A vampire’s city—hot, teeming, and embracingly beautiful. Melting pot, marketplace, playground. Where
the desperate and the greedy are locked in subversive commerce, and the sky belongs to everyone, and the beach goes on forever; and the lights outshine the heavens, and the sea is as warm as blood.
Miami. The happy hunting ground of the devil.
That’s why we are here, in Armand’s large, graceful white villa on the Night Island, surrounded by every conceivable luxury, and the wide open southern night.
Out there, across the water, Miami beckons; victims just waiting: the pimps, the thieves, the dope kings, and the killers. The nameless ones; so many who are almost as bad as I am, but not quite.
Armand had gone over at sunset with Marius; and they were back now, Armand playing chess with Santino in the drawing room, Marius reading as he did constantly, in the leather chair by the window over the beach.
Gabrielle had not appeared yet this evening; since Jesse left, she was frequently alone.
Khayman sat in the downstairs study talking with Daniel now, Daniel who liked to let the hunger build, Daniel who wanted to know all about what it had been like in ancient Miletus, and Athens, and Troy. Oh, don’t forget Troy. I myself was vaguely intrigued by the idea of Troy.
I liked Daniel. Daniel who might go with me later if I asked him; if I could bring myself to leave this island, which I have done only once since I arrived. Daniel who still laughed at the path the moon made over the water, or the warm spray in his face. For Daniel, all of it—her death even—had been spectacle. But he cannot be blamed for that.
Pandora almost never moved from the television screen. Marius had brought her the stylish modern garments she wore; satin shirt, boots to the knee, cleaving velvet skirt. He’d put the bracelets on her arms, and the rings on her fingers, and each evening he brushed her long brown hair. Sometimes he presented her with little gifts of
perfume. If he did not open them for her, they lay on the table untouched. She stared the way Armand did at the endless progression of video movies, only now and then breaking off to go to the piano in the music room and play softly for a little while.
I liked her playing; rather like the Art of the Fugue, her seamless variations. But she worried me; the others didn’t. The others had all recovered from what had happened, more quickly than I had ever imagined they could. She’d been damaged in some crucial way before it all began.
Yet she liked it here; I knew she did. How could she not like it?
Even though she never listened to a word that Marius said.
We all liked it. Even Gabrielle.
White rooms filled with gorgeous Persian carpets and endlessly intriguing paintings—Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Giotto, Géricault. One could spend a century merely looking at the paintings; Armand was constantly changing them, shifting their positions, bringing up some new treasure from the cellar, slipping in little sketches here and there.
Jesse had loved it here too, though she was gone now, to join Maharet in Rangoon.
She had come here into my study and told me her side of it very directly, asking me to change the names she’d used and to leave out the Talamasca altogether, which of course I wouldn’t do. I’d sat silently, scanning her mind as she talked, for all the little things she was leaving out. Then I’d poured it into the computer, while she sat watching, thinking, staring at the dark gray velvet curtains, and the Venetian clock; and the cool colors of the Morandi on the wall.
I think she knew I wouldn’t do what she told me to do. She also knew it wouldn’t matter. People weren’t likely to believe in the Talamasca any more than they would ever believe in us. That is, unless David Talbot or Aaron Lightner came to call on them the way that Aaron had called on Jesse.
As for the Great Family, well, it wasn’t likely that any of them would think it more than a fiction, with a touch here and there of truth; that is, if they ever happened to pick up the book.
That’s what everybody had thought of Interview with the Vampire
and my autobiography, and they would think it about The Queen of
the Damned too.
And that’s how it should be. Even I agree with that now. Maharet was right. No room for us; no room for God or the Devil; it should be metaphor—the supernatural—whether it’s High Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or Faust selling his soul in an opera, or a rock star pretending to be the Vampire Lestat.
NOBODY knew where Maharet had taken Mekare. Even Eric probably didn’t know now either, though he’d left with them, promising to meet Jesse in Rangoon.
Before she left the Sonoma compound, Maharet had startled me with a little whisper: “Get it straight when you tell it—the Legend of the Twins.”
That was permission, wasn’t it? Or cosmic indifference, I’m not sure which. I’d said nothing about the book to anyone; I’d only brooded on it in those long painful hours when I couldn’t really think, except in terms of chapters: an ordering; a road map through the mystery; a chronicle of seduction and pain.
Maharet had looked worldly yet mysterious that last evening, coming to find me in the forest, garmented in black and wearing her fashionable paint, as she called it—the skillful cosmetic mask that made her into an alluring mortal woman who could move with only admiring glances through the real world. What a tiny waist she had, and such long hands, even more graceful, it seemed, for the tight black kid gloves she wore. So carefully she had stepped through the ferns and past the tender saplings, when she might have pushed the trees themselves out of her path.
She’d been to San Francisco with Jessica and Gabrielle; they had walked past houses with cheerful lights; on clean narrow pavements; where people lived, she’d said. How crisp her speech had been, how effortlessly contemporary; not like the timeless woman I had first encountered in the mountaintop room.
And why was I alone again, she’d asked, sitting by myself near the little creek that ran through the thick of the redwoods? Why would I not talk to the others, even a little? Did I know how protective and fearful they were?
They are still asking me those questions now.
Even Gabrielle, who in the main never bothers with questions,
never says much of anything. They want to know when I’m going to recover, when I’m going to talk about what happened, when I’m going to stop writing all through the night.
Maharet had said that we would see her again very soon. In the spring perhaps we should come to her house in Burma. Or maybe she’d surprise us one evening. But the point was, we were never to be isolated from one another; we had ways to find each other, no matter where we might roam.
Yes, on that vital point at least everyone had agreed. Even Gabrielle, the loner, the wanderer, had agreed.
Nobody wanted to be lost in time again.
And Mekare? Would we see her again? Would she ever sit with us around a table? Speak to us with a language of gestures and signs?
I had laid eyes upon her only once after that terrible night. And it had been entirely unexpected, as I came through the forest, back to the compound, in the soft purple light just before dawn.
There had been a mist crawling over the earth, thinning above the ferns and the few scattered winter wild flowers, and then paling utterly into phosphorescence as it rose among the giant trees.
And the twins had come through the mist together, walking down into the creek bed to make their way along the stones, arms locked around each other, Mekare in a long wool gown as beautiful as her sister’s, her hair brushed and shining as it hung down around her shoulders and over her breasts.
It seemed Maharet had been speaking softly in Mekare’s ear. And it was Mekare who stopped to look at me, her green eyes wide and her face for one moment unaccountably frightening in its blankness, as I’d felt my grief like a scorching wind on my heart.
I’d stood entranced looking at her, at both of them, the pain in me suffocating, as if my lungs were being dried up.
I don’t know what my thoughts were; only that the pain seemed unbearable. And that Maharet had made some little tender motion to me of greeting, and that I should go my way. Morning coming. The forest was waking all around us. Our precious moments slipping by. My pain had been finally loosened, like a moan coming out of me, and I’d let it go as I’d turned away.
I’d glanced back once to see the two figures moving eastward,
down the rippling silver creek bed, swallowed as it were by the roaring music of the water that followed its relentless path through the scattered rocks.
The old image of the dream had faded just a little. And when I think of them now, I think not of the funeral feasts but of that moment, the two sylphs in the forest, only nights before Maharet left the Sonoma compound taking Mekare away.
I was glad when they were gone because it meant that we would be going. And I did not care if I ever saw the Sonoma compound again. My sojourn there had been agony, though the first few nights after the catastrophe had been the worst.
How quickly the bruised silence of the others had given way to endless analysis, as they strained to interpret what they’d seen and felt. How had the thing been transferred exactly? Had it abandoned the tissues of the brain as they disintegrated, racing through Mekare’s bloodstream until it found the like organ in her? Had the heart mattered at all?
Molecular, nucleonic; solitons; protoplasm; glittering modern words! Come now, we are vampires! We thrive on the blood of the living; we kill; and we love it. Whether we need to do it or not.
I couldn’t bear to listen to them; I couldn’t bear their silent yet obsessive curiosity: What was it like with her? What did you do in those few nights? I couldn’t get away from them either; I certainly hadn’t the will to leave altogether; I trembled when I was with them; trembled when I was apart.
The forest wasn’t deep enough for me; I’d roamed for miles through the mammoth redwoods, and then through scrub oaks and open fields and into dank impassable woods again. No getting away from their voices: Louis confessing how he had lost consciousness during those awful moments; Daniel saying that he had heard our voices, yet seen nothing; Jesse, in Khayman’s arms, had witnessed it all.
How often they had pondered the irony—that Mekare had brought down her enemy with a human gesture; that, knowing nothing of invisible powers, she had struck out as any human might, but with inhuman speed and strength.
Had any of her survived in Mekare? That was what I kept wondering. Forget the “poetry of science” as Maharet had called it.
That was what I wanted to know. Or had her soul been released at last when the brain was torn loose?
Sometimes in the dark, in the honeycombed cellar with its tin-plated walls and its countless impersonal chambers, I’d wake, certain that she was right there beside me, no more than an inch from my face; I’d feel her hair again; her arm around me; I’d see the black glimmer of her eye. I’d grope in the darkness; nothing but the damp brick walls.
Then I’d lie there and think of poor little Baby Jenks, as she had shown her to me, spiraling upwards; I’d see the varicolored lights enveloping Baby Jenks as she looked down on the earth for the last time. How could Baby Jenks, the poor biker child, have invented such a vision? Maybe we do go home, finally.
How can we know?
And so we remain immortal; we remain frightened; we remain anchored to what we can control. It all starts again; the wheel turns; we are the vampires; because there are no others; the new coven is formed.
LIKE a gypsy caravan we left the Sonoma compound, a parade of shining black cars streaking through the American night at lethal speed on immaculate roads. It was on that long ride that they told me everything—spontaneously and sometimes unwittingly as they conversed with one another. Like a mosaic it came together, all that
had gone before. Even when I dozed against the blue velvet upholstery, I heard them, saw what they had seen.
Down to the swamplands of south Florida; down to the great decadent city of Miami, parody of both heaven and hell.
Immediately I locked myself in this little suite of tastefully appointed rooms; couches, carpet, the pale pastel paintings of Piero della Francesca; computer on the table; the music of Vivaldi pouring from tiny speakers hidden in the papered walls. Private stairway to the cellar, where in the steel-lined crypt the coffin waited: black lacquer; brass handles; a match and the stub of a candle; lining stitched with white lace.
Blood lust; how it hurt; but you don’t need it; yet you can’t resist it; and it’s going to be like this forever; you never get rid of it; you want it even more than before.
When I wasn’t writing, I lay on the gray brocade divan, watching the palm fronds move in the breeze from the terrace, listening to their voices below.
Louis begging Jesse politely to describe one more time the apparition of Claudia. And Jesse’s voice, solicitous, confidential: “But Louis, it wasn’t real.”
Gabrielle missed Jesse now that she was gone; Jesse and Gabrielle had walked on the beach for hours. It seemed not a word passed between them; but then, how could I be sure?
Gabrielle was doing more and more little things to make me happy: wearing her hair brushed free because she knew I loved it; coming up to my room before she vanished with the morning. Now and then she’d look at me, probing, anxious.
“You want to leave here, don’t you?” I’d ask fearfully; or something like it.
“No,” she said. “I like it here. It suits me.” When she got restless now she went to the islands, which weren’t so very far away. She rather liked the islands. But that wasn’t what she wanted to talk about. There was always something else on her mind. Once she had almost voiced it. “But tell me . . . ” And then she’d stopped.
“Did I love her?” I asked. “Is that what you want to know? Yes, I loved her.”
And I still couldn’t say her name.
MAEL came and went.
Gone for a week; here again tonight—downstairs—trying to draw Khayman into conversation; Khayman, who fascinated everybody. First Brood. All that power. And to think, he had walked the streets of Troy.
The sight of him was continuously startling, if that is not a contradiction in terms.
He went to great lengths to appear human. In a warm place like this, where heavy garments are conspicuous, it isn’t an easy thing. Sometimes he covered himself with a darkening pigment—burnt sienna mixed with a little scented oil. It seemed a crime to do so, to mar the beauty; but how else could he slice through the human crowd like a greased knife?
Now and then he knocked on my door. “Are you ever coming out?” he would ask. He’d look at the stack of pages beside the computer; the black letters: The Queen of the Damned. He’d stand there, letting me search his mind for all the little fragments, half-remembered moments; he didn’t care. I seemed to puzzle him, but why I couldn’t imagine. What did he want from me? Then he’d smile that shocking saintly smile.
Sometimes he took the boat out—Armand’s black racer—and he let it drift in the Gulf as he lay under the stars. Once Gabrielle went with him, and I was tempted to listen to them, over all that distance, their voices so private and intimate. But I hadn’t done it. Just didn’t seem fair.
Sometimes he said he feared the memory loss; that it would come suddenly, and he wouldn’t be able to find his way home to us. But then it had come in the past on account of pain, and he was so happy. He wanted us to know it; so happy to be with us all.
It seemed they’d reached some kind of agreement down there— that no matter where they went, they would always come back. This would be the coven house, the sanctuary; never would it be as it had been before.
They were settling a lot of things. Nobody was to make any others, and nobody was to write any more books, though of course they knew that was exactly what I was doing, gleaning from them silently everything that I could; and that I didn’t intend to obey any rules imposed on me by anybody, and that I never had.
They were relieved that the Vampire Lestat had died in the pages of the newspapers; that the debacle of the concert had been forgotten. No provable fatalities, no true injuries; everybody bought off handsomely; the band, receiving my share of everything, was touring again under its old name.
And the riots—the brief era of miracles—they too had been forgotten, though they might never be satisfactorily explained.
No, no more revelations, disruptions, interventions; that was their collective vow; and please cover up the kill.
They kept impressing that upon the delirious Daniel, that even in a great festering urban wilderness like Miami, one could not be too careful with the remnants of the meal.
Ah, Miami. I could hear it again, the low roar of so many desperate humans; the churning of all those machines both great and small. Earlier I had let its voices sweep over me, as I’d lain stock-still on the divan. It was not impossible for me to direct this power; to sift and focus, and amplify an entire chorus of different sounds. Yet I drew back from it, unable yet to really use it with conviction, just as I couldn’t use my new strength.
Ah, but I loved being near to this city. Loved its sleaze and glamour; the old ramshackle hotels and spangled high rises; its sultry winds; its flagrant decay. I listened now to that never ending urban music, a low throbbing hum.
“Why don’t you go there, then?” Marius.
I looked up from the computer. Slowly, just to needle him a little, though he was the most patient of immortal men.
He stood against the frame of the terrace door, with his arms folded, one ankle crossed over the other. The lights out there behind him. In the ancient world had there been anything like it? The spectacle of an electrified city, dense with towers glowing like narrow grids in an old gas fire?
He’d clipped his hair short; he wore plain yet elegant twentieth-century clothes: gray silk blazer and pants, and the red this time, for there was always red, was the dark turtleneck shirt.
“I want you to put the book aside and come join us,” he said. “You’ve been locked in here for over a month.”
“I go out now and then,” I said. I liked looking at him, at the neon blue of his eyes.
“This book,” he said. “What’s the purpose of it? Would you tell me that much?”
I didn’t answer. He pushed a little harder, tactful though the tone was.
“Wasn’t it enough, the songs and the autobiography?”
I tried to decide what made him look so amiable really. Maybe it was the tiny lines that still came to life around his eyes, the little crinkling of flesh that came and went as he spoke.
Big wide eyes like Khayman’s had a stunning effect.
I looked back at the computer screen. Electronic image of language. Almost finished. And they all knew about it; they’d known all along. That’s why they volunteered so much information: knocking, coming in, talking, then going away.
“So why talk about it?” I asked. “I want to make the record of what happened. You knew that when you told me what it had been like for you.”
“Yes, but for whom is this record being made?”
I thought of all the fans again in the auditorium; the visibility; and then those ghastly moments, at her side, in the villages, when I’d been a god without a name. I was cold suddenly in spite of the caressing warmth, the breeze that came in from the water. Had she been right when she called us selfish, greedy? When she’d said it was self-serving of us to want the world to remain the same?
“You know the answer to that question,” he said. He drew a little closer. He put his hand on the back of my chair.
“It was a foolish dream, wasn’t it?” I asked. It hurt to say it. “It could never have been realized, not even if we had proclaimed her the goddess and obeyed her every command.”
“It was madness,” he answered. “They would have stopped her; destroyed her; more quickly than she ever dreamed.”
“The world would not have wanted her,” he added. “That’s what she could never comprehend.”
“I think in the end she knew it; no place for her; no way for her to have value and be the thing that she was. She knew it when she looked into our eyes and saw the wall there which she could never breach. She’d been so careful with her visitations, choosing places as primitive and changeless as she was herself.”
He nodded. “As I said, you know the answers to your questions. So why do you continue to ask them? Why do you lock yourself here with your grief?”
I didn’t say anything. I saw her eyes again. Why can’t you believe in me!
“Have you forgiven me for all of it?” I asked suddenly.
“You weren’t to blame,” he said. “She was waiting, listening.
Sooner or later something would have stirred the will in her. The danger was always there. It was as much an accident as the beginning, really, that she woke when she did.” He sighed. He sounded bitter again, the way he’d been in the first nights after, when he had grieved too. “I always knew the danger,” he murmured. “Maybe I wanted to believe she was a goddess; until she woke. Until she spoke to me. Until she smiled.”
He was off again, thinking of the moment before the ice had fallen and pinned him helplessly for so long.
He moved away, slowly, indecisively, and then went out onto the terrace and looked down at the beach. Such a casual way of moving. Had the ancient ones rested their elbows like that on stone railings?
I got up and went after him. I looked across the great divide of black water. At the shimmering reflection of the skyline. I looked at him.
“Do you know what it’s like, not to carry that burden?” he whispered. “To know now for the first time that I am free?”
I didn’t answer. But I could most certainly feel it. Yet I was afraid for him, afraid perhaps that it had been the anchor, as the Great Family was the anchor for Maharet.
“No,” he said quickly, shaking his head. “It’s as if a curse has been removed. I wake; I think I must go down to the shrine; I must burn the incense; bring the flowers; I must stand before them and speak to them; and try to comfort them if they are suffering inside. Then I realize that they’re gone. It’s over, finished. I’m free to go wherever I would go and do whatever I would like.” He paused, reflecting, looking at the lights again. Then, “What about you? Why aren’t you free too? I wish I understood you.”
“You do. You always have,” I said. I shrugged.
“You’re burning with dissatisfaction. And we can’t comfort you, can we? It’s their love you want.” He made a little gesture towards the city.
“You comfort me,” I answered. “All of you. I couldn’t think of leaving you, not for very long, anyway. But you know, when I was on that stage in San Francisco . . . ” I didn’t finish. What was the use of saying it, if he didn’t know. It had been everything I’d ever
wanted it to be until the great whirlwind had descended and carried me away.
“Even though they never believed you?” he asked. “They thought you were merely a clever performer? An author with a hook, as they say?”
“They knew my name!” I answered. “It was my voice they heard.
They saw me up there above the footlights.”
He nodded. “And so the book, The Queen of the Damned,” he said. No answer.
“Come down with us. Let us try to keep you company. Talk to us about what took place.”
“You saw what took place.”
I felt a little confusion suddenly; a curiosity in him that he was reluctant to reveal. He was still looking at me.
I thought of Gabrielle, the way she would start to ask me questions and stop. Then I realized. Why, I’d been a fool not to see it before. They wanted to know what powers she’d given me; they wanted to know how much her blood had affected me; and all this time I’d kept those secrets locked inside. I kept them locked there now. Along with the image of those dead bodies strewn throughout Azim’s temple; along with the memory of the ecstasy I’d felt when I’d slain every man in my path. And along with yet another awful and unforgettable moment: her death, when I had failed to use the gifts to help her!
And now it started again, the obsession with the end. Had she seen me lying there so close to her? Had she known of my refusal to aid her? Or had her soul risen when the first blow was struck?
Marius looked out over the water, at the tiny boats speeding towards the harbor to the south. He was thinking of how many centuries it had taken him to acquire the powers he now possessed. Infusions of her blood alone had not done it. Only after a thousand years had he been able to rise towards the clouds as if he were one of them, unfettered, unafraid. He was thinking of how such things vary from one immortal to another; how no one knows what power is locked inside another; no one knows perhaps what power is locked within oneself.
All very polite; but I could not confide in him or anyone just yet.
“Look,” I said. “Let me mourn just a little while more. Let me create my dark images here, and have the written words for friends. Then later I’ll come to you; I’ll join you all. Maybe I’ll obey the rules. Some of them, anyway, who knows? What are you going to do if I don’t, by the way, and haven’t I asked you this before?”
He was clearly startled.
“You are the damnedest creature!” he whispered. “You make me think of the old story about Alexander the Great. He wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. Will you weep when there are no more rules to break?”
“Ah, but there are always rules to break.”
He laughed under his breath. “Burn the book.” “No.”
We looked at each other for a moment; then I embraced him, tightly and warmly, and I smiled. I didn’t even know why I’d done it, except that he was so patient and so earnest, and there had been some profound change in him as there had been in all of us, but with him it was dark and hurtful as it had been with me.
It had to do with the whole struggle of good and evil which he understood exactly the way I did, because he was the one who had taught me to understand it years ago. He was the one who had told me how we must wrestle forever with those questions, how the simple solution was not what we wanted, but what we must always fear.
I’d embraced him also because I loved him and wanted to be near to him, and I didn’t want him to leave just now, angry or disappointed in me.
“You will obey the rules, won’t you?” he asked suddenly. Mixture of menace and sarcasm. And maybe a little affection, too.
“Of course!” Again I shrugged. “What are they, by the way? I’ve forgotten. Oh, we don’t make any new vampires; we do not wander off without a trace; we cover up the kill.”
“You are an imp, Lestat, you know it? A brat.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said. I made my hand into a fist and touched him lightly on the arm. “That painting of yours, The Temptation of Amadeo, the one in the Talamasca crypt . . . ”
“Wouldn’t you like to have it back?”
“Ye gods, no. It’s a dreary thing, really. My black period, you might say. But I do wish they’d take it out of the damned cellar. You know, hang it in the front hall? Some decent place.”
Suddenly he became serious. Suspicious. “Lestat!” he said sharply.
“You leave the Talamasca alone!”
“Of course!” Another shrug. Another smile. Why not?
“I mean it, Lestat. I’m quite serious. Do not meddle with the Talamasca. Do we understand each other, you and I?”
“Marius, you are remarkably easy to understand. Did you hear that? The clock’s striking midnight. I always take my little walk around the Night Island now. Do you want to come?”
I didn’t wait for him to answer. I heard him give one of those lovely forbearing sighs of his as I went out the door.
MIDNIGHT. The Night Island sang. I walked through the crowded galleria. Denim jacket, white T-shirt, face half covered by giant dark glasses; hands shoved into the pockets of my jeans. I watched the hungry shoppers dipping into the open doorways, perusing stacks of shining luggage, silk shirts in plastic, a sleek black manikin swathed
Beside the shimmering fountain, with its dancing plumes of myriad droplets, an old woman sat curled on a bench, paper cup of steaming coffee in her trembling hand. Hard for her to raise it to her lips; when I smiled as I passed she said in a quavering voice: “When you’re old you don’t need sleep anymore.”
A soft whoozy music gushed out of the cocktail lounge. The young toughs prowled the video emporium; blood lust! The raucous zip and flash of the arcade died as I turned my head away. Through the door of the French restaurant I caught the swift beguiling movement of a woman lifting a glass of champagne; muted laughter. The theater was full of black and white giants speaking
A young woman passed me; dark skin, voluptuous hips, little pout of a mouth. The blood lust crested. I walked on, forcing it back into its cage. Do not need the blood. Strong now as the old ones. But I could taste it; I glanced back at her, saw her seated on the stone bench, naked knees jutting from her tight little skirt; eyes fixed on me.
Oh, Marius was right about it; right about everything. I was burning with dissatisfaction; burning with loneliness. I want to pull her up off that bench: Do you know what I am! No, don’t settle for the other; don’t lure her out of here, don’t do it; don’t take her down on the white sands, far beyond the lights of the galleria, where the rocks are dangerous and the waves are breaking violently in the little cove.
I thought of what she had said to us, about our selfishness, our greed! Taste of blood on my tongue. Someone’s going to die if I linger here. . . .
End of the corridor. I put my key into the steel door between the shop that sold Chinese rugs made by little girls and the tobacconist who slept now among the Dutch pipes, his magazine over his face.
Silent hallway into the bowels of the villa.
One of them was playing the piano. I listened for a long moment. Pandora, and the music as always had a dark sweet luster, but it was more than ever like an endless beginning—a theme ever building to a climax which would never come.
I went up the stairs and into the living room. Ah, you can tell this is a vampire house; who else could live by starlight and the glow of a few scattered candles? Luster of marble and velvet. Shock of Miami out there where the lights never go out.
Armand still playing chess with Khayman and losing. Daniel lay under the earphones listening to Bach, now and then glancing to the black and white board to see if a piece had been moved.
On the terrace, looking out over the water, her thumbs hooked in her back pockets, Gabrielle stood. Alone. I went out to her, kissed her cheek, and looked into her eyes; and when I finally won the begrudging little smile I needed, then I turned and wandered back into the house.
Marius in the black leather chair reading the newspaper, folding
it as a gentleman might in a private club.
“Louis is gone,” he said, without looking up from the paper. “What do you mean, gone?”
“To New Orleans,” Armand said without looking up from the chessboard. “To that flat you had there. The one where Jesse saw Claudia.”
“The plane’s waiting,” Marius said, eyes still on the paper.
“My man can drive you down to the landing strip,” Armand said with his eyes still on the game.
“What is this? Why are you two being so helpful? Why should I go get Louis?”
“I think you should bring him back,” Marius said. “It’s no good his being in that old flat in New Orleans.”
“I think you should get out and do something,” Armand said. “You’ve been holed up here too long.”
“Ah, I can see what this coven is going to be like, advice from all sides, and everyone watching everyone else out of the corner of an eye. Why did you ever let Louis go off to New Orleans anyway? Couldn’t you have stopped him?”
I LANDED in New Orleans at two o’clock. Left the limousine at Jackson Square.
So clean it all was; with the new flagstones, and the chains on the gates, imagine, so the derelicts couldn’t sleep on the grass in the square the way they’d done for two hundred years. And the tourists crowding the Café du Monde where the riverfront taverns had been; those lovely nasty places where the hunting was irresistible and the women were as tough as the men.
But I loved it now; always would love it. The colors were somehow the same. And even in this blasted cold of January, it had the old tropical feel to it; something to do with the flatness of the pavements; the low buildings; the sky that was always in motion; and the slanting roofs that were gleaming now with a bit of icy rain.
I walked slowly away from the river, letting the memories rise as if from the pavements; hearing the hard, brassy music of the Rue Bourbon, and then turning into the quiet wet darkness of the Rue Royale.
How many times had I taken this route in the old days, coming back from the riverfront or the opera house, or the theater, and stopping here on this very spot to put my key in the carriage gate?
Ah, the house in which I’d lived the span of a human lifetime, the house in which I’d almost died twice.
Someone up there in the old flat. Someone who walks softly yet makes the boards creak.
The little downstairs shop was neat and dark behind its barred windows; porcelain knickknacks, dolls, lace fans. I looked up at the balcony with its wrought-iron railings; I could picture Claudia there, on tiptoe, looking down at me, little fingers knotted on the rail. Golden hair spilling down over her shoulders, long streak of violet ribbon. My little immortal six-year-old beauty; Lestat, where have you been?
And that’s what he was doing, wasn’t he? Picturing things like that.
It was dead quiet; that is, if you didn’t hear the televisions chattering behind the green shutters and the old vine-covered walls; and the raucous noise from Bourbon; a man and a woman fighting deep within a house on the other side of the street.
But no one about; only the shining pavements; and the shut-up shops; and the big clumsy cars parked over the curb, the rain falling soundlessly on their curved roofs.
No one to see me as I walked away and then turned and made the quick feline leap, in the old manner, to the balcony and came down silently on the boards. I peered through the dirty glass of the French doors.
Empty; scarred walls; the way Jesse had left them. A board nailed up here, as though someone had tried once to break in and had been found out; smell of burnt timbers in there after all these years.
I pulled down the board silently; but now there was the lock on the other side. Could I use the new power? Could I make it open? Why did it hurt so much to do it—to think of her, to think that, in that last flickering moment, I could have helped her; I could have helped head and body to come together again; even though she had meant to destroy me; even though she had not called my name.
I looked at the little lock. Turn, open. And with tears rising, I
heard the metal creak, and saw the latch move. Little spasm in the brain as I kept my eye on it; and then the old door popped from its warped frame, hinges groaning, as if a draft inside had pushed it out.
He was in the hallway, looking through Claudia’s door.
The coat was perhaps a little shorter, a little less full than those old frock coats had been; but he looked so very nearly like himself in the old century that it made the ache in me deepen unbearably. For a moment I couldn’t move. He might as well have been a ghost there: his black hair full and disheveled as it had always been in the old days, and his green eyes full of melancholy wonder, and his arms rather limp at his sides.
Surely he hadn’t contrived to fit so perfectly into the old context. Yet he was a ghost in this flat, where Jesse had been so frightened; where she’d caught in chilling glimpses the old atmosphere I’d never forget.
Sixty years here, the unholy family. Sixty years Louis, Claudia, Lestat.
Could I hear the harpsichord if I tried?—Claudia playing her Haydn; and the birds singing because the sound always excited them; and the collected music vibrating in the crystal baubles that hung from the painted glass shades of the oil lamps, and in the wind chimes even that hung in the rear doorway before the curving iron stairs.
Claudia. A face for a locket; or a small oval portrait done on porcelain and kept with a curl of her golden hair in a drawer. But how she would have hated such an image, such an unkind image.
Claudia who sank her knife into my heart and twisted it, and watched as the blood poured down my shirt. Die, Father. I’ll put you in your coffin forever.
I will kill you first, my prince.
I saw the little mortal child, lying there in the soiled covers; smell of sickness. I saw the black-eyed Queen, motionless on her throne. And I had kissed them both, the Sleeping Beauties! Claudia, Claudia, come round now, Claudia . . . That’s it, dear, you must drink it to get well.
Someone was shaking me. “Lestat,” he said. Confusion.
“Ah, Louis, forgive me.” The dark neglected hallway. I shuddered. “I came here because I was so concerned . . . about you.”
“No need,” he said considerately. “It was just a little pilgrimage I had to make.”
I touched his face with my fingers; so warm from the kill.
“She’s not here, Louis,” I said. “It was something Jesse imagined.” “Yes, so it seems,” he said.
“We live forever; but they don’t come back.”
He studied me for a long moment; then he nodded. “Come on,” he said.
We walked down the long hallway together; no, I did not like it; I did not want to be here. It was haunted; but real hauntings have nothing to do with ghosts finally; they have to do with the menace of memory; that had been my room in there; my room.
He was struggling with the back door, trying to make the old weathered frame behave. I gestured for him to go out on the porch and then I gave it the shove it needed. Locked up tight.
So sad to see the overgrown courtyard; the fountain ruined; the old brick kitchen crumbling, and the bricks becoming earth again.
“I’ll fix it all for you if you want,” I told him. “You know, make it like it was before.”
“Not important now,” he said. “Will you come with me, walk with me a little?”
We went down the covered carriageway together, water rushing through the little gutter. I glanced back once. Saw her standing there in her white dress with the blue sash. Only she wasn’t looking at me. I was dead, she thought, wrapped in the sheet that Louis thrust into the carriage; she was taking my remains away to bury me; yet there she stood, and our eyes met.
I felt him tugging on me. “No good to stay here any longer,” he said.
I watched him close the gate up properly; and then his eyes moved sluggishly over the windows again, the balconies, and the high dormers above. Was he saying farewell, finally? Maybe not.
We went together up to the Rue Ste. Anne, and away from the river, not speaking, just walking, the way we’d done so many times back then. The cold was biting at him a little, biting at his hands. He didn’t like to put his hands in his pockets the way men did today. He didn’t think it a graceful thing to do.
The rain had softened into a mist.
Finally, he said: “You gave me a little fright; I didn’t think you were real when I first saw you in the hallway; you didn’t answer when I said your name.”
“And where are we going now?” I asked. I buttoned up my denim jacket. Not because I suffered from cold anymore; but because being warm felt good.
“Just one last place, and then wherever you wish. Back to the coven house, I should think. We don’t have much time. Or maybe you can leave me to my meanderings, and I’ll be back in a couple of nights.”
“Can’t we meander together?” “Yes,” he said eagerly.
What in God’s name did I want? We walked beneath the old porches, past the old solid green shutters; past the walls of peeling plaster and naked brick, and through the garish light of the Rue Bourbon and then I saw the St. Louis Cemetery up ahead, with its thick whitewashed walls.
What did I want? Why was my soul aching still when all the rest of them had struck some balance? Even Louis had struck a balance, and we had each other, as Marius had said.
I was happy to be with him, happy to be walking these old streets; but why wasn’t it enough?
Another gate now to be opened; I watched him break the lock with his fingers. And then we went into the little city of white graves with their peaked roofs and urns and doorways of marble, and the high grass crunching under our boots. The rain made every surface luminous; the lights of the city gave a pearl gleam to the clouds traveling silently over our heads.
I tried to find the stars. But I couldn’t. When I looked down again, I saw Claudia; I felt her hand touch mine.
Then I looked at Louis again, and saw his eyes catch the dim and
distant light and I winced. I touched his face again, the cheekbones, the arch beneath the black eyebrow. What a finely made thing he was.
“Blessed darkness!” I said suddenly. “Blessed darkness has come again.”
“Yes,” he said sadly, “and we rule in it as we have always done.” Wasn’t that enough?
He took my hand—what did it feel like now?—and led me down the narrow corridor between the oldest, the most venerable tombs; tombs that went back to the oldest time of the colony, when he and I had roamed the swamps together, the swamps that threatened to swallow everything, and I had fed on the blood of roustabouts and cutthroat thieves.
His tomb. I realized I was looking at his name engraved on the marble in a great slanting old-fashioned script.
Louis de Pointe du Lac 1766-1794
He rested against the tomb behind him, another one of those little temples, like his own, with a peristyle roof.
“I only wanted to see it again,” he said. He reached out and touched the writing with his finger.
It had faded only slightly from the weather wearing at the surface of the stone. The dust and grime had made it all the clearer, darkening each letter and numeral. Was he thinking of what the world had been in those years?
I thought of her dreams, her garden of peace on earth, with flowers springing from the blood-soaked soil.
“Now we can go home,” he said.
Home. I smiled. I reached out and touched the graves on either side of me; I looked up again at the soft glow of the city lights against the ruffled clouds.
“You’re not going to leave us, are you?” he asked suddenly, voice sharpened with distress.
“No,” I said. I wished I could speak of it, all the things that were in the book. “You know, we were lovers, she and I, as surely as a
mortal man and woman ever were.” “Of course, I know,” he said.
I smiled. I kissed him suddenly, thrilled by the warmth of him, the soft pliant feel of his near human skin. God, how I hated the whiteness of my fingers touching him, fingers that could have crushed him now effortlessly. I wondered if he even guessed.
There was so much I wanted to say to him, to ask him. Yet I couldn’t find the words really, or a way to begin. He had always had so many questions; and now he had his answers, more answers perhaps than he could ever have wanted; and what had this done to his soul? Stupidly I stared at him. How perfect he seemed to me as he stood there waiting with such kindness and such patience. And then, like a fool, I came out with it.
“Do you love me now?” I asked.
He smiled; oh, it was excruciating to see his face soften and brighten simultaneously when he smiled. “Yes,” he said.
“Want to go on a little adventure?” My heart was thudding suddenly. It would be so grand if— “Want to break the new rules?”
“What in the world do you mean?” he whispered.
I started laughing, in a low feverish fashion; it felt so good. Laughing and watching the subtle little changes in his face. I really had him worried now. And the truth was, I didn’t know if I could do it. Without her. What if I plunged like Icarus—?
“Oh, come now, Louis,” I said. “Just a little adventure. I promise, I have no designs this time on Western civilization, or even on the attentions of two million rock music fans. I was thinking of something small, really. Something, well, a little mischievous. And rather elegant. I mean, I’ve been awfully good for the last two months, don’t you think?”
“What on earth are you talking about?” “Are you with me or not?”
He gave another little shake of his head again. But it wasn’t a No. He was pondering. He ran his fingers back through his hair. Such fine black hair. The first thing I’d ever noticed about him—well, after his green eyes, that is—was his black hair. No, all that’s a lie. It was his expression; the passion and the innocence and the delicacy of conscience. I just loved it!
“When does this little adventure begin?”
“Now,” I said. “You have four seconds to make up your mind.” “Lestat, it’s almost dawn.”
“It’s almost dawn here,” I answered. “What do you mean?”
“Louis, put yourself in my hands. Look, if I can’t pull it off, you won’t really be hurt. Well, not that much. Game? Make up your mind. I want to be off now.”
He didn’t say anything. He was looking at me, and so affectionately that I could hardly stand it.
“Yes or no.”
“I’m probably going to regret this, but ”
“Agreed then.” I reached out and placed my hands firmly on his arms and I lifted him high off his feet. He was flabbergasted, looking down at me. It was as if he weighed nothing. I set him down.
“Mon Dieu,” he whispered.
Well, what was I waiting for? If I didn’t try it, I’d never find out. There came a dark, dull moment of pain again; of remembering her; of us rising together. I let it slowly slip away.
I swung my arm around his waist. Upwards now. I lifted my right hand, but that wasn’t even necessary. We were climbing on the wind that fast.
The cemetery was spinning down there, a tiny sprawling toy of itself with little bits of white scattered all over under the dark trees.
I could hear his astonished gasp in my ear. “Lestat!”
“Put your arm around my neck,” I said. “Hold on tight. We’re going west, of course, and then north, and we’re going a very long distance, and maybe we’ll drift for a while. The sun won’t set where we’re going for some time.”
The wind was ice cold. I should have thought of that, that he’d suffer from it; but he gave no sign. He was merely gazing upwards as we pierced the great snowy mist of the clouds.
When he saw the stars, I felt him tense against me; his face was
perfectly smooth and serene; and if he was weeping the wind was carrying it away. Whatever fear he’d felt was gone now, utterly; he was lost as he looked upward; as the dome of heaven came down around us, and the moon shone full on the endless thickening plain of whiteness below.
No need to tell him what to observe, or what to remember. He always knew such things. Years ago, when I’d done the dark magic on him, I hadn’t had to tell him anything; he had savored the smallest aspects of it all on his own. And later he’d said I’d failed to guide him. Didn’t he know how unnecessary that had always been?
But I was drifting now, mentally and physically; feeling him a snug yet weightless thing against me; just the pure presence of Louis, Louis belonging to me, and with me. And no burden at all.
I was plotting the course firmly with one tiny part of my mind, the way she’d taught me to do it; and I was also remembering so many things; the first time, for example, that I’d ever seen him in a tavern in New Orleans. He’d been drunk, quarreling; and I’d followed him out into the night. And he had said in that last moment before I’d let him slip through my hands, his eyes closing:
“But who are you!”
I’d known I’d come back for him at sunset, that I’d find him if I had to search the whole city for him, though I was leaving him then half dead in the cobblestone street. I had to have him, had to. Just the way I had to have everything I wanted; or had to do everything I’d ever wanted to do.
That was the problem, and nothing she’d given me—not suffering, or power, or terror finally—had changed it one bit.
FOUR miles from London.
One hour after sunset. We lay in the grass together, in the cold darkness under the oak. There was a little light coming from the huge manor house in the middle of the park, but not much. The small deep-cut leaded windows seemed made to keep it all inside. Cozy in there, inviting, with all the book-lined walls, and the flicker of flames from those many fireplaces; and the smoke belching up from the chimneys into the foggy dark.
Now and then a car moved on the winding road beyond the front gates; and the beams would sweep the regal face of the old
building, revealing the gargoyles, and the heavy arches over the windows, and the gleaming knockers on the massive front doors.
I have always loved these old European dwellings, big as landscapes; no wonder they invite the spirits of the dead to come back.
Louis sat up suddenly, looking about himself, and then hastily brushed the grass from his coat. He had slept for hours, inevitably, on the breast of the wind, you might say, and in the places where I’d rested for a little while, waiting for the world to turn. “Where are we?” he whispered, with a vague touch of alarm.
“Talamasca Motherhouse, outside London,” I said. I was lying there with my hands cradling my head. Lights on in the attic. Lights on in the main rooms of the first floor. I was thinking, what way would be the most fun?
“What are we doing here?” “Adventure, I told you.”
“But wait a minute. You don’t mean to go in there.”
“Don’t I? They have Claudia’s diary in there, in their cellar, along with Marius’s painting. You know all that, don’t you? Jesse told you those things.”
“Well, what do you mean to do? Break in and rummage through the cellar till you find what you want?”
I laughed. “Now, that wouldn’t be very much fun, would it? Sounds more like dreary work. Besides, it’s not really the diary I want. They can keep the diary. It was Claudia’s. I want to talk to one of them, to David Talbot, the leader. They’re the only mortals in the world, you know, who really believe in us.”
Twinge of pain inside. Ignore it. The fun’s beginning.
For the moment he was too shocked to answer. This was even more delicious than I had dreamed.
“But you can’t be serious,” he said. He was getting wildly indignant. “Lestat, let these people alone. They think Jesse is dead. They received a letter from someone in her family.”
“Yes, naturally. So I won’t disabuse them of that morbid notion. Why would I? But the one who came to the concert—David Talbot, the older one—he fascinates me. I suppose I want to know But
why say it? Time to go in and find out.” “Lestat!”
“Louis!” I said, mocking his tone. I got up and helped him up, not because he needed it, but because he was sitting there glowering at me, and resisting me, and trying to figure out how to control me, all of which was an utter waste of his time.
“Lestat, Marius will be furious if you do this!” he said earnestly, his face sharpening, the whole picture of high cheekbones and dark probing green eyes firing beautifully. “The cardinal rule is—”
“Louis, you’re making it irresistible!” I said.
He took hold of my arm. “What about Maharet? These were Jesse’s friends!”
“And what is she going to do? Send Mekare to crush my head like an egg!”
“You are really past all patience!” he said. “Have you learned anything at all!”
“Are you coming with me or not?” “You’re not going into that house.”
“You see that window up there?” I hooked my arm around his waist. Now, he couldn’t get away from me. “David Talbot is in that room. He’s been writing in his journal for about an hour. He’s deeply troubled. He doesn’t know what happened with us. He knows something happened; but he’ll never really figure it out. Now, we’re going to enter the bedroom next to him by means of that little window to the left.”
He gave one last feeble protest, but I was concentrating on the window, trying to visualize a lock. How many feet away was it? I felt the spasm, and then I saw, high above, the little rectangle of leaded glass swing out. He saw it too, and while he was standing there, speechless, I tightened my grip on him and went up.
Within a second we were standing inside the room. A small Elizabethan chamber with dark paneling, and handsome period furnishings, and a busy little fire.
Louis was in a rage. He glared at me as he straightened his clothes now with quick, furious gestures. I liked the room. David Talbot’s books; his bed.
And David Talbot staring at us through the half-opened door to his study, from where he sat in the light of one green shaded lamp on his desk. He wore a handsome gray silk smoking jacket, tied at the waist. He had his pen in hand. He was as still as a creature of the wood, sensing a predator, before the inevitable attempt at flight.
Ah, now this was lovely!
I studied him for a moment; dark gray hair, clear black eyes, beautifully lined face; very expressive, immediately warm. And the intelligence of the man was obvious. All very much as Jesse and Khayman had described.
I went into the study.
“You’ll forgive me,” I said. “I should have knocked at the front door. But I wanted our meeting to be private. You know who I am, of course.”
I looked at the desk. Our files, neat manila folders with various familiar names: “Théâtre des Vampires” and “Armand” and “Benjamin, the Devil.” And “Jesse.”
Jesse. There was the letter from Jesse’s aunt Maharet lying there beside the folder. The letter which said that Jesse was dead.
I waited, wondering if I should force him to speak first. But then that’s never been my favorite game. He was studying me very intensely, infinitely more intensely than I had studied him. He was memorizing me, using little devices he’d learned to record details so that he would remember them later no matter how great the shock of an experience while it was going on.
Tall, not heavy, not slender either. A good build. Large, very well-formed hands. Very well groomed, too. A true British gentleman; a lover of tweed and leather and dark woods, and tea, and dampness and the dark park outside, and the lovely wholesome feeling of this house.
And his age, sixty-five or so. A very good age. He knew things younger men just could not possibly know. This was the modern equivalent of Marius’s age in ancient times. Not really old for the twentieth century at all.
Louis was still in the other room, but he knew Louis was there.
He looked towards the doorway now. And then back to me.
Then he rose, and surprised me utterly. He extended his hand. “How do you do?” he said.
I laughed. I took his hand and shook it firmly and politely, observing his reactions, his astonishment when he felt how cold my flesh was; how lifeless in any conventional sense.
He was frightened all right. But he was also powerfully curious; powerfully interested.
Then very agreeably and very courteously he said, “Jesse isn’t dead, is she?”
Amazing what the British do with language; the nuances of politeness. The world’s great diplomats, surely. I found myself wondering what their gangsters were like. Yet there was such grief there for Jesse, and who was I to dismiss another being’s grief?
I looked at him solemnly. “Oh, yes,” I said. “Make no mistake about it. Jesse is dead.” I held his gaze firmly; there was no misunderstanding. “Forget about Jesse,” I said.
He gave a little nod, eyes glancing off for a moment, and then he looked at me again, with as much curiosity as before.
I made a little circle in the center of the room. Saw Louis back there in the shadows, standing against the side of the bedroom fireplace watching me with such scorn and disapproval. But this was no time to laugh. I didn’t feel at all like laughing. I was thinking of something Khayman had told me.
“I have a question for you now,” I said. “Yes.”
“I’m here. Under your roof. Suppose when the sun rises, I go down into your cellar. I slip into unconsciousness there. You know.” I made a little offhand gesture. “What would you do? Would you kill me while I slept?”
He thought about it for less than two seconds. “No.”
“But you know what I am. There isn’t the slightest doubt in your mind, is there? Why wouldn’t you?”
“Many reasons,” he said. “I’d want to know about you. I’d want to talk to you. No, I wouldn’t kill you. Nothing could make me do
I studied him; he was telling the truth completely. He didn’t elaborate on it, but he would have thought it frightfully callous and disrespectful to kill me, to kill a thing as mysterious and old as I was.
“Yes, precisely,” he said, with a little smile.
Mind reader. Not very powerful however. Just the surface thoughts.
“Don’t be so sure.” Again it was said with remarkable politeness. “Second question for you,” I said.
“By all means.” He was really intrigued now. The fear had absolutely melted away.
“Do you want the Dark Gift? You know. To become one of us.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Louis shake his head. Then he turned his back. “I’m not saying that I’d ever give it you. Very likely, I would not. But do you want it? If I was willing, would you accept it from me?”
“Oh, come now.”
“Not in a million years would I ever accept it. As God is my witness, no.”
“You don’t believe in God, you know you don’t.” “Merely an expression. But the sentiment is true.”
I smiled. Such an affable, alert face. And I was so exhilarated; the blood was moving through my veins with a new vigor; I wondered if he could sense it; did I look any less like a monster? Were there all those little signs of humanity that I saw in others of our kind when they were exuberant or absorbed?
“I don’t think it will take a million years for you to change your mind,” I said. “You don’t have very much time at all, really. When you think about it.”
“I will never change my mind,” he said. He smiled, very sincerely. He was holding his pen in both hands. And he toyed with it, unconsciously and anxiously for a second, but then he was still.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. I looked around the room; at the small Dutch painting in its lacquered frame: a house in Amsterdam
above a canal. I looked at the frost on the leaded window. Nothing visible of the night outside at all. I felt sad suddenly; only it wasn’t anything as bad as before. It was just an acknowledgment of the bitter loneliness that had brought me here, the need with which I’d come, to stand in his little chamber and feel his eyes on me; to hear him say that he knew who I was.
The moment darkened. I couldn’t speak.
“Yes,” he said in a timid tone behind me. “I know who you are.”
I turned and looked at him. It seemed I’d weep suddenly. Weep on account of the warmth here, and the scent of human things; the sight of a living man standing before a desk. I swallowed. I wasn’t going to lose my composure, that was foolish.
“It’s quite fascinating really,” I said. “You wouldn’t kill me. But you wouldn’t become what I am.”
“No. I don’t believe you,” I said again.
A little shadow came into his face, but it was an interesting shadow. He was afraid I’d seen some weakness in him that he wasn’t aware of himself.
I reached for his pen. “May I? And a piece of paper please?”
He gave them to me immediately. I sat down at the desk in his chair. All very immaculate—the blotter, the small leather cylinder in which he kept his pens, and even the manila folders. Immaculate as he was, standing there watching as I wrote.
“It’s a phone number,” I said. I put the piece of paper in his hand. “It’s a Paris number, an attorney, who knows me under my proper name, Lestat de Lioncourt, which I believe is in your files? Of course he doesn’t know the things about me you know. But he can reach me. Or, perhaps it would be accurate to say that I am always in touch with him.”
He didn’t say anything, but he looked at the paper, and he memorized the number.
“Keep it,” I said. “And when you change your mind, when you want to be immortal, and you’re willing to say so, call the number. And I’ll come back.”
He was about to protest. I gestured for silence.
“You never know what may happen,” I told him. I sat back in his chair, and crossed my hands on my chest. “You may discover you have a fatal illness; you may find yourself crippled by a bad fall. Maybe you’ll just start to have nightmares about being dead; about being nobody and nothing. Doesn’t matter. When you decide you want what I have to give, call. And remember please, I’m not saying I’ll give it to you. I may never do that. I’m only saying that when you decide you want it, then the dialogue will begin.”
“But it’s already begun.” “No, it hasn’t.”
“You don’t think you’ll be back?” he asked. “I think you will, whether I call or not.”
Another little surprise. A little stab of humiliation. I smiled at him in spite of myself. He was a very interesting man. “You silver-tongued British bastard,” I said. “How dare you say that to me with such condescension? Maybe I should kill you right now.”
That did it. He was stunned. Covering it up rather well but I could still see it. And I knew how frightening I could look, especially when I smiled.
He recovered himself with amazing swiftness. He folded the paper with the phone number on it and slipped it into his pocket.
“Please accept my apology,” he said. “What I meant to say was that I hope you’ll come back.”
“Call the number,” I said. We looked at each other for a long moment; then I gave him another little smile. I stood up to take my leave. Then I looked down at his desk.
“Why don’t I have my own file?” I asked.
His face went blank for a second; then he recovered again, miraculously. “Ah, but you have the book!” He gestured to The Vampire Lestat on the shelf.
“Ah, yes, right. Well, thank you for reminding me.” I hesitated. “But you know, I think I should have my own file.”
“I agree with you,” he said. “I’ll make one up immediately. It was always . . . just a matter of time.”
I laughed softly in spite of myself. He was so courteous. I made a little farewell bow, and he acknowledged it gracefully.
And then I moved past him, as fast as I could manage it, which was quite fast, and I caught hold of Louis, and left immediately through the window, moving out and up over the grounds until I came down on a lonely stretch of the London road.
It was darker and colder here, with the oaks closing out the moon, and I loved it. I loved the pure darkness! I stood there with my hands shoved into my pockets looking at the faint faraway aureole of light hovering over London; and laughing to myself with irrepressible glee.
“Oh, that was wonderful; that was perfect!” I said, rubbing my hands together; and then clasping Louis’s hands, which were even colder than mine.
The expression on Louis’s face sent me into raptures. This was a real laughing fit coming on.
“You’re a bastard, do you know that!” he said. “How could you do such a thing to that poor man! You’re a fiend, Lestat. You should be walled up in a dungeon!”
“Oh, come on, Louis,” I said. I couldn’t stop laughing. “What do you expect of me? Besides, the man’s a student of the supernatural. He isn’t going to go stark raving mad. What does everybody expect of me?” I threw my arm around his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go to London. It’s a long walk, but it’s early. I’ve never been to London. Do you know that? I want to see the West End, and Mayfair, and the Tower, yes, let’s do go to the Tower. And I want to feed in London! Come on.”
“Lestat, this is no joking matter. Marius will be furious. Everyone will be furious!”
My laughing fit was getting worse. We started down the road at a good clip. It was so much fun to walk. Nothing was ever going to take the place of that, the simple act of walking, feeling the earth under your feet, and the sweet smell of the nearby chimneys scattered out there in the blackness; and the damp cold smell of deep winter in these woods. Oh, it was all very lovely. And we’d get Louis a decent overcoat when we reached London, a nice long black overcoat with fur on the collar so that he’d be warm as I was now.
“Do you hear what I’m saying to you?” Louis said. “You haven’t learned anything, have you? You’re more incorrigible than you were before!”
I started to laugh again, helplessly.
Then more soberly, I thought of David Talbot’s face, and that moment when he’d challenged me. Well, maybe he was right. I’d be back. Who said I couldn’t come back and talk to him if I wanted to? Who said? But then I ought to give him just a little time to think about that phone number; and slowly lose his nerve.
The bitterness came again, and a great drowsy sadness suddenly that threatened to sweep my little triumph away. But I wouldn’t let it. The night was too beautiful. And Louis’s diatribe was becoming all the more heated and hilarious:
“You’re a perfect devil, Lestat!” he was saying. “That’s what you are! You are the devil himself!”
“Yes, I know,” I said, loving to look at him, to see the anger pumping him so full of life. “And I love to hear you say it, Louis. I need to hear you say it. I don’t think anyone will ever say it quite like you do. Come on, say it again. I’m a perfect devil. Tell me how bad I am. It makes me feel so good!”