ALSO BY ANNE RICE
Called Out of Darkness
Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
Blood Canticle Blackwood Farm Blood and Gold Merrick Vittorio, The Vampire The Vampire Armand Pandora Violin Servant of the Bones Memnoch the Devil Taltos Lasher The Tale of the Body Thief The Witching Hour The Mummy The Queen of the Damned The Vampire Lestat Cry to Heaven The Feast of All Saints Interview with the Vampire
This novel is dedicated to
Christopher Rice, Karen O’Brien, Sue Tebbe,
and to the memory of my sister
Alice O’Brien Borchardt
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones;
for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always beholdthe face of my Father which is in heaven.
—Matthew 18:10King James Version
Likewise, I say unto you,
there is joy in the presence of the angelsof God over one sinner that repenteth.
—Luke 15:10King James Version
For he shall give his angels charge over thee,to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands,lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
—Psalm 91:11-12King James Version
CHAPTER ONEShades of Despair
THERE WERE OMENS FROM THE BEGINNING.
First off, I didn’t want to do a job at the Mission Inn. Anywhere in the country, I would havebeen willing, but not the Mission Inn. And in the bridal suite, that very room, my room. Badluck and beyond, I thought to myself.
Of course my boss, The Right Man, had no way of knowing when he gave me this assignment thatthe Mission Inn was where I went when I didn’t want to be Lucky the Fox, when I didn’t wantto be his assassin.
The Mission Inn was part of that very small world in which I wore no disguise. I was simply mewhen I went there, six foot four, short blond hair, gray eyes—a person who looked like so manyother people that he didn’t look like any special person at all. I didn’t even bother to wearbraces to disguise my voice when I went there. I didn’t even bother with the de rigueursunglasses that shielded my identity in every other place, except the apartment andneighborhood where I lived.
I was just who I am when I went there, though who I am was nobody except the man who wore allthose elaborate disguises when he did what he was told to do by The Right Man.
So the Mission Inn was mine, cipher that I was, and so was the bridal suite, called the AmistadSuite, under the dome. And now I was being told to systematically pollute it. Not for anyoneelse but myself, of course. I would never have done anything to harm the Mission Inn.
A giant confection and confabulation of a building in Riverside, California, it was where Ioften took refuge, an extravagant and engulfing place sprawling over two city blocks, and whereI could pretend, for a day or two or three, that I wasn’t wanted by the FBI, Interpol, or TheRight Man, a place where I could lose myself and my conscience.
Europe had long ago become unsafe for me, due to the increased security at every checkpoint,and the fact that the law enforcement agencies that dreamed of trapping me had decided I wasbehind every single unsolved murder they had on the books.
If I wanted the atmosphere I’d loved so much in Siena or Assisi, or Vienna or Prague and allthe other places I could no longer visit, I sought out the Mission Inn. It couldn’t be allthose places, no. Yet it gave me a unique haven and sent me back out into my sterile world arenewed spirit.
It wasn’t the only place where I wasn’t anybody at all, but it was the best place, and theplace to which I went the most.
The Mission Inn was not far from where I “lived,” if one could call it that. And I went thereon impulse generally, and at any time that they could give me my suite. I liked the other roomsall right, especially the Inn keeper’s Suite, but I was patient in waiting for the Amistad.And sometimes they called me on one of the many special cell phones I carried, to let me knowthe suite could be mine.
Sometimes I stayed as long as a week in the Mission Inn. I’d bring my lute with me, and maybeplay it a little. And I always had a stack of books to read, almost always history, books onmedieval times or the Dark Ages, or the Renaissance, or Ancient Rome. I’d read for hours inthe Amistad, feeling uncommonly safe and secure.
There were special places I went from the Inn.
Often, undisguised, I drove over to nearby Costa Mesa to hear the Pacific Symphony. I liked it,the contrast, moving from the stucco arches and rusted bells of the Inn to the immensePlexiglas miracle of the Segerstrom Concert Hall, with the pretty Cafe Rouge on the firstfloor.
Behind those high clear undulating windows, the restaurant appeared to float in space. I felt,when I dined in it, that I was indeed floating in space, and in time, detached from all thingsugly and evil, and sweetly alone.
Rite of Spring in that concert hall. Loved it. LovedI had just recently heard Stravinsky’s
the pounding madness of it. It had brought back a memory of the very first time I’d ever heardit, ten years before—on the night when I’d met The Right Man. It had made me think of my ownlife, and all that had happened since then, as I’d drifted through the world waiting for thosecell phone calls that always meant somebody was marked, and I had to get him.
I never killed women, but that’s not to say that I hadn’t before I became The Right Man’svassal or serf, or knight, depending on how one chose to view it. He called me his knight. Ithought of it in far more sinister terms, and nothing during these ten years had everaccustomed me to my function.
Often I even drove from the Mission Inn to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, south and closerto the coast, another secret place, where I felt unknown and sometimes even happy.
Now the Mission of San Juan Capistrano is a real mission. The Mission Inn is not. The MissionInn is a tribute to the architecture and heritage of the Missions. But San Juan Capistrano isthe real thing.
At Capistrano, I roamed the immense square garden, the open cloisters, and visited the narrowdim Serra Chapel—the oldest consecrated Catholic chapel in the state of California.
I loved the chapel. I loved that it was the only known sanctuary on the whole coast in whichBlessed Junípero Serra, the great Franciscan, had actually said Mass. He might have said Massin many another Mission chapel. In fact surely he had. But this was the only one about whicheveryone was certain.
There had been times in the past when I’d driven north to visit the Mission at Carmel, andlook into the little cell there that they’d re-created and ascribed to Junípero Serra, andmeditated on the simplicity of it: the chair, the narrow bed, the cross on the wall. All asaint needed.
And then there was San Juan Bautista, too, with its refectory and museum—and all the otherMissions that had been so painstakingly restored.
I’d wanted to be a priest for a while when I was a boy, a Dominican, in fact, and theDominicans and the Franciscans of the California missions were mixed in my mind because theywere both mendicant orders. I respected them equally, and there was a part of me that belongedto that old dream.
I still read history books about the Franciscans and the Dominicans. I had an old biography ofThomas Aquinas saved from my school days, full of old notes. Reading history always soothed me.Reading history let me sink into ages safely gone by. Same with the Missions. They were islandsnot of our time.
It was the Serra Chapel in San Juan Capistrano that I visited most often.
I went there not to remember the devotion I’d known as a boy. That was gone forever. Fact was,I simply wanted the blueprint of the paths that I’d traveled in those early years. Maybe Ijust wanted to walk the sacred ground, walk through places of pilgrimage and sanctity because I
couldn’t actually think about them too much.
I liked the beamed ceiling of the Serra Chapel, and its darkly painted walls. I felt calm inthe quality of gloom inside it, the glimmer of the gold retablo at the far end of it—thegolden framework that was behind the altar and fitted with statues and saints.
I loved the red sanctuary light burning to the left of the tabernacle. Sometimes I knelt rightup there before the altar on one of the prie-dieux obviously intended for a bride and a groom.
Of course the golden retablo, or reredos, as it’s often called, hadn’t been there in the daysof the early Franciscans. It had come later, during the restoration, but the chapel itselfseemed to me to be very real. The Blessed Sacrament was in it. And the Blessed Sacrament, nomatter what I believed, meant “real.”
How can I explain this?
I always knelt in the semidarkness for a very long time, and I’d always light a candle beforeI left, though for whom or what I couldn’t have said. Maybe I whispered, “This is in memoryof you, Jacob, and you, Emily.” But it wasn’t a prayer. I didn’t believe in prayer any morethan I believed in actual memory.
I craved rituals and monuments, and maps of meaning. I craved history in book and building and
in danger, and I in killing people whenever and wherever I waspaint—and I believedbelieved
instructed to do it by my boss, whom in my heart of hearts I called simply The Right Man.
Last time I’d been to the Mission—scarcely a month ago—I’d spent an unusually long timewalking about the enormous garden.
Never have I seen so many kinds of flowers in one place. There were modern roses, exquisitelyshaped, and older ones, open like camellias, there were trumpet flower vines, and morningglory, lantana, and the biggest bushes of blue plumbago that I’d ever seen in my life. Therewere sunflowers and orange trees, and daisies, and you could walk right through the heart ofthis on any of the many broad and comfortable newly paved paths.
I’d taken my time in the enclosing cloisters, loving the ancient and uneven stone floors. I’denjoyed looking out at the world from under the arches. Round arches had always filled me witha sense of peace. Round arches defined the Mission, and round arches defined the Mission Inn.
It gave me special pleasure at Capistrano that the layout of the Mission was an ancientmonastic design to be found in monasteries all over the world, and that Thomas Aquinas, mysaintly hero when I was a boy, had probably spent many an hour roaming just such a square withits arches and its neatly laid out paths, and its inevitable flowers.
Throughout history monks had laid out this plan again and again as if the very bricks andmortar could somehow stave off an evil world, and keep them and the books they wrote safeforever.
I stood for a long time in the hulking shell of the great ruined church of Capistrano.
An earthquake in 1812 had destroyed it, and what remained was a high gaping and rooflesssanctuary of empty niches and daunting size. I’d stared at the random chunks of brick andcement wall scattered here and there, as if they had some meaning for me, some meaning, likethe music of The Rite of Spring, something to do with my own wretched wreck of a life.
I was a man shaken by an earthquake, a man paralyzed by dissonance. I knew that much. I thoughtabout that all the time, though I tried to detach it from any continuity. I tried to acceptwhat seemed my fate. But if you don’t believe in fate, well, that is not easy.
On my most recent visit, I’d been talking to God in the Serra Chapel, and telling Him how muchI hated Him that He didn’t exist. I’d told Him how vicious it was, the illusion that Heexisted, how unfair it was to do that to mortal men, and especially to children, and how Idetested Him for it.
I know, I know, this doesn’t make sense. I did a lot of things that didn’t make sense. Beingan assassin and nothing else didn’t make sense. And that was probably why I was circling thesesame places more and more often, free of my many disguises.
I knew I read history books all the time as though I believed a God had acted in history morethan once to save us from ourselves, but I didn’t believe this at all, and my mind was full ofrandom facts about many an age and many a famous personage. Why would a killer do that?
One can’t be a killer every moment of one’s life. Some humanity is going to show itself nowand then, some hunger for normality, no matter what you do.
And so I had my history books, and the visits to these few places that took me to the times ofwhich I read with such numb enthusiasm, filling my mind with narrative so that it wouldn’t beempty and turn in on itself.
And I had to shake my fist at God for the meaninglessness of it all. And to me, it felt good.He didn’t really exist, but I could have Him that way, in anger, and I’d liked those momentsof conversation with the illusions that had once meant so much, and now only inspired rage.
Maybe when you’re brought up Catholic, you hold to rituals all your life. You live in atheater of the mind because you can’t get out of it. You’re gripped all your life by a spanof two thousand years because you grew up being conscious of belonging to that span.
Most Americans think the world was created the day they were born, but Catholics take it backto Bethlehem and beyond, and so do Jews, even the most secular of them, remembering the Exodus,and the promises to Abraham before that. Never ever did I look at the nighttime stars or thesands of a beach without thinking of God’s promises to Abraham about his progeny, and nomatter what else I did or didn’t believe, Abraham was the father of the tribe to which I stillbelonged through no fault or virtue of my own.
I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore.
So that’s how we go on acting dramas in our theater of the mind even when we don’t believeanymore in the audience or the director or the play.
I’d laughed thinking about that, as I’d meditated in the Serra Chapel, laughed out loud likea crazy man as I knelt there, murmuring in the sweet and delicious gloom and shaking my head.
What had maddened me on that last visit was that it was just past ten years to the day thatI’d been working for The Right Man.
The Right Man had remembered the anniversary, talking about anniversaries for the first timeever and presenting me with a huge monetary gift that had already been wired to the bankaccount in Switzerland through which I most often received my money.
He’d said to me over the phone the evening before, “If I knew anything about you, Lucky, I’dgive you something more than cold cash. All I know is you like to play the lute, and when youwere a kid you played it all the time. They told me that, about your playing. If you hadn’tloved the lute so much, maybe we never would have met. Realize how long it’s been since I’veseen you? And I always hope you’re going to drop in, and bring your precious lute with you.When you do that, I’ll get you to play for me, Lucky. Hell, Lucky, I don’t even know whereyou really live.”
Now that was something he brought up all the time, that he didn’t know where I lived, becauseI think he feared, in his heart of hearts, that I didn’t trust him, that my work had slowlyeroded the love for him which I felt.
But I did trust him. And I did love him. I didn’t love anyone in the world but him. I justdidn’t want anyone to know where I lived.
No place I lived was home, and I changed where I lived often. Nothing traveled with me fromhome to home, except my lute, and all my books. And of course my few clothes.
In this age of cell phones and the Internet, it was so easy to be untraceable. And so easy tobe reached by an intimate voice in a perfect teletronic silence.
“Look, you can reach me anytime, day or night,” I’d reminded him. “Doesn’t matter where Ilive. Doesn’t matter to me, so why should it matter to you? And someday, maybe I’ll send youa recording of me playing the lute. You’ll be surprised. I’m still good at it.”
He’d chuckled. Okay with him, as long as I always answered the phone.
“Have I ever let you down?” I’d asked.
“No, and I’ll never let you down either,” he’d replied. “Just wish I could see you moreoften. Hell, you could be in Paris right now, or Amsterdam.”
“I’m not,” I’d answered. “You know that. The checkpoints are too hot. I’m in the Statesas I’ve been since Nine-Eleven. I’m closer than you think, and I’ll come see you one ofthese days, just not right now, and maybe I’ll take you to dinner. We’ll sit in a restaurantlike human beings. But these days, I’m not up to the meeting. I like being alone.”
There had been no assignment on that anniversary, so I was able to stay in the Mission Inn, andI’d driven over to San Juan Capistrano the following morning.
No need at all to tell him I had an apartment in Beverly Hills right now, in a quiet and leafyplace, and maybe next year it would be Palm Springs out in the desert. No need to tell him thatI didn’t bother with disguises in this apartment, either, or in the surrounding neighborhoodfrom which the Mission Inn was only an hour away.
In the past, I’d never gone out without some sort of disguise, and I noted this change inmyself with a cold equanimity. I wondered sometimes if they would let me have my books if Iever went to jail.
The Mission Inn in Riverside, California, was my only constant. I’d fly across the country tomake the drive to Riverside. The Inn was where I most wanted to be.
The Right Man had gone on talking that evening. “Years ago, I bought you every recording inthe world of lute music and the best instrument money can buy. I bought you all those books youwanted. Hell, I pulled some down off these shelves. Are you still reading all the time, Lucky?You know you should have a chance to get more education, Lucky. Maybe I should have looked outfor you a little more than I did.”
“Boss, you’re worrying yourself about nothing. I have more books now than I know what to dowith. Twice a month, I drop a box at some library. I’m perfectly fine.”
“What about a penthouse somewhere, Lucky? What about some rare books? There must be somethingI can get for you more than just money. A penthouse would be nice, safe. You’re always safewhen you’re higher up.”
“Safe up in the sky?” I’d asked. The fact was my Beverly Hills apartment was a penthouse,but the building was only five stories high. “Penthouses are usually reached by two methods,Boss,” I said, “and I don’t like being bottled up. No thanks.”
I felt secure in my Beverly Hills penthouse and it was walled with books on just about everyepoch that had preceded the twentieth century.
I’d known for a long time why I loved history. It was because the historians made it sound socoherent, so purposeful, so complete. They’d take an entire century and impose a meaning onit, a personality, a destiny—and this was, of course, a lie.
But it soothed me in my solitude to read that sort of writing, to think that the fourteenthcentury was a “distant mirror,” to paraphrase a famous title, to believe that we could learnfrom whole eras as if they had existed with marvelous continuity simply for us.
It was good reading in my apartment. It was good reading at the Mission Inn.
I liked my apartment for more reasons than one. As my undisguised self, I liked to walk in thesoft, quiet neighborhood around it, and to stop in the Four Seasons Hotel for breakfast orlunch.
There were times when I checked into the Four Seasons just to be someplace completelydifferent, and I had a favorite suite there with a long granite dining table and a black grandpiano. I would play the piano in that suite, and sometimes even sing, with the ghost of thevoice I’d once had.
Years ago, I’d thought I’d be singing all my life. It was music that had taken me away fromwanting to be a Dominican priest—that and growing up, I suppose, and wanting to be with“girls” and wanting to be a man of the world. But mostly it was the music that had ravaged mytwelve-year-old soul, and the total charm of the lute. I think I felt superior to the garageband kids when I played that beautiful lute.
All that was over, and had been over for ten years—the lute was a relic now—and theanniversary had come around and I wasn’t telling The Right Man my address.
“What can I get you?” he still pleaded. “You know I was in a rare-book shop the other day,just by chance actually. I was roaming in Manhattan. You know me and roaming. And I saw thisbeautiful old medieval book.”
“Boss, the answer is nothing,” I said. And I hung up.
The next day, after that phone call, I’d talked about that to the Non-existent God in theSerra Chapel, in the flicker of the red sanctuary light, and told Him what a monster I wasbeing, a soldier without a war, and a needle sniper without a cause, a singer who never reallysang. As if He cared.
And then I’d lit a candle “To the Nothingness” that had become my life. “Here’s a candle… for me.” I think I’d said that. I’m not sure. I know I was talking way too loud by thattime because people noticed me. And that surprised me because people seldom notice me at all.
Even my disguises were for the nondescript and the pale.
There was a consistency, though I doubt anyone ever caught on. Grease-slicked black hair, heavydark glasses, a bill cap, leather pilot’s jacket, the usual dragging foot, but never the samefoot.
That was plenty enough to make me a man nobody saw. Before I’d ever gone as myself, I’d runthree or four disguises by the desk of the Mission Inn, and three or four different names to gowith them. It went perfectly fine. When the real Lucky the Fox walked in with the alias TommyCrane, no one showed a flicker of recognition. I was too good at the disguises. For the agentsthat hunted me, I was a modus operandi, not a man with a face.
That last time, I’d walked out of the Serra Chapel, angry, and confused, and miserable, andwas only comforted by spending the day in the picturesque little town of San Juan Capistrano,and buying a statue of the Virgin in the Mission gift shop before it closed.
It wasn’t just an ordinary little Virgin. It was a figure with the Christ Child and the wholemade not only with plaster but plastered cloth. It looked dressed and soft, though it wasn’t.It was dressed and stiff. And it was sweet. The little Baby Jesus had a lot of character, withHis tiny head tilted to one side, and the Virgin herself was just a teardrop face and two handsemerging from the fancy robes of gold and white. I threw the box in my car at the time anddidn’t give it much of a thought.
Whenever I went to Capistrano, however—and last time had been no exception—I heard Mass inthe new Basilica, the grand re-creation of the big church broken to pieces in 1812.
I was very impressed and quieted by the Grand Basilica. It was vast, expensive, Romanesque,and, like so many Romanesque churches, filled with light. Round arches again everywhere.Exquisitely painted walls.
Behind the altar there was another golden retablo, one that made the one in the Serra Chapellook small. This too was ancient and shipped from the Old Country, just as the other had been,and covering the entire back wall of the sanctuary to a momentous height. It was overwhelmingin its dazzling gold.
Nobody knew it, but I sent money now and then to the Basilica, though rarely under the samename. I’d buy postal money orders and make up joke names to put on them. The money got there,that was the point.
Four saints had their appropriate niches in the retablo—St. Joseph with his inevitable lily,the great St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Junípero Serra holding a small model of the mission in