When Quentin woke that day, after noon in Monaco, it was only 7:30 in Collinsport. But Jamison Collins had already been up for an hour.
Jamison woke in his homey, cheerfully decorated room at Windcliff--as he had, one or two mornings a month, for nigh on half a century. For a moment he dared to hope it was one of those mornings, and the nightmare about Roger had been just that, a nightmare.
But then he sat up--and had to face reality. He felt tired, but not exhausted, not weak or sick. And ironically, the sun streaming through the window was itself proof the "nightmare" was real. On those mornings Julian wanted him to sleep late, and the blinds were closed. He had been in full command of his faculties when he'd gone to bed last night--or rather, at 2:30 this morning--and he'd left the blinds open deliberately, to use the sun as an alarm clock.
Not that there's any real hurry, he thought dejectedly as he trudged to the bathroom. Roger would still be heavily sedated, to assure him at least a few hours' rest. There was precious little Jamison could do for his son at any time, but less than nothing at daybreak. Julian had probably been right in urging him to quit spending his nights on a cot in Roger's room.
And in any case, if he wanted Julian to accede to his plan for Friday, he'd have to be a model of reasonableness about everything else.
A hot shower had its usual restorative effect, and he took time to use shampoo and do a thorough job of washing his still-thick, longish hair. On a warm day, as this promised to be, he could let it dry of its own accord. In features and coloring Jamison bore a stronger resemblance to his uncle Edward and son Roger than to Quentin and Gavin. But his height was one legacy of his father, and he liked to think the thickness of his barely-graying hair was another.
As he toweled himself off--feeling better, physically, than he usually did when he occupied these rooms--he smiled at the thought of the activity on the other side of the wall. It would be, he knew, just as it was on those days.
Julian always had a staffer posted in the hall, listening through the wall for the sound of his shower. They'd wait a few minutes--he'd never figured out how long it normally took him to shave and dress, but Julian had it timed to the second. At precisely the right moment there would be a tap on the door, and someone would appear with a newspaper and a nutritious breakfast.
At this hour, it wouldn't be Julian. At least he hoped it wouldn't. The man had to rest sometime.
Julian was in his mid-seventies, and the strain of these past weeks had visibly aged him. It was only yesterday that Jamison had realized the once-auburn hair was now completely white.
I've been spoiled, Jamison thought ruefully.
Thanks to Julian, the werewolf curse had been little more than an inconvenience to him all these years. He'd arrive at Windcliff in mid-afternoon, and by nightfall he'd be dozing on a mattress on the floor of his padded cell. The pain and convulsions, when they came, were severe--no getting around that, and they took more out of him as he grew older. But they would have been much worse without the drugs and muscle relaxants Julian gave him.
He never had to see blood, never had to see the stray animals Julian provided to be the werewolf's victims. He simply blacked out in his cell and woke in a comfortable bed, clean, dressed in his own pajamas.
True, he also woke sore, ill, and bone-weary. In recent months it had taken him a disturbingly long time to recover. But he never had to fear for his or his loved ones' safety, or deal with the ugly realities of the curse.
It had, of course, taken a toll on his personal life. A wife he should have divorced, in love only with his wealth and position, had been able to blackmail him into continuing the marriage. She'd died in a fall down the stairs during one of their quarrels, in full view of the three children. He hadn't pushed her, but he hadn't reached out to grab her and try to save her, either, and the children knew it.
He'd never been sure whether the gulf between him and them owed more to that, or to the "business trips" that had made him miss so many special occasions. He'd eventually told Gavin the truth about those absences. But he knew Elizabeth and Roger had realized he never "traveled" beyond Windcliff...and shared the widely-held, completely baseless notion that he and Julian were lovers.
Julian had arguably suffered more than he. Drawn to his case by intellectual interest and hope of "curing" a werewolf, the young doctor who treated and protected him while he attended Harvard had become his closest friend. It was Julian who saw the blood, saw the animals--alive and dead--and had the grisly task of disposing of the carcasses.
His wife had left him years ago, taking their five-year-old daughter with her. And although Julian denied it, Jamison had always believed she had either taken the sexual rumors seriously, or learned the real truth about her husband's friend and been unable to cope with it.
Sighing, Jamison tucked his shirt into his slacks. He buttoned a last button...and a knock came at the door.
It was Julian.
Jamison didn't mean to mention his plan for Friday till later in the week. But he'd resolved to be "reasonable," so he let himself be persuaded to eat a hearty breakfast. Julian had brought his own breakfast as well, and they ate in companionable near-silence, sharing the morning paper.
At last Jamison wiped his mouth with a napkin and said what was really on his mind. "Did you look in on Roger on your way here?"
"Yes." Julian nodded vigorously, then hurried to swallow his mouthful of toast. "He had a peaceful night, Jim. Like I told you, there's no need for you to be there all night."
Jamison knew the doctor was refraining from adding what he really thought: that given Roger's condition, there was nothing his father could do at any hour that a nurse couldn't do as well or better.
Instead, he continued, "The sedative was starting to wear off. He should be awake by the time you get there."
"Thanks." Jamison hesitated momentarily. "You are still trying new drugs, aren't you?"
Julian looked startled. "Of course! Jim, just because I gave you my honest prognosis--which wasn't favorable--don't imagine I've given up! I haven't, and I never will.
"I'm trying something new almost every day, but I still haven't found a drug that has any therapeutic effect. I can ease his suffering by sedating him into a stupor, but not for more than a few hours at a time. If I overuse sedatives, his system will become resistant and they won't be effective when he needs them most."
"Yes. Like Friday."
Jamison entered Roger's room at 8:30. A bleary-eyed male nurse looked up at him.
"Good morning, Mr. Collins," the man said quietly, moving away from the bed.
"Morning." Jamison spoke politely, but saw only his son.
Roger was dressed in pajamas, free of any restraints, lying loosely curled on his right side in a large, comfortable bed. His slender body vibrated like a tuning fork. His eyes were open, sweat glistened on his face, and he was whimpering.
Jamison eased himself into the bedside chair, unsure what to do. Sometimes Roger responded to a voice, sometimes only to touch. And regardless of the gentleness of the approach, the response might be anything from slight relaxation to screaming or panicky violence.
But he was clearly suffering now.
"Good morning, son," Jamison said softly.
Roger tensed. He made no attempt at eye contact, but the whimpering subsided. As if he was unable to reach out, to communicate...but was listening, waiting.
Jamison crooned soothingly, started to stroke the fine, sandy hair.
And Roger went into a frenzy.
He began to scream, a high-pitched keening wail that sounded like nothing human. Curling into a tight fetal position, he rolled frantically back and forth on the bed.
Jamison felt nothing...beyond wonder at his own steadiness as he helped the nurse subdue him.
They held him tightly, both of them, till he became exhausted. Then he collapsed limply in his father's arms, panting like an animal. Jamison held him, rocked him, and he slept briefly. Later he lay quietly, staring at the ceiling, while Jamison gave him a sponge bath.
At lunchtime they got him into a sitting position, and the nurse on duty held him, gently but firmly pinning his arms, while Jamison spoon-fed him. It was an hour-long struggle, but he consumed a reasonable amount of food and kept it down.
Then he began crying piteously--evidently tired. They tried to make him comfortable, darkening the room to let him sleep. But five minutes later he was sitting up with his arms clasped around his knees, rocking himself violently, gibbering.
During the afternoon another drug was tried and found ineffective. The injection caused Roger considerable pain, and he wept for more than an hour.
Once he looked directly at Jamison and said, "Dad," as he'd done on two previous occasions. But that was all: one word, spoken without inflection or emotion. No more and no less meaningful than if he'd looked at a spoon and said, "Spoon."
Jamison gave his son another sponge bath, and fed him his dinner. This was less successful than lunch. Roger jerked his head away repeatedly, spitting out more food than he swallowed. Finally, after eating relatively little, he vomited.
"Probably that drug in his system," said the nurse.
Jamison insisted on cleaning up the mess.
Later, with Roger dozing fitfully and the nurse on break, he allowed himself to weep.
He had become very attached to this son in recent years, with Gavin gone and Elizabeth becoming more and more eccentric. The need to cope with Elizabeth had forged a bond, for the first time, between him and Roger. Roger had been away at college when whatever-it-was went wrong in his sister's marriage. So he was just as ignorant of the facts as Jamison, who'd been on one of his "business trips"...
Stop lying to yourself!
You know what happened, and why.
You ruined your daughter's life, like you do every life you touch.
Elizabeth murdered her husband that weekend. Murdered him because she'd just found out about his embezzling.
Embezzling you'd been aware of for years.
Embezzling you tolerated...because you were afraid she'd put him up to it.
Jamison had washed all traces of Roger's vomit from his hands and clothes, but he still felt dirty.
He had a late dinner with Julian in the doctor's converted farmhouse a mile from Windcliff. Both men were good cooks, and they prepared the meal together.
Jamison felt a twinge of regret that his friend, a Jew, no longer kept ingredients in stock for kosher cooking. That would have been a welcome change.
He usually enjoyed these dinners. But tonight he couldn't shake that sense of regret.
It went beyond kosher food.
It went beyond his grief over Roger.
It was partly the house. The silent, soulless house.
A perfect place to raise children, wasted.
And in the back of his mind, a wish, a dream of something that might have been, a person who might have brought light and laughter into this house and made it a home...
Ridiculous. His own foolish imaginings, nothing more, a lifetime ago.
They prepared to return to Windcliff at 10:00. Julian went out the kitchen door first, with a casual reminder to Jamison that it would lock automatically.
Jamison paused in the doorway. "God, it's gotten cold out! Wish I'd brought a sweater."
Julian was halfway to the garage, but he stopped and turned around. "Me too. Why don't you borrow one of mine, and pick one up for me while you're at it? There are plenty of them in my bedroom closet. First room on your right at the top of the stairs."
Jamison said, "Sure! Thanks," and went back into the house while Julian continued toward the garage.
He climbed the stairs easily, but not without a grimace as he realized that only a few years ago, he would have taken them two at a time.
Stairs like these...not these stairs. Come to think of it, he'd never been upstairs in Julian's house in his life.
He turned into the bedroom, switched on the light.
And he saw it.
He stood stock still, not believing his eyes.
In a place of honor on the dresser, the only photo in the room...
He tried to deny the evidence of his senses. To tell himself it was Julian's ex-wife, or a young picture of his mother.
But it wasn't.
It was a face Jamison knew. "Attractive" rather than beautiful, but an honest, straightforward face, alight with integrity, framed by a mane of hair as thick and unruly as his own.
Julian appeared at his elbow, breathing hard. "I--I sent you up here before I remembered--what you'd see."
Jamison sat down on the bed, shaken. "You've...kept a picture of my sister Nora on your dresser all these years?"
Nora, who'd left home at twenty after a row with her father and stepmother, leaving another aching void in Jamison's life to match the one left by Quentin.
Julian nodded. "Obviously. I put it away while I was married to Miriam, of course. I did care for Miriam." He said it defensively, like a man trying to convince himself.
"You were in love with my sister," Jamison said slowly. "So it wasn't my imagination! All these years I've thought it was..." His voice trailed off. "But then...I didn't imagine her love for you, either! The day I introduced you, I thought I saw it. Immediate attraction, on both sides. I was so thrilled..."
He looked up at Julian, suddenly feeling like a hurt, betrayed child who'd learned that a gift his parents denied him had been very much within their reach.
To his horror, Julian gave a harsh, bitter laugh--that ended in a half-sob.
"Yes, we were in love," he acknowledged when he'd caught his breath. "I never wanted you to know what happened. You were away, doing graduate work in a place where you were safe, with friends to protect you...for a little while.
"Use your head, Jim. Can you imagine Edward Collins letting his daughter marry a Jew?"
Jamison gasped. In his innocent delight at the idea of Julian and Nora together, he'd never thought of Edward's probable reaction.
He mulled it over, convinced himself he was thinking rationally before he went on.
"But I also can't imagine Nora letting him dictate to her. What could he do? Disown her? Disinherit her? The money he was managing belonged to his wife. And everyone must have known I'd provide for Nora, once I inherited from Judith.
"Besides, when she ran off, she proved she didn't care about an inheritance. She threw it away. I couldn't share with her because I couldn't find her.
"I can't believe Nora wouldn't have defied Edward to marry you. Even if it meant subsisting on bread and water for the rest of her life!"
"Oh, she would have. Beyond a doubt. And that's why she was so hurt when--" Julian's voice broke.
A full minute passed before he got the words out.
"When...Edward was able to...buy me off."
"Buy you off?"
Jamison felt his world slipping out from under him.
Is any of this real?
Am I as insane as Roger?
Julian sank down on the bed beside him and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I wish I didn't have to tell you. But once you saw that picture, I knew there was no turning back. You're confused now, but if I don't explain, you'll figure it out later.
"Don't you remember, Jim? Edward and his wife Anne were the philanthropists who financed the building of Windcliff. Edward threatened to withdraw funding if I didn't give up his daughter!
"I knew I couldn't get the money anywhere else. All you had at the time was income from a trust fund. Your aunt Judith was wealthier than Edward's wife, but you know what a tightwad she was. Lavished money on Charity and her no-account husband Shaw, but no one else could hope to see a penny while Judith lived."
"And you needed the hospital...here...to protect me," Jamison whispered. "I was determined to live at Collinwood, much as I hated it, in the hope Quentin would one day come back."
Julian said dryly, "I didn't understand your reason at the time."
"And I...understood so little about you, when I thought I knew you so well..." Jamison shook his head. "Couldn't you have told Edward my secret? And Nora?"
"No." Julian sighed. "I was sure your condition was inherited. You always referred to it as a curse, which ruled out the possibility you'd simply been bitten by another werewolf. And you were only twenty-one when we met, a thoroughly decent person. I couldn't believe you yourself had made an enemy capable of putting a werewolf curse on you.
"But Edward, your supposed father, wasn't a werewolf! That suggested he wasn't your real father. Which was all the more embarrassing because the family resemblance proved you were a Collins.
"A few hours' digging in the records revealed there had been a werewolf in Collinsport in 1897. And your uncle Carl, old enough to have been your father, had died mysteriously that same year..."
"So you put two and two together and came up with five."
"Yes. But whether that line of reasoning was correct was less important than my belief Edward would reach the same conclusion. I was afraid that if he did, he'd refuse to protect you."
Reluctantly, Jamison nodded. "I think you were right. He might have identified my father correctly, but that wouldn't change the bottom line. What about Nora?"
Julian winced. "I trusted her completely, of course. And she idolized her big brother. The only reason I didn't confide in her was because of the issue of your paternity.
"Remember, I didn't know the real reason you were so bent on staying at Collinwood. I assumed your upbringing had made you passionately devoted to the Collins heritage. And I made the further mistake of judging your sister by you.
"I believed that if I told Nora about the curse, she'd draw the same conclusions I had. Knowing her mother had been...a faithless wife...would have cast doubt on her paternity, too. And Nora didn't resemble any of the family!
"I think now that wouldn't have bothered her in the least. But at the time, I imagined I was in danger of stripping her of an identity that might be the most important thing in her life."
"I...see the problem." Jamison swallowed hard, blinking back tears. "So you just let her think you could be bought off?"
"I had no alternative. She knew there was no real need for a mental hospital here, knew I could easily find a position somewhere else. So she saw no justification for what I was doing. Condemned me as bitterly as she did her father.
"She was angry and disillusioned, and she turned her back on Collinsport forever."
"You've never stopped loving her." It was a statement, not a question.
"No. There are...some people...who can love...only once."
Jamison stared numbly at the picture. "Do you have any idea what became of her?"
"Interesting." Julian gave him a quizzical look. "Even after what I just told you, you don't express fear she may have committed suicide."
"No. Because I know my sister. She was strong, a survivor. The kind of person I want to be. She had too much self-respect to take her own life because she was disillusioned with someone else. If I know anything, I know that!"
"You're right." Julian smiled, his eyes shining with pride. "Quite by chance, I saw her picture and an article about her in a London paper two years ago. Not an obituary--she's still alive, or at least she was then.
"She went to England, changed her name to Honor Jamison. I had known she was considering that change in her first name, because 'Nora' had been chosen to rhyme with 'Laura.'
"She became, of all things, a noted travel photographer." He paused, then added softly, "She never married."
Jamison sighed. Then, on a sudden hunch, he asked, "Why did Miriam leave you?"
"I think you can guess."
"I think so too. She heard a rumor that you'd had a romance with a Gentile girl, and broken her heart by letting her wealthy bigot father buy you off. Miriam confronted you, and when you didn't deny it, she walked out."
"That's about it."
"But why didn't you tell her the truth? Surely she would have understood--"
"Two reasons. First, Miriam was liberal and enlightened about many things, but not the occult. She wouldn't have cooperated in protecting a werewolf. And remember, back then you weren't willing to tell anyone--even me--how the curse had originated.
"Second, I was in a no-win situation. Miriam wasn't happy with the thought that I'd trifled with another woman. But if I'd been forced to admit Nora was the great love of my life, she couldn't have accepted that, either. I would have lost her in any case, so I chose not to hurt her by letting her know she was...second best."
Jamison nodded bleakly. "Julian...one more question. Obviously, you don't have to answer.
"But...were you and my sister lovers? In the sexual sense?" He hoped desperately that they'd at least had that.
Later he would wonder if Julian, knowing the answer he hoped for, had lied.
Jamison didn't try to apologize for the grief he had caused.
No words would have been adequate.
But as they drove back to Windcliff, the small voice in his head gave him no peace.
Ruined...ruined...like every life you touch...