The Tale of the Body Thief

Chapter 27


I WAS still in a pure mortal state of shock as we entered the large marble-tiled lobby. In a haze, I saw the sumptuous furnishings, the immense vases of flowers, and the smartly dressed tourists drifting past. Patiently, the tall brown-haired man who had been my former self guided me to the elevator, and we went up in swooshing silence to a high floor.

I was unable to tear my eyes off him, yet my heart was throbbing from what had only just taken place. I could still taste the blood of the wounded body in my mouth!

The suite we entered now was spacious and full of muted colors, and open to the night through a great wall of floor-length windows which looked out upon the many lighted towers along the shores of dark serene Biscayne Bay.

You do understand what I've been trying to tell you, I said, glad to be alone with him at last, and staring at him as he .. settled opposite me at the small round wooden table. I hurt him, David, I hurt him in a rage. I... I flung him at the wall.

You and your dreadful temper, Lestat, he said, but again it was the voice one uses to calm an overwrought child.

A great warm smile fired the beautifully molded face with its clear graceful bones, and broad serene mouth-David's unmistakable smile.

I couldn't respond. Slowly, I lowered my eyes from the radiant face to the powerful straight shoulders settling against the back of the chair, and the entire relaxed form.

He led me to believe he was you! I said, trying to focus again. He pretended to be you. Oh, God, I poured out all my woe to him, David. He sat there listening to me, suckering me on. And then he asked for the Dark Gift. He told me he'd changed his mind. He lured me up to the rooms to give it to him, David! It was ghastly. It was everything I had wanted, and yet I knew something wasn't right! Something about him was so sinister. Oh, and there were clues, and I didn't see them! What a fool I was.

Body and soul, said the smooth-skinned, poised young man opposite. He removed the seersucker jacket, tossing it on the nearby chair, and sat back again, folding his arms across his chest. The fabric of the turtleneck shirt showed his muscles to great advantage, and the clean white cotton made his skin seem all the more richly colored, almost a dark golden brown.

Yes, I know, he said, the lovely British voice flowing naturally. It's quite shocking. I had the very same experience, only a few days ago in New Orleans, when the only friend I have in the world appeared before me in this body! I sympathize completely. And I do understand-you needn't ask me again- that my old body is probably dying. It's just I don't know what either of us can do.

Well, we can't go near it, that's certain! If you were to come within a few feet of it, James might sense your presence and focus sufficiently to get out.

You think James is still in the body? he asked, the eyebrows lifting again, precisely as David always lifted them when he spoke, the head tipping forward ever so slightly, and the mouth on the edge of a smile.

David in that face! The timbre of the voice was almost exactly the same.

Ah ... what... oh, yes, James. Yes, James is in the body! David, it was a blow to the head! You remember our discussion. If I was to kill him, it ought to be a swift blow to the head. He was stammering something about his mother. He wanted her. He kept saying to tell her that Raglan needed her. He was in that body when I left the room.

I see. This means the brain is functioning but the brain is severely impaired.

Exactly! Don't you see He thought he would stop me from hurting him because it was your body. He had taken refuge in your body! Oh, he figured wrong! Wrong! And to try to lure me into the Dark Trick! What vanity! He should have known better. He should have confessed his little scheme the moment he saw me. Damn him. David, if I haven't killed your body, I've wounded it beyond repair.

He had drifted into his thoughts precisely the way he always did in the midst of conversation, the eyes soft and wide and looking off into the distance through the floor-length windows, and over the dark bay.

I must go to the hospital, mustn't I? he whispered.

For God's sakes, no. Do you want to be plunged into that body as it dies! You can't be serious.

He climbed to his feet with an easy grace, and moved to the windows. He stood there staring out into the night, and I saw the characteristic posture in him, I saw the unmistakable expression of David in troubled reflection in the new face.

What absolute magic it was to see this being with all his poise and wisdom shining from within this young form. To see the soft intelligence behind the clear young eyes as he looked down at me again.

My death's waiting for me, isn't it? he whispered.

Let it wait. It was an accident, David. It's not an inevitable death. Of course there is one alternative. We both know what

What? he asked.

We go there together. We get into the room somehow by bewitching a few medical persons of various rank. You push him out of the body, and you go into it, and then I give you the blood. I bring you to me. There is no conceivable injury that the full infusion of blood won't heal.

No, my friend. You should know better by now than to suggest it. That I cannot do.

I knew you'd say it, I said. Then don't go near the hospital. Don't do anything to rouse him from his stupor!

And then we both fell silent, looking at one another. The alarm was fast draining out of me. I was no longer trembling. And I realized quite suddenly that he had never been alarmed.

He wasn't alarmed now. He did not even look sad. He was looking at me, as if asking me silently to understand. Or perhaps he wasn't thinking of me at all.

Seventy-four years old he was! And he had gone out of a body full of predictable aches and pains and dulling vision and into this hardy and beautiful form.

Why, I could have no idea at all of what he was really feeling! I'd swapped a god's body for those limbs! He had swapped the body of an aged being, with death ever present at his shoulder, a man for whom youth was a collection of painful and tormenting memories, a man so shaken by those memories that his peace of mind was fast crumbling away entirely, threatening to leave him bitter and discouraged in the few years he had left.

Now he had been given back his youth! He might live another whole lifetime! And it was a body that he himself had found enticing, beautiful, even magnificent-a body for which he himself had felt carnal desire.

And here I'd been crying anxiously about the aged body, battered and losing its life drop by drop, in a hospital bed.

Yes, he said, I'd say that is the situation, exactly. And yet I know that I should go to that body! I know that it is the proper home of this soul. I know that every moment I wait, I risk the unimaginable-that it will expire, and I will have to remain in this body. Yet I brought you here. And here is exactly where I intend to remain.

I shuddered all over, staring at him, blinking as if to wake myself from a dream, and then shuddering again. Finally I laughed, a crazed ironic laugh. And then I said:

Sit down, pour yourself some of your bloody miserable Scotch and tell me how this came about.

He wasn't ready to laugh. He appeared mystified, or merely in a great state of passivity, peering at me and at the problem and at the whole world from within that marvelous frame.

He stood a moment longer at the windows, eyes moving over the distant high-rises, so very white and clean looking with their hundreds of little balconies, and then at the water stretching on to the bright sky.

Then he went to the small bar in the corner, without the slightest awkwardness, and picked up the bottle of Scotch, along with a glass, and brought these back to the table. He poured himself a good thick swallow of the stinking stuff, and drank half of it, making that lovely little grimace with his tight new facial skin, exactly the way he had with the older, softer face, and then he flashed his irresistible eyes on me again.

Well, he was taking refuge, he said. It was exactly what you said. I should have known he would do it! But damn, it never occurred to me. We had our hands full, so to speak, dealing with the switch. And God knows, I never thought he'd try to seduce you into the Dark Trick. What made him think he could fool you when the blood started to flow?

I made a little desperate gesture.

Tell me what happened, I said. He knocked you out of your body!

Completely. And for a moment I couldn't imagine what had happened! You can't conceive of his power! Of course he was desperate, as were we all! Of course I tried to reclaim myself at once, but he repelled me and then he started firing that gun at you!

At me He couldn't have hurt me with it, David!

But I didn't know that for certain, Lestat. Suppose one of those bullets had struck you in the eye! I didn't know but that he might shock your body with one good shot and somehow manage to get back into it himself! And I can't claim to be an experienced spirit traveler. Certainly not on a level with him. I was hi a state of plain fear. Then you were gone, and I still couldn't recapture my own body, and he turned that gun on the other, lying on the floor.

I didn't even know if I could take possession of it. I've never done this. I wouldn't even attempt it when you invited me to do so. Possession of another body. It's as morally loathsome to me as deliberately taking human life. But he was about to blow the head off that body-that is, if he could get proper control of the gun. And where was I And what was to happen to me That body was my only chance of reentrance into the physical world.

I went into it exactly the way I'd instructed you to enter your own. And I had it up and on its feet instantly, knocking him backwards, and almost dislodging the gun from his hand. By that time the passage outside was full of panic-stricken passengers and stewards! He fired another bullet as I fled over the veranda and dropped down to the lower deck.

I don't think I realized what had happened until I hit those boards. The fall would have broken my ankle in my old body! Probably even my leg. I was prepared for that inevitable split-??f ting pain, and suddenly I realized I wasn't hurt at all, that I'd??j climbed to my feet almost effortlessly, and I ran down the length of the deck and into the door to the Queens Grill Lounge.

And of course that was the very wrong way to go. The security officers were on their way through that room to the Signal Deck stairs. I had no doubt they would apprehend him. They had to. And he'd been so awkward with that gun, Lestat. It was the way you described him before. He really doesn't know how to move in these bodies he steals. He remains too much himself!

He stopped, took another drink of the Scotch, and then filled the glass again. I was mesmerized watching him, and listening to him-to the authoritative voice and manner combined with the glistening and innocent face. Indeed, late adolescence had only just completed itself in this young male form, though I hadn't thought about it before. It was in every sense only just finished, like a coin with the first clear impression stamped upon it and not a single tiny scratch of true wear.

You don't get as drunk in this body, do you? I asked.

No, he said. I don't. Nothing is the same, actually. Nothing. But let me go on. I didn't mean to leave you on the ship. I was frantic for your safety. But I had to.

I told you not to worry on my account, I said. Oh, Lord God, those are almost the same words I used to him .. . when I thought he was you. But go on. What happened then?

Well, I stepped back out into the hallway behind the Queens Grill Lounge, where I could still see inside through the little glass window in the door. I figured they had to bring him down that way. I didn't know of any other way. And I had to know if he had been caught. Understand, I'd made no decision as to what to do. Within seconds, a whole contingent of officers appeared, with me-David Talbot-in the very midst of them, and they ushered him-the old me-hastily and grimly through the Queens Grill itself and towards the front of the ship. And oh, to see him struggling to preserve his dignity, talking at them rapidly and almost cheerfully, as if he were a gentleman of great wealth and influence, caught up in some sordid annoying little affair.

I can imagine it.

But what is his game, I thought. I didn't realize of course that he was thinking of the future, how to take refuge from you. All I could think was, What is he up to now Then it occurred to me that he would send them to search for me. He'd blame me for the entire incident, of course.

At once, I checked my pockets. I had the passport of Sheridan Blackwood, the money you'd left to help him get clear of the boat, and the key to your old cabin upstairs. I was trying to think what I should do. If I went to that cabin they would come to look for me. He didn't know the name on the passport. But the cabin stewards would put it all together, of course.

I was still utterly confused when I heard his name coming over the loudspeakers. A quiet voice was asking for Mr. Raglan James to report to any available officer of the ship at once. So he had implicated me, believing me to have that passport which he gave to you. And it would only be a matter of time before the name Sheridan Blackwood was connected to it. He was probably giving them a physical description of me now.

I didn't dare go down to Five Deck to try to see if you'd made your hiding place safely. I might be leading them there if I tried. There was only one thing I could do, as I saw it, and that was to hide somewhere until I knew that he was off the ship. It seemed entirely logical to me that he'd be taken into custody in Barbados on account of the firearm. And then he probably didn't know what name was on his passport, and they would have a look at it before he could pull it out.

I went down to the Lido Deck, where the great majority of the passengers were having breakfast, got myself a cup of coffee, and crept into a corner, but within minutes I knew this wasn't going to work. Two officers appeared and were obviously looking for someone. I barely escaped notice. I started talking to two kindly women next to me, and more or less slipped into their little group.

Within seconds after these officers moved on, but another announcement came over the public address system. This time they had the name right. Would Mr. Sheridan Blackwood report to any officer of the ship at once And another dreadful possibility occurred to me! I was hi the body of this London mechanic who'd murdered his entire family and escaped from a madhouse. The fingerprints of this body were probably on file. James wasn't past making that known to the authorities. And here we were docking now hi British Barbados! Not even the Talamasca could get this body out of custody if I were taken. Much as I feared to leave you, I had to try to get off the ship.

You should have known I'd be all right. But why didn't they stop you at the gangway?

Ah, they almost did, but it was sheer confusion. Bridgetown harbour is quite large, and we were properly docked at the pier. No need for the little launch. And it had taken so long for the customs officials to clear the ship for disembarkation that there were hundreds waiting in the aisles of the lower deck to go ashore.

The officers were checking boarding passes as best they could, but I managed again to slip in with a little group of English ladies, and I began talking quite loudly to them about the sights of Barbados and the lovely weather, and I managed to get through.

I walked right down and onto the concrete wharf and towards the customs building. My next fear was that they would check my passport in that building before I'd be allowed through.

And of course you have to remember, I'd been in this body for less than an hour! Every step felt completely strange to me. Over and over I looked down and saw these hands, and there, came the shock-Who am I I would look into people's faces, as if peering out of two holes in a blank wall. I couldn't imagine what they saw!

I know, believe me.

Oh, but the strength, Lestat. That you cannot know. It was as if I'd drunk some overwhelming stimulant which had saturated every fiber! And these young eyes, ah, how far and how clearly they can see.

I nodded.

Well, to be perfectly frank, he said, I was scarcely reasoning at all. The customs building was very crowded. There were several cruise ships in port, as a matter of fact. The Wind Song was there, and so was the Rotterdam. And I think the Royal Viking Sun was also tied up, just across from the Queen Elizabeth 2. Whatever, the place was swarming with tourists, and I soon realized that passports were being checked only for those returning to their ships.

I went into one of the little shops-you know the sort, full of horrible merchandise-and I bought a big pair of mirrored sunglasses, the kind you used to wear when your skin was so pale, and a hideous shirt with a parrot on it.

Then taking off my jacket and turtleneck, I put on that horrible shirt, and the glasses, and I took up a station from which I could see the length of the wharf through the open doors. I didn't know what else to do. I was terrified that they would start searching the cabins! What would they do when they couldn't open that little door on Five Deck, or if they did find your body in that trunk Then on the other hand, how could they make such a search And what would prompt them to do it They had the man with the gun.

He paused again to take another swallow of the Scotch. He looked truly innocent in his distress as he described all this, innocent in the way he never could have looked in the older flesh.

I was mad, absolutely mad. I tried to use my old telepathic powers, and it took me some time to discover them, and the body was more involved with it than I would have thought.

No surprise to me, I said.

And then all I could pick up were various thoughts and pictures from passengers nearest me. It was no good at all. But fortunately my agony came abruptly to an end.

They brought James ashore. He had the same enormous contingent of officers with him. They must have thought him the most dangerous criminal in the Western world. And he had my luggage with him. And again he was the very image of British propriety and dignity, chatting away with a gay smile, even though the officers were obviously deeply suspicious and profoundly uncomfortable as they ushered him to the customs people and laid his passport in their hands.

I realized that he was being forced to permanently leave the ship. They even searched his luggage before the party was allowed to go through.

All this time I was cleaving to the wall of the building, a young bum, if you will, with my jacket and shirt over my arm, staring at my old dignified self through those awful glasses. What is his game, I thought. Why does he want that body! As I told you, it simply never occurred to me what a clever move it had been.

I followed the little troop outside, where a police car was waiting, into which they put his luggage as he stood rattling on and shaking hands now with those officers who were to stay behind.

I drew near enough to hear his profuse thanks and apologies, the dreadful euphemisms and meaningless language, and his enthusiastic statements as to how much he'd enjoyed his brief voyage. How he seemed to enjoy this masquerade.

Yes, I said dismally. That's our man.

Then the strangest of all moments occurred. He stopped all this chatter as they held the door of the car open for him, and turned around. He looked directly at me, as if he'd known I was there all along. Only he disguised this gesture quite cleverly, letting his eyes drift over the crowds coming and going through the enormous entrances, and then he looked at me again, very quickly, and he smiled.

Only when the car drove off did I realize what had occurred. He had willingly driven away in my old body, leaving me with this twenty-six-year-old hunk of flesh.

He lifted the glass again, took a sip, and stared at me.

Maybe the switch at such a moment would have been absolutely impossible. I really don't know. But the fact was, he wanted that body. And I was left standing there, outside the customs building, and I was ... a young man again!

He stared fixedly at the glass, obviously not seeing it at all, and then again his eyes looked into mine.

It was Faust, Lestat. I'd bought youth. But the strange part was ... I hadn't sold my soul!

I waited as he sat there in confounded silence, and shook his head a little, and seemed on the verge of beginning again. Finally he spoke:

Can you forgive me for leaving then There was no way I could return to the ship. And of course James was on his way to jail, or so I believed.

Of course I forgive you. David, we knew this might happen. We expected you might be taken into custody just as he was! It's absolutely unimportant. What did you do Where did you go?

I went into Bridgetown. It wasn't even really a decision. A young very personable black cabdriver came up to me, thinking I was a cruise passenger, which of course I was. He offered me a tour of the city at a good price. He'd lived for years in England. Had a nice voice. I don't even think I answered him. I simply nodded and climbed into the back seat of the little car. For hours he drove me around the island. He must have thought me a very strange individual, indeed.

I remember we drove through the most beautiful sugarcane fields. He said the little road had been built for the horse and carriage. And I thought that these fields probably looked the way they did two hundred years ago. Lestat could tell me. Lestat would know. And then I'd look down at my hands again. I'd move my foot, or tense my arms, or any small gesture; and I'd feel the sheer health and vigor of this body! And I'd fall back into a state of wonder, utterly oblivious to the poor man's voice or the sights we passed.

Finally we came to a botanical garden. The gentlemanly black driver parked the little car and invited me to go in. What did it matter to me I bought the admission with some of the money you'd so kindly left in your pockets for the Body Thief, and then I wandered into the garden and soon found myself in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in all the world.

Lestat, all this was like a potent dream!

I must take you to this place, you must see it-you who love the islands so very much. In fact, all I could think of... was you!

And I must explain something to you. Never in all this time since you first came to me, never once have I ever looked into your eyes or heard your voice, or even thought of you, without feeling pain. It's the pain connected to mortality, to realizing one's age and one's limits, and what one will never have again. Do you see my meaning?

Yes. And as you walked around the botanical garden, you thought of me. And you didn't feel the pain.

Yes, he whispered. I didn't feel the pain.I

I waited. He sat in quiet, drinking the Scotch again in a deep greedy gulp, and then he pushed the glass away. The tall muscular body was completely controlled by his elegance of spirit, moving with his polished gestures, and once again there came the measured, even tones of his voice.

We must go there, he said. We must stand on that hill over the sea. You remember the sound of the coconut palms in Grenada, that clicking sound as they moved in the wind You've never heard such music as you will hear in that garden in Barbados, and oh, those flowers, those mad savage flowers. It's your Savage Garden, and yet so tame and soft and safe! I saw the giant traveler's palm with its branches seemingly braided as they came out of the stalk! And the lobster claw, a monstrous and waxen thing; and the ginger lilies, oh, you must see them. Even in the light of the moon it must all be beautiful, beautiful to your eyes.

I think I would have stayed there forever. It was a busload of tourists which shook me out of my dreams. And do you know, they were from our ship They were the folks from the QE2. He gave a bright laugh and the face became too exquisite to describe. The whole powerful body shook with soft laughter. Oh, I got out of there then very fast indeed.

I went back out, found my driver, and then let him take me down to the west coast of the island, past the fancy hotels. Lots of British people there on vacation. Luxury, solitude-golf courses. And then I saw this one particular place-a resort right on the water that was everything I dream of when I want to get away from London and jet across the world to some warm and lovely spot.

I told him to take me up the drive so that I might have a look. It was a rambling place of pink stucco, with a charming dining room under a bungalow roof and open all along the white beach. I thought things over as I roamed about, or rather I tried to, and I decided I would stay for the tune being in this hotel.

I paid off the driver, and checked into a fine little beachfront room. They took me through the gardens to reach it, and then admitted me to a small building, and I found myself inside with the doors open to a small covered porch from which a little path went right down to the sand. Nothing between me and the blue Caribbean but the coconut palms and a few great hibiscus shrubs, covered with unearthly red blooms.

Lestat, I began to wonder if I'd died and all this wasn't the mirage before the curtain drops at last!

I nodded in understanding.

I sank down on the bed, and you know what happened I went to sleep. I lay there in this body and I went to sleep.

It's no wonder, I said, with a little smile.

Well, it's a wonder to me. It really is. But how you would love that little room! It was like a silent shell turned to the trade winds. When I woke in the middle of the afternoon the water was the very first thing I saw.

Then came the shock of realizing I was still hi this body! I realized I'd feared all along that James would find me and push me out of it, and that I'd end up roaming around, invisible and unable to find a physical home. I was sure something like that would happen. It even occurred to me that I would simply become unanchored on my own.

But there I was, and it was past three o'clock by this ugly watch of yours. I called London at once. Of course they had believed James was David Talbot when he'd called earlier, and only by listening patiently did I piece together what had happened-that our lawyers had gone at once to Cunard headquarters and straightened out everything for him, and that he was indeed on the way to the United States. Indeed, the Motherhouse thought I was calling from the Park Central Hotel in Miami Beach, to say that I had arrived safely and received their wire of emergency funds.

We should have known he would think of that.

Oh, yes, and such a sum! And they'd sent it right on, because David Talbot is still Superior General. Well, I listened to all this, patiently, as I said, then asked to speak to my trusted assistant, and told him more or less what was actually going on. I was being impersonated by a man who looked exactly like me and could imitate my voice with great skill. Raglan James was the very monster, but if and when he called again they were not to let on that they were wise to him, but rather pretend to do whatever he asked.

I don't suppose there is another organization hi the entire world where such a story, coming even from the Superior General, would be accepted as fact. Indeed, I had to do some heavy convincing myself. But really it was a lot simpler than one would suppose. There were so many little things known only to me and my assistant. Identification was no real problem. And then of course I didn't tell him that I was firmly ensconced in the body of a twenty-six-year-old man.

I did tell him I needed to obtain a new passport immediately. I had no intention of trying to leave Barbados with the name Sheridan Blackwood stamped on my picture. My assistant was instructed to call good old Jake in Mexico City, who would of course supply me with the name of a person in Bridgetown who could do the necessary work that very afternoon. And then I needed some money myself.

I was about to ring off when my assistant told me the impostor had left a message for Lestat de Lioncourt-that he was to meet him at the Park Central in Miami as soon as possible. The impostor had said that Lestat de Lioncourt would surely call for this message. That it must be given to him without fail.

He broke off again, and this time with a sigh.

I know I should have gone on to Miami. I should have warned you that the Body Thief was there. But something occurred in me when I received this information. I knew that I could reach the Park Central Hotel, and confront the Body Thief, probably before you could, if I were to move on it right away.

And you didn't want to do it.

No. I didn't.

David, it's all entirely understandable.

Is it? He looked at me.

You're asking a little devil like me?

He gave a wan smile. And then shook his head again, before going on:

I spent the night on Barbados, and half of this day. The passport was ready well in time yesterday for the last flight to Miami. But I didn't go. I stayed in that beautiful seaside hotel. I dined there, and I wandered in the little city of Bridgetown. I didn't leave until noon today.

I told you, I understand.

Do you What if the fiend had assaulted you again?

Impossible! We both know that. If he could have done it successfully with force, he would have done it the first time around. Stop tormenting yourself, David. I didn't come last night myself, though I thought you might need me. I was with Gretchen. I made a little sad shrug. Stop worrying about what does not matter. You know what matters. It's what's happening to your old body right now. It hasn't penetrated to you, my friend. I've dealt a death blow to that body! No, I can see that you haven't grasped it. You think you have, but you're still in a daze.

These words must have struck him hard.

It broke my heart to see the pain in his eyes, to see them clouded, and see the sharp lines of distress in this new and unmarred skin. But once again, the mix of a vintage soul and a youthful form was so wondrous and beguiling that I could only stare at him, thinking vaguely of the way he had stared at me in New Orleans and how impatient with it I had become.

I have to go there, Lestat. To that hospital. I have to see what's taken place.

I'll go. You can come with me. But I alone will go into the hospital room itself. Now where is the phone I must call the Park Central and find out where they took Mr. Talbot! And again, they're probably looking for me. The incident happened in my room. Perhaps I should simply call the hospital.

No! He reached out and touched my hand. Don't. We should go there. We should ... see ... for ourselves. I should see for myself. I have ... I have a feeling of foreboding.

So do I, I said. But it was more than foreboding. After all, I had seen that old man with the iron-gray hair passing into silent convulsions on the bloodstained bed.

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