My name is David Talbot.
Do any of you remember me as the Superior General of the Talamasca, the Order of psychic detectives whose motto was "We watch and we are always here"?
It has a charm, doesn't it, that motto?
The Talamasca has existed for over a thousand years.
I don't know how the Order began. I don't really know all the secrets of the Order. I do know however that I served it most of my mortal life.
It was in the Talamasca Motherhouse in England that the Vampire Lestat first made himself known to me. He came into my study one winter night and caught me quite unawares.
I learnt very quickly that it was one thing to read and write about the supernatural and quite another to see it with your own eyes.
But that was a long time ago.
I'm in another physical body now.
And that physical body has been transformed by Lestat's powerful vampiric blood.
I'm among the most dangerous of the vampires, and one of the most trusted. Even the wary vampire Armand revealed to me the story of his life. Perhaps you've read the biography of Armand which I released into the world.
When that story ended, Lestat had wakened from a long sleep in New Orleans to listen to some very beautiful and seductive music.
It was music that lulled him back again into unbroken silence as he retreated once more to a convent building to lie upon a dusty marble floor.
There were many vampires then in the city of New Orleans -- vagabonds, rogues, foolish young ones who had come to catch a glimpse of Lestat in his seeming helplessness. They menaced the mortal population. They annoyed the elders among us who wanted visibility and the right to hunt in peace.
All those invaders are gone now.
Some were destroyed, others merely frightened. And the elders who had come to offer some solace to the sleeping Lestat have gone their separate ways.
As this story begins, only three of us remain in New Orleans. And we three are the sleeping Lestat, and his two faithful fledglings -- Louis de Pointe du Lac, and I, David Talbot, the author of this tale.Chapter One
"Why do you ask me to do this thing?"
She sat across the marble table from me, her back to the open doors of the cafe.
I struck her as a wonder. But my requests had distracted her. She no longer stared at me, so much as she looked into my eyes.
She was tall, and had kept her dark-brown hair loose and long all her life, save for a leather barrette such as she wore now, which held only her forelocks behind her head to flow down her back. She wore gold hoops dangling from her small earlobes, and her soft white summer clothes had a gypsy flare to them, perhaps because of the red scarf tied around the waist of her full cotton skirt.
"And to do such a thing for such a being?" she asked warmly, not angry with me, no, but so moved that she could not conceal it, even with her smooth compelling voice. "To bring up a spirit that may be filled with anger and a desire for vengeance, to do this, you ask me, -- for Louis de Pointe du Lac, one who is already beyond life himself?"
"Who else can I ask, Merrick?" I answered. "Who else can do such a thing?" I pronounced her name simply, in the American style, though years ago when we'd first met, she had spelled it Merrique and pronounced it with the slight touch of her old French.
There was a rough sound from the kitchen door, the creak of neglected hinges. A wraith of a waiter in a soiled apron appeared at our side, his feet scratching against the dusty flagstones of the floor.
"Rum," she said. "St. James. Bring a bottle of it."
He murmured something which even with my vampiric hearing I did not bother to catch. And away he shuffled, leaving us alone again in the dimly lighted room, with all its long doors thrown open to the Rue St. Anne.
It was vintage New Orleans, the little establishment. Overhead fans churned lazily, and the floor had not been cleaned in a hundred years.
The twilight was softly fading, the air filled with the fragrances of the Quarter and the sweetness of spring. What a kind miracle it was that she had chosen such a place, and that it was so strangely deserted on such a divine evening as this.
Her gaze was steady but never anything but soft.
"Louis de Pointe du Lac would see a ghost now," she said, musing, "as if his suffering isn't enough."
Not only were her words sympathetic, but also her low and confidential tone. She felt pity for him.
"Oh, yes," she said without allowing me to speak. "I pity him, and I know how badly he wants to see the face of this dead child vampire whom he loved so much." She raised her eyebrows thoughtfully. "You come with names which are all but legend. You come out of secrecy, you come out of a miracle, and you come close, and with a request."
"Do it, then, Merrick, if it doesn't harm you," I said. "I'm not here to bring harm to you. God in Heaven help me. Surely you know as much."
"And what of harm coming to your Louis?" she asked, her words spoken slowly as she pondered. "A ghost can speak dreadful things to those who call it, and this is the ghost of a monster child who died by violence. You ask a potent and terrible thing."
I nodded. All she said was true.
"Louis is a being obsessed," I said. "It's taken years for his obsession to obliterate all reason. Now he thinks of nothing else."
"And what if I do bring her up out of the dead? You think there will be a resolution to the pain of either one?"
"I don't hope for that. I don't know. But anything is preferable to the pain Louis suffers now. Of course I have no right to ask this of you, no right to come to you at all.
"Yet we're all entangled -- the Talamasca and Louis and I. And the Vampire Lestat as well. It was from the very bosom of the Talamasca that Louis de Pointe du Lac heard a story of the ghost of Claudia. It was to one of our own, a woman named Jesse Reeves -- you'll find her in the archives -- that this ghost of Claudia supposedly first appeared."
"Yes, I know the story," said Merrick. "It happened in the Rue Royale. You sent Jesse Reeves to investigate the vampires. And Jesse Reeves came back with a handful of treasures that were proof enough that a child named Claudia, an immortal child, had once lived in the flat."
"Quite right," I answered. "I was wrong to send Jesse. Jesse was too young. Jesse was never -- ." It was difficult for me to finish. "Jesse was never quite as clever as you."
"People read it among Lestat's published tales and think it's fancy," she said, musing, thinking, "all that about a diary, a rosary, wasn't it, and an old doll. And we have those things, don't we? They're in the vault in England. We didn't have a Louisiana Motherhouse in those days. You put them in the vault yourself."
"Can you do it?" I asked. "Will you do it? That's more to the point. I have no doubt that you can."
She wasn't ready to answer. But we had made a great beginning here, she and I.
Oh, how I had missed her! This was more tantalizing than I'd ever expected, to be locked once more in conversation with her. And with pleasure I doted upon the changes in her: that her French accent was completely gone now and that she sounded almost British, and that from her long years of study overseas. She'd spent some of those years in England with me.
"You know that Louis saw you," I said gently. "You know that he sent me to ask you. You know that he knew of your powers from the warning he caught from your eyes?"
She didn't respond.
"'I've seen a true witch,' he said when he came to me. 'She wasn't afraid of me. She said she'd call up the dead to defend herself if I didn't leave her alone.'"
Copyright © 2001 by Anne Rice. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.