Blood canticle, p.5

Blood Canticle, page 5

 part  #10 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blood Canticle

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Chapter 5



  NONE OF THE MORTALS in the house could hear Mona sobbing. The walls were too thick.

  Meantime, the middle of the dining room table was being draped and set for supper, and Jasmine wanted to know if Quinn and I would join Tommy and Nash; I told her No, we couldn't leave Mona, which she already knew.

  I told her to please call Cindy, the Nurse, though she probably wasn't needed, and to put the oxygen tank and the medicine out of the way. (Actually, this lovely lady spells her name Cyndy, so we will start spelling it this way from here on. )

  I went into the living room. I tried to clear my head. The simple perfume of Rowan on my hands paralyzed me. I had to get straight.

  Snap to a tender affection for everybody in the house. Go to Mona.

  What was all this succumbing to a human witch! The entire Mayfair family was full of troublemakers! Mayfair design and Mayfair will were quickening my pulse. I think I even cursed Merrick, that she had planned to immolate herself last night on that altar, that she'd somehow found a way to save her immortal soul, and left me to my own usual damnation.

  And then there was the ghost. The Mayfair ghost had returned to his corner. He stood there giving me the most malevolent look I've ever seen on any creature, vampire or human.

  I took his measure: a male, aged sixty perhaps, short curly hair, snow white; eyes gray or black; excellent facial features and regal bearing, though why the age of sixty I couldn't figure unless he'd felt most especially powerful at that earthly time of life, because I knew for a fact that he'd died long before Mona

  and could therefore haunt in any guise he chose.

  These thoughts didn't bait him. There was something so intrinsically menacing in his stillness that I couldn't bear it.

  "All right, then, be quiet," I said firmly. I detested the quaver in my voice. "Why the Hell are you haunting me? You think I can undo what I've done? I can't. Nobody can. You want her to die, haunt her, not me. "

  No change in him.

  And no way could I trivialize and diminish the woman who'd just waved to me before stepping into the car, salt of her tears still on my lips to be licked. So why keep trying? What had befallen me?

  Big Ramona, who happened to glance in from the hall, drying her hands on her apron, said, "And now we have another madman talking to himself, and right by the desk that Grandpa William used to go to all the time for no reason. Now that was a ghost that Quinn used to see, and me and Jasmine too. "

  "What desk, where?" I stammered. "Who is Grandpa William?" But I knew that story. And I saw the desk. And Quinn had seen the ghost over and over pointing to the desk, and they had searched it over and over, year in and year out, and found nothing.

  Snap back, you idiot!

  Upstairs Quinn tried tenderly and desperately to comfort Mona.

  Tommy and the ever distinguished Nash came down for their dinner and passed, without noticing me, into the dining room across the way, their low conversation uninterrupted throughout, and seated themselves.

  I went to the cameo case near the piano. That meant walking away from the ghost who was to my far right, but it made no difference. His eyes followed me.

  This case was where Aunt Queen's cameos were displayed, and it was never locked. I opened the glass top-it was hinged like the cover of a book-and I picked up an oval cameo with a tiny display of Poseidon and his consort in a chariot pulled by sea horses, with a god to lead them over billowing waves, all of this spectacular progress intricately wrought. Cool.

  I slipped the cameo into my pocket and went upstairs.

  I found Mona lying on the bed, crying dreadfully among the flowers, with a desperate Quinn standing by the far side of the bed, leaning over her and trying to comfort her. Quinn was more frightened than I've

  ever seen him. I made a quick gesture to let him know everything was working well.

  The ghost wasn't in the room. I could neither feel him nor see him. Cagey. So he doesn't want to be seen by Mona?

  Mona was naked, Lady Godiva hair everywhere, her body shimmering and fine as she lay sobbing among the poetic blooms; and the neat stack of Aunt Queen's white garments had fallen and was scattered all over the floor.

  For a moment I felt a deep stab of horror, a horror I deserved and couldn't escape, and which I didn't intend to confide to either Quinn or Mona as long as we all lived, no matter how many years or decades that might be; a horror of what whim and will can do and had done. But as usual with grand moral realizations, there was no time for it.

  I looked at Quinn-my Little Brother, my pupil.

  He'd been made by monsters he'd loathed and it had never occurred to him to weep in their presence. What Mona was doing was entirely predictable.

  I lay down on the bed right beside her, and when I lifted her hair back and looked into her eyes, she went utterly silent.

  "What the Hell's the matter with you?" I demanded.

  A pause in which her loveliness struck me with all the subtilty of an avalanche.

  "Well, nothing," she said, "if you're going to put it like that. "

  "For the love of God, Lestat," said Quinn, "don't be cruel to her. Surely you know what she's going through. "

  "I'm not being cruel," I said. (Who, me, cruel?) I kept my tight focus on her. "Are you afraid of me?" I asked.

  "No," she said. Her eyebrows puckered. The blood tears stained her cheeks. "It's only that I know so well that I should have died," she said.

  "Then sing a requiem," I said. "Let me supply some words: 'O heat, dry up my brains! Tears seven-times salt, burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!' "

  She laughed.

  "Very well, honey bunch, let me hear it. I'm the Maker. Let it go. "

  "I knew that for so long, that I ought to die. God, when I think of it, it's the only thing I really know right now! I was supposed to die. " Her words flowed calmly. "People around me got so used to it, they slipped up. They'd say, 'You used to be so beautiful, we'll never forget that. ' Dying, that had become the central obligation of my life. I used to lie there and try to figure how to make it easier for people. I mean they were so miserable. This went on slowly for years-. "

  "Keep talking," I said. I loved her easy trust, her immediate openness.

  "There was a period of time where I could still enjoy music and chocolate, you know, special things, like bed jackets with lace too. And I could dream of my child, my lost child. Then I couldn't really eat anything anymore. And the music only made me jittery. I kept seeing people who weren't really there. I thought Maybe I never had that child. Morrigan, gone so fast. But then I wouldn't have been dying if I hadn't had Morrigan. I saw ghosts. . . . "

  "Oncle Julien?" I asked.

  She hesitated, then: "No. Oncle Julien only came to me way, way back, when he wanted me to do something, and it was always in a dream. Oncle Julien is in the Light. He doesn't come to the Earth unless there's a really important reason. "

  (Deep carefully concealed shudder. )

  She went on, the vampiric musicality sharpening her soft words: "These ghosts I saw were just really dead people like my father and my mother who were waiting for me-you know, the ones who come to take you across-but they wouldn't speak to me. It wasn't time yet, that's what Fr. Kevin said. Fr. Kevin's a powerful witch. He never knew until he came home South. He goes into St. Mary's Assumption Church in the night when it's completely dark except for the candles, you know, and he lies down on the marble, full-length, you know-. "

  (Secret heartache. I know. )

  "-and with his arms outstretched, he contemplates Christ on the Cross. He imagines himself kissing the bloody wounds of Christ. "

  "And you in your pain? Did you pray?"

  "Not very much," she said. "It was like prayer would have required a certain coherence. This last year, I was incapable of that coherence. "

  "Ah, yes, I see," I said. "Go on. "

  "And things happened," she said. "People wanted me
to die. Something happened. Someone . . . People wanted me to get it over with. . . . "

  "Did you want to get it over with?"

  She didn't answer right away, then she said, "I wanted to escape. But when someone . . . someone. . . . My thoughts became-"

  "-became what?"

  "Became trivial. "

  "No, not so," I insisted.

  "How to get out of the room, how to get all the way down the steps, how to scoot behind the wheel of the limo, how to get the flowers, how to get to Quinn-. "

  "I see. Poetic. Specific. Not trivial. "

  "A destination with the sanction of poetry, perhaps," she said. " 'There with fantastic garlands did she come. ' And so I did. "

  "Most certainly," I said. "But before you could do it-you were going to say something, you were about to say something about someone. . . . "


  "Then Rowan came," she said. "You don't know my cousin Rowan. "

  (I don't?)

  Flash of pain in her clear brilliant eyes.

  "Yeah, well, Rowan came," she said. "Rowan has this power. . . . "

  "Was it for your sake or her sake that she was going to kill you?"

  She smiled. "I don't know. I don't think she knew, either. "

  "But she realized you knew and she didn't use her power. "

  "I told her, I said, 'Rowan, you're scaring me! Stop it, you're scaring me!' And she burst into tears. Or was it me? I think I burst into tears! It was one of us. I was so scared. "

  "And so you escaped. "

  "Yes, I did, indeed I did. "

  " 'Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes. ' "

  She smiled again. Would she talk about the Woman Child? She lay very still.

  I could feel Quinn's anxiety, and the outpouring of his love.

  All the while, he hadn't moved the hand that lay on her shoulder.

  "I'm not dying," she said with a shrug. "I'm here. "

  "No, you're not," I said, "that's finished. "

  "I've got to reach back and remember when I wanted things. "

  "No, you don't," I said. "That's mortal talk. You're Mona-Born to Darkness now. " I tried to take it slowly, watching her smile come and go. Faint freckles on her face. The inevitable glister of her skin.

  "That's it," I said. "Let your eyes drink me in. You're seeing colors you never saw before. You're realizing sensations you never even dreamt about. The Dark Blood's a magnificent teacher. You shiver because you think the pain's going to come back, but you couldn't go back to that pain if you wanted to. Stop shivering. I mean it. Stop. "

  "What are you asking of me?" she said, "that I surrender to you or to the Blood?"

  I laughed under my breath. "I don't know why women always surprise me," I said. "Men don't. I think I underestimate women in general. They distract me. Their loveliness always strikes me as alien. "

  She laughed outright. "What do you mean, alien?"

  "You're the Great Unknown, Sweetheart. "

  "Elaborate," she said.

  "Well, think about Adam in the Bible, I mean this guy is the Wimp of All Time saying to Almighty God, the Creator, Yahweh Who made the stars, 'The woman gave me to eat!' I mean the poor slob is just a spineless hopeless jerk! And this is Original Sin, no less! The Primal Catastrophe. Oh, I mean-pa-lease. BUT! When you see a magnificent woman-like you-with your green eyes just the perfect distance apart, tinsel voice giving out intelligent words, lying naked and staring with an expression of keen unerring comprehension, you can sort of read into Adam an inevitable bafflement in the face of Eve, something that defies clarification, and that's how Adam could come up with such a ludicrous excuse! 'This completely weird, way out, strange, mysterious inscrutable seductive being which you made out of my rib, gave me to eat. ' Get it?"

  Quinn gave me a little laugh against his will. He was seething with possessiveness. Me and her on the bed. But this was nice, his laughter.

  I locked in on her again. Enough about the Garden of Eden. (And enough about what had just happened downstairs on the front porch between me and someone infinitely better than any figment of my longing. )

  Hell. It was the damned flowers all over the bed! She was patiently waiting, naked breasts against me, red hair snarled in the roses, just looking at me, green eyes and soft mouth actually sweet. A preternatural being, and I had known the most miraculous of them. What was getting to me? Kindly continue as if nothing was wrong. As if you have not done Evil again, you fiend!

  "Surrender to both of us, me and the Blood," I said. "I want you and Quinn to be perfect the way I'm not. I want to take you through an apprenticeship that's flawless. You hear me? Quinn was twice maimed when twice born. Bad mothers. I want to erase that from his heart. "

  I felt Quinn's gentle squeeze on my arm. An assent even though I was lying practically on top of the succulent little love of his life, now transformed into his immortal companion.

  "The Blood told me things," she said. She was in no hurry. Her tears were dried, like ashes flaking on her cheeks. "It was coherent, the Blood," she said. "I didn't realize it until it was over. It felt too good. Then came the thoughts. I know you've survived centuries. You've even survived yourself. You went into a desert place like Christ. You didn't die because your blood's too strong. You're afraid you can't die. Everything you've believed in has been shattered. You tell yourself you have no illusions, but that's not true. "

  She shivered again. It was advancing too fast for her. Maybe too fast for me. Where was that ghost? Tell her about the ghost? No. I was relieved she couldn't read my mind anymore.

  "I have no theology of us," I said to her. I was really talking to Quinn too. "God tolerates us, but what does that mean?"

  She smiled almost bitterly. "Who has a theology of now, anyway?" she asked.

  "Lots of people. Your Fr. Kevin, it seems," I replied.

  "He has a Christology," she replied. "It's different. "

  "Sounds awfully good to me," I said.

  "Oh, come on, he couldn't convert you if he had the next hundred years. "

  I thought bitterly of Memnoch, the Devil. I thought of God Incarnate, with whom I'd spoken. I thought of all my doubts that any of it had been real, of all my suspicions that I was the mere pawn of spirits in some elaborate game, and of how I'd fled Perdition, with its myriad roaring holographs of confrontational guilt for the cold snow-filled streets of New York, avowing the material, the sensual, the solid above all illusions. Did I really not believe in those things which I saw? Or had I simply found that cosmos to be unendurable?

  I didn't know. I wanted to be a saint! I was frightened. I felt emptiness. What was the nature of her monster child? I didn't want to know. Yes, I did.

  And then I fixed my eyes on her. I thought of Quinn. And there flared for me in dim luminescence a scheme of meaning.

  "We do have myths," I said. "We had a goddess. But now is not the time for all those things. You needn't believe all I've seen. What I do have to give you is a vision. I think a vision is stronger than an illusion. And the vision is that we can exist as powerful beings without hurting anyone who's good and kind. "

  "Slay the Evil Doer," she said with inevitable innocence.

  "Amen," I said. "Slay the Evil Doer. And then we do possess the world, the world you wanted when you were a crazed kid, daydreaming on your long restless walks all over New Orleans, your professed Wander Slut days, the little Sacred Heart Academy girl seducing all of her cousins, I know you, and thriving at home on junk food and the computer, yeah, I saw it, your drunken parents safely out of your hair, their names already inscribed in the Book of Death, all that before anything broke your heart. "

  "Whoa!" She gave me back a soft laugh. "So vampires can say all those words without taking a breath. You got it. And you just told me not to look back. You like to give orders. "

  "So we ransacked each other's souls during the Dark Trick, that's what's supposed to happen," I said. "I wish I could eat your little mind now. You'v
e got me puzzled. Dreaming dreams. I'm forgetting things, like, for instance, that those I make in the Blood usually wind up despising me or leaving me for simpler reasons. "

  "I don't want to leave you," she said. Then came the pucker of her red eyebrows again, tiny distinct wrinkles in the smooth flesh that vanished instantly. "I'm thirsting," she said. "Am I supposed to thirst? I can see blood. I can smell it. I want it. "

  I sighed. I wanted to give her mine. But it wasn't the right way to go about things. She needed her appetite for the hunt. I was flustered suddenly.

  Even Quinn, with all the adolescent mortal lust boiling in his brain, was handling her rebirth better than I was. Let's get a grip.

  I withdrew from the flower-strewn bower. Woke up to the room. And Quinn standing there, patient, with so much confidence in me that he kept his jealousy in check. I sparked off his blue eyes.

  She ruffled the flowers on the bed into ruin and mumbled poetry again.

  I took her hand and brought her up off the bed and onto her feet. She shook all the petals out of her hair. I tried not to look at her. She was as ripe and glowing as any dream-world sacrificial virgin. She sighed and looked at all the scattered clothes.

  Quinn gathered them up, swooping down, circling her carefully as if he didn't dare to touch her.

  She looked at me. No flaw remained. All the bruises of those needles, they were gone as I knew they would be. But I must confess (to you) that I'd been a little unsure. She'd been so weak, so worked over, so torn. But the cells had been there, hiding, waiting for the renewal. And the Blood had found them out and re-created her.

  Her lips were trembling a little and she said in a half whisper,

  "How long do you think before I can go to Rowan? I don't want to fake my death, tell them lies, all that, disappear leaving a space where I was. I-. There are things I want to know from them. My child, you know, she went away. We lost her. But maybe now . . . " She was looking around at the most common objects, the bedpost, the edge of the velvet spread, the carpet under her naked toes. She flexed her toes. "Maybe now. . . . "

  "You don't have to die," I said. "Isn't Quinn the clear proof of that? Quinn's been living here at Blackwood Farm for a year. Things are in limbo for you. Later on tonight you can call Rowan. Tell her you're all right, that the nurse is here . . . "

  "Yes . . . "

  "She's a sweet and loving nurse whom I can dazzle like that, I've done it, I know, and they'll feed her

  Creole chicken and rice in the kitchen. You're blinding me, Beautiful. Put on your clothes. "

  "Right-O, Boss," she whispered.

  A smile flitted across her face, but I could tell her mind was giving her no peace. One minute she was looking at the flowers as though they were out to attack her and the next she was plunged into thought.

  "But what about the people left in this house?" she asked. "They all saw me when I came in. I know what I looked like. We tell them it's a miracle?"

  I burst out laughing.

  "Is there a raincoat in your closet, Quinn?"

  "I can think of something fancier than that," he replied.

  "Cool. And you can carry her down the steps? I already told Clem we'd be going into New Orleans. "

  "Right-O, Boss," she said again, with a faint smile. "What are we going to do in New Orleans?"

  "Hunt," I said. "Hunt and drink from the Evil Doer. You use your telepathic power to seek them out. But I'm going to assist you. I'm going to lead you to the kill. I'm going to be there with you. "

  She nodded. "I'm positively parched," she said. Then her eyes went wide. Her tongue had just touched her tiny fang teeth. "Good God," she whispered.

  "He's in Heaven," I said softly. "Don't let Him hear you. "

  She took the panties from Quinn and slipped them on, pulling them up over her little nest of red pubic hair. That was ten times worse than pure nakedness. The lace slip with its delicate straps came over her head, a bit long for her because she wasn't as tall as Aunt Queen had been, but otherwise it was fine, snug over her breasts and hips, the broad lace hem just above her ankles.

  Quinn took out his pocket handkerchief and wiped the caked blood off her cheeks. He kissed her, and she fell to kissing him, and for a moment they were just lost to each other, kissing and kissing, like two long graceful cats licking at each other.

  He picked her up off her feet and wouldn't stop kissing her. They were both of them purring. He wanted so badly to drink just a taste of her blood.

  I slumped down in the chair at Quinn's desk.

  I listened to the house. Clatter of dishes in the sink, Jasmine talking. Cyndy, the Nurse, was there crying at the sight of Aunt Queen's room; and where was Quinn's mother, Patsy? Clem out front waiting for us with that big car, yes, right, don't frighten her by carrying her through the air; take the car.

  In a daze of small considerations, I watched her slip on the silk dress. The silk dress appeared handmade with embroidered cuffs and a tight embroidered collar that Quinn clasped at the back of her neck. It hung to her ankles. It looked divine on her-like a gown rather than a dress. She was a barefoot princess. Oh yeah, that's a clich¨¦, well then, so is a fulsome and comely young woman. Shove it.

  She put on a pair of slightly scuffed little white slippers, the kind you can buy in any drugstore, the ones she'd obviously worn over here, and after she put her head back and tossed her hair, she was almost complete. It was vampire hair now, and it needed no real brushing, each strand fighting with the strand next to it, the whole voluminous and gleaming, her forehead high and well proportioned, with eyebrows divinely set, and then she flashed on me. I'm still here, guys.

  "It's tricky," she said gently, as if she didn't want to be rude to me. "He knows you have a cameo in your pocket, and so I know because I can read his thoughts. "

  "Oh, so that's what I've done here," I said, laughing under my breath. "I forgot about the cameo. " I gave it to Quinn. I could foresee this triangular telepathy being something of a nightmare.

  Yes, I'd wanted them free to read each other's thoughts, so why the Hell was I jealous?

  Towering over her, he pinned the cameo carefully in the center of the embroidered white collar. It looked old and fine.

  Then in an anxious whisper he put a question to her.

  "You wouldn't wear Aunt Queen's high-heel shoes, would you?"

  She went into a riot of soft laughter. So did I.

  Till her dying day, Aunt Queen had apparently gone about in breakneck high heels with ankle straps and open toes, some covered in rhinestones or, for all I knew, real diamonds. She'd had on such wondrous shoes when I made her acquaintance.

  One of the enduring ironies of her death was that she had been in her bare stocking feet when she suffered the fall that killed her. But that was the evildoing of Goblin, who had deliberately startled her and even pushed her.

  So the shoes were innocent and there were probably piles of them in her closets downstairs.

  But slap together the image of Mona, the tramp kid, in saddle oxfords, and any vision of Aunt Queen's heels, and it was uproariously funny. Why would Mona do such a thing as that to herself? And if you knew how much Quinn noticed women's high heels-namely Jasmine's and Aunt Queen's, it was twice as uproariously funny.

  Mona was stuck someplace between vampire trance and total love, gazing into Quinn's earnest face trying to figure this.

  "All right, Quinn, I'll try her shoes," she said, "if you want me to. " Now that was pure transnatural female.

  He was on the phone to Jasmine in an instant. Bring upstairs Aunt Queen's finest big white satin wrapper- one of the full-length articles with the ostrich feather trim, and a pair of her new heels, very glittery, and hurry.

  It didn't require a vampire's hearing to pick up Jasmine's answer:

  "Lawd! You're going to make that sick girl put on those things? Have you lost your mind, Little Boss! I'm coming up there! And Cyndy, the Nurse, is here and she is as shocked as I am, and
she's coming with me, and you better leave that child alone. Lawd! I mean Lawd! You can't go undressing her like a doll, Taw- quin Blackwood, you lunatic! Is that child dead already? Is that what you're trying to tell me? Answer me, Taw-quin Blackwood, this is Jasmine talking to you! Do you even know that Patsy's run off and left all her medicines, and nobody knows where the Hell she's gone? Now, I don't blame you for not caring about Patsy but somebody's got to think of Patsy, and Cyndy's crying her eyes out down here over Patsy-. "

  "Jasmine, calm down," Quinn said. He went on in the most courteous and calm manner. "Patsy's dead. I killed her night before last. I broke her neck and dumped her in the swamp and the alligators ate her. You don't have to worry about Patsy anymore. Throw her medicines in the trash. Tell Cyndy, the Nurse, to have some supper. I'm coming down for Aunt Queen's shoes and negligee myself. Mona is completely better. " He put down the phone and went straight out the door. "Latch this after me. "

  I obliged.

  Mona looked at me searchingly.

  "He was telling the truth about Patsy, wasn't he?" she asked. "And Patsy's his mother ???"

  I nodded. I shrugged.

  "They'll never believe him," I said, "and it was the smartest thing for him to do. He can repeat that confession until doomsday. But when you know more about Patsy, you'll understand. "

  She looked horrified, and the Blood was intensifying it.

  "Which was the smartest thing?" she asked. "Killing Patsy or telling them that?"

  "Telling them is what I meant," I pursued. "Killing her only Quinn can explain. Patsy hated Quinn, I can attest to that, and she was a hard merciless woman. She was dying of AIDS. She didn't have much time on the mortal clock. The rest he can answer. "

  Mona was aghast, a virgin vampire about to faint from moral shock.

  "In all the years I've known him, he has never mentioned Patsy to me or even answered by E-mail one single solitary question about his mother. "

  I shrugged again. "He has his secrets as you have. I know the name of your child. Morrigan. But he doesn't. "

  She flinched.

  There was the pounding sound of argument rising through the floor below. Even Nash and Tommy, fresh from the supper table, had been pressed into the cause on Jasmine's side, and Big Ramona declared Quinn a necromaniac. Cyndy the Nurse was sobbing.

  "But still," said Mona, "to kill your own mother. "

  For one brief technicolor second, I let myself think of my own mother, Gabrielle, whom I had brought into the Blood. Where in the wide world was she-that cold silent unmovable creature whose solitude was unimaginable to me? It hadn't been so very long ago that I'd seen her. I'd see her again, some time or other. There was no warmth, no solace, no understanding there. But what did it matter?

  Quinn rapped on the door. I let him in. I could hear the engine of the limousine started outside. Clem was getting ready for us. The night was hot. He was running the cooling. It would be sweet driving into New Orleans.

  Quinn leaned back against the door when it was shut and bolted, and took a deep breath. "It would have been easier," he said, "to rob the Bank of England. "

  He thrust the glittering high-heel slippers into Mona's waiting hands.

  She looked them over.

  She slipped them on her feet, gaining a good four inches in height and a tension in her legs that even

  through the dress appeared ruthlessly seductive. The shoes were just a tiny bit too short, but it was hardly noticeable, the rhinestone-studded strap cutting across her toes exquisitely. He buckled one ankle strap as she did the other.

  She took the long white negligee from Quinn and put it on, wrapping it about her and laughing as the shivering feathers tickled her. It was loose and shimmering and gaudy and glorious.

  She ran all about the room in little and big circles. One of those things guys can't do????? Her balance was perfect. Just the beginning of her strength, and so some sense of frivolity inside of her wanted these impossible torturous slippers. Round and around, and then she froze against the far window:

  "Why on earth did you kill your mother?" she asked.

  Quinn stared at her. He seemed at a total loss. He went towards her in a great fluid gesture. He took her in his arms and pressed her to him as he'd done before and said nothing. Momentary fear. The mention of Patsy had enveloped him in darkness. Or maybe it was Aunt Queen's finery.

  There came a loud rapping at the door. Jasmine's voice followed:

  "You open up, Little Boss, and let me see that child, or I swear to God I'll get the sheriff. "

  Cyndy's sweet voice followed, so reasonable and kind. "Quinn? Quinn, please let me have a look at Mona?"

  "Pick her up," I said to Quinn. "Carry her through them, past them, down the stairs and out the front door and into the car. I'm right with you. "

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