The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 23


AS SOON as I awoke, I sensed that David and James were not on the ship. I'm not certain how I knew. But I did.

After straightening my clothes somewhat and indulging myself in a few moments of giddy happiness as I looked in the mirror, and flexed my marvelous fingers and toes, I went out to make certain that the two men were not on board. James I did not hope to find. But David. What had happened to David after firing that gun

Surely three bullets would have killed James! And of course all this had happened in my cabin-indeed I found my passport with the name of Jason Hamilton securely in my pocket-and so I proceeded to the Signal Deck with the greatest of care.

The cabin stewards were rushing to and fro, delivering evening cocktails, and straightening the rooms of those who had already ventured out for the night. I used my utmost skill to move swiftly along the passage and into the Queen Victoria Suite without being seen.

The suite had obviously been put in order. The black lacquered locker which James had used as his coffin was closed, with the cloth smoothed over the lid. The battered and broken bedside table had been cleared away, leaving a scar upon the wall.

There was no blood on the carpet. Indeed, there was no evidence of any kind that the horrific struggle had taken place. And I could see through the glass windows to the veranda that we were moving out of Barbados harbour under a glorious and shining veil of twilight, towards the open sea.

I stepped outside on the veranda for a moment, just to look up into the limitless night and feel the joy of my old true vampiric vision once again. On the distant glittering shores I saw a million tiny details which no mortal could ever see. I was so thrilled to feel the old physical lightness, the sense of dexterity and grace, that I wanted to start dancing. Indeed, it would be lovely to do a little tap dance up one side the ship and down the other, snapping my fingers and singing songs all the while.

But there was no time for all this. I had to find out what had happened to David at once.

Opening the door to the passage, I quickly and silently worked the lock on David's cabin across the way. Then in a little spurt of preternatural speed I entered it, unseen by those moving down the hall.

Everything was gone. Indeed, the cabin had been sanitized for a new passenger. Obviously David had been forced to leave the ship. He might now be in Barbados! And if he was, I could find him quickly enough.

But what about the other cabin-the one that had belonged to my mortal self I opened the connecting door without touching it, and I found that this cabin had also been emptied and cleaned.

How to proceed. I didn't want to remain on this ship any longer than I had to, for certainly I would be the center of attention as soon as I was discovered. The debacle had taken place in my suite.

I heard the easily identifiable tread of the steward who had been of such service to us earlier, and I opened the door just as he meant to pass by. When he saw me he was powerfully confused and excited. I beckoned for him to come inside.

Oh, sir, they are looking for you! They thought you'd left the ship in Barbados! I must contact security at once.

Ah, but tell me what happened, I said, peering directly into his eyes, and beyond his words. I could see the charm working on him as he softened and fell into a complete state of trust.

There had been a dreadful incident in my cabin at sunrise. An elderly British gentleman-who had earlier claimed to be my physician, by the way-had fired several shots at a young assailant who-he claimed-had tried to murder him, but none of these shots had struck the mark. Indeed, no one had ever been able to locate the young assailant. On the basis of the elderly gentleman's description, it was determined that the young man had occupied this very cabin in which we were now standing, and that he had boarded the ship under an assumed name.

Indeed so had the elderly British gentleman. In fact, the confusion of names was no small part of the entire affair. The steward really didn't know all that had taken place, except that the elderly British gentleman had been held in custody until he was finally escorted ashore.

The steward was puzzled. I think they were rather relieved to have him off the ship. But we must call the security officer, sir. They are very concerned about your welfare. It's a wonder they didn't stop you when you came aboard again in Barbados. They've been searching for you all day.

I wasn't at all sure that I wanted to endure any close scrutiny on the part of the security officers, but the matter was quickly decided for me when two men in white uniforms appeared before the door of the Queen Victoria Suite.

I thanked the steward and approached these two gentlemen, inviting them into the suite, and moving deeply into the shadows as was my custom during such encounters, and begging them to forgive me for not turning on the lights. Indeed, the light coming through the veranda doors was quite enough, I explained, considering the poor condition of my skin.

Both these men were deeply troubled and suspicious, and once again I did my best to work the persuasive charm on them as I spoke.

What has happened to Dr. Alexander Stoker? I asked. He is my personal physician, and I'm deeply concerned.

The younger of the two men, a very red-faced man with an Irish accent, clearly did not believe what I was saying to him, and he could sense that something was very wrong with my manner and my speech. My only hope was to sink this individual into confusion so that he remained quiet.

But the other, the tall and educated Englishman, was much easier to spellbind, and he began to pour out the whole tale without guile.

Seems Dr. Stoker was not really Dr. Stoker, but a man from England named David Talbot, though why he had used the assumed name, he refused to say.

You know, this Mr. Talbot had a gun on board this vessel, sir! said the tall officer, while the other continued to stare at me in deep inarticulate distrust. Of course this organization in London, this Talamasca, or whatever it is, was most apologetic, and eager to make things right. It was settled with the captain finally, and some persons at the home offices of Cunard. No charges were brought against Mr. Talbot when Mr. Talbot agreed to pack his belongings and allow himself to be escorted ashore and to a plane leaving immediately for the United States.

To where in the United States?

Miami, sir. In fact, I saw him to the flight myself. He insisted upon giving me a message for you, sir, that you should meet him in Miami, at your convenience. At the Park Central Hotel He gave me this message any number of times.

I see, I answered. And the man who attacked him The man at whom he fired the gun?

We haven't found any such person, sir, though undoubtedly this man was seen on this ship earlier by any number of persons, and in the company of Mr. Talbot, it seems! As a matter of fact, that is the young gentleman's cabin over there, and I believe you were in it, talking to the steward, when we arrived?

The whole thing is most puzzling, I said hi my most intimate and confiding manner. You think this brown-haired young man is no longer on the ship?

We're fairly certain of it, sir. though of course it's quite impossible to engage in an all-out search of a vessel such as this. The young man's belongings were still in the cabin when we opened it. We did have to open it, of course, what with Mr. Talbot insisting he'd been assaulted by the young man, and that the young man was also traveling under an assumed name! We have his luggage in safekeeping, of course. Sir, if you would come with me to the captain's office, I think perhaps you could shed some light upon-

I quickly averred that I knew nothing about all this, really. I hadn't been in the cabin at the time. Indeed, I'd gone ashore yesterday in Grenada without ever knowing that either man was boarding the vessel. And I had disembarked this morning in Barbados for a day of sightseeing without ever knowing this shooting incident had taken place.

But all this calm clever chatter on my part was a cover for the persuasion I continued to use on both of them-that they must leave me now, so that I might change clothes and have some rest.

When I shut the door on them, I knew they were on their way to the captain's quarters, and that I had only minutes before they returned. It didn't really matter. David was safe; he'd left the ship and gone on to Miami, where I was to meet him. That was all I wanted to know. Thank God he'd gotten an immediate flight out of Barbados. For God only knew where James might be at this tune.

As for Mr. Jason Hamilton, whose passport I was carrying in my pocket, he still had a closet full of clothes in this suite and I intended to avail myself of some of them at once. I stripped off the rumpled dinner jacket, and other nighttime finery- vampire drag, par excellence!-and found a cotton shirt, decent linen jacket, and pants. Of course everything was exquisitely tailored for this body. Even the canvas shoes were a comfortable fit.

I took along the passport with me, and a sizable sum of American dollars which I had found in the old clothes.

Then I went back out on the veranda and stood still in the sweet caressing breeze, eyes moving dreamily over the deeply blue and luminous sea.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 was now thundering along at her famed twenty-eight knots, the bright translucent waves crashing into her mighty bow. The island of Barbados had completely disappeared from view. I looked up at the great black smokestack, which seemed hi its immensity to be the very chimney of hell. It was a splendid sight to see the thick gray smoke gushing from it, and then arching back and down to the very water in the continuous blast of the wind.

I looked again at the distant horizon. All the world was filled with fine and beauteous azure light. Beyond a thin haze which mortals could not have detected I saw the tiny twinkling constellations, and the somber shining planets drifting ever so slowly by. I stretched my limbs, loving the feel of them, and the sweet ripples of sensation which moved down my shoulders and back. I shook myself all over, loving the feel of my hair on the back of my neck, and then I rested my arms upon the rail.

I'll catch up with you, James, I whispered. You can be certain of it. But I have other things I must do now. For the moment plot your little schemes in vain.

Then I went upwards slowly-indeed as slowly as I could manage it-until I was very high over the vessel, and I gazed down at her, admiring her many decks stacked one atop the other, and trimmed in so many tiny yellow lights. How festive she looked, and how removed from all care. Bravely she advanced through the rolling sea, mute and powerful and carrying her whole little realm with her of dancing and dining and chattering beings, of busy security officers and rushing stewards, of hundreds upon hundreds of happy creatures who knew not at all that we had ever been there to trouble them with our little drama, or that we were gone as swiftly as we had come, leaving only the smallest bit of confusion in our wake. Peace to the happy Queen Elizabeth 2, I thought, and then again, I knew why the Body Thief had loved her, and hidden himself within her, sad and tawdry though she was.

After all, what is our entire world to the stars above What do they think of our tiny planet, I wondered, full of mad juxtaposition, happenstance, and endless struggle, and the deep crazed civilizations sprawled upon the face of it, and held together not by will or faith or communal ambition but by some dreamy capacity of the world's millions to be oblivious to life's tragedies and again and again sink into happiness, just as the passengers of that little ship sank into it-as if happiness were as natural to all beings as hunger or sleepiness or love of warmth and fear of the cold.

I rose higher and higher until I could no longer see the ship at all. Clouds raced across the face of the world below me. And above, the stars burned through in all their cold majesty, and for once I didn't hate them; no, I couldn't hate them; I could hate nothing; I was too full of joy and dark bitter triumph. I was Lestat, drifting between hell and heaven, and content to be so-perhaps for the first time.

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