The equipment monitoring the young man's life indicated that he was barely alive. Dr. Garrison, a middle-aged man with sad brown eyes and prematurely white hair, surveyed it, calculating his chances. "Very slim. He's dying." He looked at the form lying still on the bed, the shaggy light brown hair, the square face obscured by bruises and medical devices, tubes in his nose and mouth, and underneath closed lids his eyes were a grey blue. "It's amazing he's survived this long."
"What was the story on him and that girl anyway?"
Garrison looked up from the dying man and over at his young colleague, Dr. Livingston. "No one knows yet. The James brothers found them on the beach this morning; she was dead, and he was crawling around soaking wet, battered almost as badly as she was. Looks like they both fell from the cliffs, and she drowned."
"No, I.D. on them yet?" Livingston's eyes focused on the patient.
"Sheriff thinks the girl is the one who's been missing from Collinsport--Maggie Evans. They're running a check on him." He nodded toward the patient. "The sheriff is coming up from Collinsport tomorrow to help settle this.
"It's terrible about that girl. Do you think maybe he did it?"
"Who knows?" He checked the still man's pulse and shook his head. "Double pneumonia, fractured ribs and right humerus, a severe concussion, plus a ton of other bruises. I don't see how he can make it unless we can contain the infections and bring that fever down."
"Like you pointed out, Bill, there's nothing more we can do. It's up to him."
Willie Loomis settled back in the kitchen chair of the boarding house, grinning as Josie smiled secretly at him. He winked at her, and watched her walk out. Life was pretty good right now. Pretty damn good.
"Hello, Mrs. Camp," he greeted Josie's mother.
"Good afternoon, Willie. You sure look pleased with yourself." She opened the door to the ice box and took out a cube of cheese and a bottle of milk.
"Well, I am, I am. Jason's got some really nice business for me to do outta town for a couple of days. Some, uh, investments. And how about you?"
"Fine. It's so pretty out today, you ought to get in some sunshine while it's not too cold."
He continued to grin at the widow. He knew why she enjoyed the weather today--she and Jason had been gone all morning. The things Jason would do! he smirked, but Mrs. Camp wasn't so bad. She had a great daughter, and he and Jason stayed here for free because of Jason's relationship with her. "Huh?"
"I just said you ought to get out some."
"Oh, I will. I was gonna take Josie out to the park for a while if that's okay with you?"
His laughing blue-grey eyes did not betray him to her searching stare. "Well, yes, I trust you, Willie, but you must take care of her."
"I will, besides she's almost old enough to take care of herself."
"That's right, Mama. I'm a senior now," Josie said as she joined them. "I'm old enough to--"
"I know, I know, sweetheart." Her mother patted her shoulder. "Well, Willie, have you done any good on finding a job yet?"
"I'm workin' on it. This is a small town--there ain't many opportunities, but I have some places in mind." He turned to the young woman. "Ready to go, Josie?" Willie asked her.
"Not before you two have a little snack here." She laid out a tray with crackers and cheese, and a glass of milk for each of them. Willie hid his surge of pleasure. He wasn't too old for this sort of thing, in fact, he felt very young.
"Well, what's the word? They know anything?" Garrison looked up from his desk at the other doctor.
"Sheriff says his prints check out." Livingston looked down into a folder he was carrying as a tall, lean man in police uniform came up behind him. "His name is William Loomis, and he has a criminal record."
Sheriff Cather, who stood behind the young doctor, took the folder as he stepped aside. "Spent six months in the pen for theft," he said.
"You think maybe he was the kidnapper?" Garrison asked, waving for the two to sit down in chairs across from his desk.
"Hard to say." He lowered his lanky form into one of the soft chairs. "I'd like to review everything with you--his injuries, hers, etc.. Patterson--that's the Collinsport sheriff--hasn't been told anything yet. I want him to form his own ideas. He may know this Loomis fellow, and if so, I want him to identify him. How is he, by the way?"
Dr. Garrison shrugged. "The same. He's not improving, but he's still hanging on. He'll be in intensive care for some time if he makes it."
"I wish we could talk to him, find out some answers."
"Not a chance."
Josie looked up at him. "Why are you leaving tonight?"
He held her beneath him on the ground in the tall, dead grass and toyed with her long hair with his free hand, his other arm was wrapped around her. They were both in blue jeans, hers were bell-bottom, hip-huggers, the fashion of the day. "It's just a couple of days. Some business for Jason." He buried his face in her soft, dark hair over her shoulder.
"My mother would kill me if she knew what we've been doing."
"I know. You told me that. And she'd kill me, not you. But she doesn't have to know." He looked into her large brown eyes, admiring their liquid beauty, but refusing to notice their innocence and trust.
"Do you love me, Willie?"
"Yeah, sure." He slowly kissed from her cheek to her ear.
"You know, I would never've done it if I--"
"I know." He felt the warmth of the sun on his back through his jacket and felt her warmth below him. "I know." He pressed his lips to her neck. "Do you want me?" he whispered.
Patterson studied the autopsy report, shaking his balding head sadly. "Death by drowning, but she had bruises on her neck from before then?"
"Yes. And the other damage to her came from being bashed on the rocks by the tide, we think," the Ridgley coroner said quietly.
Sheriff George Patterson took one last look at the white, lifeless form of Maggie Evans which lay on a cold slab in the Ridgley hospital morgue. "What a shame." He dreaded telling Sam and Joe. "Okay, what was the other business about--the other body?"
Cather nodded to him to follow. "I want you to look and see if you recognize him." They stepped into the elevator.
"He's not dead, then?"
"No, but he's close to it." When they reached Dr. Garrison's office, introductions were made. "Can we see him now?"
"Certainly, but you'll have to stay only a short time." He led them out and down the hall.
"Why? Is he improving?" Cather asked.
"He's fever's down some. It's a positive sign."
They stopped just inside the room. Patterson stepped closer, recognizing the pale, unconscious man on the bed. "It's Willie Loomis!" he said with surprise.
"You know him, then?" Garrison said, coming up beside him to look down at the patient. The IV dripped steadily from a bottle hanging beside the bed into a tube which disappeared under some gauze around Willie's forearm, and a ventilator pumped air into his lungs with a slow, rhythmic sound.
"Yes, I do." He looked at the two other men. "What happened? I mean, how much do you know?"
"Not a whole lot, I'm afraid."
"What's wrong with him, then?"
Garrison led them out into the corridor. "Apparently, he fell from the cliffs into the water and was dashed up against the rocks. He's got a concussion, some broken ribs and a broken arm. Exposure in the cold water has given him pneumonia. Oh, and there are some rather strange bruises on his body which we can't account for with the dashed-against-the-rocks theory."
Patterson's mind was working furiously. Willie had worked for Barnabas Collins. He had not heard Willie was gone. There was something strange about the whole situation. Maggie and Willie had had the same symptoms and both ended up having washed up on the beach by the nearest town. He would have to talk to Barnabas Collins.
"Thank you for asking me up to help with this. I've got one possible lead, and that's Willie's employer, Barnabas Collins. You're welcome to come with me, Vince."
"Thanks, George. I think I will. Doctor, let me know immediately if there's any change in his condition."
"All right, Sheriff."
George Patterson started to turn and walk away but remembered something and looked back at the doctor. "You said something about some other bruises--what did you mean?"
"Well, he couldn't've gotten them on those rocks. They're all sort of uniform. It looks like someone worked him over with a stick."
"That's odd." He paused. "One other thing, I don't want anyone to know that Willie survived. I'd rather everyone think he's dead until I get some more answers." He thanked the doctor and left with the other sheriff.
Willie shivered in his light jacket. It was damn cold, he thought, vowing never to spend another winter in Nebraska. He trudged through the dark toward Mrs. Camp's boarding house. There were no lights on inside any of the rooms with windows facing the front. He skidded his feet on the dirt path, kicking up small stones. His toes were numb, he could scarcely feel them.
He noticed a figure on the front porch swing and climbed the steps to greet whoever it was. "I'm glad you're up--the house won't be locked," he said quietly. "Josie, is that you?"
She stood up, looking at him in the scant moonlight. "I knew you'd be back tonight, so I waited," she said tonelessly.
"Josie, honey, it's freezin' out here. Let's go inside." He could not see her very well, but he could tell she was wearing a heavy coat. He put his arm around her to guide her inside. She wouldn't move, and he took a closer look. "Come on." He glanced around quickly, then pressed his mouth to hers. She felt almost as cold as he did, Willie noticed.
Josie turned her head away from him. "Willie, I-I have to talk to you."
He tensed with a feeling of apprehension. "Okay, but let's go in the house." Grabbing the door handle, he tried to urge her through.
She twisted away from him. "No. Out here. I don't want Mama to hear."
Willie didn't want to hear it either. "Listen, Josie, can't it wait till tomorrow? I just walked all the way from the train station--I'm frozen."
"I-I'm pregnant, Willie."
"What?!" He stepped a little away. He found he was not surprised, just alarmed. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure!" she almost shouted.
"Well, uh, what--why'd you tell me?"
She just looked at him, and he refused to see the hurt in her face.
"I mean, I-I. . . Well, what--" He stared at her.
"Willie, you're the father."
"I-I don't know that."
"Well, I know it!"
The note of hysteria in her voice scared him. "How-how can I believe that?" he said thoughtlessly. "I mean, you did it with me, how do I know you ain't done it with other guys?"
"Willie! You were my first!" she said, starting to cry. "You know that!"
Trembling, he said, "I-I don't either. Besides, y-you can take care of it. No one'll ever know."
"You know, just-just go to the doctor--"
"No! NO! I won't-- I can't!"
"Shhhh." He took her by the shoulders. "Shhh, you don't want your mother to hear."
"Oh, Willie." She sobbed brokenly, falling into his arms.
He did not want that. "It'll be okay," he said cautiously. "You just gotta do what I tell ya."
She looked at him. "I love you, Willie, I. . . I don't mind having your baby, but. . .but. . .it's a sin if. . ."
He waited for her to finish, feeling all icy and cold inside. He hated what was happening.
". . .if we're not married," she finished softly.
"I ain't marryin' you," he said bluntly.
"No." He pushed her away from him. "Look, Josie, take my advice, get rid of it, 'cause I ain't gettin' married."
"God, I hate you!" she shouted at him.
"Well, you shouldn'ta gotten pregnant," he said with frustration. He watched her run down the stairs into the yard. She quickly disappeared around the side of the house.
He bit his lip and almost went after her. But time was going by too fast, he had to get Jason and leave, now, before Mrs. Camp found out.
Within the intensive care unit of Ridgley Municipal Hospital, Dr's. Garrison and Livingston watched as a nurse took life readings of the patient who was now lying on his stomach. "His pulse is up, and so is his heart rate."
"Good," Garrison said, and bent to look more closely at Loomis' face. The eyes were moving restlessly beneath the lids. "I think he's dreaming."
"Really?" Livingston came up to look. "He must be recovering." Routinely, he checked the binding around Willie's chest and rearranged his broken upper right arm so the splinting would not cut off his circulation.
"I don't know. His vital signs are still low. If he wakes anytime soon, I'd be very surprised."
"He'll be lucky if he doesn't. At least his lungs are clearing."
But he looked so pale, Garrison thought. He could easily die still.
Willie hoped Jason was in their room as he climbed quietly up the stairs, cringing every time a wooden step squeaked. He opened the door to their room and went in.
"Jason?" Jason McGuire lay sleeping in one of the two single beds in their small room. He stirred and sat up as Willie tugged at his arm, calling him urgently in a low voice. "Jason, wake up. We gotta get outta here."
"Willie, what're you talking about?" He grabbed Willie's wrist to make him stop pulling him.
"We gotta get out, Jason. Now." Willie turned on the night table lamp and pulled his suitcase down from the top of the closet.
"Willie, what do you think you're doing?" Jason got out of bed and forced the younger man to stop and turn to face him. Jason was taller than Willie, his face had a cruel look to it with a long nose and frowning brow, and he spoke with a light Irish accent.
Willie looked up at him, panting. He hardly noticed the pleasant warmth inside the house. "We gotta get outta here, Jason. Mrs. Camp is gonna find out, and I don't know what she'll do."
"Find out what?" He held Willie's arm firmly so he couldn't go back to packing.
"Th-that Josie's gonna have a baby!"
"What?" He stared hard at the other man.
"Yeah, she's pregnant, Jason."
"Thanks to you, I assume?"
"Sh-she thinks so."
"Oh, Willie, how could ya have been so careless? I ought to fix you good."
"Jason, we're wastin' time." Willie was anxious to be going. Standing still was making him extremely nervous. "Will ya please let me start packin'?"
Jason let go of him. "Does she want you to marry her?"
"Yeah, but I ain't doin' it." He yanked open a chest drawer and started flinging what clothes he had into his suitcase.
"I ought to make you, Willie," he said slowly.
Willie turned to look at him, recognizing the tone Jason had taken, and watched him haul his own bag from the closet. "N-now, Jason, I-I didn't intend for this to happen. An' you know you couldn't make me."
"Just pack, Willie."
They walked along the path to the train station. Willie carried his and Jason's luggage, and his fingers felt numb. The tension was so strong between them, it had made Willie's neck and back hurt. Jason had not said a word since they left the boarding house. Willie knew the older man was angry with him for ruining a good set-up. The wait to see what he would do was nerve-racking.
At last they could see the station house. It lay three miles outside of town in flat, open country. Willie was cold and exhausted from walking here and back, and carrying two suitcases for such a distance.
"Willie," Jason said, before they had quite reached the station. "How much money do you have on you?"
"W-well, not much." His face felt so cold he could hardly talk.
"Give it to me."
"But, Jason, I won't--" He dropped the luggage when the other grabbed him.
"Give it to me!"
Willie fumbled around in his pockets, his frozen hands unable to feel much. He finally produced a five dollar bill. Jason snatched it from him and put it in his own pocket. He knocked Willie to the ground with a hard backhand slap to his face.
"Don't, Jason. . ." Willie said as Jason bent down to haul him up. He tried to hold onto Jason's wrists, but his stiff hands failed him. He was knocked down again, falling over his suitcase.
"Of all the stupid things to pull, Willie," Jason said harshly. He leaned down again.
"Don't, Jason." Willie scrambled to his feet and backed away. "I-I don' have to take this."
"Yes, you do, Willie."
"I'll leave. I'll. . ."
"And where'll you go? Back to the boarding house and marry Josie? Get a job and support her? You won't do it. Without me, you know what'll happen to you. Ya don't want to end up in prison again, do you?"
"I-I wouldn't; that was a mistake. I--"
"You aren't clever enough, boy. Now come back here and take it like a man."
Willie stared, it was dark, and he could not see Jason very clearly, but he knew his face would be twisted with anger. And he knew he was right. At least this time he needed him. He didn't move as Jason came up to him. He stood there and trembled.
"You ruined things for us, Willie. Now I've got to put a rush on my other plans." He punched him in the stomach.
Willie doubled over, one arm flailing out to catch himself as he fell to his knees. He ended up grabbing Jason's coat. He tried to catch his breath. "Please, J-Jason."
Jason grabbed a fistful of Willie's hair and jerked his head back so he had to look up. The next blows to his face could've hurt more because his face was so numb, but it hurt enough.
In a few minutes, Willie was stuttering and stammering for Jason to stop. His vain, ineffective efforts to defend himself had not helped. They only infuriated Jason. He vowed revenge for this. Jason could never have bested him this way if he hadn't known the same street tricks that Willie knew. Willie was numb from the cold and his defenses were down, because deep inside where he would never have acknowledged it, there was guilt and that this beating was a punishment he deserved.
"All right, now get up, Willie." He stood back, waiting.
Willie slowly pushed himself up from the ground. He could taste blood in his mouth, and his stomach and face hurt. He rubbed his left hand lightly, the knuckles of which were scraped raw from rocks on the rough ground. It burned, though his hands had lost a lot of feeling. A lock of his hair hung across his eyes as he looked up at Jason.
"Come on, Willie. Get the bags." He turned away and walked the rest of the way to the train station without looking back.
Willie moved stiffly, his hands barely able to hold the handles of their baggage. He glared sullenly at Jason's back, as he started to follow him. He was going to be sore for several days now, and his friend would not let him forget it.
When he got inside the station, Jason was just leaving the ticket counter to sit down. One lone man sat in the waiting area. He looked up as Willie came in. "Gawd, what happened to you?" he said drunkenly.
Willie ignored him, wishing he had some booze himself to deaden the aches and warm him up. He lowered the suitcases to the cement floor near Jason and stiffly sat down to nurse his bruises. He was grateful for the warmth of the radiator near which he and Jason were sitting.
"Hey, boy!" the drunk called, belching loudly. Willie's back was to him, but he could see the station clerk lean out from his office. "Not you, the one over there," he looked from the retreating clerk to Willie and Jason. "Hey, boy," he repeated.
Willie was too wrapped up in his own thoughts and the stinging of his cuts and scrapes as the cold wore off. Jason glanced sideways at the drunken man.
"What happened to him? Her father catch him?"
She didn't have a father anymore, Willie thought, unless Jason had married the mother. Then the drunk would've been right. He found this rather humorous and laughed.
"Oh, it's funny, is it?"
He looked at Jason and felt a stab of apprehension. A sarcastic affirmative reply was on his lips, but he didn't say it, looking down instead. This was the last time he'd ever let Jason rough him up, he thought. He would clear out at the first possible opportunity. But he'd have to have some money first, and it was easier to rely on Jason for that.
Several hours later, they were more or less comfortably settled on the train, heading east. Willie sat by the cold window, his arms crossed, his hands shoved under his jacket. Jason had not said a word since the station. Willie hated the tense silence. Even the familiar droning rumble of the train did not impinge on it, for Willie was so accustomed to the sound of the train, he no longer even noticed it.
He let time slip by, his thoughts filling him with regret. It was really too bad about Josie, but he couldn't settle down, and he knew it. Besides, no one had ever given him a break, why should he give her one? He knew he would have made a lousy husband anyway. He just wished Jason hadn't laid into him. A trip to the men's washroom had helped his appearance, but he was still getting stares.
"Jason," he said finally, tired of watching dreary, snowless winter landscapes go by. "Where're we goin'?"
Jason looked at him a moment. "First to Lincoln."
"Then where?" Willie knew they wouldn't be able to pick up enough cash in Lincoln for him to discreetly part company.
"Curious, are ya now, Willie?"
He looked down, disgusted. "C'mon. I want to know."
"Well, all right. We're going to Bangor, Maine. I think we can do some nice business up in a little town near there."
"Yeah?" He could hear the old spark of greed in his friend's voice and grinned. "What kind of business?"
"I'll tell you about it later. I used to have some friends up there, long before I met you. You were still a kid when I was there last."
"Yeah, well, what's the name of this town?"
"By all means, come in, Sheriff," said Barnabas Collins as he held the door to the Old House open for him and his companion.
"Thank you, Mr. Collins," George Patterson said when they were in. "This is Sheriff Cather from Ridgley."
"Pleased to meet you, Sheriff. May I offer you something?" Tall and gaunt with dark brown hair and eyes, Barnabas stood with his hands lightly pressed together.
"No, thank you, Mr. Collins. We're just here to ask you a few questions."
"Is Willie Loomis still employed by you?"
"Why no, Sheriff." Barnabas stepped from the foyer into the drawing room and sat in one of the wing chairs beside the fireplace. "Willie left a few days ago and hasn't returned. He took none of his belongings, so I had assumed he would come back. I haven't decided if I shall let him go if he does return."
"So you don't know where he went?" They stood facing him in the drawing room.
"No." Barnabas waved his hands in a helpless gesture. "I came back from Bangor in the evening, and he was gone. May I ask what all this is about?"
The two sheriffs looked at each other. "Well, Mr. Collins," Patterson said, "Maggie Evans has been found, and Willie was found with her."
"Is she all right?" Barnabas said, feigning concern.
"I'm afraid not. They were both dead."
"No! I'm terribly sorry to hear that. Miss Evans was such a lovely girl. This is a very tragic thing. Does her father know yet?"
"Yes, we just came from there. Now, Mr. Collins, can you tell me where you were Monday night?"
"Well, certainly. But, Sheriff, I don't see what possible connection I could have in this matter."
"These are just routine questions."
"Very well. I was in Bangor until late evening."
"Is this the evening Willie disappeared?"
"Yes, it was." He frowned. "Surely you don't think Willie kidnapped the girl? He was such a. . .timid fellow."
Patterson scribbled down Collins' answers, including his impressions of the man. When they had finished questioning him and were back in George's patrol car, the two men conferred. "What do you think, Vince?"
"He's a bit odd. He didn't seem upset about his servant."
"No, he didn't." Patterson started the car. "But I can think of one person who might be. He and Willie came into town together. No one much cared for either of them."
"It's a strange case. First she was found in a cemetery, and you and everyone else thinks Willie made the phone call that led them to her. Then she disappears from her hospital room, stays missing a couple of weeks and shows up dead." He studied the silhouette of Collinwood as they drove up. "I don't think Willie did it."
George glanced at him. "Willie and his friend, Jason McGuire were never up to any good here, but I just don't think Willie kidnapped the girl either."
Willie stammered incoherently up at the tall, dark man. He had not expected anything like this. His head felt numb, his arm ached as if it'd been pounded with a sledge hammer, but more than anything else he was afraid. Every part of him trembled with fear, horror, revulsion. There was something black and twisting inside his mind. It shook the foundations of his own unique being and made him feel as though he were not himself. Something was inside his head with him, pressing itself down on his conscious will. He shook uncontrollably in his position against the wall of the secret room. He could not move, fearing the oddly dressed man standing above him would attack him again.
"Answer me," he said, his voice cultured, with a noticeable accent. There was no threat, only command, but that in itself implied a threat to Willie.
"W-W-Willie L-Loom-mis," he stuttered, still feeling those icy fingers around his neck, even though they were gone.
"And the year."
"N-nineteen sixty-seven." He watched the man turn away, resting his hands on the closed lid of his coffin.
"It has been that long?"
Willie barely heard him over the sound of his own labored breathing. He flinched back against the wall when the other turned to him again.
"You may rise," he told him. "I have many questions for you to answer."
The cold stone seemed to have leached all the heat from his body. Shivering, Willie managed to push himself up. He stumbled forward against the coffin.
"What. . . What brought you to this place?" He seemed at a loss as to where to begin.
Willie faced him, backing away from the coffin to the wall. "I-I-I--"
"Never mind." He stepped up the stone steps and went out into the mausoleum proper, seeing the block and tackle, the hook attached to the ring on Naomi Collins' stone sepulcher.
Willie watched him straighten and look around before coming back in. He noticed with shock that in the light filtering into the mausoleum, the man looked just like the portrait of Barnabas Collins which hung in the foyer at Collinwood.
At his approach, Willie backed further along the wall. The man advanced on him, grabbing him by his jacket. "You were trying to rob this tomb, weren't you?"
Willie was speechless with fear. He trembled, knowing the end would come soon.
"So that's the kind of creature you are." He flung him to the dirt floor. "You will be treated accordingly, then."
"Don't. . ." He cowered where he'd fallen, his arm aching.
"Don't? Don't what?"
"K-kill me." He didn't dare look up.
"You miserable wretch. I have need of you. Now rise again."
Willie obeyed, seeing only the other's silhouette, not his face.
"I am Barnabas Collins. The grave you were attempting to rob belonged to my mother. When I am through questioning you for tonight, you will clean up that mess you made in there."
"Y-yes." Willie felt a wave of despair. It numbed him down inside. All he could feel was cold dread and even icier fear. He was trapped into no-telling what now. His eyes met the taller man's, and though he could barely see them, he could not look away. Willie did not believe in vampires. But the man that had been Willie Loomis was almost gone.
"Well, Sheriff, what did you need to speak with me about?" said Jason McGuire in the foyer of Collinwood.
"It's about your friend, Willie Loomis. When was the last time you saw him?" Patterson stared at Jason, not trusting him in the least.
"Willie? Is he in some kind of trouble?"
"Just answer my question please, Mr. McGuire."
"Oh, well, it was about a week ago, I think. Down at the Old House."
"How did he seem to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, was he nervous or anything like that?"
"As a matter of fact he was. Ever since he started to work down there he's been different--nervouslike, not himself at all."
"And where were you Monday night?"
Jason just looked at him a moment before saying, "Has something happened?"
"Just answer the question, please."
"I was here, at Collinwood. You can ask anyone here, and they'll verify that."
"Thank you, Mr. McGuire."
"Has something happened?"
"Yes. Maggie Evans was found. Dead, I'm sorry to say. Willie was with her, also dead."
"What? Willie is dead? And that poor girl. This is sad news you bring. Willie and I were pretty good friends a long time. Can you tell me how it happened? Where were they found?"
"Later, Mr. McGuire. Thank you for your cooperation. Would you mind calling Mrs. Stoddard? I'd like a word with her."
"Certainly, Sheriff. It'll be just a moment."
"What do you think, Vince?" George said when they were alone again.
"Who knows?" He lowered his voice. "I think we should just wait it out."
"You may be right. I'll bet he has a fascinating story to tell."
He was the victim of his rages, thought Willie. Barnabas never spared him a kind word, it was all criticism and abuse. He wondered idly if he would've treated him any better if he had not known Willie was trying to rob the tomb. He certainly had paid for that crime many times over. The things he'd been forced to do--those animals--it still made him feel sick inside. There were times he thought he could weep all the world's tears and other times he couldn't cry if he had wanted to.
It was all so crazy. Everyone kept commenting on how he'd changed. And poor Maggie Evans up there in that fancy room, half out of her mind. Willie had told Barnabas it wouldn't work, but all he got for that was a warning to keep his opinions to himself. As far as helping the girl get away. . . No point in even considering that. Sure, she should be freed, now, when there was a chance of her not remembering, but Barnabas was crazy.
Willie went up the stairs, his feet dragging. He had to get a bath ready for her, then help fix her hair for tonight. At least they had plumbing now.
Maggie looked up at him when he came in. "Willie?"
"Yes, Miss Josette." Play the game, he told himself, or Barnabas would hurt him.
"Are you going to run a bath for me?"
"I just came up to do it. I'll let you know when it's ready."
"Thank you, Willie." She sat at the vanity table, looking in the mirror as if she had no brains at all, he thought.
By sunset, Willie had everything ready for Barnabas and "Josette"'s dinner. He'd done this before, but they had been interrupted. Barnabas had warned him it had better not happen again, knowing Willie had no control over who came to the front door.
Nervously, he shifted the plates around a bit. What a waste, Barnabas didn't even need a setting. It just wasn't proper for the girl to dine alone.
He whirled around, stiffening, to face his master.
"Is everything ready?" Barnabas asked him as he entered the drawing room. He glanced around.
"Yeah, I-I think so. The food's in the kitchen. You want me to go get it?" Willie followed the other man's gaze around the room.
"Not yet. You will bring Josette down first--after you've explained why you have not drawn the drapes over the window."
Willie realized he had forgotten. He nearly ran to do it. "I-I just forgot, Barnabas."
"Are you sure? Perhaps you wanted someone to look in and see the girl." He moved up behind Willie who was finishing pulling closed the curtains.
Willie jerked the last part closed and turned to look up at him. "No, I-I didn't. I-I just forgot, that's all, I swear."
Barnabas seized him by his throat. "Why should I believe you? You've lied to me before and betrayed me despite punishments. What assurance do I have that you won't do it now?"
"I-I-I n-never betrayed ya, Barnabas," he stammered. "I-I wouldn't do that." The hands were like cold iron, squeezing his throat. He could hardly think or talk. "I just forgot, I--"
"Don't lie to me, Willie!" He shook him. "I know how you feel about the girl."
"Please, I-I didn't--I wouldn't," he uttered pleadingly as Barnabas' hands tightened painfully. "I-I-I don't care about her. I--"
"Yes, you do, Willie. I know it! And if you ever betray me again, or do what you have done tonight. . ."
"Please, Barnabas, I haven't done anything!" His voice was little above a whisper--all he could squeeze out.
"I'll have to punish again you, Willie."
"No, Barnabas! Please don't. I haven't done anything, I swear." He was practically sobbing with fear, but couldn't get enough breath for it. He looked into Barnabas' dark eyes for some sign of change, but he could discern nothing. His throat was beginning to hurt terribly. "Barnabas, don't, please. . ."
"You coward." He released him with a push.
Willie collapsed into the settee below the window, gingerly holding his throat.
"Go up and get Josette."
Willie got up, feeling thoroughly chastened, if unjustly so. Barnabas called to him as he started up the stairs. He stopped and turned halfway to listen.
"I can only hope you'll remember that I need no excuse to punish you."
"Yes, Barnabas," he muttered and turned away.
"He was starting to come out of it," Garrison informed the two sheriffs, "but he was so delirious with pain we had to put him under."
"Did he say anything?" Patterson looked down at the still pale, unconscious young man on the bed.
"No, he moaned a lot, but was in too much pain to make sense. We think he'll be all right if he can rest enough. I want him to sleep at least through tomorrow morning."
"I'd like to talk to him as soon as possible."
"He needs to rest now, sheriff. He's out of danger, so you needn't worry that he'll die with his story."
"Well, all right. We've waited this long, another night won't hurt."
"Barnabas, you can't!" Willie stood in the basement, shielding Maggie Evans as best he could.
"Don't try to stop me, Willie." Livid with rage, Barnabas made an attempt to grab the young woman, but Willie blocked his way.
"Monster!" Maggie screamed.
"Shut up!" Willie told her fiercely. "You'll have to kill me first," he said to Barnabas, shaking all over as the situation got more out of hand.
Barnabas grasped him by the throat. "You make that very easy for me." He pulled him to one side and took Maggie by the arm. She struggled frantically, so that to keep a grip on her he had to release Willie. A violent shove sent the young man sprawling.
"No, Barnabas!" Willie scrambled to his feet as the vampire savagely sank his fangs into her neck. He pounded Barnabas' back and tried to pull him away, but she had gone limp, trauma robbing her of consciousness.
Barnabas let her slip to the floor and slowly turned on his servant whose face drained of color as he stumbled backwards. "And now, Willie, it's your turn. First you will be punished, and then you will help me. Move Miss Evans," he said the name with disdain, "to the corner and wait for me." He went up the steps to the foyer to pick up his cane.
Willie knelt beside the girl, trying to steel himself for what was coming. He raked a sleeve across his tearing eyes before picking up Maggie. He looked down at her throat, blood had drained out in two rivulets, though he did not think Barnabas had taken that much.
Even limp she did not seem very heavy. He propped her in a corner near the stairs, turned and looked up as the vampire came down them, cane in hand, ready to punish.
"Don' kill her, Barnabas," he said desperately.
"I must, and you will help me."
"No. NO!" The blows started, whipping him mercilessly wherever they fell, reducing him to a whimpering heap of misery in a corner of the cold cellar floor.
"Get up, Willie. It's time to go." Barnabas prodded him with his foot, his own voice was low and betrayed his sadness.
Willie didn't move, he felt immobilized by the intense throbbing.
"Willie, get up. Now!"
He moved, pushing himself up to sitting. "I won' help you kill her," he said, not lifting his head.
Barnabas bent down abruptly and took him by his arms, yanking him to his feet. He pushed his back against the coffin. "You will do as I tell you."
Willie didn't look at him, his eyes squeezed shut in a grimace of pain. "I can't help ya do that."
Frustrated, Barnabas attacked him, driving his long canine teeth into Willie's throat.
The fury infected him, turning his blood to fire. Willie held rigidly onto Barnabas, a moment away from a scream. The vampire lifted his mouth away, his dark eyes impaling Willie's as he willed him to look at him. The smell of blood on his breath was nauseating to the young man who remained standing by the sheer will and strong arms of his master.
"You will drive the car, Willie," Barnabas rasped slowly, hypnotically.
Willie began to tremble. "Yes," he heard himself say.
"Very well. Go start the motor and pull up as close to the side door as possible."
"All right," he uttered faintly.
Barnabas let go of his arms, but Willie's hands remained gripping his coat. His knees buckled when Barnabas freed himself and took at step back.
"Get up, Willie. Go."
Tears ran down his face from the pain, the despair, the grief, his own helplessness. Willie managed to get up, compelled by the dark force controlling his will. In a half crouch, he passed Maggie. Her eyes were open, roused by his cries and the sounds of violence. She saw the pain on his face. They looked at each other for a brief moment of mutual understanding before he had to move on.
Willie didn't know how he could even walk, but he made it up the stairs and outside. He wanted so much to run away, or up to Collinwood and tell them everything. But the vampire's will guided his steps to the car. He staggered up to it, weak and hurting, and opened the driver's side door. He prayed it wouldn't start, and almost sobbed when the engine roared to life.
Barnabas was waiting in the side doorway, holding the swaying young woman with arms around her and a hand over her mouth. He opened the rear door on the passenger side and shoved Maggie in ahead of him.
"Take the coastline road north, Willie. And hurry."
Maggie started to struggle again, screaming for her father and calling Barnabas a monster before he subdued her.
Willie could hardly see through his tears, and Barnabas had to shout at him to get him to drive away. No one would be on the rough coastline road at this time of night, and he would not have to drive through Collinsport to get to it. There was no chance of letting someone know what was happening. And that presence in his head would not let him divert from the appointed path.
He drove down the graveled road, trying not to hear the sounds of Maggie still struggling occasionally as a burst of energy and desperation would overtake her.
For what seemed like half the night to Willie, they drove on the rough road. Every time he went to speak, pleas and reasoning words in his mouth, the impetus was suddenly gone, dampened by the other's strong will. Willie couldn't even try to argue.
Barnabas finally told him to take the next outlet to the east--toward the cliffs. He passed several before the vampire realized what he had done and laid a crushing hand on his already bruised shoulder.
"Turn the car around, Willie, and go back to the last lane we passed."
He obeyed, and Barnabas released his hold. The road they turned on to was overgrown with grass and weeds, and in the darkness it was hard to follow. It ended by a cottage, long since burned out and abandoned. The sound of the ocean beating against the rocky shore could be heard from the site.
Barnabas got out of the car, dragging the struggling girl with him. Willie shut off the engine and headlights and followed at a stumble. He caught up to them quickly as they neared a rocky cliff. To the north the land they were on sloped down roughly, forming a marginally negotiable path to the narrow beach, and directly below salty foam formed as waves rushed to dash themselves on the cliff face.
Barnabas held the woman by her upper arms, looking down into her terrified eyes. "And now, Maggie Evans, you will meet dear Josette's fate, though no one will ever know that you had--"
"Barnabas, don' do it." Willie stood close to them, and placed his hands on her arms below Barnabas', one arm across her back. "You're makin' a mistake." He held onto her, hoping to rip her from the other's hold.
"She can never be Josette, and you know it. It is you who are making the mistake. Now get away, Willie."
"Barnabas, they'll catch ya." He hadn't moved. "This'll cause so much suspicion, and you don't wan--"
"Enough!" He exerted his will on the young man, and Willie fell silent, staring, stricken, into his eyes.
Maggie chose the moment to twist away, breaking not only the vampire's hold on her but his mental hold on Willie. They reacted together, and Willie swung her around, away from Barnabas before letting go and facing him. He didn't feel the pain in his body, only the inevitability of death as he screamed for her to run.
Barnabas knocked him aside, his forearm smashing into Willie's temple, effectively stunning him as he fell to the ground. But the sight of the vampire overpowering Maggie stirred him to strength he did not know he had. He leapt on Barnabas, grappling with him for the girl's freedom, and they all fell close to the cliff's edge.
It was too dark to see their danger, but they heard it, and Maggie, now free, climbed to her feet and ran. Barnabas left Willie lying half-strangled to run after her. He caught her, pulling her back to the edge of the precipice.
On his feet now, Willie grabbed her flailing arm as the vampire pushed her over the side. Her force pulled him over, and his scream joined hers till they hit the water.
The shock of the cold water washed everything from his mind. He fought to reach the surface and was thrown with incredible force against a rock. Like a piece of driftwood, his body was battered in the dark water, breaking bones and numbing him with cold.
The pain encompassed all of him as consciousness returned. Willie's breathing became hard and labored from it, and his face took on a frown.
"He's coming around now," Dr. Garrison told the sheriff's who waited in the hall outside the room. "He's having some difficulty, so I'd appreciate it if you'd give us a moment to settle him down."
"Sure, but I want to come in if he starts talking."
"All right." He went back into Willie's room.
"Maggie?" Willie's voice said weakly.
"He's awake now," Livingston said, bending over the bed to listen to his heart.
"Maggie!" Willie's eyes searched the unfamiliar scene. Two men in white lab coats stood over him, one bent over, touching his chest.
"Mr. Loomis, please try to relax," the younger doctor told him. "We're giving you something for the pain now."
Willie's eyes wouldn't focus though he realized he was in a hospital bed. "Where's Maggie?" he asked them, still breathing hard from the pain despite the fact it was breathing that hurt the most. The medication, like cold water without the shock, abruptly numbed the pain and his thoughts as well. "Maggie?"
"Don't worry about anything, Mr. Loomis. Now you're going to have a couple of visitors right now. Please just--"
"No!" Barnabas, he thought. He tried to turn his head to find a window but could hardly move. "What time is it?"
"Well, it's eight o'clock." Livingston could see panic in his wide open eyes. "But you--"
"At night?!" Barnabas was going to kill him now.
"No, in the morning." He watched Willie visibly relax.
"Mr. Loomis, I'm going to bring in the men who would like to ask you a few questions."
"Where's Maggie?" He could see Garrison's face well enough to know that he was reluctant to answer. "She's dead, ain't she?" A sob formed in his chest. "Oh, God." He cried weakly.
"Take it easy. Everything will be all right." Garrison put his hands on the young man's shoulders, trying to reassure him.
Willie quickly ran out of strength for expressing any strong emotion. He drifted in and out of awareness. He recognized Patterson when his face suddenly came into focus. A jolt of apprehension cut through the clouds of medication.
"Willie? Can you hear me," the sheriff said softly.
"Yeah." There was something important going on if he could only remember what it was. The old gut reaction of fear he had always felt around the other man was present even now.
"Do you think you could answer some questions now?"
Willie didn't respond as he remembered what happened. His mind was so numb it didn't hurt too much to think about it.
"Willie?" Patterson studied the sick man's glazed eyes, staring at nothing in particular. He turned to Garrison. "Is this going to wear off?"
"Well, yes, but not for a while. He was in a lot of pain. Just be patient and speak gently to him."
"All right." He gave Sheriff Cather a helpless shrug and turned back to Willie. "Can you understand me, Willie?"
"Yeah." He was through with the memory for the moment, but tears spilled out the corners of his eyes. "Where's Maggie?"
Patterson looked up at the two doctors standing on the other side of the bed. He didn't know if he should tell him the truth now about her.
Garrison nodded. "Go ahead. He'll have to know eventually."
He turned to Willie again. "Maggie didn't survive, Willie. You are the only one who can tell us what happened."
"I knew it." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, forcing more tears out.
"Can you tell us what happened?"
Could he? Barnabas would finish him for sure. And would they believe him? It was morning--they had all day. "Yes." He looked at the sheriff. "You won' believe me."
"At this point, I'll believe anything."
"If you don' believe me, he'll kill me, and it'll be your fault."
"Who, Willie? Who do you think'll kill you?"
His mind was starting to drift again. It was impossible to concentrate. If he betrayed Barnabas, he would be justified, since the vampire had been responsible for killing Maggie. But in spite of all the medication, he was still in Barnabas' power and part of him felt sorry for the crazed creature. But he should not have killed Maggie.
"Willie, can you tell me who it was?"
"Barnabas," he whispered. "He's a vampire."
"Barnabas Collins? He's what?" Patterson had been unable to understand his soft whisper.
"He's--he's one of the living dead. A-a vampire." Willie waited for a look of incredulity to come over their faces, but they frowned instead.
"Barnabas is a vampire?" He exchanged looks with Cather. "I hate to say it, but that makes sense.
"The girl did have those marks on her throat," he commented.
"Marks on the throat?" Livingston glance from them to the other doctor. "He has two little punctures on his throat." He indicated Willie. "I hadn't thought anything about it."
Patterson looked at Willie who had faded out again. He spoke to the others. "You know, I've never seen Barnabas Collins during the day. . .and those animals we kept finding drained of blood. . . And Willie and Maggie both had the same illness." He leaned down a little closer to Willie.
The young man had not heard much of their conversation. His thoughts were of darkness and pain and grief. His lack of physical pain made the ache in his heart more noticeable. "I tried to stop him," he said, somewhat inarticulately.
"Willie," Patterson said softly, "did Barnabas Collins kidnap Maggie Evans?"
What a stupid question, he almost said. "Yes."
"Did you make that phone call?"
"Yes." It would've been a sob had he more strength.
"Why didn't you tell someone?"
"He'da killed me. He's got powers." His voice was low and hoarse. "I'm in his power. I'm not supposed to betray him."
"But you just told us what he is." The sheriff didn't understand.
"'Cause he killed Maggie!" He became agitated. "You--you gotta get him while it's still light." Willie started breathing hard again. "If he finds out you know, he'll kill ya." He closed his eyes, he could feel the power of those burning eyes even now. Barnabas knew he was alive now; he could sense it. "He's gonna kill me tonight."
"He thinks you're dead," Cather said confidently.
"No, he knows. I can feel it." Exhaustion battled his nervous anxiety, resulting in a fit of coughing.
"This is too much for him," Garrison said, trying to help him. "You'll have to leave. Adrian, get the nurse."
"Just one more thing," Patterson said, and waited till the nurse had come in and had Willie calmed down. "Where does he rest during the day?"
"Coffin. In the basement o' the Ol' House. Or the secret room o' the mausoleum." He whispered in a faint voice.
"What secret room?"
"Behin' Naomi Collins' plaque. Pull the ring in the lion's mouth."
"All right, Willie. Thank you. Rest easy. We'll see you later."
Willie passed out before the man was half way across the room.
The nurse who was standing next to the bed began checking his vital signs. He was not dying, but his condition was very serious. He was moved back to intensive care, put on a ventilator and life monitoring machines.
By noon he was stabilized. Dr. Garrison was with him when he awakened again a while later.
Willie's eyes focused slowly on the doctor's face. He tried but could not move his hands and the tube in his mouth prevented speech. He wanted to tell the man that he was afraid and that he was in pain. Straps holding the ventilator tube in place were pinching his cheeks. Every little discomfort seemed magnified by his immobility.
"You're going to be all right, Willie," the doctor told him soothingly.
Willie didn't care now. His mind was full of Barnabas' eyes. He was being summoned; the vampire sensed danger. He stiffened in shock as he felt the prick of a sharpened stake touch his chest.
Garrison watched the cardiac monitor as Willie's heart rate rapidly rose to a dangerously high level.
Gasping now, Willie felt an excruciating pain in his chest. He heard a scream in his mind and his voice echoed it. He was oblivious to the people gathered around him. Suddenly that pain stopped, and some dark, fluttery thing lifted from his mind. Barnabas was gone. He was destroyed.
Willie started crying with great emotional relief. It was over. Sadness at the waste of lives, at Barnabas' own tragedy was part of it. It was too much to feel all at once, not with the physical pain he experienced now.
Sedation provided him with an escape. But not before he apologized in his heart to Barnabas and Maggie. They at least were beyond now. Willie was left to live. With the memories. And the guilt. He was the survivor, and he knew and accepted the responsibility. And wished he were dead instead. No excuses would he make for himself this time. His greed had pushed Maggie off that cliff. God, he was sorry for it. He thought they would probably forgive him before he'd forgive himself. He would have plenty of time to think about it. He knew he was going to be in the damned hospital a long time. He deserved it, he thought, as sleep pulled his mind into mixed up and disjointed thoughts. A long time to pay for his wrongs. Maybe he could make amends. . . Maybe. . . .