CHAPTER 13

In the small dimly lighted projection booth, a sprung sofa slumped against one wall, and stacks of paperbacks stood on every flat surface. Evidently Jelly liked to read while the movie ran.

Pointing to a door different from the one by which they had entered, the fat man said, “My apartment’s through there. Ben left a special box for you.”

While Jelly went to fetch the box, Deucalion was drawn to the old projector, no doubt original to the building. This monstrous piece of machinery featured enormous supply and take-up reels. The 35mm film had to be threaded through a labyrinth of sprockets and guides, into the gap between the high-intensity bulb and the lens.

He studied the adjustment knobs and worked forward until he could peer into the cyclopean eye of the projector. He removed a cover plate to examine the internal gears, wheels, and motors.

Across the balcony, the mezzanine, and the lower seats, this device could cast a bright illusion of life upon the big screen.

Deucalion’s own life, in its first decade, had often seemed like a dark illusion. With time, however, life had become too real, requiring him to retreat into carnivals, into monasteries.

Returning with an old shoebox full of papers, Jelly halted when he saw Deucalion tinkering with the projector. “Makes me nervous, you messing with that. It’s an antique. Hard to get parts or a repairman. That thing is the life’s blood of this place.”

“It’s hemorrhaging.” Deucalion replaced the cover to protect the delicate parts. “Logic reveals the secrets of any machine-whether it’s a projector, a jet engine, or the universe itself.”

“Ben warned me you think too much.” Jelly set the shoebox on a stack of entertainment-gossip magazines. “He sent you one newspaper clipping with his letter, right?”

?And it brought me halfway around the world.”

Jelly took the lid off the box. “Ben collected lots of this.”

Deucalion picked up the top clipping, scanned the photo, then the headline: VICTOR HELIOS GIVES ONE MILLION TO SYMPHONY.

The sight of the man in the photo, virtually unchanged after so much time, jolted Deucalion as before, in the monastery.

*scimitars of lightning gut a black-bellied night, and then crashes of thunder shake darkness across the tall casement windows once more. From flickering gas lamps, light capers over the stone walls of a cavernous laboratory. An electric arc crackles between the copper wire-wrapped poles of eldritch equipment. Sparks spray from dangerously overloaded transformers and piston-driven machinery.

The storm grows more violent, hurling bolt after bolt into the collector rods that stud the tallest towers. The incredible energy is channeled down into-him.

He opens his heavy eyelids and sees another’s eye magnified by an ocular device resembling a jewelers loupe. The loupe flips up, and he sees the face of Victor. Young earnest, hopeful.

In white cap and blood-spattered gown, this creator, this would-be god?…

Hands trembling, Deucalion dropped the clipping, which fluttered to the floor of the projection room.

Ben had prepared him for this, but he was shocked anew. Victor alive. Alive.

For a century or more, Deucalion had explained his own longevity to himself by the simple fact that he was unique, brought to life by singular means. He might therefore exist beyond the reach of death. He never had a cold, the flu, no ailment or physical complaint.

Victor, however, had been born of man and woman. He should be heir to all the ills of the flesh.

From an inner jacket pocket, Deucalion withdrew a rolled sheet of heavy paper, which he usually kept in his carryall. He slipped the knot of the securing ribbon, unrolled the paper, and stared at it for a moment before showing it to Jelly.

Scrutinizing the pencil portrait, Jelly said, “That’s Helios.”

“A self-portrait,” Deucalion said. “He’s? talented. I took this from a frame in his study? more than two hundred years ago.”

Jelly evidently knew enough to receive that statement without surprise.

“I showed this to Ben,” Deucalion said. “More than once. That’s how he recognized Victor Helios and knew him for who he really is.”

Setting aside Victor’s self-portrait, Deucalion selected a second clipping from the box and saw a photo of Helios receiving an award from the mayor of New Orleans.

A third clipping: Victor with the district attorney during his election campaign.

A fourth: Victor and his lovely wife, Erika, at a benefit auction.

Victor purchasing a mansion in the Garden District.

Victor endowing a scholarship at Tulane University.

Victor, Victor, Victor.

Deucalion did not recall casting aside the clippings or crossing the small room, but he must have done so, for the next thing he knew, he had driven his right fist and then his left into the wall, through the old plaster. As he withdrew his hands, clutching broken lengths of lath, a section of the wall crumbled and collapsed at his feet.

He heard himself roar with anger and anguish, and managed to choke off the cry before he lost control of it.

As he turned to Jelly, Deucalion’s vision brightened, dimmed, brightened, and he knew that a subtle pulse of luminosity, like heat lightning behind clouds on a summer night, passed through his eyes. He had seen the phenomenon himself in mirrors.

Wide-eyed, Jelly seemed ready to bolt from the room, but then let out his pent-up breath. “Ben said you’d be upset.”

Deucalion almost laughed at the fat man’s understatement and aplomb, but he feared that a laugh would morph into a scream of rage. For the first time in many years, he had almost lost control of himself, almost indulged the criminal impulses that had been a part of him from the moment of his creation.

He said, “Do you know what I am?”

Jelly met his eyes, studied the tattoo and the ruin that it only half concealed, considered his hulking size. “Ben? he explained. I guess it could be true.”

“Believe it,” Deucalion advised him. “My origins are a prison graveyard, the cadavers of criminals — combined, revitalized, reborn.”

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