Chapter 8

Tell me about your husband Rama?" Ray asks as we drive toward the warehouse. "And your daughter, Lalita?"

The question takes me by surprise. "It was a long time ago."

"But you remember everything?"

"Yes." I sit silently for a moment. "I was almost twenty when we met. Three or four times a year merchants used to pass by that portion of India that is now known as Rajastan. We lived between the desert and the jungle. The merchants would sell us hats to keep off the sun, herb potions to drive away the bugs. Rama was the son of a merchant. I first saw him by the river that flowed beside our village. He was teaching a small child how to fly a kite. We had kites in those days. We invented them, not the Chinese." I shake my head. "When I saw him, I just knew."

Ray understands but asks anyway, anxious to dwell on my humanity in the light of what happened at the beach. "What did you know?"

"That I loved him. That we belonged together." I smile at the memory. "He was named after an earlier incarnation of Lord Vishnu-the eighth avatar, or incarnation of God. Lord Rama was married to the Goddess Sita. Krishna was supposed to be the ninth avatar. I worshipped Lord Vishnu from the time I was born. Maybe that's why I got to meet Krishna. Any?way, you can see how Rama's and my names went together. Maybe our union was destined to be. Rama was like you in a lot of ways. Quiet, given to thought?ful pauses." I glance over. "He even had your eyes."

"They were the same?"

"They did not look the same. But they were the same. You understand?"

"Yes. Tell me about Lalita?"

"Lalita is one of the names of the Goddess as well. It means 'She who plays.' She was up to mischief the moment she came out of my womb. Ten months old and she would climb out of her cradle and crawl and walk all the way to the river." I chuckle. "I remember once I found her sitting with a snake in one of the small boats our people had. Fortunately the snake was asleep. It was poisonous! I remember how fright?ened I was." I sigh. "You wouldn't have known me in those days."

"I wish I had known you then."

His remark is sweet-he means it that way-yet it stings. My hands fidget on the steering wheel. "I wish many things," I whisper.

"Do you believe in reincarnation?" he asks sud?denly.

"Why do you ask?"

"Just curious. Do you?"

I consider. "I know Krishna said it was a reality. Looking back, I believe he always spoke the truth. But I never talked to him about it. I scarcely talked to him at all."

"If reincarnation is a reality, then what about us? Are we evolving toward God? Or are we stuck because we're afraid to die?"

"I have asked myself the same questions, many times. But I've never been able to answer them."

"Can't you at least answer one of them?"

"Which one is that?" I ask.

"Are you afraid?"

I reach over and take his hand. "I don't fear death for myself."

"But to fear it at all-isn't it the same difference? If you trust Krishna, then you must trust that there is no death."

I force a smile. "We're a philosopher tonight."

He smiles. "Don't be anxious. I'm not thinking of suicide. I just think we have to look at the bigger picture."

I squeeze his hand and let go. "I believe Krishna saw all of life as nothing more than a motion picture projected onto a vast screen. Certainly nothing in this world daunted him. Even when I held his companion, Radha, in my clutches, he never lost his serenity."

Ray nods. "I would like to have such peace of mind."

"Yes. So would I."

His reaches over and touches my long hair. "Do you think I am Rama?"

I have to take a breath. My eyes moisten. My words come out weak. "I don't understand."

"Yes, you do. Did I come back for you?"

There are tears on my face. They are five thousand years old. I remember them. After Yaksha changed me, I saw neither my husband nor my daughter again. How I hated him for doing that to me. Yet, had I never become a vampire, I never would have met Ray. But I shake my head at his questions.

"I don't know," I say.

"Sita-"

"When I met you," I interrupt, "I felt as if Krishna had led me to you." I reach up and press his hand to the side of my face. "You feel like Rama. You smell like him."

He leans over and kisses my ear. "You're great."

"You're wonderful."

He brushes away my tears. "They always paint Krishna as blue. I know you explained that it's symbolic. That he is blue like the vast sky- unbounded. But I dream about him sometimes, when you lie beside me. And when I do, his eyes are always blue, like shining stars." He pauses. "Have you ever had such a dream?"

I nod.

"Tell me about it?"

"Maybe later."

"All right. But didn't your husband die before he could have met Krishna?"

"Yes."

"So I can't be remembering a past life?"

"I don't know. I wouldn't think so."

Ray lets go of me and sits back, seemingly disap?pointed. He adds casually, "I never dream of blood. Do you?"

Often, I think. Maybe once, five thousand years ago, we had more in common. Yet I lie to him, even though I hate to lie to those I love. Even though I have promised myself and him that I would stop.

"No," I say. "Never."

We park two blocks away from the warehouse, a gray rectangular structure as long as a football field, as tall as a lighthouse. But no light emanates from this building. The exterior walls are rotting wood, moldy plaster, panes of glass so drenched in dust they could be squares etched on the walls of a coal mine. The surrounding fence is tall, barbed-a good stretch of wire on which to hang fresh corpses. Yet the occupants are more subtle than that, but not a lot more. Even from this distance I smell the decaying bodies they have ravaged inside, and I know the police and the

FBI are seriously underestimating Los Angeles's re?cent violent crime wave. The odor of the yakshini, the snakes from beyond the black vault of the universe, also wafts from the building. I estimate a dozen vampires inside. But is Eddie one of them? And how many of his partners presently walk the streets? Vicious dogs wander the perimeter. They look well fed.

"Do you have a plan?" Ray asks.

"Always."

"I want to be part of it."

I nod. "You realize the danger."

"I just have to look in the mirror, sister."

I smile. "We have to burn this building down with all of them inside. To do that we need large quantities of gasoline, and the only way we are going to get that is to steal a couple of gasoline trucks from a nearby refinery."

"With our good looks and biting wit, that shouldn't be too hard."

"Indeed. The hard part will come when we try to plant our trucks at either end of the building and ignite them. First we'll have to cut the fence, so we can drive in unobstructed, and to do that we will have to silently kill all the dogs. But I think I can take them out from this distance using a silencer on one of my rifles."

Ray winces. "Is that necessary?"

"Yes. Better a few dead dogs than the end of human?ity. The main thing is, we must attack after dawn, when they're all back inside and feeling sleepy. That includes our prize policymaker-Eddie."

"I like to take a nap at that time myself," Ray remarks.

I speak seriously. "You are going to have to be strong with the sun in the sky, and drive one of the trucks. I know that won't be easy for you. But if all goes well, you can seek shelter immediately after?ward."

He nods. "Sounds like a piece of cake."

"No. It's a baked Alaska." I study the structure and nod. "They'll burn."

Yet my confidence is a costume. The previous night, when I stared into Eddie's eyes, he seemed insane, but also shrewd. The ease with which we have found him and his people disturbs me. The stage is set for a snuff film, big time. But I have to wonder who is directing the show. Whether it will go straight onto the front pages of the Los Angeles Times. Or end up buried in video, in Eddie's private collection.

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