SHADES OF DESPAIR
There were omens from the beginning.
First off, I didn't want to do a job at the Mission Inn. Anywhere
in the country, I would have been willing, but not the Mission Inn.
And in the bridal suite, that very room, my room. Bad luck and
beyond, I thought to myself.
Of course my boss, The Right Man, had no way of knowing when he
gave me this assignment that the Mission Inn was where I went when
I didn't want to be Lucky the Fox, when I didn't want to be his
The Mission Inn was part of that very small world in which I wore
no disguise. I was simply me when I went there, six foot four,
short blond hair, gray eyes --- a person who looked like so many
other people that he didn't look like any special person at all. I
didn't even bother to wear braces to disguise my voice when I went
there. I didn't even bother with the de rigueur sunglasses that
shielded my identity in every other place, except the apartment and
neighborhood where I lived.
I was just who I am when I went there, though who I am was nobody
except the man who wore all those elaborate disguises when he did
what he was told to do by The Right Man.
So the Mission Inn was mine, cipher that I was, and so was the
bridal suite, called the Amistad Suite, under the dome. And now I
was being told to systematically pollute it. Not for anyone else
but myself, of course. I would never have done anything to harm the
A giant confection and confabulation of a building in Riverside,
California, it was where I often took refuge, an extravagant and
engulfing place sprawling over two city blocks, and where I could
pretend, for a day or two or three, that I wasn't wanted by the
FBI, Interpol, or The Right Man, a place where I could lose myself
and my conscience. Europe had long ago become unsafe for me, due to
the increased security at every checkpoint, and the fact that the
law enforcement agencies that dreamed of trapping me had decided I
was behind every single unsolved murder they had on the
If I wanted the atmosphere I'd loved so much in Siena or Assisi, or
Vienna or Prague and all the other places I could no longer visit,
I sought out the Mission Inn. It couldn't be all those places, no.
Yet it gave me a unique haven and sent me back out into my sterile
world a renewed spirit.
It wasn't the only place where I wasn't anybody at all, but it was
the best place, and the place to which I went the most.
The Mission Inn was not far from where I "lived," if one could call
it that. And I went there on impulse generally, and at any time
that they could give me my suite. I liked the other rooms all
right, especially the Inn keeper's Suite, but I was patient in
waiting for the Amistad. And sometimes they called me on one of the
many special cell phones I carried, to let me know the suite could
Sometimes I stayed as long as a week in the Mission Inn. I'd bring
my lute with me, and maybe play it a little. And I always had a
stack of books to read, almost always history, books on medieval
times or the Dark Ages, or the Renaissance, or Ancient Rome. I'd
read for hours in the Amistad, feeling uncommonly safe and
There were special places I went from the Inn.
Often, undisguised, I drove over to nearby Costa Mesa to hear the
Pacific Symphony. I liked it, the contrast, moving from the stucco
arches and rusted bells of the Inn to the immense Plexiglas miracle
of the Segerstrom Concert Hall, with the pretty Cafe Rouge on the
Behind those high clear undulating windows, the restaurant appeared
to float in space. I felt, when I dined in it, that I was indeed
floating in space, and in time, detached from all things ugly and
evil, and sweetly alone.
I had just recently heard Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in that
concert hall. Loved it. Loved the pounding madness of it. It had
brought back a memory of the very first time I'd ever heard it, ten
years before --- on the night when I'd met The Right Man. It had
made me think of my own life, and all that had happened since then,
as I'd drifted through the world waiting for those cell phone calls
that always meant somebody was marked, and I had to get him.
I never killed women, but that's not to say that I hadn't before I
became The Right Man's vassal or serf, or knight, depending on how
one chose to view it. He called me his knight. I thought of it in
far more sinister terms, and nothing during these ten years had
ever accustomed me to my function.
Often I even drove from the Mission Inn to the Mission of San Juan
Capistrano, south and closer to the coast, another secret place,
where I felt unknown and sometimes even happy.
Now the Mission of San Juan Capistrano is a real mission. The
Mission Inn is not. The Mission Inn is a tribute to the
architecture and heritage of the Missions. But San Juan Capistrano
is the real thing.
At Capistrano, I roamed the immense square garden, the open
cloisters, and visited the narrow dim Serra Chapel --- the oldest
consecrated Catholic chapel in the state of California.
I loved the chapel. I loved that it was the only known sanctuary on
the whole coast in which Blessed Junípero Serra, the great
Franciscan, had actually said Mass. He might have said Mass in many
another Mission chapel. In fact surely he had. But this was the
only one about which everyone was certain.
There had been times in the past when I'd driven north to visit the
Mission at Carmel, and look into the little cell there that they'd
re-created and ascribed to Junípero Serra, and meditated on
the simplicity of it: the chair, the narrow bed, the cross on the
wall. All a saint needed.
And then there was San Juan Bautista, too, with its refectory and
museum --- and all the other Missions that had been so
I'd wanted to be a priest for a while when I was a boy, a
Dominican, in fact, and the Dominicans and the Franciscans of the
California missions were mixed in my mind because they were both
mendicant orders. I respected them equally, and there was a part of
me that belonged to that old dream.
I still read history books about the Franciscans and the
Dominicans. I had an old biography of Thomas Aquinas saved from my
school days, full of old notes. Reading history always soothed me.
Reading history let me sink into ages safely gone by. Same with the
Missions. They were islands not of our time.
It was the Serra Chapel in San Juan Capistrano that I visited most
I went there not to remember the devotion I'd known as a boy. That
was gone forever. Fact was, I simply wanted the blueprint of the
paths that I'd traveled in those early years. Maybe I just wanted
to walk the sacred ground, walk through places of pilgrimage and
sanctity because I couldn't actually think about them too
I liked the beamed ceiling of the Serra Chapel, and its darkly
painted walls. I felt calm in the quality of gloom inside it, the
glimmer of the gold retablo at the far end of it --- the golden
framework that was behind the altar and fitted with statues and
I loved the red sanctuary light burning to the left of the
tabernacle. Sometimes I knelt right up there before the altar on
one of the prie-dieux obviously intended for a bride and a
Of course the golden retablo, or reredos, as it's often called,
hadn't been there in the days of the early Franciscans. It had come
later, during the restoration, but the chapel itself seemed to me
to be very real. The Blessed Sacrament was in it. And the
Blessed Sacrament, no matter what I believed, meant "real."
How can I explain this?
I always knelt in the semidarkness for a very long time, and I'd
always light a candle before I left, though for whom or what I
couldn't have said. Maybe I whispered, "This is in memory of you,
Jacob, and you, Emily." But it wasn't a prayer. I didn't believe in
prayer any more than I believed in actual memory. I craved rituals
and monuments, and maps of meaning. I craved history in book and
building and paint --- and I believed in danger, and I
believed in killing people whenever and wherever I was
instructed to do it by my boss, whom in my heart of hearts I called
simply The Right Man.
Last time I'd been to the Mission --- scarcely a month ago --- I'd
spent an unusually long time walking about the enormous
Never have I seen so many kinds of flowers in one place. There were
modern roses, exquisitely shaped, and older ones, open like
camellias, there were trumpet flower vines, and morning glory,
lantana, and the biggest bushes of blue plum - bago that I'd ever
seen in my life. There were sunflowers and orange trees, and
daisies, and you could walk right through the heart of this on any
of the many broad and comfortable newly paved paths.
I'd taken my time in the enclosing cloisters, loving the ancient
and uneven stone floors. I'd enjoyed looking out at the world from
under the arches. Round arches had always filled me with a sense of
peace. Round arches defined the Mission, and round arches defined
the Mission Inn.
It gave me special pleasure at Capistrano that the layout of the
Mission was an ancient monastic design to be found in monasteries
all over the world, and that Thomas Aquinas, my saintly hero when I
was a boy, had probably spent many an hour roaming just such a
square with its arches and its neatly laid out paths, and its
Throughout history monks had laid out this plan again and again as
if the very bricks and mortar could somehow stave off an evil
world, and keep them and the books they wrote safe forever.
I stood for a long time in the hulking shell of the great ruined
church of Capistrano.
An earthquake in 1812 had destroyed it, and what remained was a
high gaping and roofless sanctuary of empty niches and daunting
size. I'd stared at the random chunks of brick and cement wall
scattered here and there, as if they had some meaning for me, some
meaning, like the music of The Rite of Spring, something
to do with my own wretched wreck of a life.
I was a man shaken by an earthquake, a man paralyzed by dissonance.
I knew that much. I thought about that all the time, though I tried
to detach it from any continuity. I tried to accept what seemed my
fate. But if you don't believe in fate, well, that is not
On my most recent visit, I'd been talking to God in the Serra
Chapel, and telling Him how much I hated Him that He didn't
I'd told Him how vicious it was, the illusion that He existed, how
unfair it was to do that to mortal men, and especially to children,
and how I detested Him for it.
I know, I know, this doesn't make sense. I did a lot of things that
didn't make sense. Being an assassin and nothing else didn't make
sense. And that was probably why I was circling these same places
more and more often, free of my many disguises.
I knew I read history books all the time as though I believed a God
had acted in history more than once to save us from ourselves, but
I didn't believe this at all, and my mind was full of random facts
about many an age and many a famous personage. Why would a killer
One can't be a killer every moment of one's life. Some humanity is
going to show itself now and then, some hunger for normality, no
matter what you do. And so I had my history books, and the visits
to these few places that took me to the times of which I read with
such numb enthusiasm, filling my mind with narrative so that it
wouldn't be empty and turn in on itself.
And I had to shake my fist at God for the meaninglessness of it
all. And to me, it felt good. He didn't really exist, but I could
have Him that way, in anger, and I'd liked those moments of
conversation with the illusions that had once meant so much, and
now only inspired rage.
Maybe when you're brought up Catholic, you hold to rituals all your
life. You live in a theater of the mind because you can't get out
of it. You're gripped all your life by a span of two thousand years
because you grew up being conscious of belonging to that
Most Americans think the world was created the day they were born,
but Catholics take it back to Bethlehem and beyond, and so do Jews,
even the most secular of them, remembering the Exodus, and the
promises to Abraham before that. Never ever did I look at the
nighttime stars or the sands of a beach without thinking of God's
promises to Abraham about his progeny, and no matter what else I
did or didn't believe, Abraham was the father of the tribe to which
I still belonged through no fault or virtue of my own.
I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the
sand which is upon the sea shore.
So that's how we go on acting dramas in our theater of the mind
even when we don't believe anymore in the audience or the director
or the play.
I'd laughed thinking about that, as I'd meditated in the Serra
Chapel, laughed out loud like a crazy man as I knelt there,
murmuring in the sweet and delicious gloom and shaking my
What had maddened me on that last visit was that it was just past
ten years to the day that I'd been working for The Right Man.
The Right Man had remembered the anniversary, talking about
anniversaries for the first time ever and presenting me with a huge
monetary gift that had already been wired to the bank account in
Switzerland through which I most often received my money.
He'd said to me over the phone the evening before, "If I knew
anything about you, Lucky, I'd give you something more than cold
cash. All I know is you like to play the lute, and when you were a
kid you played it all the time. They told me that, about your
playing. If you hadn't loved the lute so much, maybe we never would
have met. Realize how long it's been since I've seen you? And I
always hope you're going to drop in, and bring your precious lute
with you. When you do that, I'll get you to play for me, Lucky.
Hell, Lucky, I don't even know where you really live."
Now that was something he brought up all the time, that he didn't
know where I lived, because I think he feared, in his heart of
hearts, that I didn't trust him, that my work had slowly eroded the
love for him which I felt.
But I did trust him. And I did love him. I didn't love anyone in
the world but him. I just didn't want anyone to know where I
No place I lived was home, and I changed where I lived often.
Nothing traveled with me from home to home, except my lute, and all
my books. And of course my few clothes.
In this age of cell phones and the Internet, it was so easy to be
untraceable. And so easy to be reached by an intimate voice in a
perfect teletronic silence.
"Look, you can reach me anytime, day or night," I'd reminded him.
"Doesn't matter where I live. Doesn't matter to me, so why should
it matter to you? And someday, maybe I'll send you a recording of
me playing the lute. You'll be surprised. I'm still good at
He'd chuckled. Okay with him, as long as I always answered the
"Have I ever let you down?" I'd asked.
"No, and I'll never let you down either," he'd replied. "Just wish
I could see you more often. Hell, you could be in Paris right now,
"I'm not," I'd answered. "You know that. The checkpoints are too
hot. I'm in the States as I've been since Nine-Eleven. I'm closer
than you think, and I'll come see you one of these days, just not
right now, and maybe I'll take you to dinner. We'll sit in a
restaurant like human beings. But these days, I'm not up to the
meeting. I like being alone."
There had been no assignment on that anniversary, so I was able to
stay in the Mission Inn, and I'd driven over to San Juan Capistrano
the following morning.
Excerpted from ANGEL TIME: The Songs of the Seraphim ©
Copyright 2010 by Anne Rice. Reprinted with permission by Anchor.
All rights reserved.
Angel Time: The Songs of The Seraphim