It is my desire to have coffee with Dr. Donald Seter this very night, and to increase my chances of success I send Seymour away. He's only too happy to try to catch a late movie in Westwood. Seymour, I feel, may hold me back because I plan to reach the esteemed doctor through the son, James Seter. Picking up a copy of Dr. Seter's book, The Secret of Suzama, on the back table for a mere twenty bucks, I stroll over to where bright-faced James is saying good-bye to people. He stands near the exit and thanks people for coming. Such a nice young man, with a firm handshake, no less. He lights up when he sees me.
"Alisa," he says. "Your questions were very interesting."
"You remember my name. I am flattered." I pause. "I am perhaps a little older than I look, and a little more educated I have made a thorough study of ancient Egypt, and would enjoy chatting with you and your father about the Suzama scrip?ture."
He doesn't take me seriously. "I'm sure that would be fun and informative, but my father has to catch a plane for San Francisco tomorrow morning early."
I catch his eye, put an ounce of heat behind my words. "Maybe you could talk to him about me. He expressed an interest in my knowledge of Suzama's connection to Isis."
James blinks a few times. He must have a strong will; he does not immediately jump at my sugges?tion.
"I could talk to him. But as you can see he is not as young as he once was. I worry about tiring him unnecessarily."
I do not want to push James too hard. There is always the possibility I might damage him in some way. Since my rebirth as a vampire, I have found the power in my eyes particularly biting. I use it in small doses. But I do not want Dr. Seter to just walk away. I decide to let a portion of my ancient knowledge drop, but in the form of a lie. Making a drama of it, I pull James Seter aside and speak in hushed tones.
"Your Suzama scripture is not the only one in existence," I say. "I have another one, but I think it is different. I would be happy to trade information with your father."
James pauses a moment to take this all in. "You can't be serious?"
I speak evenly. "But I am. If your father will meet with me, I would be happy to talk to him about it." I pause. "He will know within a minute whether I have discovered something authentic."
"He will want to question you before spending time with you."
I shake my head. "I will not talk here about what I have found. But please assure your father that I'm not a crackpot."
"Where do you want to meet?"
"There's a coffee shop three blocks from the ocean near Ocean Avenue and the freeway. I can meet you there in, say, half an hour."
That is the coffee shop where my beloved Ray came back to me, where he in fact returned to life. He appeared just after I shot two men to death after they'd tried to rape me. I was covered with a fine spray of blood at the time, a fitting ornament for dark delusions. I have not been back to the coffee shop since, but for some perverse reason I want to go there tonight. Maybe another phantom will appear to spice up my life. Yet I hope not. The pain of the last one is still an open wound for me. Just the thought of Ray fills me with sorrow. James is studying me.
"When you came here tonight," he says, "you acted like you had no knowledge of Suzama. Why?"
I reach out and straighten his tie. "If you knew what I know, James, you would make a point of appearing ignorant." I pause. "Tell your father to come. I will be waiting."
A half hour later I sit in the coffee shop across from Dr. Seter and his son. They have come alone, which is good. Actually it is good that they have come at all, but I suspect son dragged father along. The doctor doesn't look at me as if he expects to receive any divine revelation from me. But he does seem to be enjoying the apple pie and ice cream I've ordered for him. When you're a cute five-thousand-year-old blond, you can get away with murder.
"James tells me you're a student of archeology," Dr. Seter says as he forks up a heaping piece of pie. He has taken off the tie he wore to his lecture but otherwise he is dressed the same. His manner is relaxed, a scholar enjoying himself after giving a lecture he has obviously given a thousand times before. Briefly I wonder about his motivation for publicizing the Suzama scripture. I don't think he can be making much money from doing so. The cost of his book is nominal and he doesn't teach any high-priced seminar. He seems like a nice man with no hidden agenda.
"I am a student of Suzama," I say seriously. "I was not boasting when I said I possess a manu-script of hers."
Dr. Seter is amused. "Where did you find this manuscript?"
"Where did you find yours?" I ask.
"I have explained why I am reluctant to reveal that information."
"I have the same reluctance for the same rea?sons," I say.
He returns to his pie. He thinks I am a nice girl with nothing to say.
"Then I guess we'll just have to enjoy the food," he says politely.
I open his book to a photograph of a portion of the Suzama scripture. I point to the hieratic writing on the ancient papyrus.
"There are probably only two dozen people on Earth who can read this at a glance," I say. "You are one of them, I am another. This line says, 'The secret of the Goddess is in the sixteenth digit of the moon. Not the moon in the sky, but the moon in the high center. It is here the ambrosia of bliss is milked by the sincere seeker. It is only there the knowledge of the soul is revealed.' I pause. "Is my translation accurate?"
Dr. Seter almost drops his fork. "How did you know that? I don't translate that line in the text."
"I told you, I am a student of Suzama."
James interrupts. "How do we know someone else didn't translate the line for you?"
"Because I can give you information that must be in the portion of your scripture that you keep hidden, as it is in mine. For example, I know of the four-word mantra Suzama used to invoke the white light from above the head, where the moon digit is really located. I know how the first word relates to the heart, the second to the throat, the third to the head. I know how the breath is synchronized with the mantra and that on the fourth word the divine white light of Isis is brought down into the human body."
Dr. Seter stares at me, stunned. "What is the four-word mantra?"
I speak seriously. "You know from your scripture that it is only to be revealed in private, at the time of initiation. I will not say it here. But you must realize by now that I know a great deal about Suzama's secret meditation practices. Therefore, it should be easy for you to believe that I must have access to another scripture belonging to her." I pause. "Am I correct?"
Dr. Seter studies me. "You know something, that's for sure. Frankly, I would be very curious to see your scripture."
"You have to show me yours first," I say. "I will be able to tell if it is authentic."
"How?" James interrupts.
I smile for him. "I will compare it to mine."
"Do you believe your scripture is identical to mine?" Dr. Seter asks.
"No. Yours speaks of a danger to the new master. Mine does not address that point." I add, "You lied when you said your scripture did not specify what the danger is."
Dr. Seter sits back. "How do you know that?"
"It doesn't matter. It's true." I pause. 'Tell me how the danger is described?"
"I'm afraid that's not possible," James says. "Only inner members of our group are given such information."
"Ah," I say. "This inner group you have organized, what's its purpose? To protect the child once it is found?" By their reaction I see I have scored a bulls-eye. "Isn't that rather presumptuous of you? To think the messiah needs your protection?"
Dr. Seter is having trouble keeping up with me. Still, I have his full attention. "What if the scrip?ture itself says he will need protection?" he asks.
"Does it?" I ask.
Dr. Seter hesitates. "Yes."
He is telling the truth, or at least the truth he knows.
"Father," James interrupts. "Should we be talk?ing about these things in front of a stranger whom we have just met?"
Dr. Seter shrugs. "Isn't it obvious she knows as much about Suzama as we do?"
"But I don't," I say again. "I know different things about her. I am working with different source material. But back to your group, and how they will be used to protect the child. How exactly is that going to work?"
"Surely you can understand that we can't divulge the inner workings of our group," Dr. Seter says. "Not the way the government is scrutinizing every spiritual group in the country, searching for the next crazy cult. Please, let's try to keep this on an academic level. I would like to see your material, you would like to see mine. Fine, how can we work a place and a date to exchange information?"
"I told you," I say. "You have to show me yours first. If I am convinced it is authentic, I will show you what I have."
Dr. Seter is suspicious. "Why not have a simulta?neous exchange?"
I smile warmly. "I will not harm your material. I'm sure when you show it to me there will be a dozen of your well-dressed boys and girls gathered around." I pause. "I suspect you travel with it. Why don't you show it to me tonight? I will not have to study it long to reach a conclusion."
Dr. Seter and James exchange a long look. "What could it hurt?" the doctor says finally, testing the waters.
James is unsure. He continues to study me. "How do we know you don't work for the FBI?"
I throw my head back and laugh. "Where will you find a FBI agent who can read hieroglyphics?"
"But you are curious about the purpose of our group?" James persists. "These are the kinds of questions the government might ask."
I catch James's eye and let my power out in a measured dose. "I am not from the government. I represent no one other than myself. My interest in the Suzama material is motivated only by the highest and best desires." I pause and catch the eye of the doctor as well. "Let me see it. You will have no regrets."
Dr. Seter touches his son's arm as he nods in answer to my request. "We don't exactly travel with it, but it's not far from here." He pauses. "It's out in Palm Springs."
"Palm Springs," I mutter. What a coincidence. One passes through Palm Springs on the way to Joshua Tree National Monument, where Paula supposedly conceived her child. I have been mean?ing to go out there for some time.
"James can show you the scripture tomorrow morning," Dr. Seter says, checking his watch. "It's too late to see it tonight."
I stand. "But I'm a night girl. And I would like you to be there, Dr. Seter, when I examine it. If you please? Let's go now."
He is taken aback by my boldness and gazes up at me. "May I ask how old you are, Alisa?"
I smile. "You must know that Suzama was not very old when she wrote your scripture."
Dr. Seter shakes his head. "I didn't know that. How old was she?"
"I take that back. I'm not sure how old she was when she wrote it. I only know she died before her twentieth birthday."
I don't add, like me.
Some, of course, consider vampires the walking dead.