HOW DO I . . .

Joan Stephens  


Gabriel stares up at me from his position on the floor, his upperbody leaning heavily against the wall. His eyes are dark andfathomless. Blood from the three deep gashes inflicted by Vincent'sdeadly claws runs down his cheek, dripping slowly onto the crisp,immaculate front of his snow white linen shirt. But even now, facingthe business end of the .38-caliber Charter that I hold, he shows noemotion. His mouth twists into a cold, malevolent smile as he tellsme how he always wins, how he will find the child.

Suddenly, something that has lived in me since the night I foundVincent sprawled on Catherine's grave begins to stir. I have had thisfeeling before. It was at its strongest when I nursed him back tohealth after he was almost killed in the explosion of the CompassRose. It is a fiercely protective, loving feeling: one I've felt onlyonce 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 itdemands.

But this . . . something . . . stirs again with fear then withpurpose and slowly my hand is forced up until the gun-barrel ispointed 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'sgun."

I know it is wrong and I try to stop it, but my finger inexorablysqueezes the trigger. There is a loud report, and a sense of deeprelief and peace settles over me and then is swiftly gone. Gabriel isdead.

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