HOW DO I . . .

Joan Stephens  


Gabriel stares up at me from his position on the floor, his upper body leaning heavily against the wall. His eyes are dark and fathomless. Blood from the three deep gashes inflicted by Vincent's deadly claws runs down his cheek, dripping slowly onto the crisp, immaculate front of his snow white linen shirt. But even now, facing the business end of the .38-caliber Charter that I hold, he shows no emotion. His mouth twists into a cold, malevolent smile as he tells me how he always wins, how he will find the child.

Suddenly, something that has lived in me since the night I found Vincent sprawled on Catherine's grave begins to stir. I have had this feeling before. It was at its strongest when I nursed him back to health after he was almost killed in the explosion of the Compass Rose. It is a fiercely protective, loving feeling: one I've felt only once before when my own father almost died of a heart attack. Ruthlessly, I push it into the back of my mind. I cannot do what it demands.

But this . . . something . . . stirs again with fear then with purpose and slowly my hand is forced up until the gun-barrel is pointed directly at his heart. A voice that is not mine says firmly, "Not this time."

Then in my own voice, I say, "This is Catherine Chandler's gun."

I know it is wrong and I try to stop it, but my finger inexorably squeezes the trigger. There is a loud report, and a sense of deep relief and peace settles over me and then is swiftly gone. Gabriel is dead.

I step back, unnerved, hearing the pounding of feet coming up the stairs. How do I explain that I wasn't the one that killed him? That it was Catherine Chandler. That it was she who killed him.