Hello, This is Lorraine A. Balint, welcoming the patient readers to the second installment of:
Dark Shadows in the Land of Dreams


Willie didn't know what he was going to do when Jeremy came home from the hospital and found out Barnabas was at large again. It hurt that he would have to take the blame, but maybe Barnabas would go easier on Amy. Then, he fell asleep briefly, and the dream came over him again. Willie knew what had to be done then--- he HAD made the horrible choice after all. Vicki and Alice, out of the picture--- Pauline Peterson the sacrifice! He began to wish the voice would invade TONY'S dreams.

Willie had learned to like Tony, once he came back from living in Boston for some years, and had finally married Carolyn. He, at least, spoke to Willie like a human being worthy of some respect and dignity. Tony had once been considered somewhat arrogant, and a climber from a poor background, but he had mellowed and gentled thanks to the cushion of professional success and attainment of his personal desires. He placated and coddled Carolyn, and adored and spoiled their only living child. (Pauline Elizabeth had been a twin; her brother Anthony Paul died a few days after their premature birth, and Carolyn was advised against another pregnancy.)

With Carolyn, Willie had an uneasier relationship, going back to his earliest days at Collinwood, when just the sight of him stalking into a room without warning made her, and/or Vicki Winters, jump. Carolyn had even threatened to shoot Willie at one point, when his already-obnoxious lechery escalated to a dangerous level. Then, after his "conversion" by Barnabas, she suddenly became the first Collins to feel SORRY for him. But they had never really warmed up to each other, and Pauline, who took after her mother in character, more than appearance, had learned to despise him if not fear him outright. Willie thought Pauline took after her great-uncle Roger, who held pretty much the same attitude for over 30 years!

Still, she was every bit as deserving of protection as Vicki Shaw or Alice Lacey or Candy Kane or poor Amy Jennings. Willie knew from Julia that, while he'd been hospitalized, then confined at the State bin and then, WindCliff Sanitarium, that Barnabas had made Carolyn his thrall, and that, in spite of the physical weakness she suffered, MENTALLY, she seemed to THRIVE on her position. Apparently, doing Barnabas's dirty work, plotting against Julia, spurning Tony, and even trying to lure Vicki Winters into the evil fold, gave the formerly spoiled, rudderless playgirl a perverse sense of purpose in life! This corruption of Carolyn's spirit only came to a halt when Dr. Lang had come into the picture, with his potions for relieving Barnabas's curse, and his plans for the synthetic man, Adam, who empathically absorbed, and dispersed, the effects of the vampire syndrome for both himself and Barnabas.

Like mother, like daughter--- Willie actually FEARED a situation that might bring Pauline under Barnabas's influence. Willie knew, then, what he had to do, to keep her out of Barnabas's reach. Let him attack some anonymous person, female or male--- if it wasn't PERSONAL, it would be, like the attack on Candy, a one-shot, non-fatal feeding, to meet "nutritional requirements" ONLY. Barnabas acted bravely around Sheriff Lacey, but he knew she was a lot brighter than that dim bulb Patterson, and Job Woodard, with 30 years of repressed anger at his father's death under his belt, suddenly didn't seem as stupid as he always had.

Willie was wide awake when Jeremy came in, and made sure to meet him at the door, which the former opened as quietly as possible. The older man clamped his hand over the younger man's mouth, and silently pointed into the parlor. Barnabas presented an utterly benign picture, in his brocaded robe, settled in his favorite chair by the crackling fire, apparently engrossed in "Ivanhoe."

"Don't say a word till I tell you," Willie whispered as quietly as possible. "Listen up. He made me let him out, don't ask how. You know what he can do to me. But he didn't bite me, so he can't read me all the time. I mean to fight him, as I know you will. I have a plan to keep Vicki and the Lacey's kid out of his sight later, but I want you to take Pauline out tonight. Yeah, I know, you like her as much as you like having a tooth pulled, but he won't hurt her if she's with you. You're all the self-control he has left, I think. Now, talk." He removed his hand slowly from Jeremy's clenched jaws.

"But the list of victims?" Jeremy asked, quavering.

"Oh, he'll still keep giving you names, though now, I think he's just bragging about them. We HAVE to find a cure P.D.Q.--- before he really learns to love the nightlife again. I mean, think about it--- you're about 70, you know you're not going to live forever, and you just feel lousier and lousier, the longer you live.... This would certainly solve those little problems. Even if he stayed this age, he's not going to get any worse! I know getting old isn't any fun, but what he'll have to do to live is WRONG."

"What he did to Candy certainly is! This is bad for ME too--- I never got over losing Mother, and I don't want my father to ever become sick and die, though in the natural order of things it's just a fact you have to adjust to." Jeremy's usually-cheerful face suddenly looked much older. "I'll work on the list, then I'll call Pauline about noon."

Willie patted his shoulder affectionately, and said, "Okay, time to face the music."

Barnabas looked up, calmly, at their approach. Whatever he knew of the conversation in the front hall, he didn't let on. All he said was, "I suppose Willie's told you what I made him do, my son?"

"Yes, Father, " Jeremy said dispiritedly. "I should have known we wouldn't be able to keep you down. But it makes things bad for us. Does it bother you at all, what might happen to Willie and myself, due to YOUR actions?"

"I've been thinking about that. How's the raiding of the hospital blood supply coming along?"

"Next to impossible. They even have hidden video cameras, so I can't disable them. I don't know what to do."

Barnabas said, "Well, there's another problem. The Sheriff and Job came by, earlier, and I was forced to make up a story about the 'illness' your mother treated me for, over 30 years ago. We always agreed it would be some obscure form of cancer, in fact I was able to tell the tale to Christine, and she believed me, but if Mrs.Lacey comes after YOU, you must have specifics. Maybe this will provide you with a legitimate excuse to withdraw from the blood bank. Your poor father is having a relapse."

"I suppose I could come up with a diagnosis of some kind of leukemia, but the hospital will insist you come in for tests."

"Dr. Heard's a special friend and mentor of yours, is he not?" Barnabas's eyes took on a sinister gleam. "He would examine me as a special favor to you, wouldn't he?"

"Father, are you going to harm Dr. Heard? I mean, not only is he my friend, but he's the best damn doctor in that hospital! You CAN'T kill him---"

"I'm NOT going to KILL him. I wouldn't make the Woodard mistake twice. He won't even suffer as much as Candy Kane. You have my word that, after my visit, he will soon be right as rain."

Willie said, disgustedly, "Another great choice that isn't really a choice. How can you do this to people who still love you, Barnabas?"

"Why, Willie.... . And I thought you weren't my friend anymore. I didn't know you possessed such depth of feeling for me! How special!" Barnabas laughed, an ugly sound now. "I hope you love me enough to follow through on YOUR agreement." He rose from his chair, and headed to the heavy door leading to the basement. "And now, it's time for ME to take my rest. And Willie? I'll be entertaining a guest before I have to go out and pursue some of my special interests. You understand."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Part two of Willie's plan--- he called Maggie at 8:00 A.M.. He knew she was an early riser. Sure enough, she answered the phone, sounding quite awake. Of course, when she heard HIS voice, HERS got tense.
"Is-- is this Willie--- or Mr. Lacey?" she asked.

"Since when do you know Harvey?" Willie asked.

"Since he came to my gallery earlier this week and gave me a shock. Not that he MEANT to."

"You--you didn't spill about Vicki?"

"No, of course not! He was very nice about the whole thing. I think he'll make a wonderful customer with the free sample I gave him.. Okay, Willie, what's this about? The Kane assault, isn't it? You know about it, don't you? And don't tell me 'no.' I've remembered more and more about what happened years ago, though for some reason I'm STILL foggy about the man who started the trouble. Although I hold nothing against YOU, and I'm NOT about to implicate the father of my child. DO you think it's the same man? Has he bothered you?"

"I'm not sure. But I keep getting dreams and bad feelings--- maybe because Vicki IS my daughter. I think she should leave town until the Sheriff catches the bastard, but Vicki isn't going to ditch her first teaching job. Still, she CAN go someplace tonight, 20 miles away. There's a concert in Orono...." He outlined the rest of the plan.

Maggie listened patiently. "Well, I've heard her say nice things about Alice Lacey, but I don't think they have a special bond. I can run the idea by her, anyway."

"Thanks for trusting me on this, Maggie. You know what I'd do if everything was out in the open, and I could protect her like the Laceys protect their kid--- I'd try to build a big fort, with silver Crosses all over the place, and I'd put all the young girls inside until---until---"

"I understand," Maggie sighed softly. "Lord, I wish Sebastian was here--- HE knew about these things...."

Willie tried to keep the resentment out of his voice when he replied, "Well, you and Vicki have to make do with ME. I'm sure Sebastian is looking down, and your Pop, watching over us."

As Maggie hung up, Vicki Shaw came down to the kitchen for breakfast. "Who was that, Mom?" she asked. "It wasn't Jeremy, was it?"

"No, it was your Uncle Willie. He was just fretting about us, as usual, though you have to admit, after what happened to your girlfriend Candy---"

Vicki's face darkened, and tears stung her eyes. "I haven't really been close to her since I went off to college, but we DID have a lot of good times in high school. And we had a blast at the 5-year reunion. I should visit her."

"You'll have to call the hospital. She may be home now. But tonight.... I heard about a concert in Orono. I've also heard that a student of yours might be interested in attending, maybe you can go together. Alice Lacey."

"Really? I didn't get the impression that she was the concert-going type. Unless it's a concert for Nine-Inch-Nails, or Korn!" Vicki smiled through her tears, lips closed, which her mother secretly preferred. When the younger woman flashed her teeth, Maggie was reminded too uncomfortably of Vicki's genetic inheritance. It was a wonder nobody else noticed, but Willie had aged rapidly enough so the likeness wasn't as obvious.

Maggie replied, "Well, it seems she's an off-and-on-again pianist. Anyway, her father was supposed to ask her today. Think it over. I doubt anything will happen so far away, in a crowd of really boring old fuddy-dud Chopin lovers."

"Well, okay, IF Jeremy doesn't call me soon. I think I have him just where I want him. I'll be wearing Grandma Evans's wedding dress before you know it. What I DON'T get is, how come YOU didn't wear it for YOUR wedding, Mom? I mean, you had a pretty peasant-type dress, but you would have looked EXQUISITE in all that silk and satin." Vicki became concerned at her mother's reaction.

Maggie's face turned pale, and her hands started to shake so much she dropped the spatula with which she was going to use to turn pancakes. "I'm--I'm sorry," she said. "Maybe this means we'll have an unexpected guest." She had to sit down. "Sorry, honey, I think this is just a change-of-life problem. Some women get hot flashes, I get the dropsies."

"Sure, Mom, whatever you say. I hope I didn't get you upset. I wasn't criticizing you. I mean, it was the early 70's, everyone was into that hippy-earth-love-beads look. I still have Daddy's fringed vests and his kooky medallions."

"Yes, that's the reason why," Maggie said recovering. How could she ever tell her daughter that, on the night before her wedding, she'd TRIED to put on the elaborate gown, and suddenly felt terror, felt walls closing in, heard a phrase from that nursery rhyme based on terrible tragedy--- "take the keys and lock her up...." Fortunately, Brewster's was still open, and Maggie had made a mad dash to find something else that might be suitable. As it was, the wedding was a very small affair, since neither the bride and groom had many living relatives. Just the Collinses, Sebastian's cousins, and a couple of Maggie's aunts. Sebastian actually preferred her casual appearance, which fitted in with the outdoor ceremony at Collinwood....

However, she felt that the spell, or bad karma, or whatever the problem was, would be broken when she finally saw her lovely, dainty blondish daughter, with her large blue-saucer eyes, and her heart-shaped face, dressed in that gown. She wouldn't even mind if Vicki showed all her teeth in her smile on THAT day. For an instant, Maggie regretted that NEITHER of Vicki's fathers would be able to walk her down the aisle.

Jeremy called at nine. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I have to go up to the Big House later, as your Uncle Willie calls it. I hope you can find something to do...." After Vicki assured him that she would, Jeremy hung up. He felt like dirt. He hated himself for loving his father so much that he was willing to hurt people he cared for, like Vicki and Jim Heard, and even those he didn't care for, like Pauline. He glanced at the portrait of his mother and his young, innocent self. Is THIS what YOU had to do for him, Mother? he thought despairingly. Was it all WORTH it? Apparently, it HAD been worth it, to Julia--- Jeremy could not remember any argument, or even a minor disagreement erupting between his parents, at least, not in his presence. Barnabas was always gentle, courtly, even tender, in a modest way, toward his wife. And Jeremy had a vivid memory of his father breaking down as Dr. Heard pronouced Julia dead, after a brief but fierce battle with cancer. A REAL cancer.... not a put-up job meant to excuse atrocious behavior, no matter what the cause.... The wrong person died that day, Jeremy thought bitterly. Then, he steeled himself to the task at hand, and called Pauline's private line at work.

One of the strangest parts of this charade was that, though his father and Pauline's parents expected them to marry, almost since her difficult birth and miraculous survival, Jeremy, whose heart was with Vicki even then, suspected that his cousin didn't REALLY like him. However, she was one to play up to her parents' expectations. She went to college to please her father, but came home with just an Associate's degree, which she barely put to use in a token job at Collins Enterprises (though she HAD done well in her Spanish classes, but that was only useful when dealing with Marisol and some other Hispanic Cannery employees.) She flirted with Jeremy to please her mother, but the young man believed she was infatuated with someone else, though whom, he couldn't guess. He actually found that a relief, since anyone who said so many snide things about Willie or former governess Maggie, wasn't someone he even wanted as a friend. But he didn't want her to DIE, either--- if for no other reason than that her PARENTS had always been kind to him.

Pauline answered the phone in a snit. "Yes, yes, David, I'm making up your spreadsheets right now! I'll have 'em on your desk when you come in--- Oh! I'm sooooo sorry, Jeremy, but I have this project to slap together by eleven. On a SATURDAY! Though I'm praying that Hallie starts labor and keeps David busy for another couple of hours, at least!" She laughed. "Oh, what's that you say? YOU want to go out with ME tonight? This must be that cold day in Hell they're always talking about. Oh, Vicki might be going to some lame event with a student, eh? Hope it isn't a football player. I've seen this year's line-up, and they're MIGHTY cute--- the Lacey girl? Now that's odd.... .So while the cat's away, YOU want to play.... Okay, I'm sorry, Jer. Really. Thank you for remembering that I like Julia Roberts's movies. Yes, I've been meaning to see 'Erin Brockovich'. You're the best, cuzz. And I know this will THRILL Mummy. Always keep the parents guessing, that's MY motto! See you at seven...."
* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Wow, I didn't think Miss Shaw liked me as much as I already like HER," Alice trilled, as she hung up the phone. "Isn't this a little wierd to you, though, Mom? I mean, you're not afraid that we'll get so chummy, she's going to be giving me 'A's instead of the 'D's I so richly deserve?"

"I don't THINK so," Mary Beth replied. "Besides, you're going to get your wish, and have that Elliot along. Miss Shaw will probably have her hands full keeping you two behaving. NONE of you will be listening to Chopin. And WHAT'S this about getting 'D's anyway, young lady?" For once, Mary Beth could joke freely; Alice seldom got below a B+ in ANY class, let alone English and Literature classes.

"And what fun things are you and Daddy and Aunt Christine going to do while I'm gone?" Alice asked, with a giggle. "A rousing game of 'Twister', perhaps?"

Harvey came into the kitchen saying, "I HEARD that! No way am I playing THAT anymore. Christine always wins!"

Christine, carrying a plastic bag full of her dirty laundry to the washing machine in the basement, paused and teased, "How about 'Spin the Bottle'?"

Mary Beth, reddening, replied, "Sorry, pal, we only do that with TWO players in THIS house. And I always win!"

"Well, how about another game I've never lost--- 'Old Maid'!" Christine joined the laughter at her own joke, but there was a forlorn voice in her mind that said, I haven't heard from Barnabas, and Mary Beth would give me Hell if I did. There HAD been a strong feeling of communion with THIS man, but Chrsitine had no right to jeopardize the position of her friend, who'd ALWAYS had more at stake than just the desire for a good career. The family that had acted as her own surrogate family would suffer. I care for Barnabas, Christine thought, but it's already tainted--- it's been tainted for over 30 years! The best thing would be to maintain a brave face, and put the Laceys' best interests first.

And the first thing she could do was to find an acceptable activity to get herself out of the house.
With all the stressful events of the previous week behind them, AND their daughter safely occupied elsewhere, the Laceys deserved to have some time alone.

"Maybe I can be the fourth wheel on Alice's excursion," she suggested. "I'm not big on Chopin, but you two can spend a little 'quality time' together while we're all out."

"I don't see why not," Alice said generously. "We'll have to call and find out if there's still tickets available." Alas, a quick call confirmed that there were no more tickets--- Miss Shaw apparently got the last three.

"Well, maybe I could hit the local Cineplex, then," Christine shrugged. "I've been DYING to see 'Erin Brockovich'."

"You like Julia Roberts? EEEeeewwww," Alice commented.

"No, but I think Albert Finney is still pretty 'hot'," the older woman replied with a wink.

Vicki Shaw and Elliot Collins appeared at the Lacey home at precisely 6:30 P.M. It was almost a 45-minute drive to Orono, and the concert would begin at 8:00. Harvey and Mary Beth were agreeably impressed with the young, pretty, but dignified English teacher, who had evidently inherited a great deal of her mother's seeming self-confidence. Harvey was especially so, looking for signs of Willie's paternal influence beyond the young woman's appearance. Then he stopped, fearful that his wife would suspect him of LEERING. Mary Beth, for her part, felt reassured about her agreement to this outing. There was an added bonus--- she secretly hoped word of this night would get back to Amy Jennings, in spite of her obviously forced efforts at apology.

Alice, once more in her freshly-pressed red dress, was simply delighted to see her beau. SHE hoped Miss Shaw would allow them to sit together in the back seat.

When the youthful trio were out of the house, and Christine was putting on her coat to go out to the movie, the phone rang. By sheer luck, she was the only person in the room at that moment, AND right near the phone, or she felt Mary Beth would not have let her talk to the party on the other end. Before SHE spoke, Christine cast furtive glances around the area. She relaxed as she heard her friends in the kitchen, loading the brand-new dishwasher that had come with the house. (They were having a disagreement on the best method of over-loading the unit for maximum results.)

"Barnabas!" Christine whispered, a bit of weepiness creeping into her voice. "I missed you. Even though I know Mary Beth questioned you, she hasn't found grounds to charge you. But she still wouldn't be too happy to know I'm talking to you."

"I know, my dearest. This makes ME feel a bit like an escaped criminal, 'on the lam', as Willie used to put it. Or like an adolescent who's been 'grounded', as Jeremy used to say. Yet I haven't done anything I should not have. You believe me, don't you?"

"I--I don't know anymore. I've had this sort of thing happen to me in relationships before, and I'm NOT enthusiastic at the prospect of going through it again. Even though I'm DEEPLY fond of you. Do YOU understand?"

"Yes." There was a long and painful-sounding sigh at the other end of the line. "I DO understand. Plus, as your friend pointed out, ere long, you WILL be returning to your home, your life, and, of course, your career. I wouldn't want to damage these precious parts of YOUR precious existence. To have you hurt by association with myself would be like hurting MYself. Still, I WOULD like one more chance to see and speak with you, to dismantle what could have been a beautiful, wondrous shelter from the storms of our lives, to lay to rest a feeling that must die before its time. Come to see me, Christine, just for a few hours. Then we can try to part as friends."

Christine's voice became hoarse with emotion. "I might not WANT to part.... But maybe, a final meeting like this might be for the best. I'll be there soon. The Laceys already believe I'm going to the movies, so there'll be no suspicion." She finished putting on the coat, and hurried out of the house.

Mary Beth and Harvey came into the living room. "I wonder who was on the phone?" Harvey said.

"Obviously, nothing about the Kane case, or any problems with the kids, or Christine would have said something," his wife replied. "Maybe it was just a wrong number, or a salesman. Funny how she dashed out of here without at least saying 'See you later'."

"Probably running late for the movie. Well, now we're ALONE. For the first time since before we moved here!" Harvey sat down, and pulled his wife's hand. Mary Beth pretended to collapse beside him. He pulled her close, and whispered, "So, what do you think we should do about this very interesting situation? And the answer had better NOT contain the words 'Let's see what's on TV'!"

Mary Beth suddenly got tense, and sat up straight. "I want to, Harv, but you've had several heart
spasms in one week."

"In each and every instance, it's been caused by stress. BAD stress. What WE want to do isn't BAD. When was the last time, almost two weeks, already?"

"At least you're not counting the exact days and hours and minutes."

"If I do THAT, I WILL get angina." Harvey nuzzled his wife's hair, and kissed her. She relaxed again, but was still concerned.

"Honey," she said, "I miss fooling around as often as we used to, as much as you do. But if it could KILL you.... I'd rather have you HERE, where I could at least see you and talk to you and touch you, as long as possible. Even if it meant we could never make love again."

"The doctors just said, go slow, and stop if it brings on pain. Not stop FOREVER. That's what we'll keep doing. And if something happens.... maybe I'll die with a smile on my face."

Mary Beth shook her head. "I've seen a lot of dead people, Harv, and NOT ONE was smiling, not even the horny old goats who keeled over while in a massage parlor or whorehouse. And, even though YOUR problems would be over, MINE would be just beginning. There won't be too many smiles left for ME if YOU'RE not around."

"Still, what you're talking about comes under the heading of 'Bad Stress.' If those guys were happy with a wife, or at least a REAL girlfriend, probably they'd have been okay. I read somewhere that a man is less likely to die during sex with his WIFE than any other kind of messing around. So try to stop worrying. You have enough real problems to worry about, and I DON'T think we're going to another golden opportunity like THIS for a while."

"Okay, okay, I'm sold." Mary Beth rose, and tugged on her husband's hand. "If we have to take our time like you said, we'd better get an early start."
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Christine finally got to see what lay at the end of Barnabas's driveway. She DID find the Old House beautiful, but that wasn't a primary consideration for her at the moment. She ran up the steps to the veranda, and anxiously rang the bell over and over.

There was a sound of male disagreement behind the double doors, but finally, Barnabas opened one of them. Without a word, he drew her in, slammed the door, and nearly crushed her in his embrace. Christine matched his intensity with her own. She didn't even think about his cold lips, or the bitter smell and taste of Listerine emanating from his mouth, as they kissed. There was desperation, even violence about the way their faces and bodies cleaved together. When they broke apart, Christine gasped for air. Then she noticed, standing silently behind Barnabas like a prison guard, WILLIE silently watching them, an inscrutable expression on his face.

"Why--why is he HERE?" Christine asked, her face heating up with mortification. "Is he your KEEPER? If we go up to YOUR room, is he going to FOLLOW us? What kind of a sick arrangement is this?"

"No, my love. I had an attack of my ailment earlier, and Willie was taking care of me because Jeremy had to go out. He SHOULD have withdrawn as soon as you arrived, but I briefly became delirious, knocking things over."

"Then you should be in the HOSPITAL!" Christine held his face in her hands, as though examining it for signs of the illness. He WAS pale.

"I'll be all right for now. I took my medication, and Jeremy is going to arrange for some tests with Dr. Heard on Monday. Seeing you DOES make me feel better, especially after all the trouble in the last couple of days." Barnabas clutched her again. "I fear never seeing you again. PLEASE say this ISN'T the end, Christine."

She looked deeply into his dark, tormented eyes. "Only if you can say truthfully, that you had NOTHING to do with the events of the last 48 hours, nor with the events of 30 years ago. You have to understand, Barnabas. No matter what rank or fancy title I hold by now, I AM a policewoman, and have been one for over 25 years. As I told you, I've been down this road before, and ended up choosing the side of the law in almost every instance--- and if NOT the law, then, at least, a moral mean. IF you had anything to do with Miss Cane's attack, or any in the future, and I find out, I won't have any choice.... Even at the risk of my own life. I MEAN that."

Only one other woman had spoken like that to him, and lived to tell the tale. Barnabas turned away from Christine and gazed up at the portrait over the mantle. Julia's eyes had been large, dark, and soft when times were good. Christine's dark eyes were small, yet gentle when she was being tender. But BOTH women's eyes got that set, probing, even cold look when they made up their minds about something. And BOTH were stubbornly convinced of the rightness of their intentions, plans, and actions.

Christine followed his gaze. She studied the portrait of the red-haired, angular-faced woman, and her young son, a replica of herself in every way, since becoming a doctor as well. She wondered, not for the first time in her career, how someone who, supposedly, had dedicated herself to healing the sick, especially the mentally sick, and who was sworn to protect and comfort those she couldn't heal, could join forces with ANYONE who could do sick things like what had happened to that Kane girl, or Maggie. I don't want it to be true, but what if it is? Christine silently asked the sad-looking brown eyes of Julia Hoffman Collins.

Barnabas turned to face Christine again, and finally said, "There are many questions I cannot answer, without violating confidences placed in me over many years. There are people I have protected in the past whom you may not think deserved it, as Maggie took it upon herself to get Willie out of jail. I know that police, especially in cities, reward small-time criminals who bring them evidence against bigger miscreants, often with remission from serious penalties for their own crimes, or even freedom from prosecution. I would ask you to consider my past actions in the same light, even though by your standards I had no authority to do so, save that the circumstances were desperate, and I felt I had no other choice."

Christine asked, coldly, "What, exactly, are we talking about, here? Blackmail? Something involving a fugitive from another juridiction? Is it Willie we're speaking of, or a relative? David, I know, was just a boy back then, but young boys can be cruel AND creative. Or was it a woman, and your chivalrous instincts are holding you back from implicating her? I read that Victoria Winters pretty much vanished from the face of the earth over 30 years ago, but, who knows?--- perhaps she's returned, incognito."

"NO! It would NOT have been Vicki Winters. She was one of the most virtuous, bravest young women I had ever known, when it came to doing right."

"Since your wife didn't come here until after Maggie was found, and died long ago, I won't suggest her. What about Roger, or his late sister, or his niece? NONE of THEM had spotless pasts."

"No, No, No. Then or now. Roger made his mistake early in life, and it certainly wasn't INTENTIONAL. And he IS genuinely incapacitated now. Elizabeth DID almost kill her husband, but she spent the next 20 years punishing HERSELF, while doing good for others, including Vicki Winters AND Maggie Evans. She neither plotted Evil, NOR had associates who would have done it for her, and definitely not since her death!
Her daughter, Carolyn, was once, in spite of her mother's guilt-ridden love and care, a spoiled, wayward, sometimes very unhappy girl, but nothing that settling down with a fine man could not have cured. Which it DID."

"That Adam, then. You were associated with him. Where is he now?"

"THAT'S a good question. He left one day, and was never seen in these parts again. I DON'T think anyone could have missed him, if he returned. He had many large scars that probably wouldn't have yielded to plastic surgery."

"Quentin Collins? Amy Jennings with the murdering brother?"

Barnabas snorted, "NOW you are barking up the wrong trees entirely! Quentin didn't arrive here until late 1969, and he's been in Europe for almost two weeks. And Amy can hardly be held responsible for her brother's crimes." He put his hands on Christine's shoulders. "I've been through this mill with your former partner. I will NOT answer anything more, unless officially pressed into it. This isn't YOUR problem. If you cannot trust me, then you must go. I won't try to stop you in any way, shape, or form, I promise. Because, if nothing else, I respect you, as I once respected another determined woman, years ago. And came to love her, married her, had a son with her, a FINE life with her. Nothing of the kind will be happening for US, that much is clear. Willie, you can escort Miss Cagney to her car." Barnabas turned from the others, and began a slow, and obviously painful, ascent up the staircase with the oaken bannister, his head hung down.

Willie gently tugged at Christine's arm, and led her outside. There, he said, "I'm sorry he won't be seeing you anymore. You were good for him, but he's all messed up from being sick."

"That's bull, Willie, and I KNOW you know it," Christine said with a mixture of anguish and disgust. "You two are one of a kind."

"No, YOU two are one of a kind," he protested. "You and him, goin' at it like he used to with Julia. SHE was a fighter, but a fighter who fought for HIM, though it took him long enough to appreciate it. And, believe it or not, there WAS a time when he was the only one everyone could count on to solve a lot of problems, but it always worked better if he had Julia along."

"Well, THAT time is long past, Willie, and I'm NOT so enamored or desperate that I would tolerate the hint of criminality in a man I loved--- sorry, cared for."

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard THAT song a few times. Well, Julia didn't mean it, even when the going was rough, and I don't believe YOU do either. Because, like her, YOU are a good influence on him. I can tell, I can ALWAYS tell with him. His son is the other. I can only do it sometimes. But he knows he can count on me."

"There must be something in the water around here, Willie, lead in these old pipes, or something. That's the only way to account for the piss-poor choices people make around here. Other people make mistakes, but to be loyal to Barnabas, when he can't even give ME a straight answer, is a doozy I don't want to make."

"If you love somebody, you have to accept it sometimes, if they can't give you any answers."

"If I had a long history with him prior to this, like Harvey and Mary Beth, for example, maybe you'd be right, Willie, but we never had a chance. It wasn't meant to be, and it died on the vine. I'm willing to give it a decent burial. End of cliches. Good night." Christine gunned the motor, and sped off into the night, wondering how she was going to fill the next hour-and-a-half she was supposed to be at that movie.

Willie ran back inside, and ran upstairs, to the bedroom Barnabas still used, though not to sleep in. His employer stood on the small balcony in the chilly April night frost, staring in the direction of Collinwood. "Barnabas, she'll be back, I know it. She--she LOVES you. She said it by accident, but I can tell it's true. Wouldn't THAT be enough to keep you on Jeremy's medicines, and working on the victim's list?"

"Willie, where is my son now?"

"At the hospital, I thought." Willie's blood started to chill.

"No, he's not. I just called there, and they said he wasn't scheduled for tonight."

"Out with a girl, then, Maybe Vicki, maybe Pauline. Maybe BOTH. THAT screws up YOUR plans, doesn't it?" Willie smirked.

"I think I'll have a look for myself, Willie." Before the houseman blinked twice, a large bat fluttered wher Barnabas had stood. He watched helplessly, as it flew off into the night.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The bat flew to Maggie Shaw's house, where it observed that both daughter's AND mother's cars were gone. Back to Collinwood, then. There WAS someone there who would be happy to see Barnabas. This was
easy--- he just presented himself at the door as always, and showed himself up to Amy's room, "To see how she's doing."

The door was closed, but not locked. Barnabas slowly opened it, and peered within. Amy was lying on her bed, in a rather elegant-looking set of jade-colored satin pajamas, and matching Chinese-style slippers. She was reading a fat paperback novel whose covers were decorated with illustrations of a shirtless, muscular young man on a pirate ship, clutching a beautiful, wild-haired redhead with half her bosom popping out of her thin gown and against the studly pirate's broad-beamed chest.

Amy didn't look up from her book, as she said, "David, PLEASE don't come in here and bother me again. If you keep knocking Hallie up, then get frustrated because she becomes indisposed during the last month, that's YOUR fault. I've told you a thousand times, DON'T come crawling to ME when you're horny. I have SOME standards, SOME self-respect, SOME dignity!"

"Then, perhaps, you should be more careful to lock the door, my dear," Barnabas said softly and sarcastically.

Amy dropped her book, and jumped from the bed. "Who knows that you're here?" she whispered breathlessly, as she turned the lock on the door herself. "Isn't this too obvious?"

"Actually, no, my sweet Amy, because I WANT people to know I was here, visiting with you, like a good uncle. There's no danger that someone will be trying that door for a while, is there? I certainly wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea!" He laughed at his joke.

"Now that David's paid his regularly-scheduled booty call, probably not," she shrugged. "Considering how crowded this mausoleum is, Hallie sees to it that I DO get some privacy." Amy sighed. "She's really sweet to me, even though she KNOWS what David and I were to each other, though I don't know if she realizes what we'd still LIKE to be.... It's partly because she DOES respect me, that I keep turning him down. Of course, now I have ANOTHER reason." She unbuttoned her pajama top, pulling it well off her shoulder so that Barnabas's kiss wouldn't ruin the expensive material. In the process, she exposed some of her breast. "If you asked me, I would take EVERYTHING off," she whispered huskily, gazing into his eyes, which had become purplish-red with lust, both human and feral.

He caressed Amy's bared shoulder. "Alas for BOTH of us, my dear, that is NOT how we are going to express our special feelings for each other, at least not right now." He drew her close, kissed her first on the lips, then went right for her throat. She quivered against him, then jerked back momentarily. A trickle of blood DID mar her pajama blouse.

"Lipstick. I see LIPSTICK on your neck, your collar," Amy panted with rage. "And perfume--- I know whose it IS. You were with Christine Cagney earlier, WEREN'T you?"

"YOU have no business demanding fidelity or ANYTHING from me," Barnabas said menacingly. Then, he felt a twinge of regret when he saw Amy cringe in fear--- it made her look about 13 years old. He stroked her hair, licked the blood from her neck. "I am sorry I spoke harshly. Yes, I WAS with Christine before I came here, but I assure you, it's for the last time. She is not one to share our kind of bond. However, Amy, you KNOW a man like myself cannot expect one woman to fulfill ALL my needs."

"Just as long as you keep coming back to ME, if you need to kiss other girls once in a while, like Candy Cane, I won't mind," she whispered.

Barnabas put an arm around Amy's shoulders. "That's my good girl. Now, tell me, is Pauline here tonight?"

Amy sounded a little resentful as she replied, "So soon already.... But I will tell you. She's out with Jeremy. Dinner and a movie. I'm not sure WHEN they'll be back."

"But--- but that's strange. I rather thought my son was quite committed to Vicki Shaw."

"Oh, it's because SHE'S in Orono. She took Elliot and that Alice Lacey to a concert out there."

"Strange, how the young ladies who've most aroused my interest lately, are ALL out of sight on this evening. I wonder how that came about?" Barnabas mentally answered his own question. WILLIE, he thought, though without much heat. After all, this couldn't go on EVERY night. "Well," Barnabas continued, "perhaps you can put on a robe and come downstairs with me for a while, while I wait to see Pauline. I know how you feel, Amy, but you could be a great help to me, and there WOULD be rewards for you. Because THIS time, YOU are the first. NOBODY can EVER take that distinction away from you."

"That's all I've ever wanted.... to be first with SOMEONE." Amy pulled Barnabas's face against her throat again.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Barnabas and Amy huddled in a corner of the drawing room not easily visible from the foyer, even with the doors wide open. However, David noticed them, when he came in to get a book he'd left there. He shot a look of longing at his former fiancee, but simply said, "I hope you're having a nice visit. I always envied the way Barnabas got along with you. His road to amity with myself was a bit rockier, but I DID learn, eventually--" (very eventually, he thought, vaguely recalling some uncomfortable moments with his cousin, early in their association) "--that Barnabas had the family's best interests at heart."

"I'm interested, even now. How is Hallie doing tonight?" Barnabas asked pleasantly.

"Oh, she's getting those contractions on and off, but she's always been pretty faithful to her due dates. I tease her that she's afraid of getting arrested for violating the doctor's orders." David smiled. "Still, I'll be relieved when this one's safely delivered. Father is right, Hallie should retire. I think eight little Collinses IS enough. Barring disaster, the family should be set to last ANOTHER 300 years."

"After getting by from generation to generation dependent on one or two male heirs, it WILL change the way the estate and businesses are distributed," Barnabas agreed. "Thank Heaven, child mortality isn't what it was in my ancestor's time, when he and his youngest sister were the only survivors out of 7 infants. And the rise of our young WOMEN in the business world will surely take some of the holdings out of a purely Collins purview. I fantasize about being around 100 years from now, to see what changes take place!" He squeezed Amy's hand at this, a gesture David noticed with seeming discomfort.

David replied, "Well, it'll have to wait for my Emily, until the other little ones are grown. Amy here has her hands full with the high school. Carolyn's been pretty competent, but Pauline, alas, seems a traditional fluffy-headed playgirl, so far. You should have SEEN the computer reports she left on my desk earlier today. She didn't even run them through the Spell-Checker!"

"Too bad she's your cousin, and not just some bimbo secretary," Amy teased. "Then, even if she screwed up the paperwork, you would, at least, have the satisfaction of screwing around with HER." She laughed cruelly. David turned red, and looked genuinely hurt.

"AMY!" Barnabas snapped authoratively, "that WILL be enough. Are you SURE you haven't been sneaking alchoholic beverages into this house?" He squeezed the hand he held.

Amy squirmed in pain, which she barely concealed. "No, no---Please--- I'm sorry AGAIN, David. I don't know when to keep my mouth shut. In the morning, I'll pack, and go back to my cottage."

David gazed at her sadly. "No, that's all right, really. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you, with that man who attacked Jerusha Kane still at large. Let's just try to avoid each other from now on. Good night, Barnabas." He clutched his book, and left the room.

"Amy, you MUST learn discretion, if we are to continue our special friendship," Barnabas said angrily. "We will BOTH come under suspicion."

"Okay, okay. I certainly don't want the bones of my OTHER hand broken as well," she replied, rubbing the hand made sore by her cousin.

At eleven, one of the pair of oaken doors at the entrance opened, and Jeremy entered with Pauline on his arm. Both were laughing, as the dark-haired girl imitated the actress in the movie they'd just seen. "Betcha you'd go for me if I wore some of 'Erin Brockovitch's' clothes, or maybe we should call them 'not-clothes'. There was little enough to them."

Jeremy replied, "Something tells me that there's someone ELSE for whom you'd like to wear 'not-clothes', but a sexy negligee, perhaps."

Pauline sighed, "I don't know WHERE you got that idea, Jer. I haven't seen anyone outside of the family for a long time."

"Well, I had a mother who was a psychiatrist. I often fancy I've inherited her intuition. But if you say you're not taken, I'm not going to argue. Though, given that we've just gotten back from a date, that Vicki is absent, and that your mother has longed for us to get together, it's a wonder that you don't want to entice me to further mischief."

"I'm just--just not feeling as well as I let on, Jer. I REALLY appreciate your taking me out, but that's as far as it goes. Vicki will get her man back, intact in his fidelity. Thanks anyway, Cuzz." Pauline kissed Jeremy on the cheek.

He gave her a brotherly hug, and whispered, "If you're REALLY feeling bad, you can come to me to talk about it. If you're sick, I'll make sure that you see a very good doctor, BETTER than myself, of course." Jeremy chuckled, and Pauline gave him a wan smile.

After his son left, Barnabas whispered to Amy, "I do not want to 'kiss' her right in the house, lest someone walk in and see us. I want you to think of some pretext to lure her to the veranda just outside, or onto the balcony. I promise I won't incapacitate her, just as I have done for you. At this point, I want her, and the family, to believe that all she has are spider bites, or whatever your explanation has been."

Amy was about to rise and join Pauline in the foyer, when the oaken door was unlocked again. A tall, slender man, dressed with a careless elegance, and who appeared to be in his late fifties, entered. The instant Pauline saw him, she whispered, "Quentin!" and flew into his arms.

"Paulie, Paulie," Quentin Collins admonished quietly, though he held her tightly, and kissed her hair. "We have to be careful not to be discovered!"

"I don't care! I missed you terribly while you were in Germany. I almost can't wait until we get to your room. I have to tell you something very important."

"If we go to my room, you and I WON'T be talking much at all," Quentin said with a lusty grin. "Maybe you'd better tell me now." He gazed into her berry-brown eyes.

Pauline looked up into HIS blazing blue eyes. "It's--it's too important. We need privacy. If we hurry, we won't run into Mummy or Daddy. Please?" She wore a serious expression.

"Okay, you win. I missed YOU, all those long nights in Berlin." He draped a long arm over her tiny shoulders, as they went up the long staircase, and down the long hall which led to his isolated
apartment in the West Wing of the mansion.

Back in the drawing room, Barnabas groaned. "This is worse than I thought. I had no idea she was QUENTIN'S lover!"

"Well, I don't live here on a regular basis, so it's a surprise to ME, too," Amy replied. "How revolting, given he's really her---let me think--- great-great-grand uncle. Still, what difference will THAT make, Barnabas?"

"All the difference in the world.... As I know what QUENTIN is, so he knows, all too well, what I am, or rather, WAS, once.... In the past, he even actively helped me to survive, and at a terrible cost, which included the life of his older brother.... If I were to attack Pauline NOW, he would detect it in an instant. If he really cares for her, no doubt he WILL avenge any harm that comes to her. As he probably will, if he discovers what I have done to YOU."

"I don't believe he cares for ME, as much as he does for his whores," Amy pouted.

"Indeed, he DOES, Amy. You ARE his great-grand-daughter, his flesh and blood, far more than Pauline, even if neither of you can openly acknowledge the relationship. He lost his first family, partly due to his own fault, but, ultimately, because the knowledge of their existence was kept from him until it was too late.... He killed his pathetic, crazy wife Jenny, lost their little son before he'd even seen the child, and lost the right to raise their daughter, your grandmother Lenore.... Often enough, he's told me, what a comfort your existence is to him, especially after the death of poor Chris.... He blamed himself for that, insofar as that he regretted summoning your family back to Collinsport, after Chris had done so well in the special hospital in Nebraska. But he HAS helped to look after you with love and pride, and I don't think there was ever a prouder great-grandfather, the day you graduated from Smith."

"It's hard to feel it, now that I know he's messing around with a 23-year-old airhead whom he's known since she was a drooling rugrat," Amy said resentfully. "But I'll be extra careful around him. What will YOU do now?"

"I'm not sure, but I had better leave now. Willie will, no doubt, be awaiting my return, but I need some fresh air for a while."
* * * * * * * * * * *

Quentin and Pauline arrived in his room without detection, as far as they knew. Quentin seized the girl and fell with her upon his king-sized bed. At first, they kissed and grabbed each other in a frenzy, tearing at each other's clothing. So it had been, since they had consummated several years' worth of hesitant flirtation, just three months earlier.

Afterward, Quentin calmly held Pauline, and finally asked her about her big news. "What, did you forget already, darling?" he teased.

"No, I didn't--didn't forget. I just wanted to feel that you still wanted me, that you would STILL love me and want me, after---"

"Pauline, don't start THAT conversation again. I care about you, I will treat you with as much respect as I can muster when we're both ready to move on, but Love and Marriage can't enter into it. Believe me, that's NOT how I want it, but that's my reality." My reality, Quentin thought bitterly, like the fact she's not my distant cousin, but the great-grand-daughter of my own nephew; and like that painting in the attic that does my aging for me, so that I had to get minor surgery done, and my hair bleached and silvered, so that I could appear to age, for as long as I choose to stay in this house. I don't WANT to leave here, and leave HER, but at some point, I won't be able to keep up the charade, and I'll have to go back to Europe, until this generation dies out and I can reappear as my own son. Until SHE dies.... She who reminds me so much of Amanda, that it squeezes my heart in a hundred places....

And it was true. With everyone else, Pauline was flippant, shallow, occasionally cruel, but with Quentin, she was almost absurdly tender, even worshipful. From her earliest days, she had been fascinated with the handsome, lively, blue-eyed giant "cousin" who tossed her in the air and caught her, both laughing, every time, to the protest of her parents, who treated her like a fragile porcelain doll. When her Grandmother Elizabeth or David played the piano, and Quentin happened to be present, Pauline would sing. In spite of her lack of musical talent, Quentin would always embrace her, and tell her that she reminded him of someone very special to him, who sang for him, but who had "gone to heaven" years before. "But heaven is with YOU!" the four-or-five-year old would squeal with a childish sincerity that made the adults laugh indulgently.

Over the years, in spite of her parents' hopes for an eventual marriage with Jeremy, plus a battalion of admirers in high school and college, Pauline bided her time, even though she knew anything other than cousinly friendship was forbidden with this man of the world, who was old enough to be her father. Still, she initiated a phase of double-entendres and other gentle enticements, which he had joined in, albeit reluctantly. HE didn't want to cross the line, either--- he didn't want to lose the home and family whom he had missed for so many years. In spite of this resolve, three months ago, when they were finally alone in the house for once, she managed to break down his reservations. "Four generations is enough distance," Quentin told himself then. "Half the royalty of Europe are descended from uncles and nieces. And, by God, she DID save herself for me!"

And now, he was about to learn the price of that dedication. "Quentin," Pauline whispered, "I KNOW we've tried to be careful, but I've been--- umm---'late' for almost 3 weeks."

" 'Late'?" her lover asked incredulously. Actually, more than that; he sounded both angry--- and scared. "You mean you think you're--you're PREGNANT?"

"Well, yes," Pauline began to weep. "I bought 3 of those at-home tests, and got a 'plus' on every one of them. I'm sorry, Quentin. It's all my fault because I was afraid to take the Pill."

"No, it's MY fault--- I knew I should have avoided you that night, in fact, every night since you attained puberty. The temptation just became TOO much. My God! WHAT the HELL are we going to do?" He got out of the bed, and started pulling on his clothes. "I could sure use a drink right now. I have some sherry in my study. You want some?"

"Of COURSE not. I'm having your BABY, you heartless JERK!" Pauline cried. "I don't WANT to hurt it. And I WON'T get an abortion, even if you run away back to Germany and leave me to eat your dust." She collapsed into his pillows, her shoulders heaving with stormy sobs.

Quentin, contrite, knelt by the bed. Pauline flailed her fist at him, punching him in the jaw. He grabbed her hand, and forced her to sit up. "Pauline, listen to me! I DON'T hate you for this, and, whether you believe me or not, I DON'T hate the baby, either."

"Then marry me, and we'll have it," she whimpered. "My parents WILL get over it in time. They'll be happy when the grandchildren come, even if they're from you."

"Paulie, I WOULD marry you, and have the baby, under normal circumstances. But MY circumstances haven't been normal for some time. Listen to me. 100 years ago, my grandfather Quentin did a terrible thing that brought a terrible disease into his family, a curse of sorts, if you want to call it that. He was told that any male child of every descendant of his, would inherit this illness, the eldest tending to be afflicted more severely. It's an incurable disease that causes a murderous madness. His own oldest son died as a baby. Amy's brother Christopher got it, because he was a descendant of Quentin's daughter, and he was an eldest son. He had a younger brother who had it in a mild form, but if Tom had lived, it's probable that at HIS eldest son would have inherited the severe strain. That's why Amy didn't have children, either. I'm the son of a younger son of Quentin's, and, so far, I haven't shown any symptoms, but I don't want to take a chance. Even having a daughter would be no help, because HER sons are sure to be born with it. Don't you see, Paulie? We BOTH have to think long and hard about what the best thing, not only for ourselves and the baby, but others who might be injured by our children and our grandchildren."

"This is TOO hard to believe!" Pauline protested. "And so WHAT if there's mental illness in your part of the family? There's inbred crazies all over the Collins family tree. Besides, it's the year 2000--- there are all kinds of medicines and operations and therapies they can do now to help crazy people that couldn't be cured 100 years ago! Since we're so rich, we can get our baby whatever he or she needs to get well, or at least, not MURDER anybody. People don't ALL run out and abort babies who are going to be RETARDED. I DON'T see why we should abort OURS! I think YOU just wanted to USE me, and now that I'm pregnant, you just want to toss me aside!" Now SHE got up, and grabbed her clothes. "Well, I'm NOT going to stand for that. In the morning, I'm going to have a talk with Mummy and Daddy, and you're NOT going to stop me. But right now, I'm going out for a long ride."
* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Mom and Dad will really have my head on a platter for being out THIS late," Alice said, worriedly, "even though it's a 'approved' outing."

"We were ALL hungry after the concert," Vicki Shaw said, as her car sped along the old state highway between Orono and Collinsport. "You had an opportunity to call them at the diner, Alice, and you SHOULD have done so. As it is, MY cell-phone has to recharge. But we'll be at your house in about 20 minutes, at this rate. Maybe they're asleep."

"With little old ME out during a so-called major crime wave? Doubt it," the younger girl answered. There was another reason they might still be awake, she thought, and the thought made her blush. To take the edge off their disagreements, and in fact, the instant her parents thought she was sleeping, the steady-but-strained creak and wheeze of their bedsprings had often disturbed the household peace. She KNEW, and rejoiced, that her father's heart condition made such interludes less common, but both parents were unlikely to resist the temptation of having their good time while their child was out for the evening. And, afterward, her father's satisfied snores would be enough to keep her MOTHER up, at least--- she was probably sitting in the living room right this minute, drinking coffee with Aunt Christine, fretting with her over whether to wake up the paternal unit, and launch an all-points search.

* * * * * * * * * * *
It happened ALMOST that way. Harvey, his purpose thoroughly and joyfully accomplished without any hint of chest pain, cheerfully sawed away, loudly enough to wake the dead. His spouse, who, thus far, had NEVER fallen asleep while awaiting her daughter's return from ANY dates (though, techinically, this WASN'T a date), lay in the dark, listening and watching that clock with its big, red, accusing numbers. There had been something comforting about a regular clockface, with its hands embracing stretches of time in a whole, instead of punctuating every single minute with a blink. It was 11:30, already. The concert MUST be over by now, she thought. Perhaps Miss Shaw had dropped Alice and Elliot off at Collinwood, and they were together now, which WASN'T part of the plan, though both teenagers were quite capable of talking an otherwise sensible adult's head around.

Then she heard the front door open, slowly, as though the party was sneaking in. ALICE, thank God! Mary Beth thought, momentarily so grateful she was willing to let the inevitable lecture go until the morning. Then, there was a crash--- sounded like a lamp falling over! Mary Beth grabbed her gun, and cautiously edged her way toward the living room. Pretty stupid of an intruder to invade the Sheriff's house, and then make a bloody racket, but it happened. But when Mary Beth made her move, she saw CHRISTINE picking up the lamp, whose bulb had shattered. The latter looked up, and said "Sorry" with a sheepish grin, and a slur in her voice that Mary Beth had thought long gone.

"So I can see you had a post movie spree," she snapped. "Christine, you're DRUNK! My God, you haven't touched the stuff in five years! What brought THIS on?"

"What broughted-brought on that you should SHOOT me in our--your own home, Mar'bethff?"

"PLEASE, DON'T tell me you DROVE in this condition!"

"No-No-no-no-no, Sher'ff Ma'am. I called the taxi. I was at that Blue Whale. Boy, what a dive! But thass okay, 'cause I wasn' there for the ambience. Just good old-fashioned drinking in a good-old-fashioned 300-year old bar with good-old-fashioned sailor boys."

"I DON'T think we'll go there with the inquisition, Christine. Your sailor boys are YOUR business." Mary Beth led her friend to the couch, and said, gently as she could manage, "I'll make you some coffee, and we'll both sit up for a while. I'm waiting to pounce on my daughter the instant she walks in the door, but I DO want to talk about what YOU did."

A few minutes later, Christine's mind seemed to clear as she sipped Mary Beth's strong coffee.
"What do you PUT in this stuff?" she asked.

"Can't taste the raw egg and the Worcestershire sauce in there?" Mary Beth teased. "That's the ancient Lacey secret cure for both intoxication AND hangovers, all in one."

"EGG?" Christine studied the innocuous dark brew with a green-faced expression of imminent nausea.

"I'm just KIDDING. Please don't upchuck on my sofa!" Mary Beth said with rising panic.

"I'm okay, REALLY. Just too suggestible right now." Christine laid her head back and closed her eyes.

"So, Christine, how WAS the movie, or do you even remember?"

"I never got there," Christine admitted. "I got a call from a friend, and went to see him. Barnabas."

"We HEARD the phone! My God, Christine, you know what I think of that man! Even if he and Willie have
nothing to do with the weirdness in town, I don't think someone like that is right for you. He's old, he's sure to get sicker. It just happens like that. At least if you tried to find a guy closer to YOUR age, you might still get a few good years out of him before you BOTH start falling apart, like Harv and me."

"Guys my age don't WANT women my age, unless they're already stuck with one, no offense, Mary Beth," her friend snapped. "They want younger, prettier.... To a man like Barnabas, I AM a younger woman. And we felt this really strong connection, right off the bat, not like anything I ever felt before. He even said I reminded him of his late wife, in a NICE way, and THAT, let me tell you, is pretty rare. But it's a moot point, anyway. I did what YOU wanted. I broke everything off with him, because I DO respect your intuitions, and I admit I have a few reservations of my own. It's not a normal situation up there. I thought I was well out of it, but it STILL hurts. Even at my age, breaking up is as bad as it was when I was a teenager, and with less excuse, since we didn't DO anything BUT make out like teenagers."

"That could be," Mary Beth suggested, "because NOW it's getting closer and closer to the 'last time' you'll do ANYTHING. It's like brackets, like the ones they put around someone's birth and death dates. The first and last time, they're the most vivid memories, especially when they have to do with love and children. This is the first time you can have a baby, now here's the last time.... The first kiss, the last kiss.... The first and last time Harvey and I, well, you know...." She got very red in the face. "WE haven't reached the last time quite yet, but I know, and HE knows, it's just around the bend."

"And you're STILL blushing like a bride, eh, Mary Beth? At least SOME things don't change. But you're right, I'm finally resigning myself to the fact that the search WILL soon be over, and I will NOT have found the prize, if indeed, marriage is a prize. My futile attempt to plumb THAT deep mystery is WHY I hauled off and drank with a host of Collinsport's Pop-eyes and Blutos."

"Then, stick with me," Mary Beth said earnestly, "and you can still help us solve the riddle of the dock stalker, ASSUMING he's not Barnabas or Willie. Maybe he was even THERE at the Blue Whale, chugging down some brewskis right next to you."

Christine laughed, "Scary thought, indeed, but then again, MAYBE he was looking for me at the Cineplex, hoping to catch me ogling Albert Finney before making his sinister moves!"

"I glad you can laugh now, and I'll be glad to join in, as soon as my daughter's safely in the house," her friend replied. Suddenly, Mary Beth heard another noise, and turned around. Harvey stood behind her, looking distressed. "Are you okay, Harv? Is your heart bothering you? Or are you just worried about Alice, too? You needn't right now, you can go back to sleep. Christine and I plan on holding down the fort for a while, yet, before calling out the cavalry."

"I had another dream," Harvey whispered fearfully. "Big black feathers falling from the sky, and covering Alice and the others in Vicki Shaw's car. The screaming was SO real.... And now I see she's NOT home yet. When she gets home, I don't know if I want to hug her, or SMACK her first!"

Just then, the phone rang. Mary Beth picked it up with visible trepidation. Five minutes later, everyone was scrambling to leave the house.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Vicki was now driving near the turn-off that lead to Weeping Meadow Road, but passed it to continue toward the shortest route to the Lacey house--- Elliot would not be in nearly as much trouble as Alice, if he was brought home after his curfew. The car passed under some low-hanging maple branches, and Vicki turned up the brightness of the headlamps. There was a large dark something reeling back and forth in the air above the car, getting tangled in the thick maple branches. Suddenly, it swooped down, and CRASHED right onto the windshield of Vicki's car!

The surprise caused Vicki to veer off the road, and, as the two teenagers screamed in unison with their driver, she ran headlong into one of the maple trees!

Fortunately, all three were wearing seatbelts, and the car hadn't been going fast enough for the impact to make more than a major dent in the front end. Still, they were stranded at an uncomfortable distance from either Collinwood or the Laceys', and it would probably be at least an hour before one of the meager squadron of police cars made its rounds in the area.

"WHAT did I HIT?" Vicki cried in a daze. She had knocked the side of her head into her driver's window as the car spun off the road.

"Looked like a HUGE bat to me, Miss Shaw," Alice said. "God, I never saw one THAT big."

"Maybe it was a big hawk or a raven, or even a turkey, confused by some illness," Elliot suggested. "Anyway, it MUST be dead. But where could it have fallen?"

"If it was hit at 30 miles an hour, ANYWHERE," Alice, the animal lover, sniffled. "Poor thing, if it's still alive, it must be suffering. We'll have to call the emergency vet as soon as we get home. I HATE for animals to be put to sleep, but---"

"I wouldn't worry about THAT right now," Elliot said. Let's bail out of here--- the engine might ignite. At least, I SHOULD have a look at the situation. Fixing cars is one of my many hobbies."

Elliot helped his teacher and his girlfriend out of the car, then emptied the glove compartment. He found a flashlight there, and scooped up the car's important papers, just in case. He made Vicki sit on the ground, under Alice's guard, as he used the light to examine the damage. It wasn't as hopeless as they'd thought at first--- it looked like the front end MIGHT be replaceable, but the car would have to be towed. He declared, "While we're closer to MY house than yours, Alice, at least YOURS isn't at the top of a fog-shrouded hill. It will be easier to hike to. Let's see if we can get Miss Shaw on her feet."

The two helped their teacher up. At first both tried to lead her, but after a while, it seemed that Vicki moved more efficiently leaning on Elliot alone. So Alice led the way with the flashlight, and a thick branch that was lying on the roadside, for a weapon. They made their way for about a quarter-mile, when they jumped at the sound of rustling in the underbrush.

"It CAN'T be a human, he'd just pop out and ambush us," Alice whispered. "It COULDN'T be what hit Miss Shaw's car, could it?"

"I don't want to find out," Elliot gasped. "Let's keep moving." But Vicki balked--- she complained of dizziness. As the boy gently cajoled and argued, Alice saw what looked like a black wing under the bush. Maybe it WAS just a turkey? She parted the bush cautiously with her branch, maintaining what she thought was a safe distance.

She flashed the light at the largest, blackest bat she'd ever seen alive, not stuffed in the Natural History Museum! For THIS creature resembled nothing so much as a sleek black pteradactyl with a rat's face! Alice began to pant with terror, which she was SURE the "bat" could SMELL. She backed away slowly from the animal, which lurched on its tiny feet, dragging its shattered wing on the ground. It was shuffling right toward her stockinged ankles!

Elliot glanced at it, then HE looked frightened. "Alice! Miss Shaw! It looks RABID! We have to RUN!" He urged the now-roused Vicki along, with Alice covering their backs, and staring back into the creature's beady eyes. Elliot managed to get the teacher a couple of hundred feet away, but when he looked back for Alice, he heard her quivering wail of pain and fear!

He dropped the teacher on a grassy verge, then hurried back to see Alice futilely beating at the animal, which had somehow hopped up and attached itself to her leg, and was biting her on the thigh with sharp, shiny fangs. Elliot took up the branch, and whacked with all his might, but it was no use.

Just then, TWO cars, coming from opposite directions, pulled over. Out of one jumped Willie, who had something made of glittering metal in his hands. Out of the other, popped Pauline, who was punching "9-1-1" into HER cell phone as she ran to join the others. Willie, after casting a quick glance at Vicki, dashed up to the creature on Alice's leg, and HIT it with the metal object. The beast squealed with its own pain, and dropped off, but came after WILLIE now. Elliot had his hands full with the moaning Alice and still-dazed Vicki, so Pauline, inspired by hours of watching "Xena, Warrior Princess", had the mad idea of drawing the bat's attention so that Willie could deck it with the metal tool he was wielding.

She jumped in the creature's path, cutting it off from Willie, and signalled for him to circle around
behind it. The animal tried to fly again, and that was when Willie was able to jump upon it, and pinned it with what Pauline could now clearly see was a Crucifix. How odd, she thought, was the the ONLY thing he had in his car? A tire iron, or a big flashlight would have been a better choice! Still, it seemed to do the trick--- It appeared that Willie had calmed the bat or vulture or whatever the Hell it was, and was trying to pick it up, an odd thing to do with a possibly rabid wild animal. But the beast SLAPPED Willie with its unbroken wing, leapt from his arms, and headed for the underbrush. It was making soft, angry noises, almost like CURSING! Pauline couldn't believe her ears, but within a minute, the beast had, seemingly, vanished, as the welcome sight of the Police cars, an ambulance, AND the Sheriff's car came into view.

Pauline went to join them--- she could see Sheriff AND Mr. Lacey AND their friend Christine descend upon the injured girl, as the paramedics tried to console them AND do their job. Then, she saw Willie inside his car, hiding the Crucifix, and getting out his metal flashlight. There was some reason he didn't want the Sheriff to know that he'd subdued the horrible bat-thing with a silver Cross, but it occurred to her, what a strange coincidence that he'd been at the right place at the right time, almost as if he KNEW something was going to happen. Then she felt a hand on her arm, and looked into the sorrowful face of her cousin Jeremy.

She wondered why HE was here--- he had gone home from their date, hadn't come to join the ambulance crew. He tugged her arm, and led her to his car, where it was hidden from the sight of the others. A rhinestone-encrusted pendant lay on the front seat. He picked it up, and dangled it from its chain, before her eyes.

"Jeremy, are you all right?" she asked. "What are you doing with your mother's old necklace?"

"Because--- because I KNOW you saw, or heard something you shouldn't have. Everyone else is confused and upset and probably won't put two and two together. This is for your own safety."

"I don't understand!" she yelped. "All I saw was Willie hitting that monster with a Crucifix. What a wierd thing to use as a weapon! And the monster whacked him, then skittered away. It made some mad little noises--- funny, they sounded almost like cuss words, but that's nonsense. The cops are looking for it now, I'm sure. They're probably going to find it and kill it to test for rabies."

"No, they won't find it. And IT won't find you. Look into the center of the pendant."

"I WON'T! What are you trying to do, hypnotize me? What a laugh!" Pauline STOPPED laughing when she felt a needle stabbing her arm. "What--what was THAT for?" she asked, as a veil of drowsiness came over her.

Jeremy's voice suddenly sounded a lot like his father's, as he murmurred insistently, "So you can concentrate upon what you MUST. There's no other way." He swung the pendant before her eyes again.

"Baby.... You're gonna.... hurt my baby.... Gonna have a baby...."

Jeremy's ears pricked up at this news, but he continued, "If there's a baby, it will be fine. Just do
what I tell you, and you won't have to get ANOTHER shot. This will all be like a dream...."

Five minutes later, he sent her back to the scene of the incident. Nobody had seemed to notice she was gone, but when she appeared, Sheriff Lacey, though her dark eyes were brimming with tears and her voice was shaky, shook Pauline's hand. "Everybody told me what you did," she sobbed. "You---and Willie---were SO brave to lure that---that THING away from my baby."

"Baby...." Pauline muttered. "Oh, yes, I'm--I'm sorry I couldn't have done more. Did they find it yet? Willie hit it pretty hard with--with his flashlight."

"I HOPE it's dead, but, more than that I HOPE we find it. Otherwise Alice is going to need rabies shots. They're not as horrible as they were in MY day, but still, it's pretty heavy-duty medicine.
Though something tells me, an animal that survived getting hit by a car may well have survived a flashlight-case blow." The Sheriff's husband came up to her, and whispered, "The ambulance is ready to leave, Mary Beth."

She shot him a look of resentment. "It's--it's YOUR fault she's hurt in the first place--- you INSISTED she would be safe---"

"Honey, this is NOBODY'S fault, it just happened. It was an ACCIDENT. This wasn't some psycho, it was an injured ANIMAL. We can talk about this later, at the hospital." Harvey laid his arm over his weeping wife's heaving shoulders as they headed for the ambulance. There was room for only one parent, so Mary Beth got in, and left Christine to drive the broken-hearted Harvey, behind the ambulance.

But before she left, Christine studied Pauline carefully. "It WAS just an animal, wasn't it?" she asked the younger woman.

"Oh, absolutely," Pauline replied. "Just a huge bat, that's all. Must have blown in from Canada.
EVERYTHING is bigger in Canada, the wildlife, I mean."

"Canada. Right," Christine said as she got into the Sheriff's car. "Good thing I didn't go THERE, and stayed down HERE, instead. By the way," she said, as she started the engine,
"I heard about your fancy footwork earlier. Maybe you should consider police work as a career."

"Oh, no, police people need really good memories. Mine's fuzzier than a ball of lint."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

PART SEVEN--- Sunday, April 16, 2000 (A)

Mary Beth and Harvey paced around the waiting room. "Why didn't they let me go IN with her?"
the anxious mother railed.

"Because there are some things that even a mother shouldn't see, in the event that she should try to tell the doctors how to do their jobs," Harvey replied as calmly as he could. He was stabbed by guilt that he had listened to Willie's plans. Maybe it was all a set-up--- he knew his wife would likely think the same thing, but Harvey didn't WANT to believe that Willie would think up a plan that might injure his OWN daughter. And why hurt Elliot Collins, for that matter?

The boy was here now--- after a quick once-over by a staff doctor, the hospital finally believed what Elliot had told them, that he was fine. But HIS father, David, when he saw the youth's terrible anxiety over Alice's condition, decided to sit and wait it out with his son. And, within minutes, another anxious mother arrived, Maggie Evans Shaw. Vicki was having X-rays taken. Everyone sat, tense and quiet, though Maggie spoke a little to Christine in low tones.

Finally, Dr. Heard emerged from Alice's cubicle. He pulled the Laceys to a corner. Christine joined them. When he said "Mom and Dad only," Mary Beth admonished, "Christine here is almost a member of the family. And she's a special investigator with years and years of experience, which I'll probably need in dealing with this situation, since I can hardly be objective right now." She choked on a sob.

Christine said, "So tell all of us, and I can relay whatever is relevant, to Job and the others."

Dr. Heard said, "I don't know why we need a lot of police work for animal attacks."

Harvey said, "I read that in some city in Connecticut, there was a pack of wild dogs tearing up the neighborhood. The police actually staked them out and cornered them, like a gang of crooks, until they got a shot at the leader of the pack. So, YEAH, if my wife has to call out the National Guard to hunt this monster down, this BEAST who tried to kill OUR LITTLE GIRL, then that's EXACTLY what we're gonna do!"

"Well, you may have a point. It's time you had a good look at Alice's injury. It IS suspiciously similar to the one on Jerusha Kane's throat." Dr. Heard led the trio into the examination cubicle.

Alice lay on the table, covered to her chin, her very long hair gathered in a surgical-type cap. Her face was blotched from crying. A nurse, who had been watching her, darted out of the tiny room. Dr. Heard gently and modestly raised the sheet over Alice's left leg, to expose the twin wounds low on her thigh. "As you observe, they're still bleeding, and we will bandage them up," he said. "Though I believe the bandages will have be changed frequently. For such tiny wounds, they've already leaked a lot of blood, but just under what I would consider the limit for a transfusion. We gave her medication to speed clotting, but it hasn't taken effect so far."

"Why aren't there stitches?" Mary Beth demanded..

"If examined closely, they're really too small to stitch--- two tiny sutures wouldn't hold back the bleeding anyway," the doctor explained.

"Is there a photographic record of this injury?" Christine asked.

"We'll take a picture if you think we need one.," he said.

"You measured the distance between those toothmarks?" she inquired.

"Already did," the doctor replied. "This critter had a big mouth, I must say. There's about an inch and a half span here. Just like the bite on Candy."

"The Sheriff's office will be expecting your lab report on blood tests, tests on any saliva, etc."

"Of course, but the lab won't be open here till 6A.M., because this is a small facility, and right now, we're short a couple of technicians. Unless you want it taken to Bangor Hospital, but that's a long trip by itself. I assure you, the samples ARE properly stored and under lock and key. I WELL remember a rash of similar incidents 30 or more years ago, where Dr. Woodard's samples were stolen." Doctor Heard turned to the Laceys. "Since the rabies injections are no longer as painful and dangerous as they used to be, I usually start them right away, when it's clear the animal won't be found. So be careful, Alice's arm is probably a bit sore."

"A LOT sore," the girl protested, "but I know, at least it's not a needle in the solar plexus." She turned to her parents. "I'm sorry, Mom, Dad, Aunt Christine. Look, even when I TRY to do the right thing, it gets screwed up." She started to cry again.

Mary Beth cradled Alice's head to her breast. "WE know, honey, but at least there WERE people around to help you, unlike that poor Candy girl. And we know it's an animal, not a 'bad man'. Something like that could get you in our own back yard, I guess."

"How are Miss Shaw and--and Elliot? Can I see him, or is he gone by now?"

Harvey said, "He's still here. The doc gave him a clean bill, but he wanted to see how you were. There's no real reason he can't at least SEE you're better. As for your Miss Shaw---"

"Maggie said they thought she had a minor concussion", Christine replied. "That'll make two of you who'll have to stay here for a day or so, I guess. I'll step out now, and let your young man in."

Elliot, his usual self-confident composure shattered, sped in, and grabbed Alice's hand dramatically. "I was SO afraid for you, Alice," he began. "It was a lot like things I read in the books my late great-uncle wrote. You should be in a room full of garlic, with crosses galore."

Alice stroked his face, not caring what her parents thought. "Oh, Elliot, it was just a big old bat, not Dracula! But thanks for everything you did. And thank your cousin Pauline for me. And Mr. Loomis. That animal ruined my red dress, though."

"I'll buy you a closetful! Just get better for me--- US." Tears ran down Elliot's face. "I love you," he whispered.

"Love you too." For the first time since her parents had been in the room, Alice smiled.

Mary Beth was too overcome to make the sharp comments she would have, under normal circumstances. They barely knew each other for a week, and ALREADY they were tossing around words like "love" and "Us"---! Instead, she was touched by the scene. The boy was displaying, in HER opinion, the correct attitude--- rather like Harvey in a similar situation. Maybe this rich boy---poor, well, middle-class-girl thing COULD work.

But Elliot's remarks about Dracula DID make an impression on the woman standing just outside the door. Christine thought, maybe it would repay to have a look at the late Professor Stokes's books, and to have Job help her question Candy Kane. Maybe there was some detail BOTH victims missed in the heat of the moment--- maybe this bat, or whatever it was, was specially trained to attack on command? She turned from the cubicle, and was surprised to see WILLIE there, huddled with Maggie. They spoke in low whispers, but she could hear Maggie saying, "Not your fault. You tried to help...."

Now, what was THAT all about? Obviously, Maggie, and the Laceys and the Collinses owed Willie a debt of gratitude for his part in fending off the animal, but he'd also lost it before it could be tested for rabies. Still, Maggie COULD have thanked him more voluably. WHY this peculiar closeness? Christine found it hard to believe they were romantically involved, now or ever. Yet they were acting almost like estranged parents united by concern over a beloved child. Strange place, this Collinsport, where a kidnapper and his former victim would be commiserating over a threat to her daughter.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

David had brought his son home, and, after a talk with Hallie, Elliot fell into bed, with his mother's official absolution from attending church the next morning. David, however, had other anxieties plaguing him, and had been awaiting the arrival home of his cousin Quentin. So he rose early, and came downstairs to the drawing room. He was astonished to see Quentin there, dressed in his pajamas and a robe, drinking coffee and eating a croissant. "My God, when did YOU get home?" David asked.

"Why, I came in just now. I figured, since I WAS taking the red-eye flight, I might as well travel in my night attire," Quentin answered sarcastically. Then he noticed the circles under his cousin's eyes, and his general air of sadness. "I'm sorry I was so flip, David. I actually arrived about eleven last night. Nobody was around, so I went straight to bed. I figured that what I had to tell you could wait till morning. Is something the matter? Is it Hallie?"

"No, no, SHE'S fine. I don't know how she does it. Act of faith, I guess. She has enough for both of us. No, there was a terrible incident last night, in fact there have been at least two so far. Two young women attacked, like incidents I remember from 30 years ago. And one of them was the new Sheriff's own daughter!" David related what he knew about Candy's and Alice's attacks. "Candy---I mean Jerusha Kane, she works in the Cannery with her mother and her fiancee--- insisted she was attacked by a man, but everyone SAW what bit Alice Lacey--- a huge bat-like thing! Yet the marks, I'm told, WERE similar. But we had some heroism from unexpected quarters---" Just then, the bell rang at the great oaken doors. Quentin went to answer them.

A thin, well-dressed, big-haired brunette woman with a face full of dimples stood on the granite step, holding a microphone. A small army of techinicians with video cameras, lights, and other television equipment stood behind her. "Good morning," the woman said brightly. "I know YOU are Quentin Collins. I am Penelope Ferreira of WBAM Action News,and I wonder if I could speak to Miss Pauline Collins?"

"WHY would YOU want to speak with PAULINE?" Quentin thundered. Oh my God, he thought, she's been talking to the media. Tony and Carolyn will have the shotgun and the J.P. all ready for me in no time.

"Well, our viewers would be interested to hear HER story of how she and a Mr. William Loomis managed to rescue the daughter of Collinsport's new sheriff from a terrible animal attack. We just came from the Old House where Mr. Loomis resides, but a Dr. Jeremy Collins who answered the door, said he's being treated for stress at home, and couldn't speak to us, so it's just going to be Miss Collins at this point." Ms. Ferreira shot Quentin a puzzled glance. "What, you don't KNOW about what happened last night?"

"Well, I was out of the country until late last night. My cousin David has just been filling me in on the series of attacks themselves, but he didn't quite get to the part where Pauline saved the day. Or the night. Whatever. Anyway, I'm sure SHE'S sleeping off the stress right about now, since I haven't seen her yet. Look, why don't you all go back to the studio, and we'll call when she's ready to make a statement?"

"WHY are you speaking for ME, Quentin?" Pauline stood at his elbow. She was already dressed up, to help David take the younger children to First Congregationalist, since Hallie could barely move, and wanted to stay near Elliot, anyway.

"Oh.... Pauline," Quentin said a little sheepishly. "I thought you were still sleeping after your--your big ordeal last night."

"Well, poor Elliot--- that's my cousin, the boy who was with Miss Lacey and Miss Shaw," Pauline explained to the reporter, "HE'S overtired because he stayed at the hospital until Miss Lacey seemed to be on the mend, or so I was told. I hope you don't bother him too much, he's a very sensitive young man who had a big shock." She went on and on, rambling about how she conceived the plan to help Willie, "one of our most faithful family retainers", drive the beast away. "I'm SURE it's dead--- he really gave it a good smack. It probably fell into a ditch or something."

Quentin could tell that the reporters were eating it all up, not that Pauline wasn't getting a bang out of feeding it to them. He left her to chat with them, hoping that she would tell HIM the truth when they were alone. Imagine, she had the nerve to accuse him of threatening their unborn child just because he's offered her a glass of brandy, and a half-hour later, she was out battling nature's fury. He returned to David. "So Pauline is the superheroine she's always longed to be! Amazing. She's never been that brave, that I could see. And working with WILLIE, of all people! Why, she despises him!"

"I don't get it myself. But then, I don't understand why SHE was out at that hour. She had just gotten home from a date with Jeremy---"

"JEREMY!" Quentin hoped he sounded more contemptuous than outraged, but he WAS outraged, to his own surprise. Perhaps the little minx wasn't the innocent newcomer to sex that she made herself out to be, he thought. Maybe the pregnancy was Jeremy's doing?

"Oh, yes, he took her out just this once, as Vicki had plans with Elliot and the Lacey girl. Really odd, I thought, since I didn't think Pauline and Jeremy really got along all that well, no matter WHAT Carolyn might be hoping for. But the strangest part is, how WILLIE happened to be Johnny-on-the-spot. I mean, he's an old man, why would HE be out so late, and what if BARNABAS needed him?"

Suddenly, Quentin had a terrible thought, then squelched it. Barnabas--- nonsense! He had been free of the old curse for nearly 30 years! How, and WHY, would it come back? ANGELIQUE hadn't been around, not even her spirit, and Jeb Hawkes, who'd inflicted the last version of the curse, was so long gone, even his widow Carolyn probably remembered little about him. And why put a curse on an elderly man, anyway? "I'm not sure, maybe Barnabas needed a prescription from the 24-hour pharmacy at the Eagle Superstore. Anyway, Willie WAS there, and the young lady WILL recover, I presume. Now, WE have to talk about the Samwell business. Is Tony at home right now?"

"I don't know. He's been taking quite a few business trips lately. Carolyn gets peeved, but well, innocent until proven guilty, eh?" David smirked.

"TONY? Mr. Straight-Arrow? Having an AFFAIR? Oh, please. I'd sooner believe that Pauline is going to join a convent!" Quentin began to laugh, a loud braying sound that always had an edge of hysteria in it. He had a vague boyhood memory of his Grandmother Edith saying, "You and Carl are SO unlike, but when one of you LAUGHS in another room, I CAN'T tell who's doing it until I get in there." Carl.... what a strange time to think of his long-dead brother! But he was always there, on the edge of memory, especially when Quentin had indulged in some activity that brought on guilt. Such as his recent behavior with Pauline, of whom he WAS fond, but about whom he was now callously joking.

"To tell you the truth, I really DON'T know," David admitted. "If Carolyn chooses to turn this into a crisis, though, I suppose I WILL have him tailed. But I'd hate to lose such a good family lawyer!" Now HE chuckled, albeit uneasily. Tony had long since come into possession of the knowledge of many Collins Family secrets, including business secrets. Makes us sound like the Mafia, David fretted mentally, but there WERE a few such less-than-honorable incidents in the recent history of the corporation. Some of them were simple foolish mistakes, such as the one which had allowed Timothy A. Samwell to gobble a lot of the European holdings. This had caused a lack of confidence in Collins enterprises across the board, which David had attempted to remedy with forging ahead on his plans to modernize the company town, beginning with the appointment of a highly-recommended woman police officer to the Sheriff's post. And now, what a bust THAT was turning out to be, if she couldn't even keep her own daughter from peril!

"Well, we'd better bang on their apartment door." Like Quentin, the Petersons had their own suite of rooms in the great mansion. "I'll go get the papers from my suitcase."

David did as advised, and soon, both Tony and Carolyn, dressed for church as well (he was on the Church board of advisors, and she was the women's group president), joined the cousins in the drawing room. Quentin, STILL lounging in his sleepwear, handed Tony a sheaf of envelopes. "One, as Carolyn probably told you after our conversation Wednesday night, is, apparently, a will, to be read as soon as possible. The others are documents for the transfer of assets. Samwell's last requests were very specific, although nobody knows why WE are part of his will. And, quite frankly, neither do I. I'm just the messenger boy, after all."

Tony perused the will, and suddenly looked shocked. "Well, I think you're all in for some bizarre surprises here. I'd read it now, but it seems that Hallie, Willie Loomis and Maggie Shaw need to be present. Carolyn, if you don't mind, we'd better skip church. I'll call Willie and Maggie."

"Oh, Tony, you haven't heard," Quentin smirked. "Willie's being treated for 'stress' after abusing some local wildlife last night. At least, that's why he couldn't talk to the luscious-but-smarmy Ms. Ferreira."

Tony answered without any sarcasm, "Nobody is under so much stress that he wouldn't be up to hearing that he's been named in a billionaire's will."

David said, "I'll tell Pauline to hurry up with Ferreira's gang. She and Marisol can take the children. I know Marisol prefers to go to her own church around now, but they hold late services at St. Ann's, noon and 5 o'clock. She can go to whichever one she wants."

As the two men left on their errands, Carolyn asked Quentin, "What's this about REPORTERS?"

Quentin explained, then said, "I can't WAIT to see the WBAM Afternoon news!"

Within an hour, Maggie and Willie, both curious and quite upset (Maggie hadn't wanted to leave Vicki alone at the hospital) snuck around to a back entrance through a small, seldom-noticed tower in the west wing to avoid any TV people still in the vicinity, sat in the Collins drawing room to hear the last will and testament of the eccentric Timothy A. Samwell.

Tony began, " 'I, Timothy A. Samwell, being of sound mind, do hereby declare that this is NOT my real name. It is not my birth name, nor is it an adoptive name, as I was not adopted. When I came into being, I was given but one name, for which I have used an initial these last 32 years, all I can remember of existence, though I have always had a good memory. The 'A' stands for a name you may recall very well, perhaps even feared. For I am the scarred, giant freak you knew as ADAM."

At this, everybody but Tony and Quentin gasped. "Who WAS this 'Adam'?" the latter asked simply. "Why is this so upsetting?"

"He killed my father, who had tried to befriend him!" Maggie cried.

"He almost killed ME, for picking on him!" Willie panted.

"I thought he was going to kill ME, but he ended up saving me," David said in a faraway voice.

"He had an obssession with me, and even tried to hurt Tony, though at that time, we were breaking up" Carolyn whispered, "but I DID learn to get along with him. Okay, I admit it--- we became very, er, 'fond' of each other. But Adam had too many problems, and I was kind of relieved when he disappeared."

"THAT is not the man I remember at all," declared Hallie, who made her slow progress into the room, and eased herself into her chair. "Timothy--- Adam as you knew him--- was a true gentleman of whom my late uncle thought highly, so highly that he arranged a secret meeting between us, apparently hoping that we might eventually be attracted enough to marry. It didn't work out quite that way--- I liked Timothy and saw through his physical defects to the real person inside, but I was already on the verge of getting engaged to David. It was hard to let Timothy down, as he took his fondness for me VERY seriously."

"So seriously, it seems, he was out to destroy Collins Enterprises!" David snarled. "Well, go on with this charade. Let's see how Adam, the Patchwork Man, has screwed us, even though he's dead, and, presumably, buried."

Quentin said, "But he's NOT buried, David. That was part of what I brought back to the USA. His body, mutilated by his accident and his autopsy, now reposes in a cryogenic preservative cylinder outside of Bangor, in the care of a cult that believes in the eventual resurrection of dead persons. If you'd like to visit the Society---"

"That's enough!" David roared. "Go on, Tony!"

Tony read, " 'My first thought, as always when thinking of my eventual mortality, is to help those whom I have injured, whether I meant to or not, in the early days of my life. First and foremost, half my estate has gone into a trust fund has been set aside for the continued benefit of the widow and children of former Collinsport Deputy Edward Riggs, whose paralysis and subsequent premature death were my doing, when he interfered with my escape from Collinsport jail. Though he taunted me, I soon realized he just didn't understand, and also, that his family shouldn't have had to suffer for his ignorance--- and MINE. Since coming into my prosperity, his long hospitalization and funeral, his home mortgage, taxes, insurance, repairs, etc. have been paid for, on my account. His children have gone to college at my expense, and have done well for themselves. His widow, Margaret, who never remarried, is now being supported in her old age by this trust fund. So long as money can be found to maintain it, the Riggses will be able to draw on it.

'Now, to my other heirs. Never having found a woman to compare with those I knew and loved in youth, I have remained childless, and lacking other siblings, have decided to help more people whom I have injured in Collinsport. Toward that end, I hereby divide the balance of my estate, including the Collins holdings, into equal shares, amongst the following persons:

'Elliot Jamison Collins, eldest son of Hannah Lousie Stokes Collins, who, though I will always feel sorry that he could not have been my son, was a favorite of my friend and teacher, professor Timothy Elliot Stokes, whose memory I choose to honor in this fashion. Also, to prove to David Collins that I bear no ill will toward himself and his wife.

'Pauline Elizabeth Collins, daughter of Carolyn Stoddard Collins Peterson, who was the first special woman I had ever known, and who nearly gave her life for me on one occasion, and Anthony Peterson, whom I unjustly assaulted.

'Victoria Samantha Shaw, daughter of Margaret Evans Shaw, whose father, Samuel Evans, WAS my friend, though I over-reacted when he tried to defend his daughter, and gave him the injuries that caused his death. I have suffered bottomless remorse over this, and hope to bring about closure, if not healing, to the sufferings I caused for Margaret.

"And to William Hollinshead Loomis, a share to be distributed to anyone he considers an heir, as he has thus far not fathered any children himself, so far as my investigators have been able to determine. He hurt me, and I hurt him, but I don't consider him all to blame for this, though he provoked the incident that led to my assault on Samuel Evans. He has until a month after the reading of this will to choose an heir, so long as it is not Jeremy Collins, the son of Barnabas Collins, nor Barnabas himself. If not, this share will be divided amongst the others'."

Everybody slowly digested this information. Willie glanced at Maggie, mouthing the words "for Vicki", but Maggie shook her head. Accepting this legacy was going to be hard enough, though at least, Vicki's future would be assured, and she would bring her share back to the Collinses when she married Jeremy anyway. But to have Willie make an open gift of his share, to their daughter--- Maggie didn't want to face the explanations she would have to make. She had a powerful craving to get back to the hospital to be with Vicki, and, after signing some of the transfer papers, took them with her to the hospital, for her daughter's signature.

David said, "This is peculiar--- Samwell, I mean ADAM, bought those shares just so he could give them back again? I will NEVER understand this."

"I guess he wanted to make sure the shares wouldn't be traded to a disinterested party," Tony shrugged. "This way, at least 3 quarters will stay in the Collins family, that is, if Vicki goes through with marrying Jeremy. And if Willie can't settle on an heir, then it will be in thirds."

"Well, I won't begrudge HIM his share, though I can't imagine who he'd give it to."

Quentin warned, "It had better be to someone the other heirs won't mind dealing with. I believe that's the catch of this legacy--- No doubt this Adam had hopes of nuturing his investment and making it grow before the ball came back into our court. As it is, the separate shares will have to be developed by at least three, and possibly four, very different individuals. I guess setting Collins against Collins and former servants against town people is his revenge."
* * * * * * * * * * *

Quentin took advantage of the lull following the reading of the will, to collar Willie in a corner and ask him the dreaded question. "Willie, for the love of God, if you still believe in Him--- WAS it Barnabas who attacked the Lacey girl? I've been going over this in my mind, and I think your all-too-convenient presence last night confirms it. Though why you let PAULINE get involved---"

"NO!" Willie gasped. "It WASN'T Barnabas! And as for how Pauline got mixed up in it--- all I can think of is how she used to whine for those damn 'Wonder Woman' and 'Supergirl' comics, and when her folks refused to buy them, she'd get ME to do it. She's got a head full of that junk from TV, too. Not that I'm not grateful, you understand. Though why was SHE out last night?"

"Willie, stop evading the REAL question! If I went back with you to the Old House RIGHT NOW, at NOON, would Barnabas be up and ready to speak with me?"

"He's out for the day. He had an appointment down the coast."

"No matter what you say, Willie, I'm going to get dressed NOW, and I intend to find out if you're telling the truth.. You wait here." Quentin went to change, and 10 minutes later, he accompanied Willie like prison guards conduct condemned prisoners to execution. All the way, he couldn't miss that his companion was shaking with anxiety. When they arrived at the Old House, Willie's trembling hands kept fumbling with the keys.

"WILLIE," Quentin snapped, "Let me in that house THIS INSTANT, or I'LL call the Sheriff! Or is Jeremy still here, ready to bar my way?"

"No, no, he went down to the hospital. Doc Heard wanted to see him." Willie managed to unlock the doors without further procrastination.

Quentin rushed past him, and ran into every room, calling Barnabas's name. Then he came back into the parlor. "Well, I think I SHOULD check the cellar," he said angrily. "After all, it's pretty soundproofed down there, he might not be able to hear us, ESPECIALLY if he's inside his coffin. Or is it in the 'secret' room behind the bookcase? Perhaps, then, in the attic, hidden among some old trunks?"

"He's---he's not!" Then the phone rang. Quentin made a move to answer it, but Willie held him until the answering machine came on.

The recording to answer was in Barnabas's rich baritone, politely advising the caller to leave name, phone number, and brief message. What sounded almost funny, was when the voice calling in was Barnabas's--- though crackling and very distant-sounding, as though he'd made a bad connection. "Willie or Jeremy," he said, "if you're there, don't bother to pick up, just make a note that I'm in Kennebunkport with one of the Bush family, to discuss my making a contribution to young George's campaign. I'll see you around sev---"

Quentin broke from Willie's grasp, and snatched up the receiver. By the time he activated it and said, "Hello, Barnabas---" the other end clicked off. Even so, he wasn't satisfied--- he recalled enough of his cousin's old tricks from years gone by, just given new life thanks to the wonder of modern electronics. Barnabas HAD sounded so distant on the phone line--- if he was, indeed, back to being one of the Undead, ANY voice recording would sound as distant as Eagle Hill cemetery, for it WAS similar to recordings allegedly made of spirit voices.

"Well, Willie, it seems Barnabas has pulled it off, once again. Since I doubt you'll allow me into your cellar, or your attic, or your secret room, I'll just saunter over here tonight around seven, and see him for myself. I KNOW he won't lie to ME. Please believe me, when I say I WON'T turn either of you in. We'll just have to find a cure for his problem, if there IS a problem."

"One more time, Quentin, there is NO problem. You'll see," Willie replied.

Quentin left the Old House, and back to the Great House. Hopefully, Pauline would be back from church, and he could try to have a more sensible talk with her. He found her on the patio, leaning over the short rail, looking pensive. There being nobody else around, he snuck up behind her and kissed her gently on the back of her neck. She stiffened, rather odd for her. "So," Quentin whispered, "Xena the Pregnant Princess kicked some butt last night, I heard. And to think, all I wanted to do was give you a little sip of spirits to lift YOUR spirits." Now he sounded angry, and pulled her around to face him. "Just what the HELL were you thinking about, Paulie? That creature could have killed YOU, AND this little tadpole in your belly that you already treasure so much!"

At first, Pauline seemed dazed. "Tadpole?" she asked, blankly. Then her mind seemed to get in
gear. "Oh, you mean--- the baby! Sorry, I was so lost in thought, I almost forgot!"

"Forgot?" Quentin asked incredulously. "Why, I half-expected your parents to descend upon me at some point today, threatening to toss me off the estate for violating the treasure they were saving for Jeremy Collins! How could you FORGET that you're PREGNANT with MY child?"

"Well, YOU weren't all that concerned, so why should I be?" Pauline asked rhetorically, with little heat. "I've been thinking, though, whatever you want me to do, I'm sure it's for the best."

There really WAS something wrong here, her lover thought--- last night she'd been all passion and then, injured motherhood. Now, she might as well be sleepwalking to an abortion clinic. It didn't make sense, and Quentin wasn't going to push this option on a woman who was in such a fuzzy state. He began to wonder if she hadn't been bitten after all--- she was certainly behaving like a vampire's victim. However, he could make out no marks on her throat above the lacy collar of her dress, her arms below the three-quarter-length sleeves, or on her smooth, dark-stockinged legs below the knee-length hemline. "Pauline, I want to take you up to my room and---and see if you're okay. See if you've been bitten anywhere."

"Bitten? How silly. If I'd been bitten, I would be in the hospital with Alice Lacey, because that animal was NOT the type to give little love bites," Pauline smiled vaguely. "But if you want me to put on a little peep show before luncheon, I'll do it. Anything for you, my love."

"Now THAT'S something you never called me before," Quentin smiled back, though he was full of dark suspicion. "I know I never want you to talk about 'love', per se, but it DOES sound friendlier than what you said last night. It reminds me of what someone used to call me, years and years ago."

"The girl whom you loved, who went to Heaven?"

"One of the many, I'm afraid. You know what a FOSSIL I am." He squeezed her waist. "And Paulie, forget what I said last night. I will abide by whatever YOU decide about the baby. I DO have a soft spot for children, and maybe you're right about modern medicines for mental problems."

"Thank you, but we won't think about it this minute. Come on, I'm getting a little excited already." Pauline pulled Quentin in throught the French doors, towards the stairs.

They didn't see Amy, who had sat quietly on a bench, out of sight, the whole time, listening. And getting angrier by the minute, so that she almost couldn't contain herself. "SHE gets to have his baby, HIM who's the 'leader of the pack', for God's sake! But 'NO, Amy, you CAN'T have a baby wolf boy Collins heir'! That BASTARD. And HIS bastard. And the tramp BITCH who's whelping for him! I'll show HIM. I'll show THEM."
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Dr. Heard was reviewing preliminary results of the lab tests with Mary Beth, Christine, and Job.
"As you can see here, there's a strong similarity between the cells we found on both Alice and Candy. It's animal, though what kind, is anybody's guess without DNA tests. Everybody thinks it was a bat, yet there are NO bats that size in Maine, in the whole USA, not in the whole WORLD. Buzzards and turkeys, of course, DON'T have teeth at all. I'm thinking, maybe it's a simian of some kind, disguised and trained to bite on command--- that MIGHT explain why Candy thought her attacker was human, but smaller monkeys don't have TEETH like that. Unfortunately, we have no fur or feather samples to examine--- everyone's fingernails and clothes were free of them, I can't understand it!. As for the necrotic cells here, trying to link up with healthy red corpuscles--- I need DNA testing on them. That's expensive, and takes some time."

"We KNOW that," Mary Beth said. "However, since it seems this beast---and his or her master---
may well prey on others in this area, we have nothing to lose. If money's the big problem, I'm sure Mr. Collins would supplement whatever's allocated in the Sheriff's budget for testing. After all, HIS son could have gotten hurt. So, Sheriff's orders--- get things rolling. And when will Alice be able to come home?"

"As soon as we have the bleeding under control, Sheriff--- Mrs. Lacey. Like I said, it's just a trickle, but it's like a stigmata, and COULD lead to anemia. Just one more night, and then bed rest and foods rich in vitamins, especially LIVER, and iron---"

"Uggh!" Mary Beth said, "Alice is a vegetarian. A DEVOUT vegetarian!"

"Then, you'll have to consult the hospitial dietician. I hope your daughter likes spinach and broccoli--- LOTS and LOTS of it, those vegetables are rich in iron, that much I DO know. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have Jeremy Collins coming in pretty soon."

"What, to consult on Alice's case?" the Sheriff asked. "I didn't know such a young fellow was an EXPERT in anything quite yet, no disrespect intended, of course---"

"No, no, it's a personal matter." The doctor began absently flipping through some small notepapers on his desk. Something written on one caught the corner of Christine's eye, and she managed to read it just before Dr. Heard picked it up --- "Barn. Coll. 7P Mon."

Barnabas, coming to consult the Doctor at such a late hour? Strange, but now that Christine could dispassionately review his behavior, he DID keep irregular hours--- the illness driving him, perhaps. She wondered where HE had been during the last night's events, and where he was, now. She wondered if she should mention it to Mary Beth--- yes, definitely, though if he had one of those fool-proof alibis again, neither Sheriff nor Deputy nor a special investigator from a New York City D.A.'s office would be able to do anything about it.

The law-enforcement trio walked out of the office, only to nearly crash into Jeremy Collins, who looked TERRIBLE--- pale and distracted. Mary Beth, who, in spite of HER suspicions of the young physician's father, was unconvinced about any involvment of the son, asked kindly, "Is this about Miss Shaw? Is she all right?"

"Yes, she's going home this afternoon, as a matter of fact. The concussion was so minor, they thought bedrest at home would be sufficient. I'm sorry that your daughter has to stay another night, though I just passed by the room and she looked pretty well, sitting up and watching TV with her father."

"She's a tough one," Christine said. "Takes after her Mom, that way."

"I'm sure--- excuse me, please!" Jeremy hurried into the older doctor's office, and shut the door. Christine could not resist trying to listen, but the door must have had soundproofing built in, so sensitive consultations could take place without such eavesdropping. What sounds came through were so indistinct, Christine couldn't tell who was speaking.

She didn't hear Jeremy pleading, "Please, Dr. Heard, could you see him TONIGHT or tomorrow, EARLY? You'll be on the 11-to-7 shift, he could come in before 6 AM."

"He's in such bad shape, Jeremy?" the older doctor asked. "Oh, very well, unless another emergency comes up, and he's willing and able to get up that early, 5:00 AM. It'll still be kind of dark outside---"

"Don't worry, I'll bring him myself. It shouldn't take much time, and you'd be on your way home at 7 AM." Jeremy's voice sounded like he was trying to reassure HIMSELF of something....

"I'll be the judge of how much time I should take. It's your FATHER, worry about HIM and not about MY schedule. Poor boy, you look like you could use Prozac...."

As they went out the front entrance, Christine told Mary Beth and Job about the appointment. Job offered to come back to the hospital at that time, "To make sure things were on the up-and-up."

Mary Beth patted her Deputy in an absent-mindedly maternal fashion. "Thanks, Job. Now why don't you and Christine go see Candy Cane one more time? I'm going to pay a little call on the so-called 'hero', my husband's 'evil twin'."
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Christine said, "Mary Beth must have been reading my mind--- I was going to do this anyway." She was being chaffeured by Job through a neat working-class neighborhood of turn-of-the-century two-and-three family houses.

"How much you want to bet we'll be back at ground zero?" Job asked bluntly. "None of these girls EVER really remembered much about what happened--- if little Alice hadn't had witnesses around to corroborate, she'd be as spaced out as the others. Maybe that's NOT a bad thing."

"How do you figure that, Job?"

"Like what happened with my Dad 33 years ago. He got too close to the truth--- that's what I've always thought--- and he ended up dead. Maggie ALMOST died, and Willie, too. Sam Evans.... And Eddie Riggs--- he had a living death before he passed, paralyzed and on machines for 5 years! Not to mention others who got too involved with the 'ruling family' over the last couple of centuries."

"So what are you saying? That at some point you're going to chicken out on us? Job, you have kids Alice's age. Are you going to leave them at the mercy of this animal, because YOU'RE afraid you'll end up like your father?"

"No, Miss Cagney, Ma'am. I WILL do my duty. And I'd give my life to save my OWN family. But what if we CAN'T stop this thing? Old George Patterson, he used to say, 'This town is a place where good and evil play by their own rules, and we got no choice sometimes, but to wait it out, like a hurricane or a forest fire or a flood'."

"It's NOT a flood, it's ONE SICK ANIMAL, or the person CONTROLLING the animal," Christine insisted. "My God, Job, in my time, we busted serial killers! Gang Wars! Mafia drug hits! Armed robberies and murders with carnage everywhere! We'll solve this because it CAN'T be as complex as some of THOSE cases!"

"Maybe not for New York, though I would imagine something like this could go on for years and years there, before anyone even took notice. This is a COLLINSPORT-sized problem, and like I always tell the Sheriff, you have to know Collinsport ways. Like, a mouse is real small, and say it lives in a small hole in the wall of your little New York apartment. Getting rid of the pest should be a snap, right? But it's NOT, and you could be trying to catch this mouse and his kids and grandkids and so on for YEARS, because HE knows all the ins and outs of your little apartment that YOU can't see. THAT'S what Collinsport is. It just TAKES one little animal who knows the ins and outs the rest of us haven't noticed, or forgotten, or taken for granted...." Job pulled up before a green two-family house.

The pair rang the bell that belonged to the upper-floor apartment. A woman about Christine's age, and also with tinted blonde hair, but wearing old sweats and no make-up, answered the door. She said hello to Job, who addressed her as "Mrs. Cane", and looked at Christine, who presented her badge for Mrs. Cane's perusal. The woman shrugged, and said, "I don't know why this New York police lady is so interested in what happened to Candy."

Job persisted. "Mrs. Cane--- Jessie--- haven't you heard about what happened to the Sheriff's daughter and her friends last night? This woman is a friend and former partner of the Sheriff, come to help us out. She already saw Candy, for a few minutes at the hospital, so she knows how bad it was."

"Well, one bite doesn't have anything to do with another. I watch WBAM News, and listen to the radio, AND read the papers. This Alice Lacey was attacked by a BAT or something. Candy was bit by a MAN. She told you all she knows. She can't hardly remember much anymore, anyway. I doubt she'd even be able to pick the rotten SOB out of a line-up."

"Well, can I see her for just a few minutes?" Christine pleaded. "Maybe we can jog her memory."

"Can't force a cop off my porch," Mrs. Cane shrugged again. "I'll send her down, but hurry up. She has an appointment for a final fitting at the bridal shop. Wedding's the week after next. Thanks for sending in your RVSP in early, Job."

"That's Hepsey's doing. She's OUR home secretary as well as the High School's," Job smiled.

"Has her hands full pulling the cart for that tyrant Amy Jennings, I'd imagine," she replied, then turned and called up the dark stairwell behind her. "JERUSHA! Get along down here"

The small-but-sturdy redhead soon stood on the porch with the two officers. Christine recalled her brief visit to the hospital to meet the younger woman, and was amazed at the change. She looked MUCH healthier than she had a few days ago, it was hard to believe that ANYONE could just overpower this able-bodied factory girl. But then, wasn't that always the case? Christine thought back to a time when SHE was overpowered by a rapist.

When Christine began to question the girl in as gentle a tone as she could manage (recording it on a pocket-sized cassette unit), Jerusha-Candy's face looked first, sad, then blank. "It WASN'T an animal, I KNOW it was---was--- a man, but when I see him in my dreams, the face is like a big, empty oval. No voice either. All I know is, it WASN'T my Nat!"

"We've pretty much ruled him out in any case, Candy," Job assured her.

Christine had an inspiration. Dreams.... "Candy, you are SO positive about it NOT being your fiance, based on your dreams.... When you have these dreams, can you remember ANYTHING else? A peripheral detail, like, oh, a shoe or the shape of a hand, or a shadow on a wall with a profile? An odor of cologne or sweat?"

Candy, obviously intrigued with the idea, looked like she was thinking VERY hard--- her eyes closed and her pert face wrinkled with concentration. Then, she relaxed and said, "Not too much. But I KNOW he was wearing a fuzzy kind of scarf, or maybe a cloak--- he held me against it, so I couldn't turn backwards. NAT was wearing his LEATHER jacket. And there was---was a COLDNESS, that wasn't just his cold hands---"

"His hands were COLD? How about his mouth?" Christine asked eagerly.

"That--- I DON'T remember, sorry. But the extra coldness--- well, see, he put his hand over my mouth like this--" Candy demonstrated as exactly as she could--- her attacker had held her with his left hand. "The little bit of freezing was on one of his fingers, but it heated up when I cried and breathed on it. Like hot metal. It STANG me!" This memory brought tears to her eyes.

Metal--- a ring on a man's left hand. Barnabas always wore that onyx ring in the heavy gold setting on his cold left hand.... "Candy, can you remember if it was a ring he wore?"

Though sniffling, Candy's face resumed its blank expression. "I couldn't tell you, Ma'am. I'm so sorry I couldn't be of more help."

Job held her by the shoulders and said, "We understand. You did your best. Now, run along to your fitting. We're all eager to see a beautiful bride in two weeks." He and Christine returned to the police car. As soon as they sped away, he asked, "You think it was Barnabas Collins, don't you? I know the Sheriff does."

Christine stared out the window. "Job, what do YOU think?"

"I didn't like his answers when we went to see him. And now I'm beginning to think his son may know something. How could he NOT? But I reserve judgement until tomorrow night, Miss Cagney, ma'am."

"That's very prudent. And, by the way, Job, lighten up a little. Call me Christine--- No, better yet, just call me 'Chris'. When Mary Beth says 'Christine", I sometimes feel like the older daughter in the house."

"The Sheriff IS a very motherly lady," Job admitted. "I can't bring myself to call her 'Mary Beth' any more than I can call my own dear Mother 'Dinah'."

"Dinah's a Biblical name, too?" Christine asked, idly. "All I can think of when I hear it is that kid's song about railroads and Dinah in the kitchen, or Dinah Shore in HER TV kitchen, years ago. Very Southern-sounding."

"Well, Dinah was a young daughter of Jacob and his first wife, Leah, you know, the nearsighted one he was tricked into marrying, ahead of her prettier sister, Rachel. Poor little Dinah was raped, but her father managed to have the bastard and all his friends killed in vengeance. The Bible doesn't say what happened to Dinah, after. Sad story all around. But it's still a nice name, like 'Chris', Ma'am."
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Across town, the motherly Sheriff in question, armed with a search warrant and accompanied by Officer Hallett, burned rubber on her way to the Old House. She'd put the fear of God, or whatever Deity still held sway over Willie Loomis, and hopefully, get some answers. Mary Beth had come to believe that Barnabas had intimidated his servant into abetting the sort of crimes he may have committed years ago. Perhaps the "cancer" Barnabas referred to in their previous encounter was really a mental illness from which he had been in remission under his late wife's and now, his son's care, but the treatments were failing. What Jeremy hoped Dr. Heard could do about it was uncertain, but SHE could figure out a way to get the good old doctor to talk after Barnabas's appointment.

She doubted, however, that the father would do anything in the presence of his son, who was obviously easily upset by such things, though already a fully-licensed physician himself. Poor boy, Mary Beth thought. She tended to pity the hapless offspring of most offenders, even adults, who were usually shocked and/or driven to denial by the parent's behavior, though they may have experienced hints, or even abuse and coercion, at their elders' hands. This Barnabas didn't strike her as someone who would have abused his only child at all, making the possibility of his villainy even more difficult to swallow for the sensitive young man.

The Old House glimmered in the daylight, lightly shaded by the lacy branches of well-pruned trees just coming into bud around it. The azalea bushes were still quite knobby and bare, though. The columns around the large front porch looked as though they went up to the sky, a detail one missed at night. WHO would build such a gem in such a concealed place? Mary Beth wondered. This was NOT the typical style of ANY colonial-era mansion she'd ever seen, no more than Collinwood was representative of the Federalist period. Collinses, she thought. Laws unto themselves, in architecture as well as everything else, it seemed. Still, she practiced enough civility to ring the bell, instead of pounding on the doors--- this wasn't a crack house, after all.

Mary Beth and Hallett waited for 10 minutes, ringing once a minute. "Now it gets unpleasant---" the Sheriff said, when the doors opened and Willie stepped out with a degree of boldness.

"Willie," Mary Beth began, "I AM sorry, but this time, I DO have a search warrant. Is Barnabas here? And if he's not, I have to contact him personally."

Willie replied, "He called earlier, the message is still on the machine. He's in Kennebunkport with the Bushes. You know, the Ex-President? Whose son is RUNNING for President? Barnabas met them about ten years ago, and they're pretty friendly. He's going to give the son's campaign a pile of money."

"Well, I can call up the Secret Service detachment that still protects George and Barbara, and see if that's a true story, Willie. Willie, listen to me," Mary Beth said earnestly. "I don't want to hassle a man who helped to save my daughter and two other mothers' children. If there's something you can tell us, to clear this mystery up--- it's obvious you DO know something. Maybe this has been going on for a while, maybe that's what made you look in Vicki Shaw's window last week, and had you on the spot to help Harvey when he was in the woods. I'm willing to accept that you have SOME benign motives. But you can't protect this creature or whatever for long. It's going to hurt other people. I KNOW you don't want that, I can TELL you don't, because you had the exact-same expression on YOUR face when you were sitting with Maggie Shaw, waiting to hear about Vicki, as Harvey did, when we came to be with Alice. It's something that goes beyond just looking like each other."

Willie turned red. He said, hesitantly, "Barnabas isn't well, though he goes out from time to time. But he has cancer! He wouldn't hurt anybody, especially not kids. And he wouldn't do anything to hurt Jeremy. He and Julia waited so long to have a kid, the day Jeremy was born, and him and Julia came through it okay, it was like Barnabas discovered America or something. 'Cause that's how it feels--- I mean, that's what I'm told it feels like."

"That's really sweet, Willie, but you know, sometimes, when people have cancer, and it gets into their brains before they get too sick to move, it can provoke violent outbursts, cause people to get wild ideas.... Maybe an idea to train an animal to attack people because he's jealous that they're healthy.... I don't know, I'm not a psychiatrist, or a cancer doctor, but these things have been known to happen. And right now, he's the closest thing I have to a suspect. Believe me, Willie, NOBODY hopes that Barnabas can be cleared, AND cured, more than I do, because otherwise he seems like a pleasant and interesting old man, and there's someone we BOTH know, who would have liked to get better acquainted with him. But my FIRST duty is to the town I serve."

"You also serve the Collinses, same as I do, except you get a better paycheck, a nice office, and a shiny badge."

Mary Beth replied indignantly, "My obligation to public safety comes way ahead of anything David Collins may ask of me. And in this instance, I believe he wants what the town wants, for his family to be safe."

"I hope he keeps an eye out for his own then," Willie said cryptically. "Go on, look all over if you want, I'll even unlock the attic and cellar without whining. And see if you can get through to the Bushes. Barnabas will be glad to have this mess cleared up once and for all, if it means making things up with Miss Cagney."

Almost 3 hours later, an exhausted Mary Beth and Officer Hallett were no wiser about Barnabas's OR Jeremy's activities, though the Sheriff found several items that intrigued her; one was a pile of floppy disks and historical journals about Collinsport near Jeremy's computer, and the other was an old set of Barnabas's dental X-rays, left over from his last dentist's retirement. It wouldn't hurt to see if his teeth matched the bite-marks in any way, though the pictures themselves seemed innocuous; just slightly crooked, ground-down teeth typical of a man in his 70's. As for the floppy disks, it seemed that Jeremy was compiling some kind of family history--- the one on the top of the heap was labeled "Carl Collins 1864-1897." Mary Beth turned on the computer, but soon discovered one needed a password to access the files on the disks, and everything else. Taking the disks would be pointless without the owner, especially if the files were encrypted, and since the names on the disks were all of Collinses and others who'd died in previous centuries, it didn't seem relevant.

One major object of interest was in an unusual bedroom at the far end of the upstairs hallway. The large space was full of restored and well-maintained French-looking furniture, all white baroque curlicues and gold trim. Mrs. Napoleon--- Josephine--- could have lived here in style, Mary Beth mused, as she gently fingered antique brushes and combs on a vanity, examined the fleur-de-lys quilt on the canopied bed, and poked her nose in a moth-ball scented trunk full of old clothes. But the biggest find was something that hit the eye the instant one walked into the room, but which the Sheriff had saved for last, like a luscious French dessert. A large portrait with an elaborate frame over the mantel of the white marble fireplace, with a name plate to identify the beautiful dark-haired young woman, wearing a white Empire-style gown--- not JOSEPHINE, but close--- "JOSETTE DU PRES COLLINS 1775-1796."

Mary Beth recalled that was one of the names on Jeremy's disks. This whole ROOM was like a very private museum to this poor French girl, dead of whatever illness was around back then, or maybe even childbirth. A closer examination of the subject of the portrait revealed something else--- THIS must be the "secret picture" Job and his wife joked about, that kept Maggie Shaw young-looking, because it looked a lot like the picture in the late Sheriff's old files. It was painted by a "Colborne" in 1795, so, obviously, it WASN'T Maggie, or even magical--- this artist was no longer available for a commission, alas. But what a coincidence, almost as amazing as the resemblence between Harvey and Willie, and between Barnabas the First and the current edition.

But WHY keep a WHOLE room like this? This must be one of the rooms Barnabas had spoken of, left without electricity to spare the beautifully-papered and paneled walls. Mary Beth wondered what Christine would have thought of it. Her former partner HAD been acquiring an interest in more feminine forms of decoration of late, and had begun collecting antiques. Maybe Christine WOULD have gotten a bang out of relieving Willie of the chore of dusting this gorgeous stuff, and changing the moth-balls. However, there was, again, nothing to connect this room with any crime, so after a dazzling 20 minutes or so, the door was once more shut on the lovely, lost Josette.

The attic and cellar, while extensive and full of trunkloads of family mementos and just plain junk, yielded nothing out of the ordinary in this cursory inspection. Mary Beth was fascinated with an old cell-like room at the far end of the cellar, but could see that it, too, was filled with trashy old things, like a bedframe against a wall, a cobwebby old winerack, and some bricks which had somehow fallen from the back wall.

Nowhere in the house, nor in the garage (a former carriage house), nor anywhere on Barnabas's share of the Collins property, were there traces of any animals, though there WAS an ancient kennel which Willie insisted had been empty since the last of Jeremy's childhood pets had died almost ten years before. It certainly had a forlorn look, but Mary Beth made a note of it, anyway.

And Barnabas's alibi seemed to be on the level; at least from what little Mary Beth could glean from wrangling with the Bushes' Secret Service contingent, who spent some time checking out HER credentials. They finally admitted that the Bushes WERE entertaining a "special guest", but refused to name the guest or his purpose in visiting, though the guardians would be happy to relay the message. As she clicked off her cell-phone, a depressed Mary Beth recalled that George Bush Senior HAD been head of the CIA at one time. Who knew, maybe Barnabas had worked for the UK operations, and that's why nobody knew much about him before he'd arrived in America, and why he got along with the Bushes. And where he may have learned to train animals to attack, as well as some on-the-go brainwashing techniques.

Well, it was high time Mary Beth returned to the hospital to relieve her husband, who'd spent the afternoon sitting with Alice, and to compare notes with Christine and Job, who related Candy Cane's dream memory of the cold-handed MAN whom she still insisted had attacked her.

The Sheriff showed the X-rays to Dr. Heard, who agreed that, while it seemed the positioning of the bitemarks relative to the eyeteeth was a neat fit, it was hardly likely that a sick old man with blunt, bad teeth could have done the deed.

It almost didn't matter, because Alice's stigmata finally showed signs of healing. Dr. Heard declared that she could be released the next morning. Mary Beth dozed in the chair alongside the bed where her daughter was eating her dinner, which included heaping helpings of broccoli, spinach, and a blood-red glass of V-8.

The peace was shattered a short time later by the annoying chirpy "ring" of the Sheriff's cell phone. Mary Beth was shocked out of her sleepy state by the sharpness of the voice on the other end, a voice that had, heretofore, been urbane, polite, and calm. "What's the matter, Mr. Collins? she said to David, as she stepped into Alice's small lavatory for privacy.

"I'd like to ask YOU that, Sheriff. WHAT were you doing this afternoon, searching my cousin's house? I went over to visit, and Willie said that you and Kenny Hallett went over the Old House with a fine-toothed comb. PLEASE don't tell me you suspect Barnabas OR Jeremy, OR Willie!"

"I was doing my job, sir. I was PROPERLY and OBJECTIVELY investigating the prime suspect in a series of strange and dangerous incidents, one of which threatened MY only daughter, BUT with an eye to protecting both the safety of the innocent and the rights of any suspects. THAT'S what you HIRED me for, ISN'T it?"

"Not to harass an elderly man who's been nothing but good to my family for over 30 years! If you only KNEW, could only UNDERSTAND, what Barnabas has done for us.... But maybe it's beyond--- I'm sorry. I meant, there must be more likely suspects SOMEWHERE around here."

"You mean someone to take the heat off your family, like poor old Willie did back then, during the Maggie Shaw kidnapping? Or like that Burke Devlin did when he may have taken the rap for your father in a fatal accident before you were born?"

"That's NOT what I meant! And whatever my father may or may not have done is NOT germane, and, in all likelihood, neither are Willie's old problems!"

"The late Sheriff Patterson DID seem to think so, sir. He may not have acted on all his suspicions, but he left a considerable record of interconnected Collins incidents, perhaps in hope that someone FROM THE OUTSIDE would come in someday, and put things to rights. When I read those old papers, I DO feel a greater sense of my mission here. Like a scared trust! Maybe that wasn't your intention, but I've been told that you wanted the best person for this job, and I'd like to think I'm the best person to handle the current crisis, which Patterson almost PREDICTED. But you have to let me do it as I see fit, which may include actions that make your family uncomfortable."

David's voice took on a subtly derisive edge. "Mrs. Lacey, do you know WHY I chose YOU for this job, and not, for example, someone like your former partner? Because, though I dropped the final selection in my wife's lap, so to speak, I had all the candidates, a motley of politically-correct minorities and other female officers, investigated. Ms. Cagney simply didn't NEED a job as much as YOU did. She wouldn't have been happy to bury herself in this town, she didn't have a child she wished to protect from the big, bad city, or a sickly spouse who needed smog-free air. She had fulfilled most of whatever career goals she set for herself, while YOU, for some reason or other, couldn't even pass a sergeant's exam."

Hot tears sprang to Mary Beth's eyes, but she kept her voice low and SOMEWHAT level. "Passing a lousy TEST doesn't mean one can't do a good job in ANY profession. I KNOW my worth, Mr. David Collins, and so do my former colleagues in New York, and so does Job Woodard, and so does your WIFE, even if YOU don't. And as for your lousy PROMISES, they haven't panned out, have they? All of a sudden, there's an ugly crime spree, my little girl has been attacked, and my husband's gulping down heart meds like there's no tomorrow, smog or NO smog! And my former partner is spending her hard-earned vacation doing volunteer work for this Mickey-Mouse outfit YOU call a police force! SO, for as long as I am acting Sheriff of Collinsport, I WILL pursue any line of inquiry that leads to the resolution of this and any other cases that come my way. MUST I remind you that your oldest SON was ALSO in danger last night? You seemed eager to find the man or beast responsible, THEN. If your cousin IS somehow to blame, then it could be that he might just need psychiatric treatment and medication. Any D.A. would probably be sympathetic to his advanced age and failing health, and the simple fact that nobody has actually been KILLED, God forbid...."

David sputtered, "God forbid, indeed. And I am no stranger to my family's defects--- the Collinses have racked up 300 years' worth, I'm the FIRST to admit that! I am no stranger to having been in peril, either. My childhood seemed to consist of one ominous incident after another. I make jokes NOW about ghosts and such, but terrors from the past formed the landscape of my playground. I watch and worry over my children as much as you do over yours, Sheriff, to ensure that these problems don't spring up in the next generation. They've been good so far, as have been Jeremy and Pauline, save that the eccentricities of my wife's late uncle may have rubbed off on our Elliot. But they're QUITE benign. As our relationship with Barnabas became after a somewhat rocky start, but that was because, then, he wasn't much used to curious children or social life, being a very private person. But he got used to us quickly. We don't look back on those days, and we become anxious when reminded of them."

Mary Beth, after such a long and futile day, was wearing down, but refused to call more than a truce. "I understand that, sir. There's plenty of bad memories from MY work, but that's what keeps me going. I don't want MY bad memories to become YOUR bad memories, OR my daughter's, OR the Shaws', OR Jerusha Cane's. And to have any hope of THAT, even though you brought me here in bad faith, I AM committed to this job, and you HAVE to let me fulfill my duties in this matter. I couldn't live with myself if I did anything LESS. Neither would the people who are helping me. I DID instruct my cops, NOT to speak to that WBAM bimbo or the press. I'm willing to keep this low-key so long as nothing worse happens. And trust me, IF a non-Collins suspect IS discovered to be the REAL perpetrator, I'll shout it to the heavens if it makes you feel better! But PLEASE, Mr. Collins, DON'T chain me up while the hunt is on."

There was a sound on the other end of the line, two voices in brief but sharp argument, the other phone shaking around. Finally, a clear, equally resolute female voice came through. "Don't worry. Sheriff," Hallie Collins said decisively, "Do whatever you have to. You are NOT my husband's lackey, no matter what he may have led you to believe. Only the TOWN can get rid of you, and, trust me, the town NEEDS you. As long as you maintain your promise of discretion until necessary, I can assure you that David WON'T be making another such phone call."

"Not even if I have to ask for extra funds to pay for DNA tests?"

"If that's what you require, you WILL have them."

Proof of a God, after all? Well, Mary Beth thought she would need more evidence than that, but
she WAS grateful for every bone seemingly tossed from Above.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

PART EIGHT--- Sunday, April 16, 2000 (B)

Carolyn was in the drawing room, drinking coffee, and helping David's and Hallie's 10-year-old Hannah Louise assemble an old jigsaw puzzle from Carolyn's own childhood mementoes. This was an unusual pastime for a modern child, but Hannah was not much of a TV watcher, and only used the family computer to assist her schoolwork.

The half-completed picture on the puzzle depicted a sleek black stallion, a bright brown mare, and a grey Shetland Pony, being ridden around a lush meadow. "This is Black Beauty," Carolyn was explaining, "and his friends Ginger and Merrylegs. My mother bought me this for Christmas when I was about your age, because that was my favorite book. She told me it was HER girlhood favorite, as well."

"And now, it's MY favorite book!" Hannah replied. "Auntie Carolyn, is it STILL your favorite book, or do you have to give up your favorite book when you grow up? Is that why it's my favorite book now?"

"Well, I've enjoyed a LOT of books, Hannah, but I guess if St. Peter at the Pearly Gates asks me which one made the biggest impression and that I remembered the best, 'Black Beauty' would be a good answer. As for you, let's just say you inherited the Collins good taste. I hope there will ALWAYS be a little Collins girl who likes 'Black Beauty'. Heaven knows Pauline did NOT. The closest she ever came to liking a regular book was 'Pippi Longstocking'. You know, the one where the girl had all kinds of outrageous adventures. She was more of a comic-book lover, darn it."

"I think Pauline wishes she could fly like Supergirl, even though she's a grown-up and grown-ups can only fly in airplanes," Hannah said so sensibly, that Pauline's mother could only agree. "Aunt Carolyn, if they ever catch that bad animal who hurt the sheriff's daughter, do you think Mommy and Daddy could buy me a horse like Black Beauty, so I can ride him all over Collinwood?"

Carolyn smiled mischievously. "I don't think they'd like you to ride him all over Collinwood, he might knock over the furniture and all the china."

"I meant OUTSIDE!" Hannah, though incensed, started to laugh at the mental image of Black Beauty loose among the household antiques. "Oh, Aunt Carolyn, I love you but please don't tease me. Mommy doesn't. She says I'm her big helper, since Emily is at college, Bethany is busy studying and talking on the phone to boys in her class, and Nora's too little."

"Oh, Hannah, you're too young to have such an old head on your shoulders."

"Mrs. Johnson didn't use to think so," the little girl said. "When I was 5, she said I was more like Mommy than everyone else, besides just the name. She used to let me follow her around and help her with things. Kids aren't supposed to like chores, but I like to be busy. Like both of them. Mommy and Mrs. Johnson."

"Well, Mrs. Johnson didn't know how to relax and have fun once in a while, and she always believed that all these children were out to upset her housekeeping, dearly as she loved the lot of you. So of course she was happy to find a kindred non-nonsense spirit in the bunch, and took full advantage. Can't say that I blamed her, because Pauline was sloppier than a housefull of boys."

Hannah picked up the unused puzzle pieces, and rose. "Can we finish this later, Aunt Carolyn? I'd like to stretch my legs and then go see how Mommy's doing. I can't wait for the new baby to be born so that Mommy won't be so tired and can go out walking with me again. She said she's getting a new stroller so I can push the new baby in it while she and Marisol push the twins' big one. They can't go walking by themselves yet because they might be able to get around the safety rail on Widows' Hill. They're like little monkeys."

"Boy, more of Mrs. Johnson rubbed off on you than I thought," Carolyn mused. " 'Stretch my legs' and calling toddlers 'little monkeys'--- both favorites of hers. Oh, well, I have to consult the cook about dinner anyway."

Marisol came home from late Mass at St. Ann's about 6:20. She passed Carolyn in the foyer. She announced, solemnly, "Senora, I have the Holy Water, blessed by Padre Rondini."

"Well, thank you, Marisol," Carolyn said hesitantly. She had nearly forgotten the conversation about Amy's bites and--- what did Marisol call the mythical Mexican animal?

"How is the little Senorita Lacey? Have you heard lately?" Marisol asked anxiously. "I have been thinking that perhaps, she, too, has been attacked by Chupacabra. They take many forms, you know. Senorita Cane, for example, thinks hers was a man. And Senorita Jennings's 'mosquito bites' still bother her."

"But she never got sick like the other two girls. Marisol, I don't like to talk about my family to servants, but you're a bright girl and you'll probably figure this out by yourself anyway. Amy---Miss Jennings--- has a little drinking problem. That's why she was sick a few days ago. But now, she seems to be fine, if a little pale."

Marisol shook her head. "It is because the Chupa has been feeding elsewhere. Ah, well, I see you don't believe, but if you don't mind, I will sprinkle some Holy Water around where the children play, for protection. And I will offer to put some on Senorita Amy if she desires. And, perhaps, on Senorita Pauline. She came very close to it last night, and I wouldn't like it to come back to find her. Especially since.... Well, I'll go up and get the little ones ready for supper."

My, that was cryptic, Carolyn mused. Maybe she should sprinkle some on TONY, to keep HIM away from someone who might bleed him dry. He was home tonight, and said he wasn't due for another trip until what he called 'further notice', but his wife suspected THAT was because his 'business interest' was otherwise occupied. She even had her suspicions of who the 'interest' might be, but decided to keep everything under her hat until the present crisis was over.

This hurt terribly, though she hadn't actually married Tony out of a lasting passion that had stood the test of time and her brief marriage to Jeb Hawkes. In fact, at the time, she had been stinging because she had just discovered the whereabouts of Adam, and had been in communication with him, but gave up because he had, improbably, fallen in love with Hallie, who was eventually to reject him anyway in order to marry David. But in the window period before that happened, Tony had returned from a long sojourn in Bangor, to join the Garner firm that had always handled the Collins family's legal work. He behaved as though he had always really loved Carolyn, though sometimes she suspected he was pining for Roger's second wife Cassandra, who'd led him into helping her betray not only her husband, but the whole family, out of some little-understood motive of revenge.

Cassandra, however, had vanished without a trace and was, presumably, gone forever. Tony dated around, but most of the Collinsport women he might have been interested in were already taken. So he found himself back at Square One with Carolyn, who was nearing 30, and, though happy enough assisting her mother, uncle, and cousin in running the Collins Enterprises, longed to give Elizabeth grandchildren before it was too late.

It wasn't until after her ill-starred pregnancy that Carolyn REALLY began to appreciate her husband, though Tony HAD been, up to that time, a dependable, domesticated man and a good lover who erased what little memory she still had of her few passionate nights with the late Mr. Hawkes. They even went to childbirth classes together. But that proved tragically unecessary, as she had to have an emergency operation which yielded a dying premature son and a doll-sized daughter who somehow clung to life, and a damaged reproductive system that would provide no replacements if the second child expired.

Tony treated her like a QUEEN, then, perhaps out of guilt and compunction, but also with extra tenderness. Carolyn, emotionally adrift for years, first, due to her father's abandonment, then due to his brief return and tragic murder just ahead of Jeb's, was surprised to find herself settling into the housewife role, rather happily, though still with some connections to the family business; her consent was still necessary for projects to go through, so it behooved her to keep well-informed. Pauline's needs, serious in her earliest years, unified her parents, and then, she recovered and progressed rapidly, which unified them in delight. Life had become enjoyable at last. Carolyn considered that she now had the best of both worlds. Until the last couple of years, anyway, when Pauline was finally old enough not to need her mother as much. Then Elizabeth became ill, and needed her daughter TOO much. Then, after her death, TONY seemed not to need his wife as much. Sometimes David, Hallie, Amy, and the younger children did, but it wasn't the same. Carolyn felt like she was finally turning into her mother, but also shuffled off to the sidelines like her Uncle Roger.

It was then that Carolyn started to get occasional phone calls from ADAM, of all people. She had meant what she said about being relieved at not getting more involved with him in his early days, but her feeling of neglect and ennui was enough to make her relish and anticipate his calls. It went no further than that, and he often talked about Hallie and her uncle anyway. Not romantic at all! Still, he would pump her for news of the Collins businesses. She didn't THINK she was being indiscreet, but soon after, she heard that he'd bought out a lot of the family holdings, and sometimes wondered if it was because of something she'd said. She castigated him about it in their last call, about a month before his death. He swore that her innocuous revelations were already no news to him, he had connections and the Internet. Then, he hinted that certain persons or forces might be out to get him--- NOT David, though. Then she heard about his death under the alias he'd assumed, and wondered if the "forces" had gotten him after all.

Surreal. Surreal that her DAUGHTER now had a claim on his estate, and Hallie's son. No "forces" seemed to be after them, but all the funds were tied up at the moment, and waiting for Willie to make HIS choice. She wondered if he was going to give it to Maggie, and make her rich along with her daughter. Even after all these years, Carolyn believed that if Maggie gave the slightest hint she was interested in him, opened the door just a crack, so to speak, Willie would knock it off its hinges in his rush to join her. Carolyn WISHED she would....

She was interrupted in her revery by the sight of Quentin rushing out the door. "Where are you going?" she asked. "We'll be eating in an hour. Should a place be set for you?"

Quentin looked like someone who was trying VERY hard not to show some kind of upset. "No, Carolyn, I have to talk to Barnabas. About---about this Adam business. After all, Willie is directly affected."

"Yes, Barnabas knew Adam back then. I'm sure he'll advise Willie. But don't let him badger the poor fellow!" Carolyn smiled. "I think Willie is capable of making his own decisions. Though Barnabas WILL be upset when he hears he and Jeremy are barred from the selection."

"He has weightier matters on his mind, I'm sure. Tell the Cook not to get too worried later, when I come home and raid her refrigerator." A flash of his old grin, and he was off.

Jeremy answered the door this time. Poor young man looked positively ILL. But not sick enough to admit that he knew about his father. "Quentin, please let us be. Father's only just got back from Kennebunkport, and now, he's had an accident while climbing the stairs."

"Really? What kind of accident?"

"His wrist is broken. I set it for him, but he's in a lot of pain, and it will be a while before the pain pills I gave him work."

"Jeremy, please.... I won't disturb Barnabas if what you say is true, but Willie must have told you about my visit earlier. Just let me SEE him."

"We've had ENOUGH visitors. The Sheriff came this afternoon to search our house! Officer Hallett just came by to return Father's old DENTAL X-RAYS! Oh, God, thank God Sheriff Lacey couldn't get into my computer files...."

"Jeremy, PLEASE let me in. And for God's sake, tell me the TRUTH. I know ALL about your father, I'm surprised he hasn't told you about ME yet. We have NO secrets, and we BOTH have our own histories of doing harm without really meaning to. Jeremy, you KNOW he WAS, and, if I'm correct, IS now a vampire, and that he hurt two young girls already. Don't you?" Quentin had his hands on the younger man's shoulders, and gazed into Jeremy's hazel-brown eyes.

Jeremy stared back into Quentin's youthful, electric-blue ones. He wondered, not for the first time, why the eyes of a man in his late 50's hadn't faded like virtually everyone else his age, or why Quentin still had such vigor, like someone close to Jeremy's age. MORE than Jeremy had, himself!

Those eyes demanded the truth, and Jeremy was surprised at the relief it gave him to tell it. "Yes," he whispered fearfully. "It started happening almost 3 weeks ago. I've known about it for years, from papers Mother left for me. She left the formulae for her version of the cure, which worked in 1897. But this renewed curse resisted treatment. Still, he's only attacked two people, and I MIGHT be able to get him transfusions of human blood to supplement Mother's drugs, until I can come up with a better cure."

Quentin shook his head. "The 1897 treatments worked by the skin of Julia's teeth, as I recall. I think the REAL reason they did was because Angelique, who originally put the curse on him, was giving them after Julia had to return to modern times. I always wondered why she just didn't take the curse off herself, but maybe she wanted to leave him open in case she wanted to curse him again. I think that once a curse is taken off somebody, the same one who cursed him can't do it again. Like an immunity gained from a live virus, you might say. Or double jeopardy, perhaps. WHO did your father cross THIS time, who would put such a bane on him? Nicholas Blair? A born-again Count Petofi, God forbid? The ghost of a vengeful Levaithan?"

"Neither, Quentin," Barnabas said, as he shuffled, obviously suffering, into the parlor. "A strange twist of fate robbed me of what little was left of my earthly future, and replaced it with the eternal possibilities of an unearthly one!" In spite of his pain, Barnabas's eyes were lit with feral delight in his prospects. "Once my wing, I mean HAND, has recovered from Vicki Shaw's automotive insult!" His entire left arm was casted to prevent jarring of his wrist, and was suspended from the traditional sling.

Quentin, observing him. thought that something was missing, besides Barnabas's conscience. Then he realized what it was: Barnabas's swollen index finger was bare. The familiar black onyx ring was nowhere to be seen. "I know this seems like a trivial question, but where is your ring? Couldn't it fit on the other hand?"

"Actually, it does, but I have to do so many things with just one hand now, I fear the ring may become damaged or lost. So I must leave it in a safe place. But I can STILL use my cane!" Barnabas swung it in a threatening manner.

"Indeed, well, just remember, I've been a supernatural creature now for more years in a row than yourself, and my portrait simply will NOT tolerate the insult of your cane!" Quentin deftly grabbed it from Barnabas's trembling hand, and brandished it in HIS face, before tossing it to Jeremy. "Barnabas, please listen. You were a good man when you WERE a man, and even when you used to be a vampire, at least you TRIED to be good."

"Like YOU were, like WE were together when we conspired against your BROTHER?" Barnabas taunted.

Quentin turned marroon. "I was NEVER a good man, ironically enough, until AFTER that atrocious incident. It took a while, but Carl came back, and haunted my dreams for YEARS. Even NOW, when I do or say something I shouldn't, he's inside of me, giving me that look of hysterical despair he wore when I locked him in your mausoleum, hoping you'd put an end to him. Which you did soon enough."

Jeremy looked wildly from his father to his cousin, and gasped, "You---YOU were the brother of Carl Collins? In 1897? How can that be? Or was there another Carl Collins that Father killed?"

"So far as I know, there was ONLY one Carl Collins, and he was MY older brother," Quentin replied. "You see, Jeremy, your father isn't the only Collins to have found a way to live through centuries. For I, too, was under a curse--- I was once a werewolf. I had strangled my first and only wife back in 1897, though in my defense, she HAD tried to kill ME before, and had threatened to kill a friend of mine as well. My wife's sister turned out to be a Gypsy, and thought not only to curse ME, but to hurt all the Collinses for what they had done to keep her sick, miserable sister from her. And to hurt the townspeople for rejecting Gypsies. But she ended up HURTING Gypsies, because she found out, and I found out, afterward, that my late wife had borne twins while I was away, dallying with my sister-in-law. The curse extended to male children in my bloodline. So she made a desperate effort to save all of us, stealing a Gypsy relic that MIGHT have worked, but its owner came looking for it. Since this Count Petofi was perpetually fleeing Gypsies, he sought to exchange our bodies. To do this, he had one of his minions paint a magical portrait of myself, to absorb my curse AND to make me forever young, so he could enjoy his new life practically forever. In the process, a number of Gypsies died, including my little son. My daughter was saved, and became the grandmother of Amy Jennings and her brothers."

"Amy's oldest brother Christopher was also a werewolf," Barnabas explained. "Unfortunately, we never discovered how, but Sheriff Patterson found out his secret, and how to kill werewolves. He shot Christopher with silver bullets. The other brother, Tom, was, by Amy's account, only mildly afflicted, so she could control him, though she was just a child and couldn't understand it. But Tom came into contact with a vampire, was made into one himself, and I eventually had to exterminate him."

"Well, this explains why Amy's so angry and resentful of everything, including other people's children," Jeremy said. "Quentin's portrait did NOTHING for his descendants."

"I often think it was because it was painted for a selfish purpose, both Petofi's and mine," Quentin said sadly. "At that time, I had no idea that I had real live descendants who would suffer. My daughter had only one daughter, so the curse had skipped a couple of generations. If I knew what was to be, I would have made any sort of a bargain with Petofi to spare future generations, because, in spite of what passed between myself and their mother, I DID love my children, once I knew of their existence. If Petofi hadn't driven me away in his efforts to steal my body, I would have stayed to raise my daughter and find a solution. I've TRIED to make things up to Amy, and by being as good as I can to the present-day Collinses, who gave me back my home. In order to stay close to them without arousing suspicion, I had to do the opposite of what most aging people do--- I had to get plastic surgery to look OLD. Yet, when I was first cursed, I was just YOUR age, 27, and still AM, inside."

"But WHY did you help my father kill your own brother?" Jeremy asked. "Did you hate him that much? I don't understand that. I always wished I had brothers and sisters, and now I find out my cousin helped KILL his own!"

"My relationship with MY siblings was NOT warm and fuzzy, Jeremy. We had been orphaned at an early age, raised by our grandmother, who held a sword of Damocles over our heads with the threat of being cut from her will. So, from an early age, we were all in competition for the Collins fortune. It couldn't help but color our family attitudes, alas. Though, I must say, Carl WAS the least acquisitive of the lot. He was a gentle, timid boy, who made up for his inadequacies, by becoming a practical joker who harrassed everyone with the latest gag item. I heard he nearly scared Barnabas to death with a toy gun."

"I don't think I ever forgave Carl for that," Barnabas said. "There was something unnatural about someone getting the 'jump' on ME. But, as I told you, Jeremy, that was HARDLY the reason I killed him. He was going to expose my identity, in vengeance for his so-called 'fiancee's' murder. And, in turn---"

"Since Barnabas was trying to help ME," Quentin said, "with my then-brand-new curse, this would have been a threat to my OWN existence. I WAS a selfish bastard, no question about it. But why are YOU interested in Carl Collins, Jeremy?"

"Because I had a vision of Angelique, and she told me that only someone who didn't deserve to die at my Father's hands would have the power to save him, by bringing together his or her descendants, or maybe, descendants of friends. So far, of those I've been able to track, just about everyone had NO descendants."

"Well, I'm afraid you'll have to scratch Carl from the list as well," Quentin said regretfully. "You see, his inadequacies may have included physical ones as well. He had been a sickly child who grew up to have a terrible craving for love from a woman who DIDN'T remind him of our grandmother or our spinster sister, and he envied ME for bringing home a beautiful bride I'd met during her career as a singer. So, he would go on holidays to resorts where there were burlesque-type and sideshow entertainments, and at least once a year, would bring home some talentless, low-brow showgirl as a fiancee. And our poor sister and brother would go behind Carl's back, and pay the girls to leave, which they usually did without protest. Carl was terribly immature, and grated on his companions' nerves--- I doubt he consummated ANY of his romances, or if he did, to put it bluntly, he must have 'fired blanks'. Because, it stands to reason that a young, so-called 'lady' would SURELY come after the Collins money if she was, to put it delicately, 'knocked up'.""

Jeremy's face was full of despair. "Still, I might as well complete his file. Did you meet any of his fiancees? Can you tell me their names?"

"Sorry, Jeremy, I can only recall the last two. One went by the name of Miss Daisy Violet Meadow, 'danceuse exotique extraordinaire' from Albany, New York, whom Carl brought home in 1896, before I left my wife. The 'dancing' consisted of some obscene gestures involving 7 veils, which would have embarrassed the Hell out of the Biblical Salome. The other fiancee, I only knew by reputation, since she was killed before I met her, and her spirit was somehow made to possess a corrupt minister's very repressed daughter. The showgirl's name was Pansy Faye. She and Carl barely knew each other for a month before she died, so even if he DID the deed, there was to be no fruit of the union."

Jeremy went upstairs to his computer with a heavy heart, though he WOULD run a check on "Daisy Violet Meadow." There MIGHT be mention of her somewhere, possibly with a real name, since he doubted that was the name she'd been christened with. He sent an e-mail to a historian friend who lived in the Albany area. Then, weary and aware that he had to get up very early to bring his father to Dr. Heard's office,
and figuring that Quentin would stay with Barnabas for a while, he took what he intended to be a brief nap.

Downstairs, Quentin asked quietly, "So what DO you think brought this on?"

"The death of the billionaire formerly known as Timothy A. Samwell," Barnabas said bluntly. "It's the ONLY explanation. For Samwell, or 'Adam', rather, was no ordinary man. He was synthesized from the body parts of numerous men by a doctor named Lang, who intended him to cure my curse by absorbing my life force and all my consciousness, but as it worked out, Adam CLEANSED me somehow, and by complex empathy, kept the vampire state from affecting EITHER of us. Of course, I thought that this influence had broken several times, when I went back in time and became a vampire, and different schemes were employed to cure me, including Angelique's removal of the curse in 1841. I had often wondered how Adam fared through all this. Still, he wasn't immortal by any means, nor am I, and he must have still had an enduring bond with me, so when it was broken by his death, all the vampire behavior came back."

"Did Willie tell you about his will, and how the children of your victims will inherit large shares, but not you or your son?

"I barely listened at first. I was SO angry, I would have killed him for interfering with me last night. And Pauline. At least I didn't BITE the two of them. But, fortunately, Jeremy was on hand to forestall my rage. Then, Willie was able to tell me about the will. He even said Adam is not buried or cremated, but FROZEN until he can be brought back to life. I doubt mere mortals would be able to accomplish this."

"You wouldn't WANT him revived in the condition in which he died," Quentin shuddered. "I saw him, and it was horrible. He was bruised and broken all over."

"I DON'T. Because I may NEVER want to BE cured."

"BARNABAS! You CAN'T mean that! Think of your son, your family, your friends, the nice life you've had for 30 years!"

"A life that would have shortly come to a natural end, wracked with pain and weakness." Barnabas shuddered. "I have no portrait like yours, Quentin. Not that I begrudge it. If a man has a prize like that, he should take full advantage. But you have NO business giving ME a sermon on willingness to embrace mortality!"

"No, perhaps I shouldn't. But I AM worried about the young ladies and boys. Stay away from them. Jeremy will get you blood."

"I need YOUNG blood. You know, Quentin, when I tasted Alice Lacey's, last night, it was as though I'd taken a vitamin tonic. There must be something to this vegetarian business, as that's her habit. I felt years younger as it was, from the Cane girl, but when blood comes from a tender and pure young virgin, it has magical power." Barnabas's mouth watered. It was a grotesque and ugly sight, like a dog turned into a man. "Too bad she's in the hospital. At this time, her parents and her mother's friend Miss Cagney---" At the mention of this name, Barnabas gave an involuntary choke, which intrigued Quentin--- "They will be surrounding her at all times."

Quentin sneered, "Isn't that just TOO DAMNED BAD! And I'd better NOT hear of you approaching OUR young womenfolk, either! Because if you DO, Barnabas, with the attitude you've assumed, without even a pretense of remorse or restraint, I will have to do something about it--- as soon as I discover your hiding place, which, I suspect, is NOT in this house."

"Your suspicion is correct. Though I WOULD suggest that you rethink any plan of exposing me, Quentin. Because you DO have a vulnerable spot--- SEVERAL, actually. If I were YOU, I would go about shoring up my defenses before mounting ANY attacks. Do we understand each other?"

Quentin turned white. He wondered if he would be brave enough, in the direst emergency, to sacrifice his own existence to save ANYONE. Better not to test his resolve, perhaps. The portrait--- his first order of business would be to get that from its already fairly secure hiding place to one even MORE secure. Then, he worried about Pauline, though, to his relief, he hadn't found a mark on her during her "examination." A threat against her might be idle, anyway, since Quentin would be on the lookout for any signs of vampire violence from now on. Maybe, if he let it slip that Pauline was no longer in what anyone would call a "pristine" state, for which he was responsible, thus diminishing any appeal she had for Barnabas--- but that course would be frought with peril, if the vampire chose, instead, to merely kill her in vengeance.

A sense that he WAS interested in the well-being of both his lover AND their unborn child after all, was growing in Quentin more and more, when he was made to recall what had happened to his first family. The significance of the fact, that it was talking about CARL which had brought this about, was NOT lost on his guilty brother.

Who else was left? Quentin hardly considered AMY, much as he cared for his great-grand-daughter.
Pretty and, perhaps, INTACT, as she still was, Amy had passed her fortieth birthday AND had been a favorite of Barnabas's since childhood. Still, nobody was ever completely safe from a vampire, and Quentin WOULD check in with her as soon as he got back to Collinwood. Though living in the same house, they had missed each other, not difficult to do in a 40-room mansion.

All covered, Quentin thought confidently. "I understand perfectly well, Barnabas, but the gauntlet has been thrown. All I can do now, is HOPE Jeremy succeeds with his research and whatever alse he can do for you. It would be a horrible thing for a son to have to help kill the father he idolizes." And with that, Quentin stalked out of the house.

Barnabas stood alone. Willie was out, making the new hiding place more secure, and Jeremy was upstairs; whether napping or on the 'Net, he was unlikely to come down for a while. Barnabas put on his cape and went outside. He was NOT surprised to see Amy waiting for him in the old gazebo in the garden behind the Old House. She seemed, already, to anticipate his needs, and her own need to fulfill them. The stonework of the gazebo, while worn and cracked from years of exposure to the elements, provided a shelter from easy observation, helped in part by bushes allowed to grow immense around it. Nobody saw Amy open her jacket and her blouse collar for Barnabas's easy access, nor did anybody hear her nearly orgasmic groan of mingled pain and pleasure when he opened her wounds anew.

Replete for the moment, Barnabas said, "Soon, I think I will allow you to join me in my new life, Amy."

"Please, why can't it be NOW?" she whispered.

"You must prove yourself worthy in two ways. You must prove you have no compunction of conscience, and you must prove that you have no fear of death. Because you must die, and lose your soul to join me."

Amy shuddered. "It won't HURT, will it?" Once more she looked like a frightened child.

"No more than what we have been doing so far," Barnabas assured her. "And I will be LOVING you throughout. That's what you WANT, isn't it? What you can't get from David?"

Amy, in spite of her bloodletting, still managed to blush. "Yes, I suppose so."

"Excellent! Now, Amy, what is the most evil thing you EVER wanted to do? What is the most evil thing you can think up to do NOW?"

Without hesitation, she replied, "To get even with Quentin and Pauline. To hurt them BOTH."

Though Barnabas knew Amy's feelings about that romance, he was surprised at the new tone of vehemence.
"Why? What have they done to you NOW?"

"She's PREGNANT! I overheard them this morning. He was ANGRY at her for endangering the brat, even though I don't think he REALLY wants it. But she's going to have it, with or without his say-so. SHE'S going to have what HE told me I COULDN'T!" Amy began to cry. "And HE gets to go on with HIS life, thanks to that damned portrait! It's all so UNFAIR!"

"PREGNANT!" Barnabas exclaimed. Now, THAT sounded appetizing--- blood stolen from the unborn was said to have powers of rejuvenation beyond that of virgins' blood. He would have ONE up on his cousin before the night was over and he had to face that know-nothing Dr. Heard early in the morning. TWO, even.
"Amy, you must think of a pretext to bring Pauline to me TONIGHT, at Widow's Hill. And Quentin will be moving his portrait to another hiding place, I'm almost certain. You must get him to tell you where, or follow him to it. I'll have more orders for you afterward. Get to Collinwood NOW."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Amy arrived at Collinwood at the same time Christine Cagney did. The two women exchanged glances. Christine was surprised at the coldness of Amy's expression. What did I ever do to HER? she wondered.

"Are you here on behalf of Sheriff Lacey?" Amy asked, the chill in her voice, as well.

"In a way, yes. I called earlier to borrow some of young Elliot's books, the ones written by his great-uncle Professor Stokes. It's not part of the OFFICIAL investigation, but I've heard there may be some clues in them. You knew Professor Stokes, of course. Would you say he was a sensible man of learning, or an eccentric dabbler in superstition?"

Amy replied, airily, "Oh, a dabbler in superstition, definitely. He was kind of senile toward the end, but Elliot hung on to his every word. As an educator in the REAL world, I can say that nothing was added to the world's store of knowledge by MORE pointless books on parapsychology."

"THANKS for the thumbnail review, Ms. Jennings. Considering its source, now I KNOW those books HAVE to be worthwhile." Christine smirked at the Principal, who, under the porch light, seemed more pale than ever.

Elliot opened the door, though Amy had her key ready. She asked if Quentin was around, and Elliot informed her that he had come in but hadn't been seen since. "He was headed toward the attics, last I saw."

Amy disappeared upstairs. Christine looked after her for a long moment. "Did she ever get over that sickness she caught the night of the dinner?" she asked the boy. "She's white as a ghost, to coin a phrase."

"The only things that ail my cousin are demon rum and that dread Hawaiian disease, 'Lakkanukkiie'," Elliot replied in a clipped, precise tone..

"EXCUSE me?" Christine said, shocked. "That woman may be your cousin, but she's also old enough to be your mother, AND is the principal of your high school. And I am quite likely to report your words to the mother of your sweetheart, if not YOUR mother."

"But I can see you agree," the boy said with a wink.

Christine laughed. "Yes, she DOES have a 'lean and hungry look' about her, all right. But hungry for what?" she asked rhetorically. "A good man to 'straighten her out'? Something tells me that's NOT exactly the case.
Oh, well, Elliot, do let me see those books."

He led the way to the study, where two long walls were crammed with antique books, and leather recliners ready for readers to stretch out upon. In between, stood the computer desk, the tableau a commentary on the old and new at Collinwood. Christine was also somewhat relieved to see the hostess gift, the plate with the picture of the old police station, on its display easel near the computer, as Hallie had promised.

Elliot pulled out three thick volumes. "My great-uncle's life's work is in these books. He was published in Europe and even Russia when it was still Communist, because they had government departments specializing in the use of parapsychology for defense purposes. The Americans had one, may STILL have one, but they deny it more than the Russians ever did."

"Real 'X-Filey' stuff there," Christine joked. "I SHOULD have called Mulder and Scully. Instead, you have to make do with Cagney and Lacey." She looked in a book entitled, "Fallen Angels Who Walk Among Us: Physical Manifestations of the Supernatural." This sounded like what she'd wanted to read, and she was right. There was a WHOLE section on "Vampires and those who WOULD be vampires."

There was much intelligent discussion of how early humans came up with the concept of vampirism, aside from the obvious, those who actually lived with vampire bats in nature. When people were bitten by bats back then, they sometimes contracted rabies, with its symptoms of desire to hide from light, raging thirst aligned with aversion to water, and erratic behaviors. They ultimately died, but usually not before they managed to infect others, usually their caretakers, who were usually female. Other ailments, anemias, cancers, porphyria, and especially tuberculosis, were often believed to be vampirically-induced. Indeed, victims of tuberculosis were also the victims of grave desecration, the corpses often disturbed, even mutilated and burned, in an effort to stop the spread of the dread disease. One poor consumptive girl was made to ingest the charred heart of her late brother, a gruesome bit of homeopathy intended to cure her, though, of course, she ended up dying anyway. This went on until the early years of the 20th century, usually in rural areas, but one read of cases of mysterious, hurried, midnight burials even in large cities like New Haven, Connecticut.

And the purely psychological and cultural anomalies that sometimes incited the behavior were even more baffling, as one might expect. Here was the story of the grisly doings of the tyrant-cum-folk hero Vlad Dracul, basis of the Dracula tale, and Elizabeth Bathory, who craved virgin's blood, and became one of the worst mass/serial murderesses of all time. And, also, here the Professor inserted examples from his own experience. He had actually MET some of these Nosferatu wanna-bes! Then, an anecdote caught Christine's attention. Professor Stokes described

"....an otherwise mild-mannered fellow I had met in the course of researching my family history.
He and his family were plagued, or so they believed, by a series of ugly dreams that eventually
seemed to culminate in a vision of great, carnivorous bats. I interceded, even having the dream
myself, but to no avail. This gentleman, target of the dream, supposedly 'died' as a result, and for some reason, buried without benefit of clergy or even a proper grave, due to fear of some consequence of this dream. However, the diagnosis was wrong, and I ended up having to help dig him back up. Much, much later, after he had recovered, he confided that, indeed, he HAD been bitten by a bat, and felt vampiric urges. But this, he insisted, was NOT the first time, that he had been so afflicted for years and years. He offered proofs, signs which I, in my fondness, had, perhaps, CHOSEN to shrug off. I knew then, he HAD either been a vampire, or a man so extremely deluded due to mental or physical illness, that he practiced ALL the habits, both benign and malign, of such a state. But once the source of the disturbance, an ex-wife, had left forever, he was eventually cured, and happily remarried."

"Elliot, have you READ all these books?" Christine asked.

"Cover to Cover," came the assured reply. "And if you're wondering, yes, Great-Uncle Elliot DID describe some of the goings-on around here, with names changed or no-names, composite details and incidents, glossed-over to protect the innocent, or those regaining their innocence. This town has made several "most haunted places in America' lists."

"Elliot, what do YOU think is going on around here?"

"Probably just what my great-uncle said. Someone is under a delusion that he, or she, is a vampire. If possible, the person has augmented this role with a trained animal. Maybe one bred for the purpose.
If so, this person, or persons, can be defeated as one defeats a vampire."

"You mean a stake through the heart? I'm sorry, I don't THINK we'll be playing it like that!"

"No, no.... But they'll be sensitive to seeing Crosses, smelling garlic, and Holy Water, and they'll steer clear of mirrors, even though the lack of an image is only in their minds. They'll hide in a casket or darkened room by day, and scream in pain if exposed to the sun. But the catch is, the person DOING this stuff ALSO has to believe! No atheists can pull THIS job off--- vampire people are very sensitive to their opponents' sincerity."

"Well, thanks anyway. I'd like to show this to the Sheriff. I have to get back to the hospital. Mary Beth wants someone in the room with Alice at all times, and I'm going to relieve her."

Elliot's face became sad, and very childlike. "I miss Alice and I wish I could just run up to see her, like any other boyfriend. She's the only girl who ever understood me so well and so soon. But I'm afraid of not being able to see her because I overheard my father having a ferocious fight with the Sheriff over the phone about searching Cousin Barnabas's house. The Sheriff probably hates ALL of us."

Christine laid an arm over the boy's shoulders. "No, she DEFINITELY likes your mother, who broke up the fight. And she was really moved by the way you tried to take care of Alice and Vicki. She's probably uncomfortable about how you're already going steady--- do they still call it that?--- so soon, but you and Alice don't seem to act like other kids. When this is all over, she'll accept the situation, I'm sure."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

It didn't take long for Amy to discover where Quentin had hidden the portrait, but she was dismayed when she watched him lock the small, oaken-doored closet with a newly-installed deadbolt from the maintenance shed. There had to be SOME way to get the key.

Coaxing Pauline out to Widows' Hill was far easier. Amy played the concerned cousin. "Pauline, Quentin TOLD me about the baby."

"You're not angry, are you?" The younger woman asked. "Quentin said you couldn't let yourself have children because of the--the insanity in your family. That's too bad, because I'm SURE there's a doctor who could help with, um, Lithium and strong medicine like that. That's what I'M going to do with ours."

"Pump your child up with Lithium? Well, whatever works for you.... Anyway, he told me he'd like you to come outside and see the moon from Widows' Hill. He said he had something VERY important to ask you."
Amy's voice dropped to a whisper. "Something tells me he's in the marrying mood!"

Pauline's berry-brown eyes lit with an almost pathetic joy. "REALLY? He keeps telling me he doesn't even want the word 'love' used between us, even though I think he does---"

"Oh, he does, I'm SURE of it!" Amy trilled. "It's something one just FEELS when they're closely related, and WE are closer cousins than I am to YOU. Look, I have no illusions about his history, either. I KNOW he always wriggles away from his ladies at the last minute, but he still feels terrible about his first wife---oh, I can see by your expression he didn't tell you about her, OR their children."

"He-he said he avoided having children so they wouldn't get sick!"

"Well, it happened when he was VERY young, before he was told to worry about any family illness. It was over long before that, anyway. Jenny, the wife, had his twins, then went crazy and got herself killed. Then, the babies DIED." And THAT'S no lie, Amy thought--- Jenny Collins had gotten herself killed by Quentin, and her babies DID die, but one HAD lived to age 70--- Amy's grandmother, Lenore!

"This wife," Pauline asked, "is she the one he says that sang for him and went to Heaven?"

"Oh, yes! Jenny was a wonderful singer. And his girlfriend Olivia Corey, who came after--- she was a Broadway star! Quentin was always a sucker for singers and dancers and such. But losing them hurt him so much, it took him 30 years to find another wonderful girl, and if you'll hurry out to Widows' Hill, he'll be sure to reward you as you deserve!"

Pauline needed no further inducement. She grabbed a jacket, and rushed down to the foyer, Amy trailing behind. She nearly collided with Christine and Elliot, who were speaking quietly near the stairs. Christine DID drop the book Elliot had lent her, and said, as she picked it up, "My God, you'd think she was on her way to fight a fire. What we would have given to have a fleet-foot like HER in our old precinct, instead of some of the flat-foots we were saddled with."

"You would have had to provide her with a Wonder Woman costume instead of a uniform," Elliot said, grinning. "Or Xena's designer breastplates."
* * * * * * * * * * *

Pauline ran up the isolated, but well-lit path to Widows' Hill, the aptly-named overlook that ended in a hundred-foot drop over some very jagged, ocean-whipped boulders. The stout metal railing, 10 feet tall and erected 25 years earlier, was a comforting sight, which, thanks to cunningly-designed cut-outs, barely obscured the ocean view. However, the most comforting sight was NOT in view--- Quentin was nowhere to be seen. Well, he was probably on his way. Pauline sat in one of two wrought-iron benches, cold in the April evening, and sighed heavily. I'm breathing for two, now, she thought.

The was a sudden sound rustling in some nearby bushes, thought there was no wind.. Pauline looked around, expecting to see her laggard lover. Instead, to her horror, she saw--- saw the BEAST coming at her along the ground. Worse, before she could rise to escape, she saw it turn into a MAN--- it was BARNABAS!
Then, she recalled something she'd forgotten, had been MADE to forget.

"You---you bit Alice!" she choked, "Then you SLAPPED Willie when he hit you with the Cross! I HEARD your voice as you swore at him! What--what ARE you?"

"Nothing you will remember after tonight, unless I need you again," her cousin said, leering at her in the moonlight. He eyed her swollen bosom, a condition that had begun as soon as she suspected her pregnancy, and her middle. ESPECIALLY her middle.

"Jeremy made me forget! And I was GOOD! I DID forget, until now!" Pauline wailed. "Am I going to be punished?"

"No, my dear, you just have something I require, and I PROMISE you will not suffer, but ONLY if you look into my eyes." Barnabas, whose left arm was still in a sling, reached out and gently touched Pauline's throat at the point where the jaw joined the neck. Though using only the one hand, he had a powerful grip that forced the girl, who was paralyzed with shock and terror, to look straight into his eyes. "You are like your mother," Barnabas said. "But once she got used to my habits, she blossomed in ways she could not have imagined. If you will allow me just a few drops of your unborn child's blood, I will do the same for you."

Pauline, fascinated by the depths of her cousin's feral eyes, asked them, "How will you get it? Will it hurt?"

Barnabas, confident of her trance-like state, removed his hand slowly, and reached under his cape, to find a scabbard around his waist. He slowly extracted a razor-sharp stiletto knife, but kept it from her view. "Oh, no, my dear," he said, as he gently raised her jacket and sweater, and prepared to slash her ever so lightly on the belly. "You and the child won't feel a thing, and in the morning this will be just another dream. Quentin won't notice a thing." The stiletto point touched her just below the navel----

A sound of a child's prattling could be heard, getting louder as the owner came up the path. The voice of a much older woman could be heard, answering. Barnabas shuddered, and quickly stuck the knife back under his cloak. He gazed once more into Pauline's eyes. "Pauline, we will resume this another time, but there's something I need you to do to distract those people while I escape." What he asked only took her a minute to do, as the beast skittered back under the bushes.

Hannah Louise came around the bend. She was holding the hand of a very old lady. What she saw next made her drop her companion's hand, and clutch her own to her mouth. "Hush!" the old lady commanded in a whisper. "This must be WHY I had the urge to walk tonight. But you must be quiet, or she'll fall...."

Pauline, still in a trance, stood neatly, yet precariously balanced on the top railing over the notorious cliff that had claimed many another confused young woman. The old lady approached slowly, and coaxed in a soothing tone, "Come, Pauline, you must bend down easy to this side, and we will catch you." The girl turned her head toward the sound, but seemed to look right through the woman on the ground.

Hannah tugged at the old lady's arm. "Mrs. Johnson, I don't THINK you can do that in your condition, and I'm too small. We need help!"

"If we leave to find help, she may fall anyway. But you are right, sweetheart. YOU must run like the wind, to find help! I THINK I can keep her steady if I can make her turn to face this way again."

Hannah wasted no time. She ran back down the path towards Collinwood.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Christine was unlocking her car door, when she took one last look at the moonlight over the great mansion. She dropped the book on the front seat, and took a short walk to a clearing among the trees where one could see out to Widows' Hill and the ocean. For one minute, she longed to be below the cliff, on the walkway, and hearing HIS voice, admiring and caressing as a stroke along her back---

She turned around, and there HE was, running his good hand down her back. "Barnabas," she whispered. "What are you doing here?"

"Why, this is STILL my home--- the Old House and its grounds are simply an adjunct to this property. So far, David has not forbidden me the right to walk the grounds, or from visiting--- as I was just about to. I've been worried about both Hallie and Roger, and I missed them while all the trouble has been going on. However, I TRUST that I have been cleared of suspicion, in both the Sheriff's and YOUR eyes?"

"Well, I understand your latest alibi passed muster, though as a born Democrat, I can't say I approve your taste in friends. But whether you hang out with the Bushes OR the Gores is none of my business. However, if you had prefixed everything you've said with a simple inquiry as to Alice Lacey's condition, I MIGHT have softened up a little. But, then, it's ALL about YOU, ISN'T it, Barnabas? And all about the whole damn Collins Family! It's a good thing that Elliot is such a sweet kid, or I'd lump him in the same category as his lousy father, your jerk cousin David!"

"What on Earth did DAVID do?"

"He only called my partner--- I guess I'll always think of Mary Beth as my partner--- and dragged her over the coals for doing her sworn duty, searching your house from stem to stern. Did it EVER occur to you people that we DO that to CLEAR suspects, as much as to gather evidence against them? Mary Beth found little to implicate you, Willie, and Jeremy, BECAUSE she is so thorough! And she is NO planter of evidence, either--- there is not a paper clip there that YOU or the others didn't drop. And, THEN, NOT merely satisfying himself by criticizing Mary Beth's professionalism, David let it slip that he had her appointed
SOLELY to make his stupid company town seem more politically correct and 'with it', to attract investors that HE lost, screwing around selling stock on the Internet! I had to call my BROTHER to confirm that little tidbit, since I'm not a regular reader of the Wall Street Journal or a guest user on Ameritrade!"

"I AM aware of some of David's bad business decisions, and I agree whole-heartedly that he shouldn't hold your friend accountable, any more than he does Hallie. But that's an ingrained Collins habit, being at odds with the laws of ordinary society."

"Oh, Christ, Barnabas, are the Collinses related to Leona Helmsley, and her 'taxes--- and every other human restraint--- are for the little people'? I happened to grow up rich on my mother's side, yet I DON'T agree with this attitude. That's why I worked my way up through the ranks of the police, like my father before me. It's clear to see that, even if you ARE cleared of any complicity, our parting WAS for the best, since we will never share the same viewpoint on ANYTHING!"

Even in the pale, silvery moonlight, Barnabas wore a visible expression of contrition. For a scant second, Christine felt moved to touch his face, reach for his hand, anything to get that magical feeling of tenderness back, but too much water had already passed under their rickety bridge.

Just then, a young girl, whom Christine recognized as Hannah Louise Collins, ran up the drive and right into the older woman, shouting something about Pauline--- "up on the rail--- going to fall--- and please HURRY!"

Christine bolted after the child, trying her best to keep up, though she was easily winded these days. Barnabas, propelling himself with his cane, was close behind. There was another, behind HIM--- Marisol, who had been looking for Hannah Louise, who wasn't supposed to be outside after dark, in any case. In her pocket, at the ready, was the bottle of Holy Water. Senorita Pauline might be in danger from the Chupacabra out there.

Hannah led the group up the path to Widows' Hill, hushing them as Mrs. Johnson had hushed HER. Christine and Marisol were relieved to find Pauline still intact, still waiting for some kind of internal signal, on the thin ledge of the railing.

Christine tried what Mrs. Johnson had done--- coaxing Pauline, to no avail. "Well, at least we don't have a mob of crazies urging her to jump, as sometimes happens in the city," she whispered to the others. "But I can't climb this thing, and while Hannah probably could, I'm certainly not about to risk HER life."

Then, when Pauline saw Barnabas, she seemed to come out of her trance, which was actually worse, since she now realized where she was, and shook with terror. "Please get me down," she whimpered. "I don't know HOW I even got up here."

Barnabas stepped up, holding out the wolf's head on his cane. "Pauline, you MUST lean over this way again, as steadily as you can, and reach down to the cane. If you can do that, we will be able to catch you without everybody falling like dominoes."

Hannah, who had been consulting Mrs. Johnson, stood directly, perilously, beneath Pauline, and called up, "You have to take really deep breaths through your nose, Pauline. That's the only thing that'll calm you down. Then you'll be able to do what Cousin Barnabas and Miss Cagney tell you."

"That's a sensible little girl there," Christine commented. "Come on, Pauline, just look at us, and do it. Think, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself." She glanced at the others, and muttered, "It's the only inspirational thing I could come up with."

"The only thing I have to fear," Pauline repeated, and took the breath. It supposedly worked for laboring mothers in those LaMaze classes, and she wanted more than anything to be at the head of THAT class.
She exhaled. "Is fear itself. The only thing I have to fear---" another breath---"is fear itself." Two more breaths, an agonizing wait for those below, and Pauline managed to lower her body just enough to touch Barnabas's cane. The others reached for her, but it was a moment too soon, and Pauline tumbled from their grasp, her left foot getting entangled in the rail as she fell. In her struggle to free it, she crashed onto Barnabas, and rolled down the path a short way, into a bench.

Barnabas rose immediately, surprising to the others, considering his age and condition. Everyone ran to the stunned Pauline's side. "Don't pick her up, she may have some kind of internal injury," Christine warned. She reached into her pocket, extracted a cell phone she had borrowed from Mary Beth, and called for an ambulance.

While they waited, Quentin tore up the path to meet them. "My God," he gasped as he got a good look at the scene. "I couldn't believe it when Amy told me Pauline was coming out here, alone in the dark with the stalker loose." He threw Barnabas a quick, dirty look. "But she said Pauline was upset and wanted to sit and look at the moon. It's SO unlike her, even though she hasn't been feeling well lately." Then he fell silent, and sank to the girl's side. He stroked her hair and bent to kiss her forehead.

"Who are YOU?" Christine asked. "I know you're not her father."

"I'm Quentin Collins. You must be Miss Cagney, Elliot said you were at the mansion, just before this happened. I'm a distant cousin, but I've been close friends with her parents for years."

"Has Pauline ever threatened suicide before?" Christine asked as gently as she knew how. This Quentin Collins seemed almost as grief-stricken as the girl's real father would be--- or even a lover!

Marisol spoke up. "Senorita Pauline had NO reason to kill herself, very much the opposite. It was the
Chupacabra calling her. She escaped it the other night, but it will not be stopped. Still, I will give her some blessed Holy Water now. It will help strengthen and heal her."

There was no valid objection Christine could make, even though she had reacted to a girlhood of strict Irish Catholic schooling and churching with an adulthood of free-wheeling Agnosticism Marisol was very careful, sprinkling some drops on Pauline's face and neck, murmurring prayers. She wore a small, plain Cross on a fine chain, which dangled above the prone young woman. Barnabas, who had been kneeling on the side opposite from Quentin, turned his head away, toward where Hannah was sitting with Mrs. Johnson. Then, some drops fell on his hand, and he jerked it away as if in pain. These gestures were NOT lost on Quentin, Marisol--- and Christine.

"My hand was getting numb in that position," Barnabas explained. "I am getting stiff in the knees. I'd better sit on a bench." He eased himself up and sat next to Hannah Louise.

The ambulance could not come up the path. The four stout young male paramedics arrived with a stretcher, since a gurney would have been difficult to move on the path, which, though paved, was winding and hilly.
Carolyn, David, and Elliot arrived in their wake--- Tony had been out for a couple of hours, and David and Elliot were interrupted in their search for Hannah Louise. Amy had mentioned that Quentin had gone up to see if Pauline was on Widows' Hill, but that seemed to have nothing to do with Hannah, who, like her siblings, occasionally got out of the house after hours without official leave. NOBODY was aware of an emergency until they heard the ambulance siren.

Carolyn wept over her daughter, who was, only now, coming back to consciousness. Pauline suddenly gave a groan, and began writhing on the stretcher. The paramedics seemed to recognize the cause of her distress, but had to strap her down tightly so she wouldn't slip out along the pathway. Quentin put an arm around Carolyn, walking down the path to the ambulance, which the mother was permitted to enter, and jumped into his own car to follow it.

David took his daughter in hand. "Hannah Louise, I had no idea you went outside, nor anyone else, until Marisol took off after you. You were supposed to be in your room. You KNOW it's extra dangerous to be out after dark these days."

Hannah wound her arms around her father's waist. "You know I can take care of myself, Daddy. I HAVE to, with all the sisters and brothers and the new baby coming. Anyway, I wouldn't have gone out if Mrs. Johnson hadn't wanted to. That was okay, wasn't it, Daddy? You know you could always trust Mrs. Johnson. And it's a good thing, because Pauline would have fell right into the ocean if we didn't show up!
She just must have climbed that railing like a monkey, but her brain must be very tired since she doesn't seem to remember how or why she did it."

"I think YOU have a tired brain right now, baby," David said sadly. He lifted his daughter in his arms. "Hannah Louise, we've gone over this again and again. Maybe you were inspired by Mrs. Johnson's example to help Pauline, but Mrs. Johnson herself couldn't have helped you."

"Who's this Mrs. Johnson?" Christine asked.

Elliot said, "She was our head housekeeper for over 30 years. Very fond of Hannah here. But she passed away 6 months ago."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tony had called home, and, upon hearing about his daughter, hurried to join his wife at Seamen's Memorial Hospital. He was surprised to see Quentin there, though, he supposed, Carolyn's cousin had been tapped to join her to provide moral support, since David didn't like to be far from Hallie's side these days. Tony felt tremendous guilt when he saw his wife's condition. Carolyn hadn't stopped crying since Pauline had been found, and the doctors wouldn't let her into the examining room. Then, the doors to that room burst open, and the anguished parents watched their daughter being wheeled to an elevator which led to the surgical floor downstairs.

Tony caught up with Dr. Heard, who was running after the others. "What did you find wrong with my daughter?" he cried.

The doctor breathlessly replied, "She broke a rib and an ankle, but that's not the reason we have to move. She began hemorrhaging while we were examining her, then she suddenly started to ab--miscarry---"

"MISCARRY!" Tony shouted, not caring who heard. "MY daughter is---was PREGNANT? WHO---"

"I have no idea, and I have NO time to find out," the doctor said, as he moved away from Tony. "I have to get down there now, to stop that bleeding, and save Pauline's ability to have more children---" He jumped into the elevator.

"Who could have DONE this?" Tony demanded, shaking with grief and rage. "It HAD to be Jeremy, she went out with him a few times a couple of months ago, then he stopped so he could see Vicki Shaw. Maybe that's why she wanted to kill herself!"

"She was out with him the other night!" Carolyn wept. "That's probably when she told him, and he told HER---"

"STOP IT!" Quentin barked. "It WASN'T Jeremy, or anyone else. It was ME!"

At first, the couple stood staring at him, then Tony moved to react the way Quentin had dreaded, grabbing him by the shoulders, and throwing him across the waiting room. The lawyer was shorter and lighter, and was much older, physically, than Quentin, but his anger gave him strength. And, to tell the truth, Quentin was in no mood to resist--- for the first time since his first conquest at age 15, he WANTED an outraged father to set him straight. 130 years was too long to go without completely growing up; the terrible events that had led to Quentin's curse, and its immediate aftermath, had matured him somewhat, but he hadn't the occasion to feel quite the same sting of regret and remorse in his many other liaisons through the last century, save for the loss of his last great love, 31 years before.... long before Pauline was even conceived..

"My daughter wanted to KILL herself because YOU screwed her up--- you dirty old man!" Tony snarled.

"We TRUSTED you! Oh, my God, Quentin, what were you THINKING? Never mind--- I KNOW what--- but you knew her from the time she was BORN!" Carolyn slapped Quentin so hard, his jaw vibrated with pain. "God-damned child molestor! I'll bet you've been messing with her for YEARS!" She slapped him again.

"She's only a KID, for God's---" Tony's arm was grabbed in mid-air as he was about to hit Quentin again. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw the grim face of the Sheriff. She had rather powerful-looking arms herself, and managed to hold on, until he calmed down.

"Okay, WHAT'S the meaning of this, sir?" Mary Beth snapped. "I was dragged from the bedside of MY daughter to referee a fight over YOUR daughter, Mr. Peterson."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Tony said, finally breaking down. "But our Pauline nearly killed herself over what THIS man did to her---" he pointed at Quentin. "I'd like him arrested for RAPE."

"Don't be ridiculous," Quentin said shakily. "I admit to impregnating Pauline, but I hate to break this to you, Tony, it WASN'T rape, FAR from it."

Mary Beth eyed the still-extremely attractive, heretofore unknown Collins, and thought, yes, this WAS someone who would appeal to someone like that Pauline, to a LOT of young women, in fact. To a lot of OLDER women as well, though there was something in his general demeanor that turned her off. An old man who would have sex with his very young cousin--- disgusting! "Well, Mr. Collins---" she began, in a hostile tone.

"Quentin. I met the lady you used to work with in New York, that Miss Cagney," he said. "She was on the scene, helping Pauline, before I even got there. Ask HER what happened. And Barnabas, and Marisol Cortez, and little Hannah Louise." He sat down,and hung his head. "I will admit, what I did with my cousin Carolyn's daughter was WRONG. But we're not very closely related, we care for each other.... As God is my witness, I SWEAR this only started 3 months ago, no matter what Carolyn and Tony believe. Pauline is 23 years old, and SHE wanted it AS much, if not MORE, than I did! And as for the baby, she wanted THAT more than ANYTHING, at least, she DID, the last time we talked. I WAS coming around to accepting the situation. Though Pauline seemed a little bit dazed and distant right after saving YOUR daughter, Sheriff--- I thought it was just delayed shock. But I CAN'T believe she wanted to KILL herself!"

Revolted as she was by Quentin's confession, Mary Beth saw no real reason to doubt his account of events.
In any case, corroboration was on its way into the waiting room. Christine, once more handfasted with Barnabas, and young Marisol arrived. Christine broke from Barnabas, and went right up to the parents. "How is Pauline now?" she asked. Carolyn began to weep again, and her husband held her.

Mary Beth said, "The young lady turned out to be pregnant, but isn't any more. She's in surgery right now. She also had a couple of broken bones, but the most damage came from the miscarriage. Did she really fall that hard?"

"Yes, it was terrible," Christine replied. "She was balanced up on this very high safety rail, in some kind of hypnotic state, almost. The little girl Hannah had to leave her to get us, but Pauline stayed put, I don't know HOW. She snapped out of it, and we almost had her talked down safely, but she lost her balance. She fell on Barnabas, though I don't understand why HE'S still standing. Are you sure you don't want to be checked by a doctor while we're here?" she asked him solicitously.

"No, my dear, I'm none the worse for wear. We Collinses are a tough breed, and I'm SURE Pauline will recover from this dreadful accident."

"No accident!" Marisol hissed. "And NO suicide either! Senorita Pauline told me about the baby almost before anyone else, and that she believed that Senor Quentin would someday change his mind about marrying her. It was the Chupacabra who got her up on that railing. The spirit of the very blessed Senora Johnson guided Hannah Luisa to Pauline's rescue."

"What's a chupacabra?" Mary Beth asked. "Is that an exotic animal? Did it escape from a zoo? Is THAT what bit my Alice?"

"Not an animal from any zoo, Senora Sheriff. A chupacabra can take many forms, a man, an animal.... They bite and rip their victims open and drain the life from them. It is a legend in Mejico and Puerto Rico and many other countries in that region.... But legends ALWAYS have an origin in some fact. I have studied this in school, and I know it in my heart. In some countries, Chupa is known as a yeti.... here and in most of Europe, much of what we believe chupacabras do, is blamed on werewolves, and even Vampires...."

"Now THIS is too much!" Mary Beth exclaimed. "I know people around here are superstitious, but I KNOW that recent events have been the work of VERY human perpetrators and their VERY natural animals--- NOT people who can switch on and off to animal bodies. Thank you, Miss Cortez, I believe what you say about Pauline, but that's as far as it goes. Since nobody mentioned that she was even BITTEN, it's a safe bet no VAMPIRES were involved! In any case, I think it's high time everyone went home, except for Pauline's parents, of course, and Christine--- You ARE going to relieve me tonight, aren't you?--- Quentin, maybe YOU ought to go home with Barnabas. It's pretty clear that your presence is no longer wanted, and whatever you have to work out with Pauline will have to wait until she's recovered, anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, I hope your daughter DOES recover--- I'll be thinking of you. It's awful when something like this happens to your child, I KNOW."

Christine said a brief but meaningful goodnight to Barnabas, who was back to kissing her hand. Then, he tugged on Quentin's arm a little roughly, and the two walked out together. Since Barnabas had come in Christine's car, he either had to ride with Quentin or Marisol, and the latter seemed a little uneasy around him, so the choice was clear. When the two men left, the girl whispered, "HE is Chupa, Senorita Cagney. Senor Barnabas. You saw what I saw.... he fears the Cross, he is burned by simple Holy Water...."

"I saw NOTHING out of the way, Marisol. I think, rather, that his actions tonight prove he ISN'T responsible for what's been going on," Christine declared, frostily. "We won't mention this again." She went to join Mary Beth in the elevator to Alice's floor.

"So Barnabas is the hero of the hour, and now you're BACK with him." Mary Beth sighed loudly and long.

"Mary Beth, there is NO way he could have had anything to do with that girl's problems. Besides, you said it yourself, nobody got BITTEN!"

"I don't know. He still seems pretty strange to me. He has a big influence on Willie, so much that the man can't act on his better instincts to protect people, except in ways that get him into trouble."

"Whoa, Mary Beth, is this YOU I'm hearing, making excuses for WILLIE LOOMIS? And what are you implying, anyway? That he and Barnabas are closer than man and manservant? That they're--they're GAY?
Okay, I admit that I had a qualm about their relationship, but it was quickly put to rest. While Mr. Collins and I haven't gotten around to 'doing the nasty' yet, I've always been a pretty good judge of who's straight and who isn't, and he WAS pretty straight the last two times I saw him--- we were going to shack up at the Collinsport Inn on our first date! But then he realized he'd forgotten his pills, and--"

"Whatever they have going, it's WAY kinkier than any of that, Christine. Call it another intuition. Call it an instinct, because Willie seems more and more like Harvey to me, every time I see him. They MUST be related, but I can't imagine how--- but that's not the issue. It's just that, if you asked me if I thought that Barnabas could HYPNOTIZE someone, I might just say YES. And if you asked me if he could hypnotize someone to do an awful thing, completely out of character for the other guy, AGAIN, the answer is YES."

"I'M not being hypnotized! I don't know why we're at such odds about this, Mary Beth. We've always been on the same wavelength when it comes to our job, or if we're not there AT FIRST, we always GET on the same wavelength eventually. But when we're talking about THIS situation, there's a dissonance.... First YOU'RE superstitious and suspicious, then I am, then YOU are, then I am AGAIN.... This isn't RIGHT, somehow. We're not on the same wavelength, in fact we can't seem to stay on ANY wavelength for long...."

"You know what this feels like?" Mary Beth said. "It feels like---like 'divide and conquer'! Maybe it's your Barnabas who's doing it, or whatever keeps sending Harvey and Willie those crazy dreams.... It's pure, unadulterated EVIL, with a brain and a will of its own."

"Now that's a great theory. Let's just check out this scholarly tome by the late Professor Timothy Elliot Stokes, and see if it jibes with HIS theories." And with that, Christine pulled out the book she'd borrowed, which she'd stashed in her shoulder bag before she drove Barnabas to the hospital.

" 'Fallen Angels Who Walk Among Us'," Mary Beth read. "I take it that a movie made from this would NOT star Roma Downey and Della Reese! But I KNOW we're BOTH going to enjoy it, just from the title. This should make for better bedtime reading than 'Love's Savage Rampage'."

"See if you feel the same when YOU come to page 253." That was the page with the description that resembled Barnabas.

Mary Beth took a quick look at it, and then looked at her friend. "Maybe there IS hope for you, Christine.
You usually come through and do the right thing. I want to believe you still WANT to do the right thing, if this is an indication. Right now I STILL don't believe in vampires, or chupacabras, either, but like the weather in Maine, I might change my mind in 10 minutes."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

PART NINE---Monday, April 17, 2000 (A)

Jeremy was shocked to realize that he'd slept until 4 A.M., when his alarm went off. He'd really meant to stay close to his father until it was time for the appointment with Dr. Heard. When it was over, the younger man would have felt free to crash. As it was, all Jeremy could think about was, what was Father up to while I was sleeping? Who did he hurt? Did he get caught?

Anxiety drove him downstairs. He was partially relived to see Barnabas by the fire, reading, as though nothing had ever been amiss. "Father," Jeremy said, "did you stay home all night?"

"Why, no, Son," Barnabas replied pleasantly. "I went abroad to Collinwood, and intervened in what at first seemed like a suicide attempt by PAULINE, of all people!"

"PAULINE!! Why would SHE want to kill herself?" Jeremy thought, with guilt of what little he knew about her pregnancy. Was she even really pregnant, or was that a bid to capture pity, so he wouldn't give her an overdose of the drugs that made her easier to hypnotize?

"Well, alas, this paragon of virtue I once desired you to court, has been freely given her favors to QUENTIN, with shameful results. Tsk, Tsk. Once more proving that the Collins family doesn't have ANcestors, as much as we have INcestors!" Barnabas chuckled maliciously. "But Fate has seen fit to relieve them of their burden. She had an accident that caused her to LOSE the inadvertant fetus."

Jeremy circled his father suspiciously. "I DON'T suppose you had something to do with CAUSING or INCITING this so-called 'accident', DID you?"

"Good heavens, NO! And you can ask Hannah Louise about that--- she was first at the scene--- sad little underappreciated creature thought she was walking with the ghost of Mrs. Johnson, of all people!--- and came back to the mansion to get help. Miss Cagney, Marisol and myself all repaired to Widows' Hill at the same time. Poor Pauline, in a distracted state, had climbed to the top of the so-called 'safety rail', and nearly plunged off the cliff. Alas, our efforts to rescue her resulted in grave injury, but at least SHE survived."

"What the HELL was she DOING up there, anyway?"

"A misunderstanding about an assignation with the father of her now-deceased child. I daresay, this will likely get Quentin banished from Collinwood for a while."

"YOU'D like that, WOULDN'T you, Father?"

"Damn right he would," Willie said as he came out of the cellar doorway, where he'd been listening. "But I'll bet Barnabas made such a great impression on Miss Cagney, we'll NEVER get searched or suspected again. Damn it, Barnabas, that woman REALLY loves you, the way Julia did, and you're treating Miss Cagney just as lousy as you once treated HER! I wish I could tell her--- but I can't and I won't."

"Oh, Willie, I'm not abusing Miss Cagney at all--- in fact, I've been reinstated in her affections, for the time being, anyway. It WILL draw suspicion away from my activities, as you've assumed."

"Well, I'm going upstairs to prepare for your next 'activity'," Jeremy sighed. "And I'm STILL hoping to uncover the secret to curing you." He went back up to his room, and booted up the computer. In a few minutes he was perusing his e-mail. There was a message from the historian in Albany, and if it had come in a real envelope, Jeremy would have torn right into it. He clicked on the message eagerly.

The historian, who apparently had nothing better to do at night than peruse his massive collection of documents, HAD been able to discover the real name of Miss Daisy Violet Meadows. Thanks to her creative variation on the Dance of the Seven Veils, she had been arrested for public indecency and corruption of the morals of minors who had snuck into her shows. Her real name was Dorothina Veronica Middendorff, born in Anspach, Germany, but who grew up in Binghamton, NY, and was aged 27 in 1895, the date of her last arrest. She spent six months in prison, but was cited again in 1896. However, she paid a fine, then disappeared from the public record about that time. Jeremy figured, this was when she was involved with Carl Collins. However, she was soon back in Albany.

In 1898, a marriage certificate was entered into record, bearing the names of a Dorothy Vera Midden (too close to be anyone else!) and a James William Hollinshead. "Hollinshead" was Willie's middle name, which Jeremy knew was a family name from the older man's maternal side. So, Willie MIGHT be a descendant, or relative by marriage, of Carl Collins's cast-off sweetheart, but what did that prove? Not a hell of a lot, since, presumably, Carl's other galpals must have married afterward, and produced children. Just a coincidence that Willie had ended up in Collinsport, it seemed.

There was a scan of an adoption certificate. For some reason, the Hollinsheads had ADOPTED a 2-year-old girl, a year after their marriage. Probably wanted to bypass those midnight feedings, Jeremy thought with faint amusement, though the couple DID have at least 3 more children of their own, later. The girl was named Edith, but there were no names given for the birth parents. All that was known was that she had been left on the doorstep of an orphanage in Albany soon after her birth in early 1897.

The historian noted that the husband, Hollinshead, sold his business in 1914, and died the next year. Young Edith had married a native of Brooklyn, a master carpenter named Joseph Charney, in 1917. His name was not listed in any Albany directories; perhaps the young couple went back to live in Brooklyn.

That was basically it. Back at Square One, Jeremy thought dispiritedly, though he printed out the e-mail for Willie, who might be interested. However, it didn't seem relevant to their cause, and there was no need to rush down to tell him. Poor Willie was trying to catch up on HIS sleep. Jeremy got ready to take his father to see Dr. Heard.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was fortunate that Dr. Heard's office was located on the first floor of the hospital, away from any patient/visitor areas. There WERE a couple of security guards patrolling in the wee hours of this morning, but, of course, they recognized Jeremy and his father, and unlocked doors for them. After the pair was safely out of sight, Job Woodard came in through the Emergency entrance, and told the guards there was some important business he needed to discuss with Christine Cagney, who was in Alice's room. They also let him into the main building without question.

Dr. Heard had been reading a large medical book, and was also looking something up on the Internet, probably in reference to what Jeremy had told him about Barnabas's complaint. However, he rose to greet them, quite warmly--- in addition to having worked with the late Julia Collins, he had delivered her son, had been their family doctor, and, though not Julia's oncologist, had been consulted during her final illness. However, aside from required insurance check-ups for high blood pressure, vaccinations for foreign travel, and so forth, he had never actually treated Barnabas for anything. That was left to Julia's discretion, though treating family members was generally discouraged. However, Julia had extensive training in blood diseases as well as psychiatry, and had, thanks to medications she'd recommended, POSTHUMOUSLY managed to keep her husband on an even keel. Until now....

"Well, Barnabas, what has been happening to you lately? Jeremy was adamant that I see you even before your appointment tonight."

"I have been suffering terribly.... Sensitivity to light, pains in my joints.... My circulation seems to be in fits and starts. Jeremy tells me that my blood pressure is often dangerously low, and my pulse/oxygen rate is also low. Minor wounds bleed and bleed for a long time without clotting. Jeremy feels I could benefit from some transfusions, but of course we have to consult YOU."

"Well, it sounds serious, but you made it in here on your own two feet.... However, in view of the fact that you ARE Jeremy's Dad, and Julia's husband, I'm prepared to give you extra consideration. However, I WILL need to run some tests first. Maybe you wouldn't need anything as drastic as massive transfusions, which can be dangerous and time-consuming affairs. You must recall the transfusions Julia received, back then.... And now, there's been a dip in blood donations, plus we have all bloods screened for AIDS and every other new disease under the sun, so whole-blood supplies have diminished, save in cases of emergency. I've been investigating the latest medications, which might help in lieu of transfusions. But hold on, I need to update your records." Dr. Heard turned from Barnabas to his file cabinets, unlocking the top drawer of one.

It was then, that Barnabas made his move. He quickly grabbed Heard from behind, with Jeremy's help. As the large man struggled in their grasp, Barnabas, using his good arm, tipped his head back so far, he squealed in agony. Jeremy tried to restrain his father. "You'll break his neck!"

"He can't write up an order for blood with a broken neck," Barnabas sneered. "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing." He found two inches of exposed throat over Heard's collar, and sank in his fangs. He slurped the blood that leaked from the wounds, licking up the excess so there wouldn't be a huge mess on the Doctor's clothing. Then, he dropped Heard into his chair at the desk.

The doctor looked dazed and confused, as he stared up at Barnabas. "What--what do you want of me?"
He asked weakly.

"Several favors. One is a regular supply of whole blood. If I can get a pint or two a night, that's bare maintenance level for me. I'd prefer more, but until my son can cure my condition, or I can leave this place, I might be able to manage. If you can get me blood from a known virgin, female or male, all the better. My second question is this--- what became of Pauline's unborn child?"

"We examined it to record any defects--- that's standard practice. After all, many pregnant women have accidents, and most DON'T miscarry, so we have to check. We discovered it was a male, perfect in every way. He's gone now, to Miller's Funeral Home. It's not a common request, but poor Pauline was adamant that he be placed in her grandmother's mausoleum."

Jeremy began to sniffle. "How is Pauline? I know my father doesn't care, but I need to know."

Dr. Heard looked up at Barnabas, who nodded. "She came through surgery well enough, and will be able to bear more children."

"What a hopeful end to her story," Barnabas said, smirking. "Now, Doctor, get me some blood. VIRGIN'S blood. Right NOW."

"I don't know if we have---"

"There are virgins here, are there NOT? There must be some pretext upon which you can get their blood!"

"I don't enquire about my patients' sexual histories unless it's relevant to their treatment." On this point, the doctor seemed obdurate, in spite of his new thralldom.

"Well.... I've heard that Alice Lacey is still here---"

"Oh, yes," Heard said obediently. "Room 416."

"NO!" Jeremy shouted. "Father, you CAN'T. I won't LET you--- you'll just have to settle for the regular hospital supply! Leave that girl alone! Somebody's with her, right? It's too dangerous anyway!"

"But, Son.... I've already tried her blood, and found it a tonic, an ELIXIR.... One more helping, and I'm sure my broken 'wing' will heal. As for danger to ME, I still have powers you haven't seen yet." Barnabas went toward the door, and his son jumped in front of him. Barnabas put his good hand on his son's throat, and squeezed. Jeremy couldn't even choke out a protest. Then, the young man's eyes narrowed in fear--- his father put his head on the son's shoulder, and bit HIM, as well. Jeremy sank to the floor. Barnabas went out the door, and boldly passed a nurse, who didn't make a move to stop him. The nurse didn't SEE him. Barnabas was now invisible.

She HAD heard some disturbance in the Doctor's office, and knocked hard on the door. It was answered by Jeremy, who was rubbing or scratching his neck. Dr. Heard looked up from his desk. "I thought I heard the elder Mr. Collins in here," the nurse said.

"Oh, he's gone to have some blood work, Nurse Craig," Dr. Heard said brightly. "Should be back in a while."

"Strange, I was just coming down this hall, and I must have just missed him. Why didn't Dr. Collins go along with his father?"

"It's hard for me to watch things being done to my father, you understand," Jeremy replied blandly, still rubbing his neck.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christine had inherited the sticky vinyl recliner that Mary Beth had vacated some hours before. At first, Alice had resisted the sleeping pill she was given, and chatted for a while, there being nothing good on TV.
She had joined in the conversation her mother had with Christine before Mary Beth left for the night. Apparently, Elliot had liked to gossip with Alice about his family, even those long dead.

"I don't know how you'd feel about Barnabas if you saw that Josette's room," Mary Beth said. "I mean, I've seen people keep the rooms and possessions of their own dead spouses, children, parents, but this is beyond strange. That poor girl died over 200 years ago, and EVERYTHING she ever owned is in there. Her clothes, her brushes and combs, old bottles of jasmine perfume, kept refilled, like she's going to come back and use them."

"Barnabas likes old-fashioned things, and what antique lover wouldn't flip if they discovered a whole, unspoiled collection of original pieces in good condition--- and all included for free in the house one is to live in?" Christine said, sensibly.

"Josette was going to marry Barnabas's ancestor," Alice said. "Elliot told me. But somehow she ended up marrying his uncle instead. That Barnabas married Josette's MAID! Then the uncle got killed, and Barnabas went to England soon after, and the wife.... Nobody's sure if one thing had to do with the other, it wasn't written down, or maybe they hid the facts. Like the Kennedy assassinations. Anyway, there was a big witch trial, and some poor girl got executed---"

"In 1796, they were still having WITCH TRIALS?" Mary Beth was shocked.

"The statutes weren't wiped from local books until the 19th century in some places," Christine explained, "though this is the first I've heard of an execution by that time. Things must have really been out of control here for a while back then."

"This place was SO backward, they had one in 1841!" Alice said. "Somebody got killed, but he WAS a really bad guy anyway, so Elliot said. Anyway, this Josette was so upset over her husband being killed and Barnabas not coming back to her, she took poison and died. The family was scared of that house for years until Barnabas the Second came to visit in 1841, when that next witch trial took place. He was very helpful to the people who got accused then. His dad must have taught him everything from the last trial. Another member of that family showed up later, around 1900. They all kept that room up."

"And so, all the Barnabases honored the memory of the lady who WOULD have been their grandmother, instead of the poor dumb-cluck maid who WAS their grandmother," Mary Beth concluded. "What a bunch of jerks. PRESENT Barnabas excepted, of course," she conceded to Christine. Then she kissed her daugher good-night, and left.

"Your Mom.... Once again, running neck-and-neck with the Pope on values and virtues," Christine commented.

"One time, when I was 13 and really mad at her, I called her Ayatollah Lacey," Alice said with a smile she tried to hide. "I mean, she's usually right, but she gets so obsessed." She sighed. "I never thought Mr. Collins had anything to do with what happened to me. Why would he hurt me? He doesn't know me, and he sure wasn't paying much attention to ME when we went to Collinwood for that dinner. He only had eyes for YOU, Aunt Christine."

The older woman blushed, then tried to gloss over it. "Anybody can become a criminal, Alice, given the right set of circumstances.... But I saw him try to save Pauline at some risk to himself. I believe he is a good man, not someone who could really hurt someone weaker than himself. I believe it even if we don't end up together."

"You WANT to believe he's good," Alice said, displaying intuition that was a reflection of her mother's. "Aunt Christine, is it that hard to find the love of your life?" She loved talking with her mother's friend about that sort of thing, since Christine tended NOT to get upset and suspicious, nor wondered if every sex or love question came with an ulterior motive attached. And she answered Alice as though the latter was an adult.

"Depends on how much you want one, I guess. It's in inverse proportion--- the more you want it, the more elusive true love is. At least, I used to think so. Then, a few years ago, like Gloria Steinem says, I realized that I had become the man I had always wanted to marry. I can do a lot of 'manly' things--- I even learned, finally, how to change the oil in my car!"

"Oh, I was helping Daddy do that when I was 10!" Alice said. "I don't mean, are you looking for someone to take out the garbage when you don't feel like it.... What are you looking for? Aside from having babies, since you're my Mom's age, I guess you can't do that anymore---"

"Ouch! But you're right, Alice.... A feeling of belonging, maybe that's it.... I never felt too comfortable growing up. My parents were great people, but they came from different worlds and in the end, they couldn't live together.... I loved my parents a lot, but in different ways, and I always felt like I had to choose. I felt like I belonged to my father's world, and my brother, to our mother's. And I've been mostly right about that, but I was estranged from my mother at the time of her death, and I've never been able to live it down. Maybe craving to find a place to belong, and never finding it, is my punishment, but I don't believe in that.... "

"You don't WANT to believe that." Alice laid back on her pillows, and closed her eyes, but kept talking. "Sometimes I don't feel like I belong to my parents' world either, but maybe it's because they're much older than the parents of my friends. I don't feel like I will ever know much about my brothers' world, either, now that they're married and so far away, even though Mom and Dad can't resist comparing me to them. Elliot's littlest brothers and sisters will probably feel the same way about their parents and older siblings, especially the new baby. Elliot feels different, too. They keep telling him he's more of a Stokes than a Collins. Since they're a really CLOSE family, that hurts him."

You don't know HOW close that family can get, Christine thought.

"We're like two sails against the wind," Alice murmurred sleepily. The sedative was finally taking effect. "Elliot's the love of MY life...."

"The first of MANY, kiddo," her "Aunt" gently teased.

"Oh, Aunt Christine of little faith...." In moments, Alice was sound asleep.

Christine tucked the blankets up to Alice's chin, dimmed the lights over her bed, and reclined in the tacky chair. To keep awake, she read watched the Late Show, then the Late Late show, then the Early Show. That latter was supposed to be a news program, but the WBAM staff, lacking supervision and wanting to keep the viewers alert, had turned it into a free-for-all. Christine snapped it off as a paper airplane sailed right into Penelope Fereira's teased-up coiffure.

Just an hour or so until Harvey showed up for his shift with his daughter, which would culminate in her release by noon. The clock on the wall read 5:40 A.M. in the dim light. She picked up Stokes's book, and tried to read about the Fallen Angels walking, walking, walking, but the print was so small and the words so close together, and over and over she read the same paragraph about the man who dreamed of bats.... Big bad bats. There was something about bats she should know.... A slightly-built man in a fancy coat who LOOKED awfully familar but Christine thought, nonsense, Harvey and probably Willie would DIE before they wore a Buster Brown get-up like that--- he wanted to tell her about bats. "Bats are only good if they eat nasty little mosquitoes," he told her. "Not butterflies! Pretty Alice is a butterfly.... You have to see!" he cried.

They were together in a place where a light, misty fog kept Christine from seeing her companion as clearly as she wanted to. "You have to tell me who you are!" She called. "I have to make a positive ID.... We have to ID all the dead men," though she didn't know why she KNEW he was dead.

There was a door that had a sign reading, "Do Not Enter--- Authorized Personnel Only." The man told Christine to open it. "I'm not authorized! I'm not even supposed to be here--- I was going to Quebec!" she protested. The man in the Buster Brown suit put her hand on the doorknob, and turned it.

A vision Dante himself could barely have imagined, assaulted Christine's sight. Huge, dinosaur-sized bats, vampire bats, tearing holes in some hapless creature, lapping up the blood.... A silky yellow butterfly fluttering into the crowd of bats. "Psyche," the man said. "Butterfly goddess of the soul.... Alice's soul. WATCH OUT!" he yelled, as one of the bats had snatched the brimstone-yellow insect, and tore it to pieces.

"NO!" Christine yelled, and sat, bolt upright, staring wildly around the dimly-lit room. Alice was writhing in agony on the bed, like a woman giving birth. The older woman snapped on the lamp, and gasped at what she saw.

Alice's leg was bleeding, so much that a large red stain had already formed. This couldn't be!! Christine thought, how long was I OUT, for God's sake--- the clock read 5:50! THIS had happened inside of 10 minutes? She spurned the button to call the nurse's station, and simply called from the doorway for help!

The nurses came running. Soon, Dr. Heard arrived, though it was near the end of his shift and he seemed extra tired. But he performed a quick and accurate check on Alice's reopened wounds. "We need at least 3 units of A-positive blood--- with the 'X' factor," he ordered.

"I'm sorry, Doctor, we only have one unit left. We'll have to call the Red Cross and the other area hospitals," Nurse Craig replied.

"We have to have SOMETHING in the meantime! Hook up what we have, get the girl's parents, check the records, and see who else is on record as having that blood factor."

Christine asked, "What's all this about a special blood type?"

Dr. Heard explained, "Alice has a regular blood TYPE, but our tests found unusual, naturally-occurring enzymes in it. She probably inherited them from one of her parents. I believe there WAS someone else in town who also had this unusual blood factor. However, she was healing so quickly, I'm sorry to say, I didn't call in the other parties to donate. But we'll get what we need, don't worry."

"I don't get it, though.... What could have caused this relapse? I mean, I just slept for a few minutes. I'm SURE I would have heard somebody, or someTHING."

Dr. Heard shook his head. "The same enzymes may have had something to do with it. They healed her quickly, then, perhaps, a secondary infection.... These things DO happen, unfortunately."

Mary Beth and Harvey arrived in record time. Both had blood drawn. Dr. Heard checked the samples himself. "Well, Mr. Lacey here DOES have the X-factor. But I regret to say that, due to his heart condition, we can only draw a limited amount."

"Why?" Harvey cried. "This is my CHILD we're talking about. Of COURSE she can have whatever she needs! MY life is almost over, and it won't be worth living if SHE dies!"

"Mr. Lacey, I cannot be responsible for YOUR death as well. But rest assured, we HAVE located another source from which to get what we need--- TWO sources, as a matter of fact."

The door opened, and in walked Willie Loomis, Maggie Shaw, and her still-shaky daughter Vicki. The doctor said, "It turns out that, by a wonderful coincidence, that both Mr. Loomis here and Miss Shaw ALSO have A-positive blood with the same enzymes. Though Mr. Loomis is older than Mr. Lacey, he is in good health at the moment. And as for Miss Shaw, her condition has nothing to do with her ability to give a pint or so. They're both quite willing. We'll have enough in a short while."

Willie whispered, "Maybe you can get all you need from me, and leave Vicki alone till later. She still gets dizzy spells. But I want you people to know, whatever I can give your kid, you're welcome to it. There's no hard feelings from yesterday, Sheriff Lacey.... Harvey...." He turned away, as if ashamed.

"What happened yesterday was just business, Willie," Mary Beth said, sniffling. "I stopped having really hard feelings about YOU the FIRST time you helped to save Alice. And now, here you are, saving her AGAIN. NOTHING like this ever happened to me--- that someone like YOU would turn around and do something GOOD for ME! Job was right--- I'll never understand the way they do things in Collinsport."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Willie came home, feeling fairly happy for the first time in a month. The combined bloods HAD caused improvement in young Alice almost immediately. Within a couple of hours, she was conscious, and, when told that her favorite teacher had given her some blood, muttered, "Hope she doesn' gimme extra homework for this." Then, she looked up, saw Willie standing with her father, and said with a weak smile, "Chang, meet Eng."

"Who are Chang and Eng?" Willie asked. He studied Alice's face, then glanced back at his own daughter. Vicki is Snow White and this Alice is Rose Red, he thought--- same facial features, but Vicki was much fairer than Alice, even with the latter still quite pale from her ordeal.

Vicki, who was collapsed in a chair, drinking the orange juice given to the blood donors, replied, "The first Siamese twins to get famous and make a good living off it. You and Mr. Lacey certainly look like two halves of a whole." She gnawed on one of the cookies also offered to the donors. "Tell Alice not to worry. I won't even be doing MY homework for a few days."

Still, Alice wasn't out of the woods quite yet. Her brothers had been contacted, to see if they also had the unusual blood, and to come as soon as they could, to help build up a reserve of the X-factor for future emergencies. But at least, Alice wasn't going to DIE, and then, rise to live the soul-less existence of a vampire.

Willie found Jeremy in the parlor, staring into space, peculiar behavior for the dynamic younger man. He began to prattle about his proud accomplishment, when he noticed blood droplets on Jeremy's shirt. At first he dismissed it as traces from the sorry-but-necessary business with Dr. Heard, who, as promised, was none the worse for wear; he had been right on top of Alice's emergency. Then, Willie got to the part of the story where he and Vicki had those enzymes, same as the Laceys. He wanted to shout about Vicki being HIS, and that's why they had such wonderful blood! There must have been SOMETHING telling in Willie's voice, when Jeremy said, "I've suspected you were related to Harvey, but this is almost as good as a DNA test, Willie--- you cannot imagine the statistical chances that two men, who look and sound alike, who have the same anomaly in their blood, would NOT be closely related. But, to add to this, the presence of a young woman in the same town, who has the SAME blood condition as both men and the daughter of one.... And, then, tell me SHE isn't also related to them.... Willie, I KNOW Vicki is your daughter. Admit it."

Willie was going to say "Yes", when he saw the collar fall away from the young doctor's neck. Two neat puncture marks were to be seen. Now, Willie knew the TRUTH--- that Alice Lacey had suffered a relapse was NO coincidence! Barnabas had attacked Dr. Heard and HIS OWN SON, very probably so he would be free to somehow get to Alice once more. He couldn't imagine the possible consequences of Barnabas learning of the connection between himself and Vicki, though, of course, he'd longed to tell Jeremy for years.

"Willie, I can tell by your expression that it's true. If you're afraid I'll tell Father, I promise---"

"He BIT you! HIS OWN SON! Now you have TWO reasons to tell him anything he wants to hear!" Willie was a bit limp from the morning's events, and couldn't resist collapsing in a chair to burst into bitter tears. Amy, Candy, Alice, Pauline's tragedy--- THIS was the ABSOLUTE worst--- if Barnabas chose to destroy his own child by making him a vampire as well, Angelique's prediction WOULD come true! What would Julia say if she knew--- he wondered if she was watching over them now, or, thanks to the dirty work she'd done for Barnabas over the years, she was doing hard time in Purgatory, or even HELL! Willie was even afraid to pray to Heaven--- like a phone call on a party line, that message would be overheard by demons below, LONG before it reached the skies!

"Willie," Jeremy pleaded, "Please don't cry. There's a part of me Father can NEVER have, you know.... The part that came from Mother and all the ancestors who loved him but resisted him. A little bit of my Grandmother Naomi, a little bit of my Aunt Sarah, even my great-aunt Abigail .... I'd have said Grandfather Joshua, but he didn't love my father until it was too late, and then he gave in and kept him alive, to be released to do damage years later."

"Your Grandpa did what HE thought was BEST for HIS son. What YOUR Dad is doing ain't good for ANYONE, LEAST of all, YOU! Because the part of Barnabas that loves--- it's there, but it's in, like, a COMA. I know this, because he started out mean the first time, and softened up after. But I explained this to you before. NOW he thinks the fountain of youth lives in little Alice Lacey. Since she has MY blood in her now, I feel like she's my honorary kid, the same as you are, and the way Vicki IS my kid. And if Barnabas hurts ANY of MY kids more than he has already, I WILL kill him. You can tell him THAT,
if you want."

For the first time since he was a grief-stricken boy who'd just lost his mother, Jeremy put his arm around Willie, and the older man returned the embrace. "I won't tell him, Willie. And I want you to know, even if nobody else is supposed to, I'll be proud to have you as my father-in-law. Vicki doesn't know, does she?"

"No! That's the way Maggie wants it, and your mother--- Julia arranged the whole thing. I wasn't supposed to know, and I don't think Sebastian ever guessed, big-time psychic that he fancied himself. Oh, don't get me wrong, he WAS a good Dad, but it used to gall me something terrible to see their happy little family. It used to gall me to face Julia, and know that she'd tricked both myself and Maggie. Maggie came to her, begging for help to get pregnant, because she was too embarrassed to tell any other doctor. Julia did some tests, and it was Sebastian's problem, all right. He DID love Maggie, probably MORE than I did, because HE let her do something I wouldn't have stood for, just to make her happy. Julia said she could find a good match so the kid would look enough like Sebastian to pass muster.

"Then, one day, out of the blue, she told me she wanted to check if there was any long-term effect on my ability to father children from what Barnabas did to me. I thought it came too late, since I had broken up with my fiancee a few years earlier, and with Maggie taken, no real thought of marrying ANYONE else. But Julia insisted, for 'scientific purposes.' So I said, okay, no big deal, and if I EVER married somebody someday, at least I'd know for sure. I went to her office at the hospital. On the way in, I saw Maggie going into an examination room, and thought nothing of it, since I didn't know about her problem at that time. Julia took my 'sample' to the lab. She was gone for the longest time. Then she came back, and said I was fine, that I could have an army of kids if I wanted. I said, 'fat chance of THAT!'

"Then, a couple of months later, Maggie announced that she was expecting, after 3 years with Sebastian. It seemed fishy to me, even then. When Vicki was born, I did some mental arithmetic, then I went straight to Julia. She didn't deny it, but she begged me never to tell a soul, and she would see to it that I could watch Vicki grow up. When Sebastian died, I asked Maggie to marry me for our little girl's sake, but all she would do was be my friend, and let me hang around them a lot. She even started dating, but even though she didn't get serious with any of them, I was stuck being Good Old Uncle Willie, the Shaws' fix-it man and babysitter. Drove me nuts, but at least Vicki DOES love me in her own way. I always wonder why Julia did all that, but when you two kids spent all that time growing up together and falling in love, I began to believe this was your mother's Master Plan to bring peace for what Barnabas had done to Maggie, me, and even Julia herself."

Jeremy said, "I still want to cure my father, or else there will be NO peace." He suddenly felt very tired, and tried to stand and go up to his room. Willie helped him walk, tired as HE was. He helped Jeremy climb onto the bed, and turned to leave, when he noticed the word "Hollinshead" on the young man's computer printout.

He put on his reading glasses and read the whole document. "These ARE my people," Willie said. "I got the name from my Mom, all right. But she wasn't an above-board Hollinshead. She was adopted and raised by her great-aunt Hollinshead, because she was born due to HER mother getting in trouble with some married guy. That's what my cousin used to say. He was the older son of that great-aunt. He also used to say that some woman in my family was a hootchie-kootchie dancer. I don't know how you dance with seven veils, but it must have been dirty dancing if she got arrested for it. How weird that someone in MY family knew a Collins way back when."

Jeremy was just alert enough to be interested. "Let's get specific, Willie. So, even though your parents abandoned you, you had this cousin who was a goldmine of family gossip. We know your folks' names.
Teresa Hollinshead and Harold Loomis. DO you know your mother's mother's name?"

Willie said, "This is it, right here. Edith. My cousin said Edith was knocked up by her father's married business partner, and her father was so mad, he sold the business right out from under him. Since Edith couldn't marry the guy and was just a kid herself, the baby went away to Missouri, but not out of the family. Edith's father upped and died soon after, maybe from the stress, but he left her enough money to make her look good to the next guy who came her way. Edith DID write and sent my mother money, even after she married that Charney guy, but it was, like, Keep Your Distance, since she had a couple more kids by then. My mother kept away like she was told, and by the time SHE grew up, the letters had stopped, along with the money. Then, she was working in a factory, when she made the big mistake of marrying my Dad, who was her boss. She was his third wife, he had kids almost the same age as her, and he treated 'em ALL badly. Maybe he didn't make her sick, but he didn't help her get better, either. So I ended up in a foster home, and the rest is history. I guess being dumped by one's folks is a great family tradition for the Hollinsheads. That's 3 generations in a row, and considering how I got Vicki, I'm lucky it isn't 4!"

"Well, Vicki and I will see to it that it doesn't make 5," Jeremy sighed. "Willie, did those letters to your mother survive?"

"I don't know--- My cousin MIGHT have known, but he was already pretty old, and he died just before I left St. Louis for the last time, almost 40 years ago. All that stuff probably got chucked out."

"If you can find Edith Charney's descendants, even if it doesn't help my father, they WOULD be your natural heirs, along with Vicki. I wonder why Adam Samwell's investigators never discovered this connection."

"It's not THAT hard to hide anything, if you have a little more money than other folks, YOU know THAT! My mother was adopted like her mother before her, with a cover story of being left on a doorstep. See, I don't buy Edith's story, either, and I'll tell you why. You must have heard your parents, Maggie, and all the Collinses talk about Victoria Winters, their old governess that our Vicki was named for. Well, this Vicki, and a really great girl she was, had also been dropped on a New York City orphanage doorstep. She came to Collinwood to take the governess job with David, which was really strange because as far as she knew, nobody had ever heard of the Collinses at the place she grew up. All she DID know was that someone had been sending her support money for years, from Bangor, to cover her expenses and education, and, maybe, just MAYBE, to keep her from being adopted by strangers.

"When she got here, I'm told folks were struck by how much she looked like old Mrs. Stoddard, Carolyn's mother. Even I would have guessed she was Mrs. Stoddard's little accident, if Jason McGuire, the con man I was working with, hadn't told me. But this poor Vicki, she tried and tried to get the Collinses to come clean, and yet they never told her, then she went away. I always asked myself why--- at first I thought it was because Mrs. Stoddard was afraid of hurting Carolyn's feelings, but she was an adult by then, and she really liked Vicki. I asked Jason, and he said that the problem wasn't with Mrs. Stoddard being the mother, but with who was the FATHER. It wasn't HIM, Jason, but the secret, which MR. Stoddard had spilled to him, was SO awful that even HE was disgusted, and that's saying something! 'Even bottom-feeders like us have our standards, Willie,' he said, then told me to keep my mouth shut about it forever, if need be. And I did, I'm sorry to say.

"So I'm not surprised that fancy detectives couldn't dig up more of my family tree. Old Mr. Hollinshead may not have been mega-rich like the Collinses, but maybe that made him more careful."

Jeremy sighed. "Well, Willie, at least we have a name, and a good possibility as to where the Charneys went. I'll follow up on it after I've had some sleep."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Amy Jennings, just an hour shy of the time she was supposed to be at her school, was helping Quentin pack. She wasn't doing it out of pity or the goodness of her heart in general; she was hoping she could get her hands on that key!

Of course, she HAD feigned sympathy when Quentin told her it would be better if he moved to a suite at the Collinsport Inn, until Pauline was fully recovered, and they could put a formal end to their relationship. "Oh. Quentin," Amy pleaded, "Don't say it's the end! Of course Carolyn and Tony are mad--- this spoils their plans to mate Pauline with Saint Jeremy! They'll recover as soon as Pauline does."

"I can't, Amy--- you know what I am. With the portrait, I'll never be a werewolf again, but I won't grow any older, or die, either. If I stay and marry Pauline, she will age and die in the course of normal events. Our children would have to worry about passing on the werewolf taint. It's sad about the baby she lost, but it may have been for the best. I liked it in Germany; maybe I can get David to appoint me CEO for the European operations. It would be hard to leave this place, and start wandering again, as I wandered for 72 years. Harder still to leave my 2 favorite women in the world behind. But WE can still see each other."

"Quentin, what will you do when I grow old and die?" Amy demanded.

He sighed heavily. "Amy, this is the truth--- if and when I lose YOU, my last descendant, assuming someone hasn't found a way to do me in first, then I will personally slash that protrait to ribbons, and disintegrate. Because then, I WILL be TRULY alone." Quentin hugged his great-grand-daughter tightly. She seemed so thin and pale these days, he thought, and even felt a little cold. She was working too hard, that was it. Time for David to get another principal for that school! "Amy, how would you like it if I invited you to come to Germany with me? It doesn't have to be forever, but I'll call you my administrative assistant, which means you can have a plush office, and nothing better to do than relax and eat German chocolates and pastries. You'll fill out again in no time, and---"

"Well, not right now. I would have to stay at the school until another Principal is found for the place. I have a responsibility, you know!"

"Of course, you're right," Quentin said with a dazzling smile that showed his too-young teeth. "Besides, I need you to watch over my portrait. It would be too risky lugging it from place to place, and I can just IMAGINE what they'd think of it at a Customs checkpoint." He fished in his pocket. "Here's the only other copy of MY key, so guard it well," he admonished, and showed her the way to the locked closet, though Amy knew exactly where it was.

Barnabas would be pleased, she knew, and maybe tonight would be the night....
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Finding out what had happened to Willie's grandmother turned out to be easier than any other part of Jeremy's whole search. Willie went back to the hospital to check on Alice's condition, and found her sitting up in bed, having a late, light lunch under the watchful eyes of both parents. Even though it was awful to have a child in the hospital at all, he envied the family's closeness. He WAS heartened by the new trust they seemed to have developed for him, though he knew that in one major way, he didn't deserve it.

"Guess what, Mr. Loomis?" the darker version of his beloved Vicki said. Alas, Alice's voice wasn't as smooth as her teacher's; as Vicki sounded like Maggie, so Alice sounded rather like her mother, but softer.
"My brother Mike is coming up here on his motorcycle to give me more blood, because he also has it. Not Harvey Junior, though. It would be hard for HIM anyway, since he lives in Washington. The state, I mean. But anyway, Mike is going to give me a ride on his Harley when I'm out of here. I wish he was bringing his wife Iris. It's spelled like EYE-RISS, but you say EE-REES. She's Puerto Rican. You wouldn't believe it, but they were introduced by a First Lady!"

Willie was puzzled. "You don't mean Hilary Clinton? If I was HER, the LAST thing I'd do is try to get anyone married off. Look at how lousy HER marriage is."

Harvey explained, "Our younger boy is finally making a good living by designing buildings, but he likes to get his hands dirty once in a while, just like his old man. So, for a while, he was volunteering to build homes for poor people with that Habitat For Humanity organization. I don't know if you ever heard this, but the Ex-president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are involved. They've gone out to help build along with everyone else. Well, last year, just Mrs. Carter happened to be on the site when she noticed Mike and Iris making goo-goo-eyes at each other. She took it on herself to formally introduce them , then she invited them to eat lunch with her. The rest is history. And when I say HISTORY, I mean, when Mike and Iris got engaged, it made the Daily News!"

Mary Beth smiled, her first big grin in who knew how long. "I cut out the clipping and put it in our scrapbook. It's a picture of the kids with both Mr. and Mrs. Carter, and the headline's way too cute. It says, 'Love Invades Habitat--- Former First Lady Plays Cupid for Home-Building Volunteers.' Well, we tried to invite the Carters to the wedding, but they had to go to oversee elections in some Third-World country, so they sent one of their sons instead. He was nice enough, and too old already to be wild like they used to be. He brought the kids a great present."

Willie said, "That's real nice. I'm sure you heard, Barnabas is friends with the Bushes. So, is Mike going to bring his wife?"

"No," Harvey said. "She isn't feeling well, maybe a stomach problem, but as long as Mike hasn't caught it, he can visit Alice and give blood. We were hoping to get both boys and their wives up here during the summertime. I HOPE whatever the problem is around here, it will be licked by then.... We sure miss them."

"Well, that's enough visiting for Alice," Mary Beth declared. Her daughter's eyelids were drooping. "Why don't you two go out and have a cup of coffee or something? And bring one back for me, Harv."

The two men sat in the cafeteria. "Boy, Sheriff Lacey is sure getting friendlier," Willie observed.

"She's grateful, for one thing," Harvey said. "The other thing is, with this blood factor we have in common, it's almost dead-certain you and I are related."

"But what about Vicki? SHE has it too," Willie said as innocently and ingenuously as he could.

"Well, Willie.... What ABOUT Vicki?" Harvey's slate-blue eyes looked directly into Willie's sky-blue eyes.

"Well, nothing. It could have come from her dad Sebastian."

"Really.... Did Sebastian have that same dimple in his cheek, same as I have, and YOU have, as Vicki has, as my own daughter has, Willie? Did he have those light blue eyes, that both you and Vicki have?"

"Okay, okay, Harvey. You GUESSED. It's my fault for dropping so many hints. Now, please, let's talk about something else." Willie nervously put extra sugar in his coffee, and then dropped the spoon.

"Really, Willie, it's nothing to be ashamed of. If you have to know, Maggie ended up telling me the whole story. She had no choice, as I was all but dying in her art store last week! It was an accident--- she thought I was YOU, and talked about why you were hanging around their house. I WASN'T going to tell you that I knew.... But remember, if you two hadn't gone through with that embarrassing business years ago, my daughter might not have made it today. She needed all the blood she could get, Dr. Heard told me."

Willie's face darkened. "Dr. Heard. When's he going to let Alice out of the hospital?" Poor kid was a sitting duck here.

"Hopefully, tomorrow. Tonight, there'll be TWO people watching her. Job's coming tonight, also. He's going to check hospital security."

"Yeah, you can't be too secure. Anyway, getting back to us being related.... Jeremy just got some information for me off the Internet. About some ancestor of mine who was an exotic dancer around 1900.
Then, she retired and married, and adopted a kid named Edith...."

"Edith?" Harvey said, "I had a grandmother named Edith. But that was a common name back then. I didn't know her that well--- she died when I was 13. Mom said she came from up Albany way. She was very quiet. I thought it was because she was so refined. Always buttoned to her chin and fortified with whalebone, with a small brooch on her lace collar. She obviously came from a fine family. Makes you wonder why she'd married a carpenter. It was JUST like that song, "If I was a carpenter and you were a lady,', and so on."

Willie sputtered, "Was her husband's name Joseph Charney, and did they live in Brooklyn?"

"YES!" Harvey could see where this was leading. "My MOM was born there, and her brother, and when Mom and Dad first got married, that's where I was born. We didn't stay there long, though. So, you think we're related through Edith? How? She only had two kids, my Mom Muriel and my Uncle Joe, and I know ALL my cousins."

"Well, see, Harvey, she wasn't a hootchie-kootchie dancer like her adopted Mom, but something bad happened when she was around your daughter's age...." Willie ran through the facts as he knew them.

Harvey shook his head. "No wonder Grandma Edith was always so quiet. I guess she was probably very sad, but NOT to tell my mother and my uncle that they had a half-sister---! I suppose I could blame it on my grandfather, but he was one of the kindest men I ever knew. She was probably afraid to tell him, too.... Think of all the trouble it would have saved your mother, Willie. I'm kind of glad my mother isn't alive, anymore, to hear this. She idolized Grandma Edith. But she WOULD have offered Teresa and YOU a shelter from your father. That much I DO know." He laid a hand on Willie's shoulder. "Imagine, getting a new cousin at MY age. I can't wait to tell Mary Beth and the kids, and my older brother Carl in Islip---"

The name jogged Willie's memory. "Oh, that's another weird little part of the story. It seems that Edith's adopted mother, the dancer with all those veils, once had a fling with a Collins. CARL Collins. Small world, isn't it?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

MONDAY, APRIL 17, 2000 (C)

Quentin went over to the Old House. He knew Barnabas was at rest somewhere nearby, so it was safe to say good-bye to Jeremy. The young doctor had woken from a nap more like a drugged sleep, and when Quentin saw him, he was shocked at Jeremy's appearance. However, the latter had changed his collared shirt for a turtleneck, so his cousin couldn't see the faded fang-marks.

"I wonder if you and Amy haven't caught the same bug," Quentin began. "She's become rather ghastly lately. I blame it on overwork. I would imagine you put in a lot of long hours at Seamen's Memorial."

"I'll be FINE, Quentin," Jeremy insisted. "But what about YOU? Are you leaving town now? Or are you waiting for the Petersons to come after you with a semi-automatic?"

Quentin gave a short, bitter laugh. "If they did, there's a certain portrait that's going to look awfully messy for a while. It's a wonder my plastic surgery took hold, but it seems that small cosmetic changes of MY doing don't affect the essential Quentin in the painting. But you're right, in a week or so, I WILL be leaving the country. I've spoken to David, and he's going to ship me back to Europe. He and Hallie probably don't trust me around THEIR daughters anymore, either. Especially when Emily comes home this summer. Maybe that's who they'll try to get YOU to marry, now that Pauline is off the ingenue list."

"No, I'm sticking with Vicki. Emily probably has a boyfriend anyway. Summer! Just 2 months away," Jeremy sighed. "I wonder where this will all end up in 2 months."

"No closer to a solution, eh? Well, maybe it's not such an emergency. After all, Barnabas hasn't attacked anybody lately, and he DID try to help Pauline---"

"Quentin, he DID attack someone. He went after Dr. Heard, so that he could have free samples from the blood bank at the hospital. Then, he made himself invisible, and attacked Alice Lacey again. He seems to think her blood can fix his ills. The evidence seems to point that way--- his wrist was already on the mend when he went back to his coffin. And there IS something different about Alice's blood--- and her father's, Willie's and Vicki's. I just got a phone call from Willie--- he's just discovered that Harvey is his first cousin, well, half-first cousin. And as for Vicki...."

"She's his kid by Maggie. I guessed THAT a long time ago. Well, I won't enquire as to the state of Mrs. Shaw's union with the esteemed Sebastian, that she should have finally upped and had an affair with the toady she despised for years, but---"

"It wasn't an affair. It was artificial insemination. I won't go into the details."

"PLEASE don't, that's a mental picture I'd rather NOT see. I just can't imagine what a physician in his right mind hoped to gain by mating Maggie and Willie."

"It's no worse than ordinary matches, like YOURS, for instance, Quentin. Always going for what you can't have, or SHOULDN'T have. Like my father!"

Quentin flushed scarlet. "You're right about that, Jeremy. In fact, our entire family is noted for mesalliances, a fault that has lessened in this generation, but not entirely. Of which I--- and poor Pauline--- are less-than-shining examples."

"Still it's nothing like WILLIE'S family. You'll have to look at what I got from the Internet. It MAY interest you." Jeremy ran upstairs to get the printouts.

"How interesting in view of the fact that mine and Carl's grandmother ALSO happened to be named Edith," Quentin said after perusing the papers. "Even more interesting, that this baby Edith was born around March 1897, especially since Miss Daisy Violet Meadows, aka Dorothina Middendorf, had been brought to Collinwood in May 1896, and was banished by June."

"You mean, you think this Meadows woman was pregnant by your brother, and later, convinced her new husband to adopt her own baby from the orphanage?"

"Why the Hell NOT? That's what Elizabeth Stoddard tried to do when she brought that Vicki Winters here, or so I've heard from Roger, who hasn't exactly been shy about sharing his suspicions since Elizabeth is no longer around to suffer any consequences. Maybe my dear brother Carl DIDN'T fire blanks after all. Or maybe he had a tonic that day. He was a hypochondriac who tried every new nostrum on the market."

"Most of those, as you recall, had alcohol and/or opiates as main ingredients, but mostly the alcohol," Jeremy reminded him. "BOTH are serious hindrances to POTENCY, never mind FERTILITY. Maybe, for once, he DIDN'T take anything." Suddenly, the young doctor's wan face lit up. "Say! If THIS is the answer to my father's problem----"

Quentin said, excitedly, "You know, I never really noticed, but there ARE some slight resemblances between Carl and Willie, at least. Willie, when I met him, was once a slight, fair fellow with blue eyes, as was Carl. And Willie has the same wild laugh. It's not a PERFECT match, but, after all, there ARE two generations between them."

"Harvey Lacey isn't much different," Jeremy said. "Just slightly darker hair and eyes. I haven't heard him laugh, but everytime we meet, unfortunately, it's just not a laughing matter."

"How can we prove this conclusively?" Quentin inquired eagerly.

"In the absence of documentary proof from one of the principals, only DNA," The younger man replied. "We'd need samples from Harvey and Willie, and match them with the nearest living blood relative of Carl, which would be YOU. The blood TYPE doesn't necessarily have to be the same. Hopefully, if the relationship is close enough, there will be 'markers' to confirm it. Though cousins have been used, as with the case of the newly-discovered grave of Tsar Nicholas's family. They had a good match for him in the nearly-intact body of his brother, who had died almost a century earlier, but for his wife Alexandra, they went to the descendants of her sisters, born years AFTER 1918. The same methods were used to confirm that Anna Anderson was NOT their daughter, Anastasia, nor even an illegitimate member of their family. And all they had left of HER was some tissue left over from surgery--- she had been cremated."

"I WILL be happy to volunteer, as long as I'M not exposed as the 130-year-young chap I am," Quentin said. "How long do these tests take?"

"I'm not sure, but probably not as long as the usual waiting period would have you believe. If we could have free, untrammeled access to a genetics lab, probably no more than a couple of days."

Quentin said, "One of Vicki's stock portfolios, inherited from Adam, included a company called GenScan. I THINK that's where a lot of the Maine PD's go for THEIR DNA testing. Maybe they'll be moved by a phone call from one of their newest, but biggest, shareholders. You'll have to ask her, even if it means putting doubts in HER mind about her blood ties to poor dead Sebastian. Though I don't know if having Willie's DNA is such a terrible thing. Look at how he survived 33 years with Barnabas!"

"Yes, but the same DNA is in Harvey's system," Jeremy replied sadly, "and all it's done for him is make his poor daughter more appetizing to Father." He sighed. "I WISH I could betray Father to the Sheriff. But there are more reasons than ever why I can't."

Quentin put his hands on the younger man's shoulders. "Jeremy, if this goes on until it's time for me to leave, I PROMISE, I SWEAR to you, I'll stay and 'take care' of Barnabas. He can't harm ME, and the burden will be off yourself and Willie. I care greatly for Barnabas, and I've had cause to be grateful to him in the past, but if there's no cure in sight, we have to think of the good of the many." He turned to leave, saying, "Tell me when to come back for the blood or tissue testing."

It was soon 6:30. Jeremy was getting ready to visit Vicki, when his father emerged from the cellar. "Where do you think YOU'RE going, Son?" Barnabas asked in a most unpaternal manner.

"I have---have to go to the hospital. I know it's not my regular shift, but someone called in sick, and---"

"You are LYING! Do you think I repose in my casket all day without having ANY inkling of what my thralls are doing, thinking, or saying?" He roughly took his son by the shoulders in a cruel parody of Quentin's concerned gesture earlier, and forced Jeremy to look into his eyes. "You were NEVER able to hide your true deeds and feelings, even as a child! In that way, you are like your mother. She could not lie for long to me, because she loved me too much, and so do you! Do you know the penalty for loving me, Son?"

"Death," Jeremy said. "It's not the same curse Angelique put on you, yet the bane is the same. But I'm your SON! Please don't kill me, Father! I haven't done anything against you!"

"No, but you discuss the possibility with those who WOULD! I KNOW Quentin was here, and I could hear his words against me channeled through YOUR being, a being that IS half of myself. I admit I can't keep up with entire conversations, but if YOU speak ill of ME, I WILL know it. And just to insure against THAT---"
He opened his mouth and exposed his fangs.

"NO! Father--- Papa, NO, Papa, NOOoooo...." Jeremy took the bite standing still as a statue, but with tears running down his face.

"Now, Son, WHERE are you going?"

"I--I'm going to visit Vicki Shaw. I need a favor from her. It--It doesn't concern you."

"THAT is a lie as well. But very well, go along on your visit. It will be futile--- and yet, on another level, it will be enlightening as well."

After Jeremy had left, Barnabas summoned Amy. She arrived in a bit of a huff, as she had been checking
aptitude test scores for the school. But as soon as Barnabas had her in his embrace, all thoughts of protest vanished. She clung to him even after he was sated, and purred, "You'll be SO pleased with me. Quentin himself entrusted me with the key to the new hiding place for his portrait."

"Well, this will have to be the night you must do some damage. Not enough to KILL him, mind, but enough to spoil whatever feeble plans he has, in his arrogance, made against ME. You'll be one step closer to being my first and most trusted Bride."

"And to complete the process?" she demanded, as she pressed her tense body against his.

"You'll enjoy this last part--- I will require you to do an evil deed against the Sheriff--"

"Say no more!" Amy shouted gleefully. "I'm there YESTERDAY, Barnabas!'
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jeremy arrived at the Shaws' house, and explained the situation to Vicki and Maggie, without mentioning anything about Quentin's true identity ("a grandson so like the original Quentin, there's no doubt he'll have enough of the right DNA!" he insisted) or discussing Vicki's connection to Willie and Harvey. Vicki consented to try to use her new-found influence. "But there will be one rather important addition to this round of DNA testing," she said. "I, too, want to be tested."

Her mother turned pale. "Why do you want to do that, Vicki? What do you want to prove? You just have that unusual blood enzyme. I think your father once mentioned that in HIS family---"

"Mother," the younger woman said, shaking her head, "There's no use pretending any more. I'm not 10 years old, wondering why Uncle Willie came over so often, though I enjoyed his visits. I'm almost 25, and I've been to college, and I know something about genetics. And I'm not unaware that I have some of my father's features. MY REAL father, WILLIE--- not Sebastian Shaw, though I'll always think of him as Daddy--- my FIRST Daddy from when I was little."

"That's NOT true!" Maggie cried. Her eyes filled with tears. "Vicki, I NEVER cheated on your father! I adored Sebastian with all my heart and soul--- you remember how I was when he was killed in that horrible accident! I could barely move! I wanted to DIE with him--- except that I had YOU, all that was left of HIM--- to live for! So you have blue eyes, a dimple, a pointy chin--- ANYONE can have those things, it doesn't mean your Daddy wasn't your FATHER!" She collapsed in a chair. "You know I couldn't bear for WILLIE to--to--- DO what you're implying, even if I WASN'T married to ANYONE!"

Though her head still hurt and she had been tired from the blood donation, Vicki went to sit with her mother, wound her arms around her. "Mom, please don't cry anymore. I don't hold it against you, no matter what you did. Really, if it means that much to you, I won't---"

Maggie thought back to the last time she ever visited Julia, who had insisted on being brought back home to the Old House to die. The younger woman, newly widowed, and the recipient of Willie's revelations,
had, in deference to Julia's illness, restrained herself for almost a year, but now required a final answer as to WHY the older woman had chosen to act as she did. Willie had helped to kidnap her years earlier, hadn't he? He'd been shot and confined to WindCliff for threatening her again, wasn't that also true? Sure, he tried to help her a few times after that, but he could have had ulterior motives. Then, WHY force HIS spawn on his victim who had so desperately longed for a child with the man she loved?

"You love your daughter, don't you, Maggie?" Julia barely whispered. "No matter who her father is? Don't you believe HE wants the best for her, much as you do?"

Maggie didn't answer at first. She was looking out the window of the bedroom, down at the swing-set Willie had erected for Jeremy and his playmates. The boy was sitting disconsolately on a swing; little Vicki, who had just turned 10, was coaxing him to swing a little "for fresh air." Little by little, the 12-year-old, though confronted with issues far beyond his years, put them aside and began to do as his companion bade him. The pair swung for a minute, when disaster struck--- Vicki fell off her swing! She was conscious, but she was crying piteously, and rubbing a deep scrape on her leg. Maggie moved to join them, when Willie dashed from some unseen spot--- no doubt he'd been watching them the whole time. He lifted the little girl tenderly, and was joined by Jeremy, who was now wailing with Vicki. Willie gathered the boy to him, and the trio sat for a minute while he tried to comfort them. Then he lifted Vicki to one shoulder, and, with an arm still encircling Jeremy, walked slowly into the Old House.

Maggie still didn't understand WHY, but her heart was no longer hardened by the long deception. She knew she would have to get downstairs, and turned to face Julia one last time, to soothe her final hours with an assurance that she'd done the right thing. But Julia was gone. Maggie ran to call for Dr. Heard, who had been keeping vigil with Barnabas, and had spent the time bandaging Vicki's leg. ALL of them hurried up the stairs, and when Dr. Heard made the terrible official pronouncement, Willie, sobbing with the rest, busied himself with attempts to console everybody.

THAT was the father of the nearly-selfless young woman Maggie had raised. Sebastian would have been a comfort to HER in those sad moments, but Willie practically fell over himself trying to do the right thing by
ALL the people he cared for, though also grieving. He had once been loathsome, lecherous, and larcenous, but that must have been a veneer, rubbed off by passing through a dreadful crucible that Maggie had shared, but seemed to have forgotten. It HAD to have been a facade, because in over 30 years, Willie never returned to his former state. This was the REAL Willie, and his spirit lived on in Vicki.

"Vicki," Maggie finally said, "I won't deny it any longer. And if you feel the need to confirm it with tests, so be it, I won't stop you. But please, sweetheart, DON'T tell anyone else. Both Willie and I agreed a long time ago that it would be best for YOU."

After Vicki had made her phone call on behalf of Jeremy, successfully securing the coveted appointment, Maggie said, "You two haven't had a private moment since before all this trouble started. I'll go out for a while, maybe to the Inn for coffee, and you two can discuss wedding plans--- Well, it's just a suggestion!" When she left, she drove up to a pay phone. She hoped against hope the right person would answer, or else she would have to do what she always did when anyone else said "hello" on the other end---hang up abruptly, like a childish prank.

Tonight, for once, luck was on her side. "Can you talk?" she said. "How is.... great, I AM happy for you....
Can you get out right now, and meet me at the usual place?.... Fine. I'll be seeing you then, Tony."

Back at the Shaw house, Vicki put her arms around Jeremy, kissed him passionately, and whispered, "Well, we're alone at last. Would you like to discuss, er, 'wedding plans' out here on the couch, or, perhaps, someplace more comfortable? I can't think of anything better to make this headache go away. Please, Jeremy, it's been a LONG time...."

Jeremy was trying to get out of her embrace. Something was wrong, he felt a sickening craving in his gut....
Just stress, he told himself. If he jumped into bed with Vicki now, he'd embarrass the both of them, either by failure of function, or just gas.... But his fiancee was insistent. Finally, led by the hand, he went with her to her bedroom. He kept protesting that Maggie might return, but she said, "Mom's been home with me every night since Uncle Willie got arrested. I know she's been going out with this new guy, and I think she REALLY likes him, but she hasn't brought him around yet. Your visit gave her an excuse to cop a little privacy of her own, and it's okay with ME, since you ARE a doctor, after all. I think we'll have MORE than enough time." Vicki smiled and blushed, something that still happened after over 2 years of clandestine intimacy, and which Jeremy usually found irresistable. Soon, the couple was rolling on the bed.

Jeremy still felt uncomfortable, though what he and Vicki were doing WAS distracting. In her excitement, Vicki was nibbling at his shoulder and his neck. Jeremy returned the gesture. Well, that wasn't exactly the term for WHAT he did--- he sank his teeth right into her neck, seemingly oblivious to her shrieks of pain, her pleading, her tears.... And WOULDN'T have stopped until he finished what else he was doing, but there was a pounding on the door. He sprang up in a panic, and pulled on the clothes he'd just shed. Vicki was moaning, but she, too, rose to dress. She wound a dark scarf around her throbbing, bleeding neck, and answered the door as calmly as she could--- it might be her mother, after all, and she couldn't bring herself to tell ANYONE was Jeremy had done.

Willie stood there, his wrinkled face twisted with anger and sorrow. He took one look at his daughter, and glared at Jeremy. "Barnabas SAID you'd be here," he snarled. "Obviously, he WANTED me to see THIS!"
Vicki collapsed in his arms. Willie clung to her and, trying to get control of himself, said, "I KNOW this isn't YOUR fault, but right now, Boy, you'd BETTER get the HELL out of here RIGHT NOW, or as God is my witness, I WILL do something We're BOTH gonna be sorry for!"

Jeremy took the hint, and beat a shame-faced retreat, his hand clapped over his mouth as though he had a monstrous nausea. And, indeed, Willie could hear him retching violently near the bushes. He could NEVER hate the young man, who was just a tool of his Father, but Vicki was muttering, "Daddy....I want Daddy...."

"It's gonna be okay, Vicki. Your Daddy's here...."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Vicki's neck was showing signs of infection in the spots where Jeremy had broken the skin. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a tetanus shot. Willie had no choice but to take her to the Emergency Room. While he was driving his daughter to Seamen's Memorial, he asked her where Maggie was, and was irritated when Vicki said she had no idea, but that she'd probably be back before midnight. "You mean, your Mom goes out with these guys, and doesn't leave a PHONE NUMBER?" Willie was amazed at such irresponsibility.

"Before I came back from college, of course she did!" Vicki said. "But, now, we're BOTH adults, and I admit I don't always give her MY itinerary when I'm going on a date, either, Uncle--uhh.... I'm sorry, it will be a while before I feel okay about calling you 'Dad'---"

"I wouldn't want you to slip up and tell the world just yet, honey," he replied. "Anyway, Sebastian WAS your 'Dad', then, and if he was still alive, he would be, NOW. I wouldn't have told you OR your mother, if it meant wrecking your happiness with him. You wouldn't get fired from your JOB for having a father who's an ex-con, ex-mental patient who was dumb enough to let a doctor fool him?"

In spite of her pain, Vicki managed the smile that made their resemblance apparent. "Oh, Uncle Willie, of COURSE not! After all, David and Hallie recommended me for the job."

"David DID like me when he was a kid," Willie replied. "I guess when I first showed up he thought I was exciting, like having a gangster or pirate as a guest. In a way I'll never be able to explain to you, it's partly his fault that I stayed put here. He told me stories about his family that made Collinsport seem more--more INTERESTING."

"And did you find it so?"

Vicki didn't see the sudden look of anguish on her father's face. "As things turned out, yeah. In some ways, I guess I got what I wanted, AND what I deserved. I know I wanted a nice kid like YOU, and now I HAVE you, and it isn't what I deserved." He reached over and squeezed Vicki's hand. She squeezed back.

At the Emergency Room, Willie discussed what Vicki should tell the attending physician and nurses. "You know, Vicki, maybe it WOULD be a good idea to tell on Jeremy.... He really wasn't right in his mind, and they could lock him in Windcliff for a while until he gets better." And, Willie thought, the poor kid would be safe from his FATHER! "You know I helped bring him up from when he was a baby, so I mean this for his own good."

"I wish I COULD, Uncle Willie, but then it will come out that we were---we were---" She blushed with REAL shame this time "I'm sorry, Uncle Willie, but we're LOVERS. I know that might make you angry, but we DID intend to marry eventually. But what I'm afraid is, that they'll think he RAPED me or that he's some kind of total pervert, and he'll lose his job, maybe even his license to practice, even if he doesn't end up in jail. He's not the kind to sneak into another state and set up as a doctor, but it's what he's wanted to be his entire life!"

"You have to think of YOURSELF, sometimes, Baby. I wish I'd learned that lesson years ago. But it's YOUR decision."

In the end, Vicki told the nurse who did her intake report that it was an animal bite. "I'll have to inform the Sheriff, then," the nurse said, "due to similar attacks on the other girls. The doctor will be in shortly."

The nurse ran into Job Woodard. "Oh, Deputy, maybe you could relay a message to Sheriff Lacey." She told of Vicki's bite. "Miss Shaw says it's an animal, but if you asked ME, it just looks like a hickey gone loco. But I STILL have to report it."

Job said sternly, "We cannot discount ANY stories, not even those of huge hickeys, Nurse Craig. I'll be sure to tell the Sheriff." He walked with the nurse a way, until he came to Dr. Heard's office door. It was ajar, and the light was out. "Odd," the deputy commented.

"What, that the door is open? You're right, the Doctor should have locked up, but maybe he was called out in a hurry," the nurse suggested.

"Oh, not just that, but I was supposed to meet Barnabas Collins here after his appointment with Dr. Heard tonight."

The nurse said, "Mr. Collins was supposed to come here TONIGHT? But he was here this MORNING. I know, because I had occasion to visit this office about 5:30 AM. Dr. Heard and young Dr. Collins were waiting here for Mr. Collins to return from having some tests."

Job was incredulous. "Did you SEE Mr. Collins?"

"Well, no, but the lab is on a different floor."

"You didn't happen to talk to whoever drew his samples?"

The nurse was becoming indignant. "No, why SHOULD I have?"

"The doctor told the Sheriff and Miss Cagney that the lab doesn't open until 6 A.M."

"I guess they made an exception for Dr. Collins's father."

"I guess. Thanks anyway, Nurse Craig." Job thought, SURE, the old man went to the lab. But maybe he took a big detour to get there--- which took him to Alice Lacey's room! While Job could see where a man might slip by unnoticed in a hospital seemingly-deserted in the wee hours, he still couldn't figure out how Barnabas got by his napping girlfriend Miss Cagney, who HAD been sitting right next to the young girl's bed. Maybe gave her a shot of a sedative. Anyway, he knew he'd better inform the Sheriff. She might be willing to come out to the Collins Estates. In fact, it might be urgent, since Miss Cagney had mentioned plans to visit her beau at the Old House as soon as he'd returned from what they all thought was his real appointment.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Maggie sat up in the motel bed she was sharing with Tony Peterson. He reached up for her, though he was dozing on and off. They had just put in an exhausting session of lovemaking--- both behaved as though starved for the contact. Both had felt somewhat guilty over leaving their respective daughters, but Maggie's Vicki was recovering well from her ordeals, and the mother felt her daughter was in good hands for the couple of hours she expected to be gone. As for Tony, he felt a little uneasy about leaving his family, but
Carolyn insisted on spending the night on a cot in Pauline's room. the same way she had, years ago, when their then-frail baby daughter had to make frequent stays in hospitals. Pauline seemed to be mending well after her surgery, and was under sedation for the most part, so it seemed unlikely that there would be a crisis in his brief absence.

"What happened, sweetheart?" Tony asked Maggie. He rubbed her back. "You weren't sleeping, so you couldn't have been having a bad dream. Or are you in some kind of pain?"

"Crow walked on my grave. That's the only way I can explain it," she whispered. "Something tells me I'd better get home." She bent over and kissed Tony, who DID pull her down with him. "When everything is back to normal for both of us, we'll be able to spend more time together, won't we?" Maggie asked.

"I've been thinking about that," Tony replied. "I WANT to make a break from Carolyn, and it ISN'T her money that's stopping me. I managed on my own before we married, and I'm sure I'd manage after. DAVID certainly isn't going to get rid of me! But I would hate to see Carolyn end up like her mother before her--- alone, with nobody to trust, even her own child. Our daughter is not yet capable of understanding what happened in the family years ago. That's been the one thing that keeps drawing me back to Carolyn--- she's so needy. And now this horrible thing with Pauline and Quentin--- I won't have moral grounds to stand on, fighting that relationship, if it becomes known that I'm involved with another woman. I'm sorry, Maggie, but it's going to be a few more months of motel-hopping for us. Then, I PROMISE, I'll start working on a divorce, and maybe by next year at this time, we'll be married."

"It's okay, Tony. I love you. We haven't been together very long, maybe having to wait another year is a good idea." In fact, Maggie was HOPING he wouldn't move too fast on any great life-changing plans. The affair had begun so suddenly--- she had NEVER dated a married man, and had actually regarded Tony, who had grown up in her neighborhood but had distanced himself from it by his legal degree and his subsequent marriage to Carolyn Collins Stoddard Hawkes, as a rather remote person, though she had always liked him and trusted his legal judgment. Tony was like a male Princess Diana, a commoner who had snagged the biggest matrimonial prize, and had entered another world far removed from his former simple life.

Ironically, the relationship had begun, 6 months earlier, when Tony came to her art store seeking the perfect painting as a gift to his wife for their anniversary. He and Maggie went together to an art auction in Rockport, and had a deep conversation in a diner on the way home. Somehow, in the process of explaining where the newly-purchased picture was to be hung, Tony blurted out that he and his wife no longer shared a room, never mind a bed.

Maggie, who had just broken from a relationship from a man who almost started panting and drooling when she showed him a picture of HER daughter, listened sympathetically when Tony talked about problems with HIS beloved daughter. They kissed a polite good-bye, then Tony took her face in his hands, and pulled her back for a REAL kiss. Within minutes, they were planning their first rendezvous, which proved satisfactory for the both of them. And since then, they managed to plan business trips that brought them to the same towns at the same time, as well as brief getaways like this one.

On one level, Maggie was happy to have a relationship that brought her so many rewards without any real obligations, one reason she wasn't eager for marriage. On the other hand, she occasionally had a qualm about her daughter's possible reaction, and even about Carolyn. They had never been friends, exactly, and Carolyn had all but driven her FIRST boyfriend, Joe Haskell, into Maggie's arms. Maggie had even become closer to the now-long-departed Victoria Winters than Carolyn, whose secret half-sister the first Vicki probably was.

But there weren't any real hard feelings between them after Maggie had miraculously escaped and survived
her kidnapping, and had broken with Joe before coming to work at Collinwood, anyway. And she HAD sympathized with Carolyn over the latter's efforts to become pregnant, then felt genuine sorrow when the pregnancy had ended in near-total disaster. What had happened with Tony was like an accident caused by inertia, but Maggie liked things the way they were, and made no unreasonable demands on her lover, including fidelity--- if Carolyn was still demanding intimacy with Tony, it wasn't a good idea to deny her.

Now, this sense of freedom made it easier for Maggie to snap back to her primary obligation. She extricated
herself from Tony's embrace, and called her home. No answer--- that was odd, since Vicki still wasn't feeling too great and she had Jeremy right there. Maybe they went out for a bite to eat, anyway, but Maggie chose to shower and dress quickly. She DID give her lover a lingering kiss goodbye, but felt an urgency to get away.

Maggie almost couldn't believe the hastily-scrawled note that WILLIE had left--- Jeremy had let HIM take Vicki to the hospital? Why? And she couldn't believe Willie's reaction when she arrived at the Emergency Room--- he was speaking to the Sheriff and Deputy Woodard, calmly enough, but when he saw Maggie, he ripped into HER like she was the negligent Mother of the last 30 Years!

"Where the HELL have you been!" He yelled. ""Even Vicki didn't know where her own mother was!"

"Willie, calm DOWN, Vicki isn't hurt that badly," Mary Beth said soothingly. "I'm not sure it's connected to the other attacks, but she was very lucky you showed up in time--- like on Saturday night."

"I'm sorry, Willie," Maggie said. "Sheriff Lacey. Job. I went out for coffee, and I ran into an old friend, and we ended up having a late supper while talking over old times. I guess I SHOULD have called, but I trusted JEREMY to look after my daughter."

"Jeremy had to go take care of his Dad," Willie said. "I showed up to relieve him."

"Now what could be wrong with Barnabas Collins? I thought he was supposed to see the doctor tonight," Mary Beth said.

"According to what some nurse told me, he was here early this morning!" Job asserted.

Mary Beth froze. The words, "and my daughter had her relapse early this morning," hung in the air. She and Job looked right into each other's eyes. This wasn't lost on Willie, who suddenly looked sick. But the Sheriff collected herself. "Well, that should please Christine--- she was going to head over to visit Barnabas as soon as he came home. Now, she'll be able to get over there early.... Hey, Job, shouldn't you be getting back to the station to finish the paperwork? I'll bet Hepsey would be glad to have you home early for once."

"I'll get RIGHT on it, Sheriff, ma'am." Job all but ran out of the hospital.

Willie became, if possible, even MORE agitated. "Well, that's all I have to say.... Now that Maggie's here, I guess I can go home now." He walked with the mother of his child to the door. "Vicki KNOWS about us," he said.

"Yes, not that there's much to know," Maggie replied. ""How was she about it, with YOU?"

"If I could have designed and built my ideal daughter, I couldn't have done a better job. She's a great lady, and--- and she still loves me--- us--- anyway." Before he left, Willie said, "but I hope she doesn't get wise to what YOU'VE been up to, Maggie."

"What are you TALKING about!"

"So you went to see an 'old friend'. Well, I know it HASN'T been raining, and it's too late to use the swimming pool at the 'Y'. But your hair is pretty WET. Do you always take a shower after visiting a 'friend'? And how come the label on your sweater is showing?"

Maggie was red-faced. "I can't talk about this right now. It's none of your business, anyway."

"If you were so proud of what you were just doing, you couldn't STOP talking about it. But I'll keep quiet." Willie kissed Maggie's cheek. "Take good care of OUR daughter."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christine was finally able to appreciate the beautiful ambience of the older Collins mansion. "I might as well tell you, Barnabas, I grew up, well, more than moderately well-off, thanks to my mother being a member of one of the most elite families in Westchester, New York. I've been scads of houses that could be called mansions, but they were mostly sprawling, modern-style ranch homes. And they had their complement of tacky modern art interpersed with glum-looking family portraits. Although, at one time, I hoped to produce similar tacky modern art, as a young student in Paris!" She smiled wistfully--- the great thing about so much time having passed since then, was that the sad memories truly HAD faded, and she could laugh about her girlish ideals and plans. "But seldom was I EVER in mansions like this, or Collinwood--- my mother's family was what they called 'new' money, meaning a fortune begun about 1900, and the kind of people that lived in THESE places were OLD money--- there wasn't much mixing with them."

"Did you ever really want to?" Barnabas asked. He sipped a sherry, while his companion made do with mineral water.

"No.... because I had a double whammy. Not only was my mother's side relatively nouveau riche, SHE had upped and married my father, a good-looking, but very middle class Irish cop who was johnny-on-the-spot, rescuing her purse almost instantly after it was snatched, one fine spring day. As a couple, they were never completely accepted by the social strata of Westchester. But Mother made an effort to get her children involved with others in her class, with mixed results. I became my father's pet, I guess, and my brother was Mother's. In the end, I wanted to do what my father did, and even surpass him--- maybe to prove something to my mother, who'd split with him, but by then she was dead anyway. You can't prove anything to the dead." She sighed, and leaned against Barnabas's shoulder. "When my father finally died, I had identified with him so strongly, I felt like I couldn't prove anything to MYSELF for a while. And that, in a roundabout way, is why I'm drinking Perrier rather than that lovely-scented fine sherry YOU'RE enjoying at the moment."

Barnabas took her hand, and rubbed it against his cheek, which was warm for once, thanks to the quantity of blood he'd consumed so far. "Just being with YOU after our recent estrangement, dear Christine, SHOULD be intoxicant enough for the both of us. With ME, you wouldn't have to worry about 'proving' anything. We're far from dead yet." He put down his drink, and drew her closer. He gazed deeply into her small but expressive dark eyes, and maintained the eye contact even when he was kissing her most passionately. He
felt a little closer to normal once again--- this only happened in HER company. I can have the best of BOTH
my worlds, he thought, as he caressed her through her clothing. "Christine, nobody is here but ourselves. We can go up to my room, if you like."

They both rose, and Barnabas kept his arm around Christine as they went up the narrow staircase together. On the way down the hall to the master bedroom, Christine noticed a faint light coming from under a large closed door. "What, is that Jeremy's room, or Willie's?" she asked. "I thought we were alone."

"Oh, no.... That is, er, 'Josette's room'. I was in there earlier, making sure that nothing was damaged, after Willie dusted in there. The room has to be dusted frequently, and the antiques in there checked for rot.
I must have left a lantern in there, as there's no electricity."

"You should turn it off, in case of fire.'

"It's a battery-powered lantern Willie uses when he goes out fishing in the wee hours. No danger, except the battery might give out."

"Still.... Mary Beth saw that room. May I have a look before we---"

"Well, I suppose so." Barnabas sounded more than reluctant, but he couldn't deny Christine anything at this point. He opened the door. The lantern, resting on the mantle beneath the portrait, threw off an eerier glow than even candles. The crystals on the lamp sparkled, the lines of the delicate furniture gleamed, and the subject of the portrait itself seemed almost alive, gazing down on the couple with a questioning look in her large, dark eyes.

"This is so strange," Christine murmurred, "but so beautiful." She turned to Barnabas. "When I was little, I dreamed of having a room like this. Mine was nice and large, but my parents preferred easy-to clean modern furniture. But I DID have a vanity similar to this one, inherited from my grandmother." She gazed into the looking-glass, cloudy due to its antiquity. Her face glowed in the nimbus of light, making the heaviness of age and lines of worry and sadness fade. "This is a room that keeps one young forever, like that poor girl up there who couldn't marry you ancestor and died...."

Barnabas grabbed her by the shoulders, and pressed her close. "It's a room that should have been dedicated to love and lovemaking. Josette, beautiful as she was, had no fortitude, no real lust for life except that temporarily conferred by a witch's curse. Not like YOU, my love, who are mature in years but young and vibrant and still lusty in spirit, I DO believe." He kissed Christine again, and edged her toward the canopied bed. "Maybe THIS is what was meant to happen in this room, so far untouched by intimacy, unlike my own room, which saw its share of conjugal love. Mine and my parents...."

"Your parents?" Christine said, incredulously, but was cut off as he eased them both onto the brocaded quilt with the fleur-de-lys pattern. Barnabas was murmurring indistinctly, and soon she forgot about his odd mistake. For a man in his seventies, he had a LOT of energy, and there was something about HIS energy that transferred itself to HER, making her forget body aches and other minor discomforts. The old bed began to creak ominously. Then the lantern's battery died.

The door flew open. Christine struggled to see over Barnabas's shoulder. She could just make out a female figure in the doorway, coming closer, a silhouette with something long and pointed in its outstretched hand. I don't BELIEVE in ghosts, she thought wildly, but---"Barnabas, watch out! Josette has a KNIFE!"

Her lover jumped up in a flash, and confronted the still-unseen woman--- ghost?--- who turned, and ran down the stairs. Christine rose at once, also, intending to grab her gun from her coat hung on a chair, but the couple stumbled about in the dark, tripping over the clothes they were hastily donning, giving the woman enough time to run out the front door.

There was a sound of a male voice outside yelling, "STOP!" and then, the same male voice crying out in pain, followed by a loud gurgle. Barnabas and Christine arrived on the doorstep just in time to see Willie--- kneeling over a large, light body in the newly-sprouting grass.

"It's Job Woodard!" Willie called, anguish in his voice and every line of his being. "I think he's DEAD!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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