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Kathleen Burke, who lived in this little oasis of fantasy, was a police psychiatrist. Her work demanded logic and reason, but in her private life, she retreated into gentle escapism.


At three o’clock in the morning, the windows revealed no lights.


Carson rang the bell and then at once knocked on the door.


A soft light bloomed inside, and quicker than Carson expected, Kathy opened the door. “Carson, what’s up, what’s wrong?”


“It’s Halloween in August. We gotta talk.” “Girl, if you were a cat, you’d have your back up and your tail tucked.”


“You’re lucky I didn’t show up with a load in my pants.”


“Oh, that’s an elegant thing to say Maybe you’ve been partnered too long with Michael. Come in. I just made some hazelnut coffee.”


Entering, Carson said, “I didn’t see any lights.” ‘At the back, in the kitchen,” Kathy said, leading the way She was attractive, in her late thirties, molasses-black with Asian eyes. In Chinese-red pajamas with embroidered cuffs and collar, she cut an exotic figure.


In the kitchen, a steaming mug of coffee stood on the table. Beside it lay a novel; on the cover, a woman in a fantastic costume rode the back of a flying dragon.


“You always read at three in the morning?” Carson asked.


“Couldn’t sleep.”


Carson was too edgy to sit. She didn’t pace the kitchen so much as twitch back and forth in it. “This is your home, Kathy, not your office. That matters—am I right?”


Pouring coffee, Kathy said, “What’s happened? What’re you so jumped up about?”


“You’re not a psychiatrist here. You’re just a friend here. Am I right?”


Putting the second mug of coffee on the table, returning to her own chair, Kathy said, “I’m always your friend, Carson—here, there, anywhere.”


Carson stayed on her feet, too wound up to sit down. “None of what I tell you here can end up in my file.”


“Unless you killed someone. Did you kill someone?”


“Not tonight.”


“Then spit it out, girlfriend. You’re getting on my nerves.”


Carson pulled a chair out from the table, sat down. She reached for the mug of coffee, hesitated, didn’t pick it up.


Her hand was trembling. She clenched it into a fist. Very tight. Opened it. Still trembling.


“You ever see a ghost, Kathy?”


“I’ve taken the haunted New Orleans tour, been to the crypt of Marie Laveau at night. Does that count?”


Clutching the handle of the mug, staring at her white knuckles, Carson said, “I’m serious. I mean any weird shit you can’t wrap your head around. Ghosts, UFO, Big Foot . . .” She glanced at Kathy “Don’t look at me that way” “What way?” “Like a psychiatrist.”


“Don’t be so defensive.” Kathy patted the book with the dragon on the cover. “I’m the one reads three fantasy novels a week and wishes she could actually live in one.”


Carson blew on her coffee, tentatively took a sip, then a longer swallow. “I need this. Haven’t slept. No way I’ll sleep tonight.”


Kathy waited with professional patience. After a moment, Carson said, “People talk about the unknown, the mystery of life, but I’ve never seen one squirt of mystery in it.” “Squirt?”


“Squirt, drop, spoonful—whatever. I want to see mystery in life—who doesn’t? —some mystical meaning, but I’m a fool for logic.”


“Until now? So tell me about your ghost.” “He wasn’t a ghost. But he sure was something. I’ve been driving around the past hour, maybe longer, trying to find the right words to explain what happened. …”


“Start with where it happened.”


“I was at Bobby Allwine’s apartment—“


Leaning forward, interested, Kathy said, “The Surgeon’s latest victim. I’ve been working up a profile on the killer. He’s hard to figure. Psychotic but controlled. No obvious sexual component. So far he hasn’t left much forensic evidence at the scene. No fingerprints. A garden-variety psychopath isn’t usually so prudent.”


Kathy seemed to realize that she had seized the wheel of the conversation. Relinquishing it, she sat back in her chair.


“Sorry, Carson. We were talking about your ghost.”


Kathy Burke could probably keep her police work separate from their friendship, but she would find it more difficult to take off her psychiatrist hat and keep it off when she heard what Carson had come here to tell her.


A giant with a strangely deformed face, claiming to have been made from the body parts of criminals, claiming to have been brought to life by lightning capable of such nimbleness of movement, such uncanny stealth, such inhuman speed that he could be nothing less than supernatural and, therefore, might be what he claimed to be…


“Hello? Your ghost?”


Instead of replying, Carson drank more coffee.


“That’s it?” Kathy asked. “Just the tease, and then good-bye?”


“I feel a little guilty.”


“Good. I was ready for some spooky dish.”


“If I tell you as a friend, I compromise you pro-


fessionally. You’ll need to report my ass for an OIS investigation.”


Kathy frowned. “Officer involved shooting? Just how serious is this, Carson?”


“I didn’t smoke anybody Didn’t even wing him, as far as I know.”


“Tell me. I won’t report you.”


Carson smiled affectionately “You’d do the right thing. You’d report me, all right. And you’d write me up an order for some couch time.”


“I’m not as righteous as you think I am.”


“Yes, you are,” Carson said. “That’s one reason I like you.”


Kathy sighed. “I’m all primed for a campfire tale, and you won’t spook me. Now what?”


“We could make an early breakfast,” Carson suggested. ‘Assuming you’ve got any real food here in elfland.”


“Eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, brioche toast.”


‘All of the above.”


“You’re going to be one of those blimp cops.”


“Nah. I’ll be dead long before that,” Carson said, and more than half believed it.


CHAPTER 38


ROY pribeaux liked TO RISE well before dawn to undertake his longevity regimen—except on those occasions when he had been up late the previous night murdering someone.


Nothing was quite as luxurious as lingering in bed with the knowledge that a new piece of the ideal woman had so recently been wrapped, bagged, and stored in the freezer. One felt the satisfaction of accomplishment, the swelling pride of work well done, which made an extra hour in the sheets seem justified and therefore sweet.


Getting Candace’s eyes and preserving them had not required him to be out as late as he’d been on other harvests, but he still would have lazed in bed if he hadn’t been amazingly energized by the fact that his collection was complete. The perfect eyes had been the last item on his list.


He slept deeply but for just a few hours, every minute in the arms of rapturous dreams, and sprang out of bed profoundly rested and with enthusiasm for the day ahead.


An array of high-end exercise machines occupied a portion of his loft. In shorts and tank top, he followed a circuit of weight machines that brought a burn to every muscle group in graduated sets ending in his maximum resistance. Then he worked up a positively tropical sweat on the treadmill and the ski trainer.


His morning shower always took a while. He lathered with two soaps: first an exfoliating bar with a loofa sponge, followed by a moisturizing bar and soft cloth. For the most complete cleanliness achievable and perfect follicle health, he used two natural shampoos, followed by a cream conditioner that he rinsed out after precisely thirty seconds.


The sun finally rose as he applied a skin-conditioning lotion from his neck to the bottoms of his feet. He did not neglect a single square inch of his magnificently maintained body, and used a spatula-style sponge to reach the middle of his back.


This lotion wasn’t merely a moisturizer, but also a youthenizing emollient rich in free-radical-scavenging vitamins. If he had left the bottoms of his feet untreated, he’d have been an immortal walking on a dying man’s soles, a thought that made him shudder.


After applying the usual series of revitalizing substances to his face—including a cream enriched with liquified monkey embryos—Roy regarded his reflection in the vanity mirror with satisfaction.


For a few years, he had succeeded in fully arresting the aging process. More exciting, he had recently begun to reverse the effects of time, and week by week he had watched himself grow younger.


Others deluded themselves into thinking they were rolling back the years, but Roy knew his success was real. He had arrived at the most perfectly effective combination of exercise, diet, nutritional supplements, lotions, and meditation.


The final key ingredient had been purified New Zealand lamb’s urine, of which he drank four ounces a day. With a lemon wedge.


This turning back of the clock was highly desirable, of course, but he reminded himself that he could youthenize himself too far. If he reversed himself to the condition of a twenty-year-old and stayed there for a hundred years, that would be good; but if he got carried away and made himself twelve again, that would be bad.


He had not enjoyed his childhood and adolescence the first time around. Repeating any portion of them, even if solely in physical appearance, would be a glimpse of Hell.


After Roy dressed, as he stood in the kitchen,


washing down twenty-four capsules of supplements with grapefruit juice prior to preparing breakfast, he was abruptly struck by the realization that his life now had no purpose.


For the past two years, he had been collecting the anatomical components of the perfect woman, first in a variety of locations far removed from New Orleans, then lately and with particular frenzy here in his own backyard. But as of Candace, he had them all. Hands, feet, lips, nose, hair, breasts, eyes, and so much more—he had forgotten nothing.


Now what?


He was surprised that he had not thought further than this. Being a man of leisure, he had a lot of time on his hands; being an immortal, he had eternity This thought proved suddenly daunting.


Now he slowly realized that during the years of searching and harvesting, he had superstitiously and unconsciously assumed that when his collection was complete, when the freezer was filled with all the jigsaw pieces of the most perfectly beautiful woman, then a living woman, embodying every one of those features and qualities, would magically come into his life. He had been engaged on a kind of hoodoo quest with the purpose of shaping his romantic destiny Perhaps this mojo would work. Perhaps this very afternoon, as he strolled the Quarter, he would come face to face with her dazzling, bewitching self.


If the days passed without this desired encounter, however, days and weeks and months . . . what then?


He yearned to share his perfection with a woman who would be his equal. Until that moment came, life would be empty, without purpose.


An uneasiness overcame him. He tried to quell it with breakfast.


As he ate, he became fascinated with his hands. They were more than beautiful male hands; they were exquisite.


Oh, but until he found his goddess—not in pieces but whole and alive, without fault or deficiency—his flawless hands would not be able to caress the perfection that was their erotic destiny His uneasiness grew


CHAPTER 39


AT daybreak, with the rising sun not yet at an angle to fire the stained-glass windows, Our Lady of Sorrows sheltered a congregation of shadows. The only light came from the illuminated stations of the cross and from the candles in the ruby-red glass votive cups.


The humidity and early heat ripened the fragrances of incense, tallow, and lemon-scented wax. Inhaling this melange, Victor imagined he would be sweating it through every pore for the rest of the day.


His footsteps on the marble floor echoed from the groin vaults overhead. He liked the crisp coldness of this sound, which he fancied spoke truth to the cloying atmosphere of the church.


With the first Mass of the day still half an hour away, the only person present, other than Victor, was Patrick Duchaine. He waited, as instructed, on a pecan pew in the front row.


The man rose nervously, but Victor said, “Sit, sit,” not quite in the tone he might use to decline a courtesy, but in a tone rather like the one in which he might speak with impatience to a vexing dog.


At sixty, Patrick had white hair, an earnest grand-fatherly face, and eyes moist with perpetual compassion. His looks alone inspired the trust and affection of his parishioners.


Add to appearances a gentle, musical voice. A warm, easy laugh. Furthermore, he had the genuine humility of a man who knew too well his place in the scheme of things.


Father Duchaine was the image of an unassail-ably good priest to whom the faithful would give their hearts. And to whom they would confess their sins without hesitation.


In a community with many Catholics—practicing and not—Victor found it useful to have one of his people manning the confessional in which some of the city’s more powerful citizens went to their knees.


Patrick Duchaine was one of those rare members of the New Race who had been cloned from the DNA of an existing human being rather than having been designed from scratch by Victor. Physiologically, he had been improved, but to the eye he was the Patrick Duchaine who had been born of man and woman.


The real Father Duchaine had donated to a Red Cross blood drive, unwittingly providing the material from which he could be replicated. These days, he rotted under tons of garbage, deep in the landfill, while his Doppelganger tended to the souls at Our Lady of Sorrows.


Replacing real human beings with replicas entailed risks that Victor seldom wished to take. Although the duplicate might look and sound and move exactly like its inspiration, the memories of the original could not be transferred to him.


The closest relatives and friends of the replaced individual were certain to notice numerous gaps in his knowledge of his personal history and relationships. They wouldn’t imagine he was an imposter, but they would surely think that he was suffering from a mental or physical ailment; they would press him to seek medical attention.


In addition, out of concern, they would watch him closely and would not entirely trust him. His ability to blend in with society and to carry out his work in the service of the New Race would be compromised.


In the case of the priest, he’d had no wife, of course, and no children. His parents were dead, as was his only brother. While he had many friends and parishioners to whom he was close, no intimate family existed to note his memory gaps throughout the day.

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