"The Wrath of Cerberus"
"I forgive you". Beth's ghost wavered, then disappeared. "COME BACK!"
Quentin screamed as he stepped toward where the vision had been, hand
outstretched as if to touch her.
"Don't you understand," he turned abruptly and continued, his voice raw
with pain, anger, frustration and self-loathing. "I can't forgive MYSELF!
For what I did to you; for the part I played." His voice softened to a
gentle plea. "Please hear me, Beth!" His voice broke as he concluded and
he buried his face in his hands, his breathing ragged. He staggered toward
a chair and collapsed weakly into it. After a few moments he lifted his
head, the only expression on his face one of despair and quiet resignation.
Icily calm, he walked to the desk, pulled out the pistol he knew was
always kept there, and put it in his pocket. With a deep breath and a
final look around he headed out the door.
Quentin stood on Widow's Hill. The scene from the night before played over
and over in his brain. His defeat of Petofi, recovery of his body - then
his encounter with Beth. Why had he kept walking toward her? Why had she
been so close to the edge of the cliff? Her scream of "I HATE YOU!" as she
tried to catch her balance; the long, drawn out scream of terror as she
fell, then the abrupt silence; her broken, crumpled body on the rocks
He sunk to his knees, sitting back on his heels, hands over his ears as if
to block out the scenes playing over and over inside his head.
Breathing in shuddering gasps he rose to his feet again, and headed toward
the edge of the cliff, gun in hand. Last night proved that he was death to
anyone foolish enough to love him, as the wolf was death to anyone who
crossed its path. Quentin Collins had no future, he saw that now. Never
safe, constantly on the run lest Petofi complete his scheme to take over
Quentin's body as his own. Nothing but an endless lonely existence,
causing nothing but misery and death to every life he touched. Petofi's
threat about the transformations, the missing portrait. To know that he
might transform at any time or place, with or without a full moon. NO! NO
There was only one sure way to defeat Petofi --- and end this pain as well
-- remove all possibility of a future for the body of Quentin Collins. The
body had to be damaged so thoroughly that it would be completely and
irreversibly dead. He looked again at the rocks below, clearly visible at
low tide, then back at the gun in his hand. He couldn't count on being
able to fire more than once. The shot he chose had to count. He walked to
a spot over a particularly wicked looking outcropping and stood at the
edge, hoping the rocks would finish anything the pistol shot left
undamaged. As he raised the gun to the side of his head the barrel brushed
the back of his ear in an obscene parody of a woman's caress. He
shuddered, then changed his mind and jammed the barrel against the roof of
his mouth, facing upward, his finger tightening on the trigger..
"You will give me that please. And kindly step away from the edge. "
Quentin whirled around at the sound of the stranger's voice. Without
conscious thought he found himself walking back away from the edge of the
cliff toward the nattily dressed gentleman who had appeared from nowhere.
It's not your time!"
"Who are you to decide when my time is? God wouldn't want me and the
Devil'd be happy not to wait. Quentin held his pistol trained on the
stranger, finger on the trigger. His interest in living may have been low,
but his interest in being a pawn again was even lower. "So, who are you?
Another stooge of Petofi's? "
"Ah, you must be Quentin Collins. MY name is Best. "
"It would appear you're in error, Mr. Best. My time has come and gone -
more than once -- yet I still live. I was meant to die months ago, with my
mad wife's knife in my chest. Where were you when that was changed? What
of the others who died because I still live?"
Quentin looked at his hands, staring at them as if they belonged to a
stranger. "'Will all Neptune's oceans wash this blood clean from my
hands?' It only took one murder to drive lady Macbeth mad. How many have I
to my credit? All innocent victims - victims of mine, victims of Petofi's."
He began to name the victims, in the toneless voice of one who had recited
a lesson far too many times. " Carl, my baby son - Beth. Oh Beth!"
He fixed the intruder with a furious glare. "You didn't answer my
question. What of those who died because of me? This wasn't Beth's time.
Where were you when she lost her balance - because of me. She's the one
you should have saved - but you took her from me!" Quentin extended his
arm full length and his finger tightened on the trigger, gun aimed at the
"DON'T!" Best put out his hand with the palm facing Quentin.
Quentin froze in mid motion, unable to move toward Best or to pull the
trigger. The wrist of Quentin's gun hand moved sideways and downward, as
if someone were twisting the gun out of his hand. The gun dropped onto the
"I am impervious to attack. You are not."
"You say that as if I care what happens to me. It should be obvious to you
that I WANT to die. "
Quentin started laughing wildly. "Ironic, isn't it? Beth gets no second
chance, yet you give me one which I have no use for." Quentin's laughter
died away and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Are you a sporting man,
"YOU would wager with ME?"
"For what I want I would wager with the Devil himself - unless of course I
"You live by courtesy of Count Petofi. I know that. " Best walked around
Quentin as he spoke, eyeing him closely. "But even in my realm there are
"arrangements" that can be made. What's your proposition?"
" My life for hers. I come with you willingly and she gets to live the
rest of her normal lifespan - with the condition that my body dies as well;
messily and thoroughly enough that Petofi can never possess it again."
"So you DO love her."
Quentin nodded. "She should have a man who can love her as she deserves to
be loved - not one who brings her nothing but heartache and death." Best
remained silent and Quentin continued. "PLEASE! Let me put just this one
"Interesting, but not quite interesting enough. Let's up the stakes a bit,
shall we?" Best continued, ruminating as if thinking out loud.
"I like experiments, you know. You two, lovers lost, circumstances and
wrong choices working against you at every turn. Should you be given a
second chance, would you take advantage of it? Or, would this chance be
wasted like all the others?"
Quentin winced at the truth of the man's statement, remembering his
unhealed relationship with Jamison. "What did you have in mind?" he
"A wager for both your lives - winner take all."
"First of all, I agree to your condition regarding your body. Should you
lose, I guarantee that it will be destroyed beyond Count Petofi's ability
to reconstruct it. As to the terms of the wager. You will come with me
now to the underworld -- your body will be protected while you are gone to
prevent Petofi from repossessing it. Once we are there, you will see your
Beth again, and I will give you the chance to lead her back out of the
"And if I look behind me to see that she's really there she disappears,
"I may be bored and somewhat sentimental, but I am not stupid! I expect
that a well educated young man such as yourself is familiar with the Greek
myths. " Mr. Best glared at Quentin, upset at his presumption. "You will
need to do something quite different if you want to keep your Euridice.
Something particularly suited to a man of your profligate tastes. You may
see your Beth, but you may not touch any part of her, in any way, for any
reason; nor may she touch you."
Quentin turned the proposition over and over in his mind, looking for
loopholes and traps, for it was clear that they existed. No way to tell
for certain what they would be before he saw what they would be facing.
Then again, he was in what he once described to Magda as the enviable
position of someone with nothing left to lose.
"I agree. Now when do we start?"