, and a shake of her head. You know that's not true. It's what you want to believe about someone like me. Lestat, listen to me. If all you've told me is true, isn't it obvious in light of that truth that you were meant to meet me?
Come here, sit with me and talk to me.
I don't know why I hesitated, why I was afraid. Finally I came back to the blanket and sat down opposite, crossing my legs. I leaned back against the side of the bookcase.
Don't you see? she asked. I represent a contrary way, a way you haven't ever considered, and one which might bring you the very consolation you seek.
Gretchen, you don't believe for a moment that I've told the truth about myself. You can't. I don't expect you to.
I do believe you! Every word you've said. And the literal truth is unimportant. You seek something that the saints sought when they renounced their normal lives, when they blundered into the service of Christ. And never mind that you don't believe in Christ. It's unimportant. What is important is that you have been miserable in the existence you've lived until now, miserable to the point of madness, and that my way would offer you an alternative.
You're speaking of this for me? I asked.
Of course I am. Don't you see the pattern You come down into this body; you fall into my hands; you give me the moment of love I require. But what have I given you What is my meaning for you?
She raised her hand for quiet.
No, don't speak of larger schemes again. Don't ask if there is a literal God. Think on all I've said. I've said it for myself, but also for you. How many lives have you taken in this otherworldly existence of yours How many lives have I saved- literally saved-in the missions?
I was ready to deny the entire possibility, when suddenly it occurred to me to wait, to be silent, and merely to consider.
The chilling thought came to me again that I might never recover my preternatural body, that I might be trapped in this flesh all my life. If I couldn't catch the Body Thief, if I couldn't get the others to help me, the death I said I wanted would indeed be mine in time. I had fallen back into time.
And what if there was a scheme to it What if there was a destiny And I spent that mortal life working as Gretchen worked, devoting my entire physical and spiritual being to others What if I simply went with her back to her jungle outpost Oh, not as her lover, of course. Such things as that were not meant for her, obviously. But what if I went as her assistant, her helper What if I sank my mortal life into that very frame of self-sacrifice
Again, I forced myself to remain quiet, to see it.
Of course there was an added capability of which she knew nothing-the wealth I could bestow upon her mission, upon missions like it. And though this wealth was so vast some men could not have calculated it, I could calculate it. I could see in a large incandescent vision its limits, its effects. Whole village populations fed and clothed, hospitals stocked with medicines, schools furnished with books and blackboards and radios and pianos. Yes, pianos. Oh, this was an old, old tale. This was an old, old dream.
I remained quiet as I considered it. I saw the moments of each day of my mortal life-my possible mortal life-spent along with every bit of my fortune upon this dream. I saw this as if it were sand sliding through the narrow center of an hourglass.
Why, at this very minute, as we sat here in this clean little room, people starved in the great slums of the Eastern world. They starved in Africa. Worldwide, they perished from disease and from disaster. Floods washed away their dwellings; drought shriveled their food and their hopes. The misery of even one country was more than the mind could endure, were it described in even vague detail.
But even if everything I possessed I gave to this endeavor, what would I have accomplished in the final analysis
How could I even know that modern medicine in a jungle village was better than the old way How could I know that the education given a jungle child spelt happiness for it How could I know that any of this was worth the loss of myself How could I make myself care whether it was or not! That was the horror.
I didn't care. I could weep for any individual soul who suffered, yes, but about sacrificing my life to the nameless millions of the world, I couldn't care! In fact, it filled me with dread, terrible dark dread. It was sad beyond sad. It seemed no life at all. It seemed the very opposite of transcendence.
I shook my head. In a low stammering voice I explained to her why this vision frightened me so much.
Centuries ago, when I first stood on the little boulevard stage in Paris-when I saw the happy faces, when I heard applause-I felt as if my body and soul had found their destiny; I felt as if every promise in my birth and childhood had begun its fulfillment at last.
Oh, there were other actors, worse and better; other singers; other clowns; there have been a million since and a million will come after this moment. But each of us shines with his own inimitable power; each of us comes alive in his own unique and dazzling moment; each of us has his chance to vanquish the others forever in the mind of the beholder, and that is the only kind of accomplishment I can really understand: the kind of accomplishment in which the self-this self, if you will-is utterly whole and triumphant.
Yes, I could have been a saint, you are right, but I would have had to found a religious order or lead an army into battle; I would have had to work miracles of such scope that the whole world would have been brought to its knees. I am one who must dare even if I'm wrong-completely wrong. Gretchen, God gave me an individual soul and I cannot bury it.
I was amazed to see that she was still smiling at me, softly and unquestioningly, and that her face was full of calm wonder.
Better to reign in hell, she asked carefully, than to serve in heaven?
Oh, no. I would make heaven on earth if I could. But I must raise my voice; I must shine; and I must reach for the very ecstasy that you've denied-the very intensity from which you fled! That to me is transcendence! When I made Claudia, blundering error that it was-yes, it was transcendence. When I made Gabrielle, wicked as it seemed, yes, it was transcendence. It was a single, powerful, and horrifying act, which wrung from me all my unique power and daring. They shall not die, I said, yes, perhaps the very words you use to the village children.
But it was to bring them into my unnatural world that I uttered these words. The goal was not merely to save, but to make of them what I was-a unique and terrible being. It was to confer upon them the very individuality I cherished. We shall live, even in this state called living death, we shall love, we shall feel, we shall defy those who would judge us and destroy us. That was my transcendence. And self-sacrifice and redemption had no part in it.
Oh, how frustrating it was that I could not communicate it to her, I could not make her believe it in literal terms. Don't you see, I survived all that has happened to me because I am who I am. My strength, my will, my refusal to give up-those are the only components of my heart and soul which I can truly identify. This ego, if you wish to call it that, is my strength. I am the Vampire Lestat, and nothing . .. not even this mortal body ... is going to defeat me.
I was amazed to see her nod, to see her totally accepting expression.
And if you came with me, she said gently, the Vampire Lestat would perish-wouldn't he-in his own redemption.
Yes, he would. He would die slowly and horribly among the small and thankless tasks, caring for the never-ending hordes of the nameless, the faceless, the eternally needy.
I felt so sad suddenly that I couldn't continue. I was tired in an awful mortal way, the mind having worked its chemistry upon this body. I thought of my dream and of my speech to Claudia, and now I had told it again to Gretchen, and I knew myself as never before.
I drew up my knees and rested my arms on them, and I put my forehead on my arms. I can't do it, I said under my breath. I can't bury myself alive in such a life as you have. And I don't want to, that's the awful part. I don't want to do it! I don't believe it would save my soul. I don't believe it would matter.
I felt her hands on my arms. She was stroking my hair again, drawing it back from my forehead.
I understand you, she said, even though you're wrong.
I gave a little laugh as I looked up at her. I took a napkin from our little picnic and I wiped my nose and my eyes.
But I haven't shaken your faith, have I?
No, she said. And this time her smile was different, more warm and more truly radiant. You've confirmed it, she said in a whisper. How very strange you are, and how miraculous that you came to me. I can almost believe your way is right for you. Who else could be you No one.
I sat back, and drank a little sip of wine. It was now warm from the fire, but still it tasted good, sending a ripple of pleasure through my sluggish limbs. I drank some more of it. I set down the glass and looked at her.
I want to ask you a question, I said. Answer me from your heart. If I win my battle-if I regain my body-do you want me to come to you Do you want me to show you that I've been telling the truth Think carefully before you answer.
I want to do it. I really do. But I'm not sure that it's the best thing for you. Yours is almost a perfect life. Our little carnal episode couldn't possibly turn you away from it. I was right- wasn't I-hi what I said before. You know now that erotic pleasure really isn't important to you, and you're going to return to your work hi the jungle very soon, if not immediately.
That's true, she said. But there's something else you should know, also. There was a moment this morning when I thought I could throw away everything-just to be with you.
No, not you, Gretchen.
Yes, me. I could feel it sweeping me away, the way the music once did. And if you were to say 'Come with me,' even now, I might go. If this world of yours really existed . . . She broke off with another little shrug, tossing her hair a little and then smoothing it back behind her shoulder. The meaning of chastity is not to fall in love, she said, her focus sharpening as she looked at me. I could fall in love with you. I know I could.
She broke off, and then said in a low, troubled voice, You could become my god. I know that's true.
This frightened me, yet I felt at once a shameless pleasure and satisfaction, a sad pride. I tried not to yield to the feeling of slow physical excitement. After all, she didn't know what she was saying. She couldn't know. But there was something powerfully convincing in her voice and in her manner.
I'm going back, she said in the same voice, full of certitude and humility. I'll probably leave within a matter of days. But yes, if you win this battle, if you recover your old form-for the love of God, come to me. I want to ... I want to know!
I didn't reply. I was too confused. Then I spoke the confusion.
You know, in a horrible way, when I do come to you and reveal my true self, you may be disappointed.
How could that be?
You think me a sublime human being for the spiritual content of all I've said to you. You see me as some sort of blessed lunatic spilling truth with error the way a mystic might. But I'm not human. And when you know it, maybe you'll hate it.
No, I could never hate you. And to know that all you've said is true That would be ... a miracle.
Perhaps, Gretchen. Perhaps. But remember what I said. We are a vision without revelation. We are a miracle without meaning. Do you really want that cross along with so many others?
She didn't answer. She was weighing my words. I could not imagine what they meant to her. I reached for her hand, and she let me take it, folding her fingers gently around mine, her eyes still constant as she looked at me.
There is no God, is there, Gretchen?
No, there isn't, she whispered.
I wanted to laugh and to weep. I sat back, laughing softly to myself and looking at her, at the calm, statuesque manner in winch she sat there, the light of the fire caught in her hazel eyes.
You don't know what you've done for me, she said. You don't know how much it has meant. I am ready-ready to go back now.
Then it won't matter, will it, my beautiful one, if we get into that bed together again. For surely we should do it.
Yes, we should do that, I think, she answered.
It was almost dark when I left her quietly to take the phone by f??its long cord into the little bath and call my New York agent. |??Once again, the number rang and rang. I was just about to give - up, and turn again to my man in Paris, when a voice came on f*??the line, and slowly let me know in halting awkward terms that % my New York representative was indeed no longer alive. He had died by violence several nights ago hi his office high above Madison Avenue. Robbery had now been affirmed as the motive for the attack; his computer and all his files had been stolen. I was so stunned that I could make no answer to the helpful voice on the phone. At last I managed to collect myself sufficiently to put a few questions.
On Wednesday night, about eight o'clock, the crime had occurred. No, no one knew the extent of damage done by the theft of the files. Yes, unfortunately the poor man had suffered.
Awful, awful situation, said the voice. If you were in New York, you couldn't avoid knowing about it Every paper in town had the story. They were calling it a vampire killing. The man's body was entirely drained of blood.
I hung up the phone, and for a long moment sat there in rigid if silence. Then I rang Paris. My man there answered after only J|: a small delay.
Thank God I had called, said my man. But please, I must identify myself. No, the code words weren't enough. What about conversations which had taken place between us in the past Ah, yes, yes, that was it. Talk, talk, he said. I at once poured out a litany of secrets known only to me and this man, and I could hear his great relief as he at last unburdened him-
The strangest things had been happening, he said. He'd been contacted twice by someone claiming to be me, who obviously wasn't. This individual even knew two of our code words used hi the past, and gave an elaborate story as to why he did not know the latest ones. Meantime, several electronic orders had come in for shifts of funds, but in every case, the codes were wrong. But not entirely wrong. Indeed, there was every indication that this person was in the process of cracking our system.
But, Monsieur, let me tell you the simplest part. This man does not speak the same French that you do! I don't mean to insult you, Monsieur, but your French is rather... how shall I say, unusual You speak old-fashioned words. And you put words in unusual order. I know when it is you.
I understand exactly, I said. Now believe me when I say this. You must not talk to this person anymore. He is capable of reading your mind. He is trying to get the code words from you telepathically. We are going to set up a system, you and I. You will make one transfer to me now ... to my bank in New Orleans. But everything must be locked up tight after that. And when I contact you again, I shall use three old-fashioned words. We won't agree on them... but they will be words you've heard me use before and you will know them.
Of course this was risky. But the point was, this man knew me! I went on to tell him that the thief in question was most dangerous, that he had done violence to my man in New York, and every conceivable personal protection must be taken. I should pay for all this-guards of any number, round the clock. He must err on the side of excess. You'll hear from me again, very soon. Remember, old-fashioned words. You'll know me when you speak to me.
I put down the phone. I was trembling with rage, unsupportable rage! Ah, the little monster! It is not enough for him to have the body of the god, he must ransack the god's storehouses. The little fiend, the little imp! And I had been so foolish not to realize that this would happen!
Oh, you are human all right, I said to myself. You are a human idiot! And oh, to think of the denunciations Louis would heap upon my head before he consented to help me!
And what if Marius knew! Oh, that was too awful to contemplate. Just reach Louis as fast as you can.
I had to obtain a valise, and get to the airport. Mojo would undoubtedly have to travel by crate, and this, too, must be obtained. My farewell to Gretchen would not be the graceful, slow leave-taking I had envisioned. But surely she would understand.
Much was happening within the complex delusionary world of her mysterious lover. It was time to part.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold