The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 26


MIAMI-ah, my beautiful southern metropolis, lying under the polished sky of the Caribbean, no matter what say the various maps! The air seemed sweeter even than in the islands-sweeping gently over the inevitable crowds of Ocean Drive.

Hurrying through the fancy art deco lobby of the Park Central, and to the rooms I kept there, I stripped off my jungle-worn clothes, and went into my own closets for a white turtleneck shirt, belted khaki jacket and pants, and a pair of smooth brown leather boots. It felt good to be free of clothing purchased by the Body Thief, well fitted or not.

Then I immediately rang the desk and discovered that David Talbot had been in the hotel since yesterday and was now waiting for me on the porch of Bailey's Restaurant down the street.

I had no spirit for crowded public places. I'd persuade him to come back to my rooms. Surely he was still exhausted from the whole ordeal. The table and chairs here before the front windows would be a much better place for us to talk, as we were surely meant to do.

Out I went and up the busy sidewalk north until I saw Bailey's with the inevitable sign in fancy neon script above its handsome white awnings, and all its little tables draped in pink linen and set with candles, already busy with the first wave of the evening crowd. There was the familiar figure of David in the farthest corner of the porch, very proper in the suit of white linen he'd worn on the ship. He was watching for my approach with the usual quick and curious expression on his face.

In spite of my relief, I deliberately took him by surprise, slipping into the chair opposite so quickly that he gave a little start.

Ah, you devil, he whispered. I saw a little stiffening about his mouth for a minute as though he were really annoyed, but then he smiled. Thank God you're all right.

You really think that's appropriate? I asked.

When the handsome young waiter appeared I told him I wanted a glass of wine, just so that he would not continue to ask me about such things as the time passed. David had already been served some loathsome-colored exotic drink.

What in the hell actually happened? I asked, leaning in a little closer over the table to shut out some of the general noise.

Well, it was mayhem, he said. He tried to attack me, and I had no choice but to use the gun. He got away, over the veranda, as a matter of fact, because I couldn't hold the bloody gun steady. It was simply too big for these old hands. He gave a sigh. He seemed tired, frayed at the edges. After that, it was really a matter of calling the Motherhouse, and having them bail me out. Calls back and forth to Cunard in Liverpool. He made a dismissive gesture. I was on a plane for Miami at noon. Of course I didn't want to leave you unattended aboard the vessel, but there really was no choice.

I was never in the slightest danger, I said. I feared for you. I told you not to fear for me.

that's what I thought would be the case. I sent them after James, of course, hoping to drive him from the ship. It became plain they could not even consider undertaking a cabin-by-cabin search of the vessel. So I thought you'd be left alone. I'm almost certain James disembarked right after the melee. Otherwise they would have apprehended him. I gave them a full description of course.

He stopped, took a gingerly little sip of his fancy drink, and then laid it down.

You don't really like that, do you Where's your disgusting Scotch?

The drink of the islands, he said. No, I don't like it, but it doesn't matter. How did it go with you?

I didn't answer. I was of course seeing him with my old vision, and his skin was more translucent, and all the little infirmities of his body were plain. Yet he possessed the aura of the marvelous as do all mortals to a vampire's eyes.

He seemed weary, racked with nervous tension. Indeed, his eyes were red around the edges, and again I saw that stiffness about his mouth. I also noted a sagging to his shoulders. Had this awful ordeal aged him further I couldn't bear to see this in him. But his face was full of concern now as he looked at me,

Something bad has happened with you, he said, softening even more and reaching across the table and laying his fingers on my hand. How warm they felt. I can see this in your eyes.

I don't want to talk here, I said. Come up to my rooms at the hotel.

No, let's stay here, he said very gently. I feel anxious after all that's happened. It was quite an ordeal, really, for a man my age. I'm exhausted. I hoped you would come last night.

I'm sorry I didn't. I should have. I knew this was a terrible trial for you, even though you enjoyed it so much when it was going on.

You thought so? He gave a slow sad smile. I need another drink. What did you say Scotch?

What did I say I thought that was your favorite drink.

Now and then, he said. He gestured to the waiter. Sometimes it's a bit too serious. He asked for a single malt if they had it. They didn't. Chivas Regal would be fine. Thank you for indulging me. I like it here. I like the quiet commotion. I like the open air.

Even his voice sounded tired; it lacked some bright spark.

This was hardly the time to suggest a trip to Rio de Janeiro, obviously. And it was all my fault.

Anything you wish, I said.

Now, tell me what happened, he said, solicitously. I can see it's weighing on your soul.

And then I realized how much I wanted to tell him about Gretchen, that indeed, this is why I'd rushed here as much as any concern I felt for him. I was ashamed, and yet I couldn't prevent myself from telling him. I turned towards the beach, my elbow on the table, and my eyes sort of misted so that the colors of the evening world became muted and more luminescent than before. I told him that I'd gone to Gretchen because I'd promised to do it, though deep within myself, I was hoping and praying to take her into my world with me. And then I explained about the hospital, the pure strangeness of it-the similarity of the doctor to the one of centuries ago, and the little ward itself, and that mad, crazy notion that Claudia was there.

It was baffling, I whispered. I never dreamed that Gretchen would turn me away. You know what I thought It sounds so foolish now. I thought she would find me irresistible! I thought it couldn't possibly be any other way. I thought when she looked into my eyes-my eyes now, not those mortal eyes!-she'd see the true soul which she'd loved! I never imagined that there would be revulsion, or that it could be so total- both moral and physical-and that in the very moment of understanding what we are, she would recoil completely and turn away. I can't understand how I could have been foolish, how I persist in my illusions! Is it vanity Or am I simply mad You've never found me repellent, have you, David Or am I deluded on that score as well?

You are beautiful, he whispered, the words softened with feeling. But you are unnatural, and that is what this woman saw. How deeply distressed he seemed. He had never sounded more solicitous in all his patient talks with me. Indeed, he looked as if he felt the pain I felt-acutely and totally. She was no fit companion for you, don't you see? he said kindly.

Yes, I see. I see. I rested my forehead against my hand. I wished we were in the quiet of my rooms, but I didn't push the matter. He was being my friend again, as no other being on earth had ever been, really, and I would do as he wished. You know you are the only one, I said suddenly, my own voice sounding ragged and tired. The only one who will let me be my defeated self without turning away. How so?

Oh. All the others must damn me for my temper, my impetuosity, my will! They enjoy it. But when I show the weakness in myself, they shut me out. I thought then of Louis's rejection, and that I would very soon see him again, and an evil satisfaction rilled me. Ah, he would be so very surprised. Then a little fear came over me. How would I forgive him How would I keep my precious temper from exploding like a great wanton flame

We would make our heroes shallow, he answered, the words very slow and almost sad. We would make them brittle. It is they who must remind us of the true meaning of strength. Is that it? I asked. I turned, and folded my arms on the table, facing him, staring at the finely turned glass of pale yellow wine. Am I truly strong?

Oh, yes, strength you've always had. And that's why they envy you and despise you and become so cross with you. But I needn't tell you these things. Forget about the woman. It would have been wrong, so very wrong.

And what about you, David It wouldn't be wrong with you. I looked up, and to my surprise, I saw his eyes were moist now, and truly reddened, and again came that stiffening of his mouth. What is it, David? I asked.

No, it wouldn't be wrong, he said. I do not think now that it would be wrong at all. You're saying . . . ?

Bring me into it, Lestat, he whispered, and then he pulled back, the proper English gentleman, shocked and disapproving of his own emotions, and he looked out over the milling crowd and towards the distant sea.

You mean this, David You're certain? In truth I didn't want to ask. I didn't want to speak another word. And yet why Why had he come to this decision What had I done to him with this mad escapade I wouldn't be the Vampire Lestat now if it weren't for him. But what a price he must have paid.

I thought of him on the beach in Grenada, and how he had refused the simple act of making love. He was in pain now as he had been then. And it seemed no mystery at all suddenly that he had come to this. I had brought him to it with our little adventure together to defeat the Body Thief.

Come, I said to him. It is time to go now, away from all this and to where we can be alone. I was trembling. How many times had I dreamed of this moment.

And yet it had come so quickly, and there were so many questions I should ask.

A sudden terrible shyness fell over me. I couldn't look at him. I thought of the intimacy we would soon experience, and I couldn't meet his gaze. My God, I was acting the way he had in New Orleans when I'd been in that strapping mortal body and pelting him with my rampant desire.

My heart was hammering with expectation. David, David in my arms. The blood of David passing into me. And mine into David, and then we would stand on the edge of the sea together as dark immortal brothers. I could scarce speak or even think.

I got up without looking at him, and I walked across the porch and down the steps. I knew he was following me. I was like Orpheus. One backward glance and he'd be torn away from me. Perhaps the glaring lights of a passing car would flash on my hair and eyes in such a way that he would suddenly be paralyzed with fear.

I led the way back down the pavement, past the sluggish parade of mortals in their beach finery, past the little sidewalk tables of the cafes. I went directly into the Park Central and through the lobby again with all its sparkling high-toned glamour and up the stairs to my rooms.

I heard him close the door behind me.

I stood at the windows, looking out again at that shining evening sky. My heart, be quiet! Do not hurry it. It is too important that each step be made with care.

Look at the clouds scudding so quickly away from paradise. Stars mere specks of glitter struggling in the pale flood of evening light.

There were things I must tell him, things I must explain. He would be the same for all time as he was at this moment; was there any small physical thing he wished to change Shave the beard closer; trim the hair.

None of that matters, he said, in that soft cultured English voice. What's wrong? So kind, as if I were the one who needed reassurance. Isn't it what you wanted?

Oh, yes, truly yes. But you have to be sure you want it, I said, and only now I turned around.

He stood there in the shadows, so composed in his trim white linen suit, pale silk tie properly knotted at the neck. The light from the street shone brightly on his eyes, and flashed for one instant on the tiny gold stud in the tie.

I can't explain it, I whispered. It's happened so quickly, so suddenly, when I was sure it wouldn't. I'm afraid for you. Afraid you're making a terrible mistake.

I want it, he said, but how strained his voice was, how dark, how without that bright lyric note. I want it more than you can know. Do it now, please. Don't prolong my agony. Come to me. What can I do to invite you To assure you Oh, I've had longer than you know to brood on this decision. Remember how long I've known your secrets, all of you.

How strange his face looked, how hard his eyes, and how stiff and bitter his mouth.

David, something is wrong, I said. I know it is. Listen to me. We must talk it out together. It is the most crucial conversation perhaps that we will ever have. What's happened to make you want it What was it Our tune on the island together Spell it out for me. I must understand. You waste time, Lestat.

Oh, but for this, one must take time, David, it's the very last time that time really matters.

I drew closer to him, deliberately letting his scent fill my nostrils, deliberately letting the scent of his blood come to me, and awaken the desire in me which cared little who he was or what I was-the sharp hunger for him that wanted only his death. The thirst twisted and snapped inside me like a great whip.

He stepped backwards. I saw fear in his eyes.

No, don't be frightened. You think I would hurt you How could I have beaten that stupid little Body Thief if it hadn't been for you?

His face stiffened all over, eyes becoming smaller, his mouth stretching in what seemed a grimace. Why, how dreadful and unlike himself he looked. What in God's name was going on in his mind Everything was wrong about this moment, this decision! There was no joy, no intimacy. It was wrong.

Open to me! I whispered.

He shook his head, eyes flashing as they narrowed again. Won't it happen when the blood flows? Brittle, his voice!

Give me an image, Lestat, to hold in mind. An image to hold against fear.

I was confused. I wasn't sure I knew what he meant.

Shall I think of you and how beautiful you are, he said tenderly, and that we shall be together, companions always Will that bring me through?

Think of India, I whispered. Think of the mangrove forest, and when you were most happy . ..

I wanted to say more, I wanted to say, no, not that, but I didn't know why! And the hunger surged in me, and the burning loneliness mingled with it, and once again I saw Gretchen, saw the pure horror in her face. I moved closer to him. David, David at last... Do it! and be done with talking, what do the images matter, do it! What's wrong with you that you fear to do it

And this time I caught him firmly in my embrace.

There came his fear again, a spasm, but he did not truly struggle against me, and I savored it for one moment, this lush physical intimacy, the tall regal body hi my arms. I let my lips move over his dark gray hair, breathing in the familiar fragrance, I let my fingers cradle his head. And then my teeth broke through the surface of the skin before I meant to do it and the hot salted blood flowed over my tongue and filled my mouth.

David, David at last.

In a torrent the images came-the great forests of India, and the great gray elephants thundering past, knees lifted awkwardly, giant heads wagging, tiny ears flapping like loose leaves. Sunlight striking the forest. Where is the tiger Oh, dear God, Lestat, you are the tiger! You've done it to him! That's why you didn't want him to think of this! And in a flash I saw him staring at me in the sunlit glade, David of years ago in splendid youth, smiling, and suddenly, for a split second, superimposed upon the image, or springing from within it like an unfolding flower, there appeared another figure, another man. It was a thin, emaciated creature with white hair, and cunning eyes. And I knew, before it vanished once more into the faltering and lifeless image of David, that it had been James!

This man in my arms was James!

I hurled him backwards, hand up to wipe the spilling blood from my lips.

James! I roared.

He fell against the side of the bed, eyes dazed, blood trickling onto his collar, one hand flung out against me. Now don't be hasty! he cried in that old familiar cadence of his own, chest heaving, sweat gleaming on his face.

Damn you into hell, I roared again, staring at those frenzied glittering eyes in David's face.

I lunged at him, hearing a sudden spurt from him of desperate crazed laughter, and more slurred and hurried words.

You fool! It's Talbot's body! You don't want to hurt Talbot's-

But it was too late. I tried to stop myself but my hand had closed around his throat, and I'd already flung the body at the wall!

In horror, I saw him slam into the plaster. I saw the blood splatter from the back of his head, and I heard the ugly crunch of the broken wall behind him, and when I reached out to catch him, he fell directly into my arms. In a wide bovine stare he looked at me, his mouth working desperately to make the words come out.

Look what you've done, you fool, you idiot. Look what...

look what. . .

Stay in that body, you little monster! I said between my clenched teeth. Keep it alive!

He was gasping. A thin tiny stream of blood poured out of his nose and down into his mouth. His eyes rolled. I held him up, but his feet were dangling as if he were paralyzed. You . . . you fool . . . call Mother, call her ... Mother, Mother, Raglan needs you .. . Don't call Sarah. Don't tell Sarah. Call Mother- And then, he lost consciousness, head flopping forward as I held him and then laid him down on the bed.

I was frantic. What was I to do! Could I heal his wounds with my blood! No, the wound was inside, in his head, in his brain! Ah, God! The brain. David's brain!

I grabbed up the telephone, stammered the number of the room and that there was an emergency. A man was badly hurt. A man had fallen. A man had had a stroke! They must get an ambulance for this man at once.

Then I put down the phone and went back to him. David's face and body lying helplessly there! His eyelids were fluttering, and his left hand opened, and then closed, and opened again. Mother, he whispered. Get Mother. Tell her Raglan needs her ... Mother.

She's coming, I said, you must wait for her! Gently, I turned his head to the side. But in truth what did it matter Let him fly up and out of it if he could! This body wasn't going to recover! This body could be no fit host to David ever again!

And where the hell was David!

Blood was spreading all over the coverlet of the bed. I bit into my wrist. I let the drops fall on the puncture wounds in the neck. Maybe a few drops on the lips would help somehow. But what could I do about the brain! Oh, God, how could I have done it...

Foolish, he whispered, so foolish. Mother!

The left hand began to flop from side to side on the bed. Then I saw that his entire left arm was jerking, and indeed, the left side of his mouth was pulling to the side over and over again in the same repetitive pattern, as his eyes stared upwards and pupils ceased to move. The blood continued to flow from the nose and down into the mouth and over the white teeth.

Oh, David, I didn't mean to do it, I whispered. Oh, Lord God, he's going to die!

I think he said the word Mother once more.

But I could hear the sirens now, screaming towards Ocean Drive. Someone was pounding on the door. I slipped to the side as it was flung open, and I darted from the room, unseen. Other mortals were rushing up the stairway. They saw no more than a quick shadow as I passed. I stopped once in the lobby, and in a daze I watched the clerks scurrying about. The awful scream of the siren grew louder. I turned and all but stumbled out the doors and down into the street.

Oh, Lord God, David, what have I done?

A car horn startled me, then another blast jogged me loose from my stupor. I was standing in the very middle of the traffic. I backed away, and up onto the sand.

Suddenly a large stubby white ambulance came rattling to a halt directly before the hotel. One hulking young man jumped from the front seat and rushed into the lobby, while the other went to throw open the rear doors. Someone was shouting inside the building. I saw a figure at the window of my room above.

I backed further away, my legs trembling as if I were mortal, my hands clutching stupidly at my head as I peered at the horrid little scene through the dim sunglasses, watching the inevitable crowd gather as people stopped in their meandering, as they rose from the tables of the nearby restaurants and approached the hotel doors.

Now it was quite impossible to see anything in normal fashion, but the scene materialized before me as I snatched the images from mortal minds-the heavy gurney being carried through the lobby, with David's helpless body strapped to it, the attendants forcing people to the side.

The doors of the ambulance were slammed shut. Again the siren began its frightful peal, and off the vehicle sped, carrying David's body inside it to God only knows where!

I had to do something! But what could I do Get into that hospital; work the change upon the body! What else can save it And then you have James inside it Where is David Dear God, help me. But why should You

At last I sprang into action. I hurried up the street, sprinting easily past the mortals who could scarcely see me, and found a glass-walled phone booth and slipped into it and slammed the door.

I have to reach London, I told the operator, spilling out the information: the Talamasca, collect. Why was it taking so long! I pounded upon the glass with my right fist in my impatience, the receiver pressed to my ear. At last one of those kindly patient Talamasca voices accepted the call.

Listen to me, I said, blurting out my name in full as I began. This isn't going to make sense to you, but it's dreadfully important. The body of David Talbot has just been rushed to a hospital in the city of Miami. I don't even know which hospital! But the body is badly wounded. The body may die. But you must understand. David is not inside this body. Are you listening David is someplace . . .

I stopped.

A dark shape had appeared in front of me on the other side of the glass. And as my eyes fell on it, fully prepared to dismiss it-for what did I care if some mortal man were pressing me to hurry-I realized it was my old mortal body standing there, my tall young brown-haired mortal body, in which I had lived long enough to know every small particular, every weakness and strength. I was staring into the very face I had seen in the mirror only two days ago! Only it was now two inches taller than 1.1 was looking up into those familiar brown eyes.

The body wore the same seersucker suit with which I had last clothed it. Indeed, there was the same white turtleneck shirt that I had pulled over its head. And one of those familiar hands was lifted now in a calm gesture, calm as the expression on the face, giving me the unmistakable command to hang up the phone.

I put the receiver back into its hook.

In a quiet fluid movement, the body came around to the front of the booth and opened the door. The right hand closed on my arm, drawing me out with my full cooperation onto the sidewalk and into the gentle wind.

David, I said. Do you know what I've done?

I think so, he said with a little lift to the eyebrows, the familiar English voice issuing confidently from the young mouth. I saw the ambulance at the hotel.

David, it was a mistake, a horrible, horrible mistake!

Come on, let's get away from here, he said. And this was the voice I remembered, truly comforting and commanding and soft.

But, David, you don't understand, your body . . .

Come, you can tell me all about it, he said.

It's dying, David.

Well, there isn't much we can do about it, then, is there?

And to my utter amazement, he put his arm around me, and leant forward in his characteristic authoritative manner, and pressed me to come along with him, down the pavement to the corner, where he put up his hand to signal a cab.

I don't know which hospital, I confessed. I was still shaking violently all over. I couldn't control the tremours in my hands. And the sight of him looking down at me so serenely was shocking me beyond endurance, especially when the old familiar voice came again from the taut, tanned face.

We're not going to the hospital, he said, as if deliberately trying to calm a hysterical child. He gestured to the taxi. Please get in.

Sliding onto the leather seat beside me, he gave the driver the address of Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove.

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