CHAPTER 87

Because of their fine-tuned metabolism, members of the New Race did not easily become drunk. Their capacity for drink was great, and when they did become inebriated, they sobered more quickly than did those of the Old Race.

Throughout the day, Father Duchaine and Harker opened bottle after bottle of communion wine. This use of the church’s inventory troubled the priest both because it was in effect a misappropriation of funds and because the wine, once blessed, would have become the sacred blood of Christ.

Being a soulless creature made by man but charged with religious duty, Father Duchaine had over the months and years grown ever more torn between what he was and what he wished to be.

Regardless of the moral issue of using this particular wine for purposes other than worship, the alcoholic content of the brew was less than they might have wished. Late in the afternoon, they began to spike it with Father Duchaine’s supply of vodka.

Sitting in armchairs in the rectory study, the priest and the detective tried for the tenth-or perhaps the twentieth-time to pull the most troubling thorns from each other’s psyches.

“Father will find me soon,” Harker predicted. “He’ll stop me.”

“And me,” the priest said morosely.

“But I don’t feel guilty about what I’ve done.”

“Thou shalt not kill.”

“Even if there is a God, His commandments can’t apply to us,” said Harker. “We’re not His children.”

“Our maker has also forbidden us to murder? except on his instructions.”

“But our maker isn’t God. He’s more like? the plantation owner. Murder isn’t a sin? just disobedience.”

“It’s still a crime,” said Father Duchaine, troubled by Harker’s self-justifications, even though the plantation-owner analogy had a measure of truth in it.

Sitting on the edge of his armchair, leaning forward, tumbler of vodka-spiked wine clasped in both hands, Harker said, “Do you believe in evil?”

“People do terrible things,” the priest said. “I mean, real people, the Old Race. For children of God, they do terrible, terrible things.”

“But evil,” Harker pressed. “Evil pure and purposeful? Is evil a real presence in the world?”

The priest drank from his glass, then said, “The church allows exorcisms. I’ve never performed one.”

With the solemnity of both profound dread and too much booze, Harker said, “Is he evil?”

“Victor?” Father Duchaine felt that he was on dangerous ground. “He’s a hard man, not easy to like. His jokes aren’t funny.”

Harker rose from his chair, went to a window, and studied the low, threatening sky that impressed an early dusk upon the day.

After a while, he said, “If he’s evil? then what are we? I’ve been so? confused lately. But I don’t feel evil. Not like Hitler or Lex Luthor. Just? incomplete.”

Father Duchaine slid to the edge of his chair. “Do you think? by living the right way, we might in time develop the souls that Victor couldn’t give us?”

Returning from the window, adding vodka to his glass, Harker said with serious demeanor, “Grow a soul? Like? gallstones? I’ve never thought about it.”

“Have you seen Pinocchio?”

“I’ve never had patience for their movies.”

“This marionette is made of wood,” Father Duchaine said, “but he wants to be a real boy.”

Harker nodded, downed half his drink, and said, “Like Winnie the Pooh wants to be a real bear.”

“No. Pooh is delusional. He already thinks he’s a real bear. He eats honey. He’s afraid of bees.”

“Does Pinocchio become a real boy?”

Father Duchaine said, ?After a lot of struggle, yes.”

“That’s inspiring,” Harker decided.

“It is. It really is.”

Harker chewed his lower lip, thinking. Then: “Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course. I’m a priest.”

“This is a little scary,” Harker said.

“Everything in life’s a little scary”

“That’s so true.”

“In fact, that was the theme of my homily last Sunday”

Harker put down his drink, stood before Duchaine. “But I’m more excited than scared. It started two days ago, and it’s accelerating.”

Expectantly, Patrick rose from his chair.

“Like Pinocchio,” Harker said, “I’m changing.”

“Changing? how?”

“Victor denied us the ability to reproduce. But I? I’m going to give birth to something.”

With an expression that seemed to be as much pride as fear, Harker lifted his loose-fitting T-shirt.

A subcutaneous face was taking shape beneath the skin and the surface fat layers of Harker’s abdomen. The thing was like a death mask but in motion: blind eyes rolling, mouth opening as though in a silent scream.

Recoiling in shock, Father Duchaine crossed himself before he realized what he had done.

The doorbell rang.

“Birth?” the priest said agitatedly. “What makes you think it’s birth instead of biological chaos?”

Sudden sweat sheathed Harker’s face. Sullen at this rejection, he pulled down his T-shirt. “I’m not afraid. Why should I be?” But clearly he was afraid. “I’ve murdered. Now I create-which makes me more human.”

The doorbell rang again.

“A breakdown in cell structure, metastasis,” Father Duchaine said. “A terrible design flaw.”

“You’re envious. That’s what you are-envious in your chastity.”

“You’ve got to go to him. Get his help. He’ll know what to do.”

“Oh, he’ll know what to do, all right,” Harker said. “There’s a place waiting for me in the landfill.”

The doorbell rang a third time, more insistently than before.

“Wait here,” said Father Duchaine. “I’ll be back. We’ll figure out what to do? something. Just wait.”

He closed the door when he left the study. He crossed the parlor to the front hall.

When the priest opened the front door, he discovered Victor on the porch.

“Good evening, Patrick.”

Striving to conceal his anxiety, Father Duchaine said, “Sir. Yes. Good evening.”

“Just ‘good evening?”

“I’m sorry. What?” When Victor frowned, Duchaine understood. “Oh, yes. Of course. Come in, sir. Please come in.”

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