One song credit--- "Ruby Tuesday" by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards….

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"COMMONPLACE EVILS" by Lorraine A. Balint

 

Part Four---CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

 

Carolyn took the long way home, driving down the ocean beach road, turning up a back road that passed the Henderson house, and came to an end in a gully between the Old House and Widow's Hill. She got out of her car, and began to climb a set of ancient stone steps that led up to the lookout point on the cliff. She held a bottle of Scotch in her hand, and took a swig from it when she reached the top. The biting, bitter taste of it hurt her mouth, but the warmth she felt inside, when she managed to swallow, drove her troubled thoughts a little further away with each mouthful.

 

She didn't want to go straight home, and face her mother or Cellie, either of whom would immediately apprehend that there was something wrong. Carolyn wanted neither Elizabeth's sympathy or the younger woman's empathy and advice. Once, she'd overheard Cellie tell Julia she would happily welcome any child Willie might have fathered on his travels.

 

It was easy enough for Cellie to talk about a hypothetical child that would, in all likelihood, never show up on her doorstep to claim its father's love and attention. She didn't have to face having to jump right in and raise a ready-made family, or fear losing her primacy in her husband's affections (which appeared to survive no matter what blows their relationship sustained.) Carolyn was deathly afraid of both. She had lost Tony once, already. She didn't want to lose him again. And as for his little boy. . .

 

Once, Carolyn had complained to Cellie of her "fatal flaw" when it came to attracting and maintaining relationships with men. She was worried about an even deeper, more serious "fatal flaw": the poisonous relationships between Collins parents and their children. She wasn't even sure she wanted her OWN children, recalling her lifelong difficulties with her own mother, and David's with his parents. Someone had to come from the outside to help straighten out the worst of their differences, and re-order their priorities, sometimes against great opposition.

 

Years ago, it had been Vicky Winters, who was just a little older than Carolyn, and had never known parents of her own, but who'd displayed common sense and a degree of courage. Now, it had to be Cellie, who was a few years younger, and overburdened with her family troubles. Carolyn knew she couldn't keep running to Cellie, or her mother, or anyone else for help and advice. Better not to be burdened in the first place, she decided, as she looked over the spot from which her husband had fallen....

 

She thanked God Jeb hadn't left her pregnant. She finally admitted to herself that she had never wanted that kind of responsibility! Perhaps, if Jeb had lived, she might have come to the same conclusion about the responsibilities of marriage, as well. Nothing THAT ordinary would ever satisfy her for long. She must have taken after her father, in that way.

 

Even as Carolyn thought along these lines, she began to cry, a forlorn keening that carried over the cliff which had witnessed so much of the same kind of despair. She leaned over the safety rail, seeing pictures of her life in the waves that crashed over the rocks below. She saw Tony's face, heard her angry, foolish voice saying terrible things, and squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't bring herself to see him anymore, even if he returned from Boston, and begged her to.

 

This thought made Carolyn cry the harder. The pain she felt inside made her collapse against the rail, made her wish that someone would come out from the house....It made her wish that her father would appear before her, telling her he wasn't really dead, that he'd take her away someplace where she wouldn't have to feel so lost….

 

She felt a hand on her shoulder. She whispered, sobbing, "Father?," and looked up behind her. In an instant, she stood up straight, and began to walk away. The same hand gripped her shoulder firmly, a little painfully. "Get away from me, Nicholas," she demanded, forcing firmness into her voice.

 

"Or you'll do what, Carolyn?" he replied calmly. "Summon forth a memory of one of Mrs. Loomis's impromptu Karate lessons, and toss me over the fence? Why this immediate, intense hostility, anyway? I saw you from my window. I became concerned by your abject attitude, a serious matter, indeed, when one considers what once happened to you on this cliff."

 

Carolyn could almost visualize the whole scene. A man whom she'd once regarded as her friend, attempting first to push her from the cliff,, then seizing and shoving Jeb over, as her husband cried out to her to get away....But she was frozen, and watched, a scant second longer than she should have...."You were to blame for what happened then, Nicholas! I know that now!"

 

"An over-reaction by an overzealous, and deeply disappointed convert who'd just lost his entire fortune, and his wife. He lost his own life shortly afterward, so I can't imagine why you still harbor such bitterness towards me!"

 

"The whole mess was your doing, from first to last." Carolyn asserted. "It took a long time for me to work it all out in my mind. The only good thing to come out of it was my marriage, and you robbed it from me, whether you were directly involved or not."

 

"What did you really lose that day, Carolyn? A man who was literally a shadow of his former self! You were selected for that union because it was felt you would turn out to be something special in your own right, and not just an enhancement and adornment to a Lord of the new world order. If Jeb had survived in his human form, he could never have succeeded in any human endeavors. He wasn't created for such mundane things. Life for you would have been a constant struggle. The man who killed him did you a favor!"

 

Carolyn flew at Nicholas, hitting him with her fists, kicking his ankles. He grabbed her by her wrists, and bent her over the railing. "Are you going to push ME over, too?" she gasped.

 

"Is that what you want, Carolyn? Did your stable, reliable lawyer friend let you down, as all the other men you've ever known let you down?" Nicholas taunted. "Instead of looking ahead to future opportunities, it's SUCH a Collins trait to cave in, get drunk, come to Widow's Hill, pitch oneself

off…." His voice became softer. "I don't want that to happen to you. I knew you were special when we first met. Alas, I got tied up with someone less worthy, and when I saw you again, I was under strict orders to fulfill the destiny set for you from infancy. Now, we are both free of these burdens. I know Tony's gone. Carolyn," he murmurred, gradually lifting her from the railing, and easing his arms around her waist, "I wouldn't ever let you down. I want you to rise, to take that place I've always envisioned for you."

 

"I don't want any place, if it's anywhere near you! I'd rather die, or live in the slums---" Carolyn jerked herself around, but Nicholas held her tighter, and pushed her against a nearby tree, so that she would be forced to face him. She dropped the liquor bottle, to which she had been clinging tenaciously, at their feet. Miraculously, it didn't break right away. It rolled off the cliff, and shattered on the rocks below.

 

He gazed deeply into her eyes. "You, live in a slum?" he chuckled. "Now, that's true courage for a Collins! But we both know, that's NOT what you want, anyway. Not that what you want would be of any consequence, under normal circumstances." He held her with one arm, as he stroked her throat the same way he had the previous summer, at the Antique Shoppe. She'd ceased to fight, and even panted a little when he kissed her. "You want what I want, after all," Nicholas said, with satisfaction, as Carolyn nestled against him.

 

"Yes. I guess this is what I really wanted. This is better than a father, or a husband with a nine-to-five job, or children....”

 

"Well, marriage will be involved, eventually," Nicholas said, as he caressed Carolyn. "But I can assure you, marriage to me will never be tiresome or toilsome as with a mere mortal. Your beauty won't fade under the cares of ordinary life. You won't have to bear any children, but it will be your privilege to help me raise one. I know you balked at dealing with Tony's child, but I doubt you'll find spending a little time each day with a future world leader a terribly onerous task, especially with the child I have in mind---"

 

"Sarah Teresa," Carolyn said. Her eyes widened, and she started to behave as though she'd come out of a trance. "NO! I can't be with you, if it means taking the baby from Cellie! You can't kill her, or Willie, either! You'll have to kill ME first!"

 

"No, no, no," Nicholas replied, as he kissed her again. "I'm not going to kill anyone. That's not part of the Plan. I have other things in mind for the little girl's parents, but I don't believe you'll object. At least, not once we are one."

 

"When will that be?" Carolyn asked.

 

"As soon as possible. I need some time alone, to prepare....”

 

"Please, take me with you now! I can't go home. Cellie will know right away what's going on with me."

 

"If that's what my lady wants, that's what she will have. You won't even need to pack. My housemate has closets-full of clothes and lingerie she seldom gets around to wearing. She won't object if you use them." Nicholas led Carolyn down the steps to her yellow Mustang. At his direction, she drove it back down the lane, to a half-hidden back driveway that led to a cellar-level garage. He took her through the cellar, up to the second floor of the house. He opened a door to a plainly-furnished room. "I'm sorry the accommodations aren't more luxurious, but soon, you'll have all the comforts you desire. If you're hungry, there's plenty of food---"

 

"All I'd really like right now, is some wine, or brandy, or whatever, you know, to warm me up and settle my nerves."

 

"I was just about to suggest that." When Nicholas saw Carolyn was about to follow him out of the room, he motioned for her to stay. He left her alone for a minute, and brought back a decanter and two glasses. "Would you like to make a toast to the future?"

 

"Oh, not right now. I'd like to unwind, by myself, for a while."

 

Nicholas clearly hesitated to leave the room. "Just a sip together."

 

"Oh, alright." Carolyn stood by as he filled the glasses. She took hers, and sipped lightly, watching as he placed his glass to his lips.

 

"Well, until tomorrow, then," Nicholas said, kissing her chastely on the cheek. He went out the door, closing it behind him. As soon as she heard his footsteps fading down the hall, Carolyn spat the tiny mouthful of wine into her glass. God only knew if he'd spiked it with something when he was out of her sight, but she wasn't taking any chances. There was a small bathroom next to the closet. Carolyn went to the sink, discovered it worked, and rinsed her mouth out thoroughly.

 

Then she ran to the door, with the intention of sneaking out to explore the house. It was locked! Then she heard Nicholas's sneering chuckle outside the door. "I thought you'd try something like that, dear Carolyn. You DO want what I want, I can sense it, but you need a little more preparation."

 

"I'll jump out the window!" she screamed.

 

"They're sealed. But that's no problem. In a few minutes, you won't want to leave. You see, I found it necessary to pull another little trick on you. The wine wasn't drugged. But the water in your bathroom is. Very soon, you'll want nothing but to immerse yourself in that water. Then, you'll want nothing but me."

 

"I WON'T! I WON'T DO IT! LET ME OUT!"

 

"See you soon, bride-to-be!" Nicholas's contemptuous laughter faded as he went back down the hall, for real, this time.

 

After a few futile minutes of banging on the door, Carolyn began to feel extremely warm. She began to sweat profusely, and before long, her clothing was soaked. She knew what Nicholas intended for her to do, and she resisted as long as she could, but it became impossible to sit or stand in her wet clothes. She stripped them off, tentatively at first, then hurriedly, as she began to crave the feeling of hot water enveloping her. She almost leapt into the tub. She ran the shower first, with the drain plugged, to feel the water crawling all over her skin, like fingers. When there was a couple of inches of water in the tub, she sank down, and turned on the faucet, the hotter the better. She covered her mouth a few times, when she believed her moans of lust could be heard outside the door.

 

She rose from the bath, so tired now, that she only had the energy to wrap a large towel around herself, and stumble to the bed, where she collapsed, murmurring Nicholas's name. Within minutes, she was fast asleep.

 

That was how Nicholas found her, when he let himself in, a while later. He gazed at her body wrapped in only the towel, which was falling open in places. He resisted the temptation to open it all the way, and take her, unconscious as she lay. There were certain protocols to be observed, certain proscriptions to be obeyed, certain rituals it was necessary to perform, to fix their relationship for all time, and she would have to be awake. Still, he couldn't just keep her drugged for days on end. He needed an opportunity to bring her to get used to lusting for him, so the guilt would be shared; his longing and her shame would seal their union. In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to confuse matters for her.

 

Nicholas lifted Carolyn carefully from the bed. The towel slipped even further, as he carried her down the hall to his bedroom. He laid her, almost tenderly, on the red satin sheets. He pulled the towel away, and made himsel cover her up. Then, he laid himself on the sheets next to her. To his annoyance, she snored a little, but it gave him an excuse to handle her body, to turn her on her side, away from him.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Elizabeth thought her days of staying up all night to fret over Carolyn's whereabouts were gone forever. Yet, here she was again, pacing in precise laps around the foyer and drawing room, and downing quarts of strong coffee, and hovering by the phone, as she had when her daughter was a troubled teen-ager. Where could she be? Elizabeth wondered. And where was Tony, for that matter? After numerous calls to the lawyer's apartment, and the homes of several friends with whom he and Carolyn were known to socialize, Elizabeth's blood chilled with terror. She knew that her daughter and Tony had visited Pavlos at the hospital after the incident at the Koffeehaus. Perhaps the man who'd attacked Hallie, the Greek, and David's ex-girlfriend had run into the couple.

 

Elizabeth's hands shook as she picked up the phone to call Lester Arliss. Just then, Cellie popped into the drawing room, bearing her crying baby, and yet another bottle. Everyone in the house had done all they could to calm Sarah Teresa. Finally, they'd tried to leave her alone in her crib, but her continuous wailing jangled their already frayed nerves, so the whole cycle of checking diapers, feeding, walking and rocking began all over again. Cellie flung herself into Mrs. Johnson's rocking chair, as her daughter shrieked.

 

"FOR GOD'S SAKE, CELLIE, HUSH THAT BRAT RIGHT NOW!" Elizabeth cried. Then, ashamed, she covered her face and wept.

 

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Cellie replied in tones of humility, as she instinctively rose to console the older woman. Sarah Teresa, apparently shocked into silence, chewed on her hand, as she huddled on her mother's shoulder. "I'll take Sarah somewhere else," Cellie offered. "It's just that the rocking chair usually does the trick, after she's been at it this long." She slid her arm around Elizabeth's shoulder. "What's happened, now?" Cellie asked with concern in her voice.

 

 "I'm--I'm sorry I bellowed at you, Cellie, but I'm completely on edge. I can't locate Carolyn, or Tony, for that matter. I know they're adults, and maybe they've just gone out of town for the night--- I can't blame them for wanting to escape the atmosphere around Collinsport right now! But, dear God, it's two in the morning! Even when she's going to stay with Tony---" Elizabeth choked a little on that statement "--- I don't approve at all, but they're pretty discreet, and they WILL be married soon, God willing--- Anyway, she usually calls David, at least, to let us know. It's not like them to be unreachable at this hour!"

 

"Call Lester, then," Cellie advised.

 

"I was about to, when you came in. I still will, if I can't reach them in another hour," the older woman replied. "But, with all the trouble in the town now, I doubt the sheriff will go out of his way to search for two normal adults who've only been gone a few hours."

 

"On the other hand, you could pitch the possibility that they may have run into the same man who hurt Hallie, Annette, and Pavlos," Cellie suggested. "Plus, the fact that Carolyn is very reliable about calling you before it gets too late."

 

"Perhaps, you're right. The sooner I call, the better." After Elizabeth talked to the Sheriff, she sat on the bench near the fire. "Lester promised he wouldn't put this on the back burner. Still, I feel like I should be out looking for Carolyn, though I haven't any idea where to begin."

 

"Could it be, that Tony and Carolyn eloped?"

 

"I hope that's the worst thing that happened," Elizabeth fretted. "I wonder if Helen Peterson's talked to her son, lately? I suppose, if she tried to contact him, and thought there was something amiss, we'd have heard from her by now. I hesitate to call her at this hour....” Just then, the phone rang. Elizabeth grabbed it immediately. "Lester?" she began, breathlessly. "Oh, Helen....Yes, I was wondering the same thing. They weren't here at all....I called Lester Arliss. With the attacks and my cousin's disappearance, we both agreed it would be worthwhile for the police to keep an eye out, just in case. Please call me, the instant you hear anything....” After she hung up, Elizabeth turned to the girl. "I guess it's just going to be an all-nighter for me. The baby looks like she's finally dozing off. You should take her upstairs, and try to get a little rest, yourself, Cellie."

 

"I don't want to leave you to wait, alone."

 

"I can get Roger to sit up with me, if I need him, or David....Mrs. Johnson has put in so many hours, helping to keep Julia company, she needs to rest, also. Cellie, there's something I need to ask you."

 

Cellie felt her insides tightening, fearing that Elizabeth would ask if she thought Barnabas was responsible for all the trouble. "What?" she said, shakily.

 

"Cellie....I know you have a--a sensitivity. You used it to help Hallie and Paul and Julia. You see things when you 'read' people, don't you?"

 

"More and more, but it's not predicting the future. It's impressions, of the present and the past. It's stronger with some people, than others."

 

"Were you close enough to Carolyn, to be able to 'read' her? Could you do it now?" Elizabeth wore a mournful, pleading expression.

 

"Yes, I've done it for her, but she'd have to be pretty close by, if I was to try it again. I'll give it a shot, if it makes you feel better." Cellie gazed toward a point behind Elizabeth, into the fire. The flames gave off an especially vivid orange glow. The girl always wondered if that had anything to do with the properties of the species of firewood used. Orange, she thought, the color of lust. Suddenly, she broke into a sweat, and fidgeted in the rocking chair, despite the fact that she was still cradling her daughter on her lap. She knew SHE wasn't feeling any lust, and that it wasn't emanating from Elizabeth, either. She doubted it was coming from anyone else in the house.

 

"You're very red in the face, Cellie. Are you alright? I'm sorry I asked that of you---"

 

"I feel, well, how can I put it nicely, desire....And," the girl murmurred, gazing at the flames, which were blue-violet in the center, "Fear. It's running with the desire, so it can't be your fear. But I

 

couldn't tell you whose fear, or whose desire, or where it's coming from, except it's not in this house."

 

"Could it be coming from that wretched Nicholas Blair's house?" Elizabeth asked. "He's a most perverse individual."

 

"I suppose, but he's always blocked me, before. I'm sorry, Mrs. Stoddard. I do know Nicholas has a 'thing' for Carolyn, but if Tony's missing with her---"

 

"I can't see a circumstance where he'd be likely to lure both Tony and Carolyn to his house." Elizabeth sighed. "Thanks anyway, Cellie. You get up to bed. I'll call you if there's news."

 

When Cellie had gone upstairs, Elizabeth paced some more, and thought and thought. She wondered if her daughter and Tony had a fight. That was a common enough occurence between them, especially these days, when tension crackled the air like the frequent thunderstorms on the coast, near Collinwood. That could have separated them long enough for Carolyn to fling herself into harm's way. She was still so immature, sometimes, even though she would be twenty-six on her next birthday. If she made it to her next birthday….

 

Three o'clock in the morning....Elizabeth couldn't wait any longer. Something told her that Carolyn wasn't far away. Maybe she was at Nicholas's house. She thought of calling upon her brother or her nephew, but they would surely try to dissuade her from going out. Cellie might have come, but it wouldn't have been right to wake her up, and ask her to leave her baby alone. If she called the Sheriff's office, she doubted she could convince Lester to investigate Nicholas in the absence of better evidence than her mother's instinct. That is, if Lester was even still on duty. It had been an exhausting couple of days for him, too, she remembered, sympathetically.

 

Elizabeth ran to get her coat and a flashlight. She left the Great House, and made her way up the well-lit pathways, until she came to the point on the pathway between the Old House and Abijah's cottage, overlooking the Henderson place. She gingerly eased herself down into the dark gully, and made it to the gate. She was about to walk up the flagstone path to the steps, when she heard a whirring noise above her, like a helicopter's engine. She glanced up instinctively. To her shocked amazement, the sky, which had been so full of glinting white stars just moments before, was now dotted with what looked like tiny green Christmas lights. At first, Elizabeth wondered if this was some kind of freakish atmospheric inversion, similar to a "blue moon," which she had seen a couple of times in her life. It had been so long since she'd been out at this hour, she wasn't sure, anymore, what the night sky was supposed to look like at three in the morning.

 

Still, she resolved to ignore the phenomenon, and struck out on the path. The whirring noise became louder. Green lights showered down around her face, prickling and blinding her. Elizabeth crouched to the ground, shielding her eyes, and sobbing with fear, as the whirring noise became unbearably loud. To make matters worse, she heard a voice, sugary-sweet, but one that had, in the past, filled her with dread and obsessive thoughts of death. "No, Cassandra," Elizabeth muttered, "You can't be in on this, too. Why do you persecute me like this, after so many years?"

 

A female figure in white appeared to her. The apparition wore a veil over her hair, but Elizabeth could SEE Cassandra's thick-yet-silky-looking bobbed black coiffure in her mind's eye. "I haven't come to hurt you, Elizabeth. I will never harm you, or yours again. I have come to save you! Nicholas will blind you, and drive you incurably insane, if you linger here."

 

 

"How can I believe you? And my daughter, my Carolyn--- she's in there, I know she is! You hated her, too---"

 

"All in the past. You must believe me, or you will be lost. You can't help Carolyn, that way. Please, come---" Angelique reached toward the older woman cringing on the flagstones. "He will destroy you."

 

In spite of her fear and loathing for the being before her, Elizabeth knew it was hopeless to try to go on. With no other option available, she reached out her hand. A warm sensation, like feathers in a pillow, enveloped it. Her fears evaporated. "You must close your eyes, lest the lights pierce them," Angelique said. "I will guide you. You must have faith, and trust me."

 

The tiny, hot lights stung at Elizabeth's cheeks, as she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, and allowed the warmth around her hand to turn her around, and lead her from the Henderson property. Then the stinging, and the warm sensation disappeared, and Elizabeth opened her eyes.

 

Cellie and David stood before her, now.  The girl was wearing an old overcoat her husband sometimes used when he came during the winter to shovel the walks. Her baby was nestled beneath it. "Neither of us could relax," she explained. "I had the feeling you'd try to storm Nicholas's castle. So I dragged David out of bed, and we came to check on you."

 

"I couldn't--couldn't get near it," Elizabeth wept. "The green lights--- the green lights--- Cassandra saved me! I can't believe it! But Carolyn's still gone. If she's not in that house, then where can she be?"

 

"We'll find out, Aunt Elizabeth," David reassured her. "Come home. We'll get Julia up. Maybe she's still got some kind of sleeping pills she can give you. I don't think I'll be able to get back to sleep, so I'll sit by the phone."

 

"Oh , David. You still have to get to school," his aunt protested. "You have to carry on, as best you can. It's the Collins way."

 

"So's staying up for days on end." He smiled sadly. "I just have a test in the morning. After I take that, I'll plead family troubles, and head home. Don't worry about me. I'll be okay."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Tony's train made it to Boston at one in the morning. It occurred to him to head to the hospital right away, but as he'd already told Lee Anne, doubted he would be allowed to see his son--- amazing how he already thought of the unseen, unknown infant as his son! He wondered whom this little Tony resembled--- Tony's own long, thin, slightly swarthy face, or Lee Anne's perky, freckled, heart-shaped countenance.

 

Lee Anne, he thought with alternating pangs of pity and irritation. How could she have kept such a secret from him? He barely remembered the last time she'd wheedled and begged him for one last stand, when she already knew she was losing him. Perhaps, she'd never really had him to begin with.

 

Carolyn had always existed in the back of Tony's mind, a lost dream from his adolescence of serving the whims of the wealthy in order to earn money to supplement his scholarships. He'd watched her from afar, as she sailed and golfed and danced, as he tended the catamarans she favored, caddied her and her friends' golf bags, served her soft drinks; even spied some of her friends spiking her Seven-Ups. Then, when they were all grown up, or so he'd thought, she'd approached him. She was full of ulterior motives then, involved in some convoluted plot against Julia, and had used him. But he was hooked, probably for life. If only that damned Cassandra hadn't chased after him....Still, he had some hopes of regaining lost ground when Roger's troublesome second wife was gone for good.

 

Unfortunately, Carolyn was tied up with someone else, much as she denied it. Tony often suspected that the man who'd assaulted him, and several others, was her secret lover, but he could never find proof. Thoroughly weary and disgusted with his lack of progress, both personally and professionally, he accepted the first good job offer that took him far away from his boyhood home. He avoided dating like the plague, until he met Lee Anne at a party given by a mutual friend of his and Ernest Hoffman's. Ernest had met Lillian at the same party, a decidedly eclectic gathering of the various strata of young Boston professionals.

 

Lee Anne proceeded to chase the moody, arrogant attorney with whom she'd become fascinated, until Tony turned around and caught her. He told himself he loved her, in order to justify intense sessions in the bedroom that only briefly made him forget the past. He suspected Lee Anne of being unfaithful, but she showered him with so much giddy affection, he let himself be swayed into an engagement.

 

Then, came the conflicting job offers from the New York firm, and Brownley and Townsend's, outside of Collinsport. He saw Lee Anne's true colors then, he thought. When he told her he wanted to return to his hometown, she pitched a worse tantrum than Carolyn ever had in their worst days. Before the bitter end, in late January of 1972, she'd made her last stand, appearing at his apartment with a bottle of his favorite wine, and wearing very little under her down coat, a favorite custom of hers. Tony distinctly remembered her assuring him that she'd taken her Pill that day.

 

In spite of her final, spirited attempt, Tony drew away gradually, putting her into his past as deliberately and thoroughly as he'd cleared his belongings from his office at McCauliffe's. Even if he no longer had a chance with Carolyn, he was still relieved to be free of Lee Anne.

 

Well, in the end, he supposed, he would never be free of her, ever again. Carolyn had been right about one thing. If he wanted to establish and maintain contact with his son, his former lover was, inexhorably, part of the package. He just hoped she wouldn't pull that wine-and-down-coat manuever again.

 

He checked into his motel room. He thought of calling Ernest sometime during his stay, after he visited the hospital. He fell asleep quickly, and was up an hour before his travel alarm went off, at eight A.M. By nine, he was at the main desk at the hospital.

 

"Carruthers? Carruthers, Anthony, in Pediatrics, you say?" the receptionist, asked, as she checked her library of files. "Mother, Lee Anne Carruthers? I'm sorry, there's no such file here."

 

"Maybe she used the surname 'Peterson', P-E-T-E-R-S-O-N."

 

The receptionist ran through her files again. "There's a couple of Petersens, with an 'S-E-N', and none of them are on Pediatrics. They're not even children. Are you sure you have the right

 

hospital, sir? There are several in Boston, and some people get confused, especially when they're from out of town."

 

"No, she said 'Mass. General', quite distinctly. I'm no stranger to this area, either. She didn't check the baby out, did she? He had whooping cough. He didn't--didn't pass away, did he?" A tear slid down Tony's cheek, a circumstance that surprised him as much as it moved the receptionist.

 

"I'm sorry, sir. I'll call the head doctor down from Pediatrics. He'll clear this mystery up. Then, if you'd like, I can call the other hospitals for you. Perhaps your son is in a nearby hospital, well on the way to recovery." She smiled sympathetically.

 

"Yes, please. Thank you for taking the trouble."

 

After the pediatrician came down to the reception desk, and denied that an infant boy by that name had ever been a patient in the hospital, hadn't even been born there, the receptionist kept her word, and called down her list of hospitals, not only in metropolitan Boston, but the surrounding suburbs. No five-month old named Anthony Carruthers or Peterson had been treated recently in any of them. As the infant in question was alledgedly suffering from whooping cough, such an illness would have been recorded for public health purposes.

 

Tony didn't know whether to be worried or relieved. Lee Anne was lying, probably to get money. But he'd told her he'd go to the hospital first thing in the morning. Okay, Tony told himself, maybe there's still a baby, but it's not in a hospital. He decided to call Lee Anne at the number she'd given him. The flat, recorded voice of the operator told him the number was no longer in service.

 

Tony called a cab, and gave the driver the address he'd been given. When the taxi turned down West Allerton, Tony was shocked to see only warehouses and dingy factories. 3457 West Allerton turned out to be the address of a nondescript building whose gaudy sign proclaimed it to be the headquarters of Apogee Records, where, Tony knew, Cellie had done some recording work. He was perplexed, and more than a little frightened. Someone had obviously played an elaborate prank on him, for what purpose he didn't know. There was still a chance that Lee Anne was mixed up in it somehow. He gave the driver the address of her designing company. If everything else she'd told him was a lie, then, it followed that the part about losing her job was, in all likelihood, a lie, also.

 

The taxi arrived at the gentrified neighborhood where the studio was located in a restored turn-of-the-century brick tenement. Tony told the driver to wait, as he ran up the oak steps, to the loft studio. When he knocked on the door, Lee Anne herself opened the door. "Tony!" she squealed, in dismay or delight, he couldn't tell.

 

"So, where's the baby, Lee Anne?" he demanded angrily.

 

"Baby? What baby? Who's got a baby?" she asked in what appeared to be genuine surprise.

 

"Don't play games with me, Lee Anne. I know you were angry when we broke up, but this early April Fool's joke has gone too far!"

 

"Tony, I don't understand---" A middle-aged man stepped up behind Lee Anne, and slid his arm around her waist. She turned to him, a tender look on her face.

 

"Your old boyfriend giving you a hard time, baby?" the man asked.

 

"Not--not exactly, Kenny. It seems we're both the targets of a nasty practical joke," she replied.

 

"Someone who sounded just like Lee Anne called me in Collinsport and told me that she had my five-month-old son in the hospital, and that she'd been fired---" Tony began.

 

"Lee Anne has never been pregnant since I've known her, as far as I could tell, anyway," Kenny said. "And I'm her boss, so I would know whether she was fired or not." He squeezed Lee Anne's slim waist. "No danger of THAT happening anytime soon."

 

"I never called you, Tony. You have to believe me. I've moved on with my life, and have nothing against you and Carolyn," Lee Anne insisted. "I can't imagine who would pull such a cruel prank. But it wasn't me, or Kenny, if that's what you're thinking. I'm awfully sorry you went through all this."

 

"I--I'm sorry I had to bother you. I can only hope that Carolyn will be as understanding."

 

As soon as he got back to his motel room, Tony called Ernest, who was as puzzled about the hoax as Tony. Then, Tony called Walter.

 

"How much you want to bet that Nicholas had something to do with this?" was what Walter had to say, when Tony told his story. "With a healthy assist from his gal-pal, the former abortionist?"

 

"I take it, you would advise that I get back to Collinsport and Carolyn, A.S.A.P.?"

 

"Exactly, my friend. Just pray it's not too late."

 

Tony flung his belongings into his suitcase, checked out of the motel, and rushed to the train station.

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

 

Nicholas, carrying a silver tray laden with croissants and coffee, unlocked the door to his room, and stood gazing down at Carolyn, who was still asleep in his bed. He laid the tray on his night-stand, and sat on the bed next to her. When she turned over, facing him, he gave her a passionate kiss, which made her sputter awake.

 

She jumped up in the bed, so dazed she absent-mindedly allowed the red satin sheets to cascade down. At first, she was in a dream, where she and Tony had reconciled lustily. Then she noticed the red sheets, as shiny as the inside of a huge mouth. Tony favored light blue sheets. "Oh, My God, Oh, My God," she wailed, as she looked into Nicholas's smirking face.

 

She drew up the sheets around her. He placed his hands over hers, and gazed into her eyes. "Why are you embarrassed now, Carolyn? You weren't, last night."

 

"You mean I--we--- Oh, God, what have I done?" She turned her reddened face from his. "I was mad at Tony....But not that mad! Oh, why did I ever come here with you?" She began to cry.

 

 

"Don't play the innocent virgin with me, Carolyn. You came here of your own free will, and we did what we've both wanted to, for a long time."

 

"But I can't remember! You spiked my bathroom water, of all things!"

 

"It felt good, didn't it, Carolyn, the hot water caressing you all over, and after, when I caressed you? It doesn't matter if your mind doesn't remember. Your body does." Nicholas grasped the shrinking, sobbing Carolyn by both shoulders, and kissed her again. This time, she pulled him down with her, for a frenzied embrace.

 

A few minutes later, Nicholas gently extracted himself from her arms. "Soon, that's the way it's going to be all the time, Carolyn. But I have business to attend to this day."

 

"I don't understand myself," she sighed. "I never wanted anything to do with you. I only wanted Tony. I still only want Tony, but you're messing with my head....Let me out of here! Please!"

 

"I'm not 'messing with' anything, my dear. If I kiss you again, or touch you again, it will be Carolyn Hawkes herself who craves me, without the help of drugged water, or spells....Do you really want to go home, anyway?"

 

"I--I can't face Mother. She'll know where I've been right away. And Tony....If he ever comes back, he won't want anything more to do with me."

 

"If he ever comes back to you, and you accept him, I can promise that he won't survive the encounter."

 

"NO! You can't kill him! You once said he was too insignificant to kill."

 

"That was before he had you, Carolyn. I understand that you two made up for lost time rather quickly, after I left last summer. That makes him a bona-fide rival. Still, I have no great love for killing. As long as you make it clear to him that you've chosen me over him, he will be spared. He may even prove useful to me, if he doesn't protest your parting too strenuously." Nicholas took one of the napkins from the tray, and patted Carolyn's eyes. "Now, stop crying. In no time at all, you will forget Tony, and any other attachment you've ever had."

 

Carolyn became very quiet. Then she said, resignedly, "I made my bed. Now I have to lie in it. God, it's going to be hard---"

 

"And stop addressing HIM in my presence, or I'll keep you stringently confined until our wedding!"

 

"When will that be? Will I be free to leave the house, then?"

 

"Then, it won't matter where you go. I'll have everything arranged to mine and my Master's satisfaction."

 

"I suppose I won't even be allowed one phone call? Even arrested criminals are allowed one phone call."

 

"Only one, to your mother."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Tony retrieved his car from the train station parking lot, and drove directly to the front doors of Collinwood. He stood on the steps for ten minutes, before he could work up the nerve to ring the bell. When he received no response, he knocked loudly on the door. Both doors opened wide.

 

Elizabeth Stoddard stood before him. "Thank God you've returned, at least, Tony," she announced in a relieved tone.

 

"What do you mean? Isn't Carolyn here?"

 

"She's been missing since last night! We thought she was with you, but nobody knew where you two went. You'd better call your own mother. Helen became anxious when she called your home and office numerous times, and even your secretary had no idea where you could be reached. Your whereabouts were a mystery, until Walter Hoffman saw fit to call Cellie this afternoon. Tony, do you have any idea where Carolyn is? What happened between you two? Even I could figure out you must have had an argument."

 

Tony turned beet-red. "I'm--I'm kind of ashamed to tell anyone, but maybe it will give you some kind of clue." He explained, from first to last, the circumstances of the call he thought Lee Anne had made, and its consequences. "I wish to God, now, that there had never been any REASON for the possibility of a child with Lee Anne to exist. I imagine you think my moral standards are pretty low, and that I've dragged Carolyn down with me. All I can say is, I tried to put matters to rights, once I heard that I was a father, and that I offered Carolyn an opportunity to join me, to decide what level of participation she wanted....What level she could endure....”

 

Elizabeth turned from her daughter's lover, and looked into the drawing room, toward the fire. Even from that distance, she could see into the spitting, flickering flames; they formed pictures of a night a quarter-of-a-century ago, when she'd stood at the hearth, with a poker in her hand, arguing violently with her late husband about his neglect towards her and their daughter, his greed, and his infidelity....Paul was all packed, and ready to go. He was going to take a considerable amount of money, as well as small but valuable household items, she found later, after she'd knocked him out. While Jason was busy "disposing of the body," she had some time to check the contents of Paul's luggage.

 

There was more, she discovered, than the expected money, stock certificates and trinkets. There were tear-stained letters from her butler's niece, Betty Hanscombe, who'd grown up at Collinwood with her younger brother, but who had gone to live in New York City a couple of years earlier to train for a career, subsidized by Elizabeth's father Jamison, in appreciation of his butler's service. In the interim, Paul and Jason had arrived, and Jamison died, all within the space of a year. In the confusion of grief over her father's death, and her elation at capturing the seemingly eager Paul for a husband, quickly followed by her longed-for-but-difficult pregnancy, Elizabeth soon lost track of much that had once been important to her, including caring about the family retainers who had almost been like family.

 

In that period, Betty Hanscombe's exact whereabouts had become a mystery even to the uncle who'd raised her (her younger brother was away in the Navy by this time, and unaware) until Elizabeth checked the contents of her "late" husband's suitcase.

 

The letters told of a baby girl born to a distracted, poverty-stricken single mother, whose frantic pleas to the baby's father for financial aid and some hope of a future marriage went unanswered. The last letter, which must have really grabbed Paul's attention, since it was carefully saved in its original envelope, reported that the despairing Betty had been driven to leave the child on the steps of an orphanage. She gave its address, and her own, a charity mission house near the orphanage, where she had earned her keep by doing chores and odd jobs, to stay close to where her child was living.

 

Elizabeth doubted her husband was going to join Betty and rescue his child, but it seemed likely that he was going to settle some money on them before he departed for greener pastures. She had the matter investigated; she then took on the task of supporting the baby, now almost three years old, at the orphanage, and paying hush money to her mother, while nimbly evading the younger woman's questions about Paul.

 

Deeply ashamed, but relieved of her responsibilities, Betty retreated into an obscurity occasionally replenished from her 'rival's' coffers. Apparently fearing that her support would be cancelled, she never even told her uncle the truth about her sojourn in New York. Old Hanscombe went to his grave believing his niece had been lured from her planned, sensible path on the promise of a recording contract (she had a fine voice, much like Cellie's, Elizabeth suddenly realized), and had fallen into some low way of life from which his warm-hearted mistress had rescued the girl.

 

Eventually, Elizabeth brought the "orphaned" child to Collinwood, ostensibly as David's governess, but with the real intention of determining the worth of her character, with an eye to providing accordingly for her future.

 

To her utter surprise, Victoria Winters proved worthy of trust, consideration, and eventually, a warmer affection than Elizabeth could sometimes muster for her own daughter by Paul. There was one stumbling block to complete confidence. Elizabeth had spent so many years protecting the secret that she'd killed her husband (or, as it turned out, very nearly killed him), that she was morally paralyzed by the concept of revealing the truth of the governess's identity, even within the bosom of the family.

 

It had been horrendously difficult for Carolyn to accept the hard truths about her parents' relationship and its violent denouement, even with Vicky's devoted efforts to console the disappointed daughter and the grief-stricken mother. If Vicky, upon whom everyone, even Roger, had come to regard as the family's Rock of Gibraltar, was to discover Elizabeth's contribution to the break-up of her own family, they were sure to lose her.

 

Elizabeth, who felt that she, herself, lost so much already, was not about to give Vicky up, for her own sake, as well as her family's. So, on the two occasions when Vicky had become engaged, and would have appreciated some information to pass on to her own children, Elizabeth kept her counsel, even from Roger. Soon after, Vicky disappeared into the oblivion of the past with her new husband, without ever learning that the woman she'd come to regard almost as her own mother had kept her from learning the truth about her natural mother and father.

 

Even now, when Elizabeth thought about that, she suffered stabs of guilt. Perhaps Vicky would have understood, after all; maybe she wouldn't have been so eager to leave what she evidently thought of as a rootless life behind. And Carolyn, who often said that Vicky was almost like a sister, might have been happy to discover the governess was her half-sister in fact; perhaps she wouldn't have felt so alone, so rudderless. Alas, Elizabeth had allowed too much time to go by, to easily explain why she hadn't told the truth in the first place.

 

Elizabeth often wondered what would have happened if Vicky had still been around when her 'real' father came back in 1970. There was something odd about the reunion that was. Paul Stoddard had freely admitted to both his ex-wife and his daughter, those faults that had driven him from them the first time. He accused his former friend McGuire of sealing the separation with his threatening behavior, once Paul had recovered from Elizabeth's blow. All this, Elizabeth could readily accept as truth, especially once Paul started exhibiting what even she could tell was genuine concern for their daughter.

 

But never, in all his revelations, did the subject of Betty Hanscombe, or the lost child who grew to be Vicky Winters, come up. How could a man who so eloquently expressed his new-found fondness for one daughter, completely ignore the fate of the other? Elizabeth briefly believed that, perhaps, Jason had planted the letters she'd found in Paul's luggage, and that HE was the child's real father.

 

But, although the earlier letters didn't refer to Paul by name, that last, desperate one did, as though Betty was past caring who might intercept such correspondence. There was nothing in it about Jason, as one might have expected at that point, if he was the true father. Elizabeth came to the conclusion that the memory of the affair with Betty had been erased from Paul's mind with the blow from his wife's poker---

 

Elizabeth's thoughts came back to the present, to the man standing beside her, the man who'd involved himself in a situation similar to Paul Stoddard's. There were crucial differences, of course. The baby in question turned out to be an illusion. Tony was no irresponsible gigolo; he loved Carolyn for years, and he must have had love for that Lee Anne, if he was willing to sacrifice his current happiness for a child of theirs. He'd been honest with Carolyn. It was Carolyn who'd behaved like Paul Stoddard, ready to drop everything when ordinary life became too complicated and bothersome.

 

"Tony," Elizabeth said, finally, "I may not approve of many modern customs, as far as intimate relationships outside of marriage go. But you've been ready to marry, in both instances, and you DO love my daughter. Perhaps Carolyn has confided to you about some of my troubles with her late father. There are things I still can't bring myself to discuss with anyone about that time. But rest assured, I will never be the one to cast the first stone, or any stones. You could say, I've walked in your shoes, myself. At least you're honest with yourself, and others. I wish I'd raised my own daughter to value that kind of honesty."

 

"She always does in the end, Mrs. Stoddard," Tony replied earnestly. "She's just so insecure--- If only she'd come straight home to you, and told you. I could have stood you thinking poorly of me, so long as Carolyn was safe."

 

"Well, Sheriff Arliss hasn't had anything to report," Elizabeth said anxiously. "We've all been out at various times to search. Last night, I even thought she was at Nicholas Blair's house, and got into so trouble on my way there. There were stinging green lights in the air, and a deafening racket....I know that sounds crazy, but you've had odd experiences here in the past."

 

"How did you escape?"

 

"You really won't believe me....I had a vision of Cassandra."

 

"Cassandra! She's come back?" Tony sounded frightened now. "She's hurt Carolyn---"

 

"No! That's what I thought, at first. But she wasn't a person anymore, she was a ghost, and she swore she wouldn't hurt us anymore. She told me Nicholas had caused the problem, and she led me from the lights and noise. She didn't say it outright, but she intimated that Carolyn had been in his house. But I couldn't get close enough to find out. I doubt anyone, even the police, could."

 

"Even a call would be better than nothing, but after last night, I'm starting to doubt the veracity of phone messages," Tony said.

 

At that moment, the phone rang. Elizabeth pounced on it. She heard her daughter's voice, hesitant and shy, saying, "Mother?"

 

"Carolyn!" Elizabeth cried. Tony leaned close to her, trying to listen with her. "Where are you? We're all terribly worried."

 

"I--I can't tell you right now," the quiet, depressed voice on the other end of the line said. "I had to get away. But I'll come to see you all, in a while, once I get settled."

 

" 'Get settled?' You mean, you're not going to live here, anymore? Where are you now? Are you even still in the state?" Elizabeth demanded.

 

"I can't tell you, right now. Soon, you'll know. I just knew I couldn't come back after--after---"

 

"Carolyn," Elizabeth said firmly, "Tony is right here with me. He came back from Boston, and explained everything to me. You must talk to him. Then, you might change your mind---"

 

Tony grabbed the receiver away from her. "Carolyn, please listen---"

 

"I'm not supposed to talk to you, Tony. I don't want to talk to you, anyway. It's better this way."

 

"Listen, Carolyn," he pleaded. "I found out it was all a lie, a trick. There's no baby. There never was---"

 

"Please stop," Carolyn replied, a sob in her voice. "It doesn't matter. Please don't try to find out where I am. I can't see you anymore, Tony. You know we're always going to have these kinds of fights....You deserve better than that. And you might get hurt--- Just don't come looking for me. I have to get off, now. Give my love to Mother. I'm sorry." She hung up.

 

Tony sighed. "I hope that was Carolyn. I don't know what to think, now--- She says she doesn't want me anymore, but I can't believe it's all over, just like that. I have to find her."

 

"If she isn't at Nicholas's, then he must, at least, know where she is," Elizabeth replied with certainty. "But if you go looking for her there, you might run into the same kind of trouble I had. Maybe Cassandra would help you, too. Cellie explained she was trying to make up for things she did in the past. Still, you can't depend upon that sort of intervention."

 

"Help or no help, I have to get down there, and see for myself," Tony said. "Even if Nicholas turns me away at his doorstep, and sends the Seven Plagues after me, maybe I'll get a glimpse of her in a window, or I'll come upon some clue....”

 

"I'll come with you, then," Elizabeth offered.

 

"No, you've been in danger once already. I can't ask anyone else to come, either. But if I don't return here within an hour, call Lester Arliss." Tony left the house, and headed down the gully. He stepped right up to the front door of the Henderson House without any interruption.

 

The door opened before he had a chance to knock. Nicholas stood on the thresh-hold, a glass of wine in his hand. "I can't say I wasn't expecting you, Mr. Peterson. I caught Carolyn on the phone to her mother. I told her the family would be sure to come stampeding down here when they heard the news."

 

"What news? I don't understand. You're not denying Carolyn's been here since last night? Her mother came here, and---"

 

"Please! One question, fraught with confoundment, at a time! First, I am not denying Carolyn has been staying with me since last night. She was at the end of her rope, so to speak....and the end was dangling from Widow's Hill."

 

Tony was, indeed, “confounded.” "She--she was going to kill herself, over our argument? I can't believe that! No matter how upset she was at the time, she knew I would be back from Boston, in order to discuss our future plans. As it turned out, all the fuss was over nothing. But I suppose, you didn't know anything about that, Mr. Blair?"

 

"Only what Carolyn told me, Mr. Peterson. I must say, I am indignant on her behalf, although, as a man, I do completely understand your circumstances. A fellow must take pleasure where he can find it, and well, occasionally, these little complications can arise. But you know our Carolyn. She's got that unfortunate Collins tendency to fly off the handle when her pride has been hurt."

 

"I don't think you have any conception of my circumstances---"

 

"If I recall correctly, your circumstances involved a conception," Nicholas chuckled. "It's happened to the best of us."

 

"There was no conception!" Tony thundered. "I went all the way to Boston, and discovered that there was no baby in the hospital, no listing of a certain telephone number, no baby-safe apartment on West Allerton, and no danger that my ex-fiancee was about to lose her job because of our child. There was NO child! She swore up and down, that neither she or her Bohemian associates had any knowledge of such a rotten, cruel prank, that could tear me away from my future wife!"

 

"YOUR future wife!" Nicholas smirked. "Well, that brings us to the part about the news Carolyn was going to share with her mother, until you tore the phone from her hands! Happy as I am about this announcement, I do sincerely regret the disappointment you are about to suffer. You see, last night, when I found Carolyn on the cliff, we had a long talk about her real hopes and desires in life. I shared some of mine. We discovered we had much in common. After what I admit was an impetuous decision to spend the night together, I--we both became convinced that our compatibility extended to the daylight hours, now and forever."

 

"You became lovers? In one night?" Tony sputtered in disbelief.

 

"Not only lovers, Mr. Peterson, but affianced lovers. Carolyn and I are going to be married very soon."

 

 

"I can't believe any of this! I really can't believe Carolyn would marry a man who was somehow responsible for trying to kill her own mother, last night!"

 

"I have no knowledge of any such attempt."

 

"Mrs. Stoddard came here last night, rather late, and was attacked by stinging lights and painfully loud noises. It was only by a miracle she was saved!"

 

"Perhaps she came after I retired. I have one of those new-fangled security systems that's supposed to deter intruders by jangling their nerves, while, at the same time, alerting the local constabulary."

 

"Did Lester Arliss come out to investigate?" Tony wheedled.

 

"Alas, no, Nicholas replied. "That part of the system has a considerable, shall we say, 'glitch' to it. As you can tell, though, it's not in operation now, or you wouldn't have gotten past my front gate."

 

"Thanks for that bit of consideration," Tony groused. "Well, so you and Carolyn are engaged, on the basis of a one-night stand. If you feel so secure in your relationship, I suppose you won't mind if I speak to her for a few minutes, to congratulate her?"

 

"Congratulate me, first, Mr. Peterson." There was a threat in

 

Nicholas's tone. "If you're so ready to accept your defeat, make it sincere. Or nobody will get to see Carolyn!"

 

Tony's face became very red. "I--I don't know if I can---" There was a rustling from the landing above. He looked up, to see Carolyn, clad in a peignoir, gazing down at him with a tender, guilty look.

 

"Please, Nicholas, let me talk to him," Carolyn pleaded from above. "I can make him understand."

 

"Remember what we discussed, sweetheart," Nicholas warned with

 

a smile, as Carolyn inched her way down the steps. When she reached the doorway, he kissed her on the lips, no more than twelve inches from Tony's unhappy face. Then he went up the stairs. Halfway to the second floor, he turned to look down upon the couple standing near the plainly-carved newel post below. "I'll be waiting for you, Carolyn. Don't linger."

 

Tony began, "I won't say anything stupid like, 'How could you do this?' But, Carolyn, just last night you told me you wished Nicholas and Anissa would go away. You've told me you never liked Nicholas from the day you met."

 

"I found out I was mistaken. About a lot of things. About us....Like I said on the phone, we're always going to have a communication problem. I've finally figured it out---"

 

"With Nicholas's help, no doubt!"

 

"It's not Nicholas! It's just that you and I are traveling on separate paths. I thought we could help each other out, and maybe arrive at the same destination. But we don't want the same things! We don't want to go to the same place! You want a woman who can roll with the punches, who can settle down and help you make a home that will stand no matter what hurricane hits it. I'm not the one for the job. I'm not Cellie! I don't want children! I don't want to be tied to Collinsport! I've had enough of working and worrying, only to be rewarded by disappointment and boredom."

 

"You've worked so hard!" Tony jeered. "Oh, please! Tell the truth, Carolyn, you just don't want to grow up! So, Nicholas will help you escape all that, I take it? Of course you can trust his promises! After your deep, meaningful night of passion--- Spiteful passion! Vengeful passion! How good WAS he, Carolyn that you can throw away the last year?"

 

"He was--- he was--- Oh, God! I can't even remember....I don't remember much, but I woke up in his bed. He said it was good....”

 

She appeared so flustered with confusion, Tony softened toward her immediately. "Carolyn, " he whispered urgently, "he must have slipped you a 'Mickey', or something of the kind. If you can't remember what really happened--- Then all the other things you're feeling for him right now might be the result of drugs, or a spell....Even I could believe in that, after what your mother told me. She came here last night, Carolyn. Did you know that? She was right outside the house, when she was attacked by stinging green fireflies, or wasps, and a terrible noise--- I guess you didn't hear it. She would have died, or gone crazy, if Cassandra didn't save her."

 

"Cassandra? Oh, yes. I've heard she's gotten some of that old-time religion and she's behaving now. I'm grateful she helped Mother. I really am. But it doesn't change anything, Tony. I do love Nicholas, in my own way. And he's promised me a wonderful life. I have--want to marry him. Please go now, Tony."

 

Tony, heedless of where he was, grabbed Carolyn by the shoulders, turned her around, and kissed her, forcing her mouth open. She struggled for a few seconds, then relaxed, her body curving against his. A moment later, she abruptly pushed him away.

 

"No more, Tony," she sighed, tears springing to her eyes. "It's over for us. This is my new life, now. You have to go. I don't want anything to happen to you. Don't tell me you're willing to give up your life....You are all your mother has. If you leave me alone now, there's a chance you could go on, find someone else---"

 

"I tried that, Carolyn! It didn't work before, and it won't work now, any more than you will with Nicholas!"

 

"Then you will be lost....If you really love me, Tony, then you'll let me go, and give me the satisfaction of knowing you're still around, somewhere....” Carolyn was crying in earnest, now.

 

Nicholas reappeared, at the top of the stairs. "Is he ready to go, yet?" He sounded impatient.

 

Tony gazed up at him with a withering expression which he forced into a polite smile. "Yes, I'm going. I was just congratulating Carolyn, and she was overcome with--with happiness. I'll say 'Good Evening' now. Have that wonderful life, Carolyn. And you too, Nicholas." Tony opened the door, and gradually faded from view as he made his way up the path. His shoulders, Carolyn saw, were slumped in defeat.

 

Nicholas came up behind her, and nuzzled her neck. "You look like you could use another one of those special baths. Then, you'll join me in my room."

 

"Yes," she said in a faltering voice. "You'll leave him alone now, won't you?"

 

"That depends on how steadfast he is about staying away from you. But he will be all right for the time being."

 

As Carolyn walked up the steps with Nicholas, she asked, "You know, since I've been here, I haven't seen Anissa. Where is she?"

 

"Out of town on some vital business."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Tony walked right through the front doors of Collinwood and stood on the thresh-hold of the drawing room. Cellie was kneeling on the carpet, holding Sarah Teresa by the hands as the baby struggled to stand. "Now, Peanut," her mother teased, "You're way too young to even THINK of running around yet. No fair for you to get a jump on your old Mom that way. I didn't even TRY to stand until I was TEN months old." But when Cellie tried to set her baby down, Sarah Teresa squealed in frustration. "Hey, sweetie, you're sounding more like your Daddy every day. You'd better get a handle on that Loomis temper, before you learn the fine art of scooting away from me."

 

Sarah Teresa managed to balance on her tiny feet for a full three seconds. Then, with her mother's help, she gently collapsed on her bottom, and started to crawl around. Cellie applauded her daughter's efforts, but, Tony noticed, with a sad smile. A minute later, she turned to face him. "Oh, Tone, I didn't hear you come in," she said. "Mrs. Stoddard told me where you went, and why. She went upstairs to sit with Aunt Jule, while she was waiting. I'm sorry if it seems like I'm just fooling around. But Sarah Teresa woke up, bursting with energy, when I had hopes of her sleeping through the night for a change. I had to bring her down here. She's running in reverse, I think. She slept better when she was brand-new."

 

"She's just very sensitive, like her mother," Tony sighed, as he sank into the sofa near Cellie. He reached out and stroked the baby's curly red-gold hair. Sarah Teresa looked up at him with an absurdly serious expression that somehow displayed all her dimples.

 

Cellie picked up her daughter, who became even quieter when in close proximity to Tony. "You're not running right upstairs to see Carolyn's mother", she observed. "The news is bad. Your heart is breaking. Tell me about it," she whispered, clutching his hand.

 

"She's--she's not coming home," he replied, choking. "I can't talk about it, just yet. Hurts--hurts like hell."

 

"You MUST tell me!" Cellie urged. "I'll help you." She began the process of draining off the raw, dripping midnight blues and mauves, which glowed like fresh lava. As she felt the hopelessness flow into her system, Tony gave a halting account of his visit.

 

"And you say, she couldn't remember just what they did together?" Cellie asked, incredulously.

 

"Even if she did, I doubt she would have shared the gory details, and I wouldn't have stayed around to hear," Tony replied. "But I firmly believe she's being coerced. She tried to warn me off, without actually warning me, if you know what I mean. Well, what difference does it make? She's

 

with Nicholas; she's going to marry him. It's all over for us," he concluded glumly. "I just hope he allows her to see her mother, at least."

 

"Tone, don't take this as a signal to leave town, again," she pleaded. "There's more to this than what's happening to you and Carolyn. This is 'Divide and Conquer'. Barnabas is....gone. Carolyn is with Nicholas. Will's in the bin. Elliot's tied up with Hallie---"

 

"And your stepfather is damn near a basket-case, himself," Tony added.

 

"My line of defense is falling like dominoes," Cellie said, fear in her voice. "I'm sorry! I shouldn't be whining like this. Of course you should cut and run, Tone."

 

"I haven't decided, yet, what I'm going to do," he said. "But I know I have to face Elizabeth." He rose, and went upstairs.

 

Cellie wished she could leave the baby with someone, and go prowling around Nicholas's house. She touched her Indian necklace, thinking, perhaps, she and David could try exploring the general area of the Henderson property, to see if there were other ways in and out of the house. Then she chided herself for even thinking of putting her best friend in danger. If she lost David, she wouldn't be left with much, not even Roger, who would surely be broken with grief.

 

"I need help, from someone Nicholas doesn't know very well, but who I can count on in a pinch," she thought. She thought back over her roster of friends. She would have picked on Dimitrios, but Pavlos and her mother needed his help at the Koffeehaus. The Texeiras were out. They were probably on the top of Nicholas's "To Do Next" list, anyway. Ditto for the Hackett family. There had to be someone who had a nodding acquaintance with the supernatural, who was interested in doing something for the powers of good, and had no fear of death. "Who?" Cellie thought, and then she remembered....a man who'd been given a second chance to mend his ways and stay out of Hell….

 

She yanked the desk drawer that contained the phone book, so hard that the whole thing almost fell to the ground. She frantically picked through the pages with one hand, till she came to the letter "P". "Plante, Plath, Plavcan, Plavnicky....” Three Plavnickys, Bertha, Jeffrey, and Raymond....In such a small town, they all had to be related. Maybe Bertha was the old mother, Raymond was the son, Jeffrey the grandson....Cellie had never written up a sale for Mr. Plavnicky, so she couldn't recall his first name. She dialed Raymond first. When she mentioned the heart attack, he said, "Oh, you must want my brother, Charles....He lives with our mother, Bertha….

 

For a minute, Cellie hesitated to dial Bertha's number. If the elderly lady answered, how could the girl explain her desire to talk to the son? She wondered if she had the right to tear Mr. Plavnicky from his mother's side. He might be her sole caretaker. Oh, well, he would have to make up his own mind.

 

She thought of some excuse she could use with Mrs. Plavnicky, something to do with a lost receipt from the Antique Shoppe. Fortunately, she didn't have to use it. Charles Plavnicky, himself, answered the phone. He remembered her, right away. "My fellow alumnus of the Afterlife!" he sang. "How have you and your family been?"

 

"Not so good, Mr. Plavnicky," Cellie sighed. His greeting indicated that the man wasn't a maven of local gossip. "My husband's in the hospital. But the baby's fine."

 

"You must watch her carefully, Mrs. Loomis," Mr. Plavnicky said. "She's a living miracle, and this sinful world receives so few. As for your husband, well....I admit I've heard some stories around town, about a fight with the Sheriff…."

 

"Please, I don't want to talk about that---" So he DID keep up with local gossip.

 

"Don't be embarrassed, my dear. I remember Lester Arliss quite well as a boy. He was the pastiest-faced, most spoiled child I ever met. His mother fell all over herself indulging him, after his father left. His uncle George, may he rest in peace, tried to be a toughening influence on the lad, getting him into sports and convincing him to join the police. He straightened out nicely, I thought, but he does, still, have a spoiled streak. Wrecked all his little romances, or so my mother says."

 

"I wasn't having a romance---"

 

"Of course you weren't, my dear,” Mr. Plavneicky said reassuringly. “People like us, who've seen what's in store for us on the other side, don't have quite the same reactions to these overtures as ordinary folks. I'm just sorry your poor husband had to get involved. Now, what do you want of me? I know this isn't just a friendly call to let me know the Antique Shoppe will be opening again, soon. Though I know that, already."

 

"What--what do you mean?"  Cellie’s heart began to pound.  She hoped her friend couldn’t hear how loudly.

 

"Why, when I saw your Uncle in the back yard of the store, where you used to live."

 

"When was this? Did you talk to him?"

 

"Very early this morning, as I was on my after-work constitutional. I work the 'graveyard shift' at the cannery. I was some distance away from the place when I glimpsed him, but when I hurried up to greet him, he'd already gone in. Evidently, he didn't see me! I tried the back gate and the front door, but both were locked. I've heard he's been away---"

 

"Yes!" the girl gasped. "You didn't call the Sheriff, did you?"

 

"Goodness, why should I have?” Cellie could hear the smile in Mr. Plavnicky’s voice. “The man was on his own property. Or did he sell out? I hope not."

 

"No, no. It's just that, well, he's been away on--on a buying trip, and we were expecting him, but he has this tendency to get sidetracked. We were kind of worried, and were looking out for him."

 

"Now, now, Mrs. Loomis, I've been a frequent customer of your Uncle's since the Shoppe opened, and the worst I can say about him is that he's one of the most fascinating, not to say, entrancing, eccentrics I've ever met, myself included. When he speaks of his antiques, it is as though he is speaking of his beloved children. No doubt, he got caught up in reviewing his purchases, and whatever is left of his original inventory. Odd thing, though, I didn't see his vehicle---"

 

"He must have taken a taxi directly from the train station," Cellie temporized. "He said he was only going to buy small things he could keep in a box on his lap on the train."

 

"I suppose you're right. Well, now that mystery is cleared up, what brought you to call me in the first place?"

 

"Well, before I ask you, I have to know, do you take care of your Mom? All by yourself, I mean."

 

"Me, take care of Mother?" Mr. Plavnicky's laugh rang through the phone lines. "Good Lord, no! Mother is quite independent, quite feisty, at the age of seventy-five. She's on a bus trip to Rockport with her chums from the St. James Seniors! She'll be gone till tomorrow night. Truth to tell, I need her more than she needs me, sometimes, since the divorce."

 

"Yours?"

 

"No, HERS! Mother just expedited her third divorce. Even at my age, I find it trying to adjust to a new stepfather, and then saying good-bye, once we find we have something in common. This last fellow had a fondness for antiques. I suspect Mother divorces them the instant she discovers I'm getting along with them."

 

This last was almost too weird for Cellie, who'd already experienced quite a lot of weirdness. "Oh, so you're not married?" she inquired politely.

 

"I was indeed, but my wife passed just after my return from the land of the Dead, just when I had begun to reform and repent. We hadn't gotten along for years, until that time, and it was cut

short….”  Mr. Plavnicky sounded as if he was starting to cry. "My son went to live with my brother, and now he lives in the same boarding house that Lester used to….”

 

"Mr. Plavnicky," Cellie interrupted. "I called, because I need a little help. I need someone to talk to, about my 'experience'. It hasn't bothered me much, until things started going wrong lately, with my husband and my Uncle behaving erratically, and my parents tied up with their new spouses, and the attacks on those girls....You're the only one I can trust, the only one who understands. I'd like to invite you to Collinwood for brunch tomorrow, just you and me. We could take a walk around the estate. It would help me out in so many ways!"

 

"Well....I'm getting ready, now, to work the third shift at the cannery....Third shift runs ten-thirty P.M. to seven A.M. I'll need to change, afterward--- one gets a bit 'fishy', you know! I will be there at nine A.M. Then I must go home to sleep, if I'm to pick Mother up from the church before my shift starts."

 

When she'd hung up, Cellie realized she had someplace else that she needed to re-examine. The Antique Shoppe---the cellar! Of course! That had been the first place she, David, and Carolyn had searched for Barnabas after they'd exhausted the possibilities of the houses and caves on the Collins estate. Barnabas probably thought they'd given up on his returning to his old surroundings. He could probably leap-frog from hiding place to hiding place, as he had in the past, as long as he could get some kind of a coffin in there.

 

This was the break Cellie and Professor Stokes had been hoping for--- well, "hoping" wasn't the precise word. Cellie shuddered at the thought of what would have to happen. Still, there would be closure to Barnabas's travails, and he would have peace. That was the most important thing. Alas, the Professor was spending the night near where both Hallie and Annette were staying, the "safe place" with whose name even she, Cellie, couldn't be trusted with, lest Barnabas come to her,

and force her to tell.

 

She couldn't tell her aunt; Julia would want to go down to the Antique Shoppe right away, to protect her husband. If she told David, he'd also be far too eager to go, no matter what Cellie had planned for her uncle. The girl remembered well, what her friend had told her, about the history of his own relationship with Barnabas. His long-buried fear and anxiety might emerge, mixed with his sometimes hyper enthusiasm for adventure, and interfere with Cellie's lead-weighted resolve to carry out her dead-serious plans.

 

The news would have to wait until after Mr. Plavnicky had left; Elliot promised to be back up to Collinwood around one P.M.. By then, Cellie would be free to leave Sarah Teresa with Mrs. Johnson and Julia, and take the fatal ride with the Professor. With any luck, this part of the nightmare would be over by two.

 

Cellie looked at the baby in her arms. Sarah Teresa had been quiet through her mother's talk with Tony, and the phone call to Mr. Plavnicky. Now, she became agitated once more. "Meh-meh! Tees 'awn DJeh-djeh, Djeh-djeh! Go Biss-Biss! Biss-Biss!" Cellie carried her back to Mrs. Johnson's rocking chair.

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

 

Cellie spent an interesting morning with Mr. Plavnicky. The surprisingly cultured cannery foreman was overwhelmed by his first visit to the Great House. He cornered Roger, who politely tried to escape the guest's seemingly-inexhautible stream-of-consciousness chatter, and his estimates of the age and value of the many Collins family heirlooms. Cellie managed to forestall her guest, before he would have mentioned having seen Barnabas the morning before, or asking if he'd returned home yet. As she led Mr.Plavnicky to the kitchen, she quickly explained that her uncle had returned just after their phone conversation, nursing a cold, so that he wouldn't be coming downstairs this morning. Fortunately, nobody else mentioned Barnabas in his presence. They were all too full of the sadness of his absence, to speak of him in front of a stranger.

 

Mrs. Johnson, who was acquainted with the entire Plavnicky clan, shook her head at Cellie's choice of a guest; still, at least Charles Plavnicky wasn't Lester Arliss. He had a larger appetite, though. Within a half hour, he consumed three eggs, four pieces of toast, a bowl of warmed-over chicken soup, a sausage link or two, and two large mugs full of black coffee. "Where does he put it all?" the housekeeper wondered, as she observed the thin man. "It probably jams up on its way around his heart. No wonder he had that heart attack. Some people never learn," she thought with disdain.

 

Cellie was eager to get Mr. Plavnicky out of the house. She left Sarah Teresa in her baby seat, chattering to her Teddy bear and Mrs. Johnson, linked her arm in Plavnicky's, and led him out to the terrace, just as Julia came down to the kitchen. "Who's that with Cellie?" Julia asked Mrs. Johnson.

 

"Oh, just a stray dog she's befriended," the housekeeper replied, sarcasm in her tone. "Chuck Plavnicky. Works at the cannery, going on thirty-five years, already. He was one of my late husband's greatest drinking buddies. Goodness, he was EVERYBODY'S greatest drinking buddy for years, until he had a heart attack and his wife passed on. Now, he's some kind of religious nut. I guess Cellie needs someone else to talk to, since Pavlos isn't feeling well after trying to help Annette. Dear Lord, Julia, when I hear about such things, it takes me back....back to a time I've prayed we would never have to revisit. All I can say is, thank God Willie's not here, to catch the blame for anything like that. I wish Mr. Barnabas would turn up, safe and well."

 

"So do I, Mrs. Johnson," Julia sighed, her hand instinctively seeking her middle, which, the housekeeper observed, had a noticeable roundness.

 

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned---I never know what to say, anymore....”

 

"That's okay, Mrs. Johnson. You know, when I feel him moving inside, I get a little strength. It's like Barnabas is sending me a message through our son---"

 

"So you think it'll be a boy?"

 

"I don't have to think. I KNOW."

 

"Now, I hope you don't mind me saying so, Julia, but you shouldn't set yourself up for a disappointment. You'll surely be glad with whatever the Lord sends you, so long as he or she is healthy. We're all doing our best to see that comes about. Plus, if you're counting on signs, like carrying high, to tell you what you're having, I can tell you from personal experience, it doesn't always work out that way. When I was expecting the first time, everybody from my grandmother down told me it would surely be a girl. She even did the needle-on-a-string over my palm! But lo, and behold, my Harry was born. The same kind of mistake happened the second time, and I had my Phyllis."

 

"It just goes to show, you're unique among mothers, Mrs. Johnson," Julia said, a sad smile lighting her face.

 

"Or that my Phil drank so much, he even managed to get that sort of thing backwards," Mrs. Johnson joked. "It's good to see you smile, Julia. You keep smiling. It's good for the baby. That's one piece of advice my grandmother gave me that I could always trust."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Just outside, Cellie took Mr. Plavnicky directly to the pathway that overlooked the Henderson Place. Along the way, she breathlessly explained what she wanted him to do. "You don't have to go anywhere," she said. "Just stand here, and watch me. If you see anything, signal." She handed him her binoculars. "Even if you see the curtains rustle, let me know."

 

"So this is what you believe your vision told you to do?"

 

"Mr. Plavnicky, we both believe people have these Near-Death Experiences for a reason, to clean up their lives, to take care of unfinished business, to perform a meaningful action that will benefit others....There's something coming this way, something evil....You've lived here all your life. You remember the events of several years ago....”

 

"Indeed I do. My niece was molested by whoever committed all those crimes, by whoever took Maggie Evans....I want you to know, I, for one, NEVER thought your husband had anything to do with that incident, Cecily. People who come from outside, who are different, who may have some bad habits, are always the first suspects in such affairs, and yet, one usually finds the true culprit in one's own backyard, so to speak. But then, you have reason to know that, yourself. I suspect the person hurting these girls is the same as whoever did the same thing, years ago. He's been in our backyard all along, and we were just missing the signs. I wonder what set him off this time?" Mr, Plavnicky mused. "What a question! If we only knew what set him off the first time! Do you think that whoever lives in that house has something to do with these events? If so, perhaps you should have called Lester Arliss, uncomfortable as that might make you."

 

"No, not exactly," Cellie replied. "A friend of mine is in that house. She ran away because she was hurt. But she ran to the wrong person, someone who takes advantage of vulnerabilities....I hesitate to tell you more, lest you end up in danger. I have reason to believe she will want to leave at some point. She may need help getting away---"

 

"Is it a cult? Perhaps a de-programmer would be of service. There's a very famous one making the rounds, who charges on a sliding scale if you're poor. I could ask Reverend Brand," Mr. Plavnicky offered.

 

"Maybe an exorcist would be more useful....” Cellie mused. "Never mind that. The fewer people involved, the better. Her family is terribly concerned, but they don't want a splashy scandal, or a lawsuit. I just need to scope out the exits, and report back to them. They'll do the rest."

 

"This person doesn't have a gun or anything?"

 

"No. I'll be okay. But watch me." Cellie ran down the hill to a group of bushes near the gate. She looked back up at Mr. Plavnicky, who had moved back a little, so that he wouldn't be as visible from the Henderson House. He saw her, and gave her the "thumb up" signal.

 

Cellie cautiously slid around the bushes, and, after watching the windows, dashed to the side of the house. She had her back to the clapboards, moving to the rear of the house, when she saw what looked like a flashbulb on the hill. She guessed it was Mr. Plavnicky, signaling by reflecting the sunlight on the binocular lenses. He must have seen something. She suddenly realized she was under a window. She heard noises in the house through the window. She hoped nobody in the house had seen the flash. She heard the noise of the window being opened.

 

She skittered down a short stone staircase, which led to a cellar door. The door, large, and made of heavy metal, was flush to the granite wall, with no doorknob, or visible lock. Cellie decided the door was a very recent addition to the house.  She peeked up timidly from where she crouched on the cellar steps.

 

A blonde woman was looking out the window. Not Carolyn, but....Anissa! Cellie heard her call behind her. "No, Nicholas, there's nothing out here. Check your mirrors first, before you interrupt my preparations." 

 

Preparations for what? Cellie wondered. A ritual of some kind? Or a new trick to injure the Collinses and all their friends? She tried to figure it out, as she came out of the cellar area, and edged her way down a small gully that suddenly sank behind the house. Cellie almost fell, then righted herself. She glanced back up the hill. She could barely make out Mr. Plavnicky, who seemed to be looking for her. She waved. She could see his head bob in acknowledgement. Then, she slowly crawled down the embankment.

 

She passed another, smaller, older door cut into the foundation. Perhaps it was a storage closet, but Cellie remembered that old houses had a variety of differently-sized exits and entrances, especially those built during periods of Indian raids and religious unrest. Perhaps the tiny door led to a secret passage or a hiding place. Cellie knew that some of the Hendersons had been in the slave trade, but then, so had a couple of the Collinses. Yet they'd managed to produce an Abijah Collins who was an abolitionist (however tainted with mendacity) with his own stop on the Underground Railroad.

 

The tiny door had a knob, which she tried. Of course, it was locked, so tight that when she tried to shake the door, it barely jiggled; it was sealed as though glued to the house. She moved down, to where she could see the garage. Her heart nearly stopped as she watched the closest of the three bays open. She jumped behind a cluster of rhododendrons.

 

She saw Anissa backing her flashy sportscar out of the garage. The vehicle must have had automatic windows; the glass pane slid silently into the driver's-side door, as Anissa stuck out her hand, which held a small remote control. "Wow, what a damn show-off, when, as far as she knows, nobody's watching," Cellie thought.

 

Before the garage door came down all the way, though, Cellie saw Nicholas emerging from one of two doors she glimpsed at the far end of the garage's interior. He went right up to Anissa's window, and appeared to berate her in harsh whispers. She held up what appeared to be a hatbox. Then, Nicholas ducked back under the half-closed garage door. Cellie observed that he took the left-hand door, nearest to where she stood. When he opened it, she could see furniture. She supposed the other door led to the cellar. Before the automatic garage door snapped shut, flush to the driveway, Cellie noticed something else, beyond the sleek Black Mercedes in the middle bay. A flash of yellow....Carolyn's car was there, all right.

 

She made a quick survey of the other side of the house. Fortunately, past generations of Hendersons had favored a vast quantity and considerable variety of greenery in their yard, which provided excellent cover. She noticed an oddly-shaped ridge that ran across the front yard almost to the other side of the garage, like one of those grass-covered underground tombs the Indians built. It appeared as though the knoll extended to precisely behind where that "cellar" door was. She wanted to follow its line to the other end, but it would have involved running into the open.

 

After, Cellie had to find a way to rejoin Mr. Plavnicky, without being seen. She ran from bush to bush to the dirt road at the foot of the driveway. She ran up to the end, below Widow's Hill. It was there, she made another discovery--- a set of doors seemingly built into an embankment, nearly concealed by bushes. There was a big lock holding the doors together. The ridge she'd observed came to an end, just above them.

 

Cellie mounted the old stone steps to the Widow's Hill lookout, ran down the pathway away from the cliff, and met Mr. Plavnicky as he trudged toward her from his own hiding place. "Dear Lord, Cecily," he gasped. "I thought they got hold of you, God Forbid." His lips were turning blue, and he clutched at his chest. "Oh, Jesus, no....” he whispered. "It's not time yet, it's not time....Mother....” Mr. Plavnicky collapsed at Cellie's feet.

 

Cellie fell upon him with a cry, as she searched for a heartbeat, a sign of respiration. There was none. There was no time to panic, no time to get help--- She had a vague memory of having seen a demonstration of that new method of reviving heart-attack victims. There was a risk she might screw it up, that she might break his ribs or jump on his solar plexus....She had no choice, but to try. She had her empathism to help her sense any damage she might cause. She just prayed she could stand giving him mouth-to-mouth. . .

 

She ran her fingers down his breast-bone, to what she hoped was the proper place. Was it two inches above the point, or one? She put her fingers on her own chest, to feel her own heartbeat. Two inches seemed right. Before she knitted her fingers over his chest, she tried mouth-to-mouth. She tasted coffee-breath. "Yuck," she thought, but managed to fill his lungs like a fireplace bellows.

 

Push and pump, inhale, exhale, every now and then, breaking to shout for help....Cellie faltered a couple of times, when she felt a pain in her chest that corresponded with some mistake she was making in positioning her hands on her friend's chest. She concentrated on transferring some of her own energy with each jab. She sweated profusely, which chilled her to the bone, but she persisted. After what seemed like an hour (when Cellie checked her watch, she was surprised to

 

find that only ten minutes had gone by), Mr. Plavnicky's blue lips turned salmon-pink. Cellie put her ear to his chest. She almost died with relief when she heard a faint thumping. His chest moved up and down, haltingly.

 

She hated to leave him lying on the path like that, to run back to the house to call an ambulance. Fortunately, Mr, Plavnicky was in a place where he couldn't be seen from the Henderson house, and it was a warm day for late March.

 

He was fully awake, and sitting, when Cellie (bearing Sarah Teresa), Mrs. Johnson, and Julia ran up to him, to tell him the ambulance was coming. Julia tried to examine him, but he waved her off gently.

 

"Please," he said, "I have just been on another amazing journey. Fortunately, your dear niece rescued me before I entered the point of no return." He smiled up into Cellie's tear-stained face. "Don't cry, anymore, Cecily. When I was traveling, I thought I heard God's voice. He was telling me that the next time I show up on His doorstep, there would be a place for me, but not today."

 

"It's your diet that will grease the skids to His doorstep, you old fool", Mrs. Johnson warned. "Imagine, scaring all of us half-to-death like that, and it's your own fault."

 

"No, it's mine," Cellie mourned.

 

"It's my fault, I admit it," Mr. Plavnicky said. "I just hope I'll be out of the hospital in time to intercept Mother's bus."

 

Elliot Stokes drove up behind the ambulance. When the attendants

 

had deposited the protesting Mr. Plavnicky in the back, and drove it away, the Professor got out of his own car, and joined Cellie, who was holding her baby, and still sniffling, as she talked earnestly to Julia.

 

"It IS my fault he almost died!" she sobbed. "I just needed a spotter, to keep an eye on me while I prowled around Nicholas's place. I had him pumped full of bull that it was part of God's plan, because we both had near-death-experiences, and we must have survived for a reason. Okay, so maybe, his downing all those eggs didn't help matters much, but how do I know if Nicholas or Anissa saw us, and zapped him?"

 

"It is an interesting coincidence," Elliot said.

 

"Interesting!" Julia exclaimed. "Cellie, you mustn't try to involve anyone else in our troubles, even though our troubles may soon be theirs. You don't have enough experience to judge when it's

 

time to call in total strangers. We have far too many strangers involved already, including hostile strangers like Lester Arliss."

 

"Aunt Jule, what else can I do? I don't want anyone to get killed, like they did years ago. I don't want Mr. Plavnicky, or Pavlos, or anyone else to be my Dave Woodard---" Cellie stopped abruptly, when she saw her aunt blanch. "Oh, God, I'm sorry I tossed that up....I don't know what to do, I admit it. It seems like our army is being broken up from the inside. And it's all falling on me....Why is this happening? Why are we smack in the middle of this big old world full of people, and yet there's nowhere to run, no-one else to turn to?"

 

"That's the way it always seems, even when it's commonplace troubles," Julia replied. "I ran a whole hospital full of people who were alone."

 

Elliot said, "Maybe it's because the world is too full of individuals, who've used the last million years of evolution closing their senses to some universal inner call. You've observed the orderly activities of ant colonies. You've seen how geese gather together to fly South, in a tight formation. You've read about groups of apes with complex social systems that require no speech. You still see pockets of vanishing human tribes, lost in a jungle or a desert somewhere, who run their lives according to an almost instinctual, seamless set of ancient rules. It is from such groups that the esoteric arts come, from people whose daily lives are so orderly, and so devoid of material distractions, that they can allow their minds and senses to receive the essential messages that defeat the isolation of individualism."

 

"You've brought people together for a common cause before, Cellie," Julia said. "But that was because the problems were easily understandable in simple, material, human terms. What person with a spark of decency wouldn't stop to assist a helpless baby, or a troubled soldier who did his best, or a confused woman coerced into making a drastic decision about her pregnancy? It's when you get into the supernatural end, that which can be just as real as the natural world, but harder for everyone to accept, because it isn't easily explainable according to the rules they understand....Because they can't, or won't open themselves to the possibilities, good as well as bad....”

 

"Even when there's a kind of inner knowledge that they're living in a place where these things are more than possible---" Cellie broke off.

 

"Some people lose themselves in denial, in order to survive," Julia said. "Some immerse themselves in religion, thinking it will make them immune, or even superior. Some simply cringe in fear of any unknown. Many feel bound to this place, because their ancestors lived here for three hundred years....They can't break away, and yet, they can't face that they're living their lives in a vortex. Such denial isn't permitted to us."

 

"Neither is relief," Cellie commented sadly.

 

"Certainly, not to the reliever," Elliot commented, as he patted Cellie's shoulder.

 

"Well, I'm all done in for now," Julia said. "I need to lie down for a while. Call me if anything changes," she sighed, as she headed indoors, to the lift mounted near the grand staircase.

 

Cellie tugged on Elliot's arm. "At least cultivating Charles Plavnicky wasn't a total waste," she said. "I saw Carolyn's car in Nicholas's garage. She isn't going anywhere else soon. I saw Anissa again, driving off on some un-Godly errand, I'm sure. Nicholas himself came outside to see her off. I noticed what's probably a secret entrance to a lower level of the Henderson house. And, most important, Charles said he saw Barnabas."

 

"Saw him where?"

 

"At the Antique Shoppe, very early yesterday morning, before the crack of dawn! Carolyn and I looked there when he first disappeared, as soon as we couldn't find him on the estate. The building has a huge cellar with a passage that runs the length of the backyard, with an exit through the shed. When we covered that, we gave up, thinking he wouldn't dare take a chance staying there. I guess we were wrong."

 

"Then, we must go there right away, Cellie. I'm terribly sorry."

 

"I know," she sighed. "There's just one place we have to visit, before we do the deed. I saw Pavlos yesterday, and he was still in a terrible state, after the attack. I knew right away, that he'd seen Barnabas, his denials to the contrary. I tried to read him, to pry at the root of his trauma. He blocked me! He never did that before. There was a huge, violet-blue block---"

 

"There's something I didn't tell you, Cellie. It was supposed to be between Pavlos and myself," the Professor said, shame-faced. "You see, just before I took Hallie away, Pavlos visited her. He wasn't supposed to, but he read her anyway. He removed, and absorbed the dormant summons of the vampire. He must have followed that call. I would surmise that when Barnabas realized his summons wasn't going to be answered by Hallie, he went after Annette, only to be stopped by Pavlos."

 

"And when Barnabas learned what Pavlos was up to, he beat him up, like he used to beat Will!" Cellie concluded. "Oh, God, Professor! Pavlos is his slave, only he couldn't have been bitten, or they would have noticed at the hospital the other night."

 

"Barnabas can influence someone, even without blood contact," the Professor explained. "You know how he's intimidated your husband for years, long after the original curse was terminated. Barnabas has a very powerful personality of his own that feeds into the total capacity for domination that's an essential component of vampirism. Pavlos's empathism may have been all that was necessary to respond to the subjugation of his will. I'm not sure you should try to relieve your stepfather's 'violet-blue' block of total fear. It's likely his way of protecting you. If you absorb the summons from him, that will be Nicholas's coup-de-gras for you. Once Barnabas is destroyed, Pavlos will be back to normal."

 

"Well, I'd still like to see him. AFTER we do what we have to. Have you the necessary equipment?"

 

"I have several methods available. I have the stake and mallet, but my fastidiousness leads me to prefer the silver bullet shot directly into the heart."

 

"As long as you have both within easy reach," Cellie said firmly.

 

"I prefer the comfort of a back-up method, anyway. I don't want to get this wrong. I've made up my mind that it's going to happen, and I'm resigned to it."

 

After convincing Mrs. Johnson to look after Sarah Teresa for a little while longer, Cellie rode with Elliot to the Antique Shoppe. She pulled out her extensive set of keys, and opened the back gate. She sighed, as she saw the tiny green crocus sprouts she'd planted last autumn, after she'd recovered from her attack and returned to the Shoppe with her husband....She wondered what Willie would think of her, once he learned she had helped to destroy the man he almost regarded as a god. She had supplanted the god, but she knew there would always be a twisted connection between her husband and Barnabas. Maybe Willie would even hate her.

 

She couldn't worry about that, now. She opened the kitchen door, and, when she and the Professor were inside, discovered that the cellar door was locked from the inside. "That's okay," she said. "We'll go out back. The shed door can only be locked and unlocked from the outside." Before she went outside, she deactivated the alarm system. She didn't want to set it off, to bring Lester and his minions, sirens blaring, lights flashing, and tires screeching, to the Antique Shoppe.

 

They approached the shed cautiously, even though it was midday. Cellie unlocked it with trembling hands. "You have a flashlight in that bag you're carrying, Professor?" she asked. "We kept the lights going in the house, but we only left lightbulbs in the main part of the cellar. There are plenty of dark nooks and crannies, especially in the tunnel from the shed."

 

"Right here," Elliot replied, reaching into Hallie's canvas tote bag. He switched the flashlight on, as he led the way down the worn steps. The two friends snake-hipped past stacks of empty boxes in the underground passage. Before they reached the main area of the cellar, Elliot reached into the bag, and extracted two more items, large, clumsily-carved wooden crucifixes affixed to leather-string necklaces. "Let's put these on, now," he whispered.

 

Finally, they came into the main cellar. There were several free-standing shelves set up, some with dusty, ancient jars of preserves still on them. The various crates, some still filled with the less-expensive merchandise, were piled haphazardly against the shelves. Cellie switched on the two surviving ceiling lamps. Their naked bulbs cast a queer, dim light, and formed plum-colored shadows over the crates and shelfs that stood close to the center of the cellar. She and Elliot fanned out, and covered the entire area quickly, looking between the unlit rows of shelves. Within minutes, they came to the same dismal conclusion.

 

"He's gone," Elliot announced, almost unnecessarily. "There are several large crates that he could have used, but he's not in any one of them."

 

"Oh, Geez," Cellie nearly wept. "He must have seen Mr. Plavnickyn out for his walk, and decided to take a powder. But where to, now?"

 

"I'd guess, one of the empty wharf buildings, though it wouldn't hurt to check the houses at Collinwood again. I don't know how we can even begin to search those huge places near the docks. They're all dark, the floors are probably rotting, and the cellars may all be linked in a veritable maze. That's the way they used to build factories in the old days, I'm afraid. I wish to God we could confide in Lester, but I know our tongues will be tied, again."

 

"Maybe Pavlos knows," Cellie said.

 

"We must see him, then. You can't empathize with him, but he may be amenable to some kind of hypnosis."

 

They left the building as swiftly as they could, after Cellie had carefully re-locked everything. It

 

wasn't until they jumped into Elliot's car that she made a mental tally. "I took care of everything," she said.

 

Back at the Antique Shoppe, mice who'd feared the low hum of the alarm grid emerged from their holes, and began to chew on the upholstery of the red velvet settee. The rodents didn't need the tiny light that usually flashed from the control panel to find their dinner, anyway.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Janice opened the door to the Koffeehaus kitchen, to admit her daughter and the Professor. "Thank God you're here," she said. "Constantinos has been so logy today. He has a low-grade fever, too. He must have caught something, the night he was attacked, and his system has no resistance."

 

Cellie went out to the bar, where her stepfather sat, staring apathetically at Latilda, who was singing to the lunch crowd.

 

"If I listen long enough to you,

 

I'll find a way to believe that it's all true.

 

Knowing that you lied, straight-faced

 

While I cried. Still, I look

 

To find a reason to believe....”

 

A slow tear oozed down his ruddy, furrowed cheek. Cellie kissed him on that cheek.

 

"Little flame," he whispered. "My true daughter. The daughter of my heart." He bent his head on her breast.

 

"Pavlos," Cellie whispered urgently. "Come with me, into the storeroom."

 

Once they were inside, she closed the door. "Pavlos, I know you know where Barnabas is. I know you helped him get there. Mom said you were extra tired. I'll bet you snuck out last night while she was sleeping. You're going to get very sick, if you don't tell us, if you don't let us help you."

 

"Please, Cellie. Say no more. I cannot answer a direct question, without the sorrow and pain overwhelming me. It must not be your pain, as well."

 

"I'm not reading you now. The Professor wants to help. He'll hypnotize you. You won't feel a thing. He'll protect your mind from Barnabas's mental daggers."

 

"How many methods were tried on Willie, on Maggie, on anyone who survived encounters with Him? The only method which works, short of more black magic, is ours. You would have to read me, and I cannot permit that. He would ensnare you, my beloved child. You can't find Him, lest He take you....Go from me, Flame. I can feel your mind trying to find the 'back door' into mine."

 

"I'll try not to, Pavlos. But you must allow Elliot to at least try his idea. Barnabas has only gotten two girls, and Jack, so far. They're all safe for now. But there will be more victims. We can't truck every woman under the age of forty out of here. Sooner or later, there will be a murder. Then, there'll be two vampires, and then, the amount will increase exponentially, because we'll never catch up to all of them."

 

"He will NOT kill! I have heard---" Pavlos grabbed his head with both hands. "It hurts, Cellie....Yet I know I must put the good of the many over my own good---"

 

"If we can get to Barnabas today, you will recover, Pavlos. I love him as much as I love you, but I believe if he's gone, even the people he's hurt in the past will be a lot better off. My husband, for one. If only he could lose that sad, distracted look he gets in his eyes, sometimes, the memories I can't take away from him....”

 

"What if Willie becomes what he was before Barnabas got him, Cellie? You had a taste of the ugliness and cruelty he once wallowed in, the night he fought with Lester. Maybe a part of him still needs Barnabas around, to supplement the positive changes you've inspired in his character. And what will become of your aunt? She is very brave, and her child will be fine, no matter what happens to its father, but she will probably never recover from her husband's passing."

 

"I've considered everything, Pavlos. As you once observed, it's what I do best! It's also what will paralyze me, if I let it get to me. I even have to face that killing Barnabas will have an adverse effect on my child. Barnabas's sister's spirit has resided in her body since she almost died at birth. I have to hold onto my faith that Sarah will understand. She tried to control her brother when he was first released, years ago. I pray she'll understand now. But even if it means an end to all I hold dear, something must be done. Barnabas can't be cured this time. He WILL kill, no matter what promises he may have made to you. And you know, if I have to lose my child because of this, at least Nicholas won't be able to get her." Cellie hung her head.

 

Now she was crying. "Nicholas hasn't given any indication that he knows that anyone else in my family is expecting a child just like Sarah Teresa. Apparently, my brother's unborn child bears no Fraser or Sisk traits. The world will be safe, at least until another such child is born. Since I can't provide one, that may not be for hundreds of years."

 

"Cellie," Pavlos crooned. "If you can face making such a sacrifice, then I must. Let the Professor hypnotize me."  The Greek and his stepdaughter walked out of the storage-room, hand-in-hand. In the kitchen, Pavlos sat before Elliot, who fixed his attention on the glittery case of his pocket-watch. Cellie convinced her mother to leave the professor and Pavlos alone together.

 

Elliot said, "Pavlos, you must transfer your empathism to me. I know your will is subject to another's, and that might inhibit some of your responses, but I may still get the desired information. Open your heart to me, my friend. Let me relieve your mind, as you relieved my niece's, her young man's, and so many others."

 

"You must hold my hand," Pavlos answered. "I can distract my mind by gazing upon your watchcase, but physical contact is necessary for the emotional bond to shift. But be forewarned. The summons must not be transferred. If it comes your way, our contact MUST be broken."

 

Elliot took Pavlos's hand without hesitation. He swung the watch before the Greek's face. Within a minute, Pavlos's eyes, already dark-ringed with exhaustion, drooped satisfactorily. At the same time, Elliot nearly staggered under the weight of a profound, guilty sorrow. He wondered how Pavlos could bear it. He wondered how Willie had borne it, and how Cellie had ever been able to relieve her husband of it.

 

While he could still think straight, Elliot gasped, "Pavlos, I only have time to ask the one question---Where is Barnabas now?"

 

The Greek answered in a snapping tone, which was instantly familiar to the Professor. "You think you can evade the punishment for betraying me. YOU ARE WRONG!"

 

Elliot screamed, clawing at his head with one hand, the other clutching Pavlos's hand convulsively, as though he was being electrocuted and couldn't let go. Cellie ran into the kitchen at once, and ripped Pavlos's hand from Elliot's grasp. Now, the Greek was panting and rubbing his temples. "I warned you, Elliot," he said, sorrowfully. "It's hopeless."

 

"No, Pavlos. Where there's life, there's hope," Elliot said in a shaky voice. "We'll keep searching on our own. I don't believe Barnabas can go far away. The end of his leash is still held by Nicholas."

 

Janice came into the kitchen, and immediately enveloped her husband in her embrace. "Why are you playing these games on my husband?" she asked. "He's very sick, can't you see that? I heard his scream. I had to make up some excuse that he had to move the refrigerator, and the wheels squealed."

 

"It was I who screamed, Janice," Elliot said.

 

"No! It was Constantinos's voice," Janice insisted.

 

"No, Dearest One, it was my soul crying out through Elliot's," Pavlos said. "It was very selfish of me, to put that upon another man."

 

"You wanted to help us, Pavlos, in spite of what could have been a heavy price to yourself," Elliot insisted. "Poor Charles Plavnicky almost paid the same price today. You two probably won't be the last. Greater Love hath no man….”

CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

 

Another night; the sidewalks of Collinsport had become empty of all but the most essential foot traffic, especially that of the female population. Those who'd regarded the attack on Hallie Stokes as an isolated incident, now stayed home from the nightspot they'd once regarded as the most secure, the Koffeehaus. Even the sophisticated owners of the bars on well-lit Main Street wrung their hands and wailed that Collinsport was one step away from rolling up their sidewalks after dark.

 

The only women one saw after sundown were fearless matrons, usually over forty, some of whom insisted on doing tasks like shopping and picking up dry cleaning for their daughters, married as well as single. They remembered well, a similar set of circumstances, six years earlier, when some of their mothers and fathers performed the same favors for them.

 

Drivers of buses and taxis made a point of dropping their female passengers, and some of the younger males, directly in front of their homes after dark, and waiting until the riders were safely inside. One such driver watched Nurse Maria Fatima Texeira, whose car had broken down earlier in the week, and her best friend from Collinsport General, Nurse Lucy Fedders, on the steps of the Texeira home He received a message over his dispatch radio, a request for a ride from a young cashier who had to get to her shift at the Superette.

 

The driver observed the two nurses laughing and chattering as Maria Fatima rummaged in her purse for her keys. He fidgetted in his desire to claim the cashier's fare. Pickings were slim these days, with so few people going out at night. When he saw the Portuguese nurse pull the key from her shoulder bag, he drove away quickly.

 

Maria Fatima was still engaged in conversation with her friend, whom she'd long intended to introduce to her shy brother. Jorge was always using his erratic hours at the Superette as an excuse not to date often. "I hope he comes home early enough," Maria Fatima said, as she inserted her key. It slid from her hands, and bounced off the porch, into the woodchips that surrounded the bushes.

 

"We'd both better search," Lucy suggested, a little nervously. The street on which the Texeira home stood was a quiet cul-de-sac, with little traffic. The other three houses around the circle were almost concealed by old bushes and trees. Still, the two nurses saw the glow of lights in the windows they could see. They doubted anything would happen to them, not without warning, anyway. Plus, both had been attending O.O.M.A.A., and making great progress at Jiu Jitsu.

 

Maria Fatima agreed that, working together, she and Lucy would have a better chance of finding the key. She still had hopes that her brother or her mother (who was at a P.T.A. meeting), would show up soon. So she motioned to her friend to join her down behind the bushes. Lucy went down toward the end of the house, and Maria Fatima stationed herself near the steps. Between the two of them, they ran their fingers into the musty woodchips, hoping to feel the sharp cold of the keys.

 

There was a rushing, fluttering sound, like something brushing against the spokes of a bicycle tire. Lucy yelped, more in surprise than fright, when whatever-it-was brushed against her back, and toppled her, face first, into the woodchips. She pulled herself up, grasping at the branches of the bush nearest her, only to see someone in a dark overcoat or cape struggling with Maria Fatima, near the steps.

 

Lucy gave a blood-curdling war whoop, and pounced on the attacker, who had her friend's neck in his grasp as he bent his head toward her throat. He released Maria Fatima, who fell, gasping, into the wood chips. Lucy hung from the man's neck as she kicked and fought, beating hardest on the man's lower back. In the distance, she could see a light flashing on over the porch next door, and made out a neighbor running towards the Texeira home with a gun. Unthinkingly, she raised an arm, and called out. The attacker gave a violent shake, and dropped her against the cement porch. Her head hit the rough edge of the porch, and she slumped into the woodchips.

 

The neighbor man saw the attacker run out of the bushes. he drew a bead on the fleeing figure, but when he cocked the trigger and fired, the back of the gun blew up. In his frenzy to protect his face from the flying debris, he barely had time to notice that the man had disappeared. Before he could reach the two prostrate women, what appeared to be a large bat brushed against him, causing him to stumble.

 

The Sheriff's car arrived minutes later. Lester Arliss emerged from the vehicle in time to see the neighbor man who'd carried the gun, laying his jacket over Lucy Fedders's face.

 

"She died trying to save me!" Maria Fatima shrieked in her sorrow and guilt. "I was just about to get up, and help her get away!" She huddled in the woodchips, hugging her knees, her ordinary confidence completely gone.

 

"Maria Fatima," Lester said gently, "Did you check Lucy yourself, to make sure she was dead?"  The young nurse did not reply, but sobbed and sniffled.

 

"No," the neighbor said, "as soon as she saw her friend out cold like that, she touched her face once....Then she freaked. I don't get it. Nurses are supposed to keep their cool, right?"

 

"If it was YOUR friend, and you were both attacked, and she was hurt trying to defend you--- Would you think rationally, at least, right away?" Lester demanded. He uncovered Lucy's face, and touched her throat lightly. There was no pulse beat.

 

Maria Fatima roused herself from her grief just enough to show Lester the right place to check. He felt one faint beat, then nothing....then, half a minute later, another...."Did anyone call for an ambulance yet?" the Sheriff asked.

 

"I told my wife to call both you and the ambulance, before I left my house," the neighbor said. "It should be here any minute---"

 

Now the ambulance came careening down the quiet cul-de-sac. All the neighbors came streaming out of their houses. The attendants fastened Lucy Fedders carefully onto a stretcher, and Maria Fatima was gently led to the ambulance by Lester and Cameron Hurley. Along the way, Lester tried to get the nurse to tell him about the attack, but she was still distraught. In the brief moments before Cameron shut the doors to the ambulance, another E.M.T. was strapping Maria Fatima to a stretcher. Suddenly, he whistled, and said, "Hey, Lester!'

 

The Sheriff, who was standing outside the ambulance, jumped aboard. "What happened in here? Nurse Fedders pass away?"

 

"No man," the E.M.T. said. "Look," he said. Lester and Cameron bent close. Under the light, the three could make out bruises. Not only finger-mark bruises, but bruises around two tiny but deep indentations along a throbbing vein in Maria Fatima's neck. The skin was just barely broken in one.

 

"Almost what happened to Nettie Cadieux!" Cameron exclaimed.

 

"You'd better make sure the blood and saliva and whatever else in that wound gets tested," Lester said, as he got out of the ambulance.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie had just finished clearing up the dishes in the patient's cafeteria at WindCliff. After he'd brought the last trayload into the kitchen, he went on his break. The breaks were getting longer and longer, with every good day he had. He had nearly enough time to read half a magazine, now. What he really wanted to do was read a newspaper, but those were forbidden to all but the patients who were about to be released, as part of their re-adjustment therapy. He didn't have enough money on him, to bribe one of those patients, and the doctors' and nurses' lounges were in the mansion portion of the building, locked away from the patients.

 

He needed to read one, more than ever, since he had a very strong feeling lately, that Cecily was less than truthful about certain matters when she visited every day. He would ask her about Barnabas and Julia, and wonder aloud why Barnabas, at least, hadn't visited him at all, since Julia was supposed to be so much better, and was staying at Collinwood now.

 

Willie was especially distressed that Pavlos hadn't come to see him. Cecily would suddenly get a terribly sad look on her face, and David also, when he came with her. Once, Willie had been put into a kind of "time-out" room, and tranquilized, when he was observed grabbing at his wife's shoulders as he demanded the reason that his surrogate father, her own stepfather, couldn't take time off from the Koffeehaus to visit.

 

He got blank stares from his wife and their friend, when he made a joke about Carolyn getting around to tying the knot with Tony, already. The only pleasure he'd gotten from these visits, was when Cecily brought Sarah Teresa. "She's trying to walk already, Will!" Cecily announced.

 

"Just as long as she doesn't learn to run, right off, like me," he sighed, as he held the baby so she could hear his heartbeat. No matter how agitated or cranky Sarah Teresa was when her mother first brought her into the visiting room, she always quieted down when her father embraced her thus. Willie also felt more secure, cuddling his daughter, and holding his wife's hand, but not enough to say, "Cecily, I know you're not telling me the truth about what's been going on at home." He tried to accept that she knew best about what to tell him, but that didn't stop the series of bad dreams he'd been having, dreams in which he knew his little girl, or Pavlos, or Barnabas were in some kind of danger, and only he, Willie, could help them. Only he knew what to do about Barnabas, especially.

 

Willie sat in the solarium, trying to read an automotive magazine, but the desire to get his hands on a regular newspaper was too strong. The temptation to form a plot to obtain one was far too powerful to resist. He tried to think of some way he could get into the mansion part of WindCliff. Maybe there was some way he could get one from a trash-can. He'd noticed that the patients who worked in the gardens had to go through a passage in the mansion. Maybe he could get on that work detail, and take a side-trip on his way to and from the gardens.

 

He found Doctor Emmons at the nurse's desk. "Please let me go out to the gardens, Doc," Willie pleaded. "I've been working real hard around the inside of the place. You can check with the kitchen and housekeeping staffs. I feel like I gotta stretch my legs more, get some fresh air, and so forth. I'm not going to walk out of here, if that's what you're thinking. I want to get better, 'cause my wife and baby need me."

 

Doctor Emmons plucked Willie's chart from the file cabinet, and read it. "Well, Willie, I've been thinking of sending you out there, anyway. Mr. Garofalo, the gardener, mentioned that he needs some people to dig a new bed for Dahlias. A crew's heading out right now, if you want to give up the rest of your break."

 

"I'll go get my coat, right now," Willie replied eagerly. When he had on his old pea coat from his shipping days, he followed Dr. Emmons through the passage. The psychiatrist introduced Willie to the gardener. When the doctor had left, Mr. Garofalo immediately had an errand for Willie to run. "You know where the gardening shed is, don't you, Willie?" he asked.

 

"The little castle-looking shack over yonder?" Willie pointed.

 

"Right. I have a couple of boxes of Dahlia tubers left over from last year. They're all clearly labeled. I want you to bring me the 'dinnerplate' reds and yellows....”

 

Willie went into the shed. He discovered that some of the boxes and trays were lined with old newspaper. Too old for his purposes, but--- wait a minute! There was a pile of recent-looking papers stacked in a corner, for use in lining yet more boxes. He checked the dates quickly. The latest one was dated from the day before yesterday. There was a tear in the lining of his coat. Willie was able to tuck the first two sections of the newspaper into the hole. Then he quickly grabbed the boxes of dahlia clumps, and ran to Mr. Garofalo.

 

"Thought for a minute, you didn't understand my directions, Willie," the gardener shrugged as he took the boxes. "Now you, and Carl and Pat, take those shovels, and turn over clods of dirt. I'll help. The orderlies will keep an eye on us."

 

When he was back in his room, Willie drew forth his booty. He hid it under his mattress, as he went to take a shower. When he was in his hospital-issue pajamas, and felt warm and comfortable in his bed, he settled himself in for his reward. He unrolled the front section of the paper. He hadn't really paid attention to the headline, when he was checking the dates earlier. He hoped to be surprised. He was rather more than surprised.

 

"ANOTHER ATTACK IN THE NIGHT IN 'QUIET' COLLINSPORT!" the headline almost shrieked at him. "The latest in a series of mysterious assaults on young local women occurred at approximately ten o'clock last night, on an ordinarily peaceful, tree-lined Collinsport street. Two nurses just off-duty from Collinsport General Hospital were accosted almost at the front door of the home of one of them. Lucy Jane Fedders, 24, of Chartville was seriously injured, and listed in grave condition at Collinsport General, according to the latest statement issued by the hospital.

 

“Maria Fatima Texeira, also 24, at whose home the assaults took place, fortunately sustained only minor injuries. She was released this morning, to what is termed a 'safe haven' already being utilized by Hannah Lynn 'Hallie' Stokes, 19, of Orono, and Annette Cadieux, 17, of Collinsport, who both suffered similar attacks in the last three days.

 

"A local business man, Constantinos Pavlos, 54, who owns the popular 'Koffeehaus' All-Ages Club, the site of Ms. Cadieux's incident, has also been injured, reportedly due to his efforts to protect Ms. Cadieux. Information about the specific nature of the nurses' injuries hasn't been released, out of respect for the families. Still, there is widespread speculation that at least one of them bears the tell-tale sign that these assaults are related to those that took place previously: a severe bitemark on the neck---"

 

Willie began to sweat. He had a sure instinct about just who had inflicted those marks. No wonder Cecily and David refused to tell him about Barnabas and Pavlos. Somehow, Nicholas or that Desiree had brought the curse back. The bad times had, indeed returned, as he'd always feared.

 

He thought about Julia....She'd given Barnabas special shots, the last time he had a 'relapse', after Adam had disappeared, and it seemed that, wherever he was, he couldn't assume the burden of any subsequent flare-up of Barnabas's vampirism. Willie recalled the elaborate procedures Julia had to perform to prepare the serum in the laboratory that once stood in the cellar of the Old House, which she'd helped him dismantle in 1971, when Barnabas's curse was lifted. She couldn't possibly set the whole thing up again, in three days, even if the Professor, Cecily, and David helped her.

 

Then there was the matter of working long hours, and being on her feet most of the time....Cecily had reported that her aunt was easily winded by a walk in the Collinwood gardens, for God's sake! Willie, recalling Julia's condition the last time he'd seen her, could believe that part, at least. The Doctor probably wouldn't be completely recovered until after her baby was born.

 

Willie didn't know whether to wish that someone would kill Barnabas, or to hope matters didn't get worse until Julia could attempt another cure. His feelings toward Barnabas had become quite positive, healthy almost, since he'd married Cecily. Willie's old feelings of resentful worship and unrequited respect towards his former master had transmuted into a tenuous, delicate, but genuine camaraderie.

 

Even the incident last July, when Nicholas caused their buried rivalry over Cecily to explode, and the near-tragic conflict with Walter Hoffman had not, in the end, rattled their unity. The last few weeks had strained it, but he was still grateful for Barnabas's forbearance, and spirited defense of his unhappy employee, even though he obviously knew what Willie had done to Cecily. Knowing Barnabas as he did, Willie half-suspected that somewhere in the medieval labyrinth of his reasoning process, surviving from those early vampire days of taking quick offense and extreme penalties for those offenses, he approved.

 

Willie tried to wash those thoughts from his brain, the same brain that had to remember when Barnabas had beaten Adam as punishment for nearly killing the keeper who'd tormented him. Though it was clear that Barnabas was slowly becoming fond of the artificial man he was training, he'd chosen to alienate him to protect Willie. The punishment had set poor Adam on a course of crippling a jail guard, kidnapping Carolyn, and inadvertently killing Maggie's father, who'd befriended him, and eventually joining forces with Nicholas Blair, which led to more trouble and deaths. Willie had plenty of occasion to reflect on his resposibility for that disaster in the last couple of years, since he'd been straightening himself out. But when he came right down to it, the only important conclusion he drew was that Barnabas had preferred him to his rival.

 

They were stuck with each other, all right--- even the new, pleasant friendship with the kindly Pavlos had a here-today, gone-tomorrow feeling about it. After all the changes he'd endured, Willie feared additional change, probably more than anyone else on earth. There was only one thing that wouldn't change for him, even if everyone else in his life faded away. . .

 

He had to stop thinking that way! He was supposed to get better, so he could help Cecily....Cecily, who had kept this very important news from him! Oh, sure, if he confronted her, she'd say it was for his own sake, so he wouldn't worry and need more tranquilizers. She was so worried about HIM, that she'd rolled around a backseat and a bed with that bald jerk Lester--- How did Willie know she wasn't back with Lester, laughing about her husband being stuck in the looney-bin, while she let the Sheriff touch her shell-white skin, and whispered secrets in his ear about Barnabas. . .

 

Willie checked the rest of the article, for any indication that Barnabas was under suspicion. All the article said was that "Sheriff Lester Arliss has already sought assistance from the State Police, and has even contacted the F.B.I. for any information about any similar, recent assaults and/or murders in other areas. He has announced that he received sketchy descriptions of the possible perpetrator, but there is no official suspect. His department is following several leads, including investigation of major players who once figured in a series of similar crimes that took place six years ago....”

 

Oh, Christ, Willie thought. Major players from six years ago….

 

Lester would send someone to speak to Maggie, to Julia, Carolyn, maybe even David, who had once been quite openly vocal about his suspicions of Barnabas; Willie definitely expected a visit. He wondered if Barnabas was still in the vicinity, fobbing off suspicions about his new schedule with the same tired excuses.

 

There was one time, after Maggie had escaped, when Lester's Uncle George Patterson had stopped by. He was one to hide his suspicions under a veneer of good humor. He'd found Willie on the steps of the Old House, laboriously cleaning a fancy coffee-table so dusty, his resulting sneezes had forced him to complete the chore outdoors. As usual during the daylight hours, Willie had made the expected excuse, about Barnabas being in Bangor, or Ellsworth or Augusta or Portland, until nightfall.

 

The Sheriff had smiled, a little slyly, Willie thought, when he made his reply. "Goodness, Willie, Barnabas is here so seldom during the day, that I'll bet he wouldn't even recognize this place if he came home right now." How Willie had longed to shout the truth to him, then! Sheriff Patterson radiated a little bit of the same kind of good-natured interest in him that Pavlos now did (once it was clear Willie had changed from the way he was before he met Barnabas, of course.) Barnabas had screwed that up for him, and won over the sheriff by turning against his servant. Still, Willie was surprised when he read Walter Hoffman's copy of Patterson's last letter, which detailed the late Sheriff's lingering doubts.

 

Well, he couldn't expect the same sympathetic treatment from Patterson's nephew. And he couldn't think badly of Barnabas, after the way he'd been making it all up to Willie since then. Barnabas couldn't help what he was doing, in spite of the fact he seemed to be targetting family friends again. Hallie....she would end up like Maggie, sick and estranged from her love. Maria Fatima Texeira, who'd baptized Sarah Teresa, and the two relative strangers in between, Annette and Nurse Fedders....Maybe Barnabas would get to Cecily eventually; maybe that's what she'd wanted after all, Willie reflected bitterly, recalling last July.

 

Willie wanted, more than ever to get out of WindCliff. But it was nearly impossible. Dr. Emmons had given him a stern lecture about the electrified fence, and the guards, some of whom were disguised as patients, who were always patrolling the area. He could try to call Cecily; in spite of his anger at her at the moment, he was willing to butter her up, to get her to rescind his commitment. He checked his change supply, the result of several days of picking up coins dropped by the hospital staff. So far, no-one had noticed the cache, in its tiny envelope, carefully taped and hidden under the drawer of his nighstand.

 

After he'd shoved the newspaper back into his pea coat, for return to the garden shed tomorrow, Willie took his change down the hall, looking over his shoulder all the way, to the pay phone in the staff lounge. He was one of the lucky ones in that his rapid recovery, and co-operation in performing hospital chores had earned him the right to an unlocked room, but there were regular bed-checks. A nurse would be visiting his room in about twenty minutes, so he had to hurry.

 

Fortunately, he didn't run into anyone, even though he cringed behind doors whenever he heard a sound. Any patients still awake were in the activity room, their attention fixed on the television set there. The medical staff usually got their coffee from the staff lounge, and joined them there, as much for relaxation at the end of the day, as to keep an eye on the patients.

 

The staff lounge wasn't completely off-limits to the patients, especially during the day, when they were doing their assigned tasks, and just wanted a quick cup of coffee. But they had to ask a staff member to unlock the door. This was supposed to prevent the doctors and nurses from being ambushed when they went in for a break. Willie had long since figured out how to unlock the door, though he'd only needed to go in there once, when he craved coffee, and no attendant was in sight; he wanted to save the long trip to the cafeteria.

 

He slid a white hairpin he'd found (it had probably fallen from a nurse's cap) into the lock, and shook it gently. The door opened, and he went in. The room was dark; the staff was very conscientious about electricity conservation and other cost-cutting measures, so lights were turned off when rooms were empty. He was careful not to turn on the light; there was a security camera trained on the area near the phone. Willie was capable of picking out the numbers he wished to dial, in the dark. He inserted his coins, and dialed Collinwood. He prayed that Cecily would be the one to pick it up right away. If someone else answered, he'd have to hang up, and he didn't have enough change to keep trying; and, of course, he had to get this over with, before a staff member caught him.

 

Willie was on a lucky streak, all right. Cecily picked the phone up on the first ring. At first, he was tongue-tied; he'd never done this before. Maybe his wife would get angry at him, hang up, and call WindCliff to tattle on him.

 

Cecily, puzzled by the silence on the other end of the line, said, hesitantly, "Hello? Hello? Who is this? Pavlos? Are you alright? Is--is your problem flaring up again?" She waited, and must have decided it couldn't be her stepfather. "Barnabas!" she said eagerly. "If it's you, please tell me. I'm alone, nobody will hear. I promise, if you speak to me, I won't let anyone hurt you. I wanted to, I admit it, but, well, maybe there's some way we can work this thing out....Barnabas?" Another pause. "This isn't Carolyn, is it? Or, is it Nicholas?"

 

Willie began, irritation in his voice, "The next thing, you'll be guessing it's Hallie, then Lester, before you even think it could be ME, Cecily."

 

"Will! My God. I thought you weren't allowed to make phone calls, certainly not at this hour!"

 

"I had---I had to call you, my girl." Willie's tone changed to one of humility. "Cecily, I was so worried about what was going on at home."

 

"Oh, Will, you don't have to! We're holding down the fort here. Sarah Teresa is fine. You just clear your mind, and you'll be home all the sooner---"

 

"Home for what, Cecily? Is everything really okay at home?"

 

"Well, there are problems, but nothing you can help me with---"

 

"That's your way of handling me, isn't it Cecily? You always said you valued the truth, and here you are, lying to me, trying to keep me quiet---"

 

"Will," she said, "This is precisely why I DON'T tell you things. You're in no condition---"

 

"What condition do I have to be in?" He sounded angry again. "I'm not tearing at my clothes, or breaking things, or attacking anyone who comes near me, Cecily, even though I know an awful lot, already."

 

"How--how---nobody at WindCliff knows about what's been going on, except from the T.V., or the papers---Oh, God. Will, you saw it on T.V.? I can't believe the doctors allow the patients to watch WBAM Action News---"

 

"I did better than that, Cecily. I had to swipe a newspaper. Because, you see, I know you better than anybody else on the planet, except for Barnabas. I knew you were putting me off when I asked about Him, and Pavlos....I know all about Hallie, and Nurse Texeira, and all the rest....When you answered the phone, and started babbling to the people you were most worried about, except for ME, I just put two and two together."

 

"Okay, okay," she sighed. "Pavlos was hurt. Barnabas is--is missing. Carolyn's gone to Nicholas---"

 

"Cecily," Willie pleaded. "Come sign me out of here, please. I can help you. I know I can. Lester's not going to help you, not like you need. He'll just kill Barnabas---"

 

"Will....He doesn't know about Barnabas, not yet. He has his suspicions, and he's not as easily fobbed off as his late Uncle, but so far, he's torn between suspecting Barnabas, and believing he's just another victim of the 'madman' who's been biting girls and beating up guys. But Will....you weren't here when he attacked Hallie. She could have died, or worse....you know what I mean. And as for Nurse Fedders---she wasn't bitten, but she could die any minute, the way she was hurt, trying to defend Maria Fatima! And, by the way, I'll bet you haven't guessed what else happened. Somehow, Barnabas got into the County Jail, and went after Jack---"

 

"Serves the bastard right!" Willie sounded triumphant. "Didn't I tell you once, I wished something like that would happen?"

 

"I can't get all that happy about it," she replied. "It's only a matter of time before Lester makes all the right connections. None of us have told him. None of us can, for some reason! But that doesn't mean that Barnabas mustn't be stopped, before there is a death. Will, don't get angry at what I'm going to say---"

 

"You said it already!" Willie hissed. "When you thought you were talking to Barnabas. You tried to kill Him yourself, didn't you? But He got away, and you're trying to get Him to come back, so you can finish the job! How could you, Cecily?" He began to sniffle.

 

"Will....For God's sake, don't start crying. You've been through this before, with him. You've even agreed to it, until it turned out Barnabas hadn't reverted after all. He's much worse than before. Not only does he injure his victims, he nearly raped Hallie....I know what that is, now. I don't want that to happen to her, not to mention the fact that she could get pregnant. Or any of the others! The Professor and I had a Hell of a time convincing Aunt Jule that she wasn't really carrying a vampire baby, after all. Can you imagine the disaster, if it really comes to pass?"

 

"Julia could fix Him. She did before," Willie pleaded.

 

"It's impossible, this time, Will. This came from Nicholas himself, not one of his pupils. What's more, Barnabas apparently consented to it, in a desperate attempt to get Nicholas and Desiree to cure Aunt Jule and their baby. If one says 'yes' to such a deal, it changes the picture, somehow. There's something different about this affliction, it's even more vicious than you remember. Aunt Jule's not well enough to even do research, and I doubt Barnabas would sit still for a cure. Even if we built another Adam, somehow--- But I wouldn't want to do that. Will, I'm sorry....”

 

"Cecily! Let me get out of here, and I can prove that He can tame Himself down! I talked Him out of some of His plans, before. You have to trust me on this! Cecily, please....Or are you happier without me there? I'll bet Lester comes over every day, doesn't he? I know you said that's over. I believed you then. I tried to help you with your empath stuff, remember? But you're STILL lying to me!"

 

"Will," Cecily said, weariness in her voice, "I DO love you. I DON'T see Lester. He's tried to get me to tell him, and I can't take it....I'm sorry I kept you in the dark about recent events. Everyone thought that would be best for you, not just me! And, whether you believe me, or not, I'm doing what I must, about Barnabas, because I love him very much too. His soul will never be free. He'll steal the souls of others, and, after having known him at his best, I can't allow such things to happen. Try to understand, my love....”

 

"I only understand that He was here before You, and You're going to kill Him….”

 

"Will, the very thought makes me sick, but the good of the many…. It's also been a distraction from protecting Sarah Teresa. Think about her, if you can't think of me."

 

Willie was suddenly contrite. "I'm sorry, Cecily. Of course you're right. You're always right. I love you too. I just want to be with you and the baby, and the way things used to be....Cecily, I'm not going off my head, anymore. Surely, Lester wouldn't mind if I got out of WindCliff now. I want to be with you when he sends one of his deputies to pump me for stuff about Barnabas."

 

"There may be no time for that, hon. Just try to be brave, when you get that visitor. I'll try to see you tomorrow, but Pavlos has been sick since....Well, you must know, from your reading. Mom might need me to spend time with him. I'll talk to Aunt Jule. Maybe she can visit you, and talk about early release. Now, please, hon, go back to bed. I promise I won't tell anyone about your phone call, if you promise to be good at WindCliff from now on."

 

"Okay, Cecily. Good-night. Kiss my Peanut for me. I'll be good as gold." As he hung up, Willie's resolve hardened. He had to get out of Wind-Cliff, as soon as possible. He didn't want to ruin things for himself by trying to break out, but if his wife and her aunt didn't come through for him, he'd find a way past the fences, and the guards dressed as patients.

 

After re-locking the door to the lounge, he got back to his room just a minute before he heard the sturdy, determined clump of the night nurse's shoes outside his door. "Having some trouble sleeping, Willie?" she asked, pleasantly, as she entered.

 

"I guess. I got a lot on my mind," he replied, just as pleasantly. "It's hard being a patient here, when you got a family to fret about. I'm worried about my wife and my little girl."

 

"About anything specific?" the nurse inquired. "If there's some problem we can help you with--- Is it financial trouble you fear?---I can contact the appropriate staff members. I've even called up a couple of the billing-office accountants, when patients became agitated over the cost of their hospitalization. For the most part, the office people don't mind reassuring them over the phone, about insurance, or paying small monthly installments. Anything to bring peace to the patients---"

 

"No, no, I don't have to worry about the money," Willie said. "I feel that my girls are in danger....”

 

"Willie, have you somehow gotten wind of the recent events in your hometown? Don't be afraid. Nobody's going to punish you! If you over-heard some nurses gossiping, or the workers--- It's nobody's fault, really, that the bad news has spread, even to some of the patients. You're not the first patient to become anxious. But I can assure you, that if something happened to your wife or daughter, we would inform you--- with adequate preparation, of course….”

 

"You mean, pumping me with tranks," Willie groused.

 

"That would be a matter for your doctor to decide, in that event. In the meantime," the nurse said, brightly, "if you're having trouble sleeping right now, I'll call Dr. Emmons to authorize a sedative. Or, do you feel like you could fall asleep now, after our little talk?"

 

"Maybe I need something after all," Willie replied resignedly.

 

Five minutes later, the nurse returned from the pharmacy with a tiny paper cup containing two white pills. She watched as Willie obediently placed the pills in his mouth, and sipped water she'd poured into the paper cup. "You must swallow harder than that!" she admonished, well aware of the favorite patients' trick of hiding the pills under their tongues until their attendants left their rooms. Willie made loud gulping noises, and even opened his mouth to show he'd swallowed the pills. "You are one of the most co-operative patients, I must say," the nurse said, smiling benignly. "Now, lights out, Willie."

 

When she left Willie's room, she went directly to the nurse's station, and called Dr. Emmons again. "He's resting now," she said, "but he's very worried about the Collinsport situation. I can't understand why we didn't tell him, earlier. He would have had time to adjust to the news, and relaxed."

 

"Or," the doctor warned, "Willie could have had a traumatic-stress reaction, stayed up all night, resisted milder sleeping medications, needed the heavier sedatives, and been totally unfit to face the situation....I think we can handle the problems better, as they come up. He'll have had less time to build up resistance to whatever questions are posed."

 

The nurse could hear Doctor Emmons sigh. He said, "I remember how he was, when he was in here years ago. I wasn't his main psychiatrist then, but the few times I consulted on his case then, it became clear to me, he couldn't have been entirely responsible for the Evans incident. It's terribly sad they have to bother the fellow now, when it's obvious he's had NOTHING to do with the current series of events, his own troubles notwithstanding. Sheriff Arliss was actually demanding that we administer Scopalamine, of all things!"

 

"Will you?" the nurse asked hesitantly.

 

"I don't WANT to. He threatened me with a court order! I personally think hypnosis would be a safer bet. The best thing would be to bring Julia Collins up here, and have her do the job. I just got a call from her, a few minutes ago, to inquire about how soon Willie can be released. She wants to come tomorrow and check him out for herself, anyway. Apparently, she's feeling a lot better these days. But Sheriff Arliss was going on with some clap-trap about her missing husband, Willie's boss....Anything's possible, I suppose, but even if Mr. Collins IS responsible, I can't believe he would have discussed his plans for these activities with his unstable employee. I certainly wouldn't trust Willie with such a secret!"

 

"Will he be released soon?"

 

"A lot depends on how he behaves tomorrow, during the interrogation. It isn't going to be easy on him, no matter what 'inducement' is implemented to assure his co-operation. When I spoke to Dr. Collins, she said her niece would be driving her up here. They won't be able to sit in on the questioning session, but it will surely make Willie feel better to see them as soon as it's over. All I can say is, thank God Lester Arliss himself won't be conducting the interview!"

 

"If you think it would be beneficial to Willie, I could come back here tomorrow morning, to assist you," the nurse offered. "We've developed a rapport."

 

"Very well, then. The deputy will arrive at nine A.M., Nurse Sandford."

 

Nurse Sandford retreated into the Ladies's room. There were four stalls, one of which was occupied. She could see white-shod feet under the door. "Darlene, is that you? I see you went and got the same style of shoes as mine. Pretty comfortable, no?"

 

"No," came a muffled reply. "Darlene called in sick, and they got me from the first shift. But thanks for the compliment about the shoes. They ARE pretty comfortable, yes." A soft laugh issued from the stall.

 

"So you're from first shift?" Nurse Sandford asked. "I was on first till last month. I know practically everyone on that shift. Who are you?"

 

"I'm Nurse DeLorean. I just started here, last week. I must admit, though, I like this shift better. Perhaps they can switch me around permanently."

 

"No shortage of volunteers who'd switch in a New York minute, DeLorean," Nurse Sandford replied from her stall, "but you have to wait out your first month for that. They just don't need as many nurses in here night-times, anyway. So, do you have a first name?"

 

"Oh, yes. Alanna. What's yours?"

 

Nurse Sandford emerged from her stall, to wash her hands. "Penny Sandford. Pleased to meet you, if you can call this an introduction. Alanna DeLorean," she mused. "Sounds more like a name for a model or a movie star, than a nurse! So, are you going to stay in there all night? Are you okay? Or just hiding?" She chuckled.

 

"Can't wait to see if the nurse matches the name, eh?" Another soft laugh. "I'll be out in a moment, have no fear."

 

Nurse Sandford took her hand-washing very seriously. She was running the water full blast, but she still heard the stall-door latch snap open behind her. "Hey," she said, "how about flushing, for crying out---" She glanced up at the mirror before her. "Oh, my God....” The image that met Nurse Sandford's eyes froze her to the spot. "I--I can't have---I can't have a twin---"

 

"Perhaps I am one of those, what do they call them---clones!" Alanna DeLorean laughed out loud, now.

 

"Stop," Nurse Sandford said, as she stared into the mirror at the reflection of woman who stood behind her. This Alanna DeLorean looked exactly like her--- polished bun of thin, mousy brown hair; pale, eager face with a sprinkling of freckles across her round nose, soft lips; the shoes, of course, and a uniform like hers down to the I.D. badge. "What are you trying to do?" Nurse Sandford demanded weakly. "What are you going to do to me?" She tried to move, but her feet felt as though they were glued to the floor.

 

"I'm on assignment from MY registry, you might say," Alanna said, as she brandished a loaded hypodermic needle. Nurse Sandford opened her mouth to scream, but no sound issued forth. "I made a bit of a miscalculation some time back," Alanna continued. "It's damned hard to impersonate a doctor for long. It's harder when it's a female physician. There's too few of them in this backwards society as yet, for any one of them to pass by without attracting extra attention. Nurses, on the other hand, can be a pretty anonymous, homogenous lot. You are SO typical, you were a perfect choice for a template. Not to mention the fact that you get on so well with poor Willie." She stuck the needle deep into Nurse Sandford's arm.

 

The nurse slumped to the floor. Alanna dragged her into the corner stall, propped her on the commode, locked the door from the inside, mounted the toilet seat, and clambered over the stall door. She landed neatly on her sensibly-shod feet like a cat. She peeked out the door, and glanced up and down the hall. She saw nobody. Excellent, she thought, as she trotted briskly down to Willie's room.

CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

 

Willie was lost in another one of his dreams. He was carrying Sarah Teresa, and running for their lives down a dark hallway. When he reached the end of the passage, he realized he'd run straight into the notorious "Rubber room" of WindCliff. How many hours he'd put in there, the last time he was in the hospital. But that wasn't too bad. He'd thrash around for a while, crying about the death and destruction and violation he'd witnessed and experienced, then he'd fall asleep.

 

This rubber room was different. The electroshock machine was in there, humming malevolently. Willie turned on his heel, about to flee with his daughter, when the door slammed shut. "Willie," a soft, sneering voice murmurred behind him. Willie looked behind him.

 

Lester Arliss stood there, holding a gun pointed at Willie's head. Cecily was there, clad in the bikini she'd worn on the weekend trip she'd taken with her husband almost a year ago. Lester ran his hands up and down her exposed skin. He was sliding one of her shoulder straps down, as he kissed her.

 

"CECILY!" Willie shrieked. The baby screamed with him. "Don't do that in front of our baby!" he pleaded. "If you don't want me anymore, let me and my Teresa go."

 

Lester slid the other strap down. "You're not going anywhere, Willie", he said. "Put the baby in the box down there, and get on the table, or else---"

 

Willie looked at the box next to the electroshock gurney. "That's not any kind of a box," he shouted. "THAT'S A CASKET! I AIN'T gonna put my baby down, and I DAMN-SURE ain't gonna put her in a CASKET!" He clutched his daughter tighter, so she could hear his heartbeat. She always stopped crying when she heard his heartbeat. "You can't make me put my Teresa down. You can't….”

 

"Why not, Willie?" Lester asked, calmly. "She's dead. You killed her."

 

"What the Hell are you talking about? She's just quiet. She always quiets down when I hold her near my heart. 'Cause that's where my Teresa came from." Willie glanced down at his now-silent daughter. The baby's head drooped limply from her neck. Her eyes were open and fixed on him. Then her eyeballs slid up halfway. She wasn't--wasn't breathing...."NO! I DIDN'T KILL HER! SHE AIN'T DEAD! TERESA! MAKE A NOISE FOR DADDY! A BUBBLE, ANYTHING!" Willie sank to the ground, weeping over his daughter's lifeless body. "I'm sorry, Teresa. So sorry, Peanut. Daddy was holding you too tight, I guess....” He looked up at his wife, who was crying in Lester's arms. "Cecily, Cecily, I'm sorry. I just wanted to hold her, to save her….

 

Cecily snatched her dead baby from Willie's arms. "YOU BASTARD!" she roared. "I HATE YOU! YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A SHITTY, GOOD-FOR-NOTHING MENTAL-CASE GEEK! YOU KILLED MY BABY!" She gently deposited Sarah Teresa in the casket. Then she turned to Lester.

 

The Sheriff put his arm around her, playing with the back-strap clasp of the bikini top. He trained his gun on Willie. "GET ON THE TABLE, YOU BABY-KILLER! THE PENALTY FOR MURDER IS ELECTROCUTION!"

 

"NO! NO! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT! PLEASE! CECILY!"

 

"GET ON THE TABLE, GEEK!" Cecily snarled.

 

"Alright, alright, Cecily. I lost both my girls. I guess I don't want to live, anymore, anyway. They'll just push a button, and I'll get knocked out easy, like before, and then, I'll be with my Teresa forever." Willie meekly climbed on the table. As he lay down, he glanced at the pretty, doll-like corpse in the casket. He cried as Lester and Cecily tightened the straps. "I loved you, Cecily," he whispered, as she affixed the electrodes to his head.

 

"Shut up!" she hissed, as she put the mouthpiece between his teeth.

 

Lester flicked a couple of switches, as Willie bit down on the mouth-piece. He glanced down at the casket again. Wait a second! Was Sarah Teresa breathing? He was about to spit out the mouthpiece, to alert his wife and her lover, when the first jolt hit. HEY! He was supposed to just go to sleep, wasn't he? Then he remembered. They were supposed to give him a shot before they turned on the juice---

 

Willie twisted his head wildly, towards the corner, where Lester was busy removing Cecily's bikini, and leaning over her…. "Don't worry, Cecily," the Sheriff muttered, as he peeled off his tan uniform shirt, and unbuckled his brown trousers. "I'll give you another baby."

 

Willie writhed on the table, as he was shocked again and again. Why wasn't he dying? His daughter stirred in her casket. When the baby gazed up at him, her eyes were a poisonous shade of green.  Her father finally spat out the mouthpiece. "Cecily," he gasped. "Sarah Teresa's got Anissa's eyes....Please look....Lester can't make new baby for you, anyway....”

 

"Maybe Lester can't," Lester said. His face swirled in a kaleidoscopic pattern, as Willie began to lose consciousness. "But Nicholas CAN....” Nicholas, in Lester's half-shed uniform, leered down at Cecily, who drew him down.

 

"Barnabas, help me," Willie whimpered, as the blackness overtook him. "Please....take me

home….”

 

A hand shook his shoulder. "Willie, Willie, get up right away," a soft female voice urged.

 

"Cecily!" Willie cried out, shoving and slapping the hand away. "No! Get away from me! You're screwing with Lester, or Nicholas....My baby's possessed....”

 

"Shshshsh! Willie, it's just me. Nurse Sandford. I was here earlier. I'm your friend, remember? You must get up, quickly. You're in danger!"

 

Willie shot up in the bed, and fumbled for the switch to the lamp fastened to his headboard. "Nurse Sandford! Is there a fire? Is something wrong at my home?" He wept, a lost, lonely moaning sound.

 

"I have no more home....”

 

"No, Willie. No fire. And as for your home....Well, I guess this has something to do with your home. I wasn't allowed to tell you, before. But my conscience bothered me, and bothered me, and I know I have to help you, because you're my very favorite patient."

 

Willie ceased sniffling. "I--I am? You like me that much?"

 

"Oh, yes, Willie. Very much. You're the nicest male patient here." The nurse stroked his arm.

 

"What happened, that you should come to me like this?"

 

"Tomorrow, you're going to get a visit from the Sheriff of Collinsport. That Lester Arliss you've told me so much about. He's going to force Dr. Emmons to give you truth serum--- nasty, poisonous stuff! And he's going to force you to tell secrets about your boss---"

 

"Lester's going to question me about Barnabas? And the Doc's going to dope me up, and I won't be able to do anything about it?

 

Does--does my wife, and her aunt, know about this?"

 

"Dr. Collins can't do or say a thing, because they suspect her husband. She certainly doesn't want to draw any suspicion on herself! And, as for your wife....Oh, Willie, I hate to tell you....She demanded the interrogation. I found out that she's been making all kinds of accusations against her uncle, and you....”

 

"No! Cecily and I might not always agree on everything, but she told me she couldn't tell Lester ANYTHING about Barnabas. There's nothing to tell, really," Willie concluded lamely.

 

"That's not what I heard. In fact, you may be under arrest for acting as an accessory, for with-holding evidence of these, as well as past crimes. You won't go to prison, but you'll probably be sent to the State Mental Hospital for the rest of your life."

 

"I can't go there! I was there before! It was like living in Hell! I won't ever see my baby again! And she needs me, to keep the green eyes away---"

 

"I'm not sure what you mean, Willie," the nurse said. "But I can help you. I can sneak you out of here, tonight, and you can hide out, until we can get your daughter."

 

"Yes, please, take me," Willie pleaded. He rose from his bed, and began tearing his possessions from the closet and drawers.

 

"No, Willie. I can get you other clothes later. Put on this orderly's uniform." The nurse reached into the closet, and brought forth a white cotton jumpsuit she'd hidden there. "I'll even give you money! But you have to hurry!"

 

Willie stripped off his pajamas un-self-consciously, and began to change, as the nurse looked out the door. He grabbed his treasured picture of Sarah Teresa, and stuffed it in his pocket. His jewelry, including his wedding ring, was in Cecily's keeping. He recalled, with a twist of wistfulness, his wife's words when she dropped the ring and chains in her purse.

 

"I'll keep them all by my bed at night, near your picture, the first and last thing I see every day," she promised. "The day will come, when I put them back on you, hon....”

 

LIES! ALL LIES! He thought, miserably. In five minutes, he was ready to go. The nurse motioned to him to follow her. She quickly led him down the hallway, away from the lounge and the patients' gathering-place, to a set of steps behind the pharmacy, that led down to the kitchen. There was an orderly in the kitchen, getting a can of coffee for the lounge upstairs.

 

The nurse strode boldly into the kitchen, and engaged the man in conversation, while Willie crouched into a corner of the stairwell. An agonizing couple of minutes later, the orderly trotted up the stairs, without even casting a glance around the area. When his steps had faded away, Willie scampered into the kitchen, and joined the nurse, as she led him through the back door, to a courtyard demarcated by three large dumpsters. There was a fence around the courtyard. "They're all electric," Willie complained.

 

"I went in the cellar and switched it off," the nurse said.

 

"You must have thought about this for a while," Willie commented.

 

"When I heard what they were planning, I went into action right away," she replied. "I can't leave the fence turned off indefinitely." She handed him a set of car keys. "Hurry, climb over the fence. You take a left, past the bulb garden you worked in, duck behind the shed, scale one more fence, and you'll be in the employee's parking lot. If you keep jumping behind bushes, the security cameras won't be able to track you. When you're in the lot, find the powder blue Chevy Nova, with the license plate '1-CENT". Hide behind the seats. I'll knock on the window three times, and you can let me in the car. My shift will be over in an hour. I'll give you ten minutes, then I have to go down, and switch the fences on again."

 

Willie did as instructed. He felt as though he was living through the longest, slowest ten minutes of his life. First, he discovered he just wasn't as nimble as he used to be, when it came to scaling fences. He used to climb up one side, and just drop to the other side. He tried jumping from half-way down the opposite side of the fence, and sprained his ankle, which made him limp to his next goal, the gardening shed. His heart nearly stopped, when a light flashed down near him, as though he was in a prison yard. He nose-dived behind a massive azalea bush, until the light passed him. He crawled behind the fancy outbuilding.

 

He hoped little time had passed since he began hiding, as he had no watch. He wondered if he could reach the second fence in time. He slinked to the fence, and began his slow ascent up the links. This fence was twice as tall as the one he'd already climbed, at least twenty feet high. His ankle was killing him. His hands perspired; he was losing his grip. To make matters worse, he'd have to climb down the other side, just as slowly, without being able to jump down.

 

Somehow, he made it over the top, and was descending easily, thinking, triumphantly, that he'd aced it, all right, when he received a jolt, like the one he'd felt in his dreams. He clapped his hand over his mouth, to stifle his yelp of pain, as he dropped to the ground.

 

He lay, dazed, staring at the sky, when he saw a man clad in a similar uniform bend over him. "Hey, buddy, what happened? You trip or something?" The man peered at Willie closely. "Wait a minute! I recognize you! You're a patient---"

 

Willie yanked on the orderly's leg, toppling him over. The other man tried to get in a punch, but Willie was quicker. The orderly lay unconscious in no time. Willie forced himself to rise, and dragged him to some bushes nearby. As he tugged on the man's heavy body, something slid from the felled orderly's pocket that caught Willie's eye; it was an I.D. badge. Willie quickly examined it. The man he'd just knocked out was a guard in disguise!

 

Now, Willie was horribly frightened. If a patient socked an orderly, it was almost an expected event. The patient would be put in intensive therapy, complete with ice-showers, electroshock, and sessions in the rubber room, under the constant influence of anti-psychotic drugs. But in a couple of weeks, he or she would be back on track, with the general asylum population. Cold-cocking a guard, some of whom were moonlighting off-duty police, was a far more serious matter. Willie would be arrested for sure, with or without Lester's interrogation tomorrow.

 

He didn't know what to do next, to hide in Nurse Sandford's car, or to keep running. His ankle was starting to swell. He hadn't much choice, then. He made it to her Nova without further interruption, and buried himself under some old blankets on the backseat floor.

 

After what seemed like hours, he heard footsteps on the pavement outside the car. He froze under his cover. He hoped the other guards weren't searching each vehicle in the lot. Then, he heard three raps on the window. He peeked timidly, from under his blankets. Thank God, it was the nurse! Willie reached out his arm, and pulled up the lock.

 

The nurse got into the car without a word, and, having received the keys from Willie, switched on the ignition. She drove right to the guard's shack at the end of the parking lot. The guard checked her I.D. "Terrible incident, eh, Penny?" the guard said, with concern in his voice.

 

"Yes. Willie seemed so docile. I can't imagine what set him off, to run away and give Officer Somers that concussion," the nurse said.

 

"Hope they find him soon. The cops were coming tomorrow, to ask him if he knew about the attacks in Collinsport. His boss seems to be in some hot water with that stuff."

 

"Oh, well. I'll rush home, and barricade my door. Good-night, Manny." As she drove away from the guard's shack, the nurse whispered, "I'm going to take you to my house, Willie, but you'll have to hide in the cellar."

 

"I won't be down there forever, will I? I'm scared of cellars," Willie whimpered. "Plus, I hurt my ankle, trying to get over the fence. You turned the juice back on, too soon, and I had to jump, and hurt it even worse. Can you take care of it, when we get to your place?"

 

"Of course I'll treat your ankle, Willie. But as for where you can go, after the first alarm has blown over….”

 

"I was thinking,” Willie said, “ the police are gonna go to Collinwood first, with the Old House, and the cottages there, then they're gonna look around the Antique Shoppe. Once they're done, they'll probably figured I skipped town completely, and leave those places alone. I can hole up in the West Wing of Collinwood until I have a chance to grab the baby. I know ways in and out of there the Collinses don't even remember any more. In the meantime, I'll need some stuff from the cottage my family was living in."

 

"You need anything from the Antique Shoppe?"

 

"I don't think so....Wait! There's a picture there, I want for my Teresa, when she gets older....My Mom Teresa's wedding picture. For Christmas, Cecily had my Dad's mug erased from the original at the photo shop, and they made a larger copy of it. I left it hanging there, when we were in such a hurry to move out." Willie sounded sorrowful. "I guess I won't be able to get at it. The Shoppe has a fancy alarm system. I know how to shut it off, but I don't have the keys to the place."

 

"If it means that much to you, Willie, just think of a way to get the keys. Then I'll take you there myself, in the middle of the night. I can drive you and your daughter out of town, right after, and put you on a bus from Augusta. That's far enough away for you to pass from the scene unnoticed, if you can keep the baby quiet long enough."

 

"Why are you doing all this for me, Nurse Sandford?"

 

"Call me Penny! I've been in a jam or two, myself. You could say, I've got some unfinished business to work out. Besides," she sighed, "You know how very much I like you. You remind me so much of my late husband."

 

"You don't have a crush on me, do you, Penny? I mean, I'm kinda flattered. You're real cute, but....Well, it's gonna be a long time before I can divorce my wife, since I'll be on the run. Maybe, if I'm gone long enough, she'll do that herself, anyway. But it could take years. I don't think I'm the kind of guy who could cut loose and mess around while I'm still married, even if we're separated. I WAS, once, but that was YEARS ago. It's gonna take a while for me to get over Cecily, in any case. She stung me something awful, but I can't think about starting something new, just yet. Then, there's my baby to think about---"

 

The nurse said, "Oh, you never know. Things may fall into place a lot sooner that you expect. I'll certainly do my best to get you to change your mind. The baby definitely won't be any problem. I'm quite fond of babies. They're kind of an obsession with me. My late husband and I couldn't have any. His problem, I'm afraid, but I never held it against him."

 

"My wife can't--- but you probably know about that. I don't hold it against her, either. It was that damned Jack Knowlton's fault! Maybe that's why Cecily's so restless, why she was messing around. But I sure don't have to put up with that, or my little girl, either. I'll bet you'd take real good care of my Teresa. Or any other babies that we--you--- that come your way." Willie could feel himself blush, at what he nearly said. "Are we almost at your place, Penny?"

 

"You bet," she replied. Willie could feel the car turn down a road that was obviously not paved. The nurse took another sharp turn. Willie could hear an automatic garage door creak open. When the nurse had parked the car, and he heard the garage door close, Willie jumped up and looked around the dimly-lit garage.

 

There was a car at the other end of a three-bay garage, covered by a canvas tarpaulin. There was a black Mercedes in the middle. Willie said, "You're rich, for a nurse. Your old man must have left you well-off. You don't really want to give all this up for some nutcase you met in WindCliff!"

 

"Oh, you'd be surprised at how easily I can arrange things, so I can eat my cake, and have it, too," the nurse laughed. She led him through a door into the cellar. "There's a small room down here you can rest in, with a cot and blankets. There's a tiny lavatory here, too. I'll have to lock you in from both entrances. I have company often, and I can't take the chance you'll be discovered. As soon as your ankle feels better, I can get you over to Collinwood. I'll tend to it, now."

 

A half-hour later, Willie was resting comfortably on his cot in his room amongst the shelf-racks of preserves. He fell asleep, feeling safe and almost happy for the first time in weeks. He closed his eyes, but he could still see the nurse's tender, plain, round face, and her large, dark brown eyes. "My shiny new Penny," he murmurred to himself, before he dozed off.

 

He had a new dream, where he pushed his daughter in her stroller, and the nicest, kindest, most selfless woman in the world walked at his side. Funny, how he'd once thought that was Cecily. He saw HER, at a hazy distance, frantically trying to signal to him. He turned his new family away from his former wife, who always thought she knew everything, and walked into a beautiful, green-yellow sunset.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie paced the deserted drawing room at Collinwood, in much the same manner as she'd observed Elizabeth Stoddard on the night when she had no idea where Carolyn was. The call from her husband had unsettled her. The gentle, gradual reconciliation she'd envisioned with Willie now seemed a delusion. She was as sensitive to nuances in his voice as she was to shifts in his mood when she was near him. (It seemed to her, now, that she'd been able to read him from great distances best, when she was pregnant with her prematurely empathic-telepathic daughter. WindCliff was too distant for her to perform her function now, but hearing her husband's speech pattern was almost as effective for general purposes.)

 

She knew Willie's suspicions hadn't faded with her reassurances, and that his promises of good behavior were ephemeral, due to fade if she and her aunt couldn't extract him from WindCliff in the near future. If he went into a bad state during the questioning tomorrow, he could conceivably be in the hospital for months, as he had before. The thought that he could escape barely crossed her mind, as she recalled the many tiers of electrified fencing. Willie feared physical discomfort almost more than anyone Cellie knew.

 

Cellie felt better, when her aunt had called Lester Arliss, Tony Peterson, and Doctor Emmons. Lester must have been in the benign mood of a player who knew he was going to win anyway, and could afford to throw his opponents a point. It wouldn't cost his investigation anything, if Cellie and Julia met with Willie, immediately after his questioning. They just couldn't be in his room, or object to any medications or restraints Dr. Emmons deemed necessary, while Lester's deputy was with Willie. The doctor did promise not to use certain drugs, or excessive force, in order to extract the desired information. And Willie was entitled to have the consolation of legal assistance, at any rate. Tony had agreed to join Julia and Cellie on their visit, early in the morning.

 

It was strange, Cellie thought, how easy it was, when one lived at Collinwood, to lose track of time, and find oneself waking up and wandering about at all hours. There was something about the atmosphere of the Great House and its environs that was resistant to restful nights. Cellie glanced at Joshua Collins's grandfather clock in the foyer. Even considering its two hundred years of faithful maintenance and careful repairs, she found herself amazed at the clock's accuracy, when she compared it with her dainty Swiss chronometer, Ernest's last Christmas gift to her. ("It's set to Greenwich Mean Time," he'd boasted, when he'd presented it to her, already running on a tiny battery.) The hour matched perfectly on both timepieces: one o'clock A.M.

 

There was a harsh knocking at the oaken doors. Cellie froze, fearfully. Who could be trying to gain entrance at this time of the night? It could be merely a nasty prankster, or a desperate criminal intent on some atrocity. She could sense great anxiety, and anger, on the other side of those doors. Then, the girl collected herself. What if it was Carolyn, escaped from Nicholas, or Barnabas, come to reassure everyone he was okay? But the interloper didn't try to announce his,

or her, identity through the door, the better to gain instant admittance.

 

Cellie called the Sheriff's office, but was told Lester and his deputies were out on an investigation; of course the operator couldn't reveal any details. She ran upstairs to Roger Collins's room first, as the pounding continued. They both woke David, and the others, but told Elizabeth, Julia, and Mrs. Johnson to arm themselves, and sit tight upstairs.

 

The trio descended the steps, each bearing a concealed weapon in their night-robes; Roger had his pistol, David had his pocket knife, and Cellie carried Willie's favorite screwdriver. (She'd also slipped on her boots, in case it became necessary to try her "killer kick.") Now there was muffled shouting, with the pounding. The girl glanced into the drawing room, and saw dark-clad men with flashlights and guns drawn, peering through the French door windows. "Why don't they just burst in?" she whispered to Roger, who was standing by the door.

 

He shouted, "WHO'S OUT THERE AT THIS HOUR OF THE MORNING?"

 

The muffled voice finally penetrated the thick oaken barricade. "OPEN UP! IT'S THE SHERIFF AND THE POLICE!"

 

Roger called, "LESTER?!"

 

"IT'S ME, ROGER! LET US IN!"

 

Roger opened the double doors, and with a blast of cold March air, a wave of men clad in a motley array of blue and brown uniforms spread out across the first floor. One deputy stepped straight up to Cellie, and pinned her arms roughly, as he felt in her pockets, and drew forth the screwdriver. "She's armed, Lester!" he shouted to the Sheriff, who was cornering Roger Collins.

 

"Hold her for now, read her the rights, you know the drill!" Lester shouted. He proceeded to do the same for Roger. The Sheriff blanched when he extracted Roger's well-oiled, loaded pistol.

 

"WHAT'S GOING ON!" Roger shouted. "WHAT'S THE MEANING OF THIS!"

 

"What were we have supposed to have done?" Cellie asked, quietly, as she tried to catch Lester's eye.

 

"Don't play the innocent with me, Cellie," Lester growled. "Where is he? Tell me now, and we'll probably release you all without charge."

 

"Where is who?" David asked cautiously, as he suffered an impromptu search that yielded his Swiss Army pocketknife, which had been a gift from his despised stepmother Cassandra, but had proved so useful he'd come to treasure it. "Barnabas? We have NO idea where HE is!"

 

"I wonder about THAT, young man," Lester snapped. "But that's not who we're after. Willie escaped tonight from WindCliff, and there's every indication he had help."

 

"All these Gestapo tactics because poor Willie snuck out of WindCliff?" Roger snorted. "Why isn't this being handled by the hospital staff? Those folks seldom get very far, anyway."

 

"It's more than a hospital matter," Lester began, as Elizabeth, Julia, and Mrs. Johnson, carrying the wailing Sarah Teresa, came down the grand staircase. He glanced toward the baby. "Lou," he said to one of the policemen milling around the foyer, "Maybe you should get Child Welfare on the line, and tell them to send a social worker---"

 

"NO! YOU'RE NOT TAKING MY BABY ANYWHERE!" Cellie shrieked, writhing in the deputy's grasp. She shot a venomous look at the Sheriff, debating whether to zap him in front of his entire police force.

 

"Should I cuff her?" the deputy asked Lester. The Sheriff nodded.

 

"Lester," Elizabeth said from the staircase, "This is OUTRAGEOUS! I demand the right to contact our lawyers, and have them come here, before this goes any further! Otherwise, you are violating all our rights."

 

This seemed to give Lester pause. He motioned to the deputy to hold the cuffs for now. The deputy relaxed his grip. Cellie reached for her screaming baby. "I doubt she'll run off, now," the Sheriff said, finally. Mrs. Johnson deposited the frantic infant in her mother's arms. Sarah Teresa's shrieks subsided to sobs and snuffles, almost immediately. Then, Lester allowed Elizabeth to call both the Garner firm, and Tony Peterson.

 

Elizabeth hung up, announcing that Tony would arrive within a half-hour. They all went to sit in the drawing room, to wait. The other officers milled around the foyer, and on the patio. Tony appeared at the front door in record time. As he passed close to Lester, he hissed, "I warned you about the abuse of your powers, Lester. There'd better be an excellent reason for this invasion."

 

"I gave this the fullest consideration, Tony, and trust me, it's all above board", Lester replied. "I have a duly issued search warrant", which he flashed in the lawyer's face. "I told you there'd be consequences if you didn't allow me to handle Willie's situation, that night," he pontificated. "You're all under suspicion for aiding and abetting his escape, on the eve of his interrogation about the most recent activities and plans of his employer, Barnabas Collins.

 

“We have reason to suspect that, while Willie didn't actually participate in the recent attacks, he may have, not only knowledge of Mr. Collins's intentions in the past few weeks, but guilty knowledge of similar circumstances, years ago. I know he was confined in mental hospitals for the Evans incident without trial, and all seems to have been forgiven and forgotten since then, but in the event we should find the true perpetrator, the statute of limitations isn't up. Willie was connected to that case, whether he was the lead man or not. These recent attacks are too much like the previous ones to be mere coincidence."

 

"What makes you think we had anything to do with his escape? Why are you so hard on Cellie, Lester?" Elizabeth asked, indignantly. "Is this part of your revenge, because she rejected you?"

 

Lester turned dark red. "NO! Willie's escape was no mere walk away from WindCliff. Listen to the story! He was known to be agitated this evening, before he left, in spite of the fact that he was not to be told, either of the attacks, or the fact that I was sending Deputy Hanson up to interview him in the morning. I wanted him fresh and spontaneous, with all his defenses down---"

 

"Sounds like you were planning a seduction, not a police investigation", Roger commented acidly.

 

"I was planning on finding out some hard truths about the ruination of life as we once knew it in Collinsport, that began six years ago when two strangers came to this town: your cousin Barnabas, and Willie. NOTHING'S been the same since then!" Lester protested.

 

"What makes you think life was so perfect, and free of Colllins-related troubles before then, Lester?" Cellie asked.

 

"To hear my late uncle tell it, life was pretty quiet around here since the turn of the century," Lester replied. "Nothing but commonplace life troubles, birth, death, marriage, adultery, divorce....A murder now and then, but nothing you couldn't explain away. The very air around here smells different!" He stood directly before the girl he still loved in that painful way, and gazed sadly into her eyes. "Don't act like I'm the bad guy around here, Cellie," he pleaded.

 

"You all but break into our home, lasso all of us like it's the last round-up, threaten to have my Sarah Teresa taken away--- Then you tell me, it's all because it's somehow my fault because my husband felt tormented enough to escape from the hospital that was helping him....What was so special about Will's escape, Lester?" Cellie asked. "If this was any other mental patient, would you be carrying on this way?"

 

"Cellie, these are the facts. The night nurse, who was friendly to your husband, had given him some sedatives prescribed by his doctor. He appeared to fall asleep. Shortly after ten, she reported him missing from his room There was a great deal of confusion, because either Willie, or the person helping him, had shut off the power to the fences outside for at least ten minutes. In that period of time, it was discovered that an off-duty cop making a little extra money as an undercover guard for WindCliff, one of my men in fact, had been knocked out just outside the employee parking lot. He's still drifting in and out of consciousness.

 

"The guard at the exit of the parking lots recalled having a conversation with Willie's nurse, whom he knew slightly, as she departed the hospital after her shift. They talked about the injured guard, and she drove off in her car. Only, it wasn't really her car, because she really wasn't the nurse."

 

"What does that mean? She was an impostor?" Cellie asked in honest-sounding amazement.

 

"YOU tell me, Cellie," Lester said.

 

"Cellie, remember, self-incrimation," Tony whispered.

 

"I have nothing to hide," she declared. "Lester, I can't tell you anything, other than the fact that I've been here all evening. I was on the phone to my Mom and Pavlos, around ten. You CAN check that out."

 

"Anyone call you, Cellie?" Lester asked.

 

"I don't remember."

 

"I'm not sure I can believe that. There was one long-distance phone call, around nine P.M., from a pay phone inside WindCliff. Willie called Collinwood, that much we were able to determine. The phone itself was dusted for fingerprints. A preliminary comparison with his previous jail records indicates that some of them were Willie's."

 

"Oh, I picked that call up," David offered, eagerly. "He was kind of excited about calling like that, when he wasn't supposed to. I tried to get Cellie, but she was downstairs."

 

"We were in the kitchen, having tea," Mrs. Johnson improvised.

 

David continued, "Willie said he didn't have much change, so he only had time to ask how his family was. I said okay, and not to worry about the bad things going on here, and that Cellie and Julia would be up to see him in the morning."

 

Lester looked as though he didn't believe the story, but, as before, there were too many Collinses against him, and Tony Peterson to boot. He pressed on, though. "That almost sounds like a plausible story. But compare it to the facts. Within minutes, it became clear the nurse who'd left the hospital premises wasn't Mrs. Penelope Sandford. She looked like her, dressed like her, talked like her....”

 

"How did they finally figure this out?" Cellie asked, her heart pounding.

 

"Because another nurse found the real Penny Sandford, locked in a stall in the women's room, sitting on the pot, dead of what appeared to be heart failure, but, because of the circumstances, and the fact that she was only thirty-five, a very thorough autopsy is taking place as we speak." Lester put both hands on the girl’s shoulders. "I wish I could really believe you had nothing to do with this, Cellie."

 

"You think I disguised myself as a nurse, and killed another nurse--- one whom, I've been told, was good to my husband? And then, I somehow managed to steal her car and fool a guard who knew her, to get Will out of WindCliff?" Cellie asked angrily.

 

"You, or a friend---"

 

"Have you found the nurse's car on our property?" Elizabeth inquired.

 

"Well, not just yet," the Sheriff admitted. "There's a lot of ground to cover, but we haven't spotted it anywhere, so far."

 

"Do you really think Cellie could disguise herself so thoroughly as to fool any of the late nurse's friends that she met?" Tony demanded.

 

"Wouldn't it be rather foolish," Roger added, "having managed to pull off the rest of such a plan so successfully, for her to bring her husband here, knowing this is the first place you'd search for him?"

 

"The two of them, and Sarah Teresa, would have been almost out of the state by now!" David chimed in.

 

 

"People have done such 'foolish' things, after committing apparently flawless crimes," Lester replied. "I still have to check it out!"

 

"Lester," Cellie pleaded, "can't you see? This is another set-up, like when Jack tried to fix it so Will would take the fall for Melinda's murder. I didn't leave this house at all tonight, and neither did anyone else, for once! If you must look for answers, try the real culprits."

 

"Who? Anissa again?" Lester shook his head. "You seem fixated on blaming her for your problems. It makes no sense! What would be her motive for killing someone to get Willie out of WindCliff?" he asked, incredulously.

 

"She hates me, pure and simple," Cellie explained. "She's trying to set it up, so that she can get my baby away from me. And I know she's tried flirting with Will, too. This is part of a larger plan, and one can't tell when and where the participants will strike next. An imposter nurse got my husband out of the asylum. How do you know that the social worker you call to remove Sarah Teresa won't spirit her away to God knows where?"

 

"You are fond of your paranoid conspiracy theories, Cellie," Lester said. "I heard about how your aunt was trying to get Jack's former psychiatrist barred from WindCliff, after his attack. I still hold with the Barnabas connection. I remember how eager he was to keep Willie out of jail again. As I've said before, Willie may have had some knowledge of your uncle's activities in the past, that may well prove relevant to the current investigation. I have to find him, to clear YOUR name, at any rate," Lester said. "Remember, Jack Knowlton's trials are coming up soon. Your character, as well as your husband's, may be at issue during the assault trial, anyway." He turned to Elizabeth.

 

"I have the warrant to search your premises, Mrs. Stoddard. I suggest you let my people do their job. We need to see the unoccupied portions of both of the big Houses on the estate, the cellars, the cottages---"

 

"Of course we'll cooperate, within reason," Elizabeth said calmly.

 

"Then, when you finish here, and find nothing, as I'm sure you will, you can take your horde of storm troopers to the Henderson house, and visit Mr. Nicholas Blair, Anissa's house-mate, and my---my daughter's fiancé," she faltered, glancing at Tony, who turned to look at the fire. She continued, "I don't approve of him at all. He's a vile, smarmy character, and I suspect Carolyn is being bullied into staying with him."

 

"Why should I bother Mr. Blair?" Lester asked. "I appreciate you may be having personal difficulties with him, but what has he to do with this case?"

 

Roger explained, "He's harassed Cellie in a peculiar manner, both last summer, before her daughter's birth, and recently. "When she went to see him with Professor Stokes, just after Barnabas's disappearance, she found a distinctive tie-tack that belonged to my cousin, right in Nicholas's foyer."

 

"If you can produce this tie-tack, and prove it's authentic, and

 

your property search comes up negative, then I'll consider dropping further investigation of Cellie, and your family," Lester conceded. "But we'll be up here, from time to time, to check on things. Willie or your cousin may yet turn up somewhere around here."

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

 

Roger led a gaggle of police through one floor of the West Wing. David and Cellie eagerly cooperated, leading another group through the other two floors, and opened as many closets for them as they could find. Elizabeth guided a quartet around the cellars. Afterward, Cellie picked through her jewelry box, and found Barnabas's tie tack. A further search through her papers turned up the original receipt for the tie-tack and the Mizpah pendants.

 

Lester examined the items. He vaguely remembered Barnabas wearing the tie-tack on several occasions. "You really found this at Blair's?" he asked.

 

"You call Professor Stokes," Cellie said. "He was there. I showed it to him, the very first thing."

 

"Why didn't you show it to me, the very first thing?"

 

"We--we didn't know what to do. It would have been hard to explain why we thought Barnabas was at Blair's. You probably wouldn't have believed us. You and I weren't getting along very well. And Nicholas, well....How can I explain him? He's very clever. He showed Elliot and myself his whole house. If Barnabas was there, he must have been moved by now. I hope Will isn't there."

 

"How did Carolyn end up engaged to such a man?"

 

"Someone played a terrible, clever prank on Tony, that took him out of town for twenty-four hours. Nobody's sure how Nicholas pulled it off, but by the time Tony got home, it was all over for him and Carolyn."

 

"Maybe his digs would be worth a visit, after all," Lester mused. "But I need probable cause to obtain a warrant."

 

"Probable cause that existed in my case, I guess," Cellie concluded bitterly.

 

"How many times will I have to apologize for that, before you forgive me, Cellie?" Lester touched her hair.

 

"As many times as I'll have to keep telling you, it's Will for me, and no-one else, until you accept it, Lester."

 

The Sheriff's hand dropped from her hair, to his side. "Your husband will have to answer for his assault on the guard, if nothing else," he said. "As for the dead nurse, if she was drugged in some way, it now seems unlikely that he could have done it. There IS a security camera in the WindCliff pharmacy. One of my guys checked the last couple of reels, and just called me. Willie was never near the place. A nurse identified as the late Mrs. Sandford was depicted shaking some pills from a vial, and leaving within minutes. Her signature is on the register in the pharmacy. She then called Dr. Emmons as soon as she was convinced Willie was resting."

 

Cellie asked, "Why didn't Dr. Emmons call me the minute Will was discovered to be missing?"

 

"That was my doing. I told him, if he called Collinwood, it would just give you a chance to move Willie, in case you were hiding him here."

 

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lester."

 

"You know, Cellie, even if it turned out that's what you had done, and I had to arrest you, I would have understood why you did it. Maybe, I would have done something like it for you."

 

"If your infallible sense of duty to the law, rather than justice, would have allowed you to, Lester--- or should I say, ‘Inspector Javert?’  Because you’re just like that character…. And My Will is your ‘Jean Valjean’…. It seems that even your most spontaneous impulses are governed by just how much you can get away with, legally. If you'd shot Will that night, you would have been within the letter of the law."

 

"I'll admit it, alright?" Lester held her gently by the shoulders. "Cellie, let's put that behind us already. I really want to help, this time. I'll think of some good reason to visit Blair's house. At the very least, I'll try to check on Carolyn."

 

David and a couple of the officers he'd been herding through the West Wing popped their heads into the drawing room. "Ready to do to the Old House, Cellie?"

 

"Maybe Cellie should go upstairs to her baby, and rest," Lester said. "It's three-thirty in the morning."

 

"That's just about the time us weirdo Collinses really get revved up, Sheriff," David said, sarcastically.

 

"It's okay, Lester," Cellie said. "I'm kind of running on adrenaline now. There's always an outside chance we will run into my husband, and I want to be the first to get to him, so he doesn't almost get himself shot, like before. After that, I'll come home right away."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Roger Collins sat on his easy chair in the study down the hall in the drawing room, squinting at the ormulu clock on the mantle with bloodshot eyes. "Six A.M. Thank God they're finally gone, Liz," he said to his sister, who sat next to him, leaning her head on the backrest of her chair, her eyes, black-smudged from lack of sleep, closed at last.

 

But she hadn't dozed off. "In three hours, we both have to be at a meeting with the supervisors at the plant, to make the big announcement about the new cannery annex," she sighed. "I don't know how we're going to do it."

 

"I don't see why we can't postpone, Liz," her brother replied. "You're already under enough stress as it is, worrying about Carolyn, helping Julia and Cellie, being there for David when I can't....”

 

"I would put it off, but, with all the trouble in the town, the ordinary folks who work for us have enough to worry about themselves. I'd like to be able to reassure them that, while there's little we can do about problems outside their workplace, at least they'll have a safer, cleaner, more efficient plant to look forward to, once the new construction we've planned goes forth. I'm sure they'll appreciate the creation of new job opportunities, with the opening of our new product lines."

 

"Isn't it strange, Liz, that our business interests always seem to make the greatest strides at the same time our family fortunes are at their lowest ebb?"

 

"It's the ultimate rebuke to the recession, Roger," Elizabeth sighed. "We must suffer, so that the family business goes on. All part of the original curse, or sin, or whatever you want to call that ghastly incident involving the original Collins brothers, and the Indians. Oh, Keziah, Keziah," she sighed. "I wish she was here, to give her famous advice. She always gave me her best, and I never took it, until it was too late. I'll bet you never knew, she'd somehow guessed about what had gone on between myself, Paul, and Jason. She never actually came out and said it, but whenever she asked if I'd heard from Paul, there must have been something in my manner that tipped her off.

 

"She would say, 'Lizzie, Lizzie'--- she was the only person, except for Mother, from whom I would tolerate that nickname--- 'it's always better to walk in the light of the truth. The light may sting, but it burns you clean'. I didn't want to burn then, or have my daughter burn for me. But Keziah was right, in the end. We did come through that fire. If only I'd been willing to walk through it just a bit farther...." (She thought of Vicky Winters.) "But that's our family way."

 

"If you recall, I wasn't willing to burn, either," Roger said.

 

"I was spared public exposure for my tragic youthful mistake, but when Burke Devlin made me face that truth, well, a part of me has been burning ever since. I've often had occasion to think, that was the ultimate meaning of all that we went through, with Burke, and Laura with her fire-setting obsession. I was almost deprived of the most important person in my life, but until then, I wasn't aware that DAVID was that person."

 

"Still, people can't all go around living their lives completely in the open," Elizabeth observed. "The Collinses shouldn't be called upon to bare ALL their secrets, anymore than the Smiths or the Joneses or any other family."

 

"That's what made this last night so horrible," Roger commented. "Our home has seldom been so open to the prying eyes of strangers. As I led those police through mazes of storage rooms and walk-in closets in the West Wing, I felt nearly as violated, as if they performed a body-cavity search. And all this, because of a man we've welcomed into our home, in spite of our memories of his early, unsavory behavior--- atrocious behavior to which he has reverted, apparently."

 

"Roger, remember what we all discussed before," Elizabeth admonished. "It's clear Willie couldn't have pulled off this escapade without help. Perhaps the impostor nurse was that Anissa. Whoever she was, she was the one who caused the real nurse's death. You remember how frightened and depressed Willie always became whenever there was a death around here."

 

"He wasn't above fisticuffs with the Sheriff, or that guard....”

 

"Purely reactive and self-defensive on his part!" Elizabeth protested. "He didn't plan those things, any more than I planned what happened to Paul! Whoever killed that nurse, and turned off those electric fences, must have been planning for some time! I doubt the average nurse at WindCliff even knows where those switches are! Anyone capable of such long-range foresight, and so confident of heading off the possible risks, is also quite capable of poisoning a sick man's mind. Or, a not-so-sick mind. Recall how my mind was similarly poisoned by Jason. I'd be willing to bet the new cannery annex, that Willie probably had no intentions of escape, until it was suggested to him, almost as a fait accompli."

 

"Well, Liz, that brings us to the ultimate question. If Willie really had nothing to fear from Lester's questions, why should he have run away at all? If he had a choice, why did he pick that solution? Could it be, that at least SOME of Lester's allegations against both Willie and our cousin, have some basis in fact?" Roger leaned close to his sister, who still kept her eyes closed. "Elizabeth, have you ever suspected Barnabas in any of the negative events that have taken place, since he first came to us?"

 

Elizabeth slowly opened her small but intense green-blue eyes, and gazed directly into her brother's. "Haven't you ever, Roger?" she asked quietly.

 

"Perhaps," he admitted, after a moment. "I always put my suspicions aside, though, when a more acceptable explanation was offered---"

 

"---Or a more acceptable culprit, like Willie, presented himself." Elizabeth interjected.

 

"You have a point, Liz. Still, after those unhappy early days passed, and Barnabas became more involved with our family, proving himself invaluable at resolving some of our difficuties, the concept of his capacity for harming ANYONE seemed preposterous. The last three years have sealed his probity, as far as I'm concerned."

 

"Even if, 'perhaps', Roger?"

 

"What are you implying, Liz? Is there something else you know, that you won't allow to 'burn in the light'? I know you have a far greater knowledge of our family's facts, fables, and foibles than I do. Is there a damning secret about Barnabas that you've always known, or stumbled upon?"

 

"No," she answered with a practiced firmness. Indeed, she didn't actually have proof of her cousin's deepest darkest secret, but she'd spent plenty of her long years of seclusion, reading, and, occasionally, censoring, potentially damaging material about her family. There were some odd stories told about Barnabas's direct ancestors.

 

Elizabeth deduced that there was some hereditary syndrome common to that branch of the Collinses, brought into the family by that sinister French maid the first Barnabas had married, the one whose portrait had so resembled Cassandra. The illness had, apparently, nearly claimed Julia and her unborn child. But, as to the true nature of that condition, well….

 

There was a time that she'd never told anyone about, in 1970, when it seemed that the syndrome had hit Barnabas again. He was absent most of the day, and at large only after sundown. Aside from the tragic ends that had befallen several of their acquaintances, though, there were no untoward incidents one could clearly associate with Barnabas.

 

That fateful afternoon, Elizabeth had come up to the Old House, bearing a pot of Mrs. Johnson's stew. She knew the concoction wasn't exactly a favorite of Barnabas's, but Willie had a fondness for the stuff. Perhaps it reminded him of his mother's cooking. Anyway, Mrs. Johnson, who felt sorry for Willie's struggles with the antique gas stove in the Old House kitchen, had prepared enough stew for several helpings. She would have brought it to Barnabas's home herself, but her daughter, stuck home alone with a new baby, had called, in a panic, about some minor crisis. Elizabeth was going on her walk anyway; it was no trouble for her to make a short side trip to deliver the small pot.

 

She noticed at once, that Willie's decrepit station wagon was absent from the driveway near the Old House. She knew there would probably be no answer to her knock at the door, but she made a token effort, anyway. She had her own set of keys to the Old House, so she let herself in, with the intention of leaving the pot on a trivet, with a note to Willie and Barnabas.

 

After she'd set the pot down, Elizabeth went into the parlor, to get writing materials from Barnabas's secretary. She quickly wrote the message, and turned to take the paper to the kitchen, when she noticed the heavy, barred door to the cellar was open a few inches. She knew Willie and Barnabas were extremely conscientious about keeping that door locked, to prevent David and any other children who might be staying at Collinwood, from getting downstairs. She decided to lock it herself.

 

Before she did, however, she heard a scrabbling noise downstairs. It was probably a rat, but there was a chance that David might have taken advantage of Barnabas's and Willie's absence to get in. He played those pranks less and less these days, but since Amy Jennings had moved to Las Vegas with her brother Chris, and his devoted bride, Sabrina, David was at loose ends. His aunt hoped the imminent arrival of Elliot Stokes's newly-orphaned niece, Hallie, would prove a worthy distraction. Even though the girl was nearly two years his senior, and very sad, of course, the task of helping to ease her distress might be a maturing experience for Elizabeth's flighty, self-involved nephew.

 

Elizabeth descended the steps, calling her nephew constantly. Her voice echoed off the walls. The cellar was familiar to her as to her nephew; as children, she and Roger had their short-lived phases of evading their parents, governesses, and tutors in its dank, musty maze of nooks and alcoves. She rounded a corner, at the farthest end of the cellar, and glanced into an alcove. What she saw, startled her.

 

There was a large casket standing in the center of the space, with a lit candlelabra at its head. At first. Elizabeth didn't know what to make of its presence in the home of living people. She recalled David's seemingly wild stories of seeing this very object, probably in this spot. She was tempted to open it, and peruse its contents, if any.

 

Then, she thought of a logical explanation. Barnabas was from England, but he had a continental air about him. He must have traveled to other European countries. In many of these countries, it was customary for people to have their future caskets selected or built years before their deaths, and even kept in their homes as storage trunks, until needed for their true purpose. Barnabas must have become acquainted with this practical custom, and carried it with him across the Atlantic. It was a bit off-putting and eccentric by American standards, but it was harmless and legal, and it wasn't as though Barnabas had it upstairs, perhaps to use as his coffee-table!

 

She did wonder why the candles stayed lit, but with all the granite walls, they were hardly a fire hazard. She turned to leave the unsettling tableau, when she heard that odd, scrabbling sound again. Rats, she told herself, just rats, though she didn't see any. Then she heard a steady, slow pattering. The pattering slowed, until the noises fell into a muffled rhythm, almost like the ticking of a clock, or a—a heartbeat---

 

In spite of her skepticism, Elizabeth moved quickly to get away. She locked the cellar door behind her. Back in the relative safety of the parlor, she tried to tell herself there was just a loud clock in that casket. Vibrations had set the workings into operation. Then, Elizabeth saw Willie come up the path to the front door, a shopping bag in his hands.

 

Too late to hide or escape! So, when he entered the house, Elizabeth smiled brightly, and apologized profusely for invading the Old House without official leave. Willie was mollified when he saw Mrs. Johnson's offering of his favorite stew. Elizabeth rejoiced at her narrow escape, though from what, she was never to find out. Within a few months, Barnabas was back to normal, for good this time, it seemed, and Elizabeth disciplined her mind, as she had during her eighteen-year seclusion, to forget the details and ignore the implications of what she'd seen.

 

"Well, Liz?" Roger urged. "What do you know about Barnabas?"

 

Elizabeth snapped back to the present. "What do any of us really know about our fellow beings? I know as much about what he is as you do. He's proven himself a devoted husband, cousin, uncle, and friend. That's all I need, or want to know. I believe he's in trouble, but I feel he's been far more sinned against than sinning. Nicholas must have had something to do with his disappearance. But if he should show up, and need my help, I would take everything into consideration before I decided to turn him away. I would NOT turn him in. I doubt I'd even turn Willie in. I would ask Barnabas to turn himself in, though, and Willie also, because we all deserve a solution to these mysteries. That's my final answer."

 

"I'll let that be my answer, too, Liz, " Roger replied.

CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN

 

Lester Arliss wasn't able to discover a probable cause that would gain him a warrant to search Nicholas Blair's home. But with three possibly dangerous suspects at large, he certainly had the right, the obligation, really, to canvass all the homes in the vicinity. The afternoon after Willie's escape found him on the doorstep of the Henderson house, ringing the bell numerous times.

 

There was no immediate answer. Lester waited five minutes. Then, in his impatience, he went down the steps, and stood back a few paces, so he could observe the entire, face-like front of the old Georgian mansion. "Hitler, or Stalin," he mused. A moment later: "Stalin, definitely," he concluded. Then a flick of a curtain in the center window caught his eye. Lester saw a sweep of long, straight blonde hair gleam in the afternoon sun. He knew those weren't Anissa's crisply permed tresses he'd seen.

 

He went back up the porch to the door, and rang again. Then he knocked loudly. He'd developed what he thought of as an instantly identifiable "police" knock, that tended to bring a swifter, meeker response than the insistent ringing of an annoying doorbell. It had certainly worked at Collinwood, last night. He sure had those Collinses shaking in their slippers! he thought with satisfaction. They may have been able to turn his poor Uncle George's head around in his time, but Lester was way ahead of them, at every turn. He wasn't going to let this Mr. Blair talk him around, either---

 

The large oak door opened. A slim, well-dressed middle-aged man stood before the Sheriff on the porch. "So," the man said. "At last, I meet the local sheriff. Anissa has told me so much about you."

 

"Mr. Nicholas Blair, I presume?" Lester began.

 

"You are well-informed!" Nicholas replied delightedly. "One hears so many negative stories about the police in these small towns, about how ill-prepared and incompetent they can be. How refreshing to meet with a local constable who's so quick on the uptake."

 

"Mr. Blair, I didn't come here to exchange pleasantries, or to trade observations on the competence of mine or other small-town police departments. I've come on very serious business. You must have heard about the escape from WindCliff last night, and the murder of the night nurse---"

 

"Of course. I get the papers, and watch the lovely Miss O'Brien on Action News. Let me complete your thought. You're here to warn me about the possibility that the psychotic Mr. Loomis might be at large in the neighborhood, instead of having done the sensible thing, which would have been to high-tail it out of state."

 

"Well, I'd like to do more than just warn. I would like your permission to search your premises. You have a good deal of wooded property, not as much as the Collins estate of course, but plenty of space to hide in, none-the-less."

 

"Search away, as long as you stay clear of the house."

 

"You have a large house, with a lot of tiny cellar doors that I can see. I have no grounds to get a warrant to search indoors, but there's always a chance an intruder can sneak in---"

 

"No chance," Nicholas snapped. "I have a state-of-the-art security system in here, as well as an array of personal weaponry I'm fully licensed to carry and use. Any intruder, whether dangerous or harmless, would end up with his worthless hide trussed and ready for disposal as a rat caught in one of my traps."

 

"Look, Mr. Blair, I don't think you'd have to KILL Willie. If he appears in your house, confine him and call me. It's simple as that. Now, as to a related matter....Is Anissa here?"

 

"As it happens, she's been here since yesterday afternoon. Why is that a related matter? Or do you simply want to see her again, after the way you tossed her aside to pursue Willie Loomis's wife? I can assure you, I've had an earfull of THAT tragic tale!"

 

"This ISN'T personal, Mr. Blair. Anissa's whereabouts yesterday ARE relevant to this case. You see, it's clear Willie had some kind of help to escape. I've pretty much ruled out Cellie Loomis, or any of the Collinses. The helper disguised herself as a nurse, turned off electrical fences, injected some fatal substance into the regular nurse, and stole her car, possibly with Willie inside."

 

"Why do you suspect Anissa, of all people? How would she know anything about the powerbox at WindCliff, or which nurse owned what car? Did little Mrs. Loomis cry on your big, strong shoulder, that Anissa wants her wretched Willie so much that she'd kill to get him?"

 

"I admit, it's far-fetched, but---"

 

"You'd choose this possibility over, say, another patient at WindCliff helping, or that Mrs. Loomis herself might have hired someone to spring her beloved husband, someone who obviously got carried away with her hypodermic?"

 

"Cellie and her aunt were supposed to go to WindCliff this morning, to try to get Willie released after my deputy questioned him about Barnabas Collins---"

 

"Ah, yes. The missing Mr. Collins, with his odd connection to the other recent assaults. Maybe he hired someone to get his old associate out of the asylum."

 

"We'll be looking into every possibility. Still, I'd like to talk to Anissa. If you have some proof to corroborate that she was here last night, present it now."

 

"All right." Nicholas called over his shoulder. "Anissa! Please come down here. And bring Carolyn!"

 

Anissa, clad in her favorite white pantsuit, ran down the steps, followed by Carolyn Hawkes in a white, furry robe that might have come from Anissa's closet. Nicholas put his arms around both women, kissing Carolyn on the cheek. Lester felt ill at ease; there was something perverse about the whole set-up. Anissa smirked at her former suitor. Carolyn could barely look Lester in the eye.

 

"Anissa," Lester began. "I have to ask you where you were, last night."

 

"I was here, Les," she said evenly. "I was so tired. I just came back from the Riviera. I spent a couple of whirlwind days there, patching things up with Lasha. He almost didn't let me return, the old dear. I had to make him one whopper of a promise, to gain his consent." She smiled slyly. "Even so, I still had to burn up the overseas telephone wire, last night, talking to him."

 

"I'll have to check the phone records, I'm afraid. So, you were here, talking on the phone. Was anyone else around, to witness this?"

 

"I was," Carolyn offered. "I had to borrow something from Anissa, and I walked right into her room, while she was on the phone. The clock struck ten, around that time."

 

"Then, we all got together," Nicholas said. "Oh, Sheriff Arliss, don't look so scandalized. I meant, we all got together to play baccarat. I intend to take Carolyn to Monte Carlo on our honeymoon, and I want her to learn the ropes, before she goes ahead, and loses the combined family fortune." He chuckled. Carolyn smiled uncertainly.

 

Lester didn't believe a word of it, but he held his peace. He didn't like the look on Carolyn's wan face. She was like a pretty flower, knocked around in a strong wind, fortunate not to be flattened outright. She was a far cry from the sassy, smart merchant she'd been, or Tony Peterson's openly affectionate companion. She must have been making her answers under duress, but he had no way of proving that, or disproving the alibi she'd made for Anissa. (Even if he checked the phone records, there might be no indication of just who had made that overseas call.)

 

He said, "I have to be getting back down to the office. Some of my men will be in the area, beating around the bushes, so to speak. If you see Willie around, or Barnabas, well, you know where to reach me."

 

As soon as Lester was gone, Carolyn turned on her companions. "I don't know why I had to do that," she complained with a sob. "I don't understand why I let you two make me....Nicholas, do you or Anissa know where Willie is? Where Barnabas is? Never mind," she answered herself, "Of course you do. I'll bet you have them both in this damned house."

 

"Nonsense, sweetheart," Nicholas said, as he caressed her shoulder under the robe. "If you want, I can take you through the whole house, and even the cellar---" Anissa shot him a wary look.

 

"Yes, I want to go. Now."

 

"Whatever my lady wants....” Nicholas took Carolyn’s arm, and Anissa's.  The latter flinched visibly. Nicholas guided them through all the rooms and closets. Then, he took her to the cellar. To Anissa's amazement, the downstairs chamber she'd allotted to Willie was empty. "Are you satisfied neither of your nefarious friends are here?" Nicholas asked his fiancée.

 

"I--I guess. For now. But it's a trick. Something tells me this isn't the truth," Carolyn replied, with a touch of her old feistiness.

 

Nicholas took her in his arms, and peeled the white robe from Carolyn, down in the cellar, right in front of Anissa. He kissed her bare shoulders. "Don't, Nicholas," Carolyn protested. "Not here, not in front of HER---"

 

"You just don't remember, Carolyn," Nicholas whispered. "Anissa's often present when we're together. You don't mind at all. In fact, you become more enthusiastic. You are a giving, sharing sort, if I do say so." He took out a small flask from his pocket, and poured the contents over his fiancée's face. "Your special tonic, darling," he said.

 

"There's a bed right there, Carolyn," Anissa snickered, pointing at the bare mattress before them.

 

"No, please, I'd rather be upstairs. I have that much right, don't I, Nicholas?" Carolyn whimpered, as she felt that peculiar, memory-blotting desire come over her again.

 

"Of course you do. No rolling on a bare mattress like a dollar-a-trick hooker for my betrothed." Nicholas almost had to carry Carolyn up the steps, from the cellar, and up to his bedroom. When she was between his sheets, and fast asleep, Nicholas went downstairs, back to the cellar, to where Anissa waited impatiently.

 

"Your personal restraint is amazing," Anissa commented to her partner. "I was ready to hit the mattress with the both of you."

 

"All in good time, Anissa. The night of the real consummation is at hand. She'll be wide awake then, I can assure you. She won't be able to help it, when she sees Who will be officiating at our 'ceremony'."

 

"I wonder if our Master is as full of anticipation as we are, Nicholas. I mean, the woman is beautiful, but she's a bit long in the tooth. He's surely seen better, younger, lovelier, more virginal....”

 

"So have I," he admitted. "My first wife was of such a breath-taking beauty, and possessed such a vibrant personality that I erred terribly, trying to keep her for myself. I was brought up short that time, stricken through those I trusted most on earth. My second effort to make an earthly union failed, even though I tried to initiate Maggie Evans into our circle. This time, I won't fail, because I no longer trust even you. It's all business with me this time, from first to last. Complete your end of the bargain and you will have what you want, and I'll have what I want."

 

"Speaking of what I want, where IS he? You had me worried, for a minute there."

 

"I anticipated a visit from our trusty gendarme. He and his brownshirts were at Collinwood all night, according to the News. So, early this morning, I put a little something extra in the slop you fed Willie for breakfast--- How can anybody stand the taste of oatmeal! Horse food! I went down, shortly after, while you were busy changing from your nurse's gear, and dragged him into the room where I kept Barnabas. He slept so beautifully in that casket!" Nicholas said, gleefully. "But I'd better get down there, and move him back, before he wakes up, and blows the whole plan with his hysteria. I'd hate to have to kill him, before my real intentions for him are fulfilled. In fact, I'd hate to have anyone else killed, Anissa, if you know what I mean."

 

"That was a necessary death, Nicholas," Anissa insisted. "Penny Sandford would have exposed me, if I'd let her come to."

 

"What could she have said? That someone who looked like her long-lost twin knocked her out, stole both, her car and her favorite patient? She would have sounded as crazy as her friend Willie. Control, Anissa, control. That's the key. Your excesses have gotten the juices flowing in Sheriff Arliss's sluggish brain. Now, something will have to be done about him. I have the perfect idea, but it must wait until dark."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie was at her wits' end. She had spent all day searching for Willie, as she had for Barnabas. She felt more alone than ever, and this time, she refused to leave her baby behind while she searched for her husband. Poor Sarah Teresa spent half the day slung from the Snuggli carrier she'd nearly outgrown, and the other half in her portable baby seat. She cried, longing to stretch her legs and practice her walking, but her mother was adamant. Cellie wouldn't leave her baby alone, or even with her usual caretakers. It wouldn't take much to overpower either Julia or Mrs. Johnson.

 

Elizabeth and Roger had gone to the cannery, and David had to go to school, to turn in a term paper. His grades were, fortunately, still pretty high, but he'd had to miss so much school lately, due to the current crisis, that it seemed likely he wouldn't graduate with his class; he might have to take summer school, so he could get his diploma. "I told them, I'll worry about that, if I live that long," he confided to Cellie. "I doubt Nicholas will need an honors grad to scrub toilets in his Brave New World, anyway."

 

Cellie had laughed, in spite of her anxiety. But the days were growing short…. She opened her mind, full throttle, to try to tune into her husband's emotions, in order to find him. She tried to send out her love to him, but if he was nearby, either he blocked her, or he was being blocked. If only she could get into the Henderson house! She wondered if Carolyn knew where Willie was. Probably, but to hear Lester tell it, he'd found her in what he thought was a brainwashed state. She'd denied everything.

 

Cellie arrived back at Collinwood, after a futile afternoon, surveying the nooks and crannies at the Koffeehaus. Pavlos had wept aloud when he heard about Willie, but could do little beyond guiding his step-daughter through the old Templeton Mill cellar, and vowing to call her the instant he or Janice caught a glimpse of the fugitive.

 

Then, she'd driven out to the Antique Shoppe, but only had the time to survey the outside. Sarah Teresa began to wail from her Snuggli. After checking her daughter, and tallying her supplies, Cellie found, to her dismay, that she was running out of formula, and those new disposable diapers she'd been using with abandon lately. She loaded Sarah Teresa and her equipment back in the Beetle, and drove on back to Collinwood.

 

She really wasn't worried about the Antique Shoppe very much, anyway. The police drove by it several times a day, and there was the alarm system, which would ring in the police station. Willie could probably deactivate it, of course, but he didn't have any keys to the building, and would have to break in, thus setting off the alarm and defeating his own purpose. Such an obvious attempt, therefore, seemed unlikely.

 

Cellie arrived at Collinwood, and parked next to Elliot Stokes's car. Before she went looking for him, she ran upstairs with Sarah Teresa, to attend to her needs.

 

The Professor was in the drawing room, having come to consult with Julia. Apparently, things weren't going well in the "hide-out." Hallie and Annette had to be tranquilized heavily at night, to resist the summons which troubled their souls, though Barnabas was too far away to do them real harm. Maria Fatima was far less affected, but she was in a state of despondency, crying about Lucy Fedders, and clinging to her mother when she visited. Mrs. Texeira was barely speaking to Elliot, whom she suspected of knowing far more about what had damaged her daughter than he would tell her.

 

"What can I tell her, Julia?" Elliot mourned. "I never realized how much I loved Fatima, or needed her support, until now, when I have no right to expect either. She knows a lot about my work, but keeping this secret is destroying any hope of a true union."

 

"I wish I hadn't insisted that Barnabas burden both you and Virginia," Julia sighed. "I was a terrible coward, thinking only of myself, and my baby."

 

"We could have hardly stood by and watched you and your baby die, if there was some remedy we could discover together," Elliot admonished.

 

"What happened to Barnabas may have been inevitable, given the nature of the enemies we face. At least we know what we're dealing with this time. We know what must be done. But the time of the true anniversary of Nathaniel's massacres approaches. We must find Barnabas right away. I sense that something truly terrible will happen, if he lasts until that final, fatal day. I need your help."

 

"You want me to act as bait!" Julia replied, angrily.

 

"I don't want to call it THAT, Julia," Elliot said. "Do you sometimes feel Barnabas is nearby?"

 

"Yes, when Alistair moves around more than usual in the evening. I tell myself, it's a figment of my hormone-tainted imagination. But Sarah Teresa always became more kinetic when HER father was close by. According to Cellie, even if the baby hadn't moved for an hour, she'd push and kick the instant Willie laid his hand on his wife's abdomen, as though she knew him."

 

"So, you believe your unborn son is sensitive to Barnabas's presence. I've wondered if the telepathy component of Sarah Teresa's anomaly might be an independent trait, not part of the Hoffman or Sisk heritage, that has emerged in this generation. There may have been a spontaneous mutation, that resulted in a carrier who passed on the gene, like the Hemophilia in Queen Victoria's family. Perhaps, when this is all over, your family can have tests done by a geneticist. Who knows, someday they'll be able to isolate the gene responsible, in your DNA. Then future generations can have tests done, to determine who will transmit it, and who will experience its effects."

 

"Or, maybe, the government, or another being like Nicholas, will take advantage of the new tests," Julia answered, sadly. "Some things are better left a surprise."

 

"You may be right about that, after all. I have some so-called 'psychic' friends who've been swallowed up by government study programs I suspect are run by the C.I.A., if not the F.B.I. When they emerge from these citadels, if they return at all, they are usually in a state of psychic as well as mental, physical, and spiritual collapse. No use giving 'Big Brother' any easy method to track more 'subjects' down." Elliot changed the subject back, saying, anxiously, "Julia, we must find a place that Barnabas can visit you, that isn't visible from the house. Widow's Hill would seem ideal for our purpose. I will hide behind a thicket. You needn't ask him where he's staying. I know he won't tell you. But maybe he can be followed."

 

"I won't do it. You can't make me," Julia protested, her tone childishly defiant.

 

"Jack, Hallie, Annette, Maria Fatima....And Lucy Fedders is near death. Julia, be reasonable. We've been though all this before."

 

Just then, Julia's face became flushed, and she clutched her abdomen tightly. "He's jumping around like a dolphin!" she gasped.

 

"I'll try to get you to Widow's Hill." Elliot tugged on Julia's arm.

 

Julia began to wish she hadn't been feeling better lately, so that she could have resisted Elliot's zeal with the legitimate excuse that she felt dizzy and had to go lie down. He all but dragged her up the garden path, past the shrubbery and wooded area that separated the rest of the estate from the lookout point. He sat her on the bench near the railing. "Are you going to tie me to it, Elliot?" she snapped.

 

"Of course not. You can go, if you really want to, Julia. But I doubt you really want to. You haven't seen your husband since you were in the hospital, have you?"

 

"No," she replied softly. "I've wanted to, so much. But just because my fetus is in an active phase this minute, doesn't mean it's an ironclad guarantee that his father is anywhere near." She twitched on the hard bench in her discomfort.

 

"Is Alistair so painfully kinetic at just any time, Julia?"

 

Julia stared at her round middle, rubbing it tenderly in spite of the pummeling inside. "I'll wait here, as you wish, Elliot," she sighed, sounding resigned.

 

Elliot patted her shoulder and dove behind some bushes.

 

Julia sat in the growing gloom, as late afternoon gave way to evening. The movement in her abdomen began to increase, so that she groaned in pain. She cried a little. "Barnabas must be near me. He must! Why don't I see him?"

 

She heard a rustle in the bushes, as the baby's kicks reached a crescendo. There was a muffled voice, saying in reply, "Because he will not speak to his wife in front of eavesdroppers." The bushes parted, and Barnabas stepped out. As he cleared the opening, Julia could see Elliot lying on the ground. "Oh, my God, Barnabas!" Julia cried as her husband embraced her. "You didn't--didn't kill Elliot---"

 

"No, my love," he replied. "I just sent him to sleep for a while. Why are you helping those who would destroy me?" Barnabas's tone was just a little threatening.

 

"I don't want to destroy you, Barnabas! I never did, even when you were at your worst! Don't look at me like that! I love you, still. Even if you can't feel the same about me, right now, remember our son! Touch him," Julia pleaded, guiding her husband's hand over the visibly-moving pouch under her tent-like maternity skirt.

 

"I'm sorry, Julia. Of course I won't harm the mother of my only son," Barnabas said soothingly. "I do love you, in my own way, even now, when human feelings are moving away from me as inexhorably as a raft drifts from the shore."

 

"You've changed, even from the way you were when Nicholas first lured you back into the vampire life," Julia observed. "You are much as you were when I first met you." She shuddered. "But I will always protect you. You could always count on me."

 

"And Willie. How much I miss his obsequious, excessive devotion, incompetent as he may have been from time to time. He never really betrayed me, even when I toyed with his mind and affections."

 

"You've sought other--other 'friends'. The girls--- Barnabas, how could you go after Hallie? You were so fond of her, once. And that poor girl Lucy--- she's in a deep coma, and unlikely to emerge. They're debating whether to discontinue treatment, and allowing her to pass away, as her brain scans show little activity, and she's tying up every machine the hospital can provide. You made her a vegetable!"

 

"She interfered with my plans for Maria Fatima, the way Pavlos interfered with my plans for both Hallie and Annette. I will brook no more interference from anyone, from now on," Barnabas insisted firmly.

 

"Those aren't YOUR plans," Julia protested. "Even though you believe you're acting as a free agent, you are carrying out Nicholas's intentions! You were once capable of controlling your thirst, at least while I, or Willie, were able to provide you with substitutes. You've had periods when the mere thought of attacking the people you cared for, was anathema. Let me help you, by bringing you blood, from slaughterhouses, from blood banks....”

 

"How long do you think you could get away with raiding the Red Cross, Julia? And there's the strain it would place on your condition. Under no circumstances, must you jeopardize my son. If he dies or is born with some impediment, I WILL dispose of you."

 

"NO! Barnabas, how can you speak to me that way, after all we have been to each other? Who will care for our baby, if I'm dead?"

 

"Nicholas will provide all the help I need. He has special plans for Alistair, as he does for Sarah Teresa, and any other children of the Fraser line." Barnabas fell silent for a minute. He moved his head, as though he was trying to catch a sound carried on the wind over the cliff. "I must go," he said at last. He kissed his wife harshly on the lips, making her gasp and flinch, from the foul odor of death on his breath. "Julia, my love....” he whispered, "I am in the process of changing my resting place to a better location. I may soon let you know where I lie during the day, but you must execise caution, when I summon you there. NO FOLLOWERS!" he ordered, eyeing the Professor's limp body with disdain.

 

Elliot began to stir, as Julia turned from her husband. As the Professor sat up, Julia heard a whirring noise. She looked around the bench area. Barnabas had vanished.

 

The Professor picked himself up slowly, rubbing the back of his head. "Barnabas left me a considerable calling card," he commented, as he felt a large knob forming where Barnabas had hit him. "Well, what did he say, Julia?"

 

"Nothing of substance, " she replied.

 

"That's a lie, Aunt Jule," Cellie said, as she emerged from another thicket, further down the hill.

 

"Cellie!" Julia exclaimed. "I thought you wouldn't leave the baby alone today, with Willie at large."

 

"David came home a while ago. He's holed up with Sarah Teresa in his father's room. Roger also arrived a few minutes ago. If Will shows up, he couldn't knock both of them out, especially since Roger has that gun. I told him, though, 'warning shots only'. I knew you'd come out here, though for what, I didn't know, until I saw Barnabas browbeating you, Aunt Jule. Geez, that must take you back--- to the bad old days!"

 

"What did he say, Cellie?" the Professor asked.

 

"Oh, he merely threatened to kill his wife, if she screwed up the rest of her pregnancy in any way, shape or form. He threatened to kill her, if he summoned her to his hiding place, and someone tagged along. And yet, he professed LOVE for her, as she professed HERS for HIM! She offered to steal blood for him! You know, when I first heard about their whole history, I was horrified, but I couldn't visualize it.

 

“I was able to accept that they had all changed their lives for the better, that the whole episode was so far in the past, that it didn't really matter anymore, what had happened. Now I've seen at least some of it before my eyes. Aunt Jule even said Barnabas was acting like he used to when she first met him. And I have to ask, again, Aunt Jule, how can you love such a creature? He threatened to kill you, even though you're bearing his child. And yet you let him kiss you, and hold you, and touch you. It didn't appear to be a pleasant experience for you, but you didn't exactly resist ....”

 

"There's still a little of the real Barnabas left, Cellie," Julia wept. "Just enough to give me hope that all isn't lost....”

 

"I tried to read him, Aunt Jule. There isn't even a tiny spot I can get a toehold in, so to speak."

 

"Well, I WON'T betray him. He comes before everything else in my life, except our child. He only said those things, because he's so worried about Alistair."

 

"Barnabas is so worried, he clobbered one of the people who cured

 

Alistair," Cellie snapped. "Face it, Aunt Jule! The Barnabas we all cared for is gone. His soul is nearly lost. All I can say is, I hope he doesn't run into Will out there."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

In spite of his resolve never to return to Nicholas's house, Barnabas went through the hidden entrance Anissa had shown him, whose doors hung open for him. Then he had to wait until Nicholas came down to the cellar. "How good of you to wait, as I requested in my summons. I have something very special in my cellar, but it's none of your business at this time. It's better that you not even catch a glimpse....” He unlocked a different door, and led Barnabas straight up to the parlor. "Sit. You must keep quiet. I have company upstairs. She's sleeping right now, but every now and then, she wakens, and calls for me." Nicholas smirked.

 

"Who? Anissa? She knows about me."

 

"No, another, very special lady."

 

Barnabas took a guess. "Carolyn. You already have her. All is lost....” he sighed, with a stab of his steadily-fading human regret.

 

"All is gained!" Nicholas insisted. "This is only the beginning. I'm now in a position to make a new bargain with you, Barnabas. Do you think I want to gain the whole world, and not allow you to have a share, to enjoy in the daylight?"

 

"You made me back into a vampire. Now, you want to cure me? I find that hard to believe."

 

"Well, it can't be a full cure. That's just the nature of these things. But if you could, say, spend an hour in the sun every day, with your wife and son, what would you give for such a privilege? As the poet says, 'to feel for an hour, the way you used to feel'?"

 

"I won't be swayed into any more bargains. I believe I was cheated this last time."

 

"That was no cheat! Julia and Alistair were doomed until you consented to the renewed affliction, no matter what your friends told you. I will follow through on this bargain."

 

"Tell me then, and let me decide." Nicholas whispered in his ear.

 

"I can't say that wouldn't give me some satisfaction," Barnabas said at last. "Not as much as the visit with Jack, but it will serve to remove an obstacle. And I need a more reliable assistant than Pavlos. He weeps and wrings his hands far more often than Willie ever did. He resists me as much as possible. I give him palpitations, and bad dreams, but it's not enough to keep him in line. I can't get close enough to him, to make him completely mine---he wears those crosses like an impregnable shield. And if I kill him, or harm his wife, that will bring my enemies down on me....My enemies who were once my friends and family." Barnabas hoped Nicholas wouldn't wrest from him an admission of his pact with Angelique, to not kill outright. (The Fedders woman couldn't be that badly injured!) That agreement was one of his last links to civilized human behavior, along with his lingering feelings for Julia and their baby.

 

Nicholas didn't appear interested in pursuing the subject. "I don't approve of random murders, myself, as I've told you. Pavlos can fall by the wayside, for all I care. Just perform this little chore, and I will get to work immediately on your hour-a-day reprieve. I might even let you choose your favorite hour. Now, get busy."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

 

Lester Arliss had just gotten home from putting in thirty-six hours straight on the Loomis case. He knew he could have delegated more tasks to his deputies, but he preferred to deal with the Collinses and Cellie himself. Now, he was exhausted.

 

He was usually very fastidious, sometimes showering twice a day, especially after he'd put in a strenuous, sweaty day of searching and running around. He'd done plenty of that, since Willie was reported missing. But he was too tired. He stripped off his uniform shirt, with all its scratchy pins and appliques, and his belt, emptied his pockets, and threw himself on the bed. When he crawled under the covers, he roused himself enough to pile some pillows next to him, to form a kind of bundling border.

 

In the past, this was just a habit from childhood, from the time his parents divorced. At first, after his father left, Lester, just five years old and an easily frightened child, tried to climb in bed with his mother, under the assumption she was as lonely for company in her bed as he was. On the contrary, Mrs. Arliss had come to relish her nocturnal solitude, and thought her little boy was getting a bit strange, wanting to sleep with his mother, to hug and nuzzle her until he dozed off. So, she created the bundling border for her son. "Hug and kiss that when you have a bad dream," she admonished. "Leave me in peace. I have to get up early for work, you know. Be good, and I'll buy you that bike you want at that store in Ellsworth."

 

His father had thought it an odd habit, when Lester used to go stay with him on weekends in his house in Logansport. Still, he also appreciated how it kept Lester from invading his room, especially after he remarried, and it wasn't as hard to clear away as a bedfull of stuffed animals. The only person who'd ever told him to give it up, was his Uncle George, when the boy spent nights at his home. Lester did make the effort for his godfather, but once he was on his own, he resumed the habit to relieve the same loneliness that had dogged him since childhood.

 

In the last few months, Lester had fallen asleep with his arm thrown across the pillows, pretending it was Cellie beside him. Even he thought that was a pretty pathetic fantasy for a man his age, but after the failed relationship with Anissa, it was all he thought about. He had the whole scenario planned out, and ran it in his head like a soft-core porn film, almost every night before he dozed off. Tired as he was, he gave it another run.

 

Unlike his real-life encounter with Cellie, his dream usually began in an idealized setting. She was alone in a restaurant, or the Koffeehaus, in a beautiful dress, her hair hanging all around her dainty face. Like his real-life encounter, however, he usually found his dream-Cellie sad, or in pain. She would weep that Willie had left her, or he'd hit her and she'd left him.

 

Lester and Cellie would begin to dance to music played by an unseen band. Then, the Sheriff would sweep the girl up in his arms, and somehow be transported to his apartment. He thanked God that he made enough money now to move from the boarding-house, to the same attractive modern apartment complex Tony Peterson lived in. It certainly made for a better fantasy background.

 

He would carry her to his bed, and spend time comforting her, as she sat on his lap like a child. He would slowly undress her. At this point, the dream would get jumbled up, as he confused their lovemaking with the meager experiences of his high-school and college days, and, lately, the aborted session in the back seat of his police car. He remembered what little he'd seen of her body that time, and built on it. The scar, however, was never visible. The most important thing was, afterward, he could reach out and touch her anytime he wanted to.

 

Sometimes, after his dream, Lester would wake up suddenly, and grope around, searching for his imaginary companion. Then he would realize he was just grabbing the pillows, and an empty feeling would come over him.

 

He was so tired now, he doubted he'd wake up like that. So he let the fantasy roll, as he drifted off to sleep. He wasn't sure how much time had gone by, when he heard the rap on the sliding glass doors on his tiny, second floor balcony. He glanced at the clock. Two A.M.

 

He heard what sounded like footsteps on the balcony. He knew it wasn't impossible for an intruder to find some way to scale the twelve feet from the ground to the small platform. Last year, before Lester became Sheriff, he'd been sent to answer a call from a rape victim whose apartment was invaded under similar circumstances. But such an intruder usually chose this means of entrance after some consideration of its feasibility in relation to other options, after a period of stalking his victim.

 

He wondered who could be stalking him. "Willie?" he thought. He wondered how well prepared the escaped mental patient could have been, to locate the correct balcony in the midst of a dozen similar, darkened units. Willie could just as easily have ended up on Tony's balcony.

 

Lester reached for his phone and his gun at the same time. He quickly dialed the police station. There was a busy signal. He wondered why the deputy on duty didn't at least check the incoming call in response to the blinking light on the big office phone. Lester hung up, with annoyance and a touch of fear. He was on his own.

 

He rapidly stuffed his pockets with the other equipment he'd laid on his nightstand. Then, he approached the glass doors, quickly and quietly, while aiming his pistol. He peered through the crack in the drapes that concealed the entrance. He wished he'd chosen to block the glass doors with his sofa and the old oaken chest of drawers he'd brought from his childhood home, at least until the summer. Too late to fret about that now, he thought, as he glimpsed a tall, dark figure that appeared to be dressed in a cloak, standing near the railing, staring at the moon. In an instant, Lester recognized him.

 

He unlocked the door, and slid it open. As the intruder turned to face him, Lester said, "Mr. Collins, I want you to stay where you are, and raise your arms slowly." This Barnabas did, without resistance, or comment, as Lester, holding the gun on him, quickly patted him down. Then, the Sheriff told him to lower his arms, as the handcuffs were applied. Again, Barnabas cooperated silently, seeming to listen with close attention as Lester stated the charges and recited his rights.

 

With his arms pinioned behind him, Barnabas was led to Lester's sofa, and made to sit, while Lester tried to call his office again. Again, the phone was busy. "Damn," Lester muttered. "Something must be wrong with the phone. That's okay. I'll take you down to the station in my car. I have a radio in there. I'll be calling this in while we're on our way." He closed his sliding door, and pulled the drapes over it. He grabbed a jacket from a chair, to cover his undershirt. He wasn't about to leave his prisoner unattended in order to run into his room to get his uniform shirt. "Okay, Mr. Collins, get up. It's time to go. I just want to state, for what it's worth, that I am sorry things had to come to this pass."

 

 

"I'm sorry, too, Sheriff Arliss," Barnabas said quietly, breaking his silence at last. He rose slowly. "But you will be SORRIER!" Lester heard a loud, metallic snap.

 

The Sheriff froze in shock as he saw his prisoner's hands, the cuffs with their broken chains dangling from each wrist, emerge from behind Barnabas. Then, Lester broke from his trance, and began to back away. Barnabas grabbed him by his throat as he turned to run. The older man clamped his hand over Lester's mouth.

 

"You know, Lester," Barnabas began, as the younger man struggled in his grasp, "I never had anything against you, until lately. I do wish, in a way, that you had become entangled with my niece before she met Willie. You are a worthier fellow, as far as intelligence goes. Perhaps we could have become friends. This intervention might not have been necessary. But, alas, that's not how matters came about. Cellie belongs to Willie, and Willie has always belonged to me."

 

Lester managed to jerk his face away, to spit out a few words, before Barnabas covered his mouth again. "What do you mean?" he gasped.

 

"I mean, I owe it to Willie, to preserve his interests. Wretched as he is and has always been, he's been with me since the beginning.

 

At the same time, he's quite useless to me as he is, locked in WindCliff---"

 

Lester's terrified brain did register this much information. So, Barnabas didn't know about Willie's escape! He tried to move his mouth again, to tell his assailant. There was a tiny chance, that Barnabas would leave him alive, and pursue Willie instead---

 

Barnabas held Lester tighter. The Sheriff felt pain as his lips were forced against his teeth. "As punishment for your pursuit of Willie's wife, you owe ME something. You will take his place, and do my bidding, as he would have."

 

Lester shook his head, tears streaming down his face. Barnabas turned his head around just enough so that the Sheriff could look into his eyes.

 

"I observe, Lester, that you are not in the habit of wearing a religious symbol of any kind. That will make it so much easier for both of us. Now, keep gazing into my eyes. That will make it much easier for you."

 

Lester blinked. Barnabas forced his head back. The Sheriff squealed in agony through his closed lips.

 

"Only an inch more, and your neck will snap, Lester. Is that what you want?"

 

Lester shook his head as best he could. He looked into Barnabas's eyes as he was bidden. In a moment, he held still, as Barnabas twisted his head away and fastened his teeth into the Sheriff's throat.

 

A little while later, Lester slumped, panting, on his couch. Barnabas sat next to him, tending the fresh wound on the Sheriff's throat almost tenderly. "Why--why are you taking care of me now?" Lester whispered, as Barnabas applied a bandage.

 

"I certainly don't want you to bleed all over your furniture or clothing. For my purposes, I don't want anyone to suspect what has passed between us. You will NOT be able to tell anyone about me, from now on. You will divert your investigations away from me. I will visit you, or summon you to my hiding place, as I need your help and your blood. But I will try not to weaken you all at once, again, to divert suspicion. I don't need you ending up in Dr. Hurley's emergency room. She knows about me, but she has no idea where I am. Neither does my wife, my niece, Professor Stokes, or Willie. You will not enlighten them. This is for everyone's protection. I am adjured from killing anyone, but I will do so, if there is no alternative." He finished bandaging Lester's wound.

 

"You're going right now?" Lester whimpered, in a pleading tone.

 

"Yes, I'm afraid I must. But you'll see me again, probably tomorrow night. I need help, shifting my hiding place around. I'm in an abandoned building on the wharf right now, never mind which one. You'll hear the call and find the place instantly. The location is unsatisfactory, and I yearn for more familiar surroundings, now that you won't be after me. The person who helped me move before, never mind his identity, is too sickly to help me anymore."

 

"Pavlos," Lester said, with certainty. "You're sure he won't be helping you anymore? Just me?" He sounded resentful.

 

Barnabas was somewhat disconcerted by Lester's tone. He sounded uncannily like Willie at that moment. Barnabas wondered, for the first time, whether there was some common trait in both Lester's and Willie's emotional make-up, that went beyond their desire for the same woman. Of course, Lester was more stable and intelligent to begin with, but that might present its own problems, if he eventually came to rebel. Still, it was a unique experience, to have a member of law enforcement in his power.

 

"There may be some simple tasks Pavlos could still perform for me, but you will be the one I rely on for the most serious matters," Barnabas assured him. "At least, Pavlos won't interfere, and he can divert others who may suspect us. But a great deal depends on you. Pavlos has a great gift of being able to see into another's heart, and the forces of the Light tug at him very strongly. You have to avoid him, as much as possible. The same goes for my niece, at this time."

 

"Whatever you want, Barnabas," Lester replied eagerly.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

At Collinwood the next morning, as Roger and Cellie, who carried her daughter, came downstairs for breakfast, there was a crisp knock on the great oaken doors. "Oh, Lord," Roger sighed. "I do hope it isn't the police AGAIN. After the trauma of the last couple of days, they can't still believe that Willie's on the premises! Or Barnabas, for that matter!"

 

Cellie shrank into the wall, burying her face in Sarah Teresa's flouncy jumper. "Dear God, I hope it's not like what they do in the Army, when a soldier's been killed. You know, sending someone out to inform the family, instead of using the phone?" Lester, she thought with a pang. After he had appeared to be coming around to her way of thinking, he and/or his men had tracked Willie down, and shot him---

 

"Pull yourself together, Cellie," Roger said, bracingly. "I know the entire last month has been a strain on you, but even I believe in your personal strength. Whatever comes your way now, you mustn't give in to despair or fear." He kissed her cheek.

 

"Thanks for your support, Roger," Cellie smiled, as she followed him to the door.

 

"If I can give it, you must have earned it, my dear," he said.

 

"I never was one to display admiration for a pretty woman's character, until Vicky Winters came our way. How I wish you two could have met. There were opportunities, when Vicky and David visited Boston with Julia, but she was always so reticent about her family, and never offered to introduce them. I always wondered why that was so.

 

I suppose it had to do with our continual family troubles at the time. It was probably just as well to keep you and Janice and the others out of the fray."

 

"If you think I'm sorry about being involved in your troubles now, I'm not. Now that I know all of you, I wouldn't have missed meeting your family for the world, even if it meant dealing with a dozen Nicholases and Anissas."

 

"Now, THAT'S something dear Vicky would have said," Roger commented, as he opened the door.

 

Nicholas stood on the thresh-hold, with Carolyn at his side. He appeared confident, while she was obviously downcast, as she clung to his arm. "Well," he began, "aren't you going to invite your niece and her fiance in, Roger?"

 

"If only I could dispense with you," Roger answered, with hostility. "But Carolyn, of course, is always welcome."

 

"You can't have one of us without the other," Nicholas said. "It's a package deal. That's just the way it is. So, tell me, is your sister home?"

 

"Liz is already at breakfast," Roger replied. "I suppose you two can come into the breakfast room, and join her. She's been longing to see Carolyn. And there's plenty of food, if either of you are hungry. Would you like something, Carolyn?" he asked his niece gently.

 

"Now, now, Roger, you act as though I don't feed my fiancee," Nicholas joked.

 

"I'm not hungry, Uncle Roger," Carolyn said in a dispirited tone. "Anissa fixed us a huge breakfast before we came. I just want to see Mother."

 

"Yes, please," Nicholas said. "I'd prefer to see her out here, anyway. We have some business matters to discuss, most of which concern Carolyn's financial future. Send Mrs. Loomis to get her. Make her earn her keep. I certainly would. You're not the only one who's been inconvenienced by the search for her husband."

 

"She's hardly a servant, Nicholas," Roger groused. "And it's been pretty well-established that she wasn't responsible for her husband's escape."

 

"I'll go, Roger. Mrs. Stoddard might need a little preparation," Cellie said. Besides, she wanted to remove her baby from Nicholas's eager gaze. She ran down the passage to the dining areas and the kitchen. A few minutes later, Elizabeth Stoddard appeared in the doorway that led to that hallway.

 

"Carolyn!" she exclaimed, as she ran to embrace her daughter. "Are you all right? " She examined her daughter's face. There were no marks on it, or shadows under her eyes, but Carolyn's expression was vaguely forlorn. She couldn't look her mother in the eye.

 

"I've hardly been beating her, mother-in-law-to-be," Nicholas announced.

 

"Don't call me that!" Elizabeth admonished. "Are you going to let her come home?"

 

"I have a home," Carolyn protested weakly.

 

"And in the next couple of days, we will be married in it," Nicholas announced.

 

"I hope you don't expect us to attend the wedding?" Roger asked, in a derisive tone.

 

"Roger!" his sister snapped, as she cradled her daughter in her arms. "If Carolyn wishes us to attend, of course we will, no matter how unhappy we are about the situation." She turned to her daughter. "Do you want us to come, darling?"

 

"Alas, the nature of our arrangements are, that we have no hard-and-fast date and time for the actual ceremony," Nicholas said. "The nuptials will go forward, and you will be informed. But you needn't raid your closets for finery to wear for the occasion. It's just as likely to take place at midnight as at midday, and at a moment's notice."

 

"I already had the idea this wasn't a social call to invite us to the wedding," Roger said. "You mentioned something about finances---"

 

"Exactly!" Nicholas smiled. "Now, please understand. I am not a gigolo, or down on my luck, by any means. I am not, strictly speaking, marrying your daughter for her money, Elizabeth. I have plenty of my own, thank you very much. However, the economy is always fluctuating, and my income rides the waves of the highs and lows."

 

"You want more funds to speculate with?" Elizabeth asked, angrily.

 

"No, no, no. What I'm trying to say is, when money marries money, a merger must be created, to supply a steady income to handle the mundane expenses of life, while freeing a certain portion for purposes of growth, and also of pleasure. I will carry my share of both burdens---"

 

"Which burden? Growth or pleasure?" Elizabeth demanded.

 

"The WHOLE burden, Elizabeth. I just want to make sure my bride is comfortably taken care of, no matter what happens, and any children that come into our lives. Now, I know that Carolyn inherited a controlling interest in the Collins Enterprises, as well as a large share of stock in the cannery operation. She also has cash and bonds in Swiss bank accounts."

 

"If you think we're just going to turn the whole lot over to you, Nicholas, you'll have the fight of your life on your hands," Elizabeth warned. "I want my daughter to be well-provided for. But, somehow, I can't picture you administering the funds for Carolyn's well-being."

 

"I'd suggest you think twice before with-holding any of Carolyn's money," Nicholas said. "I have many methods at my disposal, to obtain what I require. What my wife requires, I mean. And that

 

also means, freeing up her portion of her trust from the late Burke Devlin, including what she would have inherited from Victoria Winters's share."

 

Elizabeth and Roger both thought of the eccentric bequest left by their former adversary, set up just before his tragic death in a plane crash, as a tribute to his fiancée, Victoria Winters, and as retribution to Carolyn and David. The trust was intended to pay off as each recipient reached their twenty-sixth birthday.

 

Vicky's disappearance had complicated the process; without absolute proof of her death, her share, which should have been fed into Carolyn's and David's, was tied up at least until 1975. Elizabeth and Roger had sought legal relief, until it seemed possible that the cost would eat up the entire share. They were holding out for the seventh anniversary of Vicky's disappearance, when they could have her legally declared dead, and those running the trust would relent, and release her share. Until then, the whole amount was accruing interest, so it wasn't a total waste of time.

 

"We can't get any of Burke's trust for another two years," Elizabeth protested. "The other funds are also subject to heavy regulations and penalties. You'll only see dribs and drabs of them until Carolyn turns thirty. Even though my late father passed away before Carolyn's and David's births, he was a far-sighted man. He knew there would always be vultures waiting to pick the bones of the family fortune, so he wisely tied up many of our assets, into his grand-children's generation and beyond, to be released for use in increments. We may lose some of our money from time to time, but he insured that none of us would ever really be destitute, as long as we were careful with what we still had."

 

"Mother, please don't call Nicholas a vulture," Carolyn pleaded, as she cast anxious glances in her fiancé's direction. Nicholas appeared nonplussed, but she felt compelled to add, "He's shown me some of his documents and records. He's as wealthy as he says. But I need my own income. Surely you realize that. It's not as though he'll let--- I'll be perm--- I'll be running my own business anymore, or going out to work at all. I can't keep annoying him for money. Besides, he said that dowries are an idea that never should have gone out of style. It's a wife's duty to help keep up the house, with her own money."

 

"Nicholas and Anissa lease the Henderson House," Roger said. "They've been able to keep it going without a third income to offset expenses."

 

"Very soon, I expect that Carolyn and I will be obtaining our very own home, hopefully an improvement over our current quarters," Nicholas replied. "The Henderson homestead, while large, is quite rustic for our combined tastes. Moreover, Anissa has just about reached the end of her sojourn with us. She'll be returning to Europe, and her Lasha, in a few days. I have an eye on some prime property, already graced with an ample residence boasting both a bygone elegance and modern conveniences. The owners just need an inducement to sell."

 

"If this is an example of your typical financial negotiations, Nicholas, then I shudder to think of the manner in which you'll be likely to 'induce' those hapless owners to part with their home," Elizabeth said tartly. "If it was MY home, I wouldn't sell at all, unless you stormed the place with a small, well-equipped army."

 

"It's not your home I'm interested in....” The way Nicholas let his sentence trail off, both Roger and Elizabeth had an intuition that, in the silence that followed, he meant them to complete the thought with the word, "Yet."

 

Elizabeth wondered if Nicholas had his eye on the Old House. She'd heard that Nicholas was either a descendant, or a reincarnation of Nathaniel Collins, her direct ancestor Isaac's brother, the one who'd killed the Indians. Isaac, the family histories said, had begun the Old House with plans abandoned by his brother, when Nathaniel had disappeared after the tragedy which also robbed him of his young wife and infant son. It was possible that Nicholas wanted to cement the family connection by wresting possession of the Old House from Barnabas, or, if he didn't turn up, from Julia and her child.

 

Elizabeth said, "I hope you're not implying that you're even remotely 'interested' in any of the homes on our estate. I can assure you, you will not be able to acquire one, not the house you occupied during your sister's marriage to Roger....Not even the smallest of the cottages!"

 

"It hardly seems fair that your daughter should be deprived of an opportunity to live in a family residence. Well, once you've become used to the fact of our marriage, you'll definitely come around." Nicholas signalled to Carolyn, who reluctantly left her mother's embrace to take her fiance's arm once more. He opened the doors wide, so they could walk out together. "We shall return after our wedding, to discuss these matters further. In the meantime, if I were you, I'd get on the phone right away to my lawyers and accountants, and set the wheels in lotion. I won't stand idly by, until my fiancee has what's coming to her."

 

Roger shut the door on the departing pair. He turned to his sister. Elizabeth's steely calm collapsed, as she fell, weeping, into her brother's arms. Cellie emerged from the doorway, where she'd been hiding and listening, to add her own brand of comfort. "How I wish there was some way to invade that house, and interrupt whatever heathen ceremony Nicholas has planned," Roger groused, as he smoothed his sister's tumbled hair.

 

"Perhaps there is," Cellie said. "Trouble is, he may call in his J.P. of choice the instant he gets home, and put the matter to rest immediately. Then it WILL be too late."

 

"Cellie, you snuck around the place the other day with Charles Plavnicky," Roger said. "Just tell us where you think we might have the best chance of breaking in, and I'll take care of the rest."

 

Elizabeth lifted her head. "No, Roger, you mustn't try. He sent those green stinging lights to stop me, when all I wanted to do was see if Carolyn was all right. I believe, as Cellie does, that he made poor Charles have that near-fatal heart attack. If you broke into his house, not only would he kill you, but he might also decide to kill Carolyn for revenge."

 

Cellie was already trying to think of a plan, but she couldn't force one out. She had the knowledge of the layout of the Henderson house, but she couldn't think of a fool-proof means of protecting the participants of a break-in. What was it Pavlos had once said? "No knowledge is useless; it only needs to find its time and place." But there was no time. . .

 

 


CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

 

Later that day, Nicholas went into Anissa's room as soon as he had Carolyn drugged and sleeping again. "We can't wait any longer," he announced. "You have to take care of your business, and be back here by midnight on the twenty-seventh to help me with the 'marriage rites'. I need the leverage of a marital fait accompli in dealing with my in-laws. Apparently, a thirty-year-old will is a bigger obstacle to gaining the Collins fortune, than even one as powerful and resourceful as myself could have imagined."

 

"That's what keeps us on our toes, Nicholas," Anissa laughed. "We always seem to win in the end, but in the meantime, the Other Side has girded humanity with some basic abilities to defend themselves for a while, anyway. If you ride rough-shod over their laws, you risk exposure. That's why many of our kind seek to join the legal profession. For every decent fellow who passes a bar exam and tries to live virtuously within the confines of earthly justice, there's two or three of our kind who can make the system work to reward their venality. Perhaps you should have returned as a lawyer."

 

"I would have been as competent a lawyer as you were a doctor, I'm sure," Nicholas said, contemptuously. "Never mind my problems. I can force a solution, if all else fails. But, in the matter of Willie Loomis, a certain amount of subtlety is required."

 

"We're moving tonight," Anissa announced flatly. "He's been asking 'his Penny' when we're going to elope with 'his Teresa'. No point in putting it off. In fact, I can't. I am ready now, and the window of opportunity will pass shortly after midnight. I don't want to lose this chance, my first and last in two-hundred sixty years....” For a minute, her smooth, impeturbable face crumpled in a mask of agony and longing. Then, she collected herself. "I will need Cellie. Neither of our objectives will be accomplished if she doesn't become involved."

 

"The plan is fool-proof."

 

"It had damned well better be." Anissa rose, and went to the door. Before she left the room, she turned to her partner. "If it doesn't work, Nicholas, there will be MY Hell to pay. You will find out just what kind of a doctor I can be. I haven't lived through all these centuries, and all these lives, and lost all my children, to forfeit my prize because of a three-time loser like yourself."

 

Nicholas replied, a little nervously, "Yes, my lady. Go on, and prepare Willie."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

There was a knock on the heavy locked door to Willie's chamber. He struggled up from the horrible dream he'd been having since the day before, that he was sleeping in a fancy casket, like Barnabas used to. He wanted the beautiful dream about his future life with Penny and Teresa to come back. Maybe, if Penny would just tell him it was safe to get Teresa, and leave already. . .

 

"Willie!" he heard her call. She unlocked the door, and stood before him, dressed in a dark cloak. She proffered an armload of men's dark clothing. "Quick, Willie. We have to go tonight. They're looking for you and Barnabas. You can't go out in that white orderly's uniform. You put these things on now, and I also have a nice bag packed for you in my car, so you'll have something for your trip. Thank goodness, you and my late husband were the same size!"

 

"We're going to get Teresa, aren't we?"

 

"Of course! We won't be a minute too soon. I heard that Lester Arliss has been visiting Collinwood regularly, and that Cellie's training your Teresa to call him 'Dah-Dah'!"

 

"NO!" Tears sprang to Willie's eyes. "He CAN'T have my Peanut!

 

He can have that lying slut BITCH, but NOT my little girl!" He wiped his tears on his sleeve, and took the dark clothes from the nurse. He changed in front of her, without embarrassment.

 

"My, you're certainly not shy, Willie," the nurse said with a smile. "This is the second time I've seen you out of your clothes."

 

"Hey, you're a nurse, you should be used to seeing this stuff. And anyway," he said, smiling now, "if we ever get together, at least you'll know what you're in for."

 

"I'm sure everything will be to my satisfaction." When he was ready, the nurse took Willie through the passage, to the black Mercedes. She made him lie under the blankets she'd removed from the blue Nova. "You sure you want to take this fancy car, and not the Chevy?" Willie asked.

 

"It's night-time. This car is black, inside and out. I can cut the lights, when I get up near Collinwood, and drive by starlight until I reach a decent hiding place. If someone sees the powder blue Nova, on the other hand---"

 

"Yeah. I guess you're right." Willie retreated under the blankets.

 

The nurse drove around for about twenty minutes, so that Willie wouldn't realize just how close his former hiding place had been to Collinwood. He stayed under the blankets without a peek outside, or a word of complaint. Finally, she turned up Widow's Hill Road. "I hope nobody from the house passes me on the road," she said, as she rounded the steep curves. "No place to go off the road and hide in some bushes right here."

 

They were lucky; no cars passed theirs at all. The nurse announced, "I see the house up ahead. I'll cut the lights now." She guided the Mercedes into a shallow gully just across the road from the desolate West Wing. "Get up, Willie," she ordered. "Is this a good place to get into the house?"

 

Willie raised his head slowly, and peered over the nurse's shoulder. "Perfect!" he exclaimed. "Okay, Penny, you have a flashlight, don't you?"

 

The nurse popped open the glove compartment, and pulled out a torch with a black plastic case, which she handed to him. "I even put in fresh batteries," she assured him.

 

"You're the best, Penny." Before Willie got out of the car, he bent to kiss the nurse on the cheek. She turned her head, and his lips landed on hers. Willie sat transfixed, for a minute. Then he broke away. He could feel his face burn hot, now. "Wow, Penny, I didn't expect that!"

 

"Just letting you know what YOU'LL be in for," she giggled. "Besides, I thought you could use a boost of confidence."

 

"I used to think my wife was a Hell of a kisser. But you sure got a way of waking a guy right up, Penny. The blood's really pumping now," Willie said, as he emerged from the Mercedes. "I can't tell you how long this is gonna take. There may be quite a few people around, and the baby's in the same room as Cecily."

 

"It's nine-thirty. Some of the Collinses must have gone to bed by now," she replied. "But don't worry. Take your time. I'm in a good hiding place, and I don't mind waiting."

 

"Well, if you see a commotion, shag it. I'll be able to take care of myself. No use that you should get arrested, too."

 

"I wouldn't desert you, Willie," the nurse said softly. "Now, go get that baby, and see if you can grab the keys to the Antique Shoppe. I promised you, we'd try to get your mother's picture."

 

"If we can't, that's okay. At least I'll have the most important thing. I'll be back in a while, Penny." Willie ran to the nearest door to the West Wing. When he shined his flashlight beam on it, he felt lucky. This was the same door he'd used when he used to come for his rendezvouses with Cecily. He thought, for a minute, about those times in that big closet, lying on that mattress with his girl, filling her with his life. . .

 

Sarah Teresa must have been conceived in that closet, he figured, whenever he tried to do the mental arithmetic. Unless, of course, she wasn't really his! Maybe the baby was Jack's, made in the front seat of Cecily's Beetle, the night she claimed Jack was trying to rape her. But then, who knew? Maybe that wasn't the only time Cecily been with Jack.

 

There was such a narrow margin of weeks that the baby could have been created, and Cecily sometimes didn't get to see Willie for a few days at a stretch during that time. It was just as possible that she'd been with David. That would be typical of both of them, Willie thought resentfully, pretending to be friends in front of his face, the same way Cecily had acted with Lester until recently. (It didn't even matter that David and Cecily had saved him from being shot by Lester, Willie told himself; they just wanted to look heroic, and not have the burden of guilt for his death on their consciences.)

 

And now that Willie knew what a lying tramp his wife really was, there was no telling who the baby's father could be! Maybe Cecily had even lied about being a virgin that first night. She was good at pretending ….

 

Willie forced himself to stop this train of thought. He had to get a grip, or he wouldn't be able to pull off his mission of saving his baby. Of course Sarah Teresa was his child. Didn't she know him before she was born? She kept sending him messages, tapping a code whenever he put his hand over Cecily's belly. And she really DID look like him. The day she was born, Willie could identify almost all of his features on her wrinkled, red face. She had his brows, his earlobes, his dimples....But she had her mother's eyes and hair, as well as her brains. That was okay, he decided. Now that he had a chance to cool down, he decided that Cecily had been faithful to him, until just after they saved Maggie from that Clinic. Then everything went downhill from there.

 

It brought him to the same miserable conclusion. Cecily had wanted Barnabas, and David once, but she didn't do anything with them, probably just because she was pregnant. Then, when she was freed of her burden, had recovered from her injuries, and knew she couldn't get knocked up again, she flaunted herself in front of Lester Arliss. Then, as if that wasn't enough, she got even with her husband and Barnabas by telling on both of them. . .

 

Before Willie realized it, he was almost to the door that led from the West Wing to the hall near David's room. He was so familiar with his destination, he'd allowed his thoughts to make him oblivious to his surroundings. Now, he had the next hurdle to clear: getting from this hallway, to the one that led directly to his old room, where he knew Cecily was staying. He opened the door, and listened. He heard two voices coming from David's room. One was David's, of course; the other was Cecily's.

 

Willie silently edged himself toward the room, and listened briefly. "It's so strange to see you without Sarah Teresa, Torchtop," David said. How Willie loathed hearing David call Cecily by that name. He'd never told her why: because it was the kind of nickname strippers used.

 

Willie hated it worse when his wife responded easily, without comprehending the insult. "I can hardly grow another umbilical cord," he heard her say. "Sarah Teresa's sound asleep, and I never leave her for more than a few minutes, except to use the bathroom, unless there's someone nearby. You know that. I just came to borrow some more of those books you've been raiding from that room in the West Wing, then I'll be back there in a flash."

 

There wasn't much time to waste, and there wasn't any way Willie could get down that hall undetected. He didn't even want to stay outside that door another second, just in case his wife's empathic "antennae" were working, and she sensed he was close. He jumped back behind the West Wing doorway, and tried to think of another way to get to his wife's room. He knew there were secret doors all over the place, but he didn't have a lot of time to figure out where all those doors stood, in relation to Cecily's room.

 

Well, he didn't have much choice, He would have to go down the line, and try each door. Some of them, including the ones to Maggie's former room, and Elizabeth Stoddard's, were sealed. Willie himself had nailed the sliding panel in Mrs. Stoddard's closet shut, after his niece and nephew had snuck in through there at his wedding reception.

 

He began quickly, aiming his flashlight along the inside wall of the West Wing passageway. He found himself stepping into old rooms and closets, to check their inner walls. He wondered why on earth small, rich families like the Collinses needed such huge, complicated houses, when large, poor families like his made do with railroad flats, two-room shacks, and lately, those dreary, dinky government-provided cinderblock apartments. He knew that at one time, there was a small army of servants living here with their families, wiping every crumb and speck of dust their wealthy employers dropped, but supporting and housing such a crowd had to be expensive.

 

"Say there were six or seven Collinses living in this pile at any one time," he mused. "Think of all the money they could have saved without fifty maids and butlers running around, doing simple stuff they could have done for themselves! Think of how really easy their lives could have been without forty rooms to clean up. Think of how much less trouble they would have gotten into, if they kept busy picking up after themselves, or doing their own cooking." Look how good he behaved, when he kept himself busy. Plus, he was so used to doing without, that if he had, say, whatever kind of dough Penny Sandford must have inherited from her husband, he'd never have to worry about anything.

 

He wouldn't even care what he wore, or if it came from a second-hand shop. If a person was that rich, they shouldn't have to care what anyone said about their clothes, and whatever one saved on clothes, furniture and maintaining big, dusty houses was money in the bank. Mothers wouldn't have to work double-shifts in a cannery or a mill,

 

like Willie's had, to make enough to pay a doctor to treat their sick children. Fathers wouldn't get so angry and frustrated at their burdens, that they would even think of leaving their families, or knocking them around, at least.

 

Well, he thought, as he perused yet another filthy, cob-webby closet, his Teresa would never have to worry about such privation. With Penny's help, and with new identities, maybe there was some kind of business they could go into together, and not get caught. Teresa could help them, as she got older. Some work was good for a kid. But Willie would see to it that his daughter didn't have to do any dirty drudge work, like housekeeping or farming, or even waitressing; everything

 

she did would be directed to a bright future. (How that could be accomplished, though, without somehow exposing her father before she grew up, was something Willie would have to work out as he went along.)

 

With Penny to help and guide them, Willie and his Peanut wouldn't have to take any crumbs dropped by the Collinses or his father-in-law. He knew Walter had started to like him a little, but there would always be the facts of his past with Maggie and Barnabas, not to mention the circumstances of his marriage to Cecily, for his wife's father to ever really be comfortable with him. Willie certainly wouldn't miss Walter, and Walter wouldn't miss him, either, though he'd definitely be upset about Teresa. Willie thought that, after a safe length of time had passed, he could start dropping letters to his daughter's grandfather from different cities, assuring him that Teresa was okay. When his little girl learned to write, Willie would enclose notes from her, as well. Then, even Cecily wouldn't be so mad at him for taking the baby, anymore.

 

Willie had gone down to a corner, behind where he figured Carolyn's wardrobe closet was. If he followed the turn, it would take him in the opposite direction from his wife's room. He didn't want to back-track, and search for secret doors on the opposite side of the main hallway. It would take a lot more time. Cecily might have returned to her room by now.

 

Still, she'd mentioned that she would leave Sarah Teresa alone, while she ducked into the bathroom across from their bedroom. With Penny's promise to wait "as long as it takes" ringing in his ear, Willie decided he could hang around, until that happened. Still, he needed to get close to the room, to hide until he heard Cecily go into the lavatory. He pushed on the panel that led into Carolyn's closet. As far as he knew, it had never been opened during the time he'd lived at Collinwood; everyone must have forgotten it was there. He was, therefore, surprised to discover that it had never been nailed shut; it slid open easily. He peered through the tiny opening, into Carolyn's room. No one was there, thank God!

 

Now, all he had to do was cross the room, and peer out the door. Cecily's room was at the end of a short hall, kitty-corner to Carolyn's room, and easily glimpsed from her door. Willie tip-toed to Carolyn's door, and opened it a crack. He nearly jumped back into the closet, when he saw Elizabeth and Roger approach.

 

"Liz," he heard Roger say, "You must go to bed. You've spent enough time today, looking through Carolyn's things."

 

"I know, I know," she sighed. "But I miss her so dreadfully, that handling her clothes and pictures and books makes me feel closer to her."

 

Willie recalled his last, bitter phone call to his wife, when Cecily told him that Carolyn had gone with Nicholas. He hadn't killed her, had he? If so, Willie couldn't understand why David and Cecily hadn't been talking about it, when he overheard them before. They were both very fond of Carolyn, and hated Nicholas--- Surely, they would have been so broken up that they couldn't have been interested in any old books from that storage room in the West Wing.

 

"Now, Liz," Roger continued, "the situation is very bad, no question of that. But we're trying to find a solution. We'll be seeing her again, in any case." (In the room, Willie breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Carolyn was alive.)

 

"But Roger, when we see her again, will she be the same? She'll be HIS wife, on HIS side. You saw how she was, when she was here with him." (There was nothing Willie could have done about the situation, but he felt guilty anyway. That brought back thoughts of what Nicholas wanted to do with Teresa. Well, in an hour or so, Willie would take his daughter so far away that Nicholas probably wouldn't be able to find them.)

 

Elizabeth went on. "That's why I've been spending so much time in her room. I want to stay connected to the Carolyn we all knew, to cling to when we see the Carolyn she's become....Cling to the hope that she'll return to us someday, as she was....”

 

Willie heard her begin to sniffle, as she turned the doorknob. He dashed back to the closet. From there, he heard Roger remonstrate with his sister. "No more tonight, Liz!" he said. "We'll go to see Julia. She might still have something in her medical kit to help you sleep. We'll start over in the morning. We'll think of some strategy....We can't stop her marriage, but you heard the trustees on the phone. We can make the relationship financially unpalatable for Nicholas. Perhaps he'll discard her, without harm, if he can't get what he wants."

 

"But what if he DOES hurt her?" Elizabeth sobbed. "Is it worth the money? I would pay ANY price, to make sure she's safe, even if it means she's stuck with him."

 

"It's a delaying tactic, Liz. It will take time for the arrangements to be finalized, one way or another. Even Nicholas understands the process. In all likelihood, he won't hurt a hair on Carolyn's head, until he knows for sure where he stands, regarding the takeover of her assets. I've seen to it that everything is as secretive as possible. Unless Nicholas has a mole planted in our corporation, or amongst our attorneys and accountants, he won't find out until the last minute. And, by then, we may well have figured out a way to get Carolyn away from him. You must have faith, Liz. You know Carolyn is as dear to me as my own child. She's been even more dear sometimes, back when David and I weren't getting along. Somehow, we'll see this through. Then you won't have to fondle old sweaters and gaze at old yearbooks."

 

Willie felt a load lifted from his shoulders, when he heard Elizabeth mutter, "Of course you're right, Roger," and allowed her brother to take her away from Carolyn's room. He ran back to the door, and peeked out. There was nobody in the hall. He thought he heard Elizabeth and Roger up the other end, in Julia's room. He heard his wife's voice. She must have made a stop to see her aunt. She didn't sound like she was in a big hurry, but Willie knew he'd better get moving.

 

Willie dashed down to her room. Damn! It was locked. Cecily must have been thinking of the possibility that he could sneak in, after all. Willie looked at the doorknob. If only he had a hairpin....he rushed into the bathroom, and scooped a couple from the shelf over the toilet. (How careless of his wife, he thought, to leave those pins there, when she knew his history. He'd even showed her a couple of his

 

old tricks, for God's sake! Still, Willie was more grateful than dismayed at Cecily's oversight.) He tried three hairpins, before one did the trick. He opened the door quietly, praying it didn't squeak. He could still hear Cecily talking up the hall, as he shut the door and locked it.

 

In the room, he went straight to the crib. Sarah Teresa was awake, wriggling around, making the little noises he knew she made before she launched into a full-throated screech. "Hey, Teresa," Willie whispered, as he leaned over the crib. He stroked his daughter's cheek. "Hey, Peanut....”

 

"Dyeh! Dyeh! Dyeh!" With a tremendous effort, the baby sat herself up, but rolled back, her legs kicking up in the air. Her arms reached for him. Willie picked her up, and held her against his heart. She curled against her father in ecstasy. "Tees yub Dyeh," she cooed. "Kssss! Kssss!" She made little smooching sounds. Willie kissed her on her tiny, bow-shaped lips.

 

"Oh, Peanut," he crooned. "You have to be quiet. We're gonna go on a little trip, just you and me. But we gotta hurry." He listened at the door again. He still didn't hear Cecily approach. Willie glanced around the room, for the baby's supply bag. It lay in a corner. Willie glanced into it. His wife must have just re-loaded it, with diapers and some extra clothing. Cecily always did that when she knew she was going out with the baby, first thing in the morning. If only there was a fresh bottle, or a couple of jars of baby food in there, too. No matter, Willie thought. Penny could stop in a convenience store when they got out of town, and pick up some food and formula.

 

Then, Willie froze. He heard light footsteps approaching the door. He knew they were Cecily's. He fought to think clearly, to block his emotions so she wouldn't sense he was in the room, before he had a chance to hide. He laid the baby back in her crib. If Sarah Teresa started calling for her "Dyeh", Cecily would probably just think her daughter had woken from a dream about Willie.

 

The baby started to cry, and the footsteps outside quickened. Willie jumped into the closet. He didn't know what he would do, if Cecily caught him in there. He knew what she would do, though. She would put on that pitiful face, and sigh, "Oh, Will," before yelling for someone to call the wacky wagon from WindCliff. Then she would stroke his arm, and try to soothe him, as Julia rushed into the room with one of those damned hypos full of knock-out juice. If he gave them a hard time, then David would jump him like the member of an opposing football team, and Roger would hold a gun on him.

 

Then, he'd be stuck in an isolation ward at WindCliff, complete with ice-needle showers, daily electroshock, and hours on end in the rubber room while pumped full of tranks, for the next year or so. When he finally got out, if Nicholas hadn't taken over the joint, Willie would probably come back to find that Cecily had divorced him, married Lester, and taken his Teresa far away.

 

Willie sank deep into the back of the closet, behind his and his wife's clothes. He listened as his wife unlocked the door, and ran to pick up her baby. Sarah Teresa was sobbing, "Dyeh-Dyeh. Meh-Meh, geh' Dyeh-Dyeh."

 

"Shshshsh, Sah-rah Terees-sah," Cecily murmurred. "Mommy misses Daddy too." (Willie wondered which "Daddy" his wife meant. "Lester, of course," he thought, remembering what Penny had told him.) "Hey, Sarah Teresa," she said, "Are you angry at me, sweetie?" (Willie forced himself to calm down some more. It was his anger that his wife sensed, he was certain.) "Well, I don't blame you. Poor Peanut, here you were, wet and hungry, while I was out yacking with David, and Aunt Jule, and your Auntie Liz and Uncle Roger. They're all very unhappy, and they needed me. That's just the way life is for girls like us, you'll find out some day. We have to

 

take care of sad people. But you knew I'd come back to take care of you. First, let's do something about that diaper."

 

Willie was trying to get closer to the wall. It was then he made a discovery. When he felt around, he noticed that the wall panel behind him moved. Another secret door! he thought, excitedly, and it wasn't nailed shut, either. He fought to control his elation, as he had his anger. He slid through it as quietly as he could. While he was behind it, he shone his flashlight all around him. He was in the closet of another cluttered, cobweb-shrouded room. While he pondered the purpose of all these hidden panels, he noticed something else. Outside the door,

 

he could see into the room beyond. He could make out the outline of the mattress on the floor in a big closet--- his and Cecily's closet! He'd never suspected how close the two rooms were to each other. It would be easy to find his way out, from there.

 

He turned to listen to what was going on in his wife's room. He heard Cecily saying, "Now, let's go downstairs for a bottle, okay?" Willie waited patiently; he hoped Penny was just as patient, out in her Mercedes. Soon, he heard Cecily return; then he heard the rocking chair she'd brought from the cottage. She was obviously rocking their daughter. She was half-singing, half-humming, to Sarah Teresa.

 

"....While the sun is bright,

 

or in the darkest night,

 

No-one knows,

 

she comes and then she goes. . .

 

Good-bye, Ruby Tuesday....”

 

It didn't take long, for Cecily to get the baby to sleep again. Willie listened closely; the rocking chair ceased to move, and he heard soft footsteps. A few minutes later, he ran out of the room he was in, when he heard his wife approach her closet, and pick through it. Shortly after, he could make out the sound of running water coming through the pipes. Willie went back into his hiding place, and slowly slid the door open. He peeked out.

 

Cecily was gone from the room again. Willie emerged from the closet, and stood over his sleeping daughter in her crib. Then he walked to the door, which was shut and, presumably, locked again. He heard the shower running in the bathroom across the hall. His wife usually took about twenty minutes in the shower, unless he joined her. Those days were gone forever. "Who knows?" he thought; these days, she probably took some showers with Lester, at his place. He forced himself not to think of that.

 

He gathered the baby's things, including the half-finished bottle on the bureau beside it. He got an extra baby blanket from one of its drawers. Then he looked for the keys to the Antique Shoppe, even though he doubted there'd be time for Penny to take him there to get his mother's picture.

 

Cecily was a creature of habit; he knew how long she took in the shower, and he knew where she'd be most likely to keep her collection of keys, other than the one she was using to lock the bedroom door. He turned his attention to the nightstand. He sat on the bed beside it, and was struck by another memory. He remembered when he'd first carried his wife into this room, after she got out of the hospital. That first night, she'd fallen asleep, dangling her good arm over the side of the bed, so that her husband, laying on the trundle below, could hold her hand. When she was better, she would lay on the bed with Sarah Teresa, and support the baby's head, as they both gazed down at him. He would squeal in mock terror, and hide his face with his pillow. That was the first time he'd ever heard his daughter break out in what sounded like a true chuckle.

 

"Stop it!" he told himself, remembering another scene that took place on this bed, when he'd walked in, with his armload of roses, and Cecily was making out with Lester ....The baby, screaming in her crib as her father damn near killed his rival . . .

 

Willie yanked the drawer open. There were the keys, on their own ring. Cecily hadn't been to the Antique Shoppe in so long, she probably wouldn't even notice they were gone. The drawer stuck a little when he closed it, which caused the lamp on the nightstand to jostle. Willie righted it, then noticed the small, framed photograph near it. It was a picture of himself, holding Sarah Teresa. His Mizpah and crucifix chains were draped neatly over it. The blue velvet box from Lisarnold's Jewelry Emporium stood open beside it, displaying his wedding ring.

 

So she was telling the truth about keeping his picture and his jewelry nearby! But it didn't necessarily mean anything, other than that she was putting on a little show for the Collinses and Mrs. Johnson. If he had time to search her room further, he might find pictures of Lester somewhere.

 

Mrs. Johnson....Was that her voice he heard outside the door? Willie hadn't heard her steps approaching, but he recalled the housekeeper's almost inimitable way of sneaking up on somebody. Willie barely had time to get back into the closet, when she unlocked the door and walked in. He listened as she went toward the crib. "Sleeping like an angel, just as I thought," Mrs. Johnson whispered to herself. "Poor Cellie. This whole business with Willie and that Mr. Blair is making her paranoid." She went out of the room, and locked the door again. Willie heard her knock on the bathroom door, and announce, "Cellie, I just checked on the baby, as you asked, and all is well." He couldn't make out his wife's muffled reply.

 

Willie couldn't waste any more time. He scooped up his sleeping daughter and wrapped her in the blanket. Then he picked up her carry-all bag, crouched back under the clothes-rack in the closet, and gently eased himself with his burden through the secret door, into the room on the West Wing side. He trotted down the passage from the room with the mattress upon which his daughter was probably conceived.

 

Five minutes later, Cellie returned from her shower, and unlocked her door. At first, she didn't even glance at the crib. She sat at her mirror, picking through her long wet hair with her fingers, trying to work the knots out before she applied her comb. When she had the mane smoothed out and worked into a braid, she went to kiss her sleeping daughter, as she always did before she, herself, turned in for the night.

 

In a moment, the corridor rang with her panicky cry. "DAVID! ROGER! HE TOOK MY BABY!"

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTY

 

Willie tried not to wake the baby up, but it was inevitable with all the hurrying and jostling. Fortunately for him, Sarah Teresa recognized who was carrying her right away, and was merely complaining, rather than crying. Her father managed to clear the house, and ran down across the road to where the Mercedes still waited. He jumped into the back seat, and flung the blanket over himself and his baby. Without a word, the nurse backed out easily, and headed down Widow's Hill Road.

 

"That was damn close, Penny," Willie announced at last. "I had to wait, and wait, and I almost got caught a couple of times....I got the keys to the Antique Shoppe, but maybe we better forget going there. Just take us to Augusta, and put us on the bus."

 

"What makes you think they'll go looking for you at the Shoppe right away?" the nurse asked.

 

"Well, the police might think that would be a pretty stupid move on my part, to go there instead of scramming out of town. But they'll have to give it a whirl, sooner or later, especially if Cecily notices the keys are missing."

 

"We won't be there all that long. We'll be long gone, before it occurs to them to look there."

 

"No, really, Penny, it's okay. That picture means a lot to me. Maybe I should have figured out a way to get it, before I grabbed Teresa. But now, I just want to get out of town."

 

"Is there absolutely anything else there, that you need?"

 

Willie became a little nervous. Penny was sure insistent about going to the Antique Shoppe. He doubted it was a trap, but maybe there was something she wanted from there--- Maybe she wanted him to steal something, if there was anything left there worth stealing. "I can't think of anything....Well, okay, maybe there's a few little things we left behind, but the risk---"

 

"Don't worry. There's plenty of time to get what--get what you need. You'll feel bad after, if you bring nothing for--for your daughter. It's your last chance. You won't be able to come back---"

 

"Okay. You're right about that. As long as you can promise we won't get caught." Willie turned his attention to his baby, who was fretfully chewing on her fist, as she nestled on his chest. He rocked her, and fed her a little of the bottle he'd taken. "Penny," he said, "We have to find an all-night store someplace, later. I have to get my little girl something else to eat."

 

"Sure, I know just the place, halfway between here and Augusta."

 

They had arrived at the Antique Shoppe. The nurse parked the Mercedes several houses down, heading toward the Wharf end of the street. She carried Sarah Teresa, as Willie led the way with the flashlight and the keys. He let them in through the rear gate. "I just better not set off the alarm. Lester will be here in no time," he said. "Nothing he'd like better than to clear the deck of me, so he can have Cecily and my Teresa, without fussing over a divorce, or custody."

 

"You won't have to worry about that, shortly," the nurse said, stroking his back with her free hand.

 

The baby sniffled and whimpered in her arms. The nurse tried to comfort her, but Willie said, "I'll take her, when we're inside. She'll learn to like you, once she knows you better."

 

They went into the building. Willie flash-lit his way into the closet, where the alarm controls were. "They're already off," he announced. "I wonder who shut them off. You weren't ever in here, were you, Penny?" He sounded suspicious.

 

"Of course not! I've never even been in this building!" she replied, indignantly.

 

"Okay, okay. Don't get sore, Penny. Maybe Barnabas or Cecily shut it off, and forgot about it. There's a special code. Of course you wouldn't know it. But it's possible for someone to hit on it by accident, the same way I did."

 

"Oh, so they didn't tell you. They didn't trust you, I take it?"

 

"Well, they were trusting me more toward the end, but they would never have told me the code. My wife even put the jewelry in the safe every night. When I said I could do it, she would say, 'If Barnabas wants me to do things this way, he's the boss'. They were tight, those two. Just like peas from a pod. That's the reason I can't understand why, all of a sudden, she wants to turn him in for those attacks on the girls. She would have tried to settle the problem herself. She wouldn't tell them about what we told her--- Oh, never mind that, Penny." Willie began to shake.

 

The nurse kissed him. "Don't worry about that, anymore. Let's get upstairs, and get this done. It's almost eleven."

 

"I will. You wait down here, and listen, just in case. Watch my Peanut, for now."

 

The nurse rocked the baby, as she waited. Sarah Teresa seemed unable to relax in her grasp. The nurse went upstairs, to find Willie in the master bedroom, taking down the picture. Before she spoke to him, she laid the baby in the crib that still stood in her room, on the bare mattress. Sarah Teresa suddenly became very sleepy, and dozed off.

 

The nurse stood in the doorway, as Willie checked his drawers. "I laid the baby down in her room for now," she announced.

 

"You didn't have to. I'm just about done. I found some money I forgot about, and a couple more pictures. I guess that's it," he sighed, and sat on the bed. "Not much to show for all these years....'Specially the last two, with Cecily. She's got all my other stuff. She'll probably chuck it all, when she realizes what I did."

 

"So, this is where it all began with your wife?"

 

"And this is where it all ends."

 

"So, this was the bed....” The nurse sat beside Willie on the bed, which had also been stripped, and laid her head on his shoulder, as if in sympathy.

 

"Yeah. It's not something I want to talk about with my new lady, though." Willie kissed the nurse on her forehead. As she had before he went to snatch his daughter, she turned her face around, and kissed him on the lips again. She put her arms around him. In a minute, he was returning her embrace. They rolled onto the mattress. Willie ran his hand over her breast, and reached for her buttons, but stopped, and rolled away. "Penny, I--I can't. Not here. Not now. We have to get out of here, and it's--it's just too soon yet. It would just be a horny thing, for me. You deserve better. When we settle down someplace, and get to know each other better---"

 

"Now," she pleaded, almost in tears. "Now! Please! It may be weeks before I can join you and Teresa....when the police investigation lets up. Willie, I love you! I've been in love with you since we met. I know, if you think about it a little more, you'll realize, it's not just 'horniness' for either of us. It won't take much time, and we'll both have something to think about, while we're waiting for a chance to be together---"

 

"What if I get you knocked up?"

 

"I don't think it's the right time in my cycle....Maybe you don't know this, but there's times when a woman can't get pregnant, even if she doesn't use protection. But even if I do get pregnant, it won't be long until I join you, if you still want me to, that is."

 

"Well," Willie said reluctantly, "I tried to live up to my duties, when I got Cecily in trouble. I would do the same for you, I guess.I already owe you a lot, Penny. I'm still not sure it's a good idea....”

 

"It is! It is! I'll make it worthwhile!" The nurse flung herself at Willie, clawing at his clothes. He was about to protest, but he figured, he might as well get it over with, the sooner the better, and with as little noise as possible. He didn't want to waken his daughter.

 

So he responded, hesitantly at first. He was still too much Cecily's man to just throw out all the memories of their pledges to stay faithful forever. Even though his wife had broken her vows, Willie had resolved to show her up, by holding out against further temptation. He just hadn't counted on finding a compatible mate again, so soon.

 

And she was compatible in ways Willie hadn't realized he was missing. His new Penny was turning out to be a wild woman, moaning in his ear, grabbing and clutching at him with a frenzy he hadn't experienced since he was with Melinda, all those years ago. Cecily could be pretty active, too, but he'd sensed she sometimes went along with his bed-bouncing antics, not just because it made him happy, but because he got tired out that much faster.

 

(Willie thought Lester, who sometimes struck him as being too prissy for a guy, would suit Cecily just fine; their bed would hardly creak, and then, he'd roll over obediently and go to sleep, but not without politely shaking her hand as a "Thank You.")

 

Penny must have really been frustrated since her husband's early death, Willie concluded. It was the last rational thought he had, before an overpowering wave of reciprocal lust washed over him, driving him to yank her clothing out of the way, making him even forget his momentary doubts about his ability to perform. . .

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

"She's gone! He took my baby!" Cellie was sobbing, when the rest of the denizens of Collinwood joined her. They all crowded into her room, and gazed into the empty crib. Elizabeth Stoddard was under the influence of a mild sedative, but was already so anxious about her own daughter, that she was still wide awake; she broke down completely in Mrs. Johnson's arms.

 

"I don't understand it! I locked the door! I was just in the shower! Mrs. Johnson checked on her about halfway through, and Sarah was still here! I should have been able to hear what was going on, should have been able to read him...." Cellie sat on the bed, covering her face with her hands as she wept guilty tears.

 

"Who?" Roger demanded. "Willie, or Nicholas, or, perhaps, Barnabas?"

 

"It had to be Will. But I can't understand how--- I came back to my room, after I left Aunt Jule's. Sarah Teresa was here, awake. I changed her, and took her to get her bottle, came back, and put her to sleep. I locked the door each time."

 

"And so did I, of course," Mrs. Johnson insisted.

 

"Willie was a housebreaker, among the many other fine occupations on his resume, Cellie," Roger reminded her.

 

"But that still doesn't tell us at what point he entered the room, or where he could have hidden, or why his wife and Mrs. Johnson couldn't detect his presence in any way," Julia commented.

 

"I looked all around the room, when I came in," Cellie said. "I was in the closet several times. He must have been in here, while I fed Sarah Teresa, but there's nowhere else to hide, what with the trundle under the bed."

 

"I didn't look in the closet," Mrs. Johnson admitted, ashamed.

 

"Well, if I couldn't find him in it, you wouldn't have," Cellie replied, consolingly. "He must have come after you left, anyway. But how?!"

 

"Perhaps Nicholas engineered this," Elizabeth sobbed, "to keep us from doing what little we can for Carolyn."

 

"It may be part of what Nicholas has in mind," Cellie agreed, "but somehow, I detect Anissa's fine hand in all this. I still think she had something to do with Will's escape and the death of the nurse. She may still be helping him in her own devilish way. Literally."

 

"Well, whatever the method to the madness, we should still call Lester Arliss," Roger said. "Maybe he and his men can set up roadblocks on the way out of town. They can't have gone too far, and it seems unlikely that they could have gone to Nicholas's house. It would be too obvious."

 

Roger went to his son's room to use his phone. A few minutes later, he returned. "It seems the Sheriff has suddenly gone out of town. The deputy on duty said he tried calling Lester at home before, and he wasn't there, or at his mother's, either. He promised to send some police over, and set up the road-blocks, anyway."

 

David, who'd been rummaging around in the closet, called out, "Hey! Come look at this!" The others gathered around, as he held the clothes on the rack out of the way with one hand. With the other, he reached for the edge of a wall panel, and pulled it to the right. It slid away silently, to reveal a room in the West Wing.

 

 

"Oh, dear Lord," Elizabeth said. "I forgot about that door, while I was having all the others sealed. You see, this didn't used to be a regular room. This was a mending room, on the edge of the servants' quarters. I can just remember the ancient sewing machines, with their fancy scrollwork, when I was a very little girl. Then, my father had the servant's quarters rearranged, and boarded up this portion of the West wing, when he had more modern plumbing installed to accommodate some of my mother's relatives who'd fallen upon hard times, and were coming to live with us. This was my Aunt Lovisa's and Cousin Gertrude's room."

 

"Why leave the secret panel?" Cellie asked.

 

"It wasn't really a secret! It was originally a shortcut from the steps to the laundry room, which was converted to a regular room. The room behind belonged to my aunt's aged mother-in-law, who needed constant attention, day and night, one of the reasons that family had lost so much money. Roger might not remember her, he was only a toddler then. She was only here about a year-and-a-half. When she finally died, we didn't need the back room anymore, and it was allowed to fall into disuse. Once or twice, when I remembered it, I knew I wanted to seal the door once and for all. I vaguely recall mentioning it to Matthew Morgan, our former caretaker. I assumed he'd taken care of it years ago."

 

Roger said, "The way he used to scramble around, trying to keep up this place all by himself, it's not surprising that he'd forget this or that task that didn't seem urgent."

 

"He drove himself so hard, he drove himself crazy in the end, I guess," Elizabeth commented, recalling her late retainer's demented final acts of devotion for his mistress. These had included killing her plant manager and best friend Bill Malloy, and very nearly killing Vicky Winters, for what he'd considered acts of betrayal towards Elizabeth's interests. (Horrible as his actions had been, Elizabeth occasionally had a pang of regret that Matthew hadn't survived until the return of Jason McGuire.) She shook off these thoughts, and returned them to the present crisis. "Of course, I should have checked up on these details, back then. We're all paying the price now."

 

"I have to go out, and look for them," Cellie said.

 

"If Willie knows you're after him, it may drive him to a desperate action," Roger warned. "Estranged spouses are capable of doing great harm to their children, in their efforts to keep them from the other spouse. I speak from bitter personal experience." He gazed at David. Cellie understood. So did David.

 

"Father," he said huskily, "Willie isn't--isn't Mother. He isn't trying to keep Sarah Teresa for himself. I think he's trying to protect her. Willie goes overboard when there's something he has to protect, but not to the point of killing what he's guarding, when there's no other option." He thought of Willie's long wardship of Barnabas, and its consequences.

 

"Well, what about this Anissa creature?" Roger asked. "If he's so enamored of her, he may divest himself of the burden at her demand."

 

"She must have presented herself as someone who wants to help him watch over the baby," Julia interjected. "Sarah Teresa is Willie's last, and strongest allegiance. He would only have done this if he thought Cellie was a threat to his daughter, and he might try to kill anyone who gets in the way of protecting her, including Anissa. God forbid it should come to that point, because I have no doubt Anissa would kill both him and the baby first, in spite of Nicholas's interest in Sarah Teresa. I just don't understand why, after starting to trust Cellie again, Willie would have taken such a risk. He KNOWS she loves and wants to protect their daughter, and yet, he can't trust her to do that much, though I'm not sure why....”

 

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you or anyone, Aunt Jule," Cellie said quietly. "Will called me from the hospital, a couple of hours before he escaped. He'd discovered that I've been keeping the truth from him, about Barnabas being missing, the girls who were hurt, and Pavlos and Jack. He was scared when he found out he was going to be questioned, and he blamed me for everything. But I wanted to believe I'd gotten him calmed down."

 

 "At this point, you would have had to be in his presence to do that," Julia admonished. "In some ways, it's just like when he was with Barnabas....He needs someone on him at all times, to make the right choices, to be patient, to not fear the unknown." She sighed. "Perhaps, someday, you may be the one to do all these things, again, God willing. In the meantime, I have to agree with Roger, to some extent. It may be dangerous to both yourself and your child, if you just chase after him on your own."

 

"I have to get out there, Aunt Jule," Cellie insisted. "If the cops do find Will, he'll always need me to intercede between him and the law."

 

"I'll go along with her," David offered. "We'll just cruise around town."

 

"And I'll go out, too," Roger said. "Maybe we'll be lucky enough to find them, and bring them back safely, without the police to muddy things up. It would be something worthwhile to try, since there's little I can do about Carolyn's situation at this point."

 

"I guess it won't hurt to drive around," Julia conceded. They heard a loud knock on the oak doors downstairs. "That must be the police."

 

"I suppose we'll all have to conduct them through the house again, though I'm positive Willie and his accomplice are long gone," Roger sighed.

 

"We'll handle it, Roger," Elizabeth said. "Just get going. I have a sudden feeling, it's imperative that you do so."

 

Cellie returned to her room to dress. She grabbed a pair of jeans, and her boots. Most of her blouses were in the hamper. In her rush to get ready, she was about to put on the one she'd just discarded, when she saw a bright gleam peek out from her open drawer. She drew forth the Indian-style muslin blouse Willie had given her for Christmas. The blouse was decorated with tiny round mirrors held in place with turquoise (of course) embroidery. Cellie dropped it. Too showy.

 

Then, she changed her mind. She put it on, in the hope that Willie would see it as a good will gesture, and that he would "remember December." Christmas Eve was the one bright spot in that sad couple of weeks between Maggie's suicide attempt and Walter's attack on Barnabas.

Willie had grinned like a Chessy-cat that night, after they put Sarah Teresa to sleep in the absurd Santa-suit pajamas he bought for her, and Cellie wore the blouse (and very little else) to bed. "I can see myself all over you," he'd joked.

 

"So can I," she'd replied, kissing him, and yanking him down with her.

 

Willie wasn't the only one who enjoyed the blouse. Sarah Teresa loved seeing her face in the tiny mirrors, though Cellie was always careful keep her from pulling them loose, the better to pop one in her mouth. Maybe, if she saw it tonight, the baby would be distracted enough to forget her fear.

 

When she was ready, Cellie threw her leather jacket on, and trotted downstairs, to wait for David. A young policeman, whom she recognized as having been one of Hallie's guards at the hospital, greeted her, expressed his sympathy, and asked about Hallie. Apparently, he'd become smitten with her during his turn at guard duty. Cellie fended off his tactless questions about her friend's dating status and present location (which she didn't know, anyway), and waited impatiently for David.

 

She walked away from the police officer, and back upstairs. She banged on David's door. "Out in a minute, Torchtop!" he yelled. She went back in her room, and sat on the bed. There was little room; the police had dropped all the clothes from her closet there, and she could see the black, gaping void in the back of the closet, where several officers had followed Elizabeth. She could hear one say, "You sure he wasn't hiding in here all along, and we missed him the last time? What's this mattress doing here?"

 

Cellie peered in through the opening, and saw the officers' flashlights shining on hers and Willie's old mattress, in the empty room across the hall in the West Wing. She hadn't realized how close her present quarters were, in relation to her former bower. She left the searchers to draw their own conclusions, and went back to her bed. How close the past always was, she reflected, even the recent past. Yet, the couple who'd shared that mattress seemed like strangers to her now. She gazed at Willie's picture on her nightstand. The baby in his arms, who'd probably begun life on that mattress, if not during that hurried, but entertaining interlude at the beach-side cottage, gazed up at her father with a bemused expression. He just beamed down at her, the same way he'd once regarded her mother.

 

Cellie's eyes filled with tears, but she had a compulsion to look at some more pictures while she waited. (David's "minutes" had a tendency to pass like hours.) If she remembered correctly, she'd shoved some recent snapshots of her husband and child in the nightstand, with her keys, after the Antique Shoppe was closed. There was one particular picture she wanted, of just Willie, with the exact expression he wore when he'd asked her to marry him, so serious and pitiful and touching. Cellie had intended to have it enlarged and framed.

 

She opened the drawer, and plowed through it. Not only weren't the pictures in there (she must have dropped them in a bureau drawer), but she noticed that her set of the keys to the Shoppe were missing. "Will!" she thought. He must have taken them with the baby, but why? Why would he risk capture by going back to their old home?

 

As well as she thought she knew her husband, as much as he'd confided practically every detail of his miserable life to her, there were still, obviously, parts of his reasoning process that confounded her. In the old days, before he'd gotten tangled up with Barnabas, avoiding capture for his crimes was a priority (still, he occasionally slipped up and ended up in jail.) When he was first "initiated" as Barnabas's thrall, he had much to hide, both from his master, and the law. This provoked such a strenuous internal conflict, that when he was finally caught, his mind had snapped under the pressure, and he'd lost his memory.

 

After he had recovered from that, his instincts of self-preservation had backfired on him, causing him to do foolish things, like trying to help Maggie by kidnapping her and taking her to the very place that would re-ignite her memories. He and Barnabas had squeaked through that crisis, and others, but now, he was on an almost inexhorable path of self-punishment, self-destruction....and

 

he had Anissa along, to direct his journey. Cellie was certain they were together, even now, in the Antique Shoppe---

 

She could have asked David to find his set of keys, but she suddenly didn't want him along, when she went to find her husband. She rushed across to Carolyn's room. She didn't even have to open a drawer. Carolyn always left her set in her largest jewelry box, which contained only costume pieces, and was, thus, left unlocked.

 

With the keys in her purse, Cellie rushed downstairs. The young policeman was gone, probably part of the group Mrs. Johnson was leading through the first floor. The girl ran out the door. She heard David behind her, calling for her, but she went on to her faithful green Beetle. She jammed it into gear, and swept out of the driveway.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie had lost track of time, something he'd never done, even during his most ecstatic moments with Cecily. It was a holdover from the early days of their relationship, when their time had to be measured in strict increments, lest they get caught....Well, they'd gotten caught, anyway, but that had turned out okay in the end, and then, they didn't really have to worry about time, but the habit remained. Until now. . .

 

Something jolted him from his engrossment in Penny. A noise---was Teresa awake? He lifted his head to listen. Penny tried to drag his face back down to her breast, but he had to hear--- it was a tire squealing as a car went around the corner, outside. "Some drunk," he whispered, as he stroked Penny's hair. "Hope he doesn't hit your car."

 

He wanted to gaze down into her eyes during the most intense time, but she discouraged him from looking at her face, at least, not lingeringly. She hooked her fingers in his hair, and forced his head down, but he jerked it back up. "I'm ready," he panted. "Please, please....I have to look at you, I have to," he pleaded. "Can't do it, without looking at you...." He sealed his mouth to hers, and looked deep into her eyes.

 

In an instant, he recoiled. "I--I thought your eyes were brown," he said, fearfully, as he stared at the very green irises that gazed up at him from the mattress.

 

"Contacts," the nurse murmurred. "I can't make love with them on. I can't be my real self."

 

Willie tried to pull away, but she held him with a grip like steel. "I--I know your real self," he wailed. "You're--you're Anissa!" He thrashed around, in her embrace. "But she's blonde....”

 

"I wasn't born blonde. If you'd been paying attention while you were putting your hands all over me, you might have figured that out!" she snapped. "But, it doesn't matter, does it, Willie? What I said before, is still true. I do love you, in my own way. I can help you with Sarah Teresa, even protect her from Nicholas, if you give me the one thing I want most. Because, the minute I saw you, and saw you were married to HER, I knew you were the one. You're just like my Angus....”

 

"You're Alvina, too....”

 

"I've had many names. But that's the one which meant the most to me. My only true love, the one who gave me my last children, even though they passed away....Willie, don't squirm away. You've been attracted to me too, from the beginning." She drew his face closer, and kissed him gently.

 

Willie did pull away. "You're pulling the same shit your sister did to Barnabas! The difference is, she learned her lesson, and started acting nice. I'M NOT ANGUS! You DON'T really know me, you DON'T know what I want--- Let me go, please. I won't tell on you. I'll disappear into the woodwork with my little girl. Please....”

 

"I wouldn't harm either of you, Willie. I love you! And I do know what you want. I could be anyone you desire. Even HER, if that's what it takes to turn you on. I could give you so much, and you only have to give me one little thing....” She fought him, until she was on top, and said, "Now, who do you want me to be? Oh, I know."

 

In a minute, Willie heard a familiar voice, and gazed into a familiar face.

 

"Oh, Willie, remember when I was all you ever wanted?" Maggie looked down at him with her dark brown, doe-like eyes, her chestnut hair tumbling over his face.

 

"NO! You're married to my father-in-law! You're pregnant! This is SICK!" he protested, and turned away.

 

"Oooh, Willie," he heard Melinda Knowlton's voice say. "Your little Boston Honey wanted Big, Bad Sissy-Boy Lester Arliss, and left you in the lurch. Well, I've been waiting a long, long time---"

 

"You're DEAD....” Willie began to cry. "I DON'T want a dead person---"

 

"THAT ain't necessarily so," Melinda said. "You KNOW it's not. But at least, I'M a woman. C'mon, Willie. Give your Melinda a poke, for old times' sake!"

 

Willie studied this incarnation. This Melinda looked exactly the same as she had when he first met her that afternoon in the Blue Whale, six years ago. There wasn't a wrinkle on her face. Her body was the same, too--- not the flabby, pasty mess she'd been, just before she died. Actually, THIS Melinda looked even better, younger....Willie thought back to that long-ago encounter; maybe they could have had some kind of relationship beyond the one-night, or, rather, one-afternoon stand that had been interrupted by Melinda's son, Jack. "Wait!" he told himself, "it's an illusion!" But it was an illusion with which he was peculiarly comfortable. He allowed Melinda to draw his arms around her, and they rolled over together.

CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

 

Cellie sped toward the Antique Shoppe. She took the corner too fast, and, for a second, thought she was going to crash into a black car that was parked a short distance down the road. She was going to park there, anyway, but realized that David might come down here, looking for her. She went further down the road, to the back entrance of the Koffeehaus parking lot. She parked in the most crowded part, near some other Volkswagen Beetles that just happened to be parked close together. Then she ran up the street, her keys at the ready.

 

She discovered the gate to the back yard hanging open. She looked up at the back of the house, as she trotted toward the back porch. A dim light was on in her former bedroom window. She tried the door. That wasn't open. She unlocked it as quietly as she could. She tip-toed in. All was silent.

 

As she mounted the steps, she became aware of voices , whispering at first, then dissolving into moaning and grunting. The floor upstairs began to shake with a thunderous pounding. Between the loud thuds, she heard her baby starting to sniffle and sob. Cellie ran up to the landing. First, she poked her nose in the nursery door. Sarah Teresa was crying a little, but she looked all right.

 

Then, Cellie turned her attention to the half-closed door of her bedroom. She swung it open slowly and quietly.

 

The light she'd thought was so dim from the yard below, was, suddenly, painfully, almost blindingly bright--- a green-yellow brightness. In the center of the brightness, she saw her husband, naked, on top of, entwined with---

 

"NO!" Cellie screamed. "SHE'S DEAD! WILL! GET OFF THAT WHORE! WILL! OH, GOD, THIS CAN'T BE REAL!"

 

Melinda turned her plain, laughing face, with its toxic green cat-eyes, toward her rival. "So, who's the whore now, Cess-silly? Of course this is real, kiddo. Willie's giving it to me, real good. He used to give it to you, but you Boston snob pussy-whippers are just cold fish. He ain't gonna listen to YOU. GET LOST! You got in my way enough times, BITCH! Oh, yeah, go, Willie....” She groaned.

 

"NO! THIS ISN'T REAL! YOU'RE ANISSA! DESIREE! MEDORAH!"

 

At the sound of her birth name, Melinda's face disappeared, and Anissa's pretty, smooth face with its nimbus of golden ringlets took its place. "It doesn't matter. He will finish, and I'll get what I want. You must be present."

 

"NO!" Cellie jumped on her husband's back, and pulled with all her strength. He remained firmly entrenched. Anissa pulled him even closer, deeper....Cellie touched her leg. Before she knew what was happening, she was pitched across the room. She dragged herself back up, and approached the bed again. "Will," she pleaded. "Come away now....”

 

The baby gave her loudest shriek. Willie did stop, then. He gazed down at Anissa. She smiled up at him, and he grinned back at her. He kissed her tenderly. "Get the Hell out of here, Cecily," he demanded gruffly, without looking back at his wife. "And shut that brat up! I'm busy."

 

A great wave of hatred, such as Cellie had never known, welled up in her at that instant of complete betrayal. "THE HELL YOU'RE BUSY!" she roared. She trained her gaze on him. She began to picture him smoldering, burning from her hatred, beginning with his heart….

 

Willie sprung off Anissa's smooth white body, as though a grenade had exploded beneath him. He fell to the floor, gasping and clutching his chest. "AAAGH! CECILY! PLEASE STOP! IT HURTS! CECILY!" He crawled on the ground before her, retching violently. "Now my stomach hurts," he whined. "You know I have a bad stomach....Cecily, Cecily, PLEASE! I'M SORRY! GOD, I'M SO SORRY! I DIDN'T MEAN TO--- I DIDN'T WANT TO--- SHE MADE ME---"

 

"That's Adam's famous excuse, you WORM!" his wife shouted down at him. "Cheat on me, and ignore your daughter so you can screw that WITCH, will you?" She trained her eyes on his groin.

 

This time, Willie was incoherent in his agony, rolling on the ground, fumbling at himself, unable to decide which area of his body hurt the most. Finally, he managed to crawl into the bathroom, where his wife heard his tortured retching and vomiting.

"There's blood...." he croaked, between heaves. "I'm gonna die....”

 

Cellie turned her attention to Anissa, who was calmly getting dressed. "Don't even THINK of trying something, Cellie," the blonde woman said quietly. "You know what I am. It's too late, anyway." She smiled with satisfaction.

 

"Why--Why did I have to be here?" Cellie sobbed.

 

"Don't you understand?" Anissa asked. "Don't you know what I was trying to do, Catriona?"

 

"Alvina....You think I'm Catriona? I'M NOT CATRIONA, DAMN IT! What's the matter with people like you, always seeing someone else, when ALL there is, is ME?"

 

"You ARE Catriona," Anissa insisted. "She lives on in you. Nicholas sees another in you, but I've always known I would run into Catriona sooner or later. I knew she would want her revenge, but the truth is, she must give me back, what she took away. You cannot help it, because, while yours is the anger, mine is the power. You were destined to witness this 'seeding', and know sorrow. But you will give me back the power I lost, the power I miss the most, or else I will destroy all else you hold dear."

 

Comprehension filled Cellie's mind. "You want me to lift Catriona Fraser's curse. You really think that, after watching you mating with MY HUSBAND, and getting tossed around until you were done, I'm going to be SO-O-O-O afraid of your powers that I'm going to cave in, and allow you to bear his child! Assuming, of course, that I actually have the power to do so."

 

"You DO! Think of what you just did to your husband! It's just the same as Catriona! She ruined my insides with the same power she used to bring the cattle home, the same power she used to cause the avalanche that killed my little boy---"

 

"GIVE IT UP, MEDORAH! YOU killed your own child, NOT Catriona!"

 

"That's NOT so. She DID cause the rocks to slide!"

 

"If she did, I'm sure it was an accident. An accident YOU probably arranged! At any rate, you left your child in that house, to be crushed beneath the rocks, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU!"

 

"NO! I loved my son! I only wanted---I only wanted---"

 

"You wanted Catriona's legal, true spouse back so badly, you were willing to sacrifice the child you already had, to get your rival accused of witchcraft, with a public execution virtually guaranteed. You probably figured, 'What the Hell, when we're married for real, Angus and I will have plenty more'!"

 

"You'd better watch what you say, Cellie."

 

Cellie felt her throat close up, and her tongue swelling, the same way Carolyn's had last summer, when Nicholas first came back to town. "You kept your head then, you have to keep it now," she told herself. She held her tongue down, and drew tiny breaths. In a minute, she breathed freely.

 

 

 

"Make that accusation again, and I'll do that to your little girl," Anissa threatened.

 

"I don't have to. Your reaction proves its truth," Cellie gasped. "And Sarah Collins should be able to fend off such an attack against my daughter."

 

"Can she fend THIS off?" Anissa snarled, as she pointed toward the nursery across the landing, where Sarah Teresa, in her crib, was visible through the open door. The baby, who was still crying, shrieked in terror as she was dlung upward by unseen forces, out of her mother's view. "I can render her as stupid as Willie with a few blows against the ceiling!"

 

"NO! You can't---" Cellie stammered in horror.

 

Observing the change in her rival's attitude, Anissa said, "True. That would be as wasteful as it would be messy. I CAN do better than that, and may yet come to it." Both women watched as Sarah Teresa fell back into her crib. In a moment, she was clinging to the railing, sniffling and sobbing again, but apparently unhurt. "Now, remove the bane, or else your child will suffer anew. You must do it NOW, while his seed is still fresh. All will be lost at midnight," Anissa said in almost a beseeching tone. "This is my last chance!"

 

"I couldn't even if I wanted to!" Cellie protested with renewed courage, sensing that Anissa was playing a "head game" with her threats against Nicholas's prize. "AND I WON'T! Because, I know who you really are, back beyond even Medorah DuVal. You're the reincarnation of Medea!"

 

"How flattering, if true," Anissa smirked. "And how much more powerful I'd be---"

 

"Would you really be, Anissa-Desiree-Alvina-Medorah? Maybe you're almost used up by now. After all, how many times have you allowed yourself to be re-born in three thousand years? How many powerful men have you desired, and borne children to, only to be thrown aside when the men found women more pliable, or more co-operative, or less demanding, and more loving, in every way? How many of your children have you actually killed, in retaliation for their fathers' rejection? How many times have you destroyed your rivals? How many times have you ultimately destroyed the men, like Jason and Aegeus, and Angus Fraser? How many times were you ultimately exiled to places where you were first admired and worshipped, until the new people found out the truth about you, and sent you packing yet again?"

 

"It's a measure of my power to intimidate, I suppose, that those dogs never actually tried to finish me off," Anissa boasted.

 

"But you've never really settled anywhere. You never belonged anywhere!"

 

"THAT would have been as boring as Hell--- Well, that's not quite the correct expression, but you get the idea. I did settle once, in India, with the only one of my children I raised to adulthood. In the end, even HE rejected me. When I had my son, Dennis, with Angus, I was willing to give up all my powers, and raise him as a mortal, in that dreary Scottish village, if that's what it took to keep his devotion, and his father's. Then, Angus was officially betrothed to Catriona, to unite their two estates. Worse, he fell in love with her, and began sleeping with her, in advance of their wedding. Within no time, she turned up pregnant, as well."

 

"Why didn't you kill her, then?"

 

 

"I didn't want to bring down suspicion on myself!” Anissa cried. “My powers were already low. And there was a chance that their marriage would be found invalid, due to our prior relationship. Such are the vagaries of Scottish law. But when Catriona bore a son, Angus saw to it that his marriage was chiseled in granite! He wouldn't even come by to sleep with me anymore, as he had during her pregnancy. I couldn't kill Alistair, either; Angus would never believe that Catriona would kill her own baby. He would have been too suspicious, and too stricken with grief to make another child with any other woman, except his wife. He was that way. So I HAD to make a sacrifice. I gave up my son, my home, and my livestock. But Catriona won in the end, even though, by the time I was through, even Angus hated and feared her."

 

"You ARE disgusting! " Cellie sputtered. "So, this is the retribution you require? This is the deal you made with Nicholas?"

 

"It was serendipitous that his needs and mine coincided on this occasion. Our Master heard my pleas, and granted them, on the condition that I help Nicholas with his plans. Toward that end, I was to see that your pregnancy came to term---"

 

"And a bang-up job you made of it! Pavlos, and Will, and I believed your insistence on taking that walk saved mine and the baby's life. But for someone so powerful, that she could send a deadly fever to a baby without any souvenir more intimate than his mother's pencil, it seems to me that you could have gotten out a bit earlier, and averted Jack's attack altogether! My daughter and I, the objects of your protection, almost died!"

 

"There was never any danger of that," Anissa sniffed, "though, to our chagrin, Sarah Collins arrived just ahead of the condemned soul we'd intended to take over for the baby's, in the event of her death. But I accomplished one of MY objectives. You are now truly barren. And, to save the life of your only living child, since you can have no other, you will grant my request."

 

"I tell you, I CAN'T! And I WON'T! My baby may have half-brothers and sisters all over the world. But at least, none of them are being raised by women who've murdered their other children! I have that much consideration for any child you may bear--- that you aren't driven to murder him or her eventually. It's hard to overcome that, ah, 'perfectionism' of yours. If that's destined to be the case, then it's far better not to call forth a child to a life that will end so horribly."

 

"And what of YOUR child's life, Cellie? I warned you before, I have other ways and means at my disposal---"

 

"You're not going to cross Nicholas that way."

 

"Whyever not? If I am, indeed, the notorious Medea, the niece of Circe, of divine as well as infernal origin, then why should crossing Nicholas be an issue? I can squash him like an insect!"

 

"Because you've shown weaknesses, some of them due to this insane craving for another child, maybe brought on by your occupation of a formerly human body. He's throttled you when you indulged your love for destroying the children of others. Your Master must have adjusted the balance, so that each of you would be a check on each other."

 

"Well, Nicholas is coming to the end of his ascendancy, as you believe I'm reaching the end of mine. If he doesn't accomplish his current agenda....He has his own weaknesses. I can share my knowledge with you---"

 

"YOU LIE!"

 

"Cellie, be reasonable. Your child, your only child---"

 

"You CAN'T kill her, and that half-hearted attempt you made before means NOTHING. Your Master won't permit it, any more than Mine."

 

"There IS worse than death, Cellie. For Sarah Teresa, as well as others. Just remember that."

 

"You're bluffing. I'm not going to un-scramble your womb, or whatever the Hell Catriona managed to do without the benefit of gynecological training, as she burned on the stake to which YOU sent her!"

 

"Cellie...." Anissa was truly pleading, now. "It's just two minutes to midnight. Please....You must. I promise, I'll take excellent care of Willie's child. We both will, myself and Lasha. It's all for him, you know. Willie is Angus, and I feel some of what I once did for him, but Lasha is the one who holds what's left of my heart. If only he wasn't sterile, but that was a part of my giving him immortality....”

 

"THAT'S IT!" Cellie yelled. "It's just too much! A murderous witch and a Nazi, raising an innocent child, and yes, Anissa, I do believe that even a child of yours would be an innocent!"

 

"Your Willie was a killer, and you aided your aunt and uncle, murderers both, in their efforts to produce a child!"

 

"My husband has paid for his crimes a hundredfold. He never wanted to harm anyone again. THIS was YOUR idea, even I acknowledge that. As for Barnabas, he never wanted to be a vampire! THAT was foisted on him by YOUR sister, who finally repented of her sins. My Aunt did what SHE thought was necessary to defend him. Unlike YOU, they all chose to live good, normal lives, as best they could, the instant they were free of the forces that kept dragging them down."

 

"Who are YOU to judge ME, and to conjecture about the good I may be capable of, once I have my dearest desire?"

 

"To with-hold judgement, Anissa-Desiree-Medorah, would be the triumph of Hope over Experience. Let this minute pass!"

 

"Please, Cellie....I'll be good from now on...." Anissa was actually on her knees now.

 

Cellie gazed down on her with contempt. In this last minute, her rival's back door was wide open. There would be no other chance. "Do you fear fire, as much as my ancestor must have, when she was lashed to the stake, and the faggots lit at her feet? Her eyes must have been seared, even as she wept her last tears for her lost husband and son. So first, let me take care of the eyes that looked on my husband's body," Cellie snarled.

 

Anissa had been rising to her feet, as the hour hand swept over the twelve. She was reaching for Cellie, when she began clawing at her green eyes. "THEY BURN! THE FLAMES ARE EATING THROUGH THEM, TO MY BRAIN!"

 

She stumbled blindly out the bedroom door, past Willie. He'd finished vomiting, and had just emerged from the bath-tub, where he'd lain, running an ice cold shower in an effort to cool his feverish, vomit-splattered body. He had no towels, and shivered, dripping, on the landing. He fell back into the puddle he'd made, and gazed up at his wife.

 

 "Cecily," he whispered hoarsely, "Don't....don't do this. Let her have what she wants. She'll kill us all the second she gets better....”  Cellie ignored him, and followed Anissa out onto the landing.

 

The blonde woman swayed precariously over the stairs. For some reason, she couldn't throw off the effects of Cellie's empathic transference. "Why--why isn't the pain going away?" she whimpered.

 

A figure dressed in white materialized before the group, on the landing near her. "Because, dear sister," Angelique crooned, "if Cellie fancies you are Medea, then you must, in turn, believe that she is the rival you first caused to burn, thousands of years ago, before Catriona."

 

"Glauce?" Anissa-Medea wailed. "My Jason's new fiancee, to whom I sent the burning cloak, that destroyed her entire home and family as well?"

 

"She's entitled to her revenge, is she not? Especially with my help."

 

"What took you so long to get here, Angelique?" Cellie demanded.

 

"I had a mission, something I couldn't leave unattended until a few moments ago."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Virginia Hurley gazed down at Lucy Fedders's broken, bruised body, as she had once, on Cellie's, months ago, and wondered at the implied savagery of the damage. The young nurse was hooked up to all the available machines for breathing, feeding, elimination, etcetera....But Dr. Hurley had virtually no hope of Lucy's survival, even with the machines. Her organs were starting to fail, and her brain scans showed no activity; this, in spite of the fact that the neurologist had managed to relieve some of the swelling in her brain. Lucy's pupils had become fixed and dilated.

 

But whenever the doctor had tried to broach the subject of Lucy's removal from life support, no matter how gently, tactfully, and sympathetically, the already distraught Fedders family became agitated. They threatened a lawsuit, demanded their loved one's removal to the larger hospital in Bangor--- never mind that the prognosis, and recommendation for termination of treatment would be the same there.

 

Now, Virginia stood by as Lucy's parents studied their beloved daughter's condition one last time. They had finally found the strength to accept the inevitable, and were, basically, just saying good-bye, while still hoping for some sign of recognition, or, at least, a twitch....They'd told Dr. Hurley that if Lucy didn't come around in any way, shape or form by midnight, they would sign the permission papers to remove the equipment, which would be carried out immediately.

 

It was a few minutes to midnight. Virginia was playing a trick on herself she privately called the "Time Game." When someone was inexhorably going to die, she played the Time Game, telling herself that two minutes was one-hundred-twenty seconds, an eternity, practically. Then, after the person had, indeed passed, then the Time Game stretched backwards. She would say to herself, "It's only a minute since she died, I can practically still hear her voice. Maybe, if I wait long enough, time will back-track, and she'll return....” The minutes slid into hours into days, and still, it was a case of "It's only been a month. No time at all, really."

 

It was the most pathetic form of denial she knew. But it was sometimes even necessary for her own sanity, when facing the fact that, no matter how hard she tried, she just wasn't going to save all her patients, including those of whom she'd been fond.

 

As she looked toward Lucy's parents, she understood at once that they were playing the Time Game, also, absorbing every one of their final moments like giant sponges. She believed they had the same thoughts--- how could Lucy have held on, in this condition, even with the machines, for this long? The concept that there was some undetected spark of self-awareness, and a will to live, was almost too hard to believe, given the brain scans. If, by some miracle, she was to give the signal they craved, that would continue her existence on Earth, they couldn't hope for more than the likely prognosis: She would would, in all likelihood, never emerge completely from her coma, and would also be a quadriplegic into the bargain.

 

Not much of a bargain, Virginia thought, praying silently the signal would never come, though that would make a murderer of a man she'd once considered her friend. Horrified as she'd been by the whole incident, and as sympathetic as she was to Lucy's family, she had enough of her old feelings for Barnabas left, to regret that eventuality. If only she could tell on him, and end this madness. That would be the most merciful course for everyone!

 

But whenever the doctor tried to talk to Lester Arliss, or even picked up a phone to call his office, she became aware of an painful oppression in her chest, and a choking in her throat. After the first couple of times she'd tried to tell, she'd ceased to believe that these physical discomforts were a natural phenomenon. Something, or someone, was keeping her, and the others who knew, from exposing Barnabas.

 

Virginia had come a long way from being a skeptical, competent physician with only the mildest, socially-approved religious beliefs, to accepting the possibilities of supernatural intervention in human affairs. For the hundredth time, she wondered about Dave Woodard's final weeks. He'd called her once or twice, at her comfortable office in Philadelphia, to report that he'd made some crucial discoveries that would challenge their understanding of the physical world itself, never mind medical science.

 

She'd barely flinched in her seat, telling Dave he needed the vacation he was always advising Julia to take, when he refused to tell her more over the phone. "May God forgive me," she thought, realizing now, of course, that he'd been gathering evidence about Barnabas, Maggie Evans, and Julia. Thinking of his premature, unexplained fatal heart attack, she sometimes felt relief that he hadn't filled her in; he'd probably spared her a similar end. On the other hand, perhaps the two of them, working together, could have put an end to the Collinsport situation, and spared everyone the current crisis, and so many others in the intervening years. . .

 

Lucy's mother and father kissed her cheeks tenderly, as the second-sweep hand on the clock sped towards the hour and minute hands already united over the twelve on the wall clock. Virginia snapped to attention. She hated feeling like an executioner, when it was the innocent who was to die. She wished Cellie was here, to absorb the anguish, to make it easier, somehow. Nothing's easy, she sighed, as the seconds hand swept over the twelve.

 

Lucy's mother fell upon her daughter with a cry. Mr. Fedders tried to pry his wife away from the still figure on the bed. "Emmie, come on," he urged in a broken tone. "We have to sign the papers. She's not going to feel anything. She hasn't felt anything since the first night. This can't go on."

 

"She's in there, she's in there....”

 

"Mrs. Fedders---Emma---" Virginia pleaded. "We tried everything. We did what we could. No hospital could have done more, considering the nature of Lucy's injuries. The damage to that area

 

of the brain, and the spinal cord....I'm not denying she put up a good fight, even though she wasn't aware of it. I can't force you, but you agreed....”

 

"Yes, I agreed," Mrs. Fedders sighed resignedly. "She's just going to be a vegetable, if this goes on. I agreed....” She rose from her protective embrace, and reached for the writing materials on the nightstand. "The papers, the papers," she repeated, tonelessly. Then, she heard the gasps of her husband and the doctor, and and turned quickly back, to look at her daughter.

 

Lucy's eyes were wide open! And her pupils, which had so filled her irises that only the thinnest thread of violet-blue ringed them, were normal in appearance. Virginia, after calling for the neurologist, flashed a light into Lucy's eyes. The pupils contracted. After a few seconds, Lucy blinked. "What's going on here?" Virginia mused. She glanced at the brain scan, which went from displaying a nearly flat line, to tiny frills and dips.

 

The neurologist arrived five minutes later, to see Lucy's lips move. Everyone bent close, to hear what she was trying to say. "Muh-muh-muh", she muttered. Her eyes searched for, found, and focussed on her mother. Mrs. Fedders collapsed into her husband's arms.

 

"This is, medically speaking," the neurologist announced, after making a brief examination, "a miracle!"

 

"A miracle---" Virginia sputtered. If this was a miracle, it was the second one she'd ever witnessed. The first had been the "resurrection" of Cellie and Sarah Teresa, the night of Jack's attack.

 

"I don't know what else to call it," the other doctor replied, as Lucy tentatively lifted her hand, moving it toward her parents. "She was, for all intents and purposes, virtually dead. Removal from the machines would have been a mere formality. Now, she's regaining consciousness, appears to know her parents, anyway, has tried to articulate speech. One hand, at least, can be moved. And yet, the damage is still present---I can't predict when that will heal, or to what degree---"

 

"It's like she's being reborn," Mr. Fedders said, gazing into his daughter's eyes. "She's been through a rough passage, like labor, and now she's making little noises, like a baby. Her insides have to toughen up, so she can stand and grow again, like a baby....”

 

"She'll likely have to be re-trained to perform basic tasks, and re-educated, Mr. Fedders," the neurologist warned. "She may never regain all the ground she's lost---"

 

Mrs. Fedders had revived by this time. "But maybe she will! Even if it takes another twenty-five years, we'll do it. WE'LL DO IT!" she declared wildly. "What difference does it make, anyway? At least, we still have her! Anything's possible now!"

 

Her husband nodded, and added, "The same Force that let her get this much better so fast, can't slow down now."

 

The neurologist shook his head, and looked at Virginia, communicating without words his persistent doubts about the patient's likely progress, along-side of his wonder at the "miracle."

 

"Stranger things have happened," was all Virginia would say. She observed Lucy's eyes, now.

They appeared to be watching something only she could see, something that was moving away from her quickly.

 

"Buh-buh," Lucy mumbled. Then, she smiled.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

"There was something only I could take care of, and now, I'm here," Angelique repeated. That was a narrow escape, she thought; keeping Barnabas from killing was an increasingly difficult chore. She doubted she could pull off such a rescue twice. And, look at what she'd almost missed! If Desiree was to recover from her injury from the briefest instant, she would make short work of the entire Loomis family. In that case, Angelique's own ultimate salvation would be in jeopardy.

 

"Miranda!" her sister screamed. "I can't see! The flames are

 

consuming my eyes! I'm going to FALL! HELP!" Angelique instinctively

 

held out her hand, but Cellie signalled for her to stand back. Anissa-Desiree tumbled down the stairs, taking her hands from her eyes long enough to clutch at the railings.

 

"Now, about those hands that TOUCHED my husband!" Cellie announced. "They felt so hot on his skin, but since you have such a cold heart---"

 

At that, Anissa's hands became rigid as ice sculptures, and as slippery. She tried in vain to keep a grip on the railing, but tumbled down the steps to the bottom. "No, no, please, no more," she gasped. "My ribs are broken....How--how can this be?"

 

"You mustn't let up on her," Angelique warned.

 

"Look who's talking," Cellie replied irritably. "You almost kept her from falling."

 

"It was an instinctive reflex. She WAS my little sister, no matter what being was living inside her. In the end, I did what you bade me to," Angelique insisted.

 

"That you did. What shall I do, next?" Cellie kept her eyes on her rival, who writhed on the same steps Willie had when Barnabas beat him up, a year ago.

 

"Keep concentrating. There will be a resolution," Angelique urged.

 

"What am I waiting for---" Cellie could hear her baby shrieking loudly. "What's the matter with Sarah Teresa?"

 

Willie, who'd managed to pull on his pants and his undershirt, timidly approached his wife on his knees, like a supplicant before a sacred shrine. "Cecily," he whispered hoarsely. "Our baby is crying. Cecily, you have to take care of her. I can't get up, I can't pick her up....She screams when she sees me now, anyway...." He tugged on her pant-leg.

 

"DON'T BREAK YOUR CONCENTRATION!" Angelique ordered.

 

"LET ME GO, WILL!" Cellie cried. She turned for the briefest moment, to kick her husband away.

 

"AAH--HAH!" Anissa laughed, as she rose from the foot of the stairs. "THAT is what will end this! I can't get what I wanted, but neither will you! Your bond is broken, and with it, your hold over me. Fare as well as you can, Catriona!" she sang, "And those you love!" She vanished in front of the trio on the steps.

 

Cellie sank to her knees, now. "Oh, God, what did I do? What's going to happen to all of us?"

 

"If you'd only kept your eyes on her a few more minutes, her powers would have been extinguished. Of that much I'm certain," Angelique sighed.

 

"IT'S YOUR FAULT, WILL!" Cellie slapped Willie, as he tried to get close to her. To Angelique, she said, "She can't kill Sarah Teresa, but she said there was worse than death ahead for her, and others. What does that mean?"

 

"I--I don't know. She is a bane on children. You'd better go check on the baby now. I'll try to follow Desiree."

 

Cellie needed no further inducement. She jumped up, and ran to her daughter's room. Sarah Teresa had pulled herself up to a standing position against the crib rail, as she wailed, "Meh! Meh! Tees wan' Meh! Meh! NO Dyeh! Ba' Dyeh!" Cellie snatched her up in her arms. Her daughter clung to her tightly. Cellie ran down the steps with the baby in her arms. When she reached the back porch, she stopped, panting, and sat down, in a sudden wave of weary dizzyness. She began to cry into her baby's shoulder.

 

Willie, fully dressed now, came downstairs, and stood before his wife and daughter. He said, "Cecily, don't hate me. Please! Tear out my guts again, make me smack into a wall, beat me, anything, but don't hate me. Don't let my Peanut hate me." He reached out to touch his little girl, but both she and his wife recoiled. "Cecily, I NEED to touch both of you."

 

"You touched Anissa all over. You're FILTHY!"

 

"Look! I washed my hands THREE TIMES! I cleaned her right off!"

 

Cellie rose slowly, and walked past him. "So, this is the real Willie Loomis kind of love," she jeered. " 'Ooh, Cecily. I washed off this dirt, so now we can be happy like before! You can beat me, and mistreat me, but DON'T leave me to face my disgusting self, the disgusting things I've done! Don't abandon me!' It's always about YOU, in the end, Will! Is THAT what you REALLY want? That sounds an awful lot like what you had with your Dad, and Jason McGuire, and Barnabas. ESPECIALLY Barnabas. I can't be HIM!"

 

"What's going to happen to me, now?" Willie whimpered.

 

"Oh, David's out looking for us now. He'll probably be here soon.

 

He'll probably offer to hide you from Lester Arliss. Do what you want. I'm past caring about what happens to you. And I DID care once, no matter what SHE told you. No matter what you were telling yourself. I came here, BECAUSE I cared. Because I thought I could save you and the baby from HER, as well as the police. And look what it got me....I don't want to see you again, EVER!" Cellie walked out through the gate, and slammed it shut behind her.

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-TWO

 

Cellie trotted briskly up the dark street. The black car she'd noticed before was still there. Now that she got a good look at it, it seemed familiar. A Mercedes Benz. Where had she seen a car like

that--- At Nicholas's! Anissa must have been using it, once she hid poor Nurse Sandford's Nova. Cellie peeked into the backseat. Sarah Teresa's baby bag was in there.

 

Cellie looked over her shoulder, before she tried the door. To her surprise, it opened. She retrieved her belongings without interruption. Good thing she'd found the bag, she thought; Sarah Teresa was in dire need of a change. As she went on to the Koffeehaus parking lot, she debated whether to go inside, and tell her mother and Pavlos about what had just happened. She decided she might as well. She needed her mother's comfort and her stepfather's wisdom. But first, she changed the baby, on the seat of the Beetle. As she wiped the baby clean, she noticed that Sarah Teresa's skin was very red all over. She felt very warm, too.

 

Cellie quickly bundled the baby in her diaper and suit, and ran into the Koffeehaus. The bouncer collecting cover charges at the door was about to stop her, when he glimpsed the baby in her arms. He cleared a path for her, to the kitchen, where Janice already waited, pacing the linoleum.

 

Janice had been making sandwiches, until David had called from Collinwood with the terrible news. "Don't go out looking for anyone," he'd said, "my father and I are going out right now, and the police will be all over the place. Either Cellie or Willie will show up sooner or later. Just keep them where you can watch them, until I get out there." There was already a policeman patrolling the parking lot, but he must have missed Cellie. The bouncer who'd let her in would notify the officer that she and the baby were safe, at least.

 

Cellie ran right to her mother's arms. "Mom, Mom," she sobbed. "It's just awful. I found Will, and the baby, but he was--he was---he was with someone, and he ignored the baby and she was crying and we all had a fight, and now she's sick!"

 

Janice felt the baby's forehead. "I don't need a thermometer to tell me that fever's over a hundred already! Let me get Dimitrios in here, and I'll take you to the hospital."

 

"Where's Pavlos?"

 

"He went back to our place, on the chance that one of you would show up there. I'll call him from the hospital, and he'll go there, directly. Where's Willie now? The policeman will want to know."

 

"He was at the Antique Shoppe! In bed with--with--- He can't be there anymore--- I told him to get away if he could, but I don't know and I don't care if he did!"

 

Janice didn't want to provoke her daughter into further hysterics. She summoned Dimitrios, and hustled Cellie out the kitchen door. In the lot, they ran into the police officer, answered a few questions, and jumped into Janice's car. She sped her daughter and grand-daughter to the hospital. To their surprise and dismay, there were many other vehicles ahead of them at the Emergency entrance, discharging mothers who carried small children.

 

Cellie got out with her baby, and looked in the lobby. There were at least thirty women there, with their babies and young children, all beet-red like Sarah Teresa, and shivering with fever, as she was now. In the crowd, she could see Louise Hackett and both her boys, and Lisa Detweiler- Braithewaite, clutching her very pregnant middle while trying to rock and comfort her Seth. There was no room for the fathers, who milled around outside the door, once they'd found parking places.

 

Cellie sighed in resignation, as she edged her way in with her daughter, and registered at the desk. The nurse assured her that the hospital was calling every doctor within a twenty-mile radius to help with this new and mysterious epidemic, and that the wait would not be as long as it appeared. Then, she went off to a spare corner, and sat on the floor, cradling her child, and weeping bitter tears at her responsibility for this disaster.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Willie was still sitting on the back porch of the Antique Shoppe, staring at the crocuses ringing the steps. He'd planted those bulbs for Cecily, as well as the daffodils that were already in bud, and the tulips whose stalks poked out from the dirt, further along the walkway, where Melinda had fallen. The lily bulbs were under there; they would emerge in May.

 

May....would he still be here in May? If he was still alive, he'd be back in the State mental hospital; there would be no more stays in the relatively cushy, indulgent WindCliff. There would be no more sweet-voiced nurses like Penny to sit with him while he swallowed his pills. There would be muscular orderlies, handling him roughly, if not brutally, as they shoved him from electro-shock to therapy to the showers.

 

It was strange, how dim the memory of his interlude with Anissa already was. He couldn't call to mind the feel of her skin against his, the way he still could when he thought about the last good time with Cecily, back in Boston. That was the trouble with people like Anissa, and Angelique in her time, and even Barnabas, when he'd first been released. They were like real, he thought; they could hurt you, and even kill you, but when they weren't doing these things anymore, it was as if they weren't ever there. They couldn't let go of some of their screwy ideas, the last ones they had before they'd been made into the undead, either. Everything had to be done a certain, set way.

 

Willie still had his bitter memories of Barnabas's obsession about Josette. Angelique caused a lot of trouble before she realized that, in order to earn Barnabas's love, she had to let go of her old habits or risk losing him forever. And that Anissa-Desiree must have been hung up on old Angus Fraser. She'd said some wild things to Willie, even while she was still in the guise of Melinda Knowlton. It had been very important to her, that they were together on the bed in which he'd first been with Cecily. It was like she was trying to steal the magic of that first night. Then she muttered something about creating a new life where one had been created before.

 

Willie had been too involved at the time to give that comment much attention. But now that he had a chance to think it over, he realized that she'd believed that Sarah Teresa was conceived in that bed, and that would help ensure the new conception she'd envisioned. That just went to show that people like Anissa-Desiree didn't always do their homework. They only saw what they wanted to see, Willie thought with the first glimmer of satisfaction he'd known in months.

 

If she'd spent as much time on finding out where his daughter was really conceived, as she did on her nurse's disguise, Anissa might have succeeded in her quest. As it was, even if Cecily had tried to fix her rival’s insides, it wouldn't have made any difference. The bed that the witch required wasn't upstairs. It was in the West Wing of Collinwood, with the spiders dangling overhead.

 

Willie wished Anissa was here now, so he could taunt her with her total failure, and his total relief that she would never have another baby, let alone his. He wished Cecily was here, so he could win her back with his insight. Sometimes, even when she was angry at him, she still appreciated it when he said or did something that struck her as being very shrewd. Barnabas used to comment on his occasional flashes of perception; he'd complimented Willie, when his employee foiled Nicholas's attempt to con Cecily out of her poems. At times, it was the only trait Willie possessed that kept him on an even keel with both his former master and his wife.

 

Willie heard police sirens in the distance, and hopelessness flooded his being. It didn't matter what clever thing he said. Nothing would erase the image of himself with Anissa-Desiree from Cecily's mind. There was little chance he could hook up with Barnabas again, though Willie still believed nobody could look out for him as well as his former servant. There was no chance he could escape the police this time. They sure wouldn't treat him too well; the cops had a way of showing their distaste for a crook who'd injured one of their own.

 

He heard a car screech to a halt behind the backyard fence. It wasn't a police car, or he would have heard the sirens. Cecily again? He doubted it. Then he saw the gate open. David Collins stepped in, cautiously. "Cellie? Willie?" he whispered.

 

"It's just me, David," Willie sighed.

 

"You're alone? Where's the baby? Where's Cellie? Where's the witch who sprung you from WindCliff?"

 

"How did you know she was a witch?"

 

"Oh, God, Willie, you didn't know, did you? The real nurse, Penny Sandford, was murdered the night you escaped. We've all come to a kind of consensus that it was Anissa who did it. Cellie tore out of Collinwood to save you both from her clutches, before we could go together."

 

"Penny, the real Penny, she's dead? Cecily never had a chance to tell me! Oh, no. Oh God, no. It's all my fault." Willie began to cry again. "I liked her a lot. She was so nice to me. That's why she died. That's why everyone who loves me is doomed. Even Cecily."

 

"Willie, you have to tell me. Is Cellie okay? You and Anissa didn't hurt her or the baby, did you?"

 

"No, Cecily left here with our little girl, about a half-hour ago. She did something to hurt Anissa, but she couldn't kill her. Anissa couldn't kill Cecily or Sarah Teresa. But something bad will happen to them, anyway. Anissa said so."

 

"Willie, stop crying and listen. You have to come with me, now. I made it just ahead of the police. They've already gone through the Collinwood buildings tonight. They think you may have left town, anyway. I can put you up for a while. Julia will help, as long as you're no longer in Anissa's power."

 

"Don't worry about that. Anissa got what she wanted, or, at least, she tried to get it, and she's gone for good, I guess."

 

"Then you have to come with me. There's no time to waste. There may be a cop-car around the corner. If I back my car up to the gate, maybe you could ride in my trunk. You know, just in case they peek through my windows. It would only be until I get you to the Old House. You remember the secret room off the fireplace. You can stay in there."

 

"There's no point to it. Cecily doesn't want me anymore. I'm going to get caught, sooner or later. Maybe, if they see that I don't have the baby, and I give up peacefully, the cops will go easy on me."

 

"I wonder about THAT. Listen, Willie, whatever beef Cellie has with you now, I doubt she wants you dead. That's just what might happen. See, they don't think you actually killed the nurse, but you ran with the woman who did, and they know you decked a cop in the process. So come with me now. Then, if you still want to turn yourself in, we can do it the right way, with Tony Peterson and a gang of Collinses at your side. Lester Arliss isn't about to gun down the lot of us."

 

Willie rose, and waited while David drove close to the gate. David was able to pop the trunk open from the inside of his car.

 

Willie forced himself to get in, and shut the lid over himself. His claustrophobia kicked in, and his heart pounded so loudly, he believed the echoes could be heard from the outside of the car. Even so, he kept still for the ride. In a surprisingly short time, David had opened the trunk again, and hustled his friend into the Old House, and behind the bookcase near the fireplace. "Now, stay put," he told Willie. "Either Julia or myself will bring you food and news. I've pulled the front drapes shut, but try to sit tight until night-time."

 

David went outside, locking the door to the Old House behind him. As he ran down the path to where his car was parked, he ran headlong into his father. "Oh, oh my God," he gasped.

 

To his surprise, Roger didn't look angry, and when he spoke, he sounded sad and regretful. "You hid Willie somewhere in the Old House, didn't you, son?"

 

"Yes--yes, Father," David stammered. "I'm sorry I didn't take him to the police. But I couldn't! He's not dangerous, he didn't kill the nurse, he didn't hurt the baby---"

 

"I know that, son." Roger laid his hand on David's shoulder. "I know Cellie has the baby, and I'm glad you brought Willie here first. Your aunt and I had discussed what we would do, if he came back here. We have to talk him into turning himself in. It's very necessary now, especially since--since---" His voice broke.

 

"What happened, Father? Did Cellie have some kind of accident, with Sarah Teresa?" Now, David started to sniffle.

 

"They're both at the hospital, but it's Sarah Teresa who's very ill."

 

"How do you know? You went out looking, the same time I did."

 

"I went out in such a rush I'd forgotten that I was low on gas," Roger explained. "So, when I'd been out for a half-hour, I glanced at my gauge, and realized I was running on 'EMPTY'. I barely made it to the only all-night gas station in town. While I was there, I called home, to check. Janice had called Elizabeth, to report that she had to drop Cellie off at the Emergency Room, because Sarah Teresa had a high fever. When Janice managed to elbow her way into the lobby, she discovered that half the town's children suddenly came down with the same fever!"

 

Anissa's revenge, David thought bleakly. "I guess I'd better tell Willie---"

 

"NOT alone,” his father declared. “Your aunt and I talked this over with Julia. She's volunteered her services at the hospital, unwell as she's been, to help the town doctors cope with the situation. She has knowledge of many exotic diseases and esoteric therapies. Anyway, we came to an agreement about Willie. We've consulted with Tony about the matter, and Elizabeth's spoken to Judge James. If Willie surrenders voluntarily, we may be able to get him released on bond, which Elizabeth will post. Hopefully, it won't be terribly high. A lot depends on the statement of the guard he alledgedly assaulted. Apparently, the man is still quite confused, though he will recover. We can't locate Lester right now, but his office has received a lot of information that tends to exculpiate Willie from involvement with the murder of the nurse. If he's willing to help find the woman who helped him escape, he may be released by morning. It's imperative, because Julia believes that Sarah Teresa will not recover unless he comes to the hospital."

 

"And, maybe, nobody else's kid, either," David concluded. "Are you coming with me, to break this to Willie?"

 

"Let's go back to the Great House, and get Julia, first. She's been waiting since we first saw your car coming back up the hill. Then she has to go to the hospital."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie found Doctor Heard in the examination cubicle to which she'd been directed. All he said in greeting was, "My God, Cellie, not you too! As if you and this poor little mite haven't had enough suffering."

 

"Previous suffering doesn't make one immune to further suffering, I guess," the girl replied, as she laid her daughter on the examining table. As the doctor began to poke and probe and called in a nurse to draw blood samples, Cellie tried to enter her child's emotional state.

 

Young as Sarah Teresa was, her mother could detect traces of a sorrow and disappointment that found echoes in her own. There was so much sadness, that Cellie couldn't draw it off, as a preliminary to taking on the baby's fever. She and her daughter had been hurt too much. Hurt too much....Willie had hurt them, and Cellie had hurt him, in retaliation. There was something fatal about this mutual infliction of pain, something that Cellie struggled to remember....A little girl's voice declaring, "I hate it when someone I love hurts someone else....Daniel hurt Harriet real bad, so I went away…. went away....”

 

"No!" Cellie thought in anguish. "Sarah's gone....” No wonder her baby, who'd never so much as sniffled since her recovery from her pre-birth injuries, was suddenly so vulnerable to this fever. The events of the past couple of weeks had built up to Sarah Collins's ultimate departure. The unforgivable acts of the last couple of hours had simply been the straw that broke the camel's back.

 

Anissa, with the connivance of Nicholas, had succeeded in their mutual quest to drive the protective entity from Sarah Teresa's body. What else had Anissa said? Something about the condemned soul of an unrepente