DISCLAIMER: Dark Shadows and its canon characters are the property of Dan Curtis Productions; no copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: When I wrote this some years ago, it wasn't intended as an AU. I did have a plan for getting the characters to roughly where they should be by the late Sixties; that may or may not be written someday.
"The way you walk is thorny,
through no fault of your own..."
The Wolf Man
"Can't you get us out of this, somehow?"
Even as he spoke, Quentin realized it was pointless. Traffic on all sides had ground to a halt--as usual in New York, for no discernible reason. Horns were blaring, drivers cursing each other in a dozen tongues.
The taxi meter clicked at indecently frequent intervals, as his fare continued to mount.
He settled back and tried to relax. He was tempted to get out and walk, but that would undoubtedly take longer. And he might, after all, be early. He had no idea what time he was expected.
Compulsively, he looked at the letter again. As though it might have changed in the last five minutes... The envelope, typed, with a New York postmark. Addressed to "Frederic Thorn"--not in care of his publisher, but at his closely guarded home address. And inside, the briefest of typewritten notes.
Please meet me at the Enfield Hotel the night of November 25th.
That was all. No signature.
He refolded the note with trembling fingers. Took out his wallet, and allowed himself another look at the small photo he had clipped from a newspaper three months ago. A photo of a novice actress named Olivia Corey.
Betty had asked why he was so interested in a little-known actress. He had muttered some evasion. And their relationship had never been quite the same.
His mind raced back to the last night he had spent with Amanda, in the Enfield Hotel. The night of November 25th, 1897. Sixty-three years ago. He had left her the following morning. Saying he wanted her to lead a normal life, marry and have children with a normal man who would grow old as she would. As he would not.
The photo in his hand seemed proof she had not grown old. She, like him, had been a lonely, rootless misfit throughout those long years. The note had to be from Amanda! Who else would know the significance of that hotel, that date?
He had made a clean break with Betty, without explaining himself, before this trip to New York. Betty...the sweet-faced brunette who had been his live-in lover, signing herself "Betty Thorn," for nigh on two years. It had been, in some ways, the best relationship of his life. In no small part because he had sensed all along that Betty, a woman in her mid-thirties, was no more in love than he was. The knowledge that neither of them would be shattered by their eventual breakup had enabled them to relax, become friends as well as sexual partners. He had never told her the truth about himself, but only because, without proof, she would--understandably--have questioned his sanity. He would miss Betty...
It made sense that Amanda had not found him until now. Quentin had spent the better part of a half-century abroad--expecting the evil Count Petofi, bent on stealing his virile young body, to look for him in the United States. But over the last five years, he had gradually let down his guard.
He knew now that in 1897, Petofi had exchanged his own aged body for the "resurrected" body of Garth Blackwood. The Blackwood body was less desirable than Quentin's: twenty years older in appearance, plain of feature, and missing a leg. But it was, like Quentin's body, unchanging and virtually indestructible.
Petofi, still in possession of all his powers, had survived in that body until 1955. Then he had met an ironic fate. He had mistaken a grandson of Quentin's for Quentin himself, knocked him unconscious, and performed a mind-switch. Hours later, he had been caught by surprise when he transformed into a werewolf! A silver bullet had claimed his life that very night. As for his "victim," Gavin Collins, he was--at last word--alive and well in the Garth Blackwood body, blessedly free of the werewolf curse.
Quentin had returned to his native land after Petofi's death. For ten years before that, he had been writing hard-boiled detective thrillers under the pen name "Rick Thorn." Now, as "Frederic Thorn," he also felt safe writing novels of the occult, featuring werewolves and vampires. Some of the plots were thinly disguised accounts of his own life... Yes, it made sense that Amanda had recognized the author as Quentin Collins.
The taxi was moving again--bumping along, with frequent jolting halts, through ever-older sections of the city. Picture-book snowflakes swirled around it, melting as they hit the pavement. Quentin kept his wallet in his hand.
Why, in three months' time, had he not sought out Olivia Corey? That was a hard question. Loyalty to Betty had something to do with it. But there had to be more. Fear that "Olivia" would turn out to be not Amanda but a descendant, the female equivalent of Gavin Collins? Or...fear that she was Amanda, and would have no love to offer him, only resentment and reproach?
Knowing as he did that Amanda had been created by that strangely gifted artist, Charles Delaware Tate, he should have realized there was a possibility she would never age. No, not "should have"--he had realized. A case could be made that if he had really loved her, he would have stayed with her until they learned the answer to that question. If Amanda--like him--was impervious to injury, they probably would have found out, somehow, within a year or two.
The falling snow was barely visible now, in these darker streets...
He understood himself better, far better, than he had in 1897. Saw clearly why he had left Amanda, why he had found excuses to leave her. He had failed, and hurt, everyone who had ever loved him. Killed his wife Jenny in a moment of panic. Driven Beth, who dreamed of being his next wife, to the verge of suicide--and finally, foolishly, caused her accidental fall to her death from Widow's Hill. Even young Jamison, the "nephew" who was really his son...Jamison had been wrong in condemning him for jilting Beth in favor of the immortal witch Angelique. He had done that to save the boy's life. But he would always live with the guilty knowledge that he had been prepared to jilt Beth anyway, for Amanda. So he would have disillusioned Jamison in any case.
After all that, he had been convinced--subconsciously, at the time--of his own inadequacy. He had fled Amanda to avoid hurting her. And ever afterward, he had used his "deathless love" for her as an excuse to avoid commitment to anyone else.
But if he had doomed Amanda to the same loneliness as himself, he had hurt her. More and more, he was coming to see that fleeing responsibility was no answer.
He gazed out, morosely, at the deserted streets. Deserted? Yes, even the traffic had been left behind. Blocks slipped by without neon lights, without horns or sirens or squealing brakes. Blocks of buildings not visibly changed since the turn of the century.
Quentin shivered. He had an eerie feeling the taxi was taking him back in time, and when he reached his destination, he would find himself in 1897...
Would he be the same Quentin Collins who had deserted Amanda once before? If he were called upon to prove his love, would he turn tail and run?
The driver applied the brake, bringing the taxi to a smooth stop at the curb. "Enfield Hotel."
Quentin paid his fare and alighted. Took a sheepish look around, to reassure himself he was still in 1960.
He was, of course. Streetlights and traffic lights were modern. A vendor was hawking a newspaper, with a front page devoted entirely to the Kennedys. The face of Richard Nixon looked on, forlornly, from a tattered campaign poster on a nearby wall.
And yet, as Quentin entered the old-fashioned hotel, his eagerness was tempered by the deepest sense of foreboding he had known since Petofi's death.
The lobby was just as he remembered it. All plush, mahogany, and gilt, with oversized chandeliers that tinkled in the draught created by his opening the door. No hotel guests were in sight.
He hesitated. Should he wait here, or register and go to a room? And if he registered, should he give his real name, or "Frederic Thorn"?
His dilemma was resolved when the elderly registration clerk looked up, and smiled at him through his gold-rimmed spectacles. "Mr. Collins?"
The clerk beamed. "The party you're meeting gave me your description. Everything's taken care of, sir. I have your room key for you. I understand you've been here before, and you know how to find the room?"
Quentin looked at the key the man pressed into his hand. Number 23. The same room.
"Yes. I know how to find the room."
He climbed the thickly carpeted stairs to the second floor, wondering if he was setting his feet exactly where he had before. Walked down a short corridor, and paused at the closed door of Number 23.
He knocked gently.
He unlocked the door and went in.
Was it his imagination, or were even the furnishings unchanged? With Amanda nowhere in sight, he shook the few snowflakes from his coat and laid it on a chair.
Behind him, he heard the door open.
"Glad you're here, Quentin. It's good to see you again."
He gasped and spun around.
A handsome, nattily-dressed young man was standing in the doorway, an enigmatic smile on his face.
The man was Charles Delaware Tate.
Tate strolled into the room. The stunned Quentin belatedly registered that he was carrying a bottle of champagne--and two glasses. He set them down and closed the door behind him.
Quentin's mind was reeling. The note wasn't from Amanda wasn't from Amanda wasn't from Amanda! What have I walked into? How did I let myself become so careless? If I get out of this alive...
He fought for control. Calm down. I've learned a valuable lesson. Whatever Tate wants, he can't hurt me. Or, presumably, vice versa.
Tate smiled benignly. "Surprised by my appearance?"
"By your appearance here, yes," Quentin grated. "I'm not surprised that you still look about thirty. I've always taken for granted that if you could do it for me, you could do it for yourself."
"Smart man." A hint of a sneer, quickly suppressed. "My apologies for...misleading you. I didn't think you'd agree to meet with me if I approached you openly. But you'll notice I didn't actually lie."
"That was good of you." Quentin's voice dripped sarcasm. "You must have been a veritable Peeping Tom back in 1897."
Tate colored. "I'm not proud of it. I confess I did spy on you and Amanda, till you split up. You weren't hard to find. Amanda had traveled to New York quite openly, returned to the same hotel where I knew she had stayed before. And it only required a little sleuthing in the lobby to learn the room number." He looked away. His lip twitched, and his voice shook slightly. "I...I was standing below your window the entire night of November 25th. Wishing myself in your place...
"But that was a long time ago." Brisk and cheery again. "Back when we really were very, very young. Once again, I apologize for using a trick to bring you here. I hope you didn't prematurely dump your current girlfriend!"
Quentin's expression must have given him away, for Tate's eyes widened. "Oh, my. You did, didn't you? I'm truly sorry, Quentin. But the surprise I have for you will more than make up for it."
"I doubt that." Quentin felt profoundly violated--now, doubly so. Part of him wanted to scream, rage, hurl himself at Tate and pummel him into unconsciousness. But if he did that, he would forfeit his last scrap of dignity.
Instead, he picked up his coat. "I'm getting out of here."
"No, please don't go!" Tate grabbed his arm. "Won't you at least listen to what I have to say?"
He wavered, then put the coat down again. "All right, but make it quick." If he didn't find out what his old rival wanted, after all this, it would probably nag at him later.
Tate's eyes flashed triumph. "I invited you here to propose a business transaction. I'm prepared to sell...something I think you'll be very eager to acquire." Drawing it out, savoring the moment.
"I have your portrait, Quentin. The portrait."
The shock took Quentin's breath away.
He had given up on finding the portrait. Put it--almost--out of his mind. And never in his wildest imaginings had he dared to hope that Tate, if he had it, would sell it to him.
The words that sprang to his lips were an accusation. "So it was you who stole it!"
"Yes," Tate said genially. "I stole it from Collinwood, and salvaged it after the fire in my studio. Or rather"--he snickered--"it was actually Count Petofi who carried it out of the burning building! He didn't see me watching from across the street. He laid it on the ground and went back in. Naturally, I seized my chance to get away with the portrait."
"Naturally." Quentin's brow furrowed as he wondered, momentarily, what else in that studio could have been so important to Petofi.
Then the answer hit him, the only possible answer. For some reason, Garth Blackwood had been inside--doubtless already unconscious. Petofi had dragged him out, performed the mind-switch. And probably, thrown his original body back into the fire.
He shuddered. Knowing how Petofi had acquired Garth Blackwood's body made it seem, suddenly, as vividly real as though it had happened yesterday.
"But I haven't had it ever since," Tate went on. "While I was still debating what to do with it, someone else stole it from me! I only found it six months ago, at an auction. I had painted a landscape over the portrait, so it didn't appear to be anything unusual."
He chuckled. "You may be interested in learning who had it. Apparently, it was lying around Collinwood for sixty years!"
"Collinwood?" Quentin had received so many shocks in the last ten minutes that the whole evening was beginning to seem surreal.
Tate nodded. "With the portrait concealed under a landscape, only someone with second sight could have recognized it for what it was..."
"Charity Trask," Quentin breathed.
"That's my guess. Your sister probably let Charity stay on at Collinwood for years. I suppose she never dared tell anyone what the painting really was, and it became a white elephant after her death. The present head of the family finally got rid of it."
Quentin sank into a chair, overwhelmed. Charity--yet another woman who loved him--had taken what must have been enormous risks to steal that painting. For his sake. Only to have it returned, after her death, to the very man from whom she had stolen it.
He glowered at Tate. "You admit you stole it, after Count Petofi had given it to me. And now you want me to buy it?"
"Come now, Quentin." Tate's smile showed his teeth. "You must know I was never paid for that portrait. You didn't believe the lie about your grandmother having commissioned it, did you? Petofi had me paint it, but I wasn't paid a cent. And I had to buy and pay for it at that auction last spring.
"Besides, I happen to know you spent a small fortune on an unsuccessful portrait hunt a few years back. I only want what you were offering then, as a no-questions-asked finder's fee. Ten thousand dollars."
Quentin swore under his breath. That portrait hunt had exhausted his life savings. He earned a decent living from his novels, but that was all. He had never had a bestseller, never wanted the publicity that would follow that kind of success. He could raise ten thousand dollars, but it would leave him scrambling to meet everyday expenses.
And Tate, damn him, undoubtedly knew it.
Still...he had to acknowledge privately that if his onetime enemy was on the up-and-up, it was a good deal. The security he would know with the portrait in his possession was worth any amount of money. And Tate had set the price within his reach, if only barely.
"I'll have to see what I'm buying," he said cautiously. "I want you to remove the upper layer, the landscape."
"I already have."
"And I'll have to be convinced it's my portrait." He frowned. "I'm ninety years old. Is the portrait still recognizable? I'm sure you've lined your pockets by painting dozens of these things over the years, for wealthy people who wanted eternal youth."
"Indeed I have." Tate smirked. "But you're the only one who's ever been careless enough to let his portrait be stolen.
"Don't worry, Quentin. It's recognizable."
"All right then." He got to his feet. "Where is it? Do you have it in another room here? In your car?"
"Not so fast. I don't have it with me. Can you blame me for wanting to see the color of your money first? I want that ten thousand in cash, tonight."
"What?" Quentin's pent-up rage finally exploded. "Tate, I don't carry sums like that with me!"
"No, of course you don't." Tate was clearly enjoying himself. "But Frederic Thorn has an account, with just enough in it, in a New York bank. And that bank has a branch that's open late Friday nights. Tonight is Friday, in case you hadn't noticed. I assume you do carry identification?"
Quentin's jaw dropped. "How...how do you know so much about me?"
"Those special portraits I've painted, remember? My...unique talent...has brought me wealth and influence, Quentin. Influence extending into areas you couldn't possibly imagine.
"Don't worry...the portrait is in New York. I have a studio here. Once you withdraw the money, I'll take you there and show you the portrait. And as soon as the cash is locked in my safe, I'll hand it over."
"All right." Still seething, he knew he had no choice.
"Good. Let's seal our agreement with a drink."
Ignoring his guest's stony silence, Tate uncorked the champagne and filled both glasses. His face was wreathed in smiles as he extended one to Quentin--who grudgingly accepted.
Tate raised his glass. "A toast. To...attaining one's deepest desire!"
Quentin clinked his glass against Tate's. Thought of taking the plunge and approaching Olivia Corey. Safe, as he never had been before, with the portrait in his possession.
Perhaps that was what he had really been waiting for.
"To...attaining one's deepest desire..."