The Tale of the Body Thief


Chapter 6



SIX

I WASN'T so angry with the little fiend when I woke up. Actually, I was powerfully intrigued. But then the sun had set and I had the upper hand.

I decided upon a little experiment. I went to Paris, making the crossing very quickly and on my own.

Now let me digress here for a moment, only to explain that in recent years I had avoided Paris utterly, and indeed, I knew nothing of it as a twentieth-century city at all. The reasons for this are probably obvious. I had suffered much there in ages past, and I guarded myself against the visions of modern buildings rising around Pere-Lachaise cemetery or electrically lighted Ferns wheels turning in the Tuileries. But I had always secretly longed to return to Paris, naturally. How could I not

And this little experiment gave me courage and a perfect excuse. It deflected the inevitable pain of my observations, for I had a purpose. But within moments of my arrival, I realized that I was very truly in Paris-that this could be no place else-and I was overwhelmed with happiness as I walked on the grand boulevards, and inevitably past the place where the Theatre of the Vampires had once stood.

Indeed a few theatres of that period had survived into modern times, and there they were-imposing and ornate and still drawing in their audiences, amid the more modern structures on all sides.

I realized as I wandered the brilliantly lighted Champs Ely-sees-which was jammed with tiny speeding cars, as well as thousands of pedestrians-that this was no museum city, like Venice. It was as alive now as it had ever been in the last two centuries. A capital. A place of innovation still and courageous change.

I marveled at the stark splendour of the Georges Pompidou Center, rising so boldly within sight of the venerable flying buttresses of Notre Dame. Oh, I was glad I had come.

But I had a task, did I not

I didn't tell a soul, mortal or immortal, that I was there. I did not call my Paris lawyer, though it was most inconvenient. Rather I acquired a great deal of money in the old familiar manner of taking it from a couple of thoroughly unsavory and well-heeled criminal victims in the dark streets.

Then I headed for the snow-covered Place Vendome, which contained the very same palaces which it had in my day, and under the alias of Baron Van Kindergarten, ensconced myself in a lavish suite at the Ritz.

There for two nights, I avoided the city, enveloped in a luxury and style that was truly worthy of Marie Antoinette's Versailles. Indeed it brought tears to my eyes to see the excessive Parisian decoration all around me, the gorgeous Louis XVI chairs, and the lovely embossed paneling of the walls. Ah, Paris. Where else can wood be painted gold and still look beautiful!

Sprawled on a tapestried directoire daybed, I set at once to reading David's manuscripts, only now and then breaking off to walk about the silent parlour and bedroom, or to open a real French window, with its encrusted oval knob, and gaze out at the back garden of the hotel, so very formal and quiet and proud.

David's writing captivated me. I soon felt closer to him than ever before.

What was plain was that David had been wholly a man of action in his youth, and drawn into the realm of books only when they spoke of action, and that he'd always found his greatest pleasure in the hunt. He had taken down his first game when he was only ten years old. His descriptions of shooting the big Bengal tigers were infused with the excitement of the pursuit itself and the risks he ultimately endured. Always drawing very close to the beast before he fired his gun, he had almost been killed more than once.

He had loved Africa as well as India, hunting elephants in the days when no one ever dreamed the species would be in danger of dying out. Again, he had been charged innumerable times before he had brought them down. And in hunting of the big bull and the lions of the Serengeti Plain he had courted similar risks.

Indeed, he had gone out of his way to hike arduous mountain trails, to swim in dangerous rivers, to lay his hand upon the tough hide of the crocodile, to overcome his inveterate revulsion for snakes. He had loved to sleep in the open; to scribble entries in his diary by the light of oil lanterns or candles; to eat only the meat of the animals he killed, even when there was very little of it; and to skin his kills without aid.

His power of description was not so very great. He was not patient with written words, especially not when he was young. Yet one could feel the heat of the tropics in this memoir; one heard the buzz of the gnats. It seemed inconceivable that such a man had ever enjoyed the wintry comforts of Talbot Manor, or the luxury of the motherhouses of the order, to which he was somewhat addicted now.

But many another British gentleman had known such choices and done what he thought appropriate to his position and his age.

As for the adventure in Brazil, it might as well have been written by a different man. There was the same sparse and precise vocabulary, and there was the same lust for danger, naturally, but with the turning to the supernatural, a far more clever and cerebral individual had come to the fore. Indeed, the vocabulary itself changed, incorporating many baffling Portuguese and African words for concepts and physical feelings which David felt plainly at a loss to describe.

But the gist was that the deep telepathic powers of David's brain had been developed through a series of primitive and terrifying encounters with Brazilian priestesses, and spirits as well. And the body of David had become a mere instrument for this psychic power, thereby paving the way for the scholar who had emerged in the years that followed.

There was much physical description in this Brazilian memoir. It told of small wooden rooms in the country where the Candomble believers gathered, lighting candles before their plaster statues of Catholic saints and Candomble gods. It told of the drums and the dancing; and the inevitable trances as various members of the group became unconscious hosts to the spirits and took on the attributes of a certain deity for long spells of unremembered time.

But the emphasis was now entirely upon the invisible-upon the perception of inner strength and the battle with the forces outside. The adventurous young man who had sought truth purely in the physical-the smell of the beast, the jungle path, the crack of the gun, the fall of the prey-was gone.

By the time David had left the city of Rio de Janeiro he was a different being. For though his narrative had been tightened and polished later, and undoubtedly edited, it nevertheless included much of his diary written at the very time. There was no doubt that he had been on the verge of madness in the conventional sense. He no longer saw streets and buildings and people everywhere he looked; he saw spirits, gods, invisible powers emanating from others, and various levels of spiritual resistance upon the part of humans, both conscious and unconscious, to all such things. Indeed, if he had not gone into the jungles of the Amazon, if he had not forced himself to become the British game hunter again, he might have been lost forever from his old world.

For months, he had been a gaunt, sunburnt creature in shirtsleeves and soiled pants, wandering Rio in search of ever greater spiritual experience, having no contact whatsoever with his countrymen no matter how they badgered him for such contact. And then he'd outfitted himself in his proper khaki, taken up his big guns, laid up a store of the best British provisions for a camping trip, and gone off to recover himself as he brought down the spotted jaguar, and skinned and gutted the carcass of the beast with his own knife.

Body and soul!

It really wasn't so incredible that in all these years he had never returned to Rio de Janeiro, for if he had ever made the journey back there, perhaps he could not have left.

Yet obviously, the life of the Candomble adept was not enough for him. Heroes seek adventure, but the adventure itself does not swallow them whole.

How it sharpened my love for him to know of these experiences, and how it saddened me to think that he had spent his life hi the Talamasca ever since. It did not seem worthy of him, or no, it did not seem the best thing to make him happy, no matter how he insisted that he had wanted it. It seemed the very wrong thing.

And of course, this deepening knowledge of him made me ache for him all the more. I considered again that in my dark preternatural youth, I had made companions for myself who could never really be companions-Gabrielle, who had no need of me; Nicolas, who had gone mad; Louis, who could not forgive me for having seduced him into the realm of the undead, even though he had wanted it himself.

Only Claudia had been the exception-my intrepid little Claudia, companion hunter and slayer of random victims- vampire par excellence. And it had been her alluring strength which caused her ultimately to turn upon her maker. Yes, she had been the only one who had been like me really-as they say in this day and age. And that might have been the reason that she was haunting me now.

Surely there was some connection to my love of David! And I had failed to see it before. How I loved him; and how deep had been the emptiness when Claudia turned against me, and was my companion no more.

These manuscripts more fully illuminated another point for me as well. David was the very man to refuse the Dark Gift, and to the bitter end. This man feared nothing really. He didn't like death, but he didn't fear it. He never had.

But I had not come to Paris merely to read this memoir. I had another purpose in mind. I left the blessed and timeless isolation of the hotel and began to wander-slowly, visibly- about.

In the Rue Madeleine, I purchased fine clothes for myself, including a dark blue double-breasted coat of cashmere wool. Then I spent hours on the Left Bank, visiting its bright and inviting cafes, and thinking of David's story of God and the Devil, and wondering what on earth he had really seen. Of course, Paris would be a fine place for God and the Devil but...

I traveled the underground Metro for some time, studying the other passengers, trying to determine what was so different about Parisians. Was it their alertness, their energy The way they avoided eye contact with others I could not determine it. But they were very different from Americans-I had seen it everywhere-and I realized I understood them. I liked them.

That Paris was such a rich city, so filled with expensive fur coats and jewels and boutiques beyond counting, left me faintly amazed. It seemed richer even than the cities of America. It had seemed no less rich perhaps in my tune with its glass coaches and white-wigged ladies and gentlemen. But the poor had been there too, everywhere, even dying in the very streets. And now I saw only the rich, and at moments, the entire city with its millions of motorcars and countless stone town houses, hotels and mansions seemed almost beyond belief.

Of course I hunted. I fed.

At twilight the next night, I stood on the top floor of the Pompidou under a sky as purely violet as any in my beloved New Orleans, watching all the lights of the great sprawling city come to life. I gazed at the distant Eiffel Tower, rising so sharply in the divine gloom.

Ah, Paris, I knew I would come back here, yes, and soon. Some night in the future I would make a lair for myself on the tie St. Louis, which I had always loved. To hell with the big houses of the Avenue Foch. I would find the building where once Gabrielle and I had worked the Dark Magic together, mother leading her son to make her his daughter, and mortal life had released her as if it were a mere hand I'd grabbed by the wrist.

I would bring Louis back with me-Louis, who had loved this city so much before he lost Qaudia. Yes, he must be invited to love it again.

Meantime I'd walk slowly over to the Cafe de la Paix in the great hotel where Louts and Claudia had lodged during that tragic year in the reign of Napoleon III, and I would sit there with my glass of wine, untouched, forcing myself to think calmly of all that-and that it was done.

Well, I had been strengthened by my ordeal in the desert, that was plain. And I was ready for something to happen ...

... And finally in the early hours of the morning, when I had become a bit melancholy and was grieving a little for the old tumbledown buildings of the 1780s, and when the mists were hanging over the half-frozen river, and I was leaning on the high stone ledge of the bank very near the bridge to the lie de la Cite, I saw my man.

First came that sensation, and this time I recognized it right off for what it was. I studied it as it was happening to me-the faint disorientation which I allowed without ever losing control; and soft delicious ripples of vibration; and then the deep constriction which included my entire form-fingers, toes, arms, legs, trunk-as before. Yes, as if my entire body, while retaining its exact proportions, was growing smaller and smaller, and I was being forced out of this dwindling shape! At the very moment when it seemed damned nigh impossible to remain within myself, my head cleared, and the sensations came to a halt.

This was precisely what had happened both times before. I stood at the bridge, considering this, and memorizing the details.

Then I beheld a battered little car jerking to a stop on the far side of the river, and out he climbed-the young brown-haired one-awkwardly as before, and rising to his full height tentatively and fixing me with his ecstatic and glittering eyes.

He'd left the motor of his little machine running. I smelled his fear as I had before. Of course he knew that I had seen him, there could be no mistake of that. I'd been here a full two hours, waiting for him to find me, and I suppose he realized this as well.

Finally he screwed up his courage and came across the bridge through the fog, an immediately impressive figure in a long greatcoat, with a white scarf about the neck, half walking, half running, and stopping a few feet away from me, as I stood there with my elbow on the rail, staring at him coldly. He thrust at me another little envelope. I grabbed his hand.

Don't be hasty, Monsieur de Lioncourt! he whispered desperately. British accent, upper-class, very like David's, and he'd got the French syllables very close to perfect. He was near perishing with fear.

Who the hell are you! I demanded.

I have a proposition for you! You'd be a fool if you didn't listen. It's something you'll want very much. And no one else in this world can offer it to you, be assured!

I let him go and he sprang back, nearly toppling over, hand flung out to catch the stone rail. What was it about this man's gestures He was powerfully built, but he moved as if he were a thin, tentative creature. I couldn't figure it out.

Explain this proposition now! I said, and I could hear his heart come to a stop inside his broad chest.

No, he said. But we shall talk very soon. Such a cultured voice, a polished voice.

Far too refined and careful for the large glazed brown eyes, and the smooth robust young face. Was he some hothouse plant grown to prodigious proportions in the company of elderly people, never having seen a person his own age

Don't be hasty! he shouted again, and off he ran, stumbling, then catching himself, and then forcing his tall, clumsy body into the small car, and driving off through the frozen snow.

Indeed, he was going so fast as he disappeared into St. Ger-main, I thought he would have a wreck and kill himself.

I looked down at the envelope. Another damned short story, no doubt. I tore it open angrily, not sure I should have let him go, and yet somehow enjoying this little game, and even enjoying my own indignation at his cleverness and capacity for tracking me.

I saw that, indeed, it was a videotape of a recent film. Vice Versa was the title. What on earth . . . I flipped it over, and scanned the advertisement. A comic piece.

I returned to the hotel. There was yet another package waiting for me. Another videotape. All of Me was the name of it, and once again, the description on the back of the plastic case gave a fair idea of what it was about.

I went to my rooms. No video player! Not even in the Ritz. I rang David, though it was now very near dawn.

Would you come to Paris I'll have everything arranged for you. See you at dinner, eight o'clock tomorrow in the dining room downstairs.

Then I did call my mortal agent, rousing him from bed and instructing him to arrange David's ticket, limousine, suite, and whatever else he should need. There should be cash waiting for David; there should be flowers; and chilled champagne. Then I went out to find a safe place to sleep.

But an hour later-as I stood in the dark dank cellar of an old abandoned house-I wondered if the little mortal bastard couldn't see me even now, if he didn't know where I slept by day, and couldn't come bring in the sun upon me, like some cheap vampire-hunter in a bad movie, with no respect for the mysterious at all.

I dug deep beneath the cellar. No mortal alone could have found me there. And even in my sleep, I might have strangled him if he had, without my ever knowing it.

So what do you think it all means? I said to David. The dining room was exquisitely decorated and half empty. I sat there hi the candlelight, in black dinner jacket and boiled shirt, with my arms folded before me, enjoying the fact that I needed only the pale-violet tinted glasses now to hide my eyes. How well I could see the tapestried portieres, and the dim garden beyond the windows.

David was eating lustily. He'd been utterly delighted to come to Paris, loved his suite over the Place Vendome, with its velvet carpets and gilded furnishings, and had spent all afternoon in the Louvre.

Well, you can see the theme, can't you? he replied.

I'm not sure, I said. I do see common elements, of course, but these little stories are all different.

How so?

Well, in the Lovecraft piece, Asenath, this diabolical woman, switches bodies with her husband. She runs about the town using his male body, while he is stuck at home in her body, miserable and confused. I thought it was a hoot, actually. Just wonderfully clever, and of course Asenath isn't Asenath, as I recall, but her father, who has switched bodies with her. And then it ail becomes very Lovecraftian, with slimy half-human demons and such.

That may be the irrelevant part. And the Egyptian story?

Completely different. The moldering dead, which still possess life, you know . . .

Yes, but the plot.

Well, the soul of the mummy manages to get possession of the body of the archaeologist, and he, the poor devil, is put hi the rotted body of the mummy-

Yes?

Good Lord, I see what you're saying. And then the film Vice Versa. It's about the soul of a boy and the soul of a man who switch bodies! All hell breaks loose until they are able to switch back. And the film All of Me, it's about body switching as well. You're absolutely right. All four stories are about the same thing.

Exactly.

Christ, David. It's all coming clear. I don't know why I didn't see it. But. . .

This man is trying to get you to believe that he knows something about this body switching. He's trying to entice you with the suggestion that such a thing can be done.

Good Lord. Of course. That explains it, the way he moves, walks, runs.

What?

I sat there stunned, reenvisioning the little beast before I answered, bringing up to mind every image of him from every conceivable angle which memory would allow. Yes, even in Venice, he'd had that obvious awkwardness about him.

David, he can do it.

Lestat, don't jump to such a mad conclusion! He may think that he can do it. He may want to try it. He may be living entirely in a world of delusions-

No. That's his proposition, David, the proposition he says that I will want to hear! He can switch bodies with people!

Lestat, you can't believe-

David, that's what's wrong with him! I've been trying to figure it since I saw him on the beach in Miami. That isn't his body! That's why he can't use its musculature or its ... its height. That's why he almost falls when he runs. He can't control those long powerful legs. Good God, that man is in someone else's body. And the voice, David, I told you about his voice. It's not the voice of a young man. Oh, that explains it! And you know what I think I think he chose that particular body because I'd notice it. And I'll tell you something else. He's already tried this switching trick with me and it's failed.

I couldn't continue. I was too dazzled by the possibility.

How do you mean, tried?

I described the peculiar sensations-the vibration and the constriction, the sense that I was being forced quite literally out of my physical self.

He didn't reply to what I'd said, but I could see the effect this had upon him. He sat motionless, his eyes narrow, his right hand half closed and resting idly beside his plate.

It was an assault upon me, wasn't it He tried to get me out of my body! Maybe so that he could get in. And of course he couldn't do it. But why would he risk mortally offending me with such an attempt?

Has he mortally offended you? David asked.

No, he's merely made me all the more curious, powerfully curious!

There you have your answer. I think he knows you too well.

What? I heard what he said but I couldn't reply just now. I drifted into remembering the sensations. That feeling was so .Strong. Oh, don't you see what he's doing He's suggesting that he can switch with me. He's offering me that handsome young mortal frame.

Yes, David said coldly. I think you're right.

Why else would he stay in that body? I said. He's clearly very uncomfortable in it. He wants to switch. He's saying that he can switch! That's why he's taken this risk. He must know it would be easy for me to kill him, squash him like a little bug, I don't even like him-the manner, I mean. The body is excellent. No, that's it. He can do it, David, he knows how.

Snap out of it! You can't put it to the test.

What Why not You're telling me it can't be done In all those archives you have no records . . . David, I know he's done it. He just can't force me into it. But he's switched with another mortal, that I know.

Lestat, when it happens we call it possession. It's a psychic accident! The soul of a dead person takes over a living body; a spirit possessing a human being; it has to be persuaded to let go. Living people don't go around doing it deliberately and in concerted agreement. No, I don't think it is possible. I don't think we do have any such cases! I... He broke off, clearly in doubt.

You know you have such cases, I said. You must. Lestat, this is very dangerous, too dangerous for any sort of trial. Look, if it can happen by accident, it can happen this way too. If a dead soul can do it, why not a living soul I know what it means to travel outside my body. You know. You learned it in Brazil. You described it in fine detail. Many, many human beings know. Why, it was part of the ancient religions. It's not inconceivable that one could return to another body and hold on to it while the other soul struggles in vain to recapture it.

What an awful thought.

I explained again about the sensations and how powerful they had been. David, it's possible he stole that body!

Oh, that's just lovely.

Again, I was remembering the feeling of constriction, the terrific and strangely pleasurable feeling that I was being squeezed out of myself through the top of my head. How strong it had been! Why, if he could make me feel that, surely he could make a mortal man rise out of himself, especially if that mortal man did not have the slightest idea of what was being done.

Calm yourself, Lestat, David said a little disgustedly. He laid his heavy fork upon the half-empty plate. Now think this through. Perhaps such a switch could be achieved for a few minutes. But anchoring in the new body, remaining inside it, and functioning day in and day out No. This would mean functioning when you are asleep as well as awake. You're talking about something entirely different and obviously dangerous. You can't experiment with this. What if it worked?

That's the whole point. If it works, then I can get into that body. I paused. I could scarcely speak it and then I did. I said it. David, I can be a mortal man.

It took my breath away. A moment of silence passed as we stared at each other. The look of vague dread in his eyes did nothing to still my excitement.

I'd know how to use that body, I said, half in a whisper. I'd know how to use those muscles and those long legs. Oh, yes, he chose that body because he knew I would consider it a possibility, a real possibility-

Lestat, you can't pursue this! He's speaking of trading here, switching! You can't let this suspect individual have your body in return! The idea's monstrous. You inside that body is quite enough!

I fell into stunned silence.

Look, he said, trying to bring me back to him. Forgive me for sounding like the Superior General of a religious order, but this is something you simply cannot do! First off, where did he get that body What if he did, in fact, steal it Surely no handsome young man cheerfully gave it over without so much as a qualm! This is a sinister being, and must be recognized as such. You can't deliver to him a body as powerful as your own.

I heard all this, I understood it, but I couldn't absorb it. Think of it, David, I said, knowing that I sounded mad and only barely coherent. David, I could be a mortal man.

Would you kindly wake up and pay attention to me, please! This is not a matter of comical stories and Lovecraftian pieces of gothic romance. He wiped his mouth with his napkin, and crossly slugged down a swallow of wine, and then reached across the table and took hold of my wrist.

I should have let him lift it and clasp it. But I didn't yield and he realized within a second that he could no more move my wrist away from the table than he could move that of a statue made of granite.

That's it, right there! he declared. You can't play with this. You can't take the risk that it will work, and this fiend, whoever he is, will have possession of your strength.

I shook my head. I know what you're saying, but, David, think of it. I have to talk to him! I have to find him and find out whether this can be done. He himself is unimportant. It's the process that's important. Can it be done?

Lestat, I'm begging you. Don't explore this any further. You're going to make another ghastly mistake!

What do you mean? It was so hard to pay attention to what he was saying. Where was that wily fiend right now I thought of his eyes, how beautiful they would be if he were not looking out of them. Yes, it was a fine body for this experiment! Wherever did he get it I had to find out.

David, I'm going to leave you now.

No, you're not! Stay right where you are, or so help me God I'll send a legion of hobgoblins after you, every filthy little spirit I trafficked with in Rio de Janeiro! Now listen to me.

I laughed. Keep your voice down, I said. We'll be thrown out of the Ritz.

Very well, we'll strike a bargain. I'll go back to London and hit the computer. I'll boot up every case of body switching in our files. Who knows what we'll discover Lestat, maybe he's in that body and it's deteriorating around him, and he can't get out or stop the deterioration. Did you think of that?

I shook my head. It's not deteriorating. I would have caught the scent. There's nothing wrong with that body.

Except maybe he stole it from its rightful owner and that poor soul is stumbling around in his body, and what that looks like, we haven't a clue.

Cairn down, David, please. You go on back to London, and hit the files, as you described. I'm going to find this little bastard. I'm going to hear what he has to say. Don't worry! I won't proceed without consulting you. And if I do decide-

You won't decide! Not until you talk to me.

All right.

This is a pledge?

On my honor as a bloodthirsty murderer, yes.

I want a phone number in New Orleans.

I stared at him hard for a moment. Ail right. I've never done this before. But here it is. I gave him the phone number of my French Quarter rooftop rooms. Aren't you going to write it down?

I've memorized it.

Then farewell!

I rose from the table, struggling, in my excitement, to move like a human. Ah, move like a human. Think of it, to be inside a human body. To see the sun, really see it, a tiny blazing ball in a blue sky! Oh, and, David, I almost forgot, everything's covered here. Call my man. He'll arrange for your flight . . .

I don't care about that, Lestat. Listen to me. Set an appointment to speak with me about this, right now! You dare vanish on me, I'll never-

I stood there smiling down at him. I could tell I was charming him. Of course he wouldn't threaten never to speak to me again. How absurd. Ghastly mistakes, I said, unable to stop smiling. Yes, I do make them, don't I?

What will they do to you-the others Your precious Marius, the older ones, if you do such a thing?

They might surprise you, David. Maybe all they want is to be human again. Maybe that's all any of us want. Another chance. I thought of Louis in his house hi New Orleans. Dear God, what would Louis think when I told him about all this

David muttered something under his breath, angry and impatient, yet his face was full of affection and concern.

I blew him a little kiss and was gone.

Scarcely an hour had passed before I realized I couldn't find the wily fiend. If he was in Paris, he was cloaked so that I couldn't pick up the faintest shimmer of his presence. And nowhere did I catch an image of him in anyone else's mind.

This didn't mean he wasn't in Paris. Telepathy is extremely hit or miss; and Paris was a vast city, teeming with citizens of all the countries of the world.

At last I came back to the hotel, discovered David had already checked out, leaving all his various phone numbers with me for fax, computer, and regular calls.

Please contact me tomorrow evening, he'd written. I shall have some information for you by then.

I went upstairs to prepare for the journey home. I couldn't wait to see this lunatic mortal again. And Louis- I had to lay it all before Louis. Of course he wouldn't believe it was possible, that would be the first thing he'd say. But he would understand the lure. Oh, yes, he would.

I hadn't been in the room a minute, trying to determine if there was anything here I needed to take with me-ah, yes, David's manuscripts-when I saw a plain envelope lying on the table beside the bed. It was propped against a great vase of flowers. Count van Kindergarten was written on it in a firm, rather masculine script.

I knew the minute I saw it that it was a note from him. The message inside was handwritten, in the same firm, heavily engraved style.

Don't be hasty. And don't listen to your fool friend from the Talamasca either. I shall see you in New Orleans tomorrow night. Don't disappoint me. Jackson Square. We shall then make an appointment to work a little alchemy of our own. I think you understand now what's at stake.

Yours sincerely, Raglan James

Raglan James. I whispered the name aloud. Raglan James. I didn't like the name. The name was like him.

I dialed the concierge.

This fax system which has just been invented, I said in French, you have it here Explain it to me, please.

It was as I suspected, a complete facsimile of this little note could be sent from the hotel office over a telephone wire to David's London machine. Then David would not only have this information, he would have the handwriting, for what it was worth.

I arranged to have this done, picked up the manuscripts, stopped by the desk with the note of Raglan James, had it faxed, took it back, and then went to Notre Dame to say good-bye to Paris with a little prayer.

I was mad. Absolutely mad. When had I ever known such pure happiness! I stood in the dark cathedral, which was now locked on account of the hour, and I thought of the first time I'd ever stepped into it so many, many decades ago. There had been no great square before the church doors, only the little Place de Greve hemmed in with crooked buildings; and there had been no great boulevards in Paris such as there are now, only broad mud streets, which we thought so very grand.

I thought of all those blue skies, and what it had felt like to be hungry, truly hungry for bread and for meat, and to be drunk on good wine. I thought of Nicolas, my mortal friend, whom I'd loved so much, and how cold it had been in our little attic room. Nicki and I arguing the way that David and I had argued! Oh, yes, It seemed my great long existence had been a nightmare since those days, a sweeping nightmare full of giants and monsters and horrid ghastly masks covering the faces of beings who menaced me in the eternal dark. I was trembling. I was weeping. To be human, I thought. To be human again. I think I said the words aloud.

Then a sudden whispered laugh startled me. It was a child somewhere in the darkness, a little girl.

I turned around. I was almost certain I could see her-a small gray form darting up the far aisle towards a side altar, and then out of sight. Her footsteps had been barely audible. But surely this was some mistake. No scent. No real presence. Just illusion.

Nevertheless I cried out: Claudia!

And my voice came tumbling back to me in a harsh echo. No one there, of course.

I thought of David: You're going to make another ghastly mistake!

Yes, I have made ghastly mistakes. How can I deny it Terrible, terrible errors. The atmosphere of my recent dreams came back to me, but it wouldn't deepen, and there remained only an evanescent sense of being with her. Something about an oil lamp and her laughing at me.

I thought again of her execution-the brick-walled air well, the approaching sun, how small she had been; and then the remembered pain of the Gobi Desert mingled with it and I couldn't bear it any longer. I realized I had folded my arms around my chest, and was trembling, my body rigid, as though being tormented with an electric shock. Ah, but surely she hadn't suffered. Surely it had been instantaneous for one so tender and little. Ashes to ashes . . .

This was pure anguish. It wasn't those times I wanted to remember, no matter how long I'd lingered in the Cafe de la Paix earlier, or how strong I imagined I had become. It was my Paris, before the Theatre of the Vampires, when I'd been innocent and alive.

I stayed a while longer in the dark, merely looking at the great branching arches above me. What a marvelous and majestic church this was-even now with the pop and rattle of motorcars beyond. It was like a forest made of stone.

I blew a kiss to it, as I had to David. And I went off to undertake the long journey home.

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