Book One: Rio
You may blame Lestat. If you have not read the preceding Vampire Chronicles: experto credite. Armand's first words to me were, "I suppose you too are going to write a novel."
My name is David Talbot. I was seventy four years old when I became a vampire, but circumstances, Lestat and a psychic accident deposited me into the body of a much younger man. As a result, I am six feet two inches tall and look approximately twenty six years of age. I am also the former Superior General of the Talamasca, though my current situation has reduced that fact to little more than trivia. I have never been able to discover the identity of the man whose body I inhabit. Oddly, however, it is not a mystery that bothers me. Occasionally I look into a mirror and wonder, but that is all.
Once, at the beginning of this whole adventure, I told Lestat that I was grateful for the Dark Gift. "It took you two hundred years to learn that you wanted it," I said to him. "I knew the moment I woke out of the stupor. I knew with every breath I took and with every new colour and shape I saw."
I was looking with vampire eyes, as he calls it. I was enamoured with the night, and excited by the prospect of eternal life.
I am learning that these emotions are not easily sustained. Not after killing a mortal every night, for six years.
If you intend to read on, I must warn you as I was once warned: I can do no more than tell you what happened. The truth is something that you must discover for yourself.
It was morning, technically, when I touched down in New Orleans, around three a.m. It was also raining, technically, if the misty precipitation that greeted me could be considered rain. A great deal of Talamasca business had been done here in the past; in the eighties, in particular, Lestat and Louis turned New Orleans into a byword for vampiric activity. But as head of the order, I had eschewed field work, spending most of my time in the European motherhouses; in London, in Amsterdam and in Rome. I flew down in aid of Lestat once, but by day and without time to enjoy my surroundings.
And of course, I could not site see now. I had hopes for a reconciliation and a journey to Rio. But above all, I had fears both for myself and for Lestat. I made for Dumaine Street and Lestat's property and when I could not make out how to open the large gate I simply leapt over it like a young man vaulting a railing. But I didn't go inside. There was no need to. The apartment was closed and empty. No sign of Lestat.
I should probably have waited. Mojo was nosing about in one of the lower apartments and I knew somehow that Lestat would come for him. But on a sudden whim I turned on my heel, and almost without thinking, I began heading north. I had never visited the place in person, but I had heard it described over and over again.
There was bougainvillaea growing in the courtyard, and Queen's Wreath clinging to the wall. Ferns uncurled themselves, dark in the humid summer rain, and when I stepped inside, I felt at once the glimmer of a vampire. "David," Jesse had said to me, frantically. "The diary, it's Claudia's, absolutely, it confirms everything! But oil lamps are burning in that house, David. There was rubble in the garden when I went in, but when I came out it was bougainvillaea, and Queen's Wreath, hibiscus and moonflower, David you've got to do something! The house! It's all tied in to the house!. . ."
It was not Lestat whom I sensed. Lestat's thoughts had closed to me in Barbados, the moment my teeth had withdrawn from his wrist. It was another, far less powerful, his thoughts flickering but apparent.
There was only one vampire this could be, when you came down to it.
I readied myself and went on into the house.
"Who are you?" was the first thing Louis said to me. The moment I entered the hall, he confronted me, like a cornered animal, if a cornered animal were to have a great deal of self possession, and cold expression of hauteur on its face.
"David Talbot." Awkward situation. I was turning my head, following his path, thinking, This is Louis. I failed to mention the essentials. I've swapped bodies, and Lestat's just made me a vampire.
"Lestat's friend," said Louis, "who resisted the Dark Gift, and was once Superior General of the Talamasca."
"No. David Talbot refused the Dark Gift. On more than one occasion. He was old enough to be tempted, but experienced enough to say no to Lestat. Who are you? You're not David. You're not Raglan, and I know you're not Lestat."
Louis's green eyes were opaque with suspicion. He looked particularly inhuman. Lestat waxes endlessly on the subject, but I find Louis very difficult to describe. He is not quite effeminate, but there is a precision to him that is both distinct and feminine. He kills like a machine, without feeling or wasted motion. Physically, he is beautiful.
And this was more in one short speech than I'd been led to believe he spoke in a century.
I remembered Lestat saying, "Oh, Louis glares and sulks and has a vast repertoire of silences, but, David, that is different to conversation."
And then I blinked to find the memory supplanted by another, less recent, and, I realized, not my own:
Lestat, flinging himself down onto a mouldering red armchair and announcing, "David has refused the Dark Gift."
Louis's voice: "Of course. David has always refused the Dark Gift. It is the reason you offer it to him. I think if David were ever to accept, you'd lose interest. You'd deny him your company as well as the blood. The only thing you dislike more than adversity, Lestat, is capitulation."
"You're wrong. David's my friend. I visit him for that reason. I don't plot tangled plots as you infer, or play any of these intricate games. Besides, as if I needed an excuse. I have something far more enticing than his constant refusals to recommend David Talbot to me."
"Oh, and what's that?"
"The fact that you disapprove of him."
Louis and I stared at one another.
"You are David Talbot," he said. He was aware of our memories having briefly intermingled. "David Talbot. My God."
I couldn't answer him, so shocked was I by what had occurred.
"My God," Louis repeated. "What has Lestat done now?"
We sat in the parlour of Lestat's Folly on Royal Street and we traded information. Or, rather, I told him the story of Raglan James, and his brief, unfortunate career as the Body Thief, and Louis absorbed it all, commenting:
"And so James presented himself to Lestat in your body and claimed he was David Talbot, convinced at long last to accept the Dark Gift."
I nodded. "And Lestat was duped," I said. "Though of course James could not conceal his identity during the swoon. It was impossible. Stupid of James. Lestat was angry enough when he realized the truth that he. . ."
"He?" I saw Louis's eyes narrow.
"Killed him," I said, finally. "Smashed his head into a plaster wall, and killed him."
"Killed both James and your old body."
Louis rose, and moved off a few steps. Then, with his back to me he said, precisely, "Convenable."
I frowned as my mind processed the French. Convenient.
"I believe this story," said Louis, turning back. "The adventure. The death. And how perfectly the whole mess has been resolved. It reeks of Lestat."
I watched Louis. His eyes no longer contained suspicion. Lestat, wearing the same expression, would have been pacing the room with large steps. Louis stood poised, a frown on his face, his right hand a fist, pressed to his mouth. Then his gaze found mine.
"He didn't tell me," Louis said. "He refused to tell me. Of the transformation, the rape, and the redemption he spared me nothing. But this--"
"You've seen him?" I interrupted. "You've seen him since he regained his vampiric body?"
Louis's eyes were cold. "Yes," was all he said.
I think it was at this moment that I realized we were not to become friends.
"Where. . .?"
"New Orleans. A week ago."
I searched his face. His expression was blank, the planes of his face like those of a marble statue, white and unyielding. Shoulder-length black hair framed his features, softening them a little. It did nothing to soften his gaze.
"You're angry," I said, slowly.
His eyes narrowed again.
"Why?" I demanded. "Because Lestat returned to his old body? Or because he didn't admit to you what he had done?"
Louis said, "You've made an assumption about me based on what you've read, and what you have been told by Lestat. I understand it--I understand that Lestat encourages it--but I don't care for it. Or for the implication of your question." His tone was glacial. I rose up from the couch.
Almost immediately, I was stepping back, flinching as another vision from Louis's past rooted itself in my head.
Louis's voice: "You think you can become human just by taking over a human body? Lestat, you were born a monster. You weren't human when you were alive!"
"No," said Louis clearly, pressing fingers to his temple. "David, you're doing this. Please, hold your thoughts in check."
As a mortal I had been trained by the Talamasca to shield myself from external influences, but I found my thoughts drawn to his, and so powerfully that only the greatest effort on my part could keep them separated. I closed my eyes.
"I'm sorry, Louis, it's only been three days. Nights," I added awkwardly, trying to explain the lapse. I forced my powers back.
I didn't anticipate Louis's reaction. "Three nights?" He latched on to these words as though they held some special horror. "When he came to see me a week ago in New Orleans, you were not yet a vampire?"
I shook my head. "No. It happened in Barbados. Three nights ago." Concerned, I made as if to move towards him, but he shot me a single, sharp little glance to warn me off, one which caught and then held as he spoke.
"All this time," he said, "you've refused the Dark Gift."
I kept the words steady. "Yes, I have."
"You swore, never. Never in a million years. God was your witness. I remember. I was there."
His calm was awful. "As you say."
"And three nights ago, David, you simply changed your mind?"
I felt a tightening in my chest. Not fair, Louis, I thought, but I kept that thought locked up in the confines of my mind. I tried not to remember the sensation of Lestat's teeth in my neck. "You love me? I am your only friend?"
It was obvious that Louis had guessed what had occurred.
"Lestat would call this moment 'interesting'," Louis said, as I faltered beneath his gaze.
"I've forgiven Lestat."
"Of course I have! How could I begrudge someone who's given me eternal life?"
My words were loud, and very human, and they fell into a silence that held, like his gaze, for so long that I would almost say it frightened me.
"Oh," said Louis softly. "Give it time."
It was impersonal politeness after this exchange, and faultless hospitality. I must stay here, in this house, and wait for Lestat's return--Louis insisted. A room would be converted to suit me. Clothing and any personal items I required could be purchased or sent for. If Lestat did not arrive within a reasonable time, Louis would arrange for me to meet with others of 'our kind'. I may have no interest in immortals like Khayman, or Maharet, but surely I would wish to speak with Marius? And Jesse?
I could do little more than nod and concede, "Yes, certainly," and, "Thank you very much." I'd spent enough time in the company of men like Lestat to recognize when I had lost control of a situation. And I was as helpless to Louis now as I had ever been to Lestat--though Louis's power lay not in flamboyance, but in an icy veneer of pleasantry and good manners that I could neither shatter nor thaw.
As he steered me through the house I began to wonder whether this thing I felt for him was dislike, or simply detachment.
I think the former.
I'd read the novels. I'd studied his file. I'd anticipated some quiet, lovely boy with a ruminative nature and stars in his eyes for Lestat. Louis confounded my expectations. He was quiet, it's true. And he was lovely. But I could easily imagine this creature watching, calmly, while Claudia hewed Lestat down with a knife.
It was only in the hallway that I found my attention fixating elsewhere. A slim vase was positioned discreetly atop one of the dark wooden tables. It was an ornamental thing, a period imitation, but not an obvious one; it might have been modelled on the Grecian urn of Keats's fantasy. Lestat chose it no doubt: his taste in furnishings is exquisite, while his taste in poetry tends towards the rather obvious. But the leaf-fringed legend caught my eye. The light seemed to touch it in such a way that the figures shivered and then began to move, undulating to a silent, sensuous rhythm.
I was captivated. My body leaned towards the images, and I gazed at them with an unblinking eye. I thought, Lestat, my friend, I see now the splendour that you have given me, and I might have gazed at them forever, had not the cool, recitative voice of Louis interrupted my reverie.
"Like moths," he said, "deprived of the sun we're drawn towards such lesser flames. It's both curse and blessing, for it lends these flashy surfaces the illusion of depth, as if the play of light on the side of a vase could unlock all the secrets of the world. When in fact. . ."
I tipped my head. "You are unmoved."
"You misjudge me," he said. "You misjudge Lestat."
"If I have, it's your actions that have led my judgement astray."
Louis took a step forward. I was taller than he was, by several inches, but this did not seem to dissuade him from proximity. "Ah," he said. "It's Lestat's company you crave." He was close enough to touch my face. "You believe that only Lestat's spirit is large enough to contain your feelings. The wonder, the joy, the exaltation. . .You want him. You want to be matched. Partnered. Lifted up, as God lifts human souls out of their dreary bodies, and into the light."
This time, when the blood moved into my cheeks, it stung. "Stay out of my mind," I warned, aloud. I felt I had little or nothing to share with the cold-eyed creature who stood before me now.
"I'm not in your mind," he said. "I don't have that ability. You're projecting. Ineptly. Lestat would say, you don't know your own strength."
"And what would Louis say?" I was pricked to ask him, as he moved back.
I saw the change with my vampiric eyes, the slight hardening of his expression. "That it's late," he said. "That he must retire, for fear of being hurt by the sun. Your room is available, if you wish to spend the night here. Forgive me. I must go."
He paused when he reached the end of the hall.
"It's not an imitation," he said, impassively, without turning. "The vase. It's real."
Which is how I came to spend my first night there, under the same roof as Louis, in a well furnished bedroom owned and wholly designed by Lestat.
I think I was already chafing. A house on Royal Street? I wanted to explore the world! But I'd become part of a household without intending it, and of a subtle and oppressive rivalry with Louis. And it was a situation guaranteed to worsen with Lestat's arrival, though, I'll admit, at the time I was optimistic. I woke the next evening at seven thirty, p.m.; I dressed, hunted, and on my return, I resolved to make my peace with Louis.
But when the heavy wooden door shut behind me, and I stood with all my good intentions in the hall, I realized that I could smell Mojo in the parlour. I could recognize his curious, particular scent. I could even enter his mind and witness his slanty view of the world.
And there in the hallway, over the yards of dark carpet and past the fresh wallpaper of gold and white stripes, I saw Lestat, his blond hair bright against the fashionable grey of his suit. Brushing Louis aside, he paced forward and then stood, regarding the front parlour, obviously well pleased with what he saw.
"Don't ask me where I've been, or what I've done," he said to Louis, his attention on the desk, and then the oval table, inlaid with mahogany, and finally the spinet, against the far wall.
"I know where you've been," Louis replied, "and I know what you've done."
"Oh? And what's to follow? Some stultifying and endless lecture? Tell me now. So I can go to sleep."
I moved silently to stand beside Louis. He gave no indication that he'd noticed me enter, but Lestat's expression transformed the instant that he saw me. He was rendered speechless. He must have been taken totally by surprise.
"The carnival starts tomorrow in Rio," I said, mildly. "I thought we might go."
Lestat stared back at me, with obvious suspicion. Beside me, Louis roused himself, and quietly turned, disappearing away down the hall. Then Lestat flopped down on the camelback sofa, frowning a little. Mojo, ever obedient, followed him over, and sprawled out on the ground near his feet. Lestat didn't look at me again until he spoke.
"You mean this?" he said. "Rio. You want us to go there together?"
"Yes," I said. "And after that, the rain forests. What if we should go there? Deep into those forests! You said something to me, I don't remember when . . . Maybe it was an image I caught from you before it all happened, something about a temple which mortals didn't know of, lost in the depths of the jungle. Think of how many such discoveries there must be!"
His frown, if anything, deepened.
"Why have you forgiven me?" he said.
"You knew I would."
He continued gazing at me.
"You knew when I left you that I'd come back," I said to him. "You knew I'd be here. You knew I'd forgive you."
"Oh? I knew all of this?" His gaze ran dismissively over my form. "I suppose I knew you'd arrive in a velvet suit, too, in this summer weather, dressing a twenty-five year old body like a seventy year old man."
I turned away from him. "You're past all patience," I answered. "Perhaps I couldn't admit it at first. I had to curse you for a little while. But that's all it was, a little while."
Lestat settled more deeply into the sofa.
"So you ran off to prove yourself," he said. "And you can hunt for yourself. And you can find a hiding place by day. And yet you're back? You've forgiven me? Rio, for God's sake!"
"Well, can you think of a better place?"
"I think seventy four years of mortal life has driven you mad! You are not the leader of this little group. You don't even look like the elder of us any more."
He stared at me, scornfully. Finally, I took his example and walked over to the chair nearest the end of the couch. In the old body, I would have had a headache by now. I thought of the many times I'd retreated to a favourite chair, my temple throbbing, my blood stirred, after some conversation or other with Lestat. David Talbot, weary, abandoned at dawn, acutely aware of the limits of his old and failing body.
"I tried to hate you," I said. "I couldn't do it. It's that simple."
"Don't play with me, Lestat."
"I've never played with you! I mean these things when I say them. Tell me, David. Why?"
"Don't you see what you've done?" I entreated. "You've given me the gift, but you spared me the capitulation. You brought me over with all your skill and all your strength, but you didn't require of me the moral defeat. You took the decision from me, and gave me what I couldn't help but want."
"Then rape and murder are our paths to glory? I don't buy it. They are filthy. We are all damned and now you are too. And that's what I've done to you."
I bore it. I merely flinched a little. When he had finished, I fixed my eyes on him again.
"It took you two hundred years to learn that you wanted it," I said. "I knew the moment I woke out of the stupor and saw you lying there on the floor. You looked like an empty shell. I knew you'd gone too far with it. I was in terror for you! And I was seeing you with these new eyes."
"Do you know what went through my mind? I thought you'd found a way to die. You'd given me every drop of blood in you. And now you yourself were perishing before my very eyes. I knew I loved you. I knew I forgave you. And I knew with every breath I took and with every new colour and shape I saw before me that I wanted what you'd given me--the new vision and life, which none of us can really describe!"
His expression went through a dozen small changes as I spoke, and for a moment he looked so unlike himself, so unsettled, that I couldn't help but kneel beside him, clasping his shoulders with my hands and holding his gaze. "Oh," he whispered, "this is the Dark Trick. How right they were, the old ones, to give it that name. I wonder if the trick's on me. For this is a vampire sitting here with me, a blood drinker of enormous power, my child, and what are old emotions to him now?"
"You're the same," I said to him with a kind of wonder. "The very same."
"The same as what?"
"You know I love you, Lestat."
I saw a muscle slide in his jaw. "You haven't changed either," he said. "You're still a fool." But when his half-casual attempt to break away failed, he paused. "You're heading for great trouble," he said. "Just wait and see."
"Come with me to Rio."
He looked away from me, his violet eyes almost unfocused, and such a long time passed in silence that once again, I was touched by concern.
"What is it?" I asked, squeezing his shoulder.
He shook his head, but I was already rising, and with my arms about his shoulders, by some miracle--perhaps he was off guard--I managed to pull him up with me. We both froze, shocked. Lestat's gaze flew back to my face, sharper now, more dangerous. I felt his muscles tense, even as a wide, helpless smile of triumph spread itself across my face.
"Oh, this is going to be really something, this little tussle," said Lestat, his voice a warning purr. He pushed me away, the heel of his palm to my jaw.
"Well, you can fight with me in Rio, while we are dancing in the streets."
He regarded me for another long moment, but I knew from the light in his eyes what his answer would be. I couldn't imagine the future as anything more than a string of marvels and adventures; humans and blood and vampires and Lestat. I was filled with an almost childlike excitement. Rio. It contained all the promise in the world.
In the hallway, Lestat passed me on the left, his tone amused. He said, "Let me convince Louis."
It was a household whose seams were occasionally strained, but miraculously, did not split. Lestat spent his time writing, feeding, living. Louis and I maintained a prickly, respectful distance from one another.
The word carnival derives from the Latin carne-vale meaning 'goodbye meat', which was oddly appropriate to our situation. Because the real idea of Carnival is that Catholic Brazilians giving up meat and various other indulgences for the forty days of Lent may be spectacularly compensated for their sacrifice by a delirious and carnal two week festival.
Lestat embraced the spirit of the thing whole-heartedly, though I'm sure future abstinence was nowhere in his mind.
Louis was more reticent, refusing many of Lestat's wild suggestions, and preferring to wander alone than to accompany Lestat and myself to the Carnival balls and street parades. Lestat would coax in vain--what about the adventure, the spandex, the destaques? What about the King of Momo? What about the women?
To which Louis would invariably make some kind of icy, scintillant reply: "Beautiful women at Carnival are either escorted by huge, jealous cachaca-crazed men wielding machetes, or--or more likely--they are men dressed up as women. I don't have your interest in them, Lestat."
At which point I would take Lestat's arm and attempt, through some easy remark of my own, to distract or extinguish the spark in his eyes. We'd leave on our own. Louis's calm detatchment is the only thing I have ever seen successfully counter Lestat's blazing and charismatic enthusiasm, and the terrifying possibility of open confrontation between the two lurked in every encounter. I guessed--incorrectly, as it happened--that the Body Thief adventure was the cause of Louis's animosity. I did, however, correctly surmise that a conflagration was something that I wanted to avoid.
But if Lestat was aware of the unease of our situation, he gave no sign of it. He was determined to record his most recent adventures in a book, a sequel of sorts to The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned, and after the Carnival, he devoted his time to his novel.
I developed something of a routine, hunting in the early part of the evening while the sky was still warm. After some exploration, I'd retire to the study of our house with my journal. I liked the study a great deal. Piled with rugs and great armchairs, it was a by-product of Lestat's peculiar anglophillia. The paper was delivered there nightly. A fireplace--of all things--dominated the north wall.
This was Brazil, you must remember, a country thick with rainforests, cults and Christianity, murmuring ceaselessly in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. England is one of the few European nations never to have toed themselves a hold here. And yet we had solid, Victorian furniture and the baronial sprawl of the study. The Times was given pride of place over both Le Monde and Folha de Sao Paulo.
"With him," Louis said to me one night, "it is English, it is French, it is American or ca n'existe pas. It does not exist."
"Nonsense," I answered him, automatically. I recalled the Lestatian obsessions to which I had been subjected over the last few years (Mozart, Pagannini, Liszt, Rembrandt, Celini, Fellini, Versace and Kurosawa remaking Shakespeare). Louis ignored this response, and left the room pointedly, after.
It was far from atypical behaviour. As I have indicated, he and I did not speak often. We said, "Hello," and, "Good evening," as circumstances required, but that was substantially all. The house was large enough to accommodate our carefully planned avoidances and we made use of its long hallways and big rooms, shying skillfully from each other's territory, and circumnavigating the possibility of open confrontation.
But then one night he came into my study.
It was late, long past twelve and I was sitting at the desk, slowly reading yesterday's Folha de Sao Paulo. The Portuguese was a challenge; Brazilian politics doubly so. Fernando Collor de Mello had just been indicted, and corruption touched almost every major political figure. Of every ten cruzeiros spent by the government, this paper was telling me that only four reached any kind of legitimate expenditure.
I knew it was Louis before he opened the door.
"You spend so much time here," he said, arranging himself by the fire. "Alone, and away from Lestat. I think you must do it out of jealousy, David."
No preamble whatsoever. Incredible. And exactly what I'd come to expect from him.
"Of you?" I folded the paper and looked up.
His head was bowed, his eyes on the flames. His forearm rested lightly on the mantle. I noticed the texture of his garments, rough fabrics, shapeless clothes, and beneath them the suggestion of his body. I could make out the curve of his shoulder, and the long line of this thigh.
He's very handsome. Like an ornament hand-picked by Lestat, he suited the look of the study.
"Of the time he spends with his writing," he said.
I flushed, feeling that I had been tricked into giving something dangerous away.
But Louis wasn't looking at me. His attention was elsewhere, moving randomly around the room, on the fire, the mantle, the sleeve of his own jumper. That he was here for some purpose, I had no doubt. But what purpose? He was breaking every rule of our truce by invading my sanctum in this manner.
Either he has come to make peace, I thought, or he has come to make war. And so I waited, my hands smoothing the paper on the desk.
But he did neither. He said, almost awkwardly, "The novel will be finished, soon enough."
"Yes. I suppose it will."
In the silence, he scuffed his heel on the carpet. It made a rough, human sound. "We can leave before the wet season, perhaps."
"If you like, yes."
"It's a shame, I suppose, that once we've gone, Lestat will probably sell the--"
"Have you come here to make small talk?" I interrupted him bluntly, sick of the game I thought he was playing. But I realized immediately I had spoken, and with an odd shock, that I had misjudged him again. I had just made another mistake.
He broke off. We faced awkwardness, and real animosity. Loud as cannon-fire behind him, I heard every shift and pop of the burning wood.
Then, "I should have left you to your reading," Louis said, bitterly. "To your study. To the perfection of your own solitude. Already Lestat has taught you the most important lesson: how to draw solely and eternally upon yourself."
I ignored him. "What are you doing here, Louis?"
Louis's attention flickered away from the fire. His gaze met mine. "How good is your hearing?" he said, unexpectedly.
"Can you make out the sounds of Lestat at his keyboard?"
I frowned, responding to the strangeness of the question. I could indeed hear the little plastic sounds as Lestat typed and typed at his novel.
Louis's lips drew back from his teeth, exposing sharp, kittenish fangs, though the single grimace spoke more of irritation than anger. "It doesn't matter," he said. "You're right, of course. I came to make small talk. But pleasantries, it seems, will not stretch to cover my feelings, or your own. Good night, David. I'll leave you to your study."
I rose from my chair, the word, "Wait," on my lips, but the door closed, and slowly, I sank back down. You misjudge me, whispered the memory of Louis's voice. I stared at the paper without reading the words, and I thought about the animosity between myself and Louis. When the frustration in me crested, I snatched the paper up and threw it hard against the wall.
Can you hear Lestat? he'd asked me. I'd answered, Yes. But there was a correlative to that statement, wasn't there? One that did not come to me until the dawn touched the sky, and the heavy weight of slumber began pulling me down into unconsciousness.
Lestat can hear us.
I had forgotten this odd little exchange by the time Lestat finished his novel.
Other difficulties arose from my small feud with Louis, but I believe I have already described with accuracy the frigidity of our relationship, our barbed conversations and our uneasy go-arounds. I will admit that there were rare occasions when he and I were comfortable together. These were the evenings when Lestat would throw aside his word processing and focus the blinding spotlight of his attention on either or both of us, cajoling until we succumbed to his influence and agreed to accompany him into jungles, into stores, into the houses of mortals--wherever his whim desired we go.
Mojo, solely oblivious, enjoyed the trip heartily. He was not a house dog, but he was indulged with an uncontrollable master, long walks and a great deal of adventure. One evening Lestat came home with a chewed purse and a wild story in which Mojo had seized upon it, refusing to be disengaged even when Lestat had slashed his teeth across it's owner's neck and killed her. After that incident, Mojo most often went muzzled, but inside the house the muzzle was taken off, apparently so that--much to both mine and Louis's annoyance--he and his master could amuse themselves with throwing our rooms into disorder.
By day, heavy curtains were provided to reinforce the inadequate shutters in the bedrooms and block out the last of the sun. I did not question the fact that Lestat had a house in Rio so readily equipped to provide for our specialized needs; I barely noticed the alterations at all, in fact, until Mojo grasped the curtains of my room's window in his powerful jaws and ripped them clear from their railing.
"My room," I said, unsurprised. "Naturally."
"Well, you can't sleep here now," Lestat announced, pushing Mojo out of the way and holding him there. "There isn't enough time to repair the damage. You see? The fixture has come away from the wall."
I saw indeed. The window was too enormous to be blocked another way. "Perhaps now you'll consider keeping that mad animal restrained. Or at least confined downstairs."
"Confined! Mojo can't just sit still in some stuffy old room doing nothing but stare at dusty books for hours. Which doesn't make him mad, by the way. It makes him sensible. Anyway, I'm sure you don't want a visit from your RSPCA."
"I doubt they exist here, Lestat. This is Brazil, not the UK."
"Oh, shut up, David. It doesn't matter what I do with Mojo. It will be dawn in an hour." Lestat had knelt beside his dog, and was attempting to pry the last of the fabric from his jaws.
Neither of us noticed Louis entering, assessing the damage, and coming to rest by the door.
"I have a problem," I agreed slowly. A vampiric imperative: I needed somewhere to sleep. I supposed I could crawl into a chest or a wardrobe for the duration of the day, but the idea didn't particularly appeal to me.
"Mojo, come on, for God's sake--" This, unhelpfully, from Lestat.
"You can share my room if you like," said a distressingly familiar voice. I turned. Sharpened consonants, tone of slight concern--it was Louis, and his innocuous offer actually shocked me. No, I wanted to say to him, and found that I couldn't, predictably.
"Your room," said Lestat, abandoning the dog and fixing his gaze on Louis.
"Better than the alternative," said Louis.
Lestat broke the ensuing silence, turning to me, and slinging an arm around my shoulder. "David," he said. "Louis is implying, with his usual lack of subtlety, that the last place in this house in which you'll be safe is in my room--"
"Yes. Exactly," said Louis.
"And you know what?" said Lestat, rounding back on Louis. "He's right. You should take him up on his offer. Sleeping near me tonight isn't wise."
How could I refuse? I could hardly explain this nebulous feeling of discomfort, nor could I remark, in the face of Lestat's mood, on the feud I had with Louis. It was, after all, a battle of always unspoken bitterness. I held my tongue.
Lestat left us alone together, clicking his fingers for the dog on the way out.
Louis moved to the door, holding it open politely. "Wise or not," he said, "you'd rather stay anywhere but in a room with me. That is what you're thinking, isn't it?"
"Not at all. I'm grateful for your offer," I replied, determined that he would not destroy what remained of my equanimity.
"No, you're not," he answered calmly. "But that's all right. It's only for one night."
His room was very tidy, and, like all private territory, it was slightly unwelcoming. But it had not the shining sterility of Lestat's rooms, with their rose-tiled floors and expensive and rarely used furnishings. It had a lived-in look. Comfortable books filled the shelves, and one large volume was fanned open on the desk, its pages moving slightly. I knew that Louis was bookish--that is Lestat's word for it. And then I remembered that Louis's books had been destroyed, burned when Lestat, in one of his customary rages, had set fire to Louis's house.
Glancing around when the door closed behind us, I realized that he must spend a great deal of time here. No wonder the place felt so private. This was the retreat of a man with an intensely solitary nature.
"I mean to say that I--" I began.
"Don't," he said. "There's no need to perjure yourself. You don't like me, particularly, and I imagine it suits Lestat to have us at one another's throats. The bed is through that archway. You're welcome to it for as long as your room is uninhabitable. I'll take the couch."
With that, he exited. I can only presume that he meant to give me privacy. Left speechless and without an alternative, I retired to the section of his rooms that housed the bed. Perhaps half an hour passed, by which time I had relaxed somewhat. In fact, I was thinking how foolish it was to have been concerned by this arrangement, how unlikely it was that Louis would intrude on my privacy, how absurd to imagine his proximity could hurt me in any way--when a sound from the doorway caused me to look up.
"Louis, what--" I began, but was forestalled. Louis shook his head, raising his eyes and pressing his finger to his lips as if to tell me, Shh.
I fell to staring at him uncertainly, because he was approaching me cautiously, always with that look on his face that prohibited my speaking. Strange. Strange reaction I was having, too. My heart was hammering oddly in my chest. What on earth--? I thought, and then Louis drew me forward by the lapel, his arms sliding into place about my neck, his mouth nestling just beside my ear, near my throat.
"David . . . "
It was the softest whisper, fading into nothing more than the brush of his lips over my skin, and the echo of his thoughts, which awakened in me a desire to penetrate his mind.
David . . .
I slid inwards, and met no resistance.
Louis . . .
Can you hear me . . . ? Can you hear my thoughts . . . ? David . . .
Yes, I said to him silently. Louis . . . yes.
I could feel my own pulse; it seemed to clamour, thunderously, and I was hotly aware that it lay right beneath his mouth. I tried to concentrate, but, my God, Louis--the aloof, hateful creature, Louis--was all but serving himself up in my arms. It was wildly distracting.
Then listen, because this concerns you more than any of us. The book is finished. Lestat is involved in various negotiations with the European publishing house Chatto & Windus. A manuscript copy has been sent out to them, which means that a duplicate copy has already made its way to the Talamasca. If you haven't read it already--
Then you should know that it contains a detailed account of your transformation, names, dates and particulars. It sparked Talamasca interest--you can imagine. But more than that, the novel explains that when you left New Orleans, you were on your way here, to Rio--
You can't be serious.
Serious. David, yes. Aaron Lightner has already taken rooms at the Gloria. And it's lucky for you that Lestat has this house--
--otherwise we'd be staying there too. My God, at the same hotel. Aaron . . . But I don't understand--Louis, why? Why tell me this now?
David, because . . .
His body was warm against mine, like a human body flushed through with blood or passion. But even in this state, his mind remained as wintry as ever. My eyes closed, and my hands slid around his waist and downwards, pulling him closer. I said, Are you really concerned about all this? You shouldn't be. The Talamasca is an organisation of scholars, historians, anthropologists-- Exorcists, mediums and psychic vigilantes, I didn't add, because Aaron Lightner was certainly none of those things, and besides, it wasn't Talamasca policy to interfere with vampires. --the worst that will happen is that Aaron will submit a report, and whoever's taken over operations will put the manuscript in Lestat's already overburdened file.
Don't be a fool. The problem is not that Aaron Lightner might find us. The problem is that Lestat has--has already--
His thoughts were scattering. I was hard pressed to follow.
--found Aaron Lightner--
It was the onset of the death sleep. Fatigue was hazing over his mind like a mist. And as Louis lost a little of his rigid self control, I caught a glimpse of something beneath the surface of all this. Something he was hiding. Aaron Lightner was not his main concern.
Louis--what's going on?
I've told you--
No, there's something else, I insisted, gripping him tighter. There's something else, isn't there, something that you know--something that you've known since New Orleans--
His hand made a fist at my chest and he tried ineffectually to push me away. David, let go. It's dawn. It's dawn and I'm . . . I can't . . .
I had to release him. He broke free immediately, and I could see that he was unsteady on his feet. It shocked me a little, actually, to see for myself just how weak he was. I had an hour, perhaps longer, before I'd begin to succumb to the pressure of the rising sun.
Louis, I thought. The human one.
It's how the others think of him. It's what Lestat calls him; he might sling an affectionate arm around Louis's shoulder and say it. "Ah, you are the human one, Louis!"
No colder, less human fiend has ever walked the earth. I would have said that unequivocally. But that morning, in my hour of grace, I noticed that Louis still sleeps like a human. He breathes and sighs and even shifts position occasionally. Quite different to Lestat and myself, who, once the death sleep has taken us, lie like statues until dawn. There is even a tape, somewhere in the vaults of the Talamasca, of Armand sleeping, and he is so eerily still that the tape itself is difficult to watch. The only change is visible in fast play: his hair, which is shorn when the tape begins, grows out to shoulder length over six hours.
As I thought of Lestat, frozen in unnatural slumber, his vampiric nature, just for a moment, seemed monstrous to me. As did my own. That night I thought of Louis as being more human than Lestat, and I drifted off uneasily that morning, reflecting on just how much comparison influences our opinion of those who people our world.
Louis was still sleeping when I woke. It was light outside. I think that the last of the sun was still hanging in the sky. I had wandered out into Louis's rooms wanting nothing more than to continue our aborted conversation, but it was far too early for that. I did not dare to disturb him while he slept; that was unthinkable. And so, falling back on routine, I decided that I would hunt first, and return to him after.
The house was quiet when I emerged, but I knew that no matter how early my own eyes had opened, Lestat was guaranteed to have risen before me. If the house was quiet, Lestat had already left it. He too was probably hunting, probably--
My thoughts swerved. Aaron. A sudden concern for Aaron Lightner flashed through my mind. Lestat was gone, no sign of him in the house. Might he be pursuing my old friend even now?
No, no. That was absurd. That was a fear based on nothing. On a whispered insinuation. From hardly the most benevolent of sources, I reminded myself. From Louis.
But I had stopped in my tracks and was still pondering the idea when my evening's victim literally ran into me, a young woman who slammed straight into my chest.
"Are you all right?" I asked the woman now standing in my arms. "I do apologise. I wasn't--"
I broke off. She was staring up at me. "Americana?" she said. Not Portuguese. Italian.
"Oh. God, no," I answered, pulling back. Of course I looked like one. I thought, It's this preposterous Ivory League body.
"Scusa," she said. "No English."
I don't usually kill women. But she had thick, shiny brown hair and a large smile, and she smelled wonderful. Her skin was clean, and unwrinkled. I'd say she was in her early twenties. As she became aware of the admiration in my eyes, and the way I was looking at her, the moment lengthened. I wanted her. She coloured slightly.
"Come for a drink with me," I said spontaneously. "A last meal. You'll enjoy it. I'll make it up to you."
"Non capisco niente di quello che Lei dice--"
"Drink," I said. "Bev--bev--uh. . ." I mimed sipping water from a glass, and her eyes brightened. "Bevere. Con me."
"Ah!" her smile widened. "Sei carino. Ma sono sempre i carini di cui si deve stare attenti, non?"
"Signora," I said, my hand on my heart. "I'll be a perfect gentleman."
She hesitated. I shot her a smile so charming, and so unlike David Talbot that I would swear that it came not from my mind, but from my body, a lingering lady-killer instinct of this handsome, garage-mechanic fellow.
"Signorina," she corrected me, taking the arm I offered her. She gave me another of her wide, sunny smiles.
It was an irrevocable choice she had just made. It was one she would not live long to regret.
Something in me rebels at the idea of detailing the killing.
That I should wish to respect the dead is farcical, isn't it? The lady is dead only because I killed her. Nevertheless, I find myself uneasy as I write this, and that night, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of another vampire alighting on the pavement, I started, feeling like a man caught out in some terrible act of depravity.
I dropped the signorina, and pressed the back of my hand to my mouth. A quick, guilty wipe. It came away smeared with blood.
"Lestat," I said in surprise.
Lestat touched my shoulder briefly in greeting, then pulled away, drawn by mild interest to investigate my victim. "Pretty lady," he said, kneeling beside her and glancing up at me.
"Thank you," I answered, a little sharply. I was becoming uncomfortable. His examination of the body felt like a violation--of myself and of her--but I was silenced. I felt I couldn't complain. After all, it was I who had killed her.
Another glance, and with a grin Lestat rose, stripping himself of his jacket and using it to wipe off his hands. He tossed it away negligently when he'd finished and it fell in a little heap, partially covering the body. "I didn't know you had an eye for women."
I frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, come on, David," he said, casually, accompanying the words with a dismissive gesture. He was already looking around the lane. "Well, where the hell are we?" he demanded, finally, obviously nonplussed by what he saw.
I didn't answer him immediately. I was uneasy after my clandestine conversation with Louis, besides which, I wasn't sure exactly where we were. The hunt had brought me here, not any design of my own.
Lestat snorted at his surroundings, then continued, in a confidential tone: "Mademoiselle, I wouldn't trust your friend here." I turned my head away. He was speaking to the dead body. "He's got no sense of propriety. You're so young, and so pretty, and really, he seems to have chosen the taudriest location in all of Brazil to stage the last act of your life--"
I said, "Stop it, Lestat."
"Oh, I offend your sensibilities?" Lestat's eyes were bright. "I'm to wander around like some mawkish fledgling, am I, pronouncing my requiescat and bemoaning my killer instincts and her fate?"
I began to turn from him, but he caught me by the shoulder and spun me back to face him.
"You promised me," he said, his voice low and dangerous as he pushed in close. "You promised me a fight. You promised adventure and dancing in the streets. David--" With a vicious twist, he took hold of the back of my neck and shoved my head downwards, a position that forced me to look at the body of my victim.
Revulsion snapped in me like the hungry jaws of a beast. I didn't want to look at her cold, heavy limbs or the dead, unnatural angle of her head. I closed my eyes, hating it. Hating the feeling of being manhandled. His hand was like a vice on my neck.
He said, "You can't bear it? All your talk of spirit. Of fighting. Of wanting the Dark Gift, and now look at you. How much you remind me of Louis."
"I said stop it!" I snapped, throwing him off hard enough that he skidded back on his heels, a surprised look in his eyes. "I'm not Louis. I'm not going to spend the first dozen years of my new life--how did you put it--bemoaning my fate and grieving for mortal women only to find out later that my misery was entirely misplaced and that you were right all along. Stop trying to provoke me. I won't be manhandled."
"Won't you?" The dangerous smile that I have always been powerless to resist was playing at the corners of his mouth. Damn him. I think I even said it, "Damn you," as he tugged a little roughly at my neck. I said it even as he kissed me. And yes, I was a fool, because he had always been able to make me forget my scruples; and for better or worse, this was what I had wanted. I had known it even as seventy four year old mortal man, when Lestat was the fiery tiger of my youth, a volatile killer who'd curl up on my hearth and purr, and lazily call me his only friend.
He murmured, "And how do good English vampires dispose of their dead?"
I closed my eyes. "Burn it," I said, and in that instant the body burst into flames, though I was uncertain whether Lestat's powers set it alight, or my own.
We wandered companionably together.
The night was warm and very pleasant, with barely a breeze behind us. Lestat, for once, was not mad for adventure. He was content to stroll, and the conversation drifted as we did ourselves. It was a change from the highly charged exchanges that I had been having with Louis. A change I welcomed gladly. I always forgot my troubles in Lestat's company. When I had been mortal, arguments and admonitions about Lestat from Talamascan Elders had caused knots in my stomach, but they had always faded away to relief and gladness whenever Lestat himself turned up at my door. A handsome young man with a devilish smile, dressed impeccably in a smart, dandy's suit.
"Do you always kill that way?" he asked me.
"No," I said. "I'm hungry for new experiences. I don't have a pattern. Not yet, at any rate. Usually it takes a year or two before a vampire begins to form noticable habits, though once they have, they rarely break them."
"You don't mean to say that our hunts are on file with the Talamasca?"
"Of course," I replied. "And I don't know why you should look scandalized--or even surprised. You invite commentary. You write about hunting in your novels, frequently."
"You know what's been written about me," he said. "You've read it."
I did know, of course. The earliest Talamascan documentation of Lestat is well circulated: 'Almost without exception he kills men, aged between 19-30 years, of heights ranging between 5'10'' and 6'1'', sharing no other physical similarity but their good health and strong builds.' This footnote to the Theatre des Vampires file, written in 1841 by the field agent A. R. Dacier, was the reason the Talamasca had sent petite, red-haired Jesse to investigate the site of the old New Orleans coven. Although, as I had come to understand it, Lestat's preference was for rough and tumble with killers, and this--perhaps only incidentally--meant his victims were usually young men.
"I like to take life," I remember he once said to me. "I think it's fun."
At the time, all our conversations revolved around these subjects. Death and indecency. Lestat would push me as far as he could, trying, I believe, to provoke a moral revolt of some kind. I was Buckingham to his Richard--in Lestat's mind at least. And when my final objection came in Barbados, he ignored it--and with it, my will and his own promises.
Much later, Louis would explain it this way: "Lestat is alone because what he desires is unqualified love--and no one can love a man more than he does his own conscience. Eventually there will come a point at which one's inner goodness, however deep it is buried, will balk--will no longer allow itself to be compromised. Lestat searches for that point. He'll find it in you, David. Just as he found it in me when he knelt before me in New Orleans, and begged me to help him, and I refused to turn him back into a vampire."
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I answered, carefully, "That you kill men. That you provoke attacks. That your recent preference is for serial killers, which you know already."
"And now that you're on the other side dark glass, you can tell me: What is the insight all this gives into the world of the vampire?"
And that was the crux of it all, wasn't it? I let out a breath of laughter, and spread my hands wide. "You tell me."
Lestat had moved ahead of me, and now he stood facing me, one hand resting on my shoulder. Out of necessity, I brought up short. He was blocking my path. "Want to know why I really kill the way I do?"
His gaze was predatory. Like his voice, it challenged me.
"I like it. I like the chase. I like a fight. I go after big game. Oh, no, don't go all stiff and proper--you understand exactly what I mean. You were a killer in your youth, just like me. You've been the hunter and the hunted, too, haven't you. You know very well which you like better. You shouldn't, but you do."
"No," I said. "No. Lestat--I don't believe that. Most vampires show a disinclination for killing. You all ritualize the hunt in some way. Distance it from what it really is. Your choice of victim--it's so compelling. You kill killers, Pandora kills abusive men, Armand kills those who welcome death--"
Lestat blinked, and then, to my utter surprise, he disengaged from me. He took two steps backwards and started laughing. Blood tears came to his eyes. It was his usual mad humour, and I had to fold my arms and wait it out. He calmed eventually, though his eyes remained wickedly bright even as he fell to gazing at me, fondly.
"Armand," he said. "I love that poisonous little schoolboy. Really. I do. What is it Pistol says to the prince? I'd kiss his dirty shoe--"
"It's not so?"
"David, believe whatever you like of Armand. But I'll tell you this. After two hundred years as a bloodsucking fiend, I have learned one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt."
"And that is?"
"No one ever . . . really . . . welcomes death."
He held my gaze a long time.
"Oh, stop it," I said finally, moving forward again.
"Stop--?" His pale brows arched irrisistibly as I passed him.
"Stop being impossible. Come on, I want to climb, and we still haven't been properly to Corcovado . . . "
And why had Louis told me about Aaron? And what was it he was hiding? And why keep our conversation from Lestat? I spent the next three nights attempting to avail myself of another opportunity to speak with Louis, while Louis remained infuriatingly elusive, either locked away in his own rooms, or alone out on the streets of Rio.
The curtains in my room were repaired immediately. This presented me with something of a difficulty. I couldn't simply barge my way back into Louis's sanctuary and demand an explanation, though I badly wanted to. And as I knew both how often Lestat followed Louis out to watch him hunt, and how much Louis disliked it when he did so, I was equally reluctant to approach him while he was outside of the house.
I began to suspect that he was avoiding me intentionally. There was, however, absolutely nothing that I could do about it if he was, and frustration became my constant companion, attending me from the earliest parts of the evening into the long, later stages of the night.
The fact that it was Aaron who'd shuttled down here implied, at least to my mind, that the Talamasca were not taking my transformation particularly seriously. Aaron Lightner was an agreeable fellow, a scholar of my generation with an impressive head of white hair and the idiosyncratic habit of walking with a silver topped cane, though he was neither aged nor infirm enough to need one. He was not a field man. Hadn't been for years. He dabbled, for the most part, pursuing supernatural odds and ends more out of a sense of whimsy than duty.
And the rather medieval Talamasca directive regarding vampires was clear:
'You are not to encourage the being, not to engage in or prolong conversation; if it persists in its visits you are to do your best to lure it to some populated place; it is well known that these creatures are loath to attack when surrounded by mortals. Never are you to attempt to learn secrets from the being, or to believe for one moment that any emotions evidenced by it are genuine, for these creatures can dissemble with remarkable sophistry, and have been known, for whatever reason, to drive mortals mad. You are warned to report any and all meetings, sitings, et cetera, et cetera, to the elders without delay--'
But I felt so cut off from the Talamasca. Freed as I'd never been from that engulfing world of books and museums and forays into the supernatural. That bunch of monks in London, Lestat calls them, in his characteristic and dismissive fashion. And Louis's seemed like a reaction more suited to the Talamasca's mortal world than to my own.
Louis's hushed words, his secrecy, it was all so wild and unreal. And I began to feel a sense of indignation that my sole opportunity for private communication with Louis had not unlocked any of the mysteries of our situation, but had instead proved merely vague and futile.
The idea even occurred to me that I might resolve the situation by simply mentioning his odd behaviour to Lestat. I might say, 'Louis really said the strangest thing to me the other night . . . something about you and Aaron Lightner . . . ' But I knew in my heart of hearts that this was not a subject I was going to broach with Lestat. The days passed, and as they did so, my sharp concerns began to melt back into that underlying sense of unease.
I should mention that during this time, Lestat showed me the manuscript of his new novel. Though perhaps 'showed me the manuscript' is an inaccurate description, as what he did was toss me a computer disk with a flick of his wrist and the words spoken over his shoulder as he left the house, "Knock yourself out."
I did not finish it. I slid the disk into the computer. I brought up the correct file. I couldn't bring myself to read more than the first few chapters. Eventually, I shut everything off, left the disk on Lestat's wooden desk and went out to hunt.
This happened on the third night.
On the fourth night, Louis surprised me utterly by appearing before me in the large room that served as entrance to the house. He was wearing, as always, some items of nondescript black clothing. His hair was tied back neatly with a black ribbon. It was this detail that impressed itself on me. I could suddenly imagine him as the young plantation owner, looking over his accounts, dressed in a breeches and a long frock coat. And then later, in a tavern, perhaps a little drunk, too naive to realize the kind of attention that he was likely to attract. Catching the eye of a passing delinquent.
Catching the eye of Lestat.
"Hello, David," he said.
"Louis," I said. "I must speak with you."
"Must you?" he asked in the most bored tone of voice. My frustration returned tenfold. These games, I thought, are typical of him, and just as I was about ready to put an end to them once and for all, Louis shifted his gaze to a point just over my left shoulder, and said, in polite greeting, "Lestat."
Lestat was lounging in the doorway, watching us with a proprietary little smile on his face. He looked entirely unlike himself. Instead of his usual tailored garments, he wore faded jeans that straggled threads where they had been slashed at the knees, and a thin, loose white cotton t-shirt that was scrawled over with an unfashionable Portuguese advertising slogan. It looked old and worn, second or third hand, and hardly worth the keeping; it must originally have come from some cheap, street stall. He'd cut his hair short, too, and had combed it with his fingers, judging by the tangle of blond spikes and snares. The impression was startling, uncharacteristic, and rather degenerate.
"Good lord," I said, distracted. "What on earth are you wearing?"
"Well it certainly is . . . interesting."
"I suppose you'd prefer me to lumber around in a tweed suit, or a vest, or a cardigan--"
"Don't be absurd. It must be thirty degrees outside."
"Louis?" Lestat said, turning and presenting himself, as if to settle a point.
"Why ask me?" said Louis. "This--" A single glance indicated the clothes. "--isn't for my benefit. Is it."
"Well, no," agreed Lestat. "It isn't."
I looked from one to the other.
Lestat said, "I suppose you've emerged from your seclusion to try to change my mind by telling me how much you disapprove, how awful it is, what a monster I am, all that trash."
"Yes," said Louis, no warmth whatsoever in his voice.
"I wouldn't consider it an adventure otherwise."
"You shouldn't consider it an adventure at all!"
Lestat's eyes were brilliant. "David," he said, without looking at me, "we are now going to get the full banquet with all the trimmings as Louis, in a sort of apotropaic fervor, warns us both about the dangers of my visiting your old friend Aaron Lightner. Did you know he was in Rio? I'm going to do him no good, apparently. I imagine it's all going to be wonderful fun."
Before I could muster a reply, Louis said calmly, "Did you expect to shock and amaze with this little denouement? You are boorish and predictable. David already knows that Aaron Lightner is in Rio."
"If that's true," said Lestat, dangerously, "he is taking it far better than you are."
"You are not going to do Aaron any harm," I said slowly. It was an affirmation rather than a directive. With each word I spoke, I was aware of how fully I was taking sides.
Louis turned to face me, looking incredulous. But he recovered quickly. Finding that I was not an ally, he simply excluded me from his attention. He said to Lestat, "He doesn't know anything. You're incapable of visiting someone without doing them harm."
"Oh, honestly, what do you think I'm planning? I'm just going to talk to him--liven things up a little. And even if I meant to spend my night breaking the bones in his body--what makes you think you could stop me?"
"You think you're going just to talk to him?" Louis shot back. "You're deluding yourself! It was talk the night you waltzed into the London motherhouse to visit the Superior General. Ten years later you took him and made him a killer of his fellow man. You ruin lives. You'll ruin Aaron's. It will be yet another gauntlet in the face of the Talamasca, and how long do you think it will be before they decide that you are too much of a threat to them?"
"This is madness," I said. "Lestat, I can tell you plainly that you're in no danger from the Talamasca."
"Yes, perhaps they believe that Aaron Lightner is expendable," said Louis. "Perhaps they felt similarly about you, David."
"Don't be so nastily overbearing," Lestat told him. "Aaron Lightner is in no danger--physically. As for the rest, he's a scholar of the supernatural. It's not as if he's going to take one look at me and go stark, raving mad."
"Lestat, you can't do this, not again. Not this--"
"Can't I just?"
Louis blocked the exit. I am sure that Lestat would not have hesitated to push anyone else aside, but Louis's sheer self composure was such that Lestat was reluctant to force a way past him. Incredibly, he was holding back. But his eyes were flashing and I saw that his right hand had become a fist.
"Get out of my way," he said then, in a low voice. "Move, or I'll move you. You won't like it if I do, you're too fastidious to enjoy being grappled with. And I'll hurt you. You have know idea how much I could hurt you."
"No. Lestat, can't you stay here, stay and be reasoned with--"
"Reasoned? You mean the usual drab litany of limitations--it bores me. You bore me. I'm going out."
It happened too fast for me to follow. I heard more than I saw. I heard the crash of furniture, and the awful sound of wood splintering. Lestat was gone before I could intervene, or even clearly identify how he had removed Louis from his path.
Louis was frowning, more like a man who has come across something faintly unpleasant in the nightly papers than like a vampire who has just been thrown across the room by his maker.
I saw that his cheek was darkened with a bruise. Lestat must actually have struck him. Such a mark on my own flesh would have vanished in an instant, but Louis lacked the great restorative powers of Akasha and her ilk. The hurt healed slowly. I watched as smashed capillaries mended themselves, and it occurred to me that Lestat's blow must have been little more than a love-tap. If he'd exercised any of his real strength, he would have shattered Louis's cheekbone, at the very least. More likely broken his neck.
I reached down and offered my hand, and Louis clasped my forearm, using my strength to pull himself up.
"Your concern touches my heart," he said.
I told him, "Aaron Lightner can look after himself."
Louis paused in the act of brushing himself off. "David Talbot can look after himself," he said. "He is strong enough to resist Lestat, and he has sworn before God that he'll never become a vampire."
There was something unpleasant rising in my throat, and I found that I couldn't stand being alone in a room with him anymore.
"If you're quite recovered."
I had reached the door by the time he called me back, and I had fully intended to walk through it, but there was a strange quality to Louis's voice that reached out like a restraining hand, and stopped me.
I turned back to face him, saw him standing there before the wreckage of the room.
There is something impossible about his beauty. I would be lying if I said I wasn't aware of it. From the first moment that I saw him, a part of me was lost forever to the knowledge that he was all I might have wanted in my human life time, and could never possess in this one. His cold, remote manner was woven into his appeal. He had about him an air of the untouchable.
But now his voice sounded raw, and he was bruised, though the mark was fading on his cheek. Lestat had roughed him up a little, and it suited him. He looked for the first time like a creature who could be touched. Who might touch in return. Who might wish . . .
"You care if I'm rude to you?" he said, in that same voice.
And for the first time, I saw him objectively. Not as one half of a power struggle, but as Louis, a being distinct and separate in and of himself. I felt a dizzying warmth, as if something deep inside of me was unfolding against my will.
"Why?" he said, bitterly.
"Perhaps I've offended your civilized notions of vampiric behaviour. It should be all tasteful politeness between the three of us, yes? While we feed and live and kill them without regret." A breath of bitter laughter. "You are like innocent man in the garden before the snake. You are happy because you don't know anything--"
Happy. I remembered my first trip to Rio. The jungles, the thick, humid press of them, and the hotels, and the wild passion I'd felt for that boy, taking him over and over again, believing myself to be in love, addicted to the languorous kisses he fed me and the heat of him against me on the sheets of the bed.
"If nothing else, I would sacrifice my illusions to have you and I at peace," I said. "Tell me, and you can have done."
It was the right thing to say. Somehow, I knew it.
Louis raked a hand through his hair, a very human mark of nerves and indecision. "Is it foolish for a killer to otherwise possess a conscience?" he said. "To care about doing right, and avoiding wrong?"
"Not foolish." I tried to make him out. "Not easy."
"Lestat calls it the paradox of the 'good vampire.' For what is a good vampire? I used to feel anguish at the prospect of taking human life. I refused to be an evildoer. You might say, I was a good vampire . . . it made me a very bad vampire. It made me weak, incompetent, vulnerable to attack . . . " Louis paused, then after a moment went on, "But though we are killers, I do not think that true amorality is possible for us. I do not think it is natural. Because all vampires, when forced to live outside of human mores, begin to create a moral structure of their own. Under Les Innocents, there were the Devil's Rules. To kill your own kind was the cardinal sin in the Theatre des Vampires. Now we have the laws laid down on Night Island . . . all of which Lestat has broken." After a moment, he continued, "What I mean to say is that I am a monster, because I have killed mortals. But even amongst monsters, there are, perhaps, horrors, and things which should not be done."
"All this has something to do with Aaron Lightner," I prompted him.
He gazed at me a while. "No. No, not in any way except that he is the new danger. The new adventure."
"Louis--" I began.
He shook his head. "Please. If I am going to tell you, I must tell you all of it. Let us sit--" He indicated one of the long couches. Impatiently, I sat myself there, and waited for him to join me. Only when he was calm and composed beside me did he begin to speak, his voice soft over the words of the following, familiar story:
"For you, it began when Lestat first told you about that madman, James. For me, it began a long time ago. With my younger brother, Paul, who removed himself from plantation life at a very young age. He preferred to spend his hours in prayer, or study, reading from the Bible and his lives of the saints. By the time he was twelve, his devotion was such that I was moved to build him an oratory, and it was not long before he began to spend most of his day there, and then to spend most of his evening there as well.
"At fifteen, he was already handsome. Robust, not thin as I was then and am now, and he had black hair, and very pale skin and blue eyes, like my mother's. He was a great deal like my mother. Determined, but quiet, polite and soft spoken. I was devoted to him. I could deny him nothing, or so I thought, and I vowed that no matter how it would break my heart to lose him, I would allow him to enter the priesthood as he wished, when the time came."
I listened without interrupting, though I knew all of these details, of course, from Louis's file and from the book, Interview with the Vampire. The original tapes were hidden deep in the vaults of the London motherhouse. Daniel's questions, and the long, elaborate and sometimes frightening answers spoken in Louis's calm, detached voice.
"He began to have visions, but as he did not press the subject to myself, my mother or sister, I was largely unconcerned. Even when he stopped taking his meals with us, when his days and nights were spent kneeling on the flagstones in the oratory, when my mother and sister wept over his reclusion and the slaves spoke openly of his madness, I was not alarmed. I was convinced that he was simply overzealous. In nineteen seventy five, when I told this story to Daniel, I still had faith in my brother's piety. I even questioned whether the visions my brother claimed he was having might not have been real."
"You don't believe that now," I said, carefully.
Louis shook his head. "I am not going to tell you what I believe. I am going to tell you what happened. You will then be free to make up your own mind.
"As I have said, around this time, my brother began to have visions. He only hinted at them at first, but his subtlety eventually gave way; one night he came to me in my room and he told me earnestly and without wavering. Both St. Dominic and the Blessed Virgin Mary had come to him in the oratory. He was to be a great religious leader. He'd turn the tide against atheism and the Revolution, but as he naturally had no money of his own, we must sell all our property in Louisiana, everything we owned, and use it as the visions commanded, to do God's work in France.
"I laughed at him. 'St. Dominic,' I said, scornfully. Perhaps I expected him to recant, or confide that this was simply his joke. He did not. 'You don't understand, Louis,' he said, and began, with a rapt expression on his face, to describe to me the visiage of the saint; he was a beautiful young man; his countenance was angelic; he possessed a halo of golden hair, and his skin was radiant with divine light. I told him not to be foolish, that his visions were nonsense, the product of an immature and even morbid mind. I was angry. No, I'll say rather that I was disappointed. I was bitterly disappointed. He had reduced himself to the level of a fanatic in my eyes. Visions of a supernatural man? I didn't believe him at all.
"How different my fate might have been if I'd just spoken kindly to him, helped him, guided him through that ordeal. I used to spend long hours imagining that I'd done so, that I'd gone to him, and steadied his arm and agreed to his outlandish plan. I might have lived prosperously as a result, dying contented in my bed, surrounded by a wife, children . . . I don't know that this would have been the case. But I thought . . . at any rate, my brother left my room crazed and grieved, and in an instant, he changed the course of my life."
"He killed himself," I said to Louis, but I was hardly concentrating. A beautiful young man, I thought, with shining blond hair and radiant skin. The description unnerved me severely, because it sounded too familiar. It sounded too much like Lestat.
"Yes, probably," said Louis. "He walked out of the French doors onto the gallery and stood for a moment at the head of the brick stairs. And then he fell. I heard the sound of it, but my back was turned; and he was dead when I reached the bottom of the stairs, his neck broken. I didn't see it happen. But two of the servants saw it happen. They said that he had looked up as if he had just seen something in the air. Then his entire body moved forward as if being swept by a wind. One of them said he was about to say something when he fell.
"I was blamed. Everyone knew that something unpleasant had passed between us. But that was the least of it--it was as if they intuited the fact that my brother's fall, or, if you will, his suicide, was no accident. Not the product of his own entirely free will. Later, the slaves on Pointe du Lac began to talk of seeing his ghost on the gallery, and there was another story, too, of a ghost that had risen out of the air to beckon my brother to his grave. I didn't give the idea credence. Not then. I blamed myself, not some ghost, or morbid fantasy, or vision.
"My life predictably fell into ruins. I could not escape the thought of my brother, though I avoided his burial place and leased my plantation to an agency who would manage it for me--I didn't ever want to see those stairs, or that oratory, or the plantation house again. I drank heavily, apathetic towards my family, my responsibilities. My habits became dissolute and notorious. I wanted to die;--and so, voila. Eventually I did. Or, at least, I was attacked. It was a vampire, as you know. My first encounter with Lestat.
"I described this attack to Daniel," said Louis. "But only briefly. Awkwardly. As though I was overwhelmed suddenly, felled by the strange assailant before I knew what was happening to me. Of course, Lestat does not hunt this way. You and I both know it. He plays with his victims as a cat plays with a dying bird. It's a game to him; it's fun. That first night, he approached me at first amicably, befriending me before the hunt began in earnest. He left me finally at dawn, exhausted, dazed and drained of blood."
Heat rose in my cheeks; I understood Louis perfectly. Lestat had batted me between his paws more than a few times the night he brought me over; it was a scene I had been, and still am, unwilling to describe. I wondered, with sharp curiousity, what had passed between Lestat and Louis, that first night. Had Louis's experience been similar to my own? Had he fought? Or had it been a seduction? How had Lestat overcome Louis's reticence, his struggles?
"I was put to bed as soon as I was found," Louis continued, "and my mother sent immediately for the priest. I told him everything, clinging to his arm and making him swear over and over that he would tell no one. I was feverish by then. And so obsessed with my brother's death that my thoughts mercifully did not turn to my attacker, or I might have told the priest that, too, though I was mightily confused, and my mind was hazy, and perhaps I didn't know exactly what had happened to me.
" 'There's nothing wrong with you,' the priest said to me finally. 'This is just self-indulgence. Your mother needs you, not to mention your sister. And as for this brother of yours, he was possessed of the devil.' I was so stunned by this suggestion I couldn't protest. It was outlined to me in precise terms. The devil made the visions. The devil was rampant. Nothing would have saved my brother but the ordeals of exorcism, prayer, fasting, vigils, men holding him down while the devil raged in his body. 'The devil threw him down those steps; it's perfectly obvious,' he declared. 'You weren't talking to your brother in that room, you were talking to the devil.'
"It seems fantastical to me now. I attacked the priest. I wrecked the room trying to get at him, and had to be pulled away; it took three of our servants to subdue me. Afterwards, I was exhausted almost to the point of death. And they bled me, which Lestat remarked on at once. I think the irony of it appealed to him particularly.
"He came in from the courtyard, opening the French doors wide. And gently, he draped a shawl over my sister and lowered the wick of the lamp. She dozed there beside the basin and cloth with which she'd bathed my forehead, and--no doubt through some mesmerizing trick of Lestat's--she didn't stir once until morning. I watched all this in a daze. My eyelids would scarcely open. Lestat stepped closer to the bed and leaned down so that his face was in the lamplight, and I gazed back at him, recognizing him, but only as a figure in a vision.
"His skin seemed bright, almost luminous at first. His eyes flashed brilliantly. He wasn't human, I knew it at once. But I was too weak to be troubled by his entry; and in this state I was more vulnerable than most mortals to the power of his vampiric beauty.
"'Oh God,' he whispered softly. 'They've bled you.' He stilled completely. At that moment it was as if he was as absorbed by the sight of me as I was by him.
" 'I . . . ' I began. I couldn't speak. I tried to raise myself up on my elbows, but my slightest movement snapped Lestat out of whatever trance he was in.
"He began to speak to me then, and I do not know if you have ever heard Lestat speak passionately and in earnest. It is overwhelming. No--engulfing. He stretched himself out on the covers beside me, lying on his side with his head propped by a hand, speaking to me. I gazed up at him. And I completely forgot myself as he spoke. I forgot myself, and at the same time I knew totally the meaning of possibility.
" 'You're dying, Louis,' he said finally. 'You'll live out tomorrow and maybe the next day, but I doubt much longer. And even if you recover, and continue as you have been, you'll be dead in a month, in a year. You're like a blind man in a dark room: you grope from petty difficulty to petty difficulty--I think deep down you hope to regain your sight, but for what? Your naivety is compelling, but your belief limits you. Your idea that damnation and salvation are the boundaries of a small and hopeless world . . . but I can help you, Louis. I can give you the future. I can give you eternity. I can pass my hand over your eyes and you'll see for the first time. And such sights! You'll see the world as you've never seen it, and you'll never age, and you'll never get sick--you'll be always as you are at this moment. Beautiful. So beautiful . . . right on the edge of a revelation.'
"He leaned closer, cupping my face and holding my gaze intently. It was intimate, and uncomfortable, and I would have recoiled but I was floating in a sort of lethargy, pulled along by the wonder of his words. He said, 'But you have say yes to me, Louis. You have to understand what I am--and that I'm giving you a choice.'
" 'What you are?' I remember that I reached out, hesitantly, to touch him. 'I've dreamed you.'
"He grasped my wrist, aborting my touch and jerking my arm, painfully. 'I'm a killer, Louis. A vampire. Do you understand me? I'm not your saviour or your delusion. I'm the devil.'
" 'The devil threw my brother down the stairs,' I said, and it was delirium, and terribly disrespectful, not only to the memory of my sibling but also to the recently departed priest. But Lestat's presence seemed to excuse all such infamy. I was light-headed. I felt wonderful. I already knew what my answer would be.
" 'That's right, he did,' Lestat replied, still holding tight to my wrist.
"But, 'I don't care,' I was saying. 'I don't care if you're God or the devil. I want to live forever with you.' "
Here Louis paused and regarded me in a manner that was by now entirely familiar to me. I was staring back at him. Thoughts were racing through my mind. I was unsettled by the story, deeply unsettled. It was too unexpectedly personal, told in Louis's detached voice. I couldn't imagine the vampire who stood before me now ever behaving that way. Not Louis. Louis was a creature forged of ice and steel, his razor edges polished and indifferent. You reached out to him only at the risk of being sliced open.
And, my God, behind these petty thoughts was a growing comprehension of Louis's story, and a horror of its true implication. The devil threw my brother down the stairs. I felt a throbbing in my temple, and as it began to overwhelm me I rose and walked right out of that room and into the next. It was something of an attempt to escape memory. "I am the devil. The devil in your Faust. The tiger in my dream!" My hand clutched to my head as if to stop a physical pain there.
Louis followed me out.
"There's more," he said. It was deadly. No inflection.
"I don't care. I don't want to hear it. My God--you're accusing Lestat of having killed your brother!"
"Oh? Is that what I'm doing?"
Louis's hands slipped into his pockets, a little nonchalant provocation.
"You know it is. From the first moment, you've done nothing but slander Lestat. And this--this--"
But attacking Louis did nothing to halt the progress of my thoughts, which were turning logically and inexoribly to the many cases I had studied, read and investigated. I knew that madness in mortal men and women was often the result of an encounter with the paranormal. Louis's brother might very well have been such a one. Visions. I began asking myself the question: could Lestat bewitch the mind of a fifteen-year-old boy? Could he dupe him, beguile him, lead him from the height of religious fervor to suicide? Oh God.
"You don't have proof," I said to Louis, the back of my hand still pressed to my temple.
Well, no, he seemed to say then, inclining his head slightly, a half nod. "How did Lestat appear to you, when you first saw him in the Talamasca motherhouse? Do you remember it? David?"
I didn't answer at once, but I certainly remembered, and the great feeling of horror increased tenfold. Lestat and Louis had shocked me utterly, but Lestat in particular. "Like an angel," I said finally. "They--we--all think so, at first. Even Raglan James--it's in that damned novel. An angel. My God, I wrote an entry to that effect in my journal."
"You keep a journal?" Louis inquired politely.
"No," I said, denying not the journal but his entire point. "This is absurd. Lestat's appearance is no basis for an accusation. Your brother had religious visions, and thought he saw an angel. The rest is co-incidence and wild conjecture."
"My brother saw St. Dominic," Louis said. "St. Dominic Savio is a child-saint, David. At twelve my brother chose Dominic as his patron, a symbol of youthful piety, humility--why then did he see a man in his vision? A blond man with shiny eyes and luminescent skin?"
"There are many possible--"
"No there aren't." Calmly, Louis interrupted me.
I was unable to muster a reply.
His story was plausible. In fact, it was what certain members of the Talamasca, assigned to the file, would have called Classic Lestat. Visions, death, rumours of a young man--blond and supernormal. Stories circulating among the servants. I said, as calmly as I could manage, "In those days Lestat killed two and three every night. You testified to that fact in your memoir. Why should it matter then who he killed that evening? If it wasn't your brother it would just have been someone else."
Louis stared at me as if I'd gone mad. "You've listened," he said. "But you haven't understood anything. David, it was seventeen eighty one, and I was a Catholic from a religious family. While my brother was alive I would never have willingly agreed to become a vampire, no matter how charming was Lestat, no matter how convincing his arguments. But guilt-ridden, out of my mind with grief and already convinced that I was damned?"
"You're saying he did it to make you susceptible to him? You're mad, Louis!"
"Am I? Then tell me your own story, David. Were your circumstances really so different from mine?"
I found myself retreating a little. "Of course they were. What do you mean?"
"I mean explain the series of events that has lead to you breaking your sworn word, abandoning your friends, giving up your soul and your life!" For the first time, a little heat had entered Louis's voice. "Or if you cannot, then simply explain to me this. Lestat wanted you for a fledgling for a long time. What stayed his hand all these years?"
"I--" I began. But his last question caught me without a reply. Respect for my wishes, I might have said, except that respect hadn't stayed Lestat at all in Barbados. What, then? I didn't know. As I stared back at Louis, I felt cold run the full length of my spine.
"I'll tell you," said Louis. "You were too old. Seventy four years. Lestat would never have brought you over in that withered body. But he wanted you, David. He wanted you. And so then by a miracle of co-incidence, you meet up with a man who can swap people from one body to another, and you receive this young and beautiful form? There's such an ingeniousness to it. It must have taken Lestat years to find such a man, to plan events so that you--"
"No," I said. I had retreated a few steps, not wanting to hear more. "You're wrong. It didn't happen that way. Lestat's adventure with the Body Thief wasn't orchestrated or--or planned. James was the villain, not Lestat. Lestat fell for James's tricks and his traps and it was only by chance that I received this body at all--"
"David," said Louis, with frightening precision. "If your adventure with the Body Thief was not orchestrated by Lestat, if it was all merely co-incidence, explain to me why you did not return to your old body when it was over?"
"I couldn't return to my old body. Lestat--"
I felt the blood drain from my face. The words vanished from my throat, and I thought, God help me. God help me. And I heard the echo of Louis's voice. Convenable.
The story will continue in Book Two: Paris