THE POINT is, Old Captain was a smuggler, a collector. I spent years with him. My mother had sent me to Andover, then brought me home, couldn't live without me; I went to Jesuit, I didn't belong with anyone or anywhere, and maybe Old Captain was the perfect person. But Wynken de Wilde, that started with Old Captain and the antiques he sold through the Quarter, usually small, portable things.
"And I'll tell you right now, Wynken de Wilde amounts to nothing, absolutely nothing, except a dream I had once, a very perverse plan. I mean my lifelong passion¡ªaside from Dora¡ªhas been Wynken de Wilde, but if you don't care about him after this conversation, no one will. Dora does not."
"What was this Wynken de Wilde all about?"
"Art, of course. Beauty. But I got it mixed up in my head when I was seventeen that I was going to start a new religion, a cult¡ªfree love, give to the poor, raise one's hand against no one, you know, a sort of fornicating Amish community. This was of course 1964, the time of the flower children, marijuana, Bob Dylan seeming to be singing all the time about ethics and charity, and I wanted a new Brethren of the Common Life, one in tune with modern sexual values. Do you know who the Brethren were?"
"Yes, popular mysticism, late Middle Ages, that anyone could know God."
"Yes! Ah, that you know such a thing."
"You didn't have to be a priest or monk."
"Exactly. And so the monks were jealous, but my concept of this as a boy was all wound up with Wynken, whom I knew to have been influenced by German mysticism and all those popular movements, Meister Eckehart, et cetera, though he worked in a scriptorium and still did old-fashioned parchment prayer books of devotion by hand. Wynken's books were completely different from those of others. I thought if I could find all Wynken's books I'd have it made."
"Why Wynken, what made him different?"
"Let me tell it my way. See, this is how it happened, the boarding-house was shabby-elegant, you know the kind, my mother didn't get her own hands dirty, she had three maids and an old colored man who did everything; the old people, the boarders¡ªthey were on hefty private incomes, limousines garaged around the Garden District, three meals a day, red carpets. You know the house. Henry Howard designed it. Late Victorian. My mother had inherited it from her mother."
"I know it, I've seen it, I've seen you stop in front of it. Who owns it now?"
"I don't know. I let it slip away. I ruined so many things. But picture this: drowsy summer afternoon there, I'm fifteen and lonely, and Old Captain invites me in, and there on the table in the second parlour¡ªhe rents the two front parlours¡ªhe lives in a sort of wonderland of collectibles and brass and such¡ª"
"I see it."
"¡ªand there are these books on the table, medieval books! Tiny medieval prayer books. Of course, I know a prayer book when I see it; but a medieval codex, no; I was an altar boy when I was very little, went to Mass every day for years with my mother, knew liturgical Latin as was required. The point is, I recognize these books as devotional and rare, and something that Old Captain is inevitably going to sell.
" 'You can touch them, Roger, if you're careful,' he tells me. For two years, he had let me come and listen to his classical records, and we'd taken walks together. But I was just becoming sexually interesting to him, though I didn't know it, and it's got nothing to do with what I have to say until later on.
"He was on the phone talking to somebody about a ship in the harbour.
"Within a few minutes we were off to the ship. We used to go on these ships all the time. I never knew what we were doing. It had to be smuggling. All I remember is Old Captain sitting at a big round table with all the crew, they were Dutch, I think, and some nice officer with a heavy accent giving me a tour of the engine room, the map room, and the radio room. I never tired of it. I loved the ships. The New Orleans wharves were active then, full of rats and hemp."
"Do you remember those long ropes that ran from the ships to the dock, how they had the round steel rat shields on them¡ªdisks of steel that the rats couldn't climb over?"
"We get home that night and instead of going to bed as I would have done, I beg him to let me come in and see those books. I have to see them before he sells them. My mother wasn't in the hallway, so I supposed she'd gone to bed.
"Let me give you an image of my mother and this boardinghouse. I told you it was elegant, didn't I? You can imagine the furnishings, heavy Renaissance revival, machine-made pieces, the kind that junked up mansions from the i88os on."
"The house has a glorious staircase, winding, set against a stained-glass window, and at the foot of the stairs, in the crook of it, this masterpiece of a stairs of which Henry Howard must have been profoundly proud¡ªin the stairwell¡ªstood my mother's enormous dressing table, imagine, and she'd sit there in the main hall, at the dressing table, brushing her hair! All I have to do is think of that and my head aches. Or it used to when I was alive. It was such a tragic image, and I knew it, even though I grew up seeing it every day; that a dressing table of marble and mirrors and sconces and filigree, and an old woman with dark hair, does not belong in a formal hallway…."
"And the boarders just took it in?" I asked.
"Yes, because the house was gobbled up for this one and that one, Old Mister Bridey, living in what had once been a servants' porch, and Blind Miss Stanton in the little fainting room upstairs! And four apartments carved out of the servants' quarters in back. I am keenly sensitive to disorder; you find around me either perfect order or the neglected clutter of the place in which you killed me."
"I realize that."
"But if I were to inhabit that place again…. Ah, this is not important.
The point I'm trying to make is that I believe in order and when I was young I used to dream about it. I wanted to be a saint, well, a sort of secular saint. Let me return to the books."
"I hit the sacred books on the table. One of them I took from its own little sack. I was charmed by the tiny illustrations. I examined each and every book that night, planning to thereafter take my time. Of course the Latin was unreadable to me in that form."
"Too dense. Too many pen strokes."
"My, you do know things, don't you?"
"Maybe we're surprising each other. Go on."
"I spent the week thoroughly examining all of them. I cut school all the time. It was so boring. I was way ahead of everybody, and wanted to do something exciting, you know, like commit a major crime."
"A saint or a criminal."
"Yes, I suppose that does seem a contradiction. Yet it's a perfect description."
"I thought it was."
"Old Captain explained things about the books. The book in the sack was a girdle book. Men carried such books with them. And this particular one was a prayer book, and another of the illuminated books, the biggest and thickest, was a Book of the Hours, and then there was a Bible in Latin, of course. He was casual about all of it.
"I was incredibly drawn to these books, can't tell you why. I have always been covetous of things that are shining and bright and seemingly valuable, and here was the most condensed and seemingly unique version of such I'd ever beheld."
I smiled. "Yes, I know exactly."
"Pages full of gold, and red, and tiny beautiful little figures. I took out a magnifying glass and started to study the pictures in earnest. I went to the old library at Lee Circle¡ªremember it?¡ªand I studied up on the entire question. Medieval books. How the Benedictines had done them. Do you know Dora owns a convent? It isn't based on the plan of St. Gall, but it's just about the nineteenth-century equivalent."
"Yes, I saw it, I saw her there. She's brave and doesn't care about the darkness or the aloneness."
"She believes in Divine Providence to the point of idiocy and she can make something of herself only if she isn't destroyed. I want another drink. I know I'm talking fast. I have to."
I gestured for the drink. "Continue, what happened, who's Wynkende Wilde?"
"Wynken de Wilde was the author of two of these precious books that Old Captain had in his possession. I didn't figure that out for months. I was going over the little illustrations, and gradually I determined two of the books were done by the same artist, and then in spite of Old Captain insisting that there would be no signature, I found his name, in several places in both books. Now you know Captain sold these types of things. I told you. He dealt in them through a shop on Royal Street."
"Well, I lived in terror of the day he was going to have to sell these two books! These books weren't like the other books. First off, the illustrations were exceedingly detailed. One page might contain the motif of a flowering vine, with blossoms from which birds drank, and in these blossoms there were human figures intertwined, as if in a bower. Also, these were books of psalms. When you first examined them you thought they were psalms of the Vulgate, you know, the Bible we accept as canonical."
"But they weren't. They were psalms that never appeared in any Bible. I figured that much out, simply by comparing them to other Latin reprints of the same period that I got out of the library. This was some sort of original work. Then the illustrations, the illustrations contained not only tiny animals and trees and fruit but naked people, and the naked people were doing all sorts of things!"
"Exactly, like Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, that kind of luscious sensuous paradise! Of course, I hadn't seen Bosch's painting yet in the Prado. But it was here in miniature in these books. Little figures frolicking beneath the abundant trees. Old Captain said, 'Garden of Eden imagery,' that it was very common. But two books full of it? No. This was different. I had to crack these books, get an absolutely clear translation of every word.
"And then Old Captain did the kindest thing for me he'd ever done, the thing that might have made a great religious leader out of me, and may still make one in Dora, though hers is wholly another creed."
"He gave you the books."
"Yes! He gave me the books. And let me tell you more. That summer, he took me all over the country to look at medieval manuscripts! We went to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, and the Newbury Library in Chicago. We went to New York. He would have taken me to England, but my mother said no.
"I saw all types of medieval books! And I came to know that Wynken's were unlike any others. Wynken's were blasphemous and profane. And nobody, nobody at any of these libraries had a book by Wynken de Wilde, but the name was known!
"Captain still let me keep the books! And I set to work on translating them right away. Old Captain died in the front room, the first week of my senior year. I didn't even start school till after he was buried. I refused to leave him. I sat there with him. He slipped into a coma. By the third day of the coma, you could not have told who he was, his face had so changed. He didn't close his eyes anymore, and didn't know they were open, and his mouth was just a slack sort of oval, and his breath came in even gasps. I sat there. I told you."
"I believe you."
"Yes, well, I was seventeen, my mother was very sick, there wasn't any money for college, which every other senior boy at Jesuit was talking about, and I was dreaming of flower children in the Haight Ashbury of California, listening to the songs of Joan Baez, and thinking that I would go to San Francisco with the message of Wynken de Wilde, and found a cult.
"This was what I knew then through translation. And in that regard I had had the help of an old priest at Jesuit for quite some time, one of those genuinely brilliant Latin scholars who has to spend half the day making boys behave. He had done die translation for me gladly, and of course there was a little of the usual promise in it of my proximity and intimacy, he and I being alone and close for hours."
"So you were selling yourself again, even before Old Captain died?"
"No. Not really. Not the way you think. Well, sort of. Only this priest was a genuine celibate, Irish, almost impossible to understand now, this sort of priest. They never did anything to anyone. I doubt they even masturbated. It was all being near boys and occasionally breathing heavily or something. Nowadays religious life doesn't attract that particular kind of robust and completely repressed individual. A man like that could no more molest a child than he could get up on the altar at Mass and start to shout."
"He didn't know he felt an attraction for you, that he was giving you special favors."
"Precisely, and so he spent hours with me translating Wynken. He kept me from going crazy. He always stopped in to visit with Old Captain. If Old Captain had been Catholic, Father Kevin would have given him the Last Rites, Try to understand this, will you? You can't judge people like Old Captain and Father Kevin."
"No, and not boys like you."
"Also, my mother had a disastrous new boyfriend that last year, a sugar-coated mock gentleman, actually, one of those people who speaks surprisingly well, has overly bright eyes, and is obviously rotten inside, and from a totally unconvincing background. He had too many wrinkles in his youngish face; they looked like cracks. He smoked du Maurier cigarettes. I think he thought he was going to marry my mother for the house. You follow me?"
"Yes, I do. So after Old Captain died, you had only the priest."
"Right. Now you get it. Father Kevin and I worked a lot at the boardinghouse, he liked that. He'd drive up, park his car on Philip Street and come around and we'd go up to my room. Second floor, front bedroom. I had a great view of the parades on Mardi Gras. I grew up thinking that was normal, for an entire city to go mad two weeks out of every year. Anyway, we were up there during one of the night parades, ignoring it as natives can do, you know, once you've seen enough papier-mach��¦ floats and trinkets and flambeaux¡ª"
"Horrible, lurid flambeaux."
"Yes, you said it." He stopped. The drink had come and he was gazing at it.
"What is it?" I asked him. I was alarmed because he was alarmed.
"Look at me, Roger. Don't start fading, keep talking. What did the translation of the books reveal? Were they profane? Roger, talk to me!"
He broke his frigid meditative stillness. He picked up the drink, tossed down half of it. "Disgusting and I adore it. Southern Comfort was the first thing I ever drank when I was a boy."
He looked at me, directly.
"I'm not fading," he assured me. "It's just I saw and smelled the house again. You know? The smell of old people's rooms, the rooms in which people die. But it was so lovely. What was I saying? All right, it was during Proteus, one of the night parades, that Father Kevin made the incredible breakthrough that both these books had been dedicated by Wynken de Wilde to Blanche De Wilde, his patron, and that she was obviously the wife to his good brother, Damien; it was all embedded in the designs of the first few pages.
And that threw an entirely different light on the psalms. The psalms were filled with lascivious invitations and suggestions and possibly even some sort of secret codes for clandestine meetings. Over and over again there appeared paintings of the same little garden¡ªunderstand we're talking miniatures here¡ª"
"I've seen many examples."
"And in these little tiny pictures of the garden there would always be one naked man and five women dancing around a fountain within the walls of a medieval castle, or so it seemed. Magnify it five times and it was just perfect. And Father Kevin began to laugh and laugh.
" 'No wonder there isn't a single saint or biblical scene in any of this,' Father Kevin said, laughing. 'Your Wynken de Wilde was a raving heretic! He was a witch or a diabolist. And he was in love with this woman, Blanche.' He wasn't shocked so much as amused.
" 'You know, Roger,' he said, 'if you did get in touch with one of the auction houses, very likely these books could put you through Loyola, or Tulane. Don't think of selling them down here. Think about New York; Butterfield and Butterfield, or Sotheby's.'
"He had in the last two years copied out by hand about thirty-five different poems for me in English, the best sort of translation¡ªstraight prose from the Latin¡ªand now we went over them, tracing repetitions and imagery, and a story began to emerge.
"First thing we realized was that there had been many books originally, and what we possessed were the first and third. By the third, the psalms reflected not mere adoration for Blanche, who was again and again compared to the Virgin Mary in her purity and brightness, but also answers to some sort of correspondence about what the lady was suffering at the hands of her spouse.
"It was clever. You have to read it. You have to go back to the flat where you killed me and get those books."
"Which means you didn't sell them to go to Loyola or Tulane?"
"Of course not. Wynken, having orgies with Blanche and her four friends! I was fascinated. Wynken was my saint by virtue of his talent, and sexuality was my religion because it had been Wynken's and in every philosophical word he wrote he encoded a love of the flesh!
You have to realize I didn't believe any orthodox creed really, I never had. I thought the Catholic Church was dying. And that Protestantism was a joke. It was years before I understood that the Protestant approach is fundamentally mystic, that it is aiming for the very oneness with God that Meister Eckehart would have praised or that Wynken wrote about."
"You are being generous to the Protestant approach. And Wynken did write about oneness with God?"
"Yes, through union with the women! It was cautious but clear;
'In thine arms I have known the Trinity more truly than men can teach,' like that. Oh, this was the new way, I was sure. But then I knew Protestantism only as materialism, sterility and Baptist tourists who got drunk on Bourbon Street because they could not dare do it in their hometowns."
"When did you change your opinion?" I asked.
"I'm speaking in broad generalities. I mean, I saw no hope for religions in existence in the West at our time. Dora feels very much the same, but we'll come to Dora."
"Did you finish the entire translation?"
"Yes; just before Father Kevin was transferred. I never saw him again. He did write to me later, but by that time I had run away from home.
"I was in San Francisco. I'd left without my mother's blessing, and taken the Trailways Bus because it was a few cents cheaper than the Greyhound. I didn't have seventy-five dollars in my pocket. I'd squandered everything Captain ever gave me. And when he died, did those relatives of his from Jackson, Mississippi, ever clean out those rooms!
"They took everything. I always thought Captain had left something for me, you know. But I didn't care. The books were his greatest gift and all those luncheons at the Monteleone Hotel when we had had gumbo together, and he let me break up all my saltine crackers in the gumbo till it was porridge. I just loved it.
"What was I saying? I bought the ticket to California and saved a small balance for pie and coffee at each stop. A funny thing happened. We carne to a point of no return. That is, when we passed through some town in Texas I realized I didn't have enough money to go back home, even if I wanted to. It was the middle of the night. I think it was El Paso! Anyway, then I knew there was no going back.
"But I was headed for San Francisco and the Haight Asbury, and I was going to found a cult based on the teachings of Wynken in praise of love and union and claiming that sexual union was godlike union and I would show his books to my followers. It was my dream, though to tell you the truth, I had no personal feeling about God at all.
"Within three months, I had discovered that my credo was by no means unique. The entire city was full of hippies who believed in free love, and panhandling, and though I gave regular lectures to large loose circles of friends on Wynken, holding up the books and reciting the psalms¡ªthese are very tame, of course¡ª"
"I can imagine."
"¡ªmy principle job was that of business manager and boss of three rock musicians who wanted to become famous and were too stoned to remember their bookings, or collect the proceeds at the door. One of them, Blue, we called him, could really sing well. He had a high tenor, and quite a range. The band had a sound. Or at least we thought it did.
"Father Kevin's letter found me when I was living up in the attic of the Spreckles Mansion on Buena Vista Park, do you know that house?"
"I do know it. It's a hotel."
"Exactly, and it was a private home in those days, and the top floor had a ballroom with bath and kitchenette. This was well before any restoration. Nobody had invented 'bed and breakfast,' and I just rented the ballroom and the musicians played there and we all used the filthy bath and kitchen, and in the day, when they were asleep all over the floor, I'd dream about Wynken and think about Wynken and wonder how I would ever find out more about this man and what these love poems were. I had all sorts of fantasies about him.
"That attic, I wonder about it now. It had windows at three points of the compass, and deep window seats with tattered old velvet cushions. You could see San Francisco in every direction but east as I remember, but I don't have a good sense of direction. We loved to sit in those window alcoves and talk and talk. My friends loved to hear about Wynken. We were going to write some songs based on Wynken's poems. Well, that never happened."
"Completely. Lestat, you must go back for those books, no matter what you believe of me when we're finished here. All of them are in the flat. Every single one that Wynken ever did. It was my life's work to get those books, I got into dope for those books. Even back in the Haight.
"I was telling you about Father Kevin. He wrote me a letter, said that he had looked up Wynken de Wilde in some manuscripts and found that Wynken had been the executed leader of a heretical cult. Wynken de Wilde had a religion of strictly female followers, and his works were officially condemned by the church. Father Kevin said all that was 'history,' and I ought to sell the books. He'd write more later. He never did. And two months later I committed multi-murder completely on the spur of the moment, and it changed the course of things."
"The dope you were dealing?"
"Sort of, only I wasn't the one who made the slipup. Blue dealt more than me. Blue carried around grass in suitcases. I was into little sacks of it, you know, it made just about as much as the band made for me. But Blue bought by the kilo and lost two kilos. Nobody knew what happened to them. He actually lost them in a taxi, we figured, but we never knew.
"There were a lot of stupid kids walking around then. They would get into dealing' never realizing that the supply was originating with some vicious individual who thought nothing of shooting people in the head. Blue thought he could talk his way out of it, he'd make some explanation, he'd been ripped off by friends, that sort of thing. His connections trusted him, he said, they'd even given him a gun.
"The gun was in the kitchen drawer, and they'd told him they might need him to use it sometime, but of course he would never do that. I guess when you are that stoned, you think everybody else is stoned. These men, he said, they were just heads like us, nothing to worry about, that had been just talk. We would all be as famous as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin very soon.
"They came for him during the day. I was the only one home, except for him.
"He was in the big room, the ballroom, at the front door, giving these two men the runaround. I was out of sight in the kitchen, hardly listening. I might have been studying Wynken, I'm not sure. Anyway, very gradually I realized what they were talking about out there in the ballroom.
"These two men were going to kill Blue. They kept telling him in very flat voices that everything was okay, and please come with them, and come on, they had to go, and no, he had to come now, and no, he had to come along quickly. And then one of them said in a very low, vicious voice, 'Come on, man!' And for the first time Blue stopped jabbering in hippie platitudes, like it will all come around, man, and I have done no evil, man, and there was this silence, and I knew they were going to take Blue and shoot him and dump him. This had already happened to kids! It had been in the papers. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I knew Blue didn't have a chance.
"I didn't think about what I was doing. I completely forgot about the gun in the kitchen drawer. This surge of energy overtook me. I walked into the big room. Both these men were older, hard-looking guys, not hippies, nothing hippified about them. They weren't even Hell's Angels. They were just killers. And both sort of visibly sagged when they discovered there was an impediment to dragging my friend out of the room.
"Now, you know me, that I am as vam as you are probably, and then I was truly convinced of my special nature and destiny, and I came glistening and flashing towards these two men, you know, throwing off sparks, making a dance out of the walk. If I had any idea in my head, it was this: If Blue could die, that would mean I could die. And I couldn't let something like that be proven to me then, you know?"
"I can see it."
"I started talking to these characters very fast, chattering in a kind of intense, pretentious manner, as if I were a psychedelic philosopher, throwing out four-syllable words and walking right towards them all the time, lecturing them on violence, and implying that they had disturbed me and 'all the others' in the kitchen. We were having a class out there, me and the others.'
"And suddenly one of them reached into his coat and pulled out his gun. I think he thought it would be a slam dunk. I can remember this so distinctly. He simply pulled out the gun and pointed it at me. And by the time he had it aimed, I had both hands on it, and I yanked it away from him, kicked him as hard as I could, and shot and killed both men."
I didn't say anything. I was tempted to smile. I liked it. I only nodded. Of course it had begun that way with him, why hadn't I realized it? He hadn't instinctively been a killer; he would never have been so interesting if that had been the case.
"That quick, I was a killer," he said. "That quick. And a smashing success at it, no less, imagine."
He took another drink and looked off, deep into the memory of it. He seemed securely anchored in the ghost body now, revved up like an engine.
"What did you do then?" I asked.
"Well, that's when the course of my life changed. First I was going to go to the police, going to call the priest, going to go to hell, phone my mother, my life was over, call Father Kevin, flush all the grass down the toilet, life finished, scream for the neighbors, all of that.
"Then I just closed the door and Blue and I sat down and for about an hour I talked. Blue said nothing. I talked. I prayed, meanwhile, that nobody had been in a car outside waiting for those two, but if there came a knock I was ready because I had their gun now, and it had lots of bullets, and I was sitting directly opposite the door.
"And as I talked and waited and watched and let the two bodies lie there, and Blue simply stared into space as if it had been a bad LSD trip, I talked myself into getting the hell out of there. Why should I go to jail for the rest of my life for those two? Took about an hour of expressed logic."
"We cleaned out that pad immediately, took everything that had belonged to us, called the other two musicians, got them to pick up their stuff at the bus station. Said it was a drug bust coming down.
They never knew what happened. The place was so full of fingerprints from all our parties and orgies and late-night jam sessions, nobody would ever find us. None of us had ever been printed. And besides, I kept the gun.
"And I did something else, too, I took the money off the men.
Blue didn't want any of it, but I needed bucks to get out of there.
"We split up. I never saw Blue again. I never saw Ollie or Ted, the other two. I think they went to L.A. to make it big. I think Blue probably became a drug crazy. I'm not sure. I went on. I was totally different from the instant it happened. I was never the same again."
"What made you different?" I asked. "What was the source of the change in you, I mean, what in particular? That you'd enjoyed it?"
"No, not at all. It was no fun. It was a success. But it wasn't fun. I've never found it fun. It's work, killing people, it's messy. It's hard work. It's fun for you to kill people, but then you're not human. No, it wasn't that. It was the fact that it had been possible to do it, to just walk up to that son of a bitch and make the most unexpected gesture, to just take that gun from him like that, because it was the last thing he ever expected could happen, and then to kill them both without hesitation. They must have died with surprise."
"They thought you were kids."
"They thought we were dreamers! And I was a dreamer, and all the way to New York I kept thinking, I do have a great destiny, I am going to be great, and this power, this power to simply shoot down two people had been the epiphany of my strength!"
"From God, this epiphany."
"No, from fate, from destiny. I told you I never really had any feeling for God. You know they say in the Catholic Church that if you don't feel a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, well, they fear for your soul. I never had any devotion to her. I never had any devotion to any real personal deity or saint. I never felt it. That's why Dora's development surprised me in that particular, that Dora is so absolutely sincere. But we'll get to that. By the time I got to New York, I knew my cult was to be of this world, you know, lots of followers and power and lavish comforts and the licentiousness of this world."
"Yes, I see."
"That had been Wynken's vision. Wynken had communicated this to his women followers, that there was no point in waiting until the next world. You had to do everything now, every kind of sin … this was a common conception of heretics, wasn't it?"
"Yes, of some. Or so their enemies said."
'The next killing I did purely for money. It was a contract. I was the most ambitious boy in town. I was managing some other band again, a bunch of no-accounts, we weren't making it, though other rock stars were making it overnight. I was into dope again, and was being a hell of a lot smarter about it, and developing a personal distaste for it. This was the real early days, when people flew the grass across the border in little planes, and it was almost like cowboy adventures.
"And the word came down that this particular man was on the shit list of a local power broker who'd pay anyone thirty thousand dollars for the killing. The guy himself was particularly vicious. Everybody was scared of him. He knew they wanted to kill him. He was walking around in broad daylight and everyone was scared to make a move.
"I guess everybody else figured that somebody else would do it. How connected these people were to what and to whom I had no idea. I just knew the guy was game, you know? I made sure.
"I figured a way to do it. I was nineteen by then – I dressed up like a college boy in a crew-neck sweater, a blazer, flannel slacks, had my hair cut Princeton style, and carried a few books with me. I found out where the man lived on Long Island, and walked right up to him in his back driveway as he got out of his car one evening, and shot him dead five feet from where his wife and kids were eating dinner inside."
He paused again, and then said with perfect gravity, "It takes a special kind of animal to do something so vicious. And not to feel any remorse."
"You didn't torture him the way I tortured you," I said softly.
"You know everything you've done, don't you? You really understand!
I didn't get the whole picture when I was following you. I imagined you were more intimately perverse, wrapped up in your own romance. An arch self-deceiver."
"Was that torture, what you did to me?" he asked. "I don't remember pain being involved in it, only fury that I was going to die. Whatever the case, I killed this man in Long Island for money. It meant nothing to me. I didn't even feel relief afterwards, only a kind of strength, you know, of accomplishment, and I wanted to test it again soon and I did."
"And you were on your way."
"Absolutely. And in my style too. The word was out. If the task seems impossible, get Roger. I could get into a hospital dressed like a young doctor, with a name tag on my coat and a clipboard in my hand, and shoot some marked guy dead in his bed before anyone was the wiser. I did that, in fact.
"But understand, I didn't make myself rich as a hit man. It was heroin first, and then cocaine, and with the cocaine it was going back to some of the very same cowboys I'd known in the beginning, who flew the cocaine over the border same fashion, same routes, same planes! You know the history of it. Everyone does today. The early dope dealers were crude in their methods. It was 'cops and robbers' with the government guys. The planes would outrun the government planes, and when the planes landed, sometimes they were so stuffed with cocaine the driver couldn't wriggle out of the cockpit, and we'd run out and get the stuff, and load it up and get the hell out of there."
"So I've heard."
"Now there are geniuses in the business, people who know how to use cellular phones and computers and laundering techniques for money which no one can trace. But then? I was the genius of the dopers! Sometimes the whole thing was as cumbersome as moving furniture, I tell you. And I went in there, organizing, picking my confidants and my mules, you know, for crossing the borders, and even before cocaine ever hit the streets, so to speak, I was doing beautifully in New York and L.A. with the rich, you know, the kind of customers to whom you deliver personally. They never have to even leave their palatial homes. You get the call. You show up. Your stuff is pure. They like you. But I had to move out from there. I wasn't going to be dependent upon that.
"I was too clever. I made some real-estate deals that were pure brilliance on my part, and having the cash on hand, and you know those were the days of hellish inflation. I really cleaned up."
"But how did Terry get involved in it, and Dora?"
"Pure fluke. Or destiny. Who knows? Went home to New Or-leans to see my mother, brushed up against Terry and got her pregnant. Damned fool.
"I was twenty-two, my mother was really dying this time. My mother said, 'Roger, please come home.' That stupid boyfriend with die cracked face had died. She was all alone. I'd been sending her plenty of money all along.
"The boardinghouse was now her private home, she had two maids and a driver to take her around town in a Cadillac whenever she felt the desire. She'd enjoyed it immensely, never asking any questions about the money, and of course I'd been collecting Wynken. I had two more books of Wynken by that time and my treasure storehouse in New York already, but we can get to that later on.
Just keep Wynken in the back of your mind.
"My mother had never really asked me for anything. She had the big bedroom upstairs now to herself. She said she talked to all the others who had gone on ahead, her poor old sweet dead brother Mickey, and her dead sister, Alice, and her mother, the Irish maid¡ªthe founder of our family, you might say¡ªto whom the house had been willed by the crazy lady who lived there. My mother was also talking a lot to Little Richard. That was a brother that died when he was four. Lockjaw- Little Richard. She said Little Richard was walking around with her, telling her it was time to come.
"But she wanted me to come home. She wanted me there in that room. I knew all this. I understood. She had sat with boarders that were dying. I had sat with others than Old Captain. So I went home.
"Nobody knew where I was headed, or what my real name was, or where I came from. So it was easy to slip out of New York. I went to the house on St. Charles Avenue and sat in the sickroom with her, holding the little vomit cup to her chin, wiping her spittle, and trying to get her on the bedpan when the agency didn't have a nurse to send. We had help, yes, but she didn't want the help, you know. She didn't want the colored girl, as she called her. Or that horrible nurse. And I made the amazing discovery that these things didn't disgust me much. I washed so many sheets. Of course there was a machine to put them in, but I changed them over and over for her. I didn't mind. Maybe I was never normal. In any event, I simply did what had to be done. I rinsed out that bedpan a thousand times, wiped it off, sprinkled powder on it, and set it by the bed. There is no foul smell which lasts forever after all."
"Not on this earth at least," I murmured. But he didn't hear me, thank God.
"This went on for two weeks. She didn't want to go to Mercy Hospital. I hired nurses round the clock just for backup, you know, so they could take her vital signs when I got frightened. I played music for her. All the predictable things, said the rosary out loud with her. Usual deathbed scene. From two to four in the afternoon she tolerated visitors. Old cousins came. 'Where is Roger?' I stayed out of sight."
"You weren't torn to pieces by her suffering."
"I wasn't crazy about it, I can tell you that. She had cancer all through her and no amount of money could save her. I wanted her to hurry, and I couldn't bear watching it, no, but there has always been a deep ruthless side to me that says, Do what you have to do. And I stayed in that room without sleep day in and day out and all night till she died.
"She talked a lot to the ghosts, but I didn't see them or hear them. I just kept saying, 'Little Richard, come get her. Uncle Mickey, if she can't come back, come get her.'
"But before the end came Terry, a practical nurse, as they called them then, who had to fill in when we could not get the registered nurse because they were in such demand. Terry, five foot seven, blonde, the cheapest and most alluring piece of goods I had ever laid eyes on. Understand. This is a question of everything fitting together precisely. The girl was a shining perfect piece of trash."
I smiled. "Pink fingernails, and wet pink lipstick." I had seen her sparkle in his mind.
"Every detail was on target with this kid. The chewing gum, the gold anklet, the painted toenails, the way she slipped off her shoes right there in the sickroom to let me see the toenails, the way the cleavage showed, you know, under her white nylon uniform. And her Stupid, heavy-lidded eyes beautifully painted with Maybelline eye pencil and mascara. She'd file her nails in there in front of me! But I tell you, never have I seen something that was so completely realized, finished, ah, ah, what can I say! She was a masterpiece."
I laughed, and so did he, but he went on talking.
"I found her irresistible. She was a hairless little animal. I started doing it with her every chance I had. While Mother slept, we did it in the bathroom standing up. Once or twice we went down the hall to one of the empty bedrooms; we never took more than twenty minutes! I timed us! She'd do it with her pink panties around her ankles! She smelled like Blue Waltz perfume."
I gave a soft laugh.
"Do I ever know what you're saying," I mused. "And to think you knew it, you fell for her and you knew it."
"Well, I was two thousand miles away from my New York women and my boys and all, and all that trashy power that goes along with dealing, you know, the foolishness of bodyguards scurrying to open doors for you, and girls telling you they love you in the backseat of the limousine just because they heard you shot somebody the night before. And so much sex that sometimes right in the middle of it, the best oral job you've ever had, you can't keep your mind on it anymore."
"We are more alike than I ever dreamed. I've lived a lie with the gifts given me."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"There isn't time. You don't need to know about me. What about Terry? How did Dora happen?"
"I got Terry pregnant. She was supposed to be on the Pill. She thought I was rich! It didn't matter whether I loved her or she loved me. I mean this was one of the dumbest and most simpleminded humans I have ever known, Terry. I wonder if you bother to feed upon people that ignorant and that dull."
"Dora was the baby."
"Yeah. Terry wanted to get rid of it if I didn't marry her. I made a bargain. One hundred grand when we marry (I used an alias, it was never legal except on paper and that was a blessing because Dora and I are in no way legally connected) and one hundred grand when the baby was born. After that I'd give her her divorce and all I wanted was my daughter."
" 'Our daughter,' she said.
" 'Sure, our daughter,' I said. What a fool I was. What I didn't figure on, the very obvious and simple thing, what I didn't figure on was that this woman, this little nail-filing, gum-chewing, mascara-wearing nurse in her rubber-soled shoes and diamond wedding ring, would naturally feel for her own child. She was stupid, but she was a mammal, and she had no intention of letting anybody take her baby. Like hell. I wound up with visitation rights.
"Six years I flew in and out of New Orleans every chance I had just to hold Dora in my arms, talk to her, go walking with her in the evenings. And understand, this child was mine! I mean she was flesh of my flesh from the start. She started running towards me when she saw me at the end of the block. She flew into my arms.
"We'd take a taxi to the Quarter and go through the Cabildo; she adored it; the cathedral, of course. Then we'd go for muffaletas at the Central Grocery. You know, or maybe you don't, the big sandwiches full of olives-"
"¡ªShe'd tell me everything that had happened in the week since I'd been there. I'd dance with her in the street. Sing to her. Oh, what a beautiful voice she had from the beginning. I don't have a good voice. My mother had a good voice, and so did Terry. And this child got the voice. And the mind she had. We'd ride the ferry together over the river and back, and sing, as we stood by the rail. I took her shopping at D. H. Holmes and bought her beautiful clothes. Her mother never minded that, the beautiful clothes, and of course I was smart enough to pick up something for Terry, you know, a brassiere dripping with lace or a kit of cosmetics from Paris or some perfume selling for one hundred dollars an ounce. Anything but Blue Waltz! But Dora and I had so much fun. Sometimes I thought, I can stand anything if I can just see Dora within a few days."
"She was verbal and imaginative, the way you were."
"Absolutely, full of dreams and visions. Dora is no naif, now, you have to understand. Dora's a theologian. That's the amazing part. The desire for something spectacular? That I engendered in her, but the faith in God, the faith in theology? I don't know where that came from."
Theology. The word gave me pause.
"Meantime, Terry and I began to hate each other. When school-time came, so did the fights. The fights were hell. I wanted Sacred Heart Academy for Dora, dancing lessons, music lessons, two weeks away with me in Europe. Terry hated me. I wasn't going to make her little girl into a snot. Terry had already moved out of the St. Charles Avenue house, calling it old and creepy, and settled for a shack of a ranch-style tract home on some naked street in the soggy suburbs! So my kid was already snatched from the Garden District and all those colors, and settled in a place where the nearest architectural curiosity was the local y-Eleven.
"I was getting desperate and Dora was getting older, old enough perhaps to be stolen effectively from her mother, whom she did love in a very protective and kind way. There was something silent between those two, you know, talking had nothing to do with it. And Terry was proud of Dora."
"And then this boyfriend came into the picture."
"Right. If I had come to town a day later, my daughter and my wife would have been gone. She was skipping out on me! To hell with my lavish checks. She was going with this bankrupt electrician boyfriend of hers to Florida!
"Dora knew from nothing and was outside playing down the block. They were all packed! I shot Terry and the boyfriend, right in that stupid little tract house in Metairie where Terry had chosen to bring up my daughter rather than on St. Charles Avenue. Shot them both. Got blood all over her polyester wall-to-wall carpet, and her Formica-top kitchen breakfast bar."
"I can imagine it."
"I dumped both of them in the swamps. It had been a long time since I'd handled something like this directly, but no matter, it was easy enough. The electrician's truck was in the garage anyway, and I bagged them up, and I took them out that way, into the back of the truck. I took them way out somewhere, out Jefferson Highway, I don't even know where I dumped them. No, maybe it was out Chef Menteur. Yeah, it was Chef Menteur. Somewhere around one of the old forts on die Rigules River. They just disappeared in the muck."
"I can see it. I've been dumped in the swamps myself."
He was too excited to hear my mumblings. He continued.
"Then I went back for Dora, who was by then sitting on the steps with her elbows on her knees wondering why nobody was home, and the door was locked so she couldn't get in, and she started screaming, "Daddy! I knew you'd come. I knew you would!" the minute she saw me. I didn't risk going inside to get her clothes. I didn't want her to see the blood. I put her with me in the boyfriend's pickup truck and out of New Orleans we drove, and we left the truck in Seattle, Washington. That was my cross-country odyssey with Dora.
"All those miles, insanity, just the two of us together talking and talking. I think I was trying to tell Dora everything that I had learned. Nothing evil and self-destructive, nothing that would ever bring the darkness near her, only the good things, what I had learned about virtue and honesty and what corrupts people, and what was worthwhile.
" 'You can't just simply do nothing in this life, Dora,' I kept saying, 'you can't just leave this world the way you found it.' I even told her how when I was young I was going to be a religious leader, and what I did now was collect beautiful things, church art from all over Europe and the Orient. I dealt in it, to keep the few pieces I wanted. I led her to believe, of course, that is what had made me rich, and by then, oddly enough, it was partly true."
"And she knew you'd killed Terry."
"No. You got the wrong idea on that one. All those images were tumbling in my mind. I felt it when you were taking my blood. That wasn't it. She knew I'd gotten rid of Terry, or I'd freed her from Terry, and now she could be with Daddy forever, and fly away with Daddy when Daddy flew away. That's a different thing from knowing Daddy murdered Terry. That she does not know. Once when she was twelve, she called, sobbing, and said, 'Daddy, will you please tell me where Mother is, where did she and that guy go when they went to Florida.' I played it off, that I hadn't wanted to tell her that Terry was dead. Thank God for the phone. I do very well on the phone. I like it. It's like being on the radio.
"But back to Dora of six years old. Daddy took Dora to New York and got a suite at the Plaza. After that, Dora had everything Daddy could buy."
"She cry for Terry even then?"
"Yes. And she was probably the only one who ever did. Before the wedding, Terry's mother had told me Terry was a slut. They hated each other. Terry's father had been a policeman. He was an okay guy. But he didn't like his daughter either. Terry wasn't a nice person. Terry was mean by nature; Terry wasn't even a good person to bump into in the street, let alone to know or to need or to hold.
'-'Her family back there thought she'd run off to Florida and abandoned Dora to me. That's all they ever knew till the day the old man and woman died, Terry's parents. There's some cousins. They still believe that. But they don't know who I am, really, it's all rather difficult to explain. Of course by now maybe they've seen the articles in the papers and magazines. I don't know, that's not important. Dora cried for her mother, yes. But after that big lie I told her when she was twelve, she never asked about anything again.
"But Terry's devotion to Dora had been as perfect as that of any mammalian mother! Instinctive; nurselike; antiseptic. She'd feed Dora from the four food groups. She'd dress Dora up in beautiful clothes, take her to dancing school, and sit there and gossip with the other mothers. She was proud of Dora. But she rarely ever spoke to Dora. I think they could go for days without their eyes meeting. It was mammalian. And for Terry, probably everything was like that."
"This is rather funny, that you should get mixed up with a person like this, you know."
"No, not funny. Fate. We made Dora. She gave the voice to Dora, and the beauty. And there is something in Dora from Terry which is like hardness, but that's too unkind a word. Dora is a mixture of us, really, an optimum mixture."
"Well, you gave her your own beauty top."
"Yes, but something far more interesting and marketable happened when the genes collided. You've seen my daughter. My daughter is photogenic, and beneath the flash and dash I gave her, there is the steadiness of Terry. She converts people over the airwaves. 'And what is the true message of Christ!' she declares, staring right into the camera. 'That Christ is in every stranger you meet, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the people next door!' And the audience believes it."
"I've watched. I've seen her. She could just rise to the top."
"I sent Dora to school. By this time I was making big, big money. I had to put lots of miles between me and my daughter. I switched Dora among three schools overall before graduation, which was hard for her, but she didn't question me about these maneuvers, or the secrecy surrounding our meetings. I led her to believe I was always on the verge of having to rush to Florence to save a fresco from being destroyed by idiots, or to Rome to explore a catacomb that had just been found.
"When Dora began to take a serious interest in religion, I thought it was spiritually elegant, you know. I thought my growing collection of statues and books had inspired her. And when she told me at eighteen that she had been accepted to Harvard and that she meant to study comparative religion, I was amused. I made the usual sexist assumption: study what you want and marry a rich man. And let me show you my latest icon or statue.
"But Dora's fervor and theological bent were developing far beyond anything I had ever experienced. Dora went to the Holy Land when she was nineteen. She went back twice before she graduated. She spent the next two years studying religions all over the world. Then she proposed the entire idea of her television program: she wanted to talk to people. Cable had made possible all these religion channels. You could tune in to this minister or that Catholic priest.
" 'You serious about this?' I asked. I hadn't known she believed it all. But she was out to be true to ideals that I had never fully understood myself yet somehow passed on to her.
" 'Dad, you get me one hour on television three times a week, and the money to use it the way I want,' she said, 'and you'll see what happens.' She began to talk about all kinds of ethical questions, how we could save our souls in today's world. She envisioned short lectures or sermons, punctuated by ecstatic singing and dancing. The abortion issue¡ªshe makes impassioned logical speeches that both sides are right! She explains how each life is sacrosanct yet a woman must have dominion over her own body."
"I've seen the program."
"You realize seventy-five different cable networks have picked up this program! You realize what news of my death may do to my daughter's church?"
He paused, thinking, then resumed as rapid-fire as before.
"You know, I don't think I ever had a religious aspiration, a spiritual goal, so to speak, that wasn't drenched in something materialistic and glamorous, do you know what I mean?"
"But with Dora, it's different. Dora really doesn't care about material things. The relics, the icons, what do they mean to Dora? Dora believes against impossible psychological and intellectual odds that God exists." He stopped again, shaking his head with regret.
You were right in what you said to me earlier. I am a racketeer. Even for my beloved Wynken I had an angle, what they call now an agenda. Dora is no racketeer."
I remembered his remark in the barroom, "I think I sold my soul for places like this." I had known what he was talking about when he said it. I knew it now.
"Let me get back to the story. Early on, as I told you, I gave up that idea of a secular religion. By the time Dora started in earnest, I hadn't thought about those ambitions in years. I had Dora. And I had Wynken as my obsession. I chased down more of Wynken's books, and managed through my various connections to purchase five different letters of the period which made clear mention of Wynken de Wilde and Blanche De Wilde and her husband, Damien, as well. I had searchers digging for me in Europe and America. Rhineland mysticism, dig into it.
"My researchers found a capsule version of Wynken's story in a couple of German texts. Something about women practicing the rites of Diana, witchcraft. Wynken dragged out of the monastery and publicly accused. The record of the trial, however, was lost.
"It had not survived the Second World War. But in other places there were other documents, caches of letters. Once you had the code word Wynken¡ªonce you knew what to look for¡ªyou were on the way.
"When I had a free hour I sat down and looked at Wynken's little naked people, and I memorized his poems of love. I knew his poems so that I could sing them. When I saw Dora for weekends¡ªand we met somewhere whenever possible¡ªI would recite them to Dora and maybe even show her my latest find.
"She tolerated my 'Burnt-put hippie version of free love and mysticism,' as she called it. 'I love you, Roge,' she'd say. 'But you're so romantic to think this bad priest was some sort of saint. All he did was sleep with these women, didn't he? And the books were ways of communicating among the others …when to meet.'
" 'Ah, but Dora,' I would say, 'there was not a vicious or ugly word in the work of Wynken de Wilde. You see for yourself.' Six books I had by then. It was all about love. My present translator, a professor at Columbia, had marveled at the mysticism of the poetry, how it was a blending of love of God and the flesh. Dora didn't buy it. But Dora was already obsessed with her own religious questions. Dora was reading Paul Tillich and William James and Erasmus and lots of books on the state of the world today. That's Dora's obsession, the State of the World Today."
"And Dora won't care about those books of Wynken's if I get them to her."
"No, she won't touch any of my collection, not now!" he said.
"Yet you want me to protect all these things," I said.
"Two years ago," he sighed. "A couple of news articles! No connection to her, you understand, but with her, my cover was blown forever. She'd been suspecting. It was inevitable, she said, that she'd figure out my money wasn't clean."
He shook his head. "Not clean," he said again. He went on. "The last thing she let me do was buy the convent for her. One million for the building. And one million to gut it of all the modern desecrations and leave it the way it had been for the nuns in the 1880s, with chapel and refectory and dormitory rooms and wide corridors. .. .
"But even that, she took with reluctance. As for the artwork, forget it. She may never take from me the money she needs to educate her followers there, her order or whatever the hell a televangelist calls it. The cable TV connection is nothing compared to what I could have made it, fixing up that convent as the base. And the collection¡ªthe statues, icons¡ªimagine it. 'I could make you as big as Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell, darling,' I said to her. 'You can't turn away from my money, not for Jesus' sake!"
He shook his head despairingly. "She meets with me now out of compassion, and of that my beautiful daughter has an endless supply. Sometimes she'll take a little gift. Tonight, she would not. Once when the program almost went under, she accepted just enough to get it over the hump. But my saints and angels, she won't touch them. My books, my treasures, she won't look at them.
"Of course, we both knew the threat to her reputation. You've helped by eliminating me. But there'll be news of my disappearance soon, has to be. 'Televangist financed by cocaine king.' How long can her secrecy last? It has to survive my death and she has to survive my death. At all costs! Lestat, you hear what I'm saying."
"I am listening to you, Roger, to every word you say. They aren't on to her yet, I can assure you."
"My enemies are a ruthless lot. And the government …who knows who the hell the government is or what the hell the government does."
"She's afraid of this scandal?"
"No. Brokenhearted, yes, afraid of scandal, never. She'd take what would come. What she wanted was for me to give it all up! That became her attack. She didn't care that the world might find out we were father and daughter. She wanted me to renounce everything. She was afraid for me, like a gangster's daughter would be, like a gangster's wife.
" 'Just let me build the church,' I kept pleading. 'Take the money.' The television show has proved her mettle. But no more …things are in ruins around her. She's a little one-hour program three times a week. The ladder to heaven is hers alone to climb. I'm out of it. She's relying on her audience to bring the millions needed to her.
"And the female mystics she quotes, you've heard her read from them, Hildegard of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich. Teresa of Avila. You've read any of those women?"
"All of them," I said.
"Smart females who want to hear smart females listen to her. But she's beginning to attract everyone. You cannot make it in this world if you speak to only one gender. That isn't possible. Even I know that, the marketeer in me knows that, the Wall Street genius, and I am that, too, have no doubt. She attracts everyone. Oh, if I only had those last two years to do over, if only I could have launched the church before she discovered¡ª"
"You're looking at this all wrong. Stop regretting. If you'd made the church big, you would have precipitated your exposure and the scandal."
"No, once the church was big enough, the scandal wouldn't have mattered. That's just the catch. She stayed small, and when you're small, a scandal can do you in!" He shook his head again, angrily. He was becoming too agitated, but the image of him only grew stronger. "I cannot be allowed to destroy Dora…." His voice drifted off again. He shuddered. He looked at me:
"What does it come to, Lestat?" he asked.
"Dora herself must survive," I said. "She has to hang on to her faith after your death is discovered!"
"Yes. I'm her biggest enemy, dead or alive. And her church, you know, she walks a thin line; she's no puritan, my daughter. She thinks Wynken's a heretic, but she doesn't know how much her own modern compassion for the flesh is just what Wynken was talking about."
"I get it. But what about Wynken, am I supposed to save Wynken too? What do I do with Wynken?"
"She is a genius in her own way, actually," he went on, ignoring me. "That's what I meant when I called her a theologian. She's done the near impossible thing of mastering Greek and Latin and Hebrew, even though she was not bilingual as a small child. You know how hard it is."
"Yes, it's not that way for us, but. . , ." I stopped. A horrible thought had occurred to me with full force.
The thought interrupted everything.
It was too late to make Roger immortal. He was dead!
I hadn't even realized that I was assuming all this time, all this time, as we talked and his story poured out, that I could, if I wanted to, actually bring him to me, and keep him here, and stop him from going on. But suddenly I remembered with a ferocious shock that Roger was a ghost! I was talking to a man who was already dead.
The situation was so hideously painful and frustrating and utterly abnormal that I was thunderstruck and might have begun to groan, if I hadn't had to cover it up so that he would go on.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked.
"Nothing. Talk more about Dora to me. Tell me the sort of things Dora says."
"She talks about the sterility of now, and how people need the ineffable. She points to rampant crime and goalless youth. She's going to make a religion where nobody hurts anybody else. It's the American dream. She knows Scripture inside and out, she's covered all the Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, the works of Augustine, Marcion, Moses Maimonides; she's convinced that the prohibition against sex destroyed Christianity, which is hardly original with her, of course, and certainly appeals to the women who listen to her, you know…."
"Yes, I understand all that, but she must have felt some sympathy for Wynken."
"Wynken's books weren't a series of visions to her as they are to me."
"And by the way, Wynken's books are not merely perfect, they are unique in a number of ways. Wynken did his work in the last twenty-five years before the Gutenberg printing press. Yet Wynken did everything. He was scribe, rubicator, that is, the maker of the fancy letters, and also the miniaturist who added all the naked people frolicking in Eden and the ivy and vine crawling over every page. He had to do every step himself at a time when scriptoria divided up these functions.
"Let me finish Wynken. You have Dora now in your mind. Let me go to Wynken. Yeah, you have to get those books."
"Great," I said dismally.
"Let me bring you right up to date. You're going to love those books, even if Dora never does. I have all twelve of his books, as I think I told you. He was Rhineland Catholic, forced into the Benedictines as a young man, and was in love with Blanche de Wilde, his brother's wife. She ordered the books done in the scriptorium and that's how it all started, her secret link with her monk lover. I have letters between Blanche and her friend Eleanor. I have some incidents decoded from the poems themselves.
"Most sad of all, I have the letters Blanche wrote to Eleanor after Wynken was put to death. She had the letters smuggled out to Eleanor, and then Eleanor sent them on to Diane, and there was another woman in it, but there are very few extant fragments of anything in her hand.
"This is what went down. They used to meet in the garden of the De Wilde castle to perform their rites. It wasn't the monastery garden at all, as I'd once supposed. How Wynken got there I don't know, but there are a few mentions in some of the letters that indicate he simply slipped out of the monastery and followed a secret way into his brother's house.
"And this made sense, of course. They'd wait till Damien de Wilde was off doing whatever such counts or dukes did, and then they'd meet, do their dance around the fountain, and make love.
Wynken bedded each of the women in turn; or sometimes they celebrated various patterns. All this is recorded more or less in the books.
Well, they got caught.
"Damien castrated and stabbed Wynken in front of the women and put them to rout. He kept the remains! Then, after days of interrogation, the frightened women were bullied into confessing to their love for Wynken and how he had communicated through the books; and the brother took all those books, all twelve of the books of Wynken de Wilde, everything this artist had ever created, you understand¡ª"
"His immortality," I whispered, "Exactly, his progeny! His books! And Damien had them buried with Wynken's body in the castle garden by the fountain that appears in all the little pictures in the books! Blanche could look out on it every day from her window, the place in the ground where Wynken had been laid to rest. No trial, no heresy, no execution, nothing like that. He just murdered his brother, it was as simple as that. He probably paid the monastery huge amounts of money. Who knows if it was even necessary? Did the monastery love Wynken? The monastery is a ruin now where tourists come to snap pictures. As for the castle, it was obliterated in the bombing of the First World War."
"Ah. But what happened after that, how did the books get out of the coffin? Do you have copies? Are you speaking of…."
"No, I have the originals of every one. I have come across copies, crude copies, made at the behest of Eleanor, Blanche's cousin and confidante, but as far as I know they stopped this practice of copies. There were only twelve books. And I don't know how they surfaced. I can only guess."
"And what is your guess?"
"I think Blanche went out in the night with the other women, dug up the body, and took the books out of the coffin, or whatever poor Wynken's remains had been placed in, and put everything back right the way it was."
"You think they'd do that?"
"Yes, I think they did it. I can see them doing it, by candlelight in the garden, see them digging, the five women together. Can't you?"
"I think they did it because they felt the way I do! They loved the beauty and the perfection of those books. Lestat, they knew they were treasures, and such is the power of obsession arid such is the power of love. And who knows, maybe they wanted the bones of Wynken. It's conceivable. Maybe one woman took a thigh bone and another the bones of his fingers and, ah, I don't know."
It seemed a ghastly picture suddenly, arid it put me in mind, without a second's hesitation, of Roger's hands, which I had chopped off sloppily with a kitchen knife and dumped, wrapped in a plastic sack. I stared at the image of these hands before me, busy, fretting with the edge of the glass, tapping the bar in anxiety.
"How far back can you trace the journey of the books?" I asked.
"Not very far at all. But that's often the case in my profession, I mean antiquities. The books have turned up one, maybe two at a time. Some from private collections, two from museums bombed during the wars. Once or twice I've paid almost nothing for them. I knew what they were the minute I laid eyes on them, but other people didn't. And understand, everywhere I went I put out the search for this sort of medieval codex. I am an expert in this field. I know the language of the medieval artist! You have to save my treasures, Lestat . You can't let Wynken get lost again. I'm leaving you with my legacy."
"So it seems. But what can I do with these, and all the other relics, if Dora will have no part of it?"
"Dora's young. Dora will change. See, I still have this vision¡ªthat maybe somewhere in my collection¡ªforget about Wynken¡ªthat maybe somewhere among all the statues and relics is a central artifact that can help Dora with her new church. Can you gauge the value of what you saw in that flat? YOU have to make Dora touch those things again, examine them, catch the scent of them! You have to make her realize the potency of the statues and paintings, that they are expressions of the human quest for truth, the very quest that obsesses her. She just doesn't know yet."
"But you said Dora never cared for the paint and the plaster."
"Make her care."
"Me? How! I can conserve all this, yes, but how am I to make Dora love a work of art? Why would you even suggest such a thing, I mean¡ªmy having contact with your precious daughter?"
"You'll love my daughter," he said in a low murmur.
"Find something miraculous in my collection for her."
"The Shroud of Turin?"
"Oh, I like you. I really do. Yes, find her something that's significant, something that will transform her, something that I, her father, bought and cherished, that will help her."
"You're as insane dead as you were alive, you know it? Are you still racketeering, trying to buy your way into salvation with a hunk of marble or a pile of parchment? Or do you really believe in the sanctity of all you've collected?"
"Of course I believe in the sanctity of it. It's all I believe in! That's my point, don't you see? It's all you believe in too …what glitters and what is gold."
"Ah, but you do take my breath away."
"That's why you murdered me there, among the treasures. Look, we have to hurry. We don't know how much time we have. Back to the mechanics. Now, with my daughter, your trump card is her ambition.
"She wanted the convent for her own female missionaries, her own Order, which was to teach love, of course, with the same unique fire as other missionaries have taught it; she would send her women into the poor neighborhoods and into the ghettoes and into the working districts, and they would hold forth on the importance of starting a movement of love from the core of the people that would reach eventually to all governments in power, so that injustice would end."
"What would distinguish these women from other such orders or missionaries, from Franciscans or any sort of preachers…?"
"Well, one that they would be women, and preaching women! Nuns have been nurses, teachers for little children, servants, or locked in the cloister to bray at God like so many boring sheep. Her women would be doctors of the church, you see! Preachers. They would work up the crowds with personal fervor; they would turn to the women, the impoverished and the depotentiated women, and help them to reform the world."
"A feminist vision, but coupled with religion."
"It had a chance. It had as much of a chance as any such movement. Who knows why one monk in the 1300s became a crazy? And another one a saint? Dora has ways to show people how to think. I don't know! You have to figure this all out, you have to!"
"And meanwhile save the church decorations," I said.
"Yes, until she will accept them or until she can turn them to some good. That's how you get her. Talk about good."
"That's how you get anybody," I said sadly. "That's how you're getting me."
"Well, you'll do it, won't you? Dora thinks I was misguided. She said, 'Don't think you can save your soul after all you've done by passing on these church objects to me.' "
"She loves you," I affirmed. "I saw that every time I saw her with you."
"I know. I need no such assurances. There's no time now to go into all the arguments. But Dora's vision is immense, remember that. She's small-time now, but wants to change the entire world. I mean, she isn't satisfied to have a cult the way I wanted it, you know, to be a guru with a retreat full of pliant followers. She really wants to change the world. She thinks somebody has to change the world."
"Doesn't every religious person believe that?"
"No. They don't dream of being Mohammed or Zoroaster."
"And Dora does."
"If Dora knows that that is what's required."
He shook his head, took another little bit of the drink, and looked off over the half-empty room. Then he made a little frown as if pondering it still.
"She said, 'Dad, religion doesn't come from relics and texts. They are the expression of it.' She went on and on. After all her studying of Scripture, she said it was the inner miracle that counted. She put me to sleep. Don't make any cruel jokes!"
"Not for the world."
"What's going to happen to my daughter!" he whispered desperately. He wasn't looking at me. "Look at her heritage. See it in her father. I'm fervent and extremist and gothic and mad. I can't tell you how many churches I've taken Dora to, how many priceless crucifixes I've shown to her, before turning them around for a profit. The hours Dora and I have spent looking at the ceilings of Baroque churches in Germany alone! I have given Dora magnificent relics of the true cross embedded in silver and rubies. I have bought many veils of Veronica, magnificent works that would take your breath away. My God."
"Was there ever¡ªwith Dora, I mean¡ªa concept of atonement in all of this, a guilt?"
"You mean, for letting Terry disappear without explanation, for never asking, until years later? I thought of that. If it was there in the beginning, Dora's passed it a long time ago. Dora thinks the world needs a new revelation. A new prophet. But you just don't become a prophet! She says her transformation must come with seeing and feeling; but it's no Revival Tent experience."
"Mystics never think it's a Revival Tent experience."
"Of course not."
"Is Dora a mystic? Would you say that?"
"Don't you know? You followed her, you watched her. No, Dora hasn't seen the face of God or heard His voice and would never lie about it, if that's what you mean. But Dora's looking for it. She's looking for the moment, for the miracle, for the revelation!"
"For the arigel to come."
We were both quiet suddenly. He was probably thinking of his initial proposition; so was I, that I fake a miracle, I, the evil angel that had once driven a Catholic nun to madness, to bleeding from her hands and feet in the Stigmata.
Suddenly he made the decision to continue, and I was relieved.
"I made my life rich enough," he said, "that I stopped caring about changing the world if ever I really thought of it; I made a life, you see, you know, a world unto itself. But she really has opened her soul in a sophisticated way to … to something. My soul's dead."
"Apparently not," I said. The thought that he would vanish, had to, sooner or later, was becoming intolerable to me, and far more frightening than his initial presence had ever been.
"Let's get back to the basics. I'm getting anxious…." he said.
"Don't freak on me, just listen. There is money put aside for Dora that has no connection to me. The government can't touch it, besides, they never got an indictment against me let alone a conviction, you saw to that. The information's in the flat. Black leather folders.
File cabinet. Mixed right in with sales slips for all sorts of paintings and statues. And you have to save all that somewhere for Dora. My life's work, my inheritance. It's in your hands for her. You can do it, can't you? Look, there's no hurry, you've done away with me in a rather clever way,"
"I know. And you're asking me now to function as a guardian angel, to see that Dora receives this inheritance untainted…."
"Yes, my friend, that's precisely what I'm begging you to do. And you can do it! And don't forget about my Wynken! If she won't take those books, you keep those books!"
He touched my chest with his hand. I felt it, the little knock upon the door of the heart.
He continued. "When my name drops put of the papers, assuming it ever makes it from the FBI files to the wire service, you get the money to Dora. Money can still create Dora's church. Dora is magnetic, Dora can do it all by herself, if she has the money! You follow me? She can do it the way Francis did it or Paul or Jesus. If it wasn't for her theology, she would have become the charismatic celebrity long ago. She has all the assets. She thinks too much. Her theology is what sets her apart."
He took a breath. He was talking very rapidly, and I was beginning to shiver. I could hear his fear like a low emanation from him.
Fear of what?
"Here," he said. "Let me quote something to you. She told me this last night. We've been reading a book by Bryan Appleyard, a columnist for the papers in England, you've heard of him? He wrote some tome called Understanding the Present. I have the copy she gave me. And in it he said things that Dora believed … such as that we are 'spiritually impoverished.' "
"But it was something else, something about our dilemma, that you can invent theologies, but for them to work they have to come from some deeper place inside a person… I know what she called it… Appleyard's words … 'a totality of human experience.' " He stopped.
He was distracted.
I was desperate to reassure him that I understood this. "Yes, she's looking for this, courting it, she's opening herself for it."
I suddenly realized that I was holding on to him as tightly as he was holding on to me.
He was staring off.
I was filled with a sadness so awful that I couldn't speak. I'd killed this man! Why had I done it? I mean, I knew he'd been interesting and evil, but Christ, how could I have …but then what if he stayed with me the way he was! What if he could become my friend exactly the way he was.
Oh, this was too childish and selfish and avaricious! We were talking about Dora, about theology. Of course I understood Appleyard's point. Understanding the Present. I pictured the book. I'd go back for it. I filed it in my preternatural memory. Read at once, He hadn't moved or spoken.
"Look, what are you scared of?" I asked. "Don't fade on me!" I clung to him, very raw, and small, and almost crying, thinking that I had killed him, taken his life, and now all I wanted to do was hold on to his spirit.
He gave no response. He looked afraid.
I wasn't the ossified monster I thought I was. I wasn't in danger of being inured to human suffering. I was a damned jibbering empath!
"Roger? Look at me. Go on talking."
He only murmured something about maybe Dora would find what he had never found.
"What?" I demanded.
"Theophany," he whispered.
Oh, that lovely word. David's word. I'd only heard it myself a few hours ago. And now it slipped from his lips.
"Look, I think they're coming for me," he said suddenly. His eyes grew wide. He didn't look afraid now so much as puzzled. He was listening to something. I could hear it too. "Remember my death," he said suddenly, as if he'd just thought of it most distinctly. "Tell her how I died. Convince her my death has cleansed the money! You understand. That's the angle! I paid with my death. The money is no longer unclean. The books of Wynken, all of it, it's no longer unclean. Pretty it up. I ransomed it all with my blood. You know, Lestat, use your clever tongue. Tell her!"
The distinct rhythm of Something walking, slowly walking…. and the low murmur of the voices, the singing, the talking, I was get-ting dizzy. I was going to fall. I held on to him and on to the bar.
"Roger!" I shouted aloud. Surely everybody in the bar heard it. He was looking at me in the most pacific manner, I don't even know if his face was animate anymore. He seemed puzzled, even amazed….
I saw the wings rise up over me, over him. I saw the immense obliterating darkness shoot up as if from a volcanic rip in the very earth and the light rise behind it. Blinding, beautiful light.
I know I cried out. "Roger!"
The noise was deafening, the voices, the singing, the figure growing larger and larger.
"Don't take him. It's my fault." I rose up against It in fury; I would tear It to pieces if I had to, to make It let him go! But I couldn't see him clearly. I didn't know where / was. And It came rolling, like smoke again, thick and powerful and absolutely unstoppable, and in the midst of all this, looming above him as he faded, and towards me, the face, the face of the granite statue for one second, the only thing visible, his eyes¡ª
"Let him go!"
There was no bar, no Village, no city, no world. Only all of them!
And perhaps the singing was no more than the sound of a breaking glass.
Then blackness. Stillness.
Or so it seemed, that I had been unconscious in a quiet place for some time.
I woke up outside on the street.
The bartender was standing there, shivering, asking me in the most annoyed and nasal tone of voice, "Are you all right, man?" There was snow on his shoulders, on the black shoulders of his vest, and on his white sleeves.
I nodded, and stood up, just so he'd go away. My tie was still in place. My coat was buttoned. My hands were clean. There was snow on my coat.
The snow was falling very lightly all around me. The most beautiful snow.
I went back through the revolving door into the tiled hallway and stood in the door of the bar. I could see the place where we had talked, see his glass still there. Otherwise the atmosphere was unchanged. The bartender was talking in a bored way to someone. He hadn't seen anything, except me bolt, probably, and stumble out into the street.
Every fiber in me said, Run. But where will you run? Take to the air? Not a chance, it will get you in an instant. Keep your feet on the cold earth.
You took Roger! Is that what you followed me for? Who are you!
The bartender looked up over the empty, dusty distance. I must have said something, done something. No, I was just blubbering. A man crying in a doorway, stupidly. And when it is this man, so to speak, that means blood tears. Make your exit quick.
I turned and walked out into the snow again. It was going to be morning soon, wasn't it? I didn't have to walk in the miserable punishing cold until the sky brightened, did I? Why not find a grave now, and go to sleep?
"Roger!" I was crying, wiping my tears on my sleeve. "What are you, damn it!" I stood and shouted, voice rolling off the buildings. "Damn it!" It came back to me suddenly in a flash. I heard all those mingled voices, and I fought it. The face. It has a face! A sleepless mind in its heart and an insatiable personality. Don't get dizzy, don't try to remember. Somebody in one of the buildings opened a window and shouted at me to move on. "Stop screaming out there." Don't try to reconstruct. You'll lose consciousness if you do.
I suddenly envisioned Dora and thought I might collapse where I was, shuddering and helpless and jabbering nonsense to anyone who came to help me.
This was bad, this was the worst, this was simply cosmically awful!
And what in God's name had been the meaning of Roger's expression in that last moment? Was it even an expression? Was it peace or calm or understanding, or just a ghost losing his vitality, a ghost giving up the ghost!
Ah! I had been screaming. I realized it. Lots of mortals around me, high up in the night, were telling me to be quiet.
I walked on and on.
I was alone. I cried quietly. There was no one in die empty street to hear.
I crept on, bent nearly double, crying out loud. I never noticed anyone now who saw or heard or stopped or took note. I wanted to reenact it in my mind, but I was terrified it would knock me flat on my back if I did it. And Roger, Roger …Oh, God, I wanted in my monstrous selfishness to go to Dora and go down on my knees. I did this, I killed, I….
Midtown. I suppose. Mink coats in a window. The snow was touching my eyelids in the tenderest way. I took off the scarf tie, wiped my face thoroughly so there was no blood from the tears on it.
And then I blundered into a small bright hotel.
I paid for the room in cash, extra tip, don't disturb me for twenty-four hours, went upstairs, bolted the door, pulled the curtains, shut off the bothersome stinking heat, and crawled under the bed and went to sleep, The last strange thought that passed through my mind before I went into mortal slumber¡ªit was hours before sunrise, and plenty of time for dreaming¡ªwas that David was going to be angry about all this somehow, but that Dora, Dora might believe and understand …
I must have slept a few hours at least. I could hear the night sounds outside.
When I woke, the sky was lightening. The night was almost up.
Now would come oblivion. I was glad. Too late to think. Go back into the deep vampire sleep. Dead with all the other Undead wherever they were, covering themselves against the coming light.
A voice startled me. It spoke to me very distinctly:
"It's not going to be that simple."
I rose up in one motion, overturning the bed, on my feet, staring in the direction from which the voice had come. The little hotel room was like a tawdry trap.
A man stood in the corner, a simple man. Not particularly tall, or small, or beautiful like Roger, or flashy like me, not even very young, not even very old, just a man. A rather nice-looking man, with arms folded and one foot crossed over the other.
The sun had just come up over the buildings. The fire hit the windows. I was blinded. I couldn't see anything.
I went down towards the floor, just a little burnt and hurt, the bed falling down upon me to protect me.
Nothing else. Whoever or whatever it was, I was powerless once the sun had come into the sky, no matter how white and thick the veil of winter morning.READ MORE >>