PART TWENTY-THREE: ALMOST FIVE WEEKS LATER: SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2000
The doorbell rang at the Laceys' home at precisely noon. Harvey Lacey, released from the hospital two weeks previously, bounded to the door with an energy he was still amazed to feel. The person at the door was, apparently, amazed at his recovery as well, since she all but fell into his arms instantly. "My God, Harvey," Christine Cagney said, "to think, the last time I saw you, you were still in bed attached to a dozen tubes. I KNEW you were getting better then, but not THIS fast."
"Oh, you'd be SURPRISED at some of the things I can do now," Harvey said, winking at her, "but we won't discuss them in mixed company." He called back over his shoulder for his wife to come running.
Mary Beth rushed out and joined in a group hug. "How was the flight up, Christine?"
"Oh, I'd recommend that EVERYONE take a trip in the Collins corporate jet. Brunch and alcohol-free drinks, courtesy of Quentin and Hallie Collins. Imagine wanting someone at a christening so badly, you send your own private PLANE to pick the person up! Michael and Iris sent regards, and a present for our God-son. It's still outside in the car, ALSO provided by our hosts."
Mary Beth said, "I almost feel like this is OUR christening into the Collins family."
Harvey replied, "Maybe it IS. I certainly have more than a little Collins in me.... Though I have mixed emotions about how I came by part of it. But Hallie always looks happy to see me, I guess it makes her feel better that David's death wasn't a total waste. And old Roger. You should see him 'supervising' when Willie and I are going over the house plans for Quentin's 'Seaview' place. Like a Dad picking on his wayward sons." He chuckled at the thought.
Christine's face became pensive at the reference to a "Dad". Mary Beth noticed right away. "What's the matter? You said you had some big news for us. I take it, all the test results are in? Is it good news, or bad news? What WOULD be bad news?"
"It's hard to say. Is Alice around, Mary Beth? I'd like her in on this. She's earned the right to some adult confidence."
"I'm here, Aunt Christine," Alice piped up from behind her mother. She came around and embraced the blonde woman. She led her aunt to the couch.
"Well," Christine began, "Brian came from California to help oversee the exhumation, as he promised. He'd brought a pile of medical records with him. We both watched as our parents' caskets were--were removed." She started to sniffle. "I had never seen Mother's casket--- she died and was buried before I could leave Paris--- I did not realize, nor had anyone ever told me, how beautiful it was. Silver-colored, with embossed roses around the rims and on the handles, and a fancy name-plate which had never tarnished. I asked Brian who had chosen it--- he said he didn't know, it wasn't him or DAD or even old Cousin Estelle Olmstead. Some friend of the family, who preferred to remain nameless. But I SUSPECT it may have been Elizabeth Stoddard, who, at the time, couldn't bring herself to leave Collinwood, even to attend the funeral of her best friend from school. I doubt it was Roger Collins; he was still married and living in Augusta at the time Mother died.
"It disturbed me to think that EITHER of those caskets would be opened.... Well, anyway, they were taken to the hospital, and the samples extracted--- we didn't have to see any of this--- then Brian and I had blood drawn as well. We rushed the caskets back, with a minister and a priest to read re-committal services. Then, when the turf was replaced, you'd never have known.... It helped that it was only a few hours. Still, I lingered to ask their forgiveness, especially Mother's." At this point, Mary Beth reached for her friend's hand, and the clasp squeezed tight between them.
Christine continued, "The samples and records went straight to GenScan. It took less than a week--- Vicki promised we'd have priority status. Then, they had HER call myself and Brian with the results. We set up a conference line between Maine, Manhattan and L.A. Vicki said, if the tests had depended solely on DNA, the match between Charlie and Jason would have been a pretty close call for either myself or Brian. Even more than is USUAL for the sons of identical twins--- those McCaffrey genes seem to be as overwhelming as the sisters who posessed them. However, the question was settled, not just by DNA, but good old-fashioned BLOOD tests. Charlie and Jason had completely different blood TYPES. Mated to my mother's blood type, only CHARLIE'S was consistent with the paternity of both Brian AND myself! I AM my father's daughter--- Charlie's...." Her voice trailed off.
Mary Beth asked, "Why are you so sad, Christine? This IS what you and everyone else wanted--- except maybe JASON, and that had NOTHING to do with your best interests!"
"Well, of COURSE I'm happy about this--- but think, Mary Beth! The wasted years of doubt and mistrust between my parents that resulted, because they couldn't bring themselves to talk openly about it! The anguish it brought to myself and my brother! This could have been settled YEARS and YEARS ago! This whole catastrophe of Jason's revenge--- it COULD have been averted! And Barnabas---" NOW Christine wept.
Mary Beth held her. "I KNOW what you're thinking, Jason wouldn't have caused Barnabas to have a relapse of his curse, and you two could have settled down. Amy would be okay, a pain in the ass of a principal, but untainted, and David still alive.... My family unaffected--- Well Harvey would still have had to worry about his heart, but now we get to worry about whether he'll reject the new one.... I could go on and on, but what's the point? It all happened. Nothing can take it back. And think--- if your Dad had squared off against his cousin 35 years ago and won, Barnabas wouldn't even have-- have been around, nor Willie. because there would have been no reason for Willie to come HERE in the first place. It's a mixed bag of plusses and minuses."
"There's another plus , or minus, to add to that bag, depending on your point of view--- and I think I KNOW what yours will be.... Mary Beth, last week, just after I found out, who should call me, of all people, but DAVID KEELER! I had heard rumors that he and Elaine were splitting up, but he made it clear that, not only was it almost a done deal, but that he wanted to pick up with me, where we left off over 15 years ago! I was--- AGHAST! I haven't even THOUGHT of him in THAT context in a LONG time--- not through my own marriage, nor any of the relationships since then!"
"Well, it might not be such a bad idea--- if he still cares about you THAT much after all this time."
Christine shook her head. "It wouldn't be fair to either of us. I DON'T love David, haven't since even BEFORE we finally broke up. I wouldn't fret over his future social life, if I were you. He's still quite an attractive fellow for his age; he might find another feisty blonde to give him a hard time--- someone who's about 25 years younger, I should think. Anyway, you know who I REALLY want to see up here."
Mary Beth sighed--- not just with resignation, but there was something else--- Christine sensed it. But the other woman asked, simply, "You're only out here for the weekend, right?"
"Yes, then the company jet will whiz me back by 10 PM, Sunday night. I have to be in court bright and early on Monday morning. That means I have all of maybe 36 hours to get in touch with Barnabas, whom, I presume, will NOT be in attendance tomorrow?"
Mary Beth shrugged. "One never knows with the Collinses. I thought Quentin was dead to them, but you saw how they made it up with him just in time for David's funeral. It helps that he's already living in part of that Seaview place, well away from Pauline. She and our Jonah act like they're pretty hot and heavy, but so far as I know, they haven't--- they haven't---" She blushed. "Jonah's so cute, he comes over and confides in me like a Mom. I guess he's afraid of getting so serious so fast. Apparently, there's another lady in town who's taken his fancy---"
Christine smiled--- a tiny, tight smile. "What a quaint, Collinsporty kind of phrase! But I don't think it's THAT kind of fancy, Mary Beth. Jonah's been keeping track of Miss Catherine MANSFIELD Trask for me. The one who helped Jason McGuire get Tony Peterson in dutch. Naturally, we wondered if there WAS another family connection, besides the obvious Trask one."
"Oh, so THAT'S why he's always getting
Elliot or Alice to show him all those tricks on the Internet!
I noticed they hit the genealogy sites a lot, Jonah even paid to subscribe to a couple, to get extra information, and then to U.S. Search---"
"Catherine is OUR Mansfield's NIECE, via a younger half-sister," Christine explained. "We weren't going to spill about it until we were sure, but we both feel she may have picked up a few lessons from her uncle, though we haven't any solid evidence as yet. THIS Mansfield's learned VERY well how to cover HER tracks. But Jonah's going to keep monitoring the situation. In order to do this, he's made a point of hanging out in some of her favorite places when she's in town. While she's more of a Collinsport Inn kind of lady, it seems she enjoys the salty ambiance of the Blue Whale. And I DON'T think it's because she favors the company of drunken sailors."
Mary Beth replied, "You may be right
about that, but unless there's solid cause to suspect her of anything, any
investigation has to remain outside the Sheriff's office. I HOPE this Miss Trask isn't as eager to, say, have someone's head blown off
as her uncle once was--- I'd hate to have something
happen to Jonah, or anyone ELSE I care about. If you catch my drift."
Christine was remembering--- she was ALWAYS remembering, though she managed to act like she had gotten over the bad times years ago, events like her rape, and a bald, bland-faced, corpulent old man with puffy eyes, holding a pistol right to her head.... David's defense of Mansfield, done as a favor to the lawyer who had mentored him, had helped lead to their break-up, and years of fascinating nightmares afterwards.
Mary Beth broke the silence. "Just when you think all your worries are sewed up--- I thought Mansfield was a 'done deal', too, YEARS ago--- along comes something that rips your safety net to shreds."
Christine snapped out of her reverie. "Speaking of nets, how IS our old Chicken of the Sea? My former candidate for Father of the Year--- NOT!"
"Oh, JASON.... He's at the county jail now, has waived his right to a trial by jury, and will be tried before judges. I don't think there will be much trouble putting HIM away for good. I'd give anything to be present when he's told that you two are just cousins and nothing more."
"Yeah, what a blow--- to realize that maybe Mother was playing a double game with HIM. I just realized, myself, that Mother probably WAS careful when Jason came over to play his filthy games. After all, she was Protestant, and diaphragms WERE available back then, and could be put into place hours beforehand. However, Charlie wouldn't have stood for them, so she probably respected HIS wishes. Still, they weren't 100 per-cent effective, so the doubt WAS always in their minds. Ughh. Well, I won't go on about it.... . How's Amy's case coming along?"
"She opted for the same legal procedure. Young Mr. Bradford convinced her that would be less messy. Especially since all the cops she hurt are about to be released from the hospital."
"It'll be great to see Job Woodard," Christine said.
"Yeah, I've been visiting him regularly, and he's eager to get back to work, but it's going to be a month or two before he's able. Hepsey is grateful for the help Willie's provided, though she's a bit P.O.'ed at him right now. In fact, we ALL are, except for Quentin."
"Really? Explain, please, how ANYONE could be mad at Harvey's cousin, including Harvey!"
"Well, Willie and Amy announced that they're ENGAGED. Please, Christine, don't let that make you too upset." Then, as if caught on the spot, Mary Beth announced, VERY hesitantly, "And don't let THIS make you sick, either--- it seems that Miss Jennings is ALSO pregnant, though by WHOM, she won't say. I DOUBT it's Willie's, though he is MORE than willing to help her out, with Quentin's assistance. Something tells me it wasn't DAVID'S, either. That leaves only one other possibility---"
"NO! NOT Barnabas, it CAN'T be--- Oh, My
God--- " Christine's face went completely white,
she clutched her head dramatically, before falling off the couch. Mary Beth yelled for her husband to get ammonia from the bathroom, having no smelling salts on hand. It took several whiffs before Christine caughed and gagged herself out of her syncope. "Mary Beth, Mary Beth, it CAN'T be," the blonde woman panted. "Vampires can't DO that when they're acting AS vampires! That's all THEY were about--- they were BOTH that way. Blood-sharing is the closest they can get. Alice, WE talked about this---"
"Yes," the girl replied, "but like I said then, we'll never know just WHAT would have happened if you and Cousin Willie hadn't interrupted the 'wedding ceremony'."
Mary Beth said insistently, "Christine, you ADMIT that Barnabas was able to be with YOU. Vampirism CAN'T be like a faucet, that one can turn it on and off at will. If he could do that with YOU, then it stands to reason...."
"He didn't, he DIDN'T. He didn't LOVE
her enough--- he loved ME, and maybe ALICE, because
WE reminded him of women he HAD loved. Amy was just an ACCIDENT for him. If ANYBODY, why COULDN'T it have been David?"
"Because--- this is going is going to sound as freaky as anything else in this situation--- physically, Amy is still INTACT. A virgin. I DON'T think this was an Immaculate Conception from Heaven Above, nor do I think she made a withdrawal from the Collinsport SPERM bank. It almost HAD to have been supernatural. However, the results were QUITE real. If they were still using the rabbit test, this would have knocked a whole hutch-full dead. Though I wouldn't give up hope--- God, I hate to have to hope that another woman's pregnancy bites the dust--- but AMY got a tankful, not only of the 'miracle cure', but also Jason's poison, before that. She may miscarry."
Christine insisted, "Vicki's baby survived its mother's treatment, and I've no doubt Allarice was able to disperse Jason's 'bad medicine' for Amy before she administered Lang's real serum. Still, whether or not it's born alive, or normal--- Christ, what a MESS...."
Mary Beth helped Christine into the bed, and sat with her, applying cold compresses Alice kept bringing from the kitchen. The distraught woman had fallen on carpet, but her head DID hit the coffeetable, and a lump was forming above her left ear. After a while, Harvey came in with some home-made chowder and crackers, and coaxed her into eating them. "I'm sorry for all the trouble," Christine said, as she now pressed the latest rag to the lump. "I think I can get up now, really. I'd like to see Barnabas, A.S.A.P."
Mary Beth said, "I'm not sure that's a
good idea right now, Chris--- maybe you should see a doctor.
You don't ordinarily pass out like that. How's your blood pressure these days? Your cholesterol level, and all that? Neither of us are young fillies anymore. We both have to keep an eye on boring old-people stuff like that."
Harvey, who had been listening at the door, snorted, "Hey, I RESEMBLE that remark! Old-people stuff, indeed!"
Christine replied, "Last time I had the
blood pressure checked was when we were in the hospital just over a month ago!
It's just borderline, HAS been for the last 20 years. Got to watch the diet,
and maybe start up jogging again," she added, with a half-hearted chuckle.
"As for the rest, I'm sure it wasn't too long ago." Actually, it had
been over 2 years, but she wasn't about to tell Mary Beth that. "I've been
under a lot of stress, even since our big adventure. Geoff Coombs and I worked
overtime to ensure that one of the most brutal wife-killers we've had to deal
with in a couple of years will be convicted--- that's what I have to be in
court for on Monday. I put in a lot of mid-nighters to compile all the
necessary evidence so that I could have this one weekend off. Anyway, if I
DON'T see Barnabas SOON, I can almost guarantee my blood pressure will go up
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine thought, it seems more like 5 YEARS, than 5 WEEKS, since she'd stood on the Old House veranda. The building gleamed in the afternoon sun. The rose bushes near the steps had just started to bloom--- a symphony of different shades of red, from an orchestra of modern hybrid teas, old-fashioned cabbages, and simple but stunning eglantines. Bees swirled and dove among the tender new blooms, surrounded by the miasma of heady fragrance.
Julia's roses, Christine mused. The bushes looked neat and pruned, in fact the whole patch of green in front of the columned mansion was closely trimmed, and pure emerald. The trees, once so forbidding and bare, were clothed in maple, oak, and ash foliage. There was a new addition--- a young sassafrass sapling, with its odd mix of mitted and single-shafted leaves.
She was so lost in the scene, that when the
large double doors opened, she quite forgot whether or not she had, indeed,
rung the bell. "Oh, I'm sorry," she gasped to the unknown middle-aged
in a grey suit, who stood in the doorway. "I thought Mr. Barnabas Collins still lived here."
"But he DOES, Madam," the man answered in a clipped British accent, much sharper than Barnabas's. "I see you did not know--- I am his household manager, as they say in this country. BUTLER, or VALET, as they say in MINE. Edward Landsdowne, at your service." He extended his hand, not presumptuously, but with the very proper, respectful restraint that Christine vaguely remembered from a couple of her Grandfather Olmstead's English butlers.
She gave him hers, with just the proper amount of ladylike limpness. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Lands--"
"Oh, Edward, PLEASE, Madam."
"Edward. I am Ms. Christine Cagney. But YOU may address ME by MY given name."
'Ah, well, that is against form, but will 'Miss Christine' be suitable?"
Sounds like the name of a girlish governess,or dance instructor for kindergarteners, she thought, but answered smoothly, "Indubitably. Edward, IS Mr. Collins at home?"
"Yes, Miss Christine, but he is indisposed. A bit under the weather, alas."
"Oh, that's too bad. Still, I've come a long way, from New York, and he DOES know me. I might be able to cheer him up." How aggravating, to have to fence with this surprisingly tenacious protector of his brand-new employer! "DO tell him I've come, Edward. I'll wait right here."
"No, Madam, you needn't wait out here. Forgive me!, but Mr. Collins hasn't had much company since I arrived, and didn't seem to want it, not even members of the Collins family." Edward seemed genuinely concerned and perplexed about this. "PLEASE, come into the parlor, and I shall inquire."
He left her seated in a large Queen Anne-winged-style armchair, closest to the fire, which was smoldering even now, though it was pretty warm for May. As always, however, the fire itself had drawn the warmth from the room outside of its immediate area, and Christine shivered a little.
There was a series of creaks coming down the steps of the stairway in the narrow foyer near the front door. Christine stood and turned toward the sound, and saw Barnabas, leaning a bit on Edward's shoulder, while navigating himself with his wolf-headed cane. But when he saw HER, he broke from his solicitous butler, dropped the cane, and took 3 large, though shaky, steps into the parlor. They were instantly in each other's arms.
They broke for just a moment, to see the incredulous Edward, his face beaming in approval. "You can go now, Edward," Barnabas said happily.
"I'll go fix--- tea or coffee, sir?"
"Oh, coffee, I should think," his employer replied. "The stronger and blacker the better. I seem to recall Miss Cagney preferring it that way. But DO bring the heavy cream and sugar for me, please. And a couple of those buttered scones. They taste fine no matter what they're paired with." Edward scuttled noiselessly to the kitchen. "THAT should keep him busy for a while," Barnabas said, smiling into Christine's small, dark blue eyes. In defense of the devoted butler, she protested, "He seems to take excellent care of you, considering he hasn't been here all that long."
"It's been quite a long 3-and-a-half weeks since he started caring for me. It's a bit stifling, he's more like a NANNY sometimes, than a butler, but he DOES like me. I pay him well enough and cover his insurance, treat him kindly, and give him enough consideration insofar as days off, and had a room upstairs specially refurbished for his use. Why SHOULDN'T he like me, really? And I DO appreciate the effort Quentin put in to secure his services. There aren't many butlers around who are also certified nurse's aides. But I don't feel as though I'll be NEEDING one much longer."
Christine said, "Barnabas, that's ridiculous. Edward was practically CARRYING you down those stairs. I know you're happy to see me, but you still don't seem in any condition to get around too much by yourself, even in your own home. ARE you recovering properly?"
Now, Barnabas became somber. "It's hard to say. The LAST time I had the--the 'condition' and was cured of it, I was 30 years younger. My body had adapted to all the changes I was put through. However, 30 years as a mortal, aging man left me extremely vulnerable to ravages I had once withstood. I was closer to death on that beach than I had ever REALLY been in all my previous relapses. Conrad Lang said I WOULD eventually get back to the way I was before all this started, but I wasn't feeling all that well before, and I've been distressed and depressed, as you can imagine--- Ah, I AM sorry for burdening you with all that, my love. I CAN still call you that, can't I, Christine? Or is this happiness to see ME just because of simple concern for a friend?"
Christine broke from him abruptly, and turned back toward the fire. "Yes and no and yes and no. I admit, I didn't know WHAT to expect when I came here. I WANTED to come back, but my work has been especially demanding, though I found the same satisfaction I always have.... I WANT to stick with it until retirement. Three more years. Then, there will be NOBODY to question my judgement. Yet, now I'm HERE, and I see that, maybe.... maybe 3 years is TOO LONG for us to wait. At any rate, I don't think you should give Mr. Landsdowne his walking papers just yet. You NEED somebody like that anyway, Barnabas, since Willie is no longer with you."
"Oh, he IS, sometimes. HE still takes care of Julia's roses personally--- he promised her he would, just before she died--- and gives instructions to the gardeners and landscapers Hallie sends down from the Great House. He showed Edward how to run this house 'like a top', as he put it. But we don't speak, not much, anyway. Wonderful as Edward IS and HAS been, I miss Willie. There's so much I cannot tell my new butler.... He only knows that I am.... not well. Though, with Willie's current allegiance AND new romance---" Barnabas's face twisted in a mixture of dismay and disgust--- "I suppose I can never have him back, even if I doubled his salary and all his other benefits. Because of Amy."
"Amy. Yes. That is ANOTHER reason I feel like I can't just drop my outside life and move right in to care for you myself." Christine stared at the portrait of Julia and young Jeremy. "I heard that she--she is pregnant. That she won't name the father, but it couldn't possibly be a REGULAR father, because she's still--- how can I put this delicately? Physically, she's still as pure as the driven snow, as the day she was born, spotless of man's touch...."
"And YOU, as well as just about anyone else who knows our true history, believes that I am the culprit. I know Willie and Quentin do. The former's smoldering resentment and the latter's accusing glances tell me so, though they have agreed to take on what they perceive as MY responsibility. But the child is NOT mine! Even if it were so, the most I would do is support it financially--- neither Amy nor myself are interested in wedding. She apparently truly LOVES Willie, he truly loves HER, and I truly love YOU, whether or not YOU feel the same toward ME. But that's not the issue. I repeat, I am NOT the father. When I and Amy had our 'relationship', the KIND of relationship we HAD was NOT sexual in the conventional sense. THAT was what I was attempting to achieve with Alice, but even then, there could be NO conception."
Chrsitne whispered, "We had sex--- REAL sex, when you were a vampire."
Barnabas insisted, "Again, there would
have been NO conception, even if you were much younger.
I was like dead in one way--- I could not release living sperm in that condition. The cells produced by my syndrome attack and kill any such signs of living reproduction. I could certainly feel an urge and complete the act, but the cells--- antibodies I suppose you'd call them--- behave like the contraceptives people use to boost the effectiveness of 'French letters'."
"Oh--- you mean spermicide and condoms. I don't know WHAT to believe, Barnabas. It's almost TOO pat, TOO glib---"
"My late wife and Conrad Lang's uncle noted the effect. I can show you their records. But I suppose nobody will be satisfied until Amy can be tested at GenScan." Barnabas put his arms around Christine. "When WE made love, it WAS love. I couldn't feel that when I was in the feral state. So I WAS human, at least for that short while. Believe it, Christine, please."
"I STILL have a lot to think about," she replied, without looking into his dark eyes. "Though at least, if we DO ever get back together, I won't have to worry, anymore, about having relations with my own father's killer."
Barnabas said, "You mean---?"
"Yes, the GenScan work-up proved I'm the daughter of Charles Francis Xavier Cagney, NOT Jason Seamus Mcguire! If not for OUR problems, I could almost feel like a whole human being again."
"Christine, my love.... If you came back to me, I'D feel like a whole human being again."
"I still have to think about it. You're not going to the christening party tomorrow?"
"No. I have an open invitation, actually, but I would feel most uncomfortable, as would my family. They just felt obligated to ask. I know Jeremy and Vicki are going, then they are to stop here for a short while. But I shall try to be with you in spirit."
Edward finally arrived with the coffee tray, laden also with a large plate of steaming scones. "Sorry it took so long, Sir," he said abjectly. "First, I realized we didn't have the right kind of coffee already, so I had to go into the pantry and grind some, then I had a bit of trouble with the oven, heating the scones--- microwave ovens don't heat them correctly. I'd say it was time for a new oven, if you don't mind, Sir."
Barnabas smiled indulgently. "No doubt you have a recommendation as to the brand, as well as its scone-heating capabilities."
"Sir, I wasn't being presumptuous. I am
also deeply concerned about fire safety, in this venerable old home. I'm sure
Miss Christine will agree---" Edward looked expectantly to the blonde
woman, obviously having gleaned that HER opinion was likely to decide the
matter. In fact, if Christine and Barnabas only knew it, the butler already had
visions of the former being around every day to superintend the use of the new
oven and the rest of the house, her right to do so granted
by virtue of
the authority vested in a minister or justice of the peace.
"Oh, indeed, Edward," Christine
said with a regal air. "In fact, with Mr. Collins's permission, I shall
PERSONALLY hie over to the local appliance store this
very afternoon, and make a get-well gift of it to him,
and a 'Welcome to Collinwood' gift to yourself. Lord knows, I'd hate ANYTHING
to happen to THIS house--- and the people in it, present AND past."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine thanked the Lord above that the Sears store in Logansport STILL "had EVERYTHING!" As it turned out, it was a simple enough matter to ORDER a new oven (and stove, as well), but given that the units had to fit within very specific dimensions in the 250-year-old kitchen, it would be at least Tuesday before the correctly-sized appliances could be delivered and installed. Still, Edward Landsdowne bristled with relief--- and pleasure, since Mr. Collins had accepted his choice of color, with Miss Christine's endorsement. "It's nice to see they still have 'Harvest Gold' after all these years!" she'd laughed. "My late mother--- rest her soul--- LOVED Harvest Gold stuff."
After parting from the grateful duo at the
Old House, Christine, rather than going straight back to the Laceys', or heading up towards the Great House, took a walk
down the path that, she had been told,
led to Seaview, Quentin and Willie's new home.
In the last golden moments of the daylight, the large but simple, gambrel-roofed, brick mansion appeared to be a shining orange-red. Quentin must have had the house power-washed, Christine thought, though she had heard this could damage antique brickwork Oh, well, these Collinses could probably afford fussy, state-of-the-art equipment and experts for that kind of thing. She admired the glittering facets in the Tiffany-revival Gothic windows; the roof, composed of slate tiles, many of which, having fallen away, were being painstakingly replaced, most probably NOT by Willie. Amy's "vampire" brat would have a beautiful home to grown up in, and eventually inherit, Christine thought bitterly. This made tears spring to her eyes.
She didn't realize that she was sobbing aloud, until she heard a soft, mild voice say, "There, there, Miss Cagney", and was immediately swept up in Willie's embrace, warm and comforting as his cousin Harvey's. After about 5 minutes of a satisfying 'good cry', she pulled away. She was supposed to be PISSED OFF at Willie, after all. He was going to marry that-- that---
"Miss Cagney--- Christine--- I KNOW what you're gonna say. But what the Hell, I can certainly say the same to YOU. At least Amy never KILLED anyone, not even David, exack'ly."
"I don't know YET that I'm going to marry Barnabas," was the cold reply. "I suppose we're still going to be friends of a sort--- I just helped him and that spiffy new butler solve a household crisis--- but.... But, well, at least we'll never have to worry about--- about SPAWN."
"THAT'S a TERRIBLE thing to say, considering the SOURCE of the 'spawn'!" Willie shot back angrily. "Yeah, I KNOW what Barnabas says about that, and Julia's and old Doc Lang's notes. But who the Hell really knows? He was goin' in and out of vampire-ness for WEEKS before he settled, and Amy says he MADE her his 'Bride'. Maybe an egg was tumbling down her 'chute' just as they were getting down to 'business', and it TOOK. Was a real 'knee-jerk' type of loving, too--- she said he pinned her to a WALL, when they were BOTH still standing...."
"How could THAT have happened without breaking--- oh, YOU know, Willie? And did Amy EVER, SPECIFICALLY say she really believes the child to be Barnabas's?"
"I only know there was no other man on
the face of the earth who COULD have done it," Willie insisted. "It's gonna be a few weeks before
it's safe to do the kind of tests my Vicki had. But you
know what, Christine? I honestly DON'T care. In fact, it will give me a RARE charge to raise one of Barnabas's kids as MY OWN, for REAL this time. In fact, it will be a pure treat to raise ANY kid as my own. God knows I've had years of practice, and don't even worry that I'm old--- I've lived through every Hell a living man could have, and the way I feel about Amy, and the way she feels for ME, I have NO doubt I'm gonna make it to 85, 90.... I'm gonna live to see that baby become a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer, even! NOBODY will take that away from me." Willie got a faraway look in his eyes when he said that, and his tone of voice made it into a solemn, religious vow.
Christine softened at the sight of such
determination. She even said a mental prayer that AMY wouldn't change her mind
in the future, and take that child away from such a staunch, dedicated (if
rather obsessed) father figure.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Alice and Harvey were once more companionably
sprawled, he all over the couch, and she, all over the loveseat, watching the
Evening news. Alice had a date with Elliot, but had cancelled, in deference to
the necessity of his presence at home, aiding with the preparations for the
christening. (He and Harvey had
been designated as Godfathers. Quentin had been offered the laurels, but graciously refused, saying that it was only fair that Mary Beth should have her husband as co-guardian, and that Elliot, with his youth, and whimsical-yet-practical turn of mind, was the ideal assistant for Christine.) She had also cancelled because, after weeks of making up missed homework, tests, and a term paper or two, she was just plain exhausted.
She was also due to testify before the panel of judges in Jason McGuire's case, in addition to the deposition she had already given, a prospect that ignited her old fears of seeing her assailant again. How odd, she mused, that she should feel a shuddering anxiety at seeing Jason again, and yet, on the few occasions she had seen Barnabas since that day in the hospital, she felt calm, collected, and even compassionate! Maybe that was because she believed that Jason would not hesitate to repeat his actions if he was somehow freed, both from jail and from the inhibitions caused by the spirit of Reverend Simon Trask, while Barnabas had made that pledge of his own free will. And yet, wasn't a pledge a rather flimsy form of insurance?
It didn't help matters any that Penelope Fereira, WBAM anchorwoman supreme, was discussing the
latest developments in the case, and flashing those old-yet-new mug shots of
McGuire. Harvey said,
"I'll change the channel if you want, Baby."
"Oh, no, Dad, I might as well get in some practice looking his PICTURE in the eye! Then, maybe, I won't be so nervous, seeing him again for real!"
"Well, at least take comfort in the fact that your Aunt Christine is NOT his kid! Oh, if you'd only been old enough to have known Charlie Cagney. I only met him a couple of times, but I could always tell, they broke the mold when he and others in his generation of cops fell out of it, and I mean that without disrespect to your Mom and Christine, of course. The mold for LADY cops was broken when THEY popped out."
"Oh, Dad, you'd say that if I became a cop, and little Hannah, and maybe even that kooky Pauline. Oh, that's right--- WE'D be the next, um, 'Charlie's Angels' or whatever. Though even I prefer 'Xena' and 'Supergirl' and 'Buffy' to THAT."
Alice continued to stare at the
black-and-white photographs of McGuire, which were then abruptly shifted to
show the real article as he was conveyed under heavy guard to a waiting armored
For one second, his eyes, live and glinting, seemed to meet hers--- and even had that insinuating
"I-Know-You're-Watching" look in them.
About 15 minutes later, Alice fell asleep, still flung all over that loveseat. Harvey rose, gently composed the girl's legs and arms so she wouldn't fall off, and covered her with a crocheted blanket. Seeing that his daughter appeared to be sleeping peacefully where she was, he decided it would be just as well to leave her there for the night. Mary Beth, arriving home around 10 P.M., after investigating a nice, normal, burglary at the E-Z Mart convenience store, agreed.
Alice awoke several hours later, startled by a sound. She glanced at the digital clock on the VCR, and saw it read 12:34--- just after midnight. Of course she reached for the nearby lamp switch right away, but--- it wouldn't go on. The noise repeated. It sounded like tree branches scratching the windows, but there were leaves on the bushes around the house now, the racket should have been muffled.
Terrified, fearing a reprise of her abduction weeks ago, wondering aloud if Barnabas had broken his promise, or her father--- "Please, please, just let it be trees," she prayed--- Alice's feet sought her shoes, and she rose to run to her parents' room. But then, she heard the familiar squeak-squeak of their mattress springs--- Oh, God, at it AGAIN! she thought in dismay; this had been a regular occurance since a few days after her father came home. Well, an emergency was an emergency, and she'd just have to brave the embarrassment of interrupting her parents' lovemaking--- she hadn't done it since she was a toddler, as far as she could remember. If she ended up saving all their lives, they'd forgive her.
She had already reached their door when she was grabbed from behind, her mouth covered, and she was wheeled around to face--- JASON! Struggling, striving to kick the closed door, from behind which she could hear those incriminating squeaks and creaks and moans and grunts and cries of pleasure reaching a crescendo--- all was in vain as Jason dragged her back to the loveseat, and forced her to lie down.
"Little Alice," he said with his
most poisonously smarmy smile, which GLOWED like a malevolent Cheshire Cat's in the gloom, "Have to make up for lost time! Ye
OWE me a good honest shag,
my dear--- have to catch that pussycat before the Collins rat! Why, the sound of your folks in that
room positively INSPIRES me!" He yanked up her shirt and bra, and broke the zipper of her jeans with a wrenching motion of iron, as he pulled them down, also. When he was on top of her, he whispered,
"And no-one will ever believe it, darlin'. Ye'll feel every SECOND of it, but who'll believe ye if ye
cry about it after? Too bad I can't have two in one day, like I wanted the last time--- the last time---
"NO!" Alice, who had twisted her
face away from the palm of his hand, cried. "NO! MOM! DAD!"
The infernal noise from their room continued without missing a beat. She moved under Jason, though she could barely breathe, until she gave a final, miraculous, violent squirm that pitched them BOTH off the loveseat. (How she suddenly hated the name of that piece of furniture, considering the use it had almost been put to!)
A light went on. "Alice, My God, don't tell me YOU'VE knocked your head on that coffee table,
This from Mary Beth, who looked, to Alice's dazed eyes, like she had been fully buttoned into her sturdy, unsexy cotton pajamas the whole night. The girl looked beyond, to the glazed, heavy-lidded eyes of her father, also fully attired in his night garb, looking, similarly, like he had simply been sleeping for hours. Christine, yawning, clad in her large plaid flannel robe and a long nightdress, followed at a cautious distance.
"Jason--- where's JASON? He was here!" Alice wept. "He was tryin' to get me again, Mommy! Daddy! Auntie Chris!"
Both parents huddled around her. and Christine hovered above them. "Jason McGuire is NOWHERE near here, honey," Mary Beth crooned. "He's safely in the county lock-up, 30 miles away, or I'd have had a call about it by now. But if you're worried, you can sleep in our room, and we'll both watch you."
"This is kind of my fault, Mary Beth," Harvey said sheepishly. "We were watching McGuire on the news, and Alice was worried about seeing him in court, and then she fell alseep right after. Stupid of me not to think how easy it is to have that kind of a bad dream in this town!"
"Why don't you tell us exactly what happened in this dream, Alice?" Christine said sensibly. "Then we can gauge if it's a true 'warning' type of dream, or just a product of your over-wrought state."
"Well, it's kind of embarrassing, but---" Alice haltingly recounted all the humiliating details.
"He said nobody would be able to tell you were raped?" Mary Beth asked. "Now, THAT'S interesting." She glanced up at Christine.
"It's just something Alice imagined,
from hearing us talk about Amy," Christine
insisted. "I don't think she ever said anything about that in her
deposition, or any other time she told us about her encounter with Jason."
Alice drew in a breath quickly, and froze.
"What's the matter, Alice?" Harvey said.
"I---I had forgotten!" the girl stuttered. "He said something that--- that I REALLY and TRULY DO remember! He said it, that night, in the Mausoleum. He was so GLEEFULL about it, though it was SO disgusting. He said that I would be the second woman he'd had in one day, but he would like it better with ME because I put up a good fight! He said 'a spook never had himself such a grand time', or something like that. The dream brought it back! Aunt Christine, THIS is what I was meant to tell you! The OTHER woman he had, whom he wouldn't have, uh, 'broken in' because he COULDN'T---"
"AMY?" the adults said in unison, said incredulously.
"Why not?" Alice said. "They WERE working together, they would have done ANYTHING to hurt ANYONE. Jason WAS a horny old toad, and well, if you'd asked ME, it sure looked like Miss Jennings WAS kind of twitchy for a guy---"
Christine, torn between joy and disbelief, said, "But I thought she was saving herself for David, and how can a ghost get someone pregnant? It's easier to believe a vampire can do it, if only because a vampire would be solid, 3-dimensional, with SOME kind of sperm, even dead sperm. Or, in Amy's case, dead eggs in her ovaries."
"Maybe Jonah knows," Mary Beth said
eagerly. "If we can't pry the truth from McGuire, and I doubt we will,
Jonah's our best bet."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Oh, Sheriff, my Sheriff, don't worry your pretty little head--- there's NOTHING I like better than to be harassed out of bed at this hour to interpret a dream," Jonah Newman yawned over the phone.
"I'm just getting even for the early
A.M. call you gave ME a few weeks back," Mary Beth shot back. "Still,
I'm dead-serious tonight, 'Johnny'.... What do you make of this? You've been
Death's Boy Friday, you've been on top of every wierd
happenstance since, uh, the 'revival' of your 'career'---
Was there ANYTHING in the Big Bad By-Laws that covered a Virgin-type Birth fathered by a ghost?"
"Mary Beth, maybe you'd better ask Cagney. This would be up the Catholic alley, and HER Papist credentials are better than MINE!"
"F-Y-I, Jonah, I AM a Catholic, also, from the way back, though, I'm sorry to say, a pretty lapsed one, but I remember what little they told me. This isn't QUITE the same thing, and Jason--- we now believe he IS the true paternal unit, though NOT of CHRISTINE---"
"Glad to hear THAT! I had her pegged as old Charlie's from the get-go."
"I'm sure she'll appreciate your endorsement, but I was getting to Amy's child--- Jason, who MAY somehow be its father, was far from being a HOLY Ghost. You know he could pop in and out of ghost-hood pretty quickly. WOULD he have been ABLE to cause a real conception, yet without leaving traces of penetration? For that matter, we've been told that vampire SPERM is useless, but can a female vampire's eggs survive and be fertilized?"
"Oh, God.... This is WAY beyond MY ken. And I can't call up Mr. Best to help me, as though he really would, anyway. He loved talking in riddles when pressed for answers. All I have to go on is a memory of high-school and college biology--- a woman is born with a specific reserve of pre-egg-type cells, right?"
Mary Beth said, "So I've heard. At least, that's what it says in Alice's biology textbook."
"Okay. So a woman, say Amy, has these cells, not too many by HER age, and during ovulation, one or two go through some changes and may be released for possible fertilization. Okay, so just WHAT are these cells, until they're spit out from the ovaries?"
"Dormant, I suppose, though they DO deteriorate with age."
Jonah said, "Well, maybe they DIDN'T die off right away when Amy 'died' the first time."
Mary Beth considered this. "You may be right. Since you've been--- well, 'gone', there've been cases where still-fresh SPERM was recovered from newly-dead men whose widows and lovers still wanted their babies. Though I don't really know if it's ever WORKED."
"Still, we're not talking about an actual CORPSE in Amy's case. Maybe an egg WAS released just prior to Barnabas getting the big bite on her. How long do those things last, how long is the average woman fertile?"
Mary Beth tried to remember the Natural
Family Planning instructions she and Harvey had read in order to beget Alice.
"Two days, maybe 3, tops? I'm not sure, though the way some women seem to
just get pregnant from a dirty LOOK, while others bang away every day without
results, you wonder.
I once heard a doctor tell a 12-year-old rape victim who turned up pregnant, though she hadn't even had a regular period yet, that the stimulation could bring on ovulation, regardless of the circumstances."
"Well, your husband's cousin Willie's new fiancee HAD about 2 or three days--- she was bitten by Barnabas, she was brought to the hospital and treated, she escaped, met Jason just prior to biting Willie and your husband. This all took place in less than 3 days, and she WAS human at least PART of the time. That egg was just floating around inside of her tube works, probably unaffected, until it was fertilized, and attached to wherever it attaches to. Maybe her body chemistry changed, but obviously it didn't KILL the egg. However, we still have to worry about WHAT comes out in about 8 months."
Mary Beth restrained herself from clapping, but she cheered. "Wow! You just passed Gynecology101."
Jonah replied with a laugh, "Thanks. I've been told I'm a man of MANY talents. Though that's interesting about the salvaged sperm.... Too bad they didn't have that years ago. My former fiancee would probably have taken advantage...." He sighed.
"Well, Jonah, now that you're back, you might be able to have kids with Pauline, or some other lucky girl, someday--- I mean, if JASON could---"
"I'll have to take some tests and find out. I HOPE so. But both Jason and I came back intermittently, like bad TV signals, or one of those holograms in science-fiction shows."
"THAT sounds like a clue to me," Mary Beth said. "Maybe that's why Jason didn't make a 'dent', so to speak. His body was impermanent, so whatever 'damage' he did with it at the time would have been impermanent as well."
Jonah said, "The only difference between Jason and myself is that HE became what they call 'revenant' using just his SKELETON--- all the soft stuff, including the fun parts, long since gone to dust. And he kept going back to his dead form as a means of escape. I came back, pretty much WHOLE, and though I could shift from place to place, I NEVER reverted. Just kept becoming more solid, until that moment on the railing over Widows' Hill. Jason, on the other hand, didn't become 100 per cent whole until Carl Collins installed Reverend Trask's fingerbone. Yet, within days, HE had DNA to spare for Christine's paternity tests, and blood.... But even BEFORE that, he had SOME solidity. He COULD pick things up, he pushed people around, attacked Alice.... You say she just relived this in a dream. Well, it could be that's what happened with Amy--- the reason she won't name the REAL father of her child is because she isn't SURE. Jason MIGHT have taken her while she slept, or hypnotized her to forget. The lack of physical evidence helped confuse matters. This sperm business, though.... Maybe ELLIOT, with all his late uncle's books, might have the answer to THAT one."
"Okay, we'll grill him tomorrow, after the ceremony."
"What about MY ceremony of 8 hours sleep? Remember, after hitting the office at 7 A.M. to wrap up the paperwork on that E-Z Mart break-in, I'm escorting Pauline to the christening."
"Okay, you get an hour's reprieve. It
shouldn't take long. The hardest part will be trying to spell
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART TWENTY-FOUR: SUNDAY, MAY 29, 2000
Mary Beth once more coaxed, then bullied, her family into their Sunday best. Harvey had a new grey suit, cut slimmer to reflect the effects of the diet and physical therapy exercises he had been doing since his release from the hospital. Alice put on the red dress, with a matching red silk scarf neatly tucked into the plunging neckline. Christine, co-Godmother, wore an iridescent blue sheath and her late mother's pearls, the same debutante necklace Kaye Olmstead had worn in the old picture Roger had given to her daughter. "I want to dazzle my 'Uncle'," she said with a grin, "Even if it means I outshine our God-son's family."
As for Mary Beth, she fought a tremendous temptation to don her Sheriff's uniform. She'd almost done it for Candy Cane's and Nate Hinckley's wedding several weeks earlier. However, Hepsey Woodard had taken Mary Beth to Brewster's, a venerable Collinsport institution for at least 100 years, and helped her select the dress she had on now--- royal blue, two-piece, simply-cut, and with shoes dyed to match.
Finally, with Harvey once more at the wheel
of the family sedan, they arrived at First Congregational.
Stepping into the bright sunshine (and into yet another crowd, though not as many people as had hung about David Collins's memorial service), they made their way up the granite steps into the modified-Gothic white church. (There was a plaque stating that the church had been built in 1685, but renovated in 1800, based on a design by the famous English architect Christopher Wrenn.) They were immediately struck by an odd bit of carpentry within the entrance: a large, square opening cut into the panel of the wall between the foyer of the church and the sanctuary, which wall required them to turn to one side or the other, go up 3 steps, and file into box pews divided by a dead-end center aisle.
Young Elliot was on hand to explain the unique structure. "Coffin hatchway," he said. "You see, they built the foyer this way so that men would enter from one side, and women from the other. To avoid the occasion of temptation when they were supposed to be clearing their minds for Godly thoughts. They'd sit in those segregated box pews--- their black slaves were doubly segregated, sitting in the back rows. This quaint but impractical Puritan custom left the entry-way too narrow to turn a large casket around the corners and up either set of steps. Considering the mortality rate and all the funerals going on, you'd have thought they'd have taken this into account in the building design. Hence, the hatchway--- a couple of pallbearers would push the box in one side--- assuming the deceased and his coffin were not too large--- and it would be taken by the rest of them on the other end. I think they had a big oak table to lay the caskets on immediately so they wouldn't fall. Now, of course, we have folding gurneys.
"Early colonial people made the same mistake with their houses--- a lot of them had these tiny front halls and tiny doors to the parlor, where dead folks were laid out. Again, there was always plenty of laying-out going on. So when they needed to get a coffin in and out, they cut an extra door right into the parlor, though they kept it blocked and concealed most of the rest of the time. Fortunately, this has NEVER been a problem at Collinwood. Our armies of deceased had a clear view to the front doors and beyond, and some of them went out there on their own power!".
Harvey said "You shouldn't joke about that kind of thing, after all we've been through, young man."
Elliot replied evenly, "If we DON'T joke about it, we'll go stark-raving bonkers, sir. It's the Collinsport way of life, honed and perfected over 350 years."
Christine smiled wistfully and said, "Can't argue with success, Harvey," as she took Elliot's arm and was led to the baptismal font, really just a pillar topped by a large, elaborately-engraved brass salad-type bowl, where Old Roger, flanked by his daughter-in-law, the older children, Carolyn, Pauline and Jonah, held new Roger in his lap. Both Rogers beamed at her when she approached and carefully took the infant from his grandfather's reluctant arms. She kissed the baby on the top of his fuzzy tow-head, and then, kissed the old man on top of HIS shiny head with its tonsure of white hair.
The christening service was brief. Christine
held Roger Carl during half of the ritual, with Elliot gently stroking his baby
brother's cheek, and then handed him over to Mary Beth and Harvey for the last
The baby whimpered a bit when the water was poured over his head, then laughed when he saw it splashing into the "salad bowl". The reflections threw off golden sparkles, which little Roger Carl eagerly tried to reach for.
"Goodness, I HOPE the Devil is fully out of him," the minister said with a smile.
"He's a COLLINS. I should say NOT," the senior Roger harrumphed. "But that's all right. His MOTHER is a STOKES, which is the nearest thing to an ANGEL in these parts." Hallie patted his shoulder, and he took her hand.
Hallie quipped, "With a Sheriff and a police woman of such high rank as Godmothers, I dare say my little fellow will have no choice but to walk the straight and narrow."
Christine was cuddling little Roger Carl again. "Well, he just committed his first offense--- a little spit-up on my new Lane Bryant special, but he's such an ARRESTING child, I think I'll let him off with just a warning this time."
Mary Beth tended to the small stain, and soon the group was on its way to the Great House. There, they were joined by other guests, among them, Judge Frank Garner (whom, Mary Beth had since learned, was a widower, with a married son who lived in Bangor with his 3 children), Conrad Lang and Allarice Bertrand (now wearing what looked like a small clone of the Hope Diamond on her ring finger), Jeremy (now ruddy-faced and cheerful) and Vicki Shaw Collins (radiant) and Maggie Shaw (ditto); Quentin and Willie (the latter, lugging his latest toy, a video camera, which he zoomed into everyone's face.)
Emily Collins, Marisol, and Heather corralled the younger Collins brood. They were watched by a young man of about 30, whom Frank had introduced as Victor Bradford, Amy's lawyer. Victor was tall, with thick dark hair, and an open, kind-looking face, but it took on a brooding quality when he turned his attention from the girls watching the children, to Pauline, who chattered away to a tired-looking Jonah.
"Was that your first christening, Johnny?" she asked breathlessly.
"No, I've been to several. Mostly Catholic, though, oddly enough. And you know what a bris is, don't you?"
"Yes, I guess so," Pauline replied, red-faced. "Isn't that kind of embarrassing, not to mention painful?"
"Can't say I remember. I was younger than Roger Carl when it happened. But
at that age, no matter where they do it, even in the hospital, I guess it hurts
about the same. Can't use a lot of painkiller on an infant,
after all. But THAT part of the ceremony doesn't take too long! And it
isn't done to remove original sin from a sinless baby. It makes the boy a part
of the Covenant, with some incidental health benefits. We pray that the parents
will do their best to help the child live up to the standards set for it, and
teach the boy to stave away evil and make the world a better place by doing
deeds, and then some."
"Is that why you became a policeman? Is that your mitzvah?"
"You know, I never thought of it quite
like that. I was thinking about the adventure, and the insurance and the
pension, and the fact that chicks really go for a guy with a badge and a gun---
Hey!" Jonah tried to swerve away as Pauline playfully swatted his behind,
but to no avail. "Okay, okay, maybe that was true years ago, honey, but
since I've come to this place, now I believe what I'm doing now IS a mitzvah.
And I'm not out to impress ANYONE anymore, but YOU. Are you impressed, enough, already?"
"I guess. But I'd give anything to earn a badge and a gun, myself."
"Paulie, we talked about that."
"I know, I know, you want me to do something not so dangerous. But don't you have to go through the dangerous stuff first, before you become a detective and upward to whatever Christine Cagney is?"
"Pauline, there ARE other options."
"Do you think I might be smart enough to join the FBI or something? They go to lots of interesting places and solve lots of mysteries but don't get shot at every day!"
"I'm not sure.... I think you're a LOT
smarter than you let on, shrewd and brave. But you'd have to go away to college
again--- you have to have a bachelor's degree at least. Then, if they accepted
you, you'd go on to their own special academy, and they'd assign you to
wherever they needed you, like the Army. I can't imagine how you'd end up back
HERE unless one of the two FBI guys in the county retired---
"Well, Johnny, I know you'd miss me and I'd miss you, but I have to think of my future. I need to do SOMETHING--- my OWN mitzvah, I guess, though I'm a woman.... Since I presume they don't have brisses for girls, what equivalent IS there for girls, Johnny?"
"Nothing formal, but there were prayers at the synagogue and family parties when both my sisters were born, and when they were 13, they had their Bat Mitzvahs, as I had my Bar Mitzvah. They have to follow rules, find a purpose and do their share of mitzvahs, too."
"I wish I could meet them. It's tough that they don't even call once in a while."
"Well, it's expensive to call to or from Israel." This was Jonah's cover story, since he had first inadvertantly mentioned that he HAD sisters, though, so far, he hadn't brought up his mother. As far as Pauline knew, his sisters were living on a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv, and BOTH senior Newmans were deceased. "You've seen their e-mails." THIS was easy enough to simulate. When Pauline got too curious about his family, Jonah, under Alice's tutelage, had joined an anonymous remailer service, and composed the notes (with copious references from various websites) on the Lacey's computer, and sent them to HIS new Dell.
He hated to lie, it spoiled HIS "good
deeds", but he never knew whether he was talking to semi-clueless Pauline
or all-knowing Amanda. One knew his secret and could accept it. As for the
Amanda suddenly withdrew, and left Pauline free to find out that her new love was a resurrected man who had died over 15 years before, and that her previous lover was 130 years old, and that her unborn child, who might have become a werewolf, had died because a vampire, who had been cheated of its blood, needed to create a distraction to cover his thwarted intent--- who knew? She might not have believed, and rejected anyone who had attempted to tell her the truth. She might have believed, and not only rejected, but fled in fear. She MIGHT have risen to the occasion, accepted that this was in her family heritage, and worked alongside the others who knew all the secrets, to maintain the necessary balance between good and evil.
But she was still too immature, in Jonah's view, and he knew HE was too immature to want to risk losing her cheerful, trusting affection, the first he'd known in those 15 years. Yet, he also didn't want to get tied down just yet.... Not even for the entire party. Emily Collins was a very pretty woman, sure to keep her looks into age like her still-lovely mother, Hallie. PLUS, also like her mother, she possessed the sense and high intellect lacking in Pauline. Emily, in fact, reminded Jonah of his long-lost fiancee in some ways. A girl of that type, he reflected, sometimes had repressed passion that would erupt like a volcano. He certainly missed THAT.
Then, there were Marisol and Heather, both
considered employees if not servants, but they were both, also attractive,
bright and possessing future plans, for which their jobs were just
stepping-stones that paid the way. This generation of Collinses
seemed to be very democratic in their treatment of their retainers, anyway---
Jonah sensed that he could court either of these girls as easily as he might
Pauline or Emily, and still be accepted at Collinwood.
Marisol had the added advantage of being very knowledgeable about the spirit world, according to what Mary Beth had told Jonah. SHE might not balk if she was told, or had divined, his story. On the other hand, she was quite devout in HER religion. The good little Catholic girl might not accept a nice Jewish boy, especially if he was as lukewarm in his beliefs, as she was hot. And why SHOULDN'T I be lukewarm? Jonah thought. I've BEEN on the "other side", I know where it matches and does NOT match religious dogma, and I never saw GOD, for that matter. Well, maybe He was there, somewhere, but I wasn't high up enough in the pecking order to earn "face-time", as Alice and Elliot called it.
As for Heather, she was just a pleasant but very normal sort of young lady. Maybe, he should just leave her out of his consideration. Maybe he should leave her to that sad-sack lawyer Vic Bradford, who was mooning in the same general direction. Then, Jonah detected Bradford's eyes tracking and following PAULINE. And those eyes looked mighty hungry.
Jealousy flared, stabbed by guilt at his OWN disloyal thoughts, which were just about to stray in the direction of fantasizing about Catherine Trask, a frequent occurrence after shadowing her movements, to be reported back to Chris Cagney. And WHAT movements--- What's the matter with me! Jonah thought, I have the best girl right here, she cares about me with her body AND soul, so what if she's a little dippy--- I wouldn't desert her--- wouldn't leave her to that thieving bastard over there--- wait, he's coming here!
"Pauline!" Victor Bradford called,
as he approached the couple. "I'm surprised you don't recognize me.
Don't you remember those Friday nights on the dance floor at the 'Brass Pigeon', back at college, in Orono?"
Jonah didn't like the look of PLEASED recognition on Pauline's face, and cut her off as she was about to reply. "You went to college with Paulie here? You look about my age or older."
"Perhaps I AM, but I was in the last year of law school at Orono, and she was a freshman. The 'Pidge', as we used to call it, was a notorious undergrad hang-out, but I still liked to go between cramming for the exams, to watch the wild-life. There was plenty of under-age drinking, but Pauline here NEVER needed any of THAT to have a good time. Best dancer I ever partied with. We used to close the place down!"
"Yes-- yes," Pauline sputtered in reply. She was irked at Jonah's sudden primitive display of posessiveness. "We danced our brains out every Friday night. I remember. But that's ALL. Vic's just an old friend. He knew there was-- was someone ELSE, at the time."
"I can see there's someone else NOW." Bradford looked almost apologetic at the ripple of conflict he'd caused between Jonah and Pauline. ALMOST, but not quite.
"Well, Johnny and I just started seeing each other about a month ago."
"Five weeks ago," Jonah corrected.
"Oh, Johnny, don't get technical. You sound like you're marking each day on a calendar. Like it's an endurance contest or something. Anyway, maybe we could all get together and find a nice place--- NOT the 'Pidge', God forbid, if it's even still THERE--- and go out clubbing some Saturday, if Johnny's not on duty. He's a COP, you know. You have a girlfriend, these days, Vic?"
"Not a regular one. I dated around, both here, and in Augusta, where I lived for a while, but nobody since I've come back. Just can't find a lady who could burn up the dance floor like YOU, Pauline. But I'm sure I can find somebody to make a foursome. It might have to wait until I'm finished with your cousin Amy's case, though."
Pauline's face twitched with anxiety when she heard Amy's name. "Oh, yes, I forgot.... You're her lawyer. Well, you can understand that I wouldn't want to hear too much about her--- But she WILL go to prison, won't she?"
"Of course she will, after a couple of
years in WindCliff sanitarium. That was part of her
She agreed to be confined for treatment the first couple of years, in exchange for a reduced sentence,
but she'll be out of your sight for about the same amount of time she would have spent in prison anyway. We're hoping it's no more than 6 or 7 years out of a possible 20."
"Nobody ever serves anything like a full sentence anymore, except for tax evaders, but I guess that's enough. And Amy's going to have a baby of her own, so I've heard. If she REALLY wants to be able to spend time with it growing up, I doubt she'll EVER do those things again." Pauline's face brightened again. "Hey, Vic, can you hear that CD Elliot's playing? It's one of the set he got for Great-Uncle Roger last Christmas--- all those Big Band swing things from the 1940's. It must have been Uncle Roger's idea--- the old dear always thinks of a way to liven up a dull party! Let's dance 'In The Mood', just for a minute, for old times' sake."
"Oh, but won't Johnny object?" Vic asked politely. Not politely ENOUGH.
"Not at all," Jonah replied. "I'm a little rusty with the dancing. I'll watch, and refresh my memory, and maybe when we finally go out together, I'll be up to your standards." The couple cleared out a little space, and, even though the music wasn't of their era, they swung around as though they'd been born to do so, and with each other. This thought angered Jonah, and he was about to cut in, when he was buttonholed by Quentin.
"Easy, boy," the older man whispered. "None of that Tarzan--Jane stuff. If you make a federal case out of this, she'll hook up so fast with Slick Vic, it'll make ALL your heads spin, and you'll ALL be sorry. Keep telling yourself, 'It's just a dance, damn it'."
"It's just a dance, damn it," the younger man whispered back. "But it's NOT."
"I know that, but we have to put up with young Mr. Bradford until he takes care of Amy. He'll be out of our lives, then." I HOPE, Quentin thought. "You know what YOU should do? Pick someone and dance, too. I even have a suggestion for the perfect dance partner. CAROLYN. You didn't think Pauline just pulled those moves out of the air, did you? It's hereditary. I've swung, waltzed, and even TWISTED with your sweetheart's mother, and nothing else would drive our Paulie crazier. If you're worried about cutting a great figure, just back off and let Carolyn do the work."
Jonah reluctantly did as he was bidden. He could feel his face prickle with a furious blush when he asked the woman he still called "Mrs. Peterson" if she was 'In The Mood'. To his amazement and delight, she broke off a conversation with Frank Garner, and did just as Quentin had predicted. She even showed Jonah a few steps so he wouldn't appear to be led awkwardly around the floor. Pauline glanced their way, and couldn't stop giggling, which visibly annoyed Vic Bradford, though they finished the dance.
Roger and Elliot were delighted at the whole show, so they played another couple of songs. Soon, everyone found a little space and twirled around. Christine gave a couple of turns, holding baby Roger's tiny hand and making him gurgle with delight, before he spat up another bit of his latest meal. Mary Beth and Harvey bounced around breathlessly. Alice dragged Elliot from his grandfather's side and did a dramatic faux tango. Marisol cut in, and showed Elliot how to do a REAL tango. The other children wove between the capering adults. Willie scanned the gathering with his Panasonic, filling tape after tape. Quentin, partnerless up till then, borrowed Allarice from Conrad, who had to make a pit stop anyway.
"You're behaving beautifully, Angelique," he whispered. "Why, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you really adored my friend Conrad."
"Oh, Quentin," she fluttered, "I'm reformed and repented and WELL over Barnabas, YOU, and ANY other man who had my fancy. As a matter of fact, I DO love Conrad. Partly because we work so well together. Our goals are as one."
"I HOPE you two are working on something beneficial. Or at least, something benign."
"Oh, we are. It's what my earthly parents dreamed about."
"Really. What DID those--" Quentin bit his tongue; he'd almost said GHOULS-- "unique visionaries have in mind?"
Allarice was about to make a reply, when a distant sound of
sirens was heard outside the Great House.
Quentin said, "What the Hell---", as Fred Jenkins, the groundskeeper, rushed into the drawing room.
"The Old House--- there's a fire," he panted. "Not a big one, mainly to the kitchen, but Mr. Collins and Mr. Landsdowne had to evacuate just the same." Then he ran out again, followed by the Sheriff, Jonah, Jeremy, and Christine. Five anxious minutes later, they all returned, surrounding Barnabas, who arrived clutching the portrait of Julia and young Jeremy, as well as his cane, and Edward, who'd rescued the portrait of Josette.
The latter said, "I know you'll rail
against us for taking the time to save these mere things, but I was upstairs
when Mr. Collins shouted for me, and I know he sets a store by this picture. It
was but a
moment to take it down, as it took him to get the other. I called the Fire department on my cell phone, and even had time to spray some extinguisher on the flames. It was the oven. Ah, it was only to be another day or so before the delivery of the new one Miss Christine ordered. Even so, the Fire chief
said that the bulk of the damage was confined to the kitchen. Perhaps there was a fire wall we didn't know about."
"That's the oldest part of the house," Barnabas explained, "where the original stonework cottage of Isaac Collins stood in the 1640's. His whole family once lived in that area, and the Old House was built around and above it. No doubt, that helped contain the fire. However, it generated a LOT of smoke, so I'm glad we were able to get these irreplaceable treasures out. There are other paintings, but they won't be harmed by cleaning and so forth."
Hallie said briskly, "Well, that still leaves you two out of a home for the time being. Of course, you and Mr.Landsdowne are welcome to stay as long as you need to."
Barnabas gazed at her sadly. "That's all right, Hallie. No need to trouble you. We'll stay at the Inn, but for now, I admit, I need a rest."
Hallie led him and his valet to the now-fully-repaired lift, so they wouldn't have to go up the grand staircase. Christine trailed them anxiously, but never made it to the elevator. She stood dazedly for a moment, clutching her chest, muttered a call for help, and fell, face first, onto the slate flagstone floor.
Edward, valet-cum-nurse's aide, gave his employer quick directions. They gently turned Christine over. To their combined relief, she was still breathing, and her face was only mildly bruised. Edward took her pulse. "It's irregular, Sir. I thought I recognized a doctor from the local hospital in the drawing room?"
Hallie rushed to get both Conrad Lang and Allarice Bertrand. Conrad, who had the most experience with
this sort of problem, unfortunately, did not have any medical equipment with
him, but Hallie owned a small home blood pressure
gauge with its own stethoscope, the better to frequently check herself and
Roger Senior, during her pregnancies and his illnesses. Conrad finally
announced, "This may or may not be serious. Miss Cagney's blood pressure,
as one might expect from her faint,
is pretty low---"
"Usually, it's on the high side, or so she says," Mary Beth said.
"Well, faints are usually precipitated by some interruption of blood circulation, that leads to low pressure, and sometimes, cardiac malfunction. She has some kind of arrhythmia, though the beat is steadier now. Has she ever complained of these symptoms before?"
"She fainted once since she got here yesterday, but she was tired and stressed-out when she first arrived. I have to tell you, though, her Mom died of a sudden heart attack in her 40's, I'd guess, and her Dad also, though he was at least 70 by then. So it's in her family."
"Well, I can't confirm ANYTHING without tests. In any case, she's coming to right now."
Sure enough, Christine now sat up, though she had to be supported by the limber Edward (Barnabas, too stiff in the knees to kneel for long, looked down at the blonde woman with sad concern.) She said, "It's never been quite that bad...."
Conrad turned to her. "So you HAVE had incidents before."
"Nothing that ever knocked me flat like that. It's really revved up in the last month, since we strained ourselves during the crisis, and I've had a monster of a case to work on since then. Guess I should make an appointment with a cardiologist when I get back to the city, eh?"
"I wouldn't wait. I'd like you to come to the hospital right now, and we could start a work-up."
"But I have to be in court tomorrow!"
Mary Beth said, "Isn't there ANYONE else who can take this over for you, Christine? Surely, Geoff Coombs doesn't want his best investigator to drop DEAD while testifying!"
"I guess--- I'd have to talk with him. In the meantime, I feel so sorry for adding to the break-up of this lovely party. I'm almost sorry I became little Roger's Godmother. I mean, if he needs spiritual advice someday, I might not live long enough to give it to him!"
"That's why there are TWO Godmothers, and 2 godfathers, so one of us can take a break in case of illness," Mary Beth declared stoutly. "ILLNESS, you hear me? You probably just have some chronic annoying thing that means you'll have to take pills for the rest of your life, Christine. I think you can handle it."
"Of course, the Sheriff is probably right," Conrad said. "But we won't KNOW until we check."
"Please, Christine, do what the Doctor and your friend advise," Barnabas urged. "If something worse happened to you.... Think of the people who care about you."
"Plenty of us around," Mary Beth affirmed.
"Okay, okay," Christine said with a shrug. "But please, no ambulance. I think I'll be okay if the Sheriff of Collinsport takes me."
"May I come along?" Barnabas asked.
"I guess so. There's something I need to discuss with you anyway."
Edward and Conrad helped Christine out to the
Laceys' car. When Mary Beth had driven away, Conrad
followed. He was going to drop Allarice off at home,
but she declined. "It's rather out of the way.
I could call a taxi," she said.
Hallie said, "Oh, we can run you home, Elliot can take you when he drops Alice and Harvey off."
Jonah, who had been watching the scene with shocked sympathy, was suddenly reminded that there had been a question Mary Beth and Christine had wanted to ask Elliot, about Amy's pregnancy. It was an awkward time, but he didn't know when he'd get his next chance. So he went directly to the boy, tapped his shoulder, whispered in his ear, and was led into the library. Jonah's eye was caught by the decorative plate with the picture of the old Police station, mounted on its little easel, near the very new-looking computer.
Elliot noticed his interest, and explained solemnly. "The Laceys and Miss Cagney gave that to my mother on their first visit up here. I recall Alice saying that her Aunt had selected it. We all thought it a neat coincidence that she found a picture that so resembled our police station. She's a neat lady...."
Jonah patted the boy's shoulder. "Try not to worry, Elliot. Chris Cagney's a survivor. I honestly believe it isn't her time to go just yet. And whatever you can tell me today might help her recover faster." He studied the crammed bookcases, and walls covered with old drawings, lithographs and photographs. "This room is full of knick-knacks from the whole 350 years of Collins family history, isn't it?"
"Oh, even FURTHER back than that," the teenager, now a bit more cheerful, replied. It soon became obvious that his family history was one of his favorite topics, and further more, he was already an expert. "The Collinses go quite a way back in the recorded history of England. They started as prosperous yeoman farmers, then a few of their sons served their kings and queens by butchering hapless Arabs in the Crusades, Frenchmen, and Spaniards, thus earning knight-hoods and eventually, by way of well-planned, if miserable, marriages, REAL titles. The father of Isaac Collins was an earl, but Isaac, who was a younger son, ended up here because of a deep and abiding Puritan belief in forcing that joyless dogma down the throats of those in the new American colonies, while grabbing all the free land he wanted, because he wasn't going to inherit as much as his older brother in any case. When he arrived in this area, he found a settlement of French Huguenots--- Calvinists--- married the daughter of a minister, and began to carve out the huge fortune God was sure to grant to one who served Him so well.. And serve, Isaac did, even to the point of prosecuting his own, much younger brother, Noah, for witchcraft."
"Ooh, nasty," Jonah commented. "Did Isaac burn this brother at the stake, or whatever?"
"They didn't burn witches on this side
of the 'Pond'," Elliot said. "They went in for ducking, hanging, and
pressing--- that is, they pinned someone under boards,
and piled on stones until they confessed and incriminated other witches, or
were completely crushed, whichever came first. Though once, in this area, they
were forced to BEHEAD an accused warlock, Judah Zachery, back in 1692. He was
just TOO bad to get off easily with a mere noose around his neck. They really
believed he'd COME
BACK--- and some say, he did, back in 1840. But someone helped to solve the problem. An
ancestor of our Barnabas's, as it happened."
Jonah knew enough to understand that it had
been the one and SAME Barnabas who had helped to relieve his relatives of the
warlock in question, which made him more glad that the
former vampire was allowed to stay free. Who ELSE could have pulled off such an
amazing feat, and who else could do it in the event of a future crisis, at
least until a member of the younger generation was trained to take over?
Like, for instance, Elliot? Or Hannah? "So," Jonah asked the boy, "what was it? Did Noah get hanged, ducked, pressed, OR beheaded?"
"Just banished," Elliot shrugged. "His brother was one of the village elders, after all, and they were the sons of an English Lord. Far away as England was, by the 1660's, the Massachussetts colony had made inroads on the French territory, and any action against English nobility was probably not a good idea. So Noah disappeared. Years later, a son of Isaac's, Amadeus, prosecuted the warlock I just told you about, with help of evidence turned in by a young maidservant who had joined the coven. It wasn't down in the official records, but in the personal papers of Amadeus, he wrote that Judah Zachery claimed to have been only recently introduced to sorcery by Noah Collins in the Indies, and furthermore, that this Noah was still quite a young-looking man, even though this was almost 50 years after his banishment! Amadeus thought, perhaps, Noah had a son, rather like we believed about Jason McGuire, but, in the same way we learned about Jason, came to believe Zachery HAD met the original Noah. That certainly didn't help Zachery's case."
"After Zachery was executed, did this Amadeus Collins ever try to find his long-lost uncle?"
"Never had a chance, it seems. Zachery had set a curse on Amadeus and all the Collinses, and upon the little maid who had betrayed him. SHE was banished, never to be heard from again, and within a year, Amadeus dropped dead, and his only son and daughter-in-law, who happened to be childless, died in a terrible accident. The estate passed to Amadeus's sister, who had married a Collins cousin, but the curse eventually caught up with the family again. It was a narrow shave--- many innocent people died for Judah Zachery's sins, and a couple of Collinses almost suffered his fate. As for Noah--- who the Hell knows? He might STILL be alive, maybe even comes back to taunt us once in a while. I'll tell you what, I had moments when I thought maybe Jason WAS Noah, but he seemed to have been quite human and almost boringly ordinary when he was hassling my great-Aunt Elizabeth. Where he picked up the secret to become REAL again, and to have learned so many other ugly tricks--- it certainly sounds like something Noah Collins would have known."
Jonah said, "Okay, Elliot. Here's the question I wanted an answer to. Based on whatever you, or your late great-Uncle Elliot Stokes, might have learned, is it possible for a 'revenant' to beget a child?"
"This is about Miss Jennings's baby, isn't it?" Elliot said.
"You got it. I don't know if Alice told you this yet, but last night, she had a dream---"
"Oh, yes, she mentioned that she wanted to talk about it. I should get her---"
"In a few minutes. We're not talking about HER, specifically, but what she remembered as a result of this dream. She said that Jason had told her, when he was holding her in the Mausoleum, that he HAD sex with another woman, earlier in the day. The only other woman he could have been with was Amy, but he left her without any evidence of deflowering, until she turned up pregnant. There's little chance that this could be anyone else's child, but she hasn't said anything definite about it. So, tell me, did Jason have the 'right stuff', even if Amy's still, technically, a virgin?"
"I have to look it up." Elliot
grabbed a stepping-stool, and reached for the top shelf. "We keep these
out of the little kids' hands," he explained, "though Great-Uncle
Elliot started teaching me from them when I was about 9. I've started to teach Hannah, since she recovered from her illness We seem to be
the only ones, out of all the siblings, who appreciate them." In a moment,
he clambered back down, with a dusty volume in his hands. "The only other
copies of this book are in the Orono library, and in
a university in Moscow." He looked in the book's index, and flipped to a
page in the middle of the book. "Hmmm....
I'm not sure, either. It seems that a revenant CAN conceive, but he has to be quite solid, with all the necessary equipment, and the woman would have to know what was going on. Meaning that a male revenant isn't an incubus, who can mate with a woman who is fast asleep, and leave no trace. By the same token, an incubus can mate, but not procreate."
"Well, what, exactly, do the Christians believe happened when the Virgin Mary got pregnant? Isn't there an evil equivalent for the 'Holy Spirit'?"
"Maybe the Devil Himself, or someone that has given himself or herself over to the Devil, body and soul--- such a being would have the necessary powers. Plus, never having actually DIED, such a person would PROBABLY be able to reproduce in the material world. Jason DIED, and rotted away, of THAT we are sure. He was brought back, and probably came close to doing the nasty with Cousin Amy, but if they had really done what he claimed, there would have had to be some intervention to cause fertilization, and also to leave her, well.... Intact."
Jonah said, not entirely sarcastically, "Maybe your Great-great-great Uncle Noah Collins had a 'hand', if nothing ELSE, in this."
"Why he would even BOTHER, after all these years? Though it brings us back to the question of how Jason was able to come back at all. He wasn't any sort of supernatural being to begin with, had no history of fooling around with that kind of thing---"
Neither did I , Jonah thought, but here I am.
"And his crimes were human crimes,
revolting as some of them were. Oh, well, maybe he IS the father of my cousin's
baby, but you're just going to have to wait on GenScan
for the final answer. Or, have Cousin Willie nip away at Cousin Amy until she
spills the truth."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
On the way to the hospital, Christine explained to Barnabas what SHE knew of the possible father of Amy's pregnancy. "It almost HAS to be Jason. He didn't sire ME, but if what Alice said, turns out to have been the truth, you're off the hook." She smiled wanly.
Barnabas held her and kissed her brow. "That's wonderful, my love. But now, take a rest from talking. Your lips are a little blue." He clutched her tightly, while trying to conceal the great anxiety he felt. I am going to lose her, like my Julia! his heart cried, before I ever had a chance to have her!
When they reached the hospital, Conrad and Hedayat Mehta took charge immediately. "You will need several tests," the latter explained to Christine. "Right now, we're looking for a baseline diagnosis that we can forward to a cardiologist in New York. I have several fine colleagues in that city from which you can choose--- I'm sure at least one is covered by your insurance."
Barnabas and Mary Beth sat alone in the waiting area with its Naugahyde chairs. There was an awkward silence between them. Finally, Mary Beth knew she had to break it. "It's gonna be okay. I'm sure she caught whatever-it-is in time. I mean, aside from being a little, um, well, on the STURDY side, she's led a pretty healthy lifestyle in the last 10-15 years. With an occasional lapse," she added, thinking of Christine's brief visit to the Blue Whale 6 weeks earlier, and the single cigarette a week after.
"Oh, no doubt," Barnabas replied. "We've all backslid into these little vices, and recovered. She must have just been working too hard. She never got a proper vacation, after all."
"I guess she's gonna have one FORCED on her now," Mary Beth replied. "I'm gonna call her brother in California as soon as the doctors tell us what's what. He's always after her to come out and spend a few weeks in La-La land. He and his wife have a fabulous house, with way too much room since their daughters grew up and married. No doubt, they'd be thrilled to have Christine over."
"Whatever Christine wants, is what she should have," Barnabas said, without any heat. "When Julia was ill--- not that Christine is necessarily in such dire condition, God forbid!--- I made sure she had EVERYTHING she fancied. We even took a brief trip to Paris, when it seemed that she was in remission. She had only been there once before--- as a very tiny child, when her parents were in the process of leaving the Continent for America, so it was all new to her. As for myself, well.... I had been there, QUITE a long time ago---"
Mary Beth could just imagine HOW long ago. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if Barnabas missed the good old days under Marie Antoinette, but forced herself to say something that was probably even MORE dangerous. "Paris. Must be quite a place. Christine always talks about when SHE lived there, years and years ago. She had quite an adventure there."
"Yes, she told me once, she studied art there. There was such a WISTFUL note in her voice when she mentioned Paris. If she recovers, perhaps she'd like to go there again.... I know I would."
Yeah, you probably didn't even THINK about
going back until Christine's name got mixed up in it, Mary Beth thought in
dismay. Arrgh. She hoped Brian would be a bigger influence on his sick
sister than Barnabas. Then, she remembered Jonah's warnings. She HAD to get
along with Barnabas, for her friend's sake, even if it irked her unto death.
Last month, it had been Alice's future well-being that had to be settled--- and
it was. The girl didn't bat an eyelash when Barnabas walked into Collinwood
earlier that afternoon. And now, it was Christine's future well-being that required
the same tolerance. Mary Beth owed WAY too much to the latter to spar with the
former vampire with whom she was besotted.
"Yeah," she finally said, "The Left Bank might be a healthier place than the Left Coast."
"Mary Beth," Barnabas replied, looking right into her eyes, "I know what agreeing with me is costing you. You are too honest for that. But, in spite of all that has happened, I would sacrifice everything for Christine's best interests. You do not know how it was with Julia and myself. For quite a long time after we met, I did not fully trust her, nor she, me, though I became aware of her fondness for myself early on. I often used it against her, I am now ashamed to say, though at the time, I actually viewed her as a threat. I thought she had made me 'ill' with her medications on purpose, and I played on her guilt about.... things she had done, for ME. I also admit---" his voice fell to a whisper--- "that I almost killed her. My sister stopped me, and eventually, I came to view Julia with more tolerance.
"It was Willie who first pointed out that we might have an underlying attraction, but it took a few years, and many dire circumstances, to realize that this was the one woman who would NEVER desert me, NOR would I desert her. Ironically, it was when Angelique had passed from my life, seemingly forever, when I realized that she and Julia had many of the same traits that attracted me. It took a while to revise my way of looking at Julia's person, but I succeeded. And now, I tell you, I feel the same about your friend. What we went through together, including the terrible events in the tunnel, was like a repeat of my experiences with Julia--- ALL of them, but in mine and Christine's cases, at a very accelerated pace. Very possibly, it was MEANT to be so, since we both don't have much time left to appreciate our bond, but it IS the same kind of bond. That's what I was trying to tell the both of you, through Alice. And if the Lord in His Mercy grants us a second chance, I vow to YOU, above everyone else, that Christine will never again suffer through her relationship with me. If it happens that she DOES, you have my permission to do whatever is necessary, even if it's similar to what George Patterson did to Chris Jen---"
"No! I WOULDN'T do that," Mary Beth
replied with horrified pity. "We've seen the long-term consequences of
that action! I'd think of something--- I don't know WHAT--- but--- look, let's
drop it for now. Let's concentrate on willing Christine to get better, and WHEN she does, I won't stand in the way of any decision she makes, nor will her brother, for that matter. Anything that would make her really happy, I'm sure Brian will agree to. As long as certain details are left out, of course."
"Of course," Barnabas said amiably. "I am ALSO sorry for the compromises this forces on you, Mary Beth, but you can depend on me to be of help if something so wicked, AGAIN, this way comes."
"Thanks, I guess. But don't worry about MY compromises. I'm getting used to it. Keeps me on my toes. I've gotten a lot more religion lately, as well. Really studying that Bible and so forth. I know, that's gonna remind you of Auntie Abigail, but this is purely for educational purposes. I started when Hallie asked me to be a Godmother. I've been a pretty lapsed Christian, let alone Catholic. I found that, besides wanting to be worthy of such an honor, I really need a spiritual center going on in my life in order to deal with standing watch at the gate between Heaven and Hell."
" 'Except that the Lord keepeth the
city, the watchman watcheth in vain'," Barnabas
quoted. "I have been a pretty lapsed churchman myself, as you might
imagine. But a part of me NEVER stopped believing. If not for that, I would
never have fought so hard to become human, even mortal, again.
Julia converted to Congregationalist to fit in with the family, and she made sure Jeremy went to Sunday School. I just went along occasionally, as it was uncomfortable--- but if Christine has also become more religious, I shall bend to her inclination."
"I suspect she HAS. Though obviously,
she's not tied to the Catholics as much, if she sponsored a baby in a
Protestant church. You might find THAT struggle over before it's begun."
Mary Beth reached for Barnabas's hand. He returned the clasp. His hand was warm
and steady, steadier than her own, which trembled
slightly. Darn arthritis kicking in, she thought. But it's gonna
be OKAY. I can DO this, I CAN. I MUST.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Christine faced Dr. Mehta. "What do you mean, 'congestive heart failure'?" she demanded. "Isn't that what old people get just before they DIE?" she snapped, in order to conceal her anxiety.
"Miss Cagney, it's not all that dire at this point. You just have the beginnings of the condition. In your medical history, you have lost both parents to heart trouble. Your mother died very young, but you, yourself told us she had a heart murmur, which she might have been born with. However, this is not YOUR problem. Your father, on the other hand.... His heart trouble was aggravated by alcoholism, from which, I understand, he never fully recovered?"
Christine hung her head. "It's true. I was after him 'til the very end. but he was just too old and set in his ways. But I learned from his example. I went off on a bender right after he died, but all my friends convinced me that I was worth saving. I joined A.A. With just a couple of minor exceptions, I've been pretty dry for almost 15 years."
"All to the good, but the long-term effects of alcoholism CAN include heart damage. But, as I said, the congestive heart failure IS still at a stage where it can be controlled by medication and changes in life-style. For example, while I do not object to excess weight on an esthetic basis, it IS a known risk factor in heart disease, and many other conditions. However, at your age, a dramatic weight LOSS might also cause trouble. So, I would prescribe a gradual modification in your diet, to bring down the weight slowly, and a build-up of exercise, and so forth, in addition to medication and medical monitoring. Plus, something else--- you are still involved in police work. There is a VERY high incidence of heart trouble in that profession, due to the many stresses associated---"
"I AM going to retire when I'm 60," Christine protested. "That's just 2 and a half years away."
"Well, if you THINK you can reduce your workload, it might be possible. However, if there is no such relief available, it might be prudent to think of taking an earlier retirement."
"Just hanging around the house with nothing to do, will be stressful, after all these years!"
"I am NOT suggesting that you live as an invalid," Mehta replied in exasperation. "There may well be other, less strenuous occupations you can still take up, even at your age. Or maybe there's a hobby or avocation you've always wanted to pursue.... As long as it doesn't become another obsession that causes you to miss sleep, or neglect your diet, or forget your medications." He smiled then, and patted her shoulder. "Well, that's just the start. I still want to run a few more tests, but you should be able to leave by tomorrow afternoon. I think you are quite up to seeing your friends now."
When Barnabas and Mary Beth entered the room, Christine shrugged and said, "You were right on the money, Mary Beth. This IS a VERY annoying condition where I'll have to take medicine, increasing amounts of it, for the rest of my life."
"But it's not as bad as what killed your folks?"
"No. I didn't inherit Mother's problem, and I stopped drinking just in the nick of time, unlike poor Charlie. But it IS going to force me to re-think my career path."
Barnabas took her hand, kissed it, and said, "I rather thought you hadn't much longer a race to run on that path, Christine. That IS what you told ME."
"True enough, but I still have that urge to finish what I started. And that includes helping to convict that wife-killer. Hedayat is going to spring me tomorrow, and I WILL be going back to Manhattan to tie up loose ends. After that, I intend to review whatever else is on my agenda, and if nothing is urgent, I will ask Geoffrey Coombs to replace me as soon as possible."
Mary Beth said, "That's GREAT--- at least I hope it's great for YOU, Christine. But you've always been an active sort. Have you thought about what you'll do with all that free time?"
"I really haven't had a chance to think!
But now that you ask.... Well, there's a hobby I've been wanting to get back to. For YEARS.
Time to invest in some canvas, lots of paints, a pallette,
I realize I'm never going to be a female Picasso or Cezanne or Modigliani, or even the fellow who painted that awful, but fascinating, picture of the Crypt-Keeper. But I could try my hand at painting a little picture of my godson. If THAT comes out looking human, I'll start in on the Lacey Triplets Triptych. Maybe I was meant to be the next Mary Cassatt. You know, the spinster lady who loved to paint Moms and babies?"
"Well, if you want to do THAT," Mary Beth said, "You'll probably want to go out to California and see the new babies in person, as soon as they're safely born. Maybe you'd like to go out there a few months earlier than that? We should call Brian, in any case."
"Oh, I don't see the necessity of doing that just yet. Sure, I want to see him, Annie, and my nieces, and even their wire-chewing Shar Pei, but I'm not going to call him just yet. We just had a bad session last month, when our parents were dug up.... He'll just get worried sick, jump back on a plane, and we might end up with TWO heart attacks for the price of one. Don't want to overwork Dr. Mehta, do we? Let me just adjust to the simple life for a while, then I'll be ready for heart-to-hearts with my brother, and long walks along the Pacific Coast."
Mary Beth was almost relieved--- Christine would leave her stressful job, but stay put in Manhattan for the time being, not a restful place, by any means, but a place she was used to. Rather than Collinsport, with its deceptive tranquility that concealed seething secrets.... NOT a safe place for a woman who had a heart condition that would probably be quite manageable without surgery, let alone a transplant, as long as she stayed in familiar surroundings where she wouldn't be distracted, by some ghost or goblin, from taking her meds.
Barnabas apparently had much the same thoughts, but much sadder for him. He wore a downcast expression, and squeezed Christine's hand once more, then released it, and turned to go. She stopped him in his tracks.
"Barnabas," she said, her smile deepening, "I didn't want to take those long walks ALONE. Sure, I WILL go to see my brother, but not as a spinster painter. I want to go on my HONEYMOON."
Mary Beth gasped. "Christine, do you KNOW what you're saying? We've both been down the 'jumping from the pan into the fire' route in this town. I'm kind of planted here now, and Harvey seems set with his new heart, but what if some OTHER baddie from the Beyond comes around and gives YOUR ticker a licking?"
"What if some baddie from the BRONX gives me a licking when I'm walking through Central Park, Mary Beth? At least, HERE, I won't be so alone. Everyone we knew in New York is gone, or has changed too much, or has come HERE. And here, I would also be with Barnabas. If something happened to me, I would want him by my side. Him, on ONE side, YOU, on the OTHER. I can have the TWO people with whom I fought the hardest, yet loved the best. There's a balance, at last--- the balance of light and darkness."
Barnabas had moved back to Christine's side, and held her, not too tightly, not too loosely.. Just right, as a matter of fact--- that's what Julia had always said. "By the time you recover and we're back from that honeymoon, Christine, the Old House will be repaired and Edward will be on hand to look after the BOTH of us. It will work out," he assured the Sheriff. "I am just bringing Christine back to the home from which she was taken so long ago, as YOU have finally come home, Mary Beth. Remember what I just told you a while ago. I will NOT break my word. It will be FINE."
"Darn well better be," Mary Beth
groused, "or else there'll be more Hell to pay. We just got THROUGH
settling up our debts with Old Nick."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Willie sat with Amy and a female officer who was to keep an eye on her, in the County Jail Annex for Women. He had just shown them some of the recordings he'd made of the christening party. He was gratified to see both smile, and even laugh, at the dance antics of Amy's relatives. In fact, he was grateful to see Amy smile at all. She had a tendency to become violently sick to her stomach early on, and, even before THAT, had suffered sharp backaches just prior to the diagnosis of pregnancy. He had fretted over this malaise, wondering if it was just her age, or, perhaps, the possibility of a supernatural father, that caused all the discomfort.
This evening, though, Amy had not complained at all of her symptoms. The officer reported that the prisoner had kept all three meals down during the day, and , moreover, had left off her usual petulant complaints over the conditions of her confinement. The strong possiblity that she would soon be moving to WindCliff had calmed Amy, and more accepting of her present situation.
After viewing the tapes, the officer made
Willie leave them at the front desk, then locked the
a small room with a one-way mirror and a small microphone, so they could chat with an illusion of privacy. Willie didn't care if an army of police were watching, though, as he kissed and hugged his fiancee. But he DID feel a compunction to broach the subject young Elliot had pitched to him, and Quentin, before Willie had come up here. If I don't bring it up, Willie thought, then Quentin WILL, and he could be rather unpleasant when interrogating his great-grand-daughter, though he protested his fondness for her every chance he got, and WOULD provide a home for Amy's new family. Better I get the secret out of her with love and gentleness.
"Amy, baby," Willie whispered, mindful of the microphone, "You saw that Miss Cagney was at the christening, was one of the godmothers along with the Sheriff."
"Yes," Amy whispered back sadly, "She took over what I was supposed to do. I remember David and Hallie both asked, along time ago, and I refused--- but what's the point of talking about THAT, now?"
"She knows about your baby that's coming. She was real upset--- so upset she had a little heart attack or something like that. Barnabas tried to fob her off saying it couldn't be his---"
Amy looked offended. "I TOLD you what he did to me."
"Yeah, I KNOW, but Amy--- TWO doctors
have said it's impossible, and then, just today, we found
out--- there's someone who swears--- now, Amy, don't get mad at ME, sweetheart, you KNOW I'll always love and trust you and care for you and the baby no matter WHO made it with you, as long as the guy stays out of the way.... Anyway, this person claims that JASON McGUIRE told her that HE slept with you, just before he set you loose to get me and Harvey--- Amy, NO, DON'T---"
Amy wept stormily, and shoved Willie away from her so viciously, that two guards who had been watching and listening appeared in the room. They took her arms roughly, but Willie made them simply settle the distraught woman into a chair, handcuffing both her wrists to the leg of the heavy table, which was bolted to the floor. "Look, just go call a doctor," he begged of one, the female officer who had been with them before. She did as she was asked, leaving the other guard, a burly male, in charge.
Amy was muttering, "He didn't, he didn't, he didn't. He was gonna do it with me, if I did a good job ruining you and Harvey. I wanted it--- he got me almost naked and put his hands all over, and his mouth .... But he said there was only so much we could do with each other. He disappeared like a ghost even though he touched me. B-B-Barnabas--- HE never really disappeared like Jason. I don't get it. But it CAN'T be Jason. But it can't be Barnabas, either."
Willie bent over his fiancee
and hugged her once more. "Look, honey, I'm gonna
settle this with Jason himself. He's got a little bug that bites HIM and makes
him tell the truth, these days. I have to do this.
Because I want YOUR mind at ease. Because I want Miss Cagney's mind at ease, too--- Jason did all he could to destroy HER, and if she dies from feeling bad about this, to ME, it would be murder. And one more reason--- I MISS getting along with Barnabas, even if I'm not working for him anymore. There's just SOME things that Edward will never understand, and I'm sorry, Amy, but he WILL still need me sometimes, and Miss Cagney also, if she marries him. You trust me to do the right thing, Amy?"
Amy's voice was thin, defeated. "Yes,
Sweet William. Do what you have to. I can't live like this any
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was pretty late, almost 7:00 P.M., and the guards in the Men's Wing of the County Jail almost did not allow Willie his last-minute visit with Jason. But, it turned out, Jason had been clamoring to see HIM. Willie wondered what kind of game his old partner-in-crime, or his old partner's brand-new "conscience", was up to.
"Oh, Mr. McGuire's become quite the
jailhouse convert," the guard told Willie as he led him to the secure
visiting area. "Funny, it usually takes these guys a while, learning to
use that angle to their advantage, in their trials, or a few years into their
prison sentence. McGuire's been reading and thumping that Bible almost since he
got here. He has to be kept away from the other inmates---
he annoys the Hell out of them with his preaching. You SURE he hasn't done anything like that before?"
Willie snorted, "God, no! The Jason I knew was like an atheist. The way THIS Jason acted, he's as much like his old man as though maybe he was a CLONE. Maybe WORSE. I'm sure it's a con job."
"I wonder," the guard mused, as he opened the door to the room. Jason and another guard were already there. Jason was manacled to the chair, though he stared at the floor and hardly looked threatening. The two guards withdrew, though, as happened in the women's jail, they were watching and listening through concealed devices.
"Jason," Willie hissed. "Quit pretending to be so humble. Look up at me like a man!"
"Who says I am humble, ye traitorous BASTARD?" the other replied, still not looking up.
"What, you're not gonna give me a sermon like you do to the other crooks in here? Is your buddy Trask on a coffee break or something?"
"Nay, I feel him watching me when you are near." Jason suddenly sounded fearful. "He is waiting for a chance to strike me yet again. I never know when it will happen, or what form. Once, the first week I was here, I spat out some atrocious meal. Willie, it was nearly raw--- could have given me food poisoning! I was rewarded for that with the most painful headache of my life. Like a nail was being pounded through one eye into my brain! The doctors checked me out, and said, beyond a wee bit high blood pressure, there was nothing really wrong. I've been toeing the line, because if I so much as doze off whilst endlessly reading Scriptures, he sends other pains, and, sometimes, humiliations.... I've been made to wet m'self, to vomit for no reason.... The only thing that may come of this is that they think I am mad, psychotic, and may end up throwing me into some state place for the criminally insane. Sweet Christ, Willie, I don't know what's worse, prison or an asylum--- I've never been in either, as well ye know!"
"Well, I've been in BOTH, and neither are places any DECENT person would like to be. But that's just IT, Jason. You had your chance to come back, and you blew it. Couldn't stay away from manipulating people the way you always did, the way that got you--- got you where you were for so many years. You had a golden chance to enjoy your life the right way, but NO, you had to have your revenge. So, NO pity from ME. I almost lost some of the people I love the most because of you."
"Now I suppose ye'll be telling me, you love BARNABAS as well, eh?" The old sly grin appeared, in spite of the danger.
Willie stood very still as he considered that question. Finally, he said, "Not in the way YOU would mean it, no. Barnabas stole my life from me in one way--- did all he could to break me like they break wild horses. There are things he did to me that I will never tell anyone--- when I finally die and face St. Peter or whatever you face out there, THEY may have to beat me to tell the truth."
"But ye'll enjoy it, I've no doubt. Because you WERE one to enjoy, shall we say, a little pain...."
Willie's face turned maroon. "DON'T remind me of how it was with US."
"Or the OTHERS before me, eh, Willie?" At that moment, Jason began to gag.
"No, no!" Willie pleaded with Trask. "Don't do that--- the guards will come running in, and I'll lose my chance to get the answer to my question." Jason breathed normally once more. "Damn, Jason, I almost feel sorry for you. You remind me of ME, whenever Barnabas was pissed off at me for some picayune thing."
"Well, before I answer this great question ye've come all this way to ask, Willie-boy, you have to answer MINE. How DO ye feel about your Master?"
"He's my FORMER Master. I work for Quentin Collins now."
"Ah, yes. Have to keep it all in the family now that ye've won Amy Jennings's capricious heart. But what about the man who sheltered and fed and knocked you around for over 30 years?"
"He took me apart like a watch and put me back together. He WAS evil, once, but something inside of him wanted to go back to a more innocent time. That was ME, too, before my Father beat the shit out of my mother and walked out, and she dropped me in that foster home and died. Then, her cousin came to visit. He told me about her real family, but he was a perv--- he was like YOU, and all the men before you, and some of the women, even."
Willie paused, remembering, what he couldn't
bring himself to tell Jason in the past, or Harvey, or anyone except Barnabas
(who coerced the truth from him in his usual manner), and what he dared not
admit here--- that his mother's cousin, who was as old as his father, had taken
him in, had tried to seduce him.... Had nearly succeeded too,
with the rough, friendless, but fresh-faced teenager who craved SOME kind of
attention. The REAL reason Willie had left St. Louis without any
mementoes of his mother or her family was because he had knocked the old man
over, and taken the contents of his
wallet--- just over $100. The cousin, when he came to, no doubt considered himself well rid of the boy, and didn't pursue him. The money didn't save Willie from becoming a thief and a part-time hustler to make ends meet until he fell in with Jason, though most of the assignations were over before there was any activity.
Willie had learned to slip the men, most of whom were well-to-do out-of-towners at conventions whom he met in bars, a little "Mickey" in their drinks. The johns would get high, hike out with Willie to a back alley or to a nearby fleabag hotel, then suddenly collapse with their pants down. Willie would then abscond with the money from THEIR wallets. The victims' sheer embarrassment at the prospect of reporting the circumstances of the crime, not to mention fear of the legal consequences of being discovered in a homosexual connection in those days, was his best protection. Once in a while, though, Willie would have do something he abhorred, but not too often--- then, to make himself feel better about it, he'd run to the nearest whorehouse and demand similar services from a woman.
When the vice cops started infiltrating the low-life neighborhoods, Willie would revert to robbery, at which he never became very skilled. In a panic, he had shot the owner of a liquor store, even though the fellow had followed Willie's orders to lie on the floor, face down, while the thief, whose own face was clumsily covered with a scarf, emptied the cash register of the day's proceeds. There was a sudden loud noise, which Willie found out, all too late, was the backfiring of a car, and he pulled the trigger.... The liquor-store owner was in various hospitals and physical therapy for about a year, one-quarter of the time his assailant subsequently served in prison for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
All that had changed around when Willie met Jason in a bar, the very day he'd emerged from prison, angrier than ever (he had all he could do to defend himself from other inmates), and uncertain of his next move. The Irishman treated him, at first, like a son or younger brother, was even somewhat fearful of him, then won him over completely when he shared the booty from their capers. Thanks to Jason's facility at obtaining false passports, he was able to show his protegee / enforcer the world. They had each other, and in their flush times, they also had their pick of women as well. There had been some trouble in Rio de Janiero; Willie had cut a Brazilian sailor, who'd objected to the former's 15-minute affair with the latter's sluttish and underage fiancee, but Jason successfully argued that it was self-defense--- then hustled Willie out of the country before the local police chief changed his mind.
Then came Collinsport, its feisty, resistant females and puritannical males--- and Barnabas, who had his own ugly allure, but was also a puritan of sorts, dedicated to an ideal, no matter how just plain dreadful his means of attaining it.
Willie resumed telling Jason only what the latter needed to know. "Barnabas was horrible, but when he started in, rattling on about his family before he became what he became, how much he missed his little sister.... That's what hooked me.... He was still beating on me, and he betrayed me to the cops, but when I was in WindCliff, all I could remember were those stories, and the few times he treated me decent. I even picked up some of his attitude, you know, wanting to get Joe Haskell out of the way so I could win Maggie.... even gave her a nice present, like Barnabas would have. And all the while, Barnabas was trying to become a better guy, even letting Vicki Winters have the man she really wanted. There was a time when Barnabas almost died, and I cried and prayed for him, with Julia.... Because he was starting to become what he should have been all along. Julia loved him in spite of some bad things he did to her, because he finally appreciated what she was tryin' to do. And he chose ME over-- over---"
"That wretched Adam Samwell. Ah,
well, I see it all now, Willie. Thus your love for Barnabas bloomed. Yet it
took such a whipping lately. Your little girl, the boy you helped to raise,
"We ALL have the bad inside us, Jason. But I know, every day for over 30 years, Barnabas woke up every morning and said to himself, 'I won't do those bad things today.' Like I did. Like Julia, and, from now on, their own son. The difference between US and YOU, is that we NEVER liked doing bad things, once there was another way. We all paid the price for the bad old days, and we DID find a way back, if not to innocence, at least back to a place where we won't CHOOSE to hurt anyone if we could help it. On the other hand, YOU would still be out there, making people miserable just for the Hell of it, if you still had a chance--- If you didn't have that other person inside to make you sick and to make you look stupid and crazy when you screw up. I'm sorry he does it even for piddly little sins, but maybe you missed that kind of punishment when you WERE little, and piddly sins were all that you were capable of."
"Thanks, 'Father' Willie. That's a BETTER sermon than Trask would--- ugghh...." Jason tried to clutch his stomach, but his hands, chained to the chair, couldn't reach it. His face turned greenish, his eyes watered and he drooled a little, as though he was going to throw up, but Willie gently put his hands on Jason's back, and rubbed it with firm upward strokes as though the older man was a large baby. Jason gave a tremendous belch, then sat up straight, and, for the first time, looked his former partner-in-crime in the eye. "Willie," he said weakly, "I thank ye. Ye saved me from a most embarrassing and messy situation."
"Well, you think I WANT to be stuck in a room with a man who barfed all over himself?" Willie smiled, but it was a compassionate smile rather than contemptuous. "Besides, I helped raise a couple of babies, I knew exactly what to do. Maybe, just maybe, if you had never dragged me up here, I would never have had babies to raise. We'd have been raising Hell--- or maybe, by now, we'd both be in Hell together. That's what I've been trying to tell you...."
It was on the tip of Jason's tongue to sass back that, with all his baby-tending experience, Willie might want to be on hand if the older man had ANOTHER kind of accident, but for once, the McGuire blarney was silent. "You're finally learning humility," a sharp, reproving voice said within him. "Aye," Jason replied wearily within, "perhaps I am, a little." "Well, prove it, then, and tell him what only YOU can, as I was not present. As if I WOULD be, in the case of fornication!"
"An HONEST man wouldn't call it that--- oh," Jason said, red-faced now, as he had spoken the last words aloud.
"Wouldn't call what, WHAT?" Willie demanded.
"Ye're asking about Amy's brat, I dare say. I've heard about it, all right."
"Please, Jason, if ANYTHING I've said or done in the last half-hour has had ANY good effect on you, PLEASE tell the truth, to ME, if nobody else."
"Well, why not? It's only fair to let ye know what you're in for. See, Willie, I had to have a little help pulling off this caper. A fellow I met in the deep-dark Below.... Name of Nicholas---"
"NICHOLAS! Blair? Oh, my God.... He came around a few times, years ago, after you were out of the picture. He always caused trouble, him and his 'sister' who wasn't really his sister, but--- he kept making mistakes, and we thought he was gone forever...."
"Well, Willie, he's stuck down there, stoking that Infernal furnace, but he keeps an eye on the goings-on at Collinwood, all right. Said he knew them since forever, that they're kin of his, though they were always too stupid to see it. Barnabas, the 'cousin from England'--- HIM they accepted right off, because of that wretched painting ye used to admire so, and as for Quentin, I reckon there were pictures of himself, as well, but alas, there was no portrait of old Nicholas. Or maybe there IS, but it's hid in that labyrinth of an attic, or in that catacomb of a basement. But he didn't care--- it made it easier for him to come around a do a bit of mischief to the family of the brother who turned his back on him."
Willie trembled. "He--- he isn't going to come back, is he?"
Jason smiled. "Not any more, laddie. He's chained faster than I am, but he DID help me a bit with the taming of Amy, and almost with little Alice. He taught me a way to have my pleasure in such a way as to hit and run, so to speak."
"Amy swears all she did with you mounted to a lot of heavy petting."
"What a lovely, old-fashioned expression, Willie. Well, if, in the future, ye hear your lovely bride moaning and sighing and thrashing about in her sleep, in such as way as she's unlikely to do with YOU, perhaps she'll be reliving our tender moments. If I wasn't so sure I'd be prevented by my companion, I'd hound her dreams personally again. I can, or, rather, DID have the power to project my consciousness into another being's mind, but I met some resistance when I tried it on someone else last night, and then Trask caught me." Jason shuddered.
"But how could you make a baby that way?"
"Dear Lord, Willie, the woman fancied she was a VAMPIRE. She slept like the dead! I was all over her, all right, but the memory lies deep in the recesses of her mind. It's a trick Nick taught me. In again, out again, Finnegan."
"You're sure Nick HIMSELF didn't do it?"
"If he DID, he would have had to play a mind trick on ME, and I don't fall for those as easily as YOU might, my be-nighted friend. No, it was a game amongst equals. He was once a man, and so was I, and he did me a big favor. But we are separate beings."
"He could have changed shape---"
"Willie, calm yourself. Amy's little one was conceived by MYSELF. I lay no further claim to it, any more than I ever did to Kaye Cagney's daughter."
"SHE'S not yours, you know, Jason--- that's what the tests said."
Jason smirked vaguely. "Ah, well. How do ye like that? It seems Kaye had the last laugh on ME."
"Nobody laughed, Jason. Even though they were finally able to prove YOU weren't Christine Cagney's father, the whole Cagney family suffered for years, when they shouldn't have had to. You still have that much to pay for."
"As long as it isn't
child support, Willie. Which I won't have a jot to pay when the new babe
is born. But I can see that isn't your main concern. Raise the little
imp with my blessings--- they ARE mine
"I guess that's your final answer."
"There IS no other answer. Unless ye WISH to continue blaming BARNABAS for the deed."
Willie still looked uncertain, but Jason knew there would still be DNA testing later, so he had no reason to lie, really. "No, I want to make PEACE with Barnabas. Thanks, Jason. I mean it."
"And thank YOU, Willie. I feel closer to salvation already." After Willie had left, and Jason was returned to his cell, the other voice in his mind scolded, "You really are NO closer to salvation, Jason McGuire. Why could you not tell him that Noah Collins took up residence in your body and mind from time to time and did with it what he pleased until I arrived, as part of your bargain to become real once more? And about that little cup of---"
"Nay! No more," Jason wept. "I've been punished
more in the last 5 weeks, than in all my years in Hell. I want peace, too....
Well, we'll see if WILLIE has any. He talked about raising Hell--- We'll see
how he feels about raising Cain."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Willie had just finished explaining
everything to Barnabas, who had quietly settled in his guest room at
Collinwood. "It sounds too glib, Willie, especially since Nicholas is
involved. McGuire said he was a Collins? Let me get the family history."
Trailed by Willie, Barnabas took the lift down to the hallway near the study,
and selected a volume that was vaguely familiar to his former houseman. Then
Willie remembered--- it was the book of family portraits he had examined just
prior to setting out on his fateful 1967 expedition to the Collins mausoleum.
Barnabas flipped the pages, and Willie glimpsed the lithograph of Naomi
Collin's portrait that had so tempted him, and the old photo of Sarah's
So many memories, so many of them terrible....
Barnabas finally found one in the earliest pages of the book. Willie couldn't recall whether he'd noticed that one--- probably not, because if he HAD, alarm bells would have gone off in his head the instant he met Nicholas in 1968. For there he WAS, in slashed doublet, lacy sleeves, long boots, wearing a sword, a long beard, a jaunty cap with a feather, and an EARRING, like a pirate....
"I had forgotten this portrait," Barnabas said. "Noah Collins, born 1622, banished from the Massachussetts colony, 1655, date of death, unknown.... My father had found a painting very similar to this, and put it in storage for transfer to his new house, where it must have been lying around in a crate until someone found it and had this lithograph made. Where the original is NOW, God only knows. But this MUST be our Nicholas."
Willie said, "Jason claimed Nicholas was permanently in Hell, so I guess he won't be around to bug us in person, but I sure don't like that he was able to teach Jason how to have sex with women and knock them up without their knowing it until it's too late. It's like he's still here, in spirit."
"Well, as long as it can still be proved
that Amy's baby is McGuire's, that's all we need to know. McGuire was an
ordinary mortal child once. Perhaps he was raised wrong, or perhaps he was born
with an amoral streak, or BOTH, but that doesn't mean the same mistakes and traits will repeat themselves in his offspring. Even Amy was good as a young child."
"So was I, Barnabas. So were you."
"Yes, we were, until circumstances
overtook us, I suppose. But we raised good children, so there's always hope for
the future. And if the future is threatened, ever again, we'll fight to make it
"Yeah, I guess," Willie shrugged. "You and me and the Sheriff--- and Miss Cagney. The new baby doesn't just have McGuire blood, it has HER blood--- what were the twin grandmas' names, again?"
"McCaffrey, I believe. I'm sure they
were fine women, one of them just had poor luck with
As my mother did, alas."
"That was different."
"So it was." Barnabas turned to the picture of his mother. "You know, I don't actually remember most of those jewels she wore for this picture. Just the couple of pieces I found, including those earrings that were somehow lost." He glanced at Willie, but the latter had long since learned not to flinch under his stare. "Anyway, what difference does it make? I sold some of the jewelry myself, just as my mother was made to sell some to help my father, and it's gone. Though it would have been nice to have the earrings for Christine. I will have copies made for my wedding present to her."
Willie said, "Funny, if I hadn't gone out looking for those jewels, neither of us would be standing here now."
"You think it was all worth while, Willie? If you knew then, what you know now, would you have gone forth and released me, to live all those years of horror and misery?"
"We got through them, again and again. There were also a lot of good years, don't forget them. There'll be more, yet. But, thinking it over, I guess I'd have gone out and done it all again, because back then, I was so stubborn, I didn't believe in all that supernatural bullsh--crap. I'd have said that was just a story to scare me off--- I remember saying something like that to that old caretaker, Hinckley--- and you know how I was then--- didn't give a damn what anyone thought!"
"If you DID, you certainly wouldn't have stayed with me all these years when you didn't have to."
Willie patted Barnabas's shoulder. "A dirty job, but someone had to do it. And I'll still do some of it, when I'm not busy watching those home remodeler guys working for Quentin, or chasing after little kids. Because--- it's weird to say this, but I miss you, Barnabas."
Barnabas replied, "I miss you too, in a way. Edward is a great help, but a man wants the familiar about him at this stage in life."
"We're related now, so maybe you could
treat me like you do all the other Collinses. Like an
And we're going to have a grandchild in common, and hopefully, more than just one, in the future.... You, yourself, gave me credit for helping to raise your own SON right, which I sure didn't have to do, but I did it anyway, because it was the RIGHT thing to have stood and done it. A man doesn't do that for another man, except that he really CARES for him--- in a friendly way. You called me your friend once or twice, Barnabas---"
"And you always WERE, after I stopped mistreating you and allowed you freedom of choice."
"I made the choice over 30 years ago, when I sent my Roxanne to her sister in New York, and stuck it out with you and Julia here. I worked hard to forgive you then, and I forgave you a month ago, when you sent me out to do what you couldn't have done with Jeremy, because in that moment, it all made sense--- THIS was the one thing YOU needed that only I could have given to you! ANY fool could have opened that casket in the last 200 years, and it seems that some fools DID--- but out of all of them, who gave you something WAY more valuable than those damn jewels?"
Barnabas sighed. "Well, two, actually--- You in 1967, and Julia, when she traveled back to 1840, which, of course, she'd never have done if she hadn't met me in 1967. She gave me my--OUR son, and you gave him BACK to me when I thought I'd lost him forever. And now, thanks again to YOU, and the woman I hurt so badly for the sake of a dead dream--- my family line, OUR family lines will continue. I have far too heavy a debt to repay you in ALL ways, Willie."
"Well, I'm not looking for a reward, or a mention in your will---"
"Even so, you ARE named. You WILL inherit a tidy sum that should help your future plans, if I should pass on shortly. That share of my estate has been set aside for you since Julia first realized she was terminally ill. It was just after our trip to Paris. We both had new wills made up, as you recall. In HERS, she divided her estate up neatly, in thirds."
"I know. I got my share from her, I got a nice new car and some extra to save, and some to spend on Vicki. Even though it wasn't a whole lot, I'm not complaining--- that's all Julia had of her own, I guess."
"Well, she KNEW I had quite a bit MORE 'put by', as it were. And her last request was that, in the likely event of her death, that I divide my will in the same way. My son will get a third, and his children, however many there will be, another third. And YOU will receive the final third---"
"What about Miss Cagney, when you marry her?"
"Goodness, Willie, you just gave her about 10 million dollars--- However, if it bothers you so, I shall make some provision for her when we marry. But you STILL get your entire third. In fact, I've just now decided to sign it over to you in advance. I've no doubt, Christine will concur."
"God, Barnabas, that all sounds as crazy as Adam's will. I don't need much for myself, and Quentin's promised to take care of me and Amy and the baby. That money should really go to JEREMY."
"I will trust you to make the right
decision about THAT when YOUR time comes, my old friend--- after all, the money
will eventually end up in the same place, with OUR children and grandchildren.
But in the meantime, Willie--- I hope you get SOME enjoyment from the money.
God knows, you have earned it. And a man doesn't give another man a third of
his estate, unless he really CARES for him, you know--- in a FRIENDLY
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A small group remained, long after the official christening party was broken up by the Old House fire and Christine's attack. Hallie, Carolyn, and Allarice were having a final cup of tea together in the dining room, while Jeremy and Vicki, having said good-night to Barnabas, lingered in the drawing room. Maggie had left an hour before, in the company of Quentin ("Now THAT would be a nice match," her daughter, unaware of their previous involvment, had commented), Pauline had sent both her suitors home, growling at each other, and gone up to her room, and all the children were currently being prepared for sleep by their older sisters and the two nannies. Willie had gone home to Seaview, after helping Old Roger into bed, after the latter had rejected the fussy attention of Edward Landsdowne; Roger then kept Willie an extra 15 minutes talking about enlarging the nursery for the sudden rise in the baby population at Collinwood. Elliot had taken Alice and her father home quite a while ago, then called his mother to say that he was staying on at the Laceys' for coffee.
The older women in the dining room had also just received a call from Mary Beth, who announced Christine's condition, and also requested permission to return for a while. "Why not," Hallie said happily, if wearily. "A little women's meeting of the minds. Maybe we can make this a regular event, though maybe next time, we should do it in the afternoon. But I'll alert the security guards." This was a recent development; the two Collins matriarchs had decided to hire patrolling security guards, with one installed at the old gatehouse, at least at night.
The guard called, 20 minutes later, to report that the Sheriff and Mr. Quentin were on their way in, and the Chimes of Westminster soon sounded at the large oaken doors. Hallie was already there, before even Jeremy could get up from the drawing room couch on which he'd been dozing. She opened one of the doors, and, sure enough, there was Mary Beth, but the tall gentleman with her--- darn that guard, he probably just thought the man's car looked like Quentin's and waved it through, though how could one mistake a DeLorean for anything ELSE, even in the dark? However, it seemed the tall gentleman was not of a criminal bent, or he would not now be having a reasonably amiable conversation with the SHERIFF, of all people!
Jeremy and Allarice
had suddenly appeared, and were quite close by, closer than Carolyn and Vicki.
They looked a bit anxiously at the stranger. Hallie
didn't get a good look at his face until he was out of the shadow of the
doorway, but when she did, she gave a little cry, and collapsed into Mary
"Can't be, can't be," she wept. "David-Adam-David-Adam---"
"God, it must have been too long a day for you, Hallie," Mary Beth said soothingly. "Listen, I was suspicious of this fellow, until he introduced himself and presented all the I.D.'s. This is Dr. Lang's cousin, Lars. He came to pick up Dr. Bertrand, to take her home."
"Yes, I EXPECTED that," Allarice said, "but he, or Conrad, REALLY should have called first."
"Conrad SAID, '9 o'clock', and it IS," Lars insisted in a rather simple-minded way. "If you wanted to come home earlier or later, YOU should have called."
"Yes, well, it is as it is," Allarice sighed. "Though I DON'T know how the guard got you mixed up with Quentin!"
"Oooh, wait a second!" Carolyn piped up. "Were you driving a light-colored Mercury or something similar?"
"Yes, Ma'am," the tall man said. "Silvery-grey."
"Well, that explains it," Carolyn said. "Just before Quentin left with Maggie, he mentioned to me that his DeLorean wouldn't start, so I lent him the keys to MY silver-BLUE Mercury. The guard probably just mistook the colors, and the tall men who were driving the cars, in the dark."
Mary Beth said, "Well, fortunately, this didn't turn out to be a serious incident, save for Hallie's over-reaction, but in the future, you should instruct those guards to be a LOT more careful!"
Carolyn replied, "Oh, we will, we will!" She helped Mary Beth walk the distraught Hallie to the drawing room, while the source of the distress was led out the door by Allarice, who nodded cryptically to Jeremy. All this silent signalling, Vicki caught, and she was sure to give her husband a grilling when they got home.
She came into the drawing room. "Is there anything I--- or my husband can do?"
Hallie was now sitting up straight. "Sorry about that. Really. Mary Beth is right, it's been too long a day, though I blame that on no-one but myself. It's just that 'Lars' fellow has my David's eyes, and something of Adam's face. And so tall! But Conrad's pretty tall--- must just be a family trait."
Carolyn suddenly said, "You know, he reminds me of someone else I--- but it's too stupid. His hair, so wavy, and that booming voice--- reminded me of a boy I dated a hundred years ago. Well, it was pretty far back in the last century, anyway." She smiled at her lame joke. "Joe Haskell. Perhaps you've heard of him--- he was buried here the same day as David's memorial service. I remember talking to Allarice that day--- I was crying about it, and she consoled me."
"Really?" Mary Beth's ears perked up at THAT intelligence. A suspicion was forming in her mind--- after all, she, and everyone else present, knew perfectly well what Allarice Bertrand did for a living. keeping dead bodies, including David Collins's and Timothy Adam Samwell's, frozen and so forth--- to what ultimate purpose, after all?
But--- aw, C'MON, her own tired brain told her--- please, they can't be capable of stupid Frankenstein tricks up here, along with all the other weird stuff, could they? COULD they? Well, why the Hell NOT? But GEEZ, her brain ALSO told her, that Lars's skin was smooth as a baby's butt, and if he had been "created" in the last month or so, even LASER surgery would still have shown SOME traces. And anyway, how could they have "zapped" the knowledge of driving into him so fast?
Carolyn said, shakily, "You know, we have to stop this. Next thing, I'll be saying how much he reminds me of Burke Devlin or Chris Jennings or even my first husband.... I still have dreams about Jeb. Maggie's husband Sebastian looked a lot like him, though they weren't related. Once, I had a very vivid nightmare about Jeb, and later the same day, I ran into Maggie and Sebastian out with little Vicki. I screamed--- thought I was having a waking dream. Probably half-frightened you to death, eh, Vicki?"
"Oh, I'm WELL over it by now, Carolyn. But I forgive you, anyway. Dreams like that happen a LOT around this place."
We're ALL dreaming on our feet, Mary Beth
thought, that's Conrad Lang's slightly retarded, or maybe immigrant, COUSIN,
and really, all I have to do tomorrow is take a peek at Haskell's gravesite
with Jonah, no need to mention ANY of this to Christine or even BARNABAS though
HE might be able to give me some answers and.... and.... damn, I'm exhausted....
I need a cup of tea, and I need to get home.... home.... home....
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
EPILOGUE # 1 ---- MONDAY, MAY 30, 2000
".... Home.... Wanna go home...." Tears squeezed from the comatose woman's eyes, which were shielded by taped-on plastic goggles to keep them moist when they wouldn't close. The goggles were steamy, but the tear trickles were clearly to be seen.
The nurse on duty was quite used to this---
many people in comas blinked, wept quietly, babbled incoherent sentences, and
even moved, all usually involuntarily. The patient here had done and said as
much for the whole seven weeks she had been in the nursing home--- where she
had been sent
because the neurologists at Columbia had done all they could, and it was necessary for the family to
find her a good place before all the insurance ran out. It would have been difficult to give her the kind of care she needed in a home setting, and there was nobody available who could even try.
The woman in the bed stirred. Again, nothing to fret over--- what was more, she was under restraint. Gentle restraint, but there was little danger that she'd fall out of bed or otherwise injure herself.
However, upon this midnight, the nurse
noticed a difference in the movement. The "unconscious" woman didn't
appear to be quite so unconscious--- she was thrusting her head up, weak and
wobbly as her neck was by now, her arms moved smoothly and with purpose, and her
hands made graceful motions. Her speech, too, cleared a bit--- though the
tracheal tube made it difficult for her to say much.
"Harv--- Harv--- where are you? Where'm I?"
The nurse bent over the woman, took one of
her hands, no longer flaccid. The grip was firm, if shaky.
"Mrs. Lacey? This is Nurse Lewis. Hannah. Can you hear me, can you understand me?"
"Yesss.... Nurse. Hannah-- Louise." Mary Beth opened her eyes wide, and studied the middle-aged nurse. "Hannah? You're s'posed to be 'leven years...."
The nurse smiled sweetly. "Oh, well, quite some time ago, but I thank you--- or was that part of a dream you had while you were--were resting?"
'No dream.... Don't THINK was a dream, but maybe.... This Seamen's 'Morial Hosp'l? Collinsport...."
"Collinsport? Good heavens!.... No, Mrs. Lacey, that's a place on an old TV show. 'Dark Shadows'. You remember it, perhaps? I hear they show reruns on some cable station these days. I think a couple of the nurses and aides watch it on lunch-break--- maybe they did so in here, when they were supposed to be watching YOU, and you heard some of it in your 'sleep.' I'll have to speak to them about that. Still, I suppose there's cause to be grateful--- obviously, your mind was kept busy when we thought otherwise.... But THIS is the Esterbrook Gardens Long-Term Healthcare Center in Islip, Long Island. You've been here for 7 weeks."
Mary Beth's eyes flew wide open, and she
fumbled at the tape around the goggles. The nurse stopped her, put on some
gloves, and did it herself. The patient moaned, "Seven weeks! Wha' happened,
what? Oh, I remember, now. There was an--an axe'dent. We were in the car.... Me, Harvey, Alice,
Christine.... Harvey was drivin'.... We were goin' to this nice place in Tarrytown for Alice's 16th birthday, we were gonna meet Mike and Iris.... Harvey Junior was comin' with his wife from Cali--- what's her name again?"
"Also 'Chris', I believe? I know I've head it."
Mary Beth rasped, "No, 'Krystal', that's
it. They're nice girls, Krystal and Iris, I got nice
daughters-in-law, even if we don't always.... always.... Someone cut us off on
287, headin' to the Tappan tolls.... There was a loud
noise! I don' remember--- I DON'T remember!" Now the newly-revived patient
was getting hysterical.
The nurse, horrified at what she had inadvertantly started, immediately summoned assistance to calm the patient. When Mary Beth was sedated, Nurse Benjamin was shaking in her sensible shoes as she apologized to the doctor. "I told her where she was, how long she's been here.... She's a police detective and still very sharp, she just started putting 2 and 2 together like that---" She snapped her fingers.
The doctor, Heard, said irritably, "Well, it was still irresponsible of you, Lewis. You should have called me as soon as it appeared she was coming to, and we could have handled this gently. But it doesn't change the fact that we'll have to tell her a lot of rather unpleasant news, very soon. All I can say is, thank God nobody's actually DEAD.... But it's still going to be a shock." He shook his head. "I think there's only one person who can help us explain events without agitating her further."
At 9:00 A.M., Mary Beth woke again. This
time, there was someone, a woman, not a nurse or an aide, at her side.
Heavy-set, but clad in the best blouse and slacks Lane Bryant had to offer. Dyed ash-blonde hair. She had been watching TV, but flicked
it off and turned toward the woman in the bed immediately when she heard her
stirring. "Thank God you're back with us, Mary Beth," Christine said,
her own eyes welling up. "I could hardly believe it when they called me
early this A.M., and told me to be here
A.S.A.P., so I'd be on hand when you woke up." She lowered her face to the pillow, next to Mary Beth's. The latter stroked her hair and held her as SHE started to sniffle again. "Oh, God, Mary Beth, don't cry, it must be a pain in the neck--- literally--- with that trake." Christine smiled gently, and the woman on the bed smiled back, through her tears. "But don't worry about it. They told me they'd take it out very soon, and I even hear they're going to try you on some liquid food as soon as it heals a bit. We've got to get you back to fighting weight, girlfriend."
"Am I gonna get better?" Mary Beth mouthed.
"Yes, and that's the truth. Your other injuries were minor, save for the knock on your head and the problem with your breathing. They wondered why it took so long for you to come out of the coma, but there was a lot--- a lot of trauma, and not physical, either." Now, Christine's face darkened.
"Chris--- what happened that day? You have to tell me. Is my Harvey--- my baby girl--- are they dead?" Mary Beth's mind went cloudy--- didn't she just go through anxiety like this, not so very long ago? In Collinsport?
"NO!" Christine barked. "But it WAS bad, Mary Beth--- the reason for the accident.... Harvey had chest pains all that morning. You were mad at him because he had gone out fishing with his brother at the crack of dawn, and he came home feeling unwell, when he knew you had plans for Alice's birthday that evening. But he took some pills, and SAID he was okay. Then, you got a certified letter from some place where you'd applied for a job--- I KNOW you and Geoff Coombs didn't get along as well as you did with Feldberg, but nobody even suspected you were looking for another job!"
"I---I don't remember that.... But it musta been, 'cause it was in my dream.... Anyway, go on."
"Well, it seems you were arguing about THAT, because it would have involved moving, and Alice was already having some problems adjusting to some new classes in school, and Harvey wanted to stay close to Mike and Iris. That's where I came in.... on the tail end. I'm sorry to say, I took HIS side, but Hell, you KNOW I'd miss you guys like MAD.... But that didn't make a difference, really. So we got in your car, and Harvey insisted on driving. I was in back with Alice, trying to convince her to belt up, but she'd just broken with some boy and was in a pissy mood. While we were heading toward the tolls, Harvey just--- went out like a light. The car veered sharply, it hit another. Hard. Then THAT car hit another, like dominoes--- but it was all so fast--- You jumped at the steering wheel, but you were suddenly pitched the opposite way--- even though you had a belt, it didn't stop your head from whacking the door. Also hard. Alice was thrown, but Harvey was in her way, yet, somehow, her leg went up and smashed into the glass. It wasn't jagged, but it ripped into her leg anyway. A chunk hit her in the neck. She almost bled to death, Mary Beth."
Mary Beth sniffled anew. "And you?"
"You're not gonna believe this, but my service revolver knocked into your seat--- and damn near shot me right in my own heart. It missed, and hit my right arm, instead. I had surgery, but it did some nerve damage. I can move the arm well enough to survive and drive, but my shooting days are over. Well, just one more good reason to retire a couple of years ahead of my intention---"
"What about the other people Harvey--- Harvey---"
"The FIRST one he
hit--- directly into the driver's side. The man was killed instantly. He was a chauffeur, driving his boss
home to Tarrytown. Quite near where my mother's family lived. His name was
William Lomax, and his boss, who was not injured, and actually quite helpful,
once he recovered from the shock of losing his longtime driver, poor man....
They were together for years....
He called the cops and ambulance on his cell-phone.... His name was--IS Bernard S. Cullen. Mary Beth--- Mary Beth, why are you staring at me like that?"
"OH, oh--- nothing serious, I think I heard those names in my dream, too."
"Really? You'll have to tell me as much as you remember,
sometime, when your throat is healed. Amazing, though, I thought people in
comas didn't really dream or anything. But then, you've always been
exceptional, in the best possible way. But, getting back--- The people in the
second car were fortunate--- they were just shaken, and their car looked like
it was reparable. But Harvey.... He's VERY alive, Mary
Beth, and he's going to get recover, in fact, he's been declared ready to leave
the hospital, and chomping at the bit to see you---
He's jealous of Alice, who comes every day after school.
You'll be relieved to see, she got rid of most of her piercings, and her grades came up--- she's got a new boyfriend who's been helping her out, instead of MAKING out. His name is Jason Elliot--- Good LORD, Mary Beth, if you could see the look on your face NOW---
"Well, to make a long story short, there's a couple of things you need to know about Harvey--- obviously, he won't be driving for quite a while, so I'll be helping out, schlepping him around, along with Mike, until Alice has recovered from all those transfusions and is able to get her license. But the most important thing--- the reason Harvey passed out was because he had such a bad heart attack, he really WOULD have died--- all that could save him was a transplant! Well, it turned out, this poor Lomax fellow he ran into.... Perfect match, as though they were brothers.... Mr. Cullen said he'd been an orphan, and he supposed he could give the consent, and he did, though he wept when he signed the papers. He said, sometimes things happen for a reason, even though we don't understand...."
Mary Beth muttered, "Like brothers.... like brothers.... Christ, we deprive the guy of his companion, and he gives us Harvey's life in return...."
Christine said, "Well, it WAS touch-and-go for a while. Harvey was in and out of a comatose state, too, but he's tough, and so was that Lomax fellow, apparently, or his heart wouldn't have lasted the course."
"Tell me, Chris.... Did--did this William Lomax LOOK anything like Harvey?"
"What a funny qustion, but--- well, no. Mr. Lomax was, from what I could see, tall, muscular, with a long nose, and inky-black hair. A good-looking man in his own way, but nothing like Harvey. Bern---Mr. Cullen said he understood that his late driver was part Native-American." Christine paused. "Mr. Cullen will be relieved to hear that you, too, as well as Harvey, are going to get better now. He's a most remarkable man, and in spite of the circumstances, he's become a friend." She blushed.
Oh, brother, Mary Beth mused. Somehow,
Christine had become involved with the surviving accident victim! Well, it was
kind of reassuring to know that some things would never change. And maybe the
man wouldn't sue on that account--- Well, not beyond reason, hopefully. This
fellow sounded like he had an independent fortune; for once, someone in Christine's
league. And it WAS better than a
vampire.... "What's he like?"
"Very attractive. Tall, slim, blue-eyed, just my age. He lives with his father, Quincy, and he has a sister named Amelia--- Mary Beth, you're STARING at me again! Honey, I know it's been a horrible couple of months, and it isn't completely over just yet, but we'll get through it fine, now that you're on the mend, finally."
"It's--- it's just that I've had a HELL of a dream, put together, prob'bly, by overhearin' people talkin' while I was out, and mixin' it up with this 'Dark Shadows' program the nurses flip on in here---"
"Oh." Christine blushed again. "I've done that, too. I mean, I love yah, Mary Beth, and I didn't mind sitting with you for hours, sometimes, but you WERE unconscious, or so I thought! I used to watch the show years ago, and Amelia got me hooked again, for all she's a NUN! So you had a secret adventure going on in your head, all these weeks, eh?"
"Yeah, kind of. It was scary---"
"Oh, now I'm REALLY sorry--- I forgot how you took-- TAKE things so literally!"
"Well, it was scary, but it was also--- how can I put it--- 'lightening. I learned a lot about myself, you, Harvey...."
Christine suddenly looked like she discovered
America. "You know, I wonder if Harvey wasn't having the same kind of
dreams--- he said he had a lot of bizarre thoughts, was delirious, worried
about YOU, of course.... Sometimes he said, he could see you, sometimes you did
things together, sometimes it was like that morning, but he knew somehow, you'd
get back together. And me, too, I was mixed up in it.
I admit, I had a LOT of wacky dreams--- would you believe I dreamed that JONAH NEWMAN had come back to life? And that Mansfield had an evil NIECE?--- but some of them may have been inspired not only by that show, and all our troubles, but also by visiting the Cullen house. I can't WAIT for you to see it--- a bit of a stone fortress, but really, quite cozy. My Olmstead grandfather would have approved. And as for Alice.... She really weirded out, lack of blood will do that to you. Like Lewis Carroll, all over again, she was in Wonderland, through the looking-glass, you name it. .'He was part of my dream, but I was part of HIS, too!' "
Mary Beth whispered, "Before I take another catnap, Chris.... there's just a couple things.... I need to know if this was a dream or not.... Christine, have you ever--- have you ever thought Charlie wasn't really your Dad?"
Christine's face darkened. "God above,
Mary Beth, just what kind of dream DID you have? Oh, I'm sorry. It WAS just a
dream, and I'm sure the help around here turned on other soaps and talk shows
besides just 'Dark Shadows'--- real stories about people who have kids with
everyone, it seems, but
Christine had calmed, sounded sadly contrite. "No, please, it's my fault I jumped off the handle. I'll tell you the truth, Mary Beth, Charlie and Mother were often in such intense conflict, there WERE times I WISHED one, or the other, wasn't my parent. Most often, my mother.... mainly because one day, when I was about, oh, 6 or 7. I caught her smacking my father in the face with a belt.... But she cried a lot about it, I KNOW she was sorry.... Charlie could be unpleasant when he was drunk Part of it was Grandfather Olmstead's fault, I'm pretty sure of that now. He ragged on Mother because Charlie was a Catholic, Irish--- he made "Dark Irish" sound like a demon from the Dark Side--- and a COP. He ragged on my father because HIS mother didn't have the decency to drown on the Titanic, in place of some Olmstead cousin, who DID. He ragged on both my parents, because neither I nor Brian resembled those Aryan ancestors of his. At least, I didn't until much, much later, after the braces and the weight came off, and the Clairol went on---"
Mary Beth suddenly became alert. She rasped, "That brings me to th' other thing--- I tol' you what happen' to me in Portah Rico, 35 years ago, di'nt I?"
"Yes. It was very brief, and unemotional as possible, though I recall you needed 3 stiff drinks before you dashed through it."
"Were you, or were you not there? Were you 'Lisa Lun'ny'?"
Without hesitation...."Yes, 'Jennifer'. And I am surprised it took you all this time to figure it out. I hope you're not pissed off that I didn't own up to it then, or ever, until now. I think I might have been saving it for when we were very old, to clear the air just in time, before we went to that big precinct in the sky."
"Well, maybe we sen' messages to each other, in all these dreams.... I just wan'ned t' say, thank you for everythin'.. You saved me, I saved you, Harvey was saved, an' Alice.... There WAS a death, an' that's sad--- Willie deserved more outta life...."
"Willie? You mean Mr. Lomax? Why,
apparently, he enjoyed a pretty good salary for his position,
and Bernard remarked that his CHAUFFEUR sometimes had more dates than HE did. Still, they had known each other for decades, Mr. Lomax was almost indispensible, and it's sad when there's such an untimely death, whether it's an accident, sudden illness, or murder. But a little good came out of it. Harvey's transplant, meeting the Cullens.... Plus, there's one more thing--- I'd wait for Mike or young Harvey to come around and tell you, but I want you to put the crash and the big bad dream out of your mind for a while. It seems, Mrs. Lacey, you are finally going to be a grandmother! It's a two-fer. Both Iris and Krystal are almost two months along, and young Harvey has just snagged a job right in Islip, so you'll get to see both your grandkids on a regular basis. I guess our united brush with mortality, which, for once, had NOTHING to do with police work, finally inspired your boys to add branches to your family tree."
Mary Beth smiled. "Gonna need a big house for them to visit. Like the one in my dream. I'm gonna doze, now, but wake me when that crazy show is on. I wanna see what I lived for so long. One more thing, Chris--- the letter I got? The job's gone t'someone else by now, huh?"
"Well, yes, Mary Beth, I should think
so. It sounded like such a hoot I almost called them myself. I can't believe
any town needs a SHERIFF anymore, but imagine such a backwater place, they've made
a big deal of finally having women in the city government! 'Please accept this invitation to visit our fine city, and talk with our new Mayor and City Council. We think you'll like the changes we've made lately, from our new Girls' Academy, to our revived Women's Club. We're looking for a few good women--- here in STEPFORD....' "
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
EPILOGUE # 2 ---- MONDAY, MAY 30, 2000
"Steb-ford.... Where's thah....?" Willie stirred in his bed at the Seamen's Memorial Convalescent Annex, and tried to move tubes that were hooked to his nose and arms. A young, red-haired physician bent over him, and gently restrained him. After a minute of feeble fighting, the older man opened his faded blue eyes and stared up at the doctor, who thought he saw a glint of recognition in them.
"Father, I think he's finally going to come out of it," Dr. Jeremy Collins said to Barnabas Collins. The latter had been holding a daily vigil for his long-time servant and companion since the day Willie had tripped and hit his head on a rock at the lake in the State Forest during an early morning fishing trip with Jeremy, who was also his son-in-law.
Willie had apparently suffered a major concussion, and until today, seven weeks after that fateful morning, nobody had any idea of the true extent of whatever brain damage had occurred. He had made disjointed sounds and motions before, but this WAS different. The fact that he was coherent, if somewhat addled, as he gradually came back to consciousness, that he could move both arms, and was even rustling the blanket with his legs, seemed like more than just a hopeful sign. "Jerrremy," he slurred. "Barnn'basss.... Where's Tessy?" That was the name of his daughter, born of his brief marriage to Maggie Evans years ago, named after his mother, Teresa, and VictoriaWinters.
"Home with her mother, stepfather, and baby Sam," Jeremy replied, pleased beyond anything that his father-in-law seemed able to remember things without prompting. "God, it's great to have you back, Willie. And MOTHER will be so pleased."
"Yes, I'll have to give Julia a call at WindCliff," Barnabas said. His wife had to return to her position as Chief of Staff at the asylum, after weeks taking turns at Willie's bedside. He now moved closer, and put his hand upon his houseman's arm. "We were SO worried, my old friend. And poor Jeremy felt so guilty---"
"Not his fault," Willie muttered. " 'Twas dark and foggy, I was lookin' for a private spot to--- you know," he said with a faint blush. "Damn tree root reached up and shoved me, I tell yah." Now, he grinned, though briefly. "Had a whale of a dream, anyway."
"Really?" Jeremy said. "Well, that's interesting. Shows your mind was functioning, anyway. When you're better, you'll have to tell us about it."
"So real, so REAL," Willie insisted. "So far out, too, like bein' in Par'lel Time.... Thought I WAS in Par'lel Time. Everyone was there, but differen', some with differen' names, like Tessy. She was 'Vicki', her MIDDLE name, and Maggie was already married to S'bastian" (his own marriage to Maggie took place during a time when she was on the rebound after an estrangement from Sebastian Shaw, and she married the latter soon after the divorce--- a scant 16 months!), "But he DIED, and your MOM...." Tears welled in Willie's eyes.
Barnabas said soothingly, "Now, now, Willie, Julia's alive and quite well. Thank God she's been in remission from that cancer for so long. What would we all do without her?"
Willie sniffled, "You found a nice woman, almos' as nice as Julia, but she was a COP. An' her lady friend was the Sheriff. And instead of having a look-like Collins cousin come from England, HER ol' man was MY cousin--- from BROOKLYN! Turned out, WE were Collinses, too. You 'member Carl Collins, Quentin's brother? And you were.... THAT way.... YOU know.... and AMY, too, and it was JASON'S fault, 'cause he came back from the dead, and Nicholas Blair had a hand---"
Barnabas shushed Willie, who, in his
agitation, was becoming indiscreet. Ah well, he thought in mild exasperation,
SOME things never change. Still, he was grateful. He and Willie had been
together for 33 years, and after the early years of abusing his manservant,
Barnabas came more to treat Willie as a junior partner in an obscure business,
and sometimes, even a nephew. (Willie, a descendant of the whinging, probably impotent Carl Collins? Not bloody
likely, though it might have been fitting!)
The houseman's duties at home were light--- he now had a small staff of two other assistants, plus supervising caretakers and gardeners provided by the family at the Great House. Barnabas entrusted him with ever more family business since Jeremy's and Tess's hurried wedding 18 months before, and the support Willie gave his employers during the anxious days while they waited to find out if little Sammy had somehow inherited the vampire taint. To top it off, Barnabas and Julia both intended to leave Willie a legacy if he survived them. Which, apparently, WAS possible, given his near-miraculous recovery from his coma.
"So," Barnabas said, shifting the focus of Willie's rambling, "I became enamored of a lady police officer, eh? And a woman sheriff. Imagine if George Patterson heard about this! How interesting."
"You don' know the HALF of it---"
Barnabas put just a TOUCH of his old threatening growl into his voice, though the days of ACTING on any such impulses had long since vanished. "Well, Willie, I'd advise you to save that 'half' for when we are all in the privacy of our home."
Just that touch of a growl was sufficient. All Willie added was, "The cops were from New York. Your friend--- she was blonde like Angelique, but it wasn't HER, 'cause SHE was in the dream, too, and this lady was, well, kinda broad in the beam. But you really liked her--- she was 'Chris'. And the Sheriff, she was tough-looking too, and darkish, her name was 'Mary Beth', and her husband, my cousin, was---"
"Harvey." This from Jeremy. "Oh, boy, what a mix-up, Willie. Someone, a nurse or aide or janitor, must have been coming in here and turning on 'Cagney and Lacey' on a cable channel. It's an old TV show about two policewomen. For that matter, maybe Tess watched it while she sat with you. She likes that kind of thing, and it's a break from watching 'Teletubbies' with Sammy."
Willie made a sour face. "Thank God she di'n't watch THAT in here. My dream was scary ENOUGH, thank you very much. I love my li'l' grandbaby, but there's some stuff even I shou'n't have to put up with."
"I agree," Barnabas said. "I don't care much for this custom of turning toddlers into telelvision addicts. When I was just a little fellow like that, Mother read to me, wonderful, classic stories, and my father and Aunt Abigail read the Bible aloud. Well, THAT was scary as well--- that Abraham and Isaac story" (he shuddered) "but there were SOME wonderful things there."
"When Sammy's a bit older, Father," Jeremy replied amiably. "He's only a year--- anyway, shall YOU make your calls first, or shall I?"
"You go first, and be sure to tell the family at the Great House. Vicki, especially, will rejoice--- I'm totally amazed, Willie, since we brought her back 20 years ago, and she held off from any other marriage while she raised young Geoffrey Peter---" (her son by the late Peter Bradford who had also been Jeff Clark) "---that she's taken such a strong liking to you lately, and you to her. She's been moping badly, Carolyn was so concerned about her sister." (Elizabeth's deathbed confession about Vicki's true parentage had been the impetus for one more trip to the late 18th century, to rescue the former orphan governess and her unborn child from the Leviathans. Peter had given his life to ensure their safety.)
Willie grinned again. "I miss her already, and I'm only awake for 20 minutes. Boy, it's great to be back in the land of the livin', and like the song says, 'I got a lot of livin' to do'."
Barnabas commented, "We've been very lucky in the last 20 years, haven't we, old friend? No worries about all the ghouls of the past. They only exist in our dreams now."
"Unless we're a part of someone else's dream," Willie said, "or God, forbid, someone else's NIGHTMARE."
"Don't worry about it right now, Willie," the older man replied. "It's been a beautiful spring day, and the weather service has predicted several more days like it. Hopefully, they'll judge you fit to face the sunshine before the rain comes again."
"That'll be nice. I kinda remember the last time I snapped out of a coma, years ago, and got my marbles back at WindCliff, and this nice grandma-like nurse opened the curtains for me. For some reason, at first I was scared that the light would hurt my eyes, but she held my hand and led me to the window, and it was so beautiful, like the blue sky and the flowers and grass had been special-made, just for me." Willie had touch of fresh weariness in his voice as he concluded the brief declamation. It was obvious that he'd need to get more used to being awake, and would certainly require some physical therapy to tone the limbs that had not carried his weight for almost 2 months, which, in itself, would be exhausting at first.
Jeremy said, his own voice quivering with emotion, "It'll be like that again, Willie, and this time, we'll even give you rides to the solarium in a wheelchair, until you're able to get about on your own two feet."
"Just as long as I can hold hands with my Tessy and my Vicki," the older man sighed. "Vicki.... Barnabas, when she was back in the old times---"
"Not now, Willie," Barnabas warned, but this time, without heat. Willie's account of his long-ago time at WindCliff and of seeing the sun for the first time in weeks, had evoked memories both poignant and horrible for the former vampire, who'd had his own epiphany upon seeing the sun after over 170 years.
"No, please, Barnabas, just wanna tell you one more thing before I take a li'l' nap again. When Vicki went--went back to 1795.... She took someone else's place, right? Some poor little governess, name of Phyllis something-or-other, right?"
"Phyllis Wicke, that is correct."
"Then somehow, when Vicki went back AGAIN, this Phyllis kinda got lost, right?"
"Yes, in a way. We never figured out how she was made to vanish when it was she who was really excecuted--- for another's crimes."
"Well, in my dream, we found out. It was all about an Indian curse and stuff---"
"Yes, well, I recall telling you about that, some years ago."
"In the dream, we found out that Phyllis was in Limbo, 'til she was born into that Chris person. She couldn't come back 'til then, because, turns out, she had to be born into a Catholic lady. That Phyllis was Catholic, too."
Barnabas was silent for about 3 full minutes, until even his son became concerned. "Father," Jeremy asked, "What's the matter? Is it so, or not?"
"Yes, it's quite true.... But as God is my witness, I have NEVER mentioned that fact to ANYONE, until NOW. Partly because it seemed like just a tiny, trivial detail, but it was also a pact I made with the original Phyllis when I caught her telling her Rosary beads, just after she came to us. I, and my mother, and Uncle Jeremiah, certainly would have been tolerant, but it all depended on what Father and Aunt Abigail decided, so I thought it best that the secret should be between just the two of us, at least until Josette arrived. Then all the troubles started, and it would have made matters WORSE, especially if TRASK got wind of it. It didn't help in the end, but I kept THAT promise. And Phyllis was discreet about it. She DID teach my sister and cousin a little Latin, so there were some advantages."
Jeremy said, "So you think this dream might have been a message to let us know that this Phyllis is okay, even if she's been born into another dimension?"
Barnabas shrugged. "Via a character in an old television program? If I tell you 'yes', don't let THAT be an excuse for letting mine and Willie's grandson become 'glued to the tube', as they say, in hope of catching OTHER revelations." He watched Willie's eyes close, and soon heard him snore. "We should call Hallie in, and give her a run-down on what's just transpired." Hallie Stokes Woodard was the nurse supervisor on duty. "And we have other calls to make--- to your mother, to Tess and Vicki, and to David, Amy, Carolyn, and the rest. And Quentin, if he hasn't flown to Germany--- he'll no doubt find the concept of Willie's dream relationship to his late--er--Uncle, fascinating. "
THE END!!!! (Well, maybe NOT....)
winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins....
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)
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