They drove to New York on Monday, and spent hours cruising the city as Quentin searched for Tate's studio.
"It's no use," he said at last. "It was dark that night, snowing. I probably wouldn't know the building again if I did see it."
"There's nothing you could do to him anyway, is there?" Betty scowled as she tried to maneuver out of a dead-end street. "It's maddening, but..."
"You're right, of course." He balled his fist, thinking of Tate. "I can't harm him while his portrait is intact. And he's too bright to keep it with him, or in any obvious place.
"Even if I had his portrait, I'm not sure I could bring myself to destroy it. As long as he retains his powers, damn him, he represents my only hope. What he did for me once, he could conceivably do again.
"I have no reason to believe he can ever be persuaded--or forced--to help me. But I could only have revenge by throwing away the possibility, turning him into a ninety-year-old man who might never again be able to paint anything. Could I do that? I'm not sure."
"You certainly couldn't pressure him by threatening to destroy it," Betty said glumly. "He'd know you were bluffing."
"Right." He sighed and glanced at his watch. "We may as well give up on this, head for home. I'm beginning to think that warehouse wasn't even his real studio. Can't imagine him not wanting better light. I think it was more like a stage set, prepared for my benefit. He may have abandoned it the next day.
"Let me drive now! You've been doing it long enough, while I gaped at alleys."
But after they changed places behind the wheel he sat for a moment, gazing wistfully at the dilapidated warehouses that hemmed them in.
"I really wanted to let Tate see me. Let him know, at least, that I didn't die, that I'm young and vigorous again. But...I guess he'll just have to be surprised when Frederic Thorn novels keep right on coming!"
He stepped on the gas.
The study window had been replaced, "Grandpa" officially laid to rest, and the question of whether he could find Tate's studio answered, however unsatisfactorily. So that evening, Quentin resumed work on the novel he'd abandoned when he received the fateful note from "Amanda." After staring at a blank page for more than an hour, he found his stride, and was typing at a steady clip when Betty looked in on him.
She smiled affectionately. "It's past eleven, sweetheart. Think I'll go on to bed. But if I'm asleep when you come in, wake me."
He looked up from the typewriter. "If I take you up on that at 3:00 a.m., remember you asked for it!"
Laughing, she planted a kiss on his head and was gone.
He worked for another hour, concluding the chapter with a flourish. His vampire antihero had just walked through a door in Glastonbury, Connecticut and emerged in Glastonbury, England--in broad daylight, distressingly far from his native soil.
Deciding to leave it at that, he turned out the light and went upstairs. Betty was reading one of his books. She dropped it eagerly, smiling up at him.
He chuckled. "Hold your horses, girl! I'm going to take a shower." Kicking his shoes off, he began casually stripping as he headed for the bathroom.
He returned ten minutes later, still toweling himself dry. Betty had turned a brighter light on. She was sitting up in bed, no longer smiling.
"Rick--drop the towel."
He blinked, then agreeably dropped it. "What's the matter, love? Can't wait another second to admire my body?"
"Right." She laughed, but it was an uneasy laugh.
Her probing gaze made him uncomfortable. "Hey, what's the matter? Is something wrong?" He looked down at his torso, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
"No, no, nothing. Trick of the light..." She switched the lamp off. "I mean, I'm just impatient. Come to bed!"
He didn't have to be asked again. As hour later, cradled in her arms, he sank into a contented sleep.
He was awakened by Betty's scream.
Instinct took over, and he leapt out of bed even before his eyes were fully open. Came up in fighting stance, prepared to do battle with--
"Wh-what?" He looked around. Saw no one, nothing out of the way.
Betty was still sitting in the middle of the bed. Hands clasped tightly over her mouth, eyes wide with terror.
She was looking directly at him.
"Wh-what's the matter?" He heard the note of panic in his voice.
She brought her hands down with an effort. Her face was so white that the marks left by her fingers were barely visible.
"I...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have screamed." She took a deep breath, tried to compose herself. "Rick...s-something is...happening to you."
"Don't be silly!" he snapped. "Nothing is happening to me. We both know I'm not exactly normal--I'm a werewolf--but that won't affect me in any way until the next full moon."
He believed what he was saying. So why were his palms sweating?
Exasperated, he strode over to the dresser. It was broad daylight, he could see himself clearly in the mirror...
His hair was liberally streaked with gray.
He gave a strangled gasp. His legs buckled...but Betty was there to catch him, and they fell to their knees together, rocking in a desperate embrace.
They wept together, grieved together, for what might have been ten minutes--or an hour--before he forced himself to get up.
And take another look.
"At least it isn't happening all at once, the way it did in New York." He studied his reflection. The graying hair, the new but not unattractive maturity in the face. "I look, maybe, late thirties rather than late twenties. Hair as dark as mine often goes gray early. Though my sister's didn't..." His voice had a hollow ring. It all seemed unreal, as if he were talking about someone else.
Betty put her arm around him and led him back to the bed, where they sat down shakily.
"I know now that I really did see something last night." She wiped her eyes, calmer now. "I thought I saw a difference in your body. A thickening in the midsection, flabbiness in the muscles. Not a big difference, just what you said, a matter of about a ten-year age difference. But I convinced myself it was my imagination."
After a long silence, he forced himself to say what they were both thinking. "If it were only this, it would be okay. Ten years--nothing. A little hair-dye, and no one would even notice.
"But...now that it's begun, I have to believe it's going to continue."
She didn't offer any argument.
Finally, she broke another miserable silence. "At least that scar on your face hasn't reappeared."
"That's right." He nodded thoughtfully. "So it is different from what happened when the portrait was destroyed. Then I turned into the man in the portrait, absorbed everything that had happened--or should have happened--to him over the years. Old injuries, as well as medical conditions like arthritis to which I was genetically predisposed.
"This is simply a normal aging process, accelerated. So I'll develop the arthritis, anything like that. But not the aftereffects of cuts that were never stitched, broken bones that were never set. Or infectious diseases that other Quentin may have contracted without knowing it."
He didn't say the word that was in his mind.
Was it in her mind, too?
He forged ahead. "And after I transform into the werewolf, there's a good chance I'll change back into a twenty-seven-year-old, like I did last week.
"And the cycle will begin all over again..."
If I live long enough to transform into the werewolf. How rapidly am I going to age? What if I reach ninety by the end of this week? Even without the effects of a beating and the ravages of syphilis, can I survive as a ninety-year-old for three weeks?
The moon will be full the night of January first, 1961. Will I live to see 1961?
Do I even want to, if it means that this descent into hell will be repeated over and over, month after month, until I die because Betty is too old and frail to spoon-feed me?
He kept those thoughts to himself.
They lived that month in constant tension. Shut up in the house, seeing no one, thinking of nothing but the doom that hung over him. The hospital bed they had meant to return was moved back into the study, to be ready in case of necessity.
Betty made contingency plans for explaining a second frail old man as her grandfather. She mumbled something about "irony."
Quentin locked his manuscript in a drawer, never mentioned it again. Work was out of the question. One day he might pace the floor like a caged animal; the next, huddle motionless in bed. Similarly, he alternated between periods of frenzied rushing from mirror to mirror, and times when he impulsively demanded they all be turned to the wall.
He drank heavily for the first few days. Then Betty forcefully reminded him that he was damaging his liver, and would feel the effects of that damage sooner rather than later. After that he stopped drinking, but his moods grew blacker. Ever more of his energy was spent in futile rage against Tate.
One night, when he lay exhausted in Betty's arms, she brought herself to ask a painful question. "This is turning out to be worse than New York, isn't it?"
"Y-yes," he said reluctantly. "I wouldn't have thought anything could be worse. But at least, there, the aging was over and done, quickly. Even allowing for the things Tate and Jared did to me later, the whole business was over in an hour or so, and my body was as ruined as it ever would be.
"This torment drags on and on. I can't rest. I'm afraid to sleep, never knowing how much stiffer and more crippled I'll be when I wake up. If I wake up. This stress...isn't doing me any good." He decided against telling her he was sure he had already suffered one heart attack.
She smoothed his hair--still thick, but gone totally gray. I know this is small consolation, but I think I've identified a pattern in the rate of your aging. It seems to be, roughly, ten years in every three-day period. Sometimes over one night, sometimes more gradually, but that rate is constant. So you won't be ninety, or close to it, for another week. About December twentieth."
He said nothing, and she knew he was thinking of the number of days he would have to survive, after that, to be "saved" by the full moon.
"And so," she continued quickly, "in future months, you should be able to appear publicly as Frederic Thorn for a good week. Touching up your hair toward the end, and staying out of strong light. For a second week, you'll be too obviously aging to pass as Thorn, but you'll still be fairly healthy, functional.
"That's two weeks out of every month to work on your novels, travel, enjoy life! You won't become an invalid, really, till the third week."
He was quiet so long she thought he had fallen asleep.
Then he said, "That's four weeks out of every month to plan what I'm going to do to Charles Delaware Tate."
"Where is he?" Betty had barely had time to close the front door behind her, and Quentin was already struggling to a sitting position on the sofa. "Did you learn anything?"
"Just a second, darling." She kicked her boots off, shed coat and muffler.
At least he seemed to be all right. He'd apparently kept his promise, and stayed exactly where she'd left him. She hated leaving him alone, now that he was becoming so feeble. The whole time she was out she'd been afraid he'd try to put another log on the fire, and fall into the fireplace.
"Here I am!" She kissed him, then settled on the floor at his feet. Took a moment to tuck the afghan around his legs.
"What did you find out about Tate?" he asked querulously.
She braced herself for his probable reaction to her news. She had, in truth, established the central fact through telephone inquiries. Had hoped to be able to add something else, more encouraging, before she broke it to him. That was why she'd gone to Boston U. to track down the elusive Professor Sterling, who knew the art world inside out. And visited her old friend Faith Devereaux--now a police lieutenant--to call in some favors. Faith had frequently turned to Rick for help with cases involving Boston's occult underground.
But they had added woefully little to what she already knew.
She took a deep breath. "Rick...Charles Delaware Tate has been officially dead for a year and a half."
Shock only silenced him for a moment. Then he launched the flood of protests she had expected. "I did see Tate! I don't imagine things! I saw Charles Delaware Tate--and he wasn't a ghost, either. I know who I saw... You believe me, don't you, Betty? Tell me you believe me!" Bony hands clutched at her, watery eyes searched her face.
"Yes, yes, darling, I believe you." She eased him back against the cushions. "I never doubted you. That's why I said he was officially dead.
"Listen to me, Rick. Tate faked his death in 1959, do you understand? It makes sense when you think about it. His age was a matter of public record--he couldn't go on painting forever."
"Y-yes. I see." Calmer now, probably thinking clearly.
She watched him closely for a moment, then continued. "It all adds up. Tate had supposedly been a recluse for many years--still painting, but only landscapes. Get it? He could hardly paint portraits, his old specialty, without letting his subjects see him. And realize he looked one-third his age."
"Yes." Quentin nodded slowly. "But...I'm sure he was still painting portraits, charmed portraits to preserve wealthy clients' youth. That's where the real money was. If he wasn't doing that, it wouldn't have been worth his while to keep the Tate identity alive as long as he did."
She breathed a sigh of relief that he was making sense. Basically, his mind was still sound. It was illness and frustration that too frequently brought him to the edge of hysteria. "I'm sure you're right. His serious clients were being steered to him, somehow. And for them, his own appearance was his best advertisement.
"His contact with the world, for years, was through a so-called nephew named Jeffrey. And Jeffrey inherited everything on his death."
Quentin sat bolt upright again. "Jeffrey was Tate himself!"
"Yes, I'm sure he was." She took his hands, praying he wouldn't become agitated. "But as soon as he had the inheritance free and clear, he changed his name. Vanished without a trace."
He wept, and cursed. But quietly. Let her put his legs up on the sofa.
She stayed with him until he dozed off, then tiptoed out to hang up her coat and muffler.
He hadn't had a plan for dealing with Tate, anyway.
But she had.
If she had located Tate, she would have begged him to paint another charmed portrait of Rick, after the werewolf-change restored his youth.
If he lived that long.
She had been prepared to offer Tate all her wealth.
And, if necessary, to offer herself.
Quentin determinedly slept on the sofa for the first few nights after he found himself unable to climb the stairs. Betty slept--or rather, didn't sleep--in a living room chair.
On December twentieth, he bowed to the inevitable and let her move him into the hospital bed in the study. Watched her bring in a sleeping bag for herself.
She raised the head of the bed to a height she hoped would ease his breathing. "There. Are you comfortable?"
"Yes." A lie, but what difference did it make? "Betty...I had such great plans, didn't I? I was going to spend half the month searching for a safe place to transform into a werewolf, so I wouldn't endanger humans.
"And here I am, back in the study. I'll break the same window all over again."
Maybe. Or maybe, the next time I feel that crushing weight on my chest, it won't let up.
"Don't worry about the window, sweetheart."
She straightened his pillow. "And don't talk so much. Just take it easy. I'll get you up in a wheelchair once or twice a day.
"There's no reason to think the rapid aging will continue, now you've reached your true age. And you'll only have to hang on a few days longer than you did last month, when you were in worse condition."
She couldn't meet his eyes.
But last month, he thought, I had medical help.
This month, nurses, IVs, and medication for his numerous ailments were out of the question. To have any chance of doing this month after month without being caught, they'd have to do it alone.
If they couldn't do that--if he couldn't survive--they might as well find out now.
The dreary days ran together. He supposed that in some ways, his bedridden state made life easier for Betty. She could at least go out for groceries now without worrying that he might fall and injure himself while she was gone.
Of course, he might suffer a fatal heart attack. But if that happened, her presence would make no difference.
Worn down by pain, he found himself sleeping more and more. Betty roused him at mealtimes--when his dogged attempts to feed himself invariably resulted in spilled food, more work for her.
Soon he was resisting those transfers to the wheelchair. But she always prevailed. "I'm sorry, Rick. I know it's exhausting. But I'm trying to keep you alive. Lying in bed all day could cause blood clots, or pneumonia."
This time he was almost too weak to argue. But not quite. "Betty, it's after dark!"
"I know, darling," she said soothingly. "I'm sorry. But you were sleeping so soundly before...and besides, it's not really late. It gets dark early this time of year."
He sank into the wheelchair, moaned, and closed his eyes again.
But she wasn't prepared to let him rest. "I'm going to take you out into the living room, Rick. Okay? I want to change the bed while you're out of it, and there isn't much room to work in here."
"All right." I don't care where you take me. Just stop talking and let me sleep.
Barely awake, he felt the chair stop rolling. Felt, too, the warmth emanating from the fireplace. That felt good, almost good enough to compensate for the discomfort of sitting up. If he had to be out of bed, he was glad she was leaving him here.
"Rick? Open your eyes. Please!"
He moaned again. Struggled briefly to comply, then began drifting off.
"Come on, Rick." Stroking his face. "Wake up."
Why the hell wouldn't she let him sleep? He was so weary...
But he managed to get his eyes open.
And saw the lights.
Blinking, multi-colored lights, transformed by his weak vision into glimmering globes three times their actual size.
Lights that rose in a towering triangle, filling the bay window...
A Christmas tree.
"Oh, my God," he whispered. "You remembered..."
"Do you like it, darling?" A child's voice, pathetically eager. "I tried so hard. I could only guess at what you would have done, but I made it sort of Victorian. You'll be able to see the decorations better by daylight."
"It's...magical." His eyes filled with tears, and the lights blossomed into stars. "It's...just like the trees I remember from my childhood, before my parents died. Oh, Betty...my love..."
She gave a small, broken cry. Dropped to her knees, burying her head in his lap. And he stroked her hair with palsied hands as they wept, silently, for the beauty of what they had...and the loss of everything else they had dreamed this Christmas would be.
"Tonight is Christmas Eve." She was still curled on the floor with her head in his lap, but turned to face the tree now, as he was. "I wanted you to see it for the first time with the lights on."
"I'm glad you did." He fought to keep the tremor out of his voice. "All my life, I've thought of Christmas as symbolizing the coming victory of light over darkness. Humanity's faith that light will always triumph over darkness."
"That's been my view too," she said softly. "The view I learned from my...family."
He stayed in the wheelchair, her warm body nestled against his legs, to await the dawn.
But as the sun rose on Christmas Day, a chill came over him. What peace could Christmas offer a man whose only hope for "salvation" lay in a night of killing?
When Betty half-lifted him back into his bed, he knew he would not leave it again.
He slipped into a coma three days after Christmas.
Betty knew no sleep after that.
She tended him constantly. Turning him, bathing him, rubbing his hands and feet, moistening the inside and outside of his parched mouth. Tried desperately to give him liquids, and was rewarded when he swallowed a little juice and kept it down.
And she talked to him. Babbled for hours on end, about everything from Kennedy's Cabinet selections to the encouraging sales of his own recent novels. Several times a day she experimented with calling him "Quentin"--hoping, to no avail, that the sound of his real name would rouse him.
Once she even resorted to pleading, "Wake up, Quentin! It's me, Amanda!"
And hated herself.
I don't even know what her voice sounded like. But after all these years, he probably isn't sure either.
On New Year's Day he was tossing fitfully, burning with fever. His labored, wheezing breath told her he had developed the dreaded pneumonia.
"Can you hear me, darling? Try to lie still." But he continued rolling from side to side, displacing the cool, damp cloth she had just laid across his forehead. "Please, Rick...Quentin. Lie still and save your strength. I know you're hot. But you must rest. You only have to hang on for a few hours now, just a few hours!"
His eyes fluttered open. But she saw no spark of understanding, no sign that he either saw or heard her.
An hour later he stopped breathing.
She threw herself on the bed, put her mouth to his, and began forcing her own breath into and out of him.
After what seemed an eternity she sensed a stirring of life, a feeble attempt to breathe on his own. She kept up her efforts until he had matched his rhythm, weakly, to hers. When she pulled back, his respiration was shallow, rasping...but probably adequate.
She sagged to the floor and let the tears come...briefly. Two minutes later she was bathing him.
As the day dragged on, his temperature soared again. But this time he lay too still. Frighteningly still.
She restarted his breathing a total of four times.
As shadows began to fall she sat numbly on the edge of the bed, eyes fixed on the window. He won't make it. He can't possibly make it. I tried, I tried!
She reached inside her collar and drew out the pentagram. Pressed it to her lips.
Then she looked down at the ravaged form of Quentin Collins.
Oh Father, Father...thank God you aren't alive to see this.
It would break your heart.
The moon's disk filled the window. Tendrils of unholy light searched the room.
Betty took a deep breath, and pulled her gaze away. She tightened her grip on the man who lay across her lap. Cold and clammy now. But he still had a pulse and respiration, barely detectable though they were.
I should be talking to you, my darling. Urging you to keep fighting. But I know you can't hear me.
And I don't have the strength to speak another word.
The questing rays found his head, silvered the ancient face.
The limp body went suddenly rigid.
Then it began to convulse.
He never regained consciousness this time, never cried out. A puppet, she thought insanely as she clung to him. A lifeless puppet being shaken and thrown about by an invisible puppet-master. Why, for God's sake, why? He's past suffering. Whoever, whatever you are, why can't you leave him alone?
But the shaking continued. She heard bones crack...yet his face seemed chiseled in marble, showing no response. He's dead. He's dead, damn you, he's already dead!
Why can't I scream? Why can't I make a sound? Is some new rule in effect, that all this blasphemous abuse of a corpse has to go on in a universe where sound no longer exists?
Am I dead, too?
The shaking stopped, and the broken puppet fell heavily across her knees.
Incredibly, he sucked in a breath.
"R-Rick?" She could make a sound.
He took another breath, and another. Faint, reedy breaths, but he was alive.
Is this all? But he hasn't...
And then she remembered. Last month. It stopped, and began all over again...
As it did now, before the thought was fully formed in her mind. The first spasm jerked him out of her arms. But she clutched him again, and held him through bouts of ever more violent shaking.
He's alive! her mind screamed at the invisible puppeteer. He's alive, just barely...be careful with him!
But the entity--if entity it was--hurled them out of bed and onto the floor. Sent them hurtling into walls, furniture. A bookcase toppled over, and the books came tumbling down on them.
At that point someone let out a single, thin scream.
She would never be sure who it was.
Abruptly, the tumult came to an end.
The moon had moved beyond the window.
And on the floor, amid the jumble of books, lay Quentin Collins.
Still a man. Very old. Very dead.
She tried to revive him again. Gave up, and collapsed in a sobbing heap.
It can't be, it can't... I failed him somehow. What didn't I do? Can't think...too tired to think. Father, I'm sorry! I tried. I loved him, I loved him! Her hand groped for the pentagram, the sense it gave of a link with her father. Clung to it as to life itself...
Then she heard a low growl.
She jerked her head up. And found herself looking into the glowing eyes of an oversized, luminous black wolf.
Her hand fell from the pentagram, and a smile spread slowly across her face.
She had no fear of this wolf.
She had seen it before.
She reached out to stroke its shimmering fur. "You're alive! You made it after all!" Smiling foolishly, even as tears ran down her cheeks. "Go with God, my love...and come safely home to me!"
The animal turned and plunged through the window.
The exhausted woman fell in a faint.
But throughout the night, the pentagram sparkled on her breast.
The pentagram Jamison Collins had retrieved, long ago, from the watery grave of Beth Chavez.