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Vampire Chronicles #4: The Tale of the Body Thiefby Anne Rice
MIAMI--the vampires' city. This is South Beach at sunset, in the luxurious warmth of the winterless winter, clean and thriving and drenched in electric light, the gentle breeze moving in from the placid sea, across the dark margin of cream-colored sand, to cool the smooth broad pavements full of happy mortal children.
Sweet the parade of fashionable young men displaying their cultured muscles with touching vulgarity, of young women so proud of their streamlined and seemingly sexless modern limbs, amid the soft urgent roar of traffic and human voices.
Old stucco hostelries, once the middling shelters of the aged, were now reborn in smart pastel colors, sporting their new names in elegant neon script. Candles flickered on the white-draped tables of the open-porch restaurants. Big shiny American cars pushed their way slowly along the avenue, as drivers and passengers viewed the dazzling human parade, lazy pedestrians here and there blocking the thoroughfare.
On the distant horizon the great white clouds were mountains beneath a roofless and star-filled heaven. Ah, it never failed to take my breath away--this southern sky filled with azure light and drowsy relentless movement.
To the north rose the towers of new Miami Beach in all their splendor. To the south and to the west, the dazzling steel skyscrapers of the downtown city with its high roaring freeways and busy cruise-ship docks. Small pleasure boats sped along the sparkling waters of the myriad urban canals.
In the quiet immaculate gardens of Coral Gables, countless lamps illuminated the handsome sprawling villas with their red-tiled roofs, and swimming pools shimmering with turquoise light. Ghost walked in the grand and darkened rooms of the Biltmore. The massive mangrove trees threw out their primitive limbs to cover the broad and carefully tended streets.
In Coconut Grove, the international shoppers thronged the luxurious hotels and fashionable malls. Couples embraced on the high balconies of their glass-walled condominiums, silhouettes gazing out over the serene waters of the bay. Cars sped along the busy roads past the ever-dancing palms and delicate rain trees, past the squat concrete mansions draped with red and purple bougainvillea, behind their fancy iron gates.
All of this is Miami, city of water, city of speed, city of tropical flowers, city of enormous skies. It is for Miami, more than any other place, that I periodically leave my New Orleans home. The men and women of many nations and different colors live in the great dense neighborhoods of Miami. One hears Yiddish, Hebrew, the languages of Spain, of Haiti, the dialects and accents of Latin America, of the deep south of this nation and of the far north. There is menace beneath the shining surface of Miami, there is desperation and a throbbing greed; there is the deep steady pulse of a great capital--the low grinding energy, the endless risk.
It's never really dark in Miami. It's never really quiet.
It is the perfect city for the vampire; and it never fails to yield to me a mortal killer--some twisted, sinister morsel who will give up to me a dozen of his own murders as I drain his memory banks and his blood.
But tonight it was the Big-Game Hunt, the unseasonal Easter feast after a Lent of starvation--the pursuit of one of those splendid human trophies whose gruesome modus operandi reads for pages in the computer files of mortal law enforcement agencies, a being anointed in his anonymity with a flashy name by the worshipful press: "Back Street Strangler."
I lust after such killers!
What luck for me that such a celebrity had surfaced in my favorite city. What luck that he has struck six times in these very streets--slayer of the old and the infirm, who have come in such numbers to live out their remaining days in these warm climes. Ah, I would have crossed a continent to snap him up, but he is here waiting for me. To his dark history, detailed by no less than twenty criminologists, and easily purloined by me through the computer in my New Orleans lair, I have secretly added the crucial elements--his name and mortal habitation.
A simple trick for a dark god who can read minds. Through his blood-soaked dreams I found him . And tonight the pleasure will be mind of finishing his illustrious career in a dark cruel embrace, without a scintilla of moral illumination.
Ah, Miami. The perfect place for this little Passion Play.
I always come back to Miami, the way I come back to New Orleans. And I'm the only immortal now who hunts this glorious corner of the Savage Garden, for as you have seen, the others long ago deserted the coven house here--unable to endure each other's company any more than I can endure them.
But so much the better to have Miami all to myself.
I stood at the front windows of the rooms I maintained in the swanky little Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive, every now and then letting my preternatural hearing sweep the chambers around me in which the rich tourists enjoyed that premium brand of solitude--complete privacy only steps from the flashy street--my Champs Elysees of the moment, my Via Veneto.
My strangler was almost ready to move from the realm of him spasmodic and fragmentary visions into the land of literal death. Ah, time to dress for the man of my dreams.
Picking from the usual wilderness of freshly opened cardboard boxes, suitcases, and trunks, I chose a suit of gray velvet, an old favorite, especially when the fabric is thick, with only a subtle luster. Not very likely for these warm nights, I had to admit, but then I don't feel hot and cold the way humans do. And the coat was slim with narrow lapels, very spare and rather like a hacking jacket with its fitted waist, or, more to the point, like the graceful old frock coats of earlier times. We immortals forever fancy old-fashioned garments, garments that remind us of the century in which we were Born to Darkness. Sometimes you can gauge the true age of an immortal simply by the cut of his clothes.
With me, it's also a matter of texture. The eighteenth century was so shiny! I can't bear to be without a little luster. And this handsome coat suited me perfectly with the plain tight velvet pants. As for the white silk shirt, it was a cloth so soft you could ball the garment in the palm of your hand. Why should I wear anything else so close to my indestructible and curiously sensitive skin? Then the boots. Ah, they look like all my fine shoes of late. Their soles are immaculate, for they so seldom touch the mother earth.
My hair I shook loose into the usual thick mane of glowing yellow shoulder-length waves. What would I look like to mortals? I honestly don't know. I covered up my blue eyes, as always, with black glasses, lest their radiance mesmerize and entrance at random--a real nuisance--and over my delicate white hands, with their telltale glassy fingernails, I drew the usual pair of soft gray leather gloves.
Ah, a bit of oily brown camouflage for the skin. I smoothed the lotion over my cheekbones, over the bit of neck and chest that was bare.
I inspected the finished product in the mirror. Still irresistible. No wonder I'd been such a smash in my brief career as a rock singer. And I've always been a howling success as a vampire. Thank the gods I hadn't become invisible in my airy wandering, a vagabond floating far above the clouds, light as a cinder on the wind. I felt like weeping when I thought of it.
The Big-Game Hunt always brought me back to the actual.
Track him, wait for him, catch him just at the moment that he would bring death to his next victim, and take him slowly, painfully, feasting upon his wickedness as you do it, glimpsing through the filthy lens of his soul all his earlier victims--
Please understand, there is no nobility in this. I don't believe that rescuing one poor mortal from such a fiend can conceivably save my soul. I have taken life too often--unless one believes that the power of one good deed is infinite. I don't know whether or not I believe that. What I do believe is this: The evil of one murder is infinite, and my guilt is like my beauty--eternal. I cannot be forgiven, for there is no one to forgive me for all I've done.
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