Dark Need
Page 24

 Lynn Viehl

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The real cats in the room—seven of them—were sleeping atop the coverlet on the twin bed.
Harry poked his head in. "She's gone to take a pill and lie down. Find anything besides more cats?"
"Not much. We'll probably do better at his apartment." Still Sam checked each drawer, under the mattress, and in the shoes before gazing around. "No photos, no personal effects. A couple of desiccated hairballs."
"I'll look in the bathroom." Harry disappeared and returned a few moments later. "A toilet, a sink, a roll of Charmin, and three cat boxes overflowing with shit."
Sam felt an unwilling, wretched pang of sympathy for the old woman as she watched five new felines slink into the room to have a look at them. "He probably cleaned them out for her."
Harry rubbed his jaw. "How many animals you think she has?"
"More than Animal Control would want to hear about." Sam smelled the scent of rotten meat again. "I think there might be some dead ones."
"I'll radio Health and Welfare and see who covers this sort of thing." Harry stepped over a pregnant cat having a hissing match with a large silver torn. "You want to hit his apartment?"
"I'd rather have Forensics go in before us. They can dust for prints first." Sam checked her watch. "You need to go home and get some sleep?"
"After seeing that body? I won't sleep for a couple of days," her partner assured her.
Neither would Sam. She had an overwhelming need to see Lucan again, and watch his eyes while she told him about the second murder. "Then let's go grab some dinner, stop by Montgomery's business, and then we'll go to the nightclub."
Chapter 11
Lucan dreamed of the last day he had spent in Rome with his tresora.
The floor of the small corner bedchamber Lucan occupied in his night sojourn had become an enormous sundial of sorts; from the gaps in the window shutters thin golden shafts inched steadily across the room. Sitting in the darkest corner allowed him the only comfort to be had while watching them; even so protected, his eyes yet itched. Having memorized the positions of shadow and light on the boards during the weeks he had spent in this room, he could tell that the time was close to four in the afternoon.
Tea, anyone?
Lucan's tresora, Leigh, was the sole occupant of the bed on the other side of the room. He had woken at dawn to begin another day of coughing. The spasms had been gradually growing worse, and now he brought up blood with each one: clotted dark expulsions punctuated by sporadic briefer flows of arterial dilution. Morning was always the worst time, yet today there had been no sign of them subsiding, as they always had before.
One aspect of Lucan's loathsome existence was that the death he inflicted was quick and clean. Disease, by comparison, took its time and enjoyed itself. Leigh had been mostly dead for more than a month now.
How long can this posthumous existence of his last?
Lucan wished he could feel some pity or guilt. For days now Leigh could no longer hold pen in hand, or take comfort reading from any of the books Frances had brought for him. He could never be left alone, for he could not rise from the bed unassisted. The ulcerated condition of his throat was such that his weak voice would never carry beyond the walls.
Yet when Leigh was not occupied with the business of dying, he stared at Lucan with open hatred.
Lucan tried to hear the splashing sounds of Bernini's Barcaccia fountain bubbling in the piazza below. Often it had played nursemaid and lulled Leigh to sleep during the bleak winter months when he had still been healthy enough to rail about the unfairness of it all. Now it had become a symbol of all Leigh would never know. No more would he sit on the marble shelf to admire the cascades that poured from the forever submerging boat, or compose sonnets to the crystalline purity of their falling. No more would he dip a cupped hand in its sparkling basin and lift the water to his lips, and drink as much as he chose.
No more would he taunt Lucan because he could not do the same.
"You will never have her," the sodden, thready voice from the bed told him. "Not even when I am gone to heaven."
"Are you so sure about that?" Lucan said, rising and walking over to the bed. "That you go from here to heaven?"
Leigh smiled, showing bloodstained teeth. "I have created beauty. Magnificent poetry that will live forever. What have you given to the world, my lord Darkness, but pain and death?"
Lucan knew Leigh felt bitter about the extreme dichotomy of their situations, but he could not let that pass. "I allowed you freedom. I helped you pursue this poetic life when I could have demanded your seclusion and service. I have never harmed you or yours."
"Why would you? You envied me. You coveted my talent, my family, and my beloved." He paused and lifted a stained handkerchief in a feeble hand to his wet mouth and coughed deeply. "I think you may even envy me this pitiful end I will have."
That struck hard, and was worse than anything Leigh had flung at him. "I could hasten it."
"Oh, yes, do." The damp red crumple of cloth fell away from bloody lips. "That is all you can do, is it not? Take what is not yours and smash it."
Lucan could not strangle his tresora; Frances would arrive at any moment. He could not respond, for what Leigh had said was true. He stood, impotent, unable to do more than watch the dying man drift back into semiconsciousness.
A fetid envelope of old blood, sputum, and sweat rose from the wilted linens around Leigh's limp body. Not even the smell bothered Lucan anymore, not after he had breathed it for the endless months they had spent in Hampstead nursing Leigh's brother, who had sickened and died of the same disease. The stink could not sicken Lucan, or affect him in any sense, but it was still poison on the air—poison to Frances, who was still human, and could catch the sickness.
Sometimes Lucan thought she had come to Rome to do just that. She could join Leigh in the grave, as she would never join Lucan in eternal life.
Unable to spend another moment looking down at the dying man, Lucan went to open the shutters. Let the sunlight irritate his eyes. With luck he would go blind, and never again have to look upon Leigh or Frances.
The light was fading. They would need more candles, for only a single half column of tallow remained on the writing table near Leigh's bed. It was the last; part of an ingenious contraption of several candles Frances had linked together by lengths of cotton; as one burned the cotton thread would draw the flame to light the next. She had assembled it after Leigh had pleaded with her never to leave him alone in the darkness.
The door opened, and a tall, graceful Englishwoman walked in. Her dress had been carefully adorned with lace and ribbons to cover the threadbare spots; her light brown hair had been coiled in a simple yet elegant chignon. In her arms she carried a small parcel wrapped in brown paper that doubtless contained more remedies that would not save Leigh, and soft food that he could not swallow.
Frances barely glanced at Lucan. "What do you here, my lord? I would have thought you bound for England by now."
Lucan vaguely remembered threatening to board the next ship for London the night before after unsuccessfully pleading with her again to allow him to move Leigh to a hospital and take her with him to England.
"I fear the servants have deserted for parts unknown," he told her. "They refuse to be near him." He tried to take the parcel from her arms, but she stepped away. "I have done nothing to him but watch," he assured her. "We have not had a single argument." It was the truth; he had not argued with Leigh.
"You will not help him, so what reason is there for you to stay?" She set the parcel down on the writing table. "Go back to England, my lord. Your pity is of no use to us."
He tried to be gallant. "I cannot abandon you, my dear. It would not be the gentlemanly thing to do."
"You are no gentleman," Frances said, her gentle eyes sparkling with new disgust. "If you were you could use your powers to revive him—to heal him. Why will you not do that?"
"It is beyond me. No man—"
"You are not a man." She pressed a hand to her breast and swallowed, gathering her courage to say the rest. "It is said that you can make others like you by giving them your blood."
Lucan looked into her face and saw the mild contempt she had always shown him now swelling into hatred. He saw himself moving to the bed, removing his gloves, and laying hands on his tresora—not to heal him, but to put an end to the agony for all of them.
"I cannot heal his sickness. Centuries ago, perhaps, but over time our blood has become poison to humans." He had nothing else to lose; he would tell her all. "Frances, come away with me now. You cannot go on exposing yourself to his disease."
"You are lying." She crossed her arms. "You could not have such powers and be so helpless. Why will you not save him?"
He stared at her midsection and saw why she had been wearing her loose gowns. Jealousy savaged him; here was the only woman he had ever loved, and she was pregnant by another man.
"Did he give you that child in your belly?" he asked. "Is that why you wish me to play God? For the bastard you carry?"
"That is quite enough, sir." Frances went to the door and opened it. "If you refuse to help Leigh then I beg you leave us, my lord, and never come back here again."
"I could give you everything he cannot," Lucan told her stiffly. "Wealth and comfort. Devoted love for the rest of your life. Protection for you, a name for your child. You would be my kyrya, my human wife."
"You are too late. Leigh and I were secretly married by a Roman Catholic priest two weeks ago. My child shall bear his father's name." Frances rested a hand on a slight curve of her stomach. "Do you think I would trade my love for the material things you promise? Do you imagine I could bear your touch, knowing you let him die?"
"He will be dead by sunrise, and there is nothing I can do to stop it," Lucan told her flatly. "What will you do when he's gone? You have no money. Your family in England will never take you back. Do you propose to sell yourself on the streets of Rome?"