The queen of the damned, p.5

The Queen Of The Damned, page 5

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 2

 

  BABY JENKS PUSHED HER HARLEY TO SEVENTY miles an hour, the wind freezing her naked white hands. She'd been fourteen last summer when they'd done it to her, made her one of the Dead, and "dead weight" she was eighty-five pounds max. She hadn't combed out her hair since it happened-didn't have to-and her two little blond braids were swept back by the wind, off the shoulders of her black leather jacket. Bent forward, scowling with her little pouting mouth turned down, she looked mean, and deceptively cute. Her big blue eyes were vacant.

  The rock music of The Vampire Lestat was blaring through her earphones, so she felt nothing but the vibration of the giant motorcycle under her, and the mad lonesomeness she had known all the way from Gun Barrel City five nights ago. And there was a dream that was bothering her, a dream she kept having every night right before she opened her eyes.

  She'd see these redheaded twins in the dream, these two pretty ladies, and then all these terrible things would go down. No, she didn't like it one damn bit and she was so lonely she was going out of her head.

  The Fang Gang hadn't met her south of Dallas as they had promised. She had waited two nights by the graveyard, then she had known that something was really, really wrong. They would never have headed out to California without her. They were going to see the Vampire Lestat on stage in San Francisco, but they'd had plenty of time. No, something was wrong. She knew it.

  Even when she had been alive, Baby Jenks could feel things like that. And now that she was Dead it was ten times what it had been then. She knew the Fang Gang was in deep trouble. Killer and Davis would never have dumped her. Killer said he loved her. Why the hell else would he have ever made her, if he didn't love her? She would have died in Detroit if it hadn't been for Killer.

  She'd been bleeding to death, the doctor had done it to her all right, the baby was gone and all, but she was going to die too, he'd cut something in there, and she was so high on heroin she didn't give a damn. And then that funny thing happened. Floating up to the ceiling and looking down at her body! And it wasn't the drugs either. Seemed to her like a whole lot of other things were about to happen.

  But down there, Killer had come into the room and from up where she was floating she could see that he was a Dead guy. Course she didn't know what he called himself then. She just knew he wasn't alive. Otherwise he just looked kind of ordinary. Black jeans, black hair, real deep black eyes. He had "Fang Gang" written on the back of his leather jacket. He'd sat down on the bed by her body and bent over it.

  "Ain't you cute, little girl!" he'd said. Same damn thing the pimp had said to her when he made her braid her hair and put plastic barrettes in it before she went out on the street.

  Then whoom! She was back in her body all right, and she was just full of something warmer and better than horse and she heard him say: "You're not going to die, Baby Jenks, not ever!" She had her teeth in his goddamn neck, and boy, was that heaven!

  But the never dying part? She wasn't so sure now.

  Before she'd lit out of Dallas, giving up on the Fang Gang for good, she'd seen the coven house on Swiss Avenue burnt to timbers. All the glass blown out of the windows. It had been the same in Oklahoma City. What the hell had happened to all those Dead guys in those houses? And they were the big city bloodsuckers, too, the smart ones that called themselves vampires.

  How she'd laughed when Killer and Davis had told her that, that those Dead guys went around in three-piece suits and listened to classical music and called themselves vampires. Baby Jenks could have laughed herself to death. Davis thought it was pretty funny too, but Killer just kept warning her about them. Stay away from them.

  Killer and Davis, and Tim and Russ, had taken her by the Swiss Avenue coven house just before she left them to go to Gun Barrel City.

  "You got to always know where it is," Davis had said. "Then stay away from it. "

  They'd showed her the coven houses in every big city they hit. But it was when they showed her the first one in St. Louis that they'd told her the whole story.

  She'd been real happy with the Fang Gang since they left Detroit, feeding off the men they lured out of the roadside beer joints. Tim and Russ were OK guys, but Killer and Davis were her special friends and they were the leaders of the Fang Gang.

  Now and then they'd gone into town and found some little shack of a place, all deserted, with maybe two bums in there or something, men who looked kinda like her dad, wearing bill caps and with real calloused hands from the work they did. And they'd have a feast in there on those guys. You could always live off that kind, Killer told her, because nobody gives a damn what happens to them. They'd strike fast, kachoom!-drinking the blood quick, draining them right down to the last heartbeat. It wasn't fun to torture people like that, Killer said. You had to feel sorry for them. You did what you did, then you burnt down the shack, or you took them outside and dug a hole real deep and stuck them down there. And if you couldn't do anything like that to cover it up, you did this little trick: cut your finger, let your Dead blood run over the bite where you'd sucked them dry, and look at that, the little puncture wounds just like to vanished. Flash! Nobody'd ever figure it out; it looked like stroke or heart attack.

  Baby Jenks had been having a ball. She could handle a full-sized Harley, carry a dead body with one arm, leap over the hood of a car, it was fantastic. And she hadn't had the damn dream then, the dream that had started up in Gun Barrel City-with those redheaded twins and that woman's body lying on an altar. What were they doing?

  What would she do now if she couldn't find the Fang Gang? Out in California the Vampire Lestat was going on stage two ' nights from now. And every Dead guy in creation would be there, leastways that's how she figured it, and that's how the Fang Gang had figured it and they were all supposed to be together. So what the hell was she doing lost from the Fang Gang and headed for a jerkwater city like St. Louis?

  All she wanted was for everything to be like it had been before, goddamn it. Oh, the blood was good, yum, it was so good, even now that she was alone and had to work up her nerve, the way it had been this evening, to pull into a gas station and lure the old guy out back. Oh, yeah, snap, when she'd gotten her hands on his neck, and the blood came, it had been just fine, it was hamburgers and french fries and strawberry shakes, it was beer and chocolate sundaes. It was mainline, and coke and hash. It was better than screwing! It was all of it.

  But everything had been better when the Fang Gang was with her. And they had understood when she got tired of the chewed-up old guys and said she wanted to taste something young and tender. No problem. Hey, it was a nice little runaway kid she needed, Killer said. Just close your eyes and wish. And sure enough, like that, they found him hitchhiking on the main road, just five miles out of some town in northern Missouri, name of Parker. Real pretty boy with long shaggy black hair, just twelve years old, but real tall for his age, with some beard on his chin, and trying to pass for sixteen. He'd climbed on her bike and they'd taken him into the woods. Then Baby Jenks laid down with him, real gentle like, and slurp, that was it for Parker.

  It was delicious all right, juicy was the word. But she didn't know really whether it was any better than the mean old guys when you got down to it. And with them it was more sport. Good ole boy blood, Davis called it.

  Davis was a black Dead guy and one damned good-looking black Dead guy, as Baby Jenks saw it. His skin had a gold glow to it, the Dead glow which in the case of white Dead guys made them look like they were standing in a fluorescent light all the time. Davis had beautiful eyelashes too, just damn near unbelievably long and thick, and he decked himself out in all the gold he could find. He stole the gold rings and watches and chains and things off the victims.

  Davis loved to dance. They all loved to dance. But Davis could outdance any of them. They'd go to the graveyards to dance, maybe round three a. m. , after they'd all fed and buried the dead and all that jazz. They'd set the ghetto blaster radio on a tombstone and turn it way up, w
ith the Vampire Lestat roaring. "The Grand Sabbat" song, that was the one that was good for dancing. And oh, man, how good it felt, twisting and turning and leaping in the air, or just watching Davis move and Killer move and Russ spinning in circles till he fell down. Now that was real Dead guy dancing.

  Now if those big city bloodsuckers weren't hip to that, they were crazy.

  God, she wished now that she could tell Davis about this dream she'd been having since Gun Barrel City. How it had come to her in her mom's trailer, zap, the first time when she'd been sitting waiting. It was so clear for a dream, those two women with the red hair, and the body lying there with its skin all black and crackled like. And what the hell was that on the plates in the dream? Yeah, it had been a heart on one plate and a brain on the other. Christ. All those people kneeling around that body and those plates. It was creepy. And she'd had it over and over again since then. Why, she was having it every goddamn time she shut her eyes and again right before she dug her way out of wherever she'd been hiding by daylight.

  Killer and Davis would understand. They'd know if it meant something. They wanted to teach her everything.

  When they first hit St. Louis on their way south, the Fang Gang had headed off the boulevard into one of those big dark streets with iron gates that they call "a private place" in St. Louis. It was the Central West End down here, they said. Baby Jenks had liked those big trees. There just aren't enough big trees in south Texas. There wasn't much of nothing in south Texas. And here the trees were so big their branches made a roof over your head. And the streets were full of noisy rustling leaves and the houses were big, with peaked roofs and the lights buried deep inside them. The coven house was made of brick and had what Killer called Moorish arches.

  "Don't go any closer," Davis had said. Killer just laughed. Killer wasn't scared of the big city Dead. Killer had been made sixty years ago, he was old. He knew everything.

  "But they will try to hurt you, Baby Jenks," he said, walking his Harley just a little farther up the street. He had a lean long face, wore a gold earring in his ear, and his eyes were small, kind of thoughtful. "See, this one's an old coven, been in St. Louis since the turn of the century. "

  "But why would they want to hurt us?" Baby Jenks had asked. She was real curious about that house. What did the Dead do who lived in houses? What kind of furniture did they have? Who paid the bills, for God's sakes?

  Seems like she could see a chandelier in one of those front rooms, through the curtains. A big fancy chandelier. Man! Now that's living.

  "Oh, they got all that down," said Davis, reading her mind. "You don't think the neighbors think they're real people? Look at that car in the drive, you know what that is? That's a Bugatti, baby. And the other one beside it, a Mercedes-Benz. "

  What the hell was wrong with a pink Cadillac? That's what she'd like to have, a big gas-guzzling convertible that she could push to a hundred and twenty on the open stretch. And that's what had got her into trouble, got her to Detroit, an asshole with a Cadillac convertible. But just 'cause you were Dead didn't mean you had to drive a Harley and sleep in the dirt every day, did it?

  "We're free, darlin'," Davis said, reading her thoughts. "Don't you see? There's a lotta baggage goes with this big city life. Tell her, Killer. And you ain't getting me in no house like that, sleeping in a box under the floorboards. "

  He broke up. Killer broke up. She broke up too. But what the hell was it like in there? Did they turn on the late show and watch the vampire movies? Davis was really rolling on the ground.

  "The fact is, Baby Jenks," Killer said, "we're rogues to them, they wanna run everything. Like they don't think we have a right to be Dead. Like when they make a new vampire as they call it, it's a big ceremony. "

  "Like what happens, like a wedding or something you mean?"

  More laughter from those two.

  "Not exactly," Killer said, "more like a funeral!"

  They were making too much noise. Surely those Dead guys in the house were going to hear them. But Baby Jenks wasn't afraid if Killer wasn't afraid. Where were Russ and Tim, gone off hunting?

  "But the point is, Baby Jenks," said Killer, "they have all these rules, and I'll tell you what, they're spreading it all over that they're going to get the Vampire Lestat the night of his concert, but you know what, they're reading his book like it was the Bible.

  They're using all that language he used, Dark Gift, Dark Trick, I tell you it's the stupidest thing I've ever seen, they're going to burn the guy at the stake and then use his book like it was Emily Post or Miss Manners-"

  "They'll never get Lestat," Davis had sneered. "No way, man. You can't kill the Vampire Lestat, that is flat out impossible. It has been tried, you see, and it has failed. Now that is one cat who is utterly and completely immortal. "

  "Hell, they're going out there same as we are," Killer said, "to join up with the cat if he wants us. "

  Baby Jenks didn't understand the whole thing. She didn't know who Emily Post was or Miss Manners either. And weren't we all supposed to be immortal? And why would the Vampire Lestat want to be running around with the Fang Gang? I mean he was a rock star, for Chrissakes. Probably had his own limousine. And was he ever one adorable-looking guy, Dead or alive! Blond hair to die for and a smile that just made you wanna roll over and let him bite your goddamn neck!

  She'd tried to read the Vampire Lestat's book-the whole history of Dead guys back to ancient times and all-but there were just too many big words and konk, she was asleep.

  Killer and Davis said she'd find out she could read real fast now if she just stuck with it. They carried copies of Lestat's book around with them, and the first one, the one with the title she could never get straight, something like "conversations with the vampire," or "talking with the vampire," or "getting to meet the vampire," or something like that. Davis would read out loud from that one sometimes, but Baby Jenks couldn't take it in, snore! The Dead Guy, Louis, or whoever he was, had been made Dead down in New Orleans and the book was full of stuff about banana leaves and iron railings and Spanish moss.

  "Baby Jenks, they know everything, the old European ones," Davis had said. "They know how it started, they know we can go on and on if we hang in there, live to be a thousand years old and turn into white marble. "

  "Gee, that's just great, Davis," Baby Jenks said. "It's bad enough now not being able to walk into a Seven Eleven under those lights without people looking at you. Who wants to look like white marble?"

  "Baby Jenks, you don't need anything anymore from the Seven Eleven," Davis said real calmly. But he got the point.

  Forget the books. Baby Jenks did love the Vampire Lestat's music, and those songs just kept giving her a lot, especially that one about Those Who Must Be Kept-the Egyptian King and Queen-though to tell the truth she didn't know what the hell it meant till Killer explained.

  "They're the parents of all vampires, Baby Jenks, the Mother and the Father. See, we're all an unbroken line of blood coming down from the King and the Queen in ancient Egypt who are called Those Who Must Be Kept. And the reason you gotta keep them is if you destroy them, you destroy all of us, too. "

  Sounded like a bunch of bull to her.

  "Lestat's seen the Mother and the Father," Davis said. "Found them hidden on a Greek island, so he knows that it's the truth. That's what he's been telling everybody with these songs-and it's the truth. "

  "And the Mother and the Father don't move or speak or drink blood, Baby Jenks," Killer said. He looked real thoughtful, sad, almost. "They just sit there and stare like they've done for thousands of years. Nobody knows what those two know. "

  "Probably nothing," Baby Jenks had said disgustedly. "And I tell you, this is some kind of being immortal! What do you mean the big city Dead guys can kill us? Just how can they manage that?"

  "Fire and sun can always do it," Killer answered just a touch impatient. "I told you that. Now mind me, please. You can always fight the big city Dead guys. You're tough. Fact i
s, the big city Dead are as scared of you as you will ever be of them. You just beat it when you see a Dead guy you don't know. That's a rule that's followed by everybody who's Dead. "

  After they'd left the coven house, she'd got another big surprise from Killer: he'd told her about the vampire bars. Big fancy places in New York and San Francisco and New Orleans, where the Dead guys met in the back rooms while the damn fool human beings drank and danced up front. In there, no other Dead guy could kill you, city slicker, European, or rogue like her.

  "You run for one of those places," he told her, "if the big city Dead guys ever get on your case. "

  "I'm not old enough to go in a bar," Baby Jenks said.

  That really did it. He and Davis laughed themselves sick. They were falling off their motorcycles.

  "You find a vampire bar, Baby Jenks," Killer said, "you just give them the Evil Eye and say 'Let me in. '"

  Yeah, she'd done that Evil Eye on people and made them do stuff, it worked OK. And truth was, they'd never seen the vampire bars. Just heard about them. Didn't know where they were. She'd had lots of questions when they finally left St. Louis.

  But as she made her way north towards the same city now, the only thing in the world she cared about was getting to that same damned coven house. Big city Dead guys, here I come. She'd go clean out of her head if she had to go on alone.

  The music in the earphones stopped. The tape had run out. She couldn't stand the silence in the roar of the wind. The dream came back; she saw those twins again, the soldiers coming. Jesus. If she didn't block it out, the whole damn dream would replay itself like the tape.

  Steadying the bike with one hand, she reached in her jacket to open the little cassette player. She flipped the tape over. "Sing on, man!" she said, her voice sounding shrill and tiny to her over the roar of the wind, if she heard it at all.

  Of Those Who Must Be Kept

  What can we know?

  Can any explanation save us?

  Yes sir, that was the one she loved. That's the one she'd been listening to when she fell asleep waiting for her mother to come home from work in Gun Barrel City. It wasn't the words that got to her, it was the way he sang it, groaning like Bruce Springsteen into the mike and making it just break your heart.

  It was kind of like a hymn in a way. It had that kind of sound, yet Lestat was right there in the middle of it, singing to her, and there was a steady drumbeat that went to her bones.

  "OK, man, OK, you're the only goddamn Dead guy I've got now, Lestat, keep singing!"

  Five minutes to St. Louis, and there she was thinking about her mother again, how strange it had all been, how bad.

  Baby Jenks hadn't even told Killer or Davis why she was going home, though they knew, they understood.

  Baby Jenks had to do it, she had to get her parents before the Fang Gang went out west. And even now she didn't regret it. Except for that strange moment when her mother was dying there on the floor.

  Now Baby Jenks had always hated her mother. She thought her mother was just a real fool, making crosses every day of her life with little pink seashells and bits of glass and then taking them to the Gun Barrel City Flea Market and selling them for ten dollars. And they were ugly, too, just real ready-made junk, those things with a little twisted-up Jesus in the middle made up of tiny red and blue beads and things.

  But it wasn't just that, it was everything her mother had ever done that got to Baby Jenks and made her disgusted. Going to church, that was bad enough, but talking the way she did to people so sweet and just putting up with her husband's drinking and always saying nice things about everybody.

  Baby Jenks never bought a word of it. She used to lie there on her bunk in the trailer thinking to herself, What really makes that lady tick? When is she going to blow up like a stick of dynamite? Or is she just too stupid? Her mother had stopped looking Baby Jenks in the eye years ago. When Baby Jenks was twelve she'd come in and said, "You know I done it, don't you? I hope to God you don't think I'm no virgin. " And her mother just faded out, like, just looked away with her eyes wide and empty and stupid, and went back to her work, humming like always as she made those seashell crosses.

  One time some big city person told her mother that she made real folk art. "They're making a fool of you," Baby Jenks had said. "Don't you know that? They didn't buy one of those ugly things, did they? You know what those things look like to me? I'll tell you what they look like. They look like great big dime-store earrings!"

  No arguing. Just turning the other cheek. "You want some supper, honey?"

  It was like an open and shut case, Baby Jenks figured. So she had headed out of Dallas early, making Cedar Creek Lake in less than an hour, and there was the familiar sign that meant her sweet little old home town:

  WELCOME TO GUN BARREL CITY. WE SHOOT STRAIGHT WITH YOU.

  She hid her Harley behind the trailer when she got there, nobody home, and lay down for a nap, Lestat singing in the earphones, and the steam iron ready by her side. When her mother came in, slam bam, thank you, ma'am, she'd take her out with it.

  Then the dream happened. Why, she wasn't even asleep when it started. It was like Lestat faded out, and the dream pulled her down and snap:

  She was in a place full of sunlight. A clearing on the side of a mountain. And these two twins were there, beautiful women with soft wavy red hair, and they knelt like angels in church with their hands folded. Lots of people around, people in long robes, like people in the Bible. And there was music, too, a creepy thumping and the sound of a horn playing, real mournful. But the worst part was the dead body, the burned body of the woman on a stone slab. Why, she looked like she'd been cooked, lying there! And on the plates, there was a fat shiny heart and a brain. Yep, sure thing, that was a heart and a brain.

  Baby Jenks had woken up, scared. To hell with that. Her mother was standing in the door. Baby Jenks jumped up and banged her with the steam iron till she stopped moving. Really bashed in her head. And she should have been dead, but she wasn't yet, and then that crazy moment came.

  Her mother was lying there on the floor, half dead, staring, just like her daddy would be later. And Baby Jenks was sitting in the chair, one blue jean leg thrown over the arm, leaning on her elbow, or twirling one of her braids, just waiting, thinking about the twins in the dream sort of, and the body and the things on the plates, what was it all for? But mostly just waiting. Die, you stupid bitch, go on, die, I'm not slamming you again!

  Even now Baby Jenks wasn't sure what had happened. It was like her mother's thoughts had changed, grown wider, bigger. Maybe she was floating up on the ceiling somewhere the way Baby Jenks had been when she nearly died before Killer saved her. But whatever was the cause, the thoughts were just amazing. Just flat out amazing. Like her mother knew everything! All about good and bad and how important it was to love, really love, and how it was so much more than just all the rules about don't drink, don't smoke, pray to Jesus. It wasn't preacher stuff. It was just gigantic.

  Her mother, lying there, had thought about how the lack of love in her daughter, Baby Jenks, had been as awful as a bad gene that made Baby Jenks blind and crippled. Yet it didn't matter. It was going to be all right. Baby Jenks would rise out of what was going on now, just as she had almost done before Killer had got to her, and there would be a finer understanding of everything. What the hell did that mean? Something about everything around us being part of one big thing, the fibers in the carpet, the leaves outside the window, the water dripping in the sink, the clouds moving over Cedar Creek Lake, and the bare trees, and they weren't really so ugly as Baby Jenks had thought. No, the whole thing was almost too beautiful to describe suddenly. And Baby Jenks' mother had always known about this! Seen it that way. Baby Jenks's mother forgave Baby Jenks everything. Poor Baby Jenks. She didn't know. She didn't know about the green grass. Or the seashells shining in the light of the lamp.

  Then Baby Jenks's mother had died. Thank God! Enough! But Baby Jenks had been crying
. Then she'd carried the body out of the trailer and buried it in back, real deep, feeling how good it was to be one of the Dead and so strong and able to just heft those shovels full of dirt.

  Then her father came home. This one's really for fun! She buried him while he was still alive. She'd never forget the look on his face when he came in the door and saw her with the fire ax. "Well, if it ain't Lizzie Borden. "

  Who the hell was Lizzie Borden?

  Then the way his chin stuck out, and his fist came flying towards her, he was so sure of himself! "You little slut!" She split his goddamn forehead in half. Yeah, that part was great, feeling the skull cave-"Go down, you bastard!"-and so was shoveling dirt on his face while he was still looking at her. Paralyzed, couldn't move, thinking he was a kid again on a farm or something in New Mexico. Just baby talk. You son of a bitch, I always knew you had shit for brains. Now I can smell it!

  But why the hell had she ever gone down there? Why had she left the Fang Gang?

  If she'd never left them, she'd be with them now in San Francisco, with Killer and Davis, waiting to see Lestat on the stage. They might have even made the vampire bar out there or something. Leastways, if they had ever gotten there. If something wasn't really really wrong.

  And what the hell was she doing now backtracking? Maybe she should have gone along out west. Two nights, that was all that was left.

  Hell, maybe she'd rent a motel room when the concert happened, so she could watch it on TV. But before that, she had to find some Dead guys in St. Louis. She couldn't go on alone.

  How to find the Central West End. Where was it?

  This boulevard looked familiar. She was cruising along, praying no meddling cop would start after her. She'd outrun him of course, she always did, though she dreamed of getting just one of those damn sons-a-bitches on a lonely road. But the fact was she didn't want to be chased out of St. Louis.

  Now this looked like something she knew. Yeah, this was the Central West End or whatever they called it and she turned off now to the right and went down an old street with those big cool leafy trees all around her. Made her think of her mother again, the green grass, the clouds. Little sob in her throat.

  If she just wasn't so damn lonesome! But then she saw the gates, yeah, this was the street. Killer had told her that Dead guys never really forget anything. Her brain would be like a little computer. Maybe it was true. These were the gates all right, great big iron gates, opened wide and covered with dark green ivy. Guess they never really close up "a private place. "

  She slowed to a rumbling crawl, then cut the motor altogether. Too noisy in this dark valley of mansions. Some bitch might call the cops. She had to get off to walk her bike. Her legs weren't long enough to do it any other way. But that was OK. She liked walking in these deep dead leaves. She liked this whole quiet street.

  Boy, if I was a big city vampire I'd live here too, she thought, and then far off down the street, she saw the coven house, saw the brick walls and the white Moorish arches. Her heart was really going!

  Burnt up!
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