"Vincent, do you trust me?" Catherine asked at breakfast one morning.
"Catherine! What a question." Vincent responded shocked. "I trust you with my life."
"Good." She smiled, kissing him till they were both gasping for air. "Iíll see you tonight." She left for work, leaving him very perplexed at her question.
As the day wore on he forgot all about it. He was completely involved with Mouseís scheme to generate electricity using a water wheel mounted in the river that fed the three falls. They had been taking measurements and drawing up plans all morning. After lunch Vincent had his classes to teach so by the time he got home he had forgotten all about Catherineís enigmatic question that began the day.
That is until he saw the note propped up on the kitchen table. ĎMeet me at pier 17í written in Catherineís handwriting, was all it said. What was his wife up to? He grabbed his cloak and went back out through the tunnel door.
When he arrived at the designated pier, it was dark, the few working lights barely illuminating the dock. He sensed her near and cautiously peered around looking for her. As he crept past the boats gently bobbing in their slips he spotted her standing on the aft deck of a pristine, white boat that looked vaguely familiar.
"Vincent," she greeted him with a hug as he stepped aboard.
"Catherine, what is all this? Why are we here?" He gripped her shoulders, looking at her totally bewildered.
"We are here, my love, to go on a vacation." The smile she gave him would have illuminated Madison Square Garden.
"Vacation? Vacation to where?"
"To where ever this boat takes you," said a Dutch accented, male voice from below deck.
Vincent quickly pulled the hood of his cloak further over his face. He froze in the act when he saw who had spoken.
"Captain Jaap!" He exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I belong here, mijn kleine vriend," he chuckled at Vincentís astonished look.
"But your boat is the Compass Rose," Vincent stammered totally confused.
"Ja, this is the Rose." The captain smiled, winking at Catherine.
Vincent looked around, shocked. The Compass Rose he knew was an old, broken down, cargo scow. This boat was immaculate, as was Captain Jaap who stood before him in the dress whites of a cruise ship captain. Finally he tilted his head and looking at his wife and friend asked again, "What vacation?"
Catherine laughed, "Captain Jaap is taking us on a cruise to Bermuda."
"Thatís right," the Captain chimed in. "So why donít the two of you go below deck and get settled in? Weíll be under way shortly." He headed for the wheelhouse shouting instructions to his crew to cast off. The Roseís two crewmembers came out on deck, Herman, pronounced like hair-mon and Mari. Laughing heartily, they greeted the dumbstruck Vincent and moved fore and aft to release the lines that held the boat to the dock.
Catherine tugged on Vincentís hand, gently pulling him further down the stairs. Mystified Vincent whispered, "Bermuda, how is this possible?" When they got to their stateroom Catherine pushed him down on the bunk, "I worked it all out, Vincent, trust me. We are going to Bermuda and we are going to have a wonderful time." She smiled happily at him, "I love you, Vincent."
"I love you too." He took her hands pulling her onto the bed to sit beside him. His gaze traveled around the room noting the luxurious appointments. Focusing on her face he asked, "Did you cause this amazing transformation of the Rose?"
She looked at his chest, running her finger across the stitching of his vest. "Well she was in bad shape and I thought I could help." She became thoughtful as she remembered the circumstances that led to where they were right now.
Jaap Vlasvelt hailed from a long line of Dutch sailors who plied the sea along the coast of Holland primarily as fishermen. He had come to the States in his early twenties working on cargo ships up and down the wharves of New York City. Finally he had saved up enough money to buy a second hand cargo boat eking out a modest living hauling freight from one place to another. That is until the large corporate vessels pushed the small independents out of business.
He and the Rose had slowly deteriorated together till there was almost nothing left of the boat or the spirit of the man who loved her. Vincent had found Jaap on a stormy night on one of his many forays Above, crumpled in a drunken heap on the dock. He had tried to scuttle the Rose for the insurance money, but couldnít bring himself to do it. Vincent had taken him back to the Rose and had stayed with him through the night taking care of him. By the end of that night they had become fast friends and through tunnel helpers Vincent had found enough work for Jaap so that he could keep the Rose afloat.
When Catherine had heard the story of the Rose from one of the helpers she contacted Captain Jaap and proposed a partnership. She laid out her plans to turn the Rose into a small luxury cruise vessel for hire. She herself knew many people who would be interested in a small, intimate cruise to the islands in lieu of going on a crowded cruise ship or renting a yacht.
So unbeknownst to Vincent she had masterminded, and financed the Roseís refit. Her cargo holds were transformed into two luxurious staterooms. The captain and crew cabins were refurbished. The galley was completely ripped out and re-done with the finest equipment the marine industry had to offer. The wheelhouse now had the latest navigation equipment and the most reliable radio available. Her rust spots were sanded off, her dents banged out and her decking replaced. She was cleaned from stem to stern and painted a dazzling white.
"But Catherine," Vincent sighed, "I canít go walking around Bermuda. What will we do there?" He was mystified by her uncharacteristic lack of common sense.
Vincentís question brought her back to the present and she pulled over her tote bag that was lying next to the bed and began pulling out papers, handing them to him. "This is the place weíll be staying at." He stared open mouthed at the brochure of Elbow Beach Resort. When he opened it he saw a map of the facilities with a circle drawn around a picture of a building called Bird of Paradise. The description called it a free-standing, one-bedroom, beachfront cottage perfect for couples celebrating a special occasion; the best location on the resort.
He was still trying to absorb the brochure when she handed him a flyer announcing a Bod-Mod convention being held at the same resort. It boasted that the best tattoo artistís from all over the world would be there. The celebrities that were expected to attend were the Lizardman, Stalking Cat, The Enigma and Katzen to name a few. Vincent gaped at the publicity pictures included in the flyer. Dawning comprehension lit his face. He looked at her, shaking his head in amazement. "Iíll fit right in."
Catherine nodded happily, "Yes." She had first realized there were people deliberately changing their appearance by surgery or body art when she had turned on the TV one day while Vincent was Below and watched a program about it. She became intrigued and found everything she could on extreme body modifications. When she read about this convention she had called the organizers, getting all the details, and seeing to it that pictures of the radically modified participants flooded the island. She wanted to make sure that natives and tourists alike would be so used to seeing these pictures that when they encountered the real thing they would be considered objects of curiosity and not fear.
All of this had, thankfully, been arranged before their impromptu trip to Beta. It seemed like it had been one thing after another; Lisa with the attempted assassination, Beta with itís pandemic and then Winnyís kidnapping. She was definitely ready to go on a real vacation with Vincent and get away from all the stress they had been under for the last few months.
Vincent looked again at the pictures of these people who had surgically altered themselves. They wanted to be different, to stand out from the crowd; whereas he had always felt the need to hide his differences, to try to blend in. He shook his head, wasnít life strange.
A voice from above broke in on his thoughts. "Oy you two," shouted Captain Jaap. "Weíre about to pass the Statue of Liberty if you want to have a look." Vincent put down the brochure, and taking Catherineís hand, bounded up the stairs. They stood amidships gripping the gunwale; Catherine in front of Vincent, leaning back into his solid frame, his chin resting on her head. The wind created by the ships forward motion whipping their hair. The lights on the statue illuminated it against the black of the night, and Vincent drank in the sight of her. This was the beginning of another unbelievable adventure. Looking aft they saw the city glittering with its own lights. They walked to the stern watching the city recede in the distance as the Rose left New York harbor, moving into the open ocean waters.
The first day of their voyage dawned bright, and clear; they had blue skies and calm seas. But by evening Vincent, who had stayed out on deck all day, could feel the pressure dropping. He entered the wheelhouse just as Captain Jaap had finished checking the radar.
"Captain, I think weíre in for a storm." Vincent informed his friend.
Jaap looked up from the screen, shaking his head in wonder. "Ja you have good weather sense, the radar shows a squall right in our path and thereís no going around it. But," he said confidently, patting the Roseís console, "not to worry me and the Rose have been through much worse than this." He clapped Vincent on the shoulder reassuringly.
Vincent went below to tell Catherine of the imminent bad weather. He felt her apprehension and hastened to relate Jaapís confidence in his boat. Although Catherine trusted Jaapís seamanship she did not trust her stomach, she decided to take some of the Dramamine she had brought with her just in case.
They went up on deck together and felt the wind picking up and a light rain begin to fall. Captain Jaap gave the order to batten down. Herman and Mari donned their rain gear and stowed any loose items down into the hold. As the weather worsened Catherine went below to secure any of their items. Vincent stayed on deck, in the bow, exhilarated by the wind whipping his wet mane about his head and the energy of the storm he felt all around him. His hands gripped the rail tightly as the waves grew larger and more turbulent. All hands wore life jackets at the insistence of the Captain whose accent was becoming more pronounced. He began slipping in and out of his native tongue as the Rose began to be tossed about. Catherine had come up to stand in the wheelhouse, watching as Jaap fought the thirty plus foot waves, throttling the engines up and down, masterfully guiding the boat through the churning waters. She kept a close eye on Vincent who stood in front of her in the bow reminding her of Captain Ahab. She felt his excitement and when he threw his head back and roared she felt his joy of the experience, he was living something he had only read about and it thrilled him to the core. A flash of lightening brightened the sky for a moment and Catherine saw the angry waves that were lifting the Rose high and then dropping her into their troughs with the waves towering above them. She looked away wishing she hadnít seen it, her stomach lurched despite the pills she had taken. Suddenly Vincent came through the door, bringing with him, for a moment, the wind and rain.
"Thereís someone out there in trouble." He shouted to make himself heard above the roar of the wind. Mari, who had just come up from below, looked at him, "How do you know that?"
"I feel them, they need help." He looked at Jaap pleadingly. "Show me." Jaap replied. Vincent concentrated, opening his emphatic sense wide and felt the trickle of fear and desperation. He pointed his finger to starboard. Mari and Herman went out to man the powerful fore and aft spotlights, sweeping them back and forth, looking for any sign of another boat. Vincent concentrated hard on the tenuous connection, directing the way. It reminded Catherine of their journey to find Amy and she briefly wondered how the little girl was doing. Suddenly the beam of the bow light illuminated a shape. As they neared they could see that it was a capsized sailboat. It laid on its side, the keel halfway out of the water facing them. Vincent looked at it grimly; he had felt his connection with the survivors weakening and knew if they didnít get help soon they would perish. He also knew that there was no way the Captain could get too close without endangering the Rose. The way both ships were being tossed about they could easily smash into each other reducing them both into splinters. He looked at Jaap who nodded his understanding. Catherine looked from one to the other suddenly realizing what Vincent was planning on doing.
"No! You canít possible think you can go out there and rescue them? Itís too risky," she pleaded. "Youíll drown." She was becoming hysterical.
Vincent gripped her arms hard, shaking her. "Catherine, itís the only way! You canít think that I can stand here and allow those people to die if thereís the least chance that I can save them?"
"No," she whispered, tears falling unheeded down her face. "Of course you canít."
Putting a finger under her chin, he raised her head to look at her. "Thatís my girl. Iíll be all right, I promise." She gave him a wan smile, and nodded.
He stripped off his rain gear and put the life jacket back on, tightly securing it. He kissed her deeply, "Iíll be right back." She clung to him for a moment before he broke away. Nodding once to Jaap, he went out the door into the howling wind. Jaap looked heavenward as he struggled with the controls, "De god is u wakker? Wij konden een kleine hulp neer hier gebruiken." Catherine shot him a look, shaking her head uncomprehendingly. He smiled realizing he had spoken in Dutch. Looking upward again he translated, "Iím just asking him for a little help." Catherine too looked up. "Amen," she said softly.
Mari had been desperately trying to keep the stricken vessel in his spotlight, but the action of the waves made it appear like something in a strobe light. Herman tied a safety line around Vincentís waist, slapping him on the back when he was done. Vincent stood on the bow for a moment, glancing back at the wheelhouse and a terrified Catherine. She watched as he climbed over the railing and stood silhouetted in the beam of light. As the boat was lifted high on the crest of a wave he leaped, his powerful legs carrying him far from the boat as she crashed down into the trough. Catherine left the wheelhouse to stand amid ships holding onto the railing for dear life, watching the spot where Vincent had gone into the water. She held her breath, while the wind and rain pelted her, stinging her face, willing him to reappear. Herman had gone back to the aft spotlight and was scanning the water for him. Then suddenly they saw him as his head broke water and he swam toward the sailboat with powerful strokes. Herman kept the light on him as best he could while Mari kept his light on Vincentís goal. Catherine prayed, never taking her eyes off her husband as the rain and wind whipped around her.
As he entered the water he felt the tug of the life jacket pull him up to the surface, bobbing him like a cork. He took a deep breath and orienting himself on the capsized boat struck out swimming strongly. He still felt the life force of the people on the other side of the hull and he changed his course to come around the stern. He watched, as the waves tossed the boat up into the air, the rudder flapping wildly only to come crashing down again. He felt the drag of the lifeline and hoped that it was long enough to get around the battered boat. As he circled around he lost the light from the Rose and could see nothing in the pitch-blackness. He had to rely on his sense of the people and concentrated on that. He started encountering debris from the wreck and soon bumped into what he assumed was the mast. He followed it dragging himself hand over hand toward the body of the boat. He felt the torn rigging trying to wrap itself around his legs and he briefly thought of the story of Captains Courageous. He remembered the main character had gotten tangled in the rigging and had been pulled under to his death
He shook off the thought and continued down the mast feeling that he was nearing the survivors. A bolt of lightening flashed in the sky showing him two people lashed to the mast, the man looked unconscious and the woman after seeing him, fainted. Quickly he untied himself from the lifeline and threaded it through their life jackets. Then using his claws he tore through the rope holding them to the mast. He retied the end of the line around his waist and began swimming back to the Rose. The weight of the couple dragged on him and he could feel even his great strength begin to wane. He sent up a pray that he would last till he got them to safety. As he came round the hull, going back the way he had come, he saw the running lights of the Rose and Hermanís light going back and forth frantically searching for him. Catherine felt him nearing and pointed in his direction. Herman found him and kept the light on him as best he could.
Catherine could feel him tiring, the cold of the water and the colossal effort of swimming in such conditions was beginning to tell on him. She sent every ounce of strength she had through the bond hoping it would be of some help. Vincentís world narrowed to the bond and his need to get back to Catherine. Doggedly he swam and was immensely grateful when he felt the lifeline go taught and begin to pull him in. He relaxed and let Herman and Mari pull him in knowing he would need the last of his strength to maneuver the two unconscious people onto the Rose.
Catherine had taken over the light from Herman when he went to assist Mari with the line. She moved the light to illuminate the stern as the two men pulled the ropesí burden to the ladder that was attached to the transom; she locked it in place, and using the rail pulled herself aft to help in whatever way she could. Mari tied a line around his waist attaching the other end to the railing. He started down the ladder to assist Vincent, but a wave knocked him off and he dangled for a few heart-stopping moments before he was able to fling his arm out and grab the ladders rail again. He held on with both hands while he coughed up some of the water he had swallowed. Carefully he descended again, when he reached the end he put one arm through the ladder rungs up to the elbow and leaned out with the other to grab the life jacket of the woman.
It wasnít working, Mari would no sooner get his hand on the jacket when a wave would come and she would slip away. Vincent finally decided to untie himself from the line. He swam under her and kicked up hard, scissoring his legs so that he propelled himself and her up out of the water. Mari caught her under the arm and hauled her up, holding her there until Vincent had positioned himself under the man Catherine and Herman hauled on the line pulling the couple up. Mari and Vincent helped by pushing and finally everyone was safe on the deck of the Rose.
Mari and Herman carried the man between them and Vincent managed the woman. Catherine had gone on ahead to get towels and turn down the bed in the other stateroom. Maneuvering down the stairs in the pitching, rolling ship was an adventure in itself, but they finally managed to get the couple down. They stripped them out of their wet clothing, toweled them dry and tucked them tightly under the covers. Catherine couldnít tell if they were badly injured or not, she had noticed some bruising, but other than that there was nothing outstanding that her meager medical skill could detect. Suddenly the intercom crackled and they heard Jaapís voice shouting, "hoe over te eten iets." Catherine looked at the crewmen questioningly. Mari laughed, "He wants something to eat," he told her and shaking his head left for the galley to see what he could throw together.
She went into Vincent who was sitting on the edge of their bed stripped naked with a towel wrapped around his neck. He had his elbows on his knees with his head in his hands. Catherine sat beside him, gently rubbing his back. He was trembling all over from pure exhaustion. She slid the towel from his neck and kneeled on the floor in front of him, gamely trying to dry his legs and feet as the deck rolled underneath her. When she was through she sat back up next to him.
"Vincent, I want you to know how very proud I am of what you just did, and I swear if you ever do anything like that again Iíll kill you."
Vincent raised his head to look at her shocked. She began to cry, "When I watched you dive into that water my heart was in my throat, and when you went around to the other side of that boat and didnít come back for a while I died a thousand deaths. Donít you ever do that to me again! Do you understand?!" Mutely he nodded his head and drew her into his embraced. She cried into his shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably while he muttered promises. She finally cried herself out and pulled away from him slightly.
"Catherine," he smiled at her, taking the towel and wiping her face, "I promise never to scare you like that again, unless, of course, I canít help it." She punched him in the shoulder, laughing, "You brute."
She got up and staggered over to the bureau tossing him a sweat suit. When he was dressed they went to check on the pair in the other room. Using his healers sense he ascertained that the man had a slight concussion from a blow to his forehead, but that was the worst of their injuries other than exposure and exhaustion.
They went to the galley to see what Mari had conjured up finding him in the midst of slapping some cheese between slices of bread. They each gratefully accepted a sandwich and sat down to eat while Mari went above to give Jaap and Herman one. As they ate they noticed the ships movement was becoming less violent. They must be coming out of the storm. Catherine sighed perhaps they would be able to get some rest; God knows they all needed it. After they had eaten they went up to the wheelhouse to check on Jaap, he confirmed that they were indeed coming out of the storm and into quieter waters. Catherine sighed with relief following Vincent below deck to check on their guests. They were still sleeping which was perfectly understandable considering what they had been through. They went to their own stateroom and crawled into bed completely exhausted.
The next morning the rescued couple found Catherine puttering around the galley. "Good morning!" Catherine greeted them cheerfully. "How are you feeling?" The man rubbed his head, "like Iíve been through a war." He had a slight British accent. Catherine laughed, "Well you have, sort of, with the ocean."
"Donít remind me." The woman sat down at the table. "Is that coffee I smell?" She asked sniffing the air.
Catherine poured her a cup and brought it over with some sugar and cream, then looked at the man questioningly. He nodded and sat down next to the woman. "Iím John Swan and this is my wife Marjorie." Catherine shook their hands introducing herself as well and sat down. "We had been visiting Marjorieís sister in Florida and were on our way back home when that squall blew up. The bilge pump went out on us and our boat just got swamped, I thought we were bloody well gone when she capsized."
"I donít think Iíve ever been so frightened in my life," Marjorie shuddered, "I didnít think anyone heard our mayday." She looked at Catherine.
"We didnít hear a mayday we just sort of came across you on our way to Bermuda." Catherine explained.
"Well we are very grateful that you did," Marjorie exclaimed. "I donít remember how you got us out of the water. In fact the last thing I remember was John tying me to the mast. It was so dark I couldnít see a thing until there was lightening. And then it was the strangest thing, I thought I saw a dog coming towards me, it looked like a Chow you know sort of like a lion and then I must have passed out I donít remember anything after that."
"Actually it was my husband that got you out of the water, he sort of looks like a lion."
John nodded his head, "you must be going to that convention that has those flyers posted everywhere. You know the ones Marj," he looked at his wife. "The people who have had surgery to change their looks or that have tattoos all over themselves."
"Yes thatís the one," Catherine confirmed. "Vincent and I are looking forward to it."
"Well itís being held in a very nice establishment, you should have a wonderful time and I for one would like to be your guide on the island by way of thanking you for saving our lives."
"Really that wonít be necessary," Catherine assured him. "We were glad to help. Is there anyone we should contact to let them know youíre ok?"
"Yes actually, we should radio in before search parties are sent out. Then perhaps afterward we could have a spot to eat, Iím absolutely famished." John patted his stomach for emphasis.
Catherine laughed again, "of course, weíll go up so you can meet the rest and then Iím sure one of the hands will be happy to make something for you. Iím a lousy cook as my husband will readily testify to."
Catherine led the way up the stairs. As they entered the wheelhouse she found Herman at the controls. She introduced the couple to him and looked out at the bow seeing Vincent standing with Jaap and Mari deep in conversation. John and Marjorie saw them and Catherine noted that they didnít seem at all fearful just, well maybe startled was the best word for it. She was thankful for the posters she had gotten placed all over the island; obviously they had fulfilled her intentions. The couple followed Catherine out on deck and before she could perform the introductions John had stepped forward and extended his hand to Vincent.
"John and Marjorie Swan, I understand we have you to thank for our rescue. I want you to know how very grateful we are to you for risking your own life to save ours."
Vincent took the offered hand and was startled when Marjorie gave him a hug. Embarrassed he stepped back a little. "Iím sure you would have done the same." Vincent turned to Jaap, "This is Captain Jaap and Mari, one of the crew members."
They shook hands all around, and then John asked if he might use the radio. "Ja," said Jaap. "We are almost at the thirty mile limit; we need to call in anyway." He walked back to the wheelhouse with John following.
"Mari, would you bring up some breakfast for John and Marjorie? Itís too nice a day to eat below."
"Sure missus." He responded, touching his cap, and went down below.
Catherine took Marjorie to the stern where the tables and chairs had been brought back out after the storm. Vincent came back and sat with them enjoying Marjorieís acceptance of him, if everyone was going to be like this it was going to be an enjoyable trip. When John was finished with the radio he came out to join them and soon Mari had two plates full of eggs, sausage and toast, with some fruit punch to wash it all down. Jaap hung out the door of the wheelhouse and beckoned urgently to Vincent.
"Do you know who dat is?" He whispered when Vincent reached him. Vincent shook his head puzzled. "No should I?"
"No I suppose not, but I heard him on the radio, heís the Premier of Bermuda. You should have heard the people from Harbor Radio they must have been jumping up and down. Theyíre sending out a boat to escort us in, youíre going to be a celebrity mijn kleine vriend ." Jaap crowed slapping Vincent on the back.
When he went back to his seat in the stern Catherine looked at him. "Vincent, whatís wrong? You look stunned."
"Itís nothing, Catherine; Captain Jaap just informed me the John here is the Premier of Bermuda." It was Catherineís turn to look shocked.
John held up his hands, "guilty as charged. I didnít want to get the reaction Iím getting now, Iím sorry I suppose I really should have told you." He bowed, "Sir John William David Swan, Premier of Bermuda and in your debt and at your service." His smile was infectious and Catherine found herself grinning back at him. Then he turned to Vincent, "You must be used to that sort of reaction from people, Vincent."
Vincent chuckled, "Not really, Sir John, Iíve led a rather reclusive life."
"Really?" John was intrigued, "If you didnít want to stand out in a crowd, so to speak, then why the radical body modification?"
Oh boy Catherine thought here it comes, lying didnít come easily to Vincent.
"It felt natural to me, you know like the people that have a sex change; a man trapped in a womanís body." Vincent shrugged looking at Catherine; it was the best he could come up with.
"I seeÖ I think. Well to each his own I always say. At any rate it was lucky for us that you were on your way to that convention otherwise we wouldnít be here right now."
Mari yelled out just then that there was a boat speeding in their direction. As it drew closer they could see that it was a police boat. It radioed that it was to escort the Rose right into Hamilton, fore going the usual mandatory customs quarantine at Powder Hole.
As they got closer to the city they could see all kinds of people waiting on the street by the docks. Photographers, reporters, police; people of all kinds; the word had gotten out that the Premier and his wife had been rescued from a shipwreck
As the boats pulled along side the dock eager hands took the lines to tie them fast. Catherine and Marjorie had gone below to do a little cosmetic work and Vincent would have joined them below not wishing to be the center of attention, but John would have none of it. He held onto Vincentís arm and as the lines were made fast he stepped onto the dock dragging Vincent with him. People at first were stunned by Vincentís appearance, but when they saw that the Premier showed no fear they flocked around him trying to get pictures and shoving microphones in his face. Thankfully the police finally got the crowd under control and herded the two couples into a waiting limousine.
Once in the car Vincent took a deep, shuddering breath letting it out slowly trying to calm himself. The only time he had been surrounded by a mob like that was when he was in an explosion and a gang called the Silks had captured him. John patted him on the knee, "it can be a little overwhelming at first, but you get used to it. Now I believe you mentioned you were staying at the Elbow Beach Resort, we will drop you there and have your luggage brought up from the boat. Then I absolutely insist that you join us for dinner." They were both about to protest when Marjorie cut them off. "We wonít take no for an answer." They nodded mutely as the car pulled into the resort, the concierge practically tripped over himself getting to the official car. He smartly opened the door coming to attention, and gaped as he watched Vincent get out. Vincent turned to assist Catherine out and they headed for the door. The Premier had called to the concierge who leaned in to get instructions. "That couple," Sir John said, "is to be accorded the very best treatment and if there is anything that they want they are to have it. Is that understood? If there are any problems contact my office." The limo drove off leaving a stunned hotel employee in its wake.
Meanwhile Catherine and Vincent had gone into the lobby and up to the front desk to register. They noticed that there were flyers and pictures of the Bod-Mod convention prominently displayed making Vincentís presence a little easier to take. Catherine addressed the desk clerk; "You have a reservation for Wells?" He checked his computer, nodding his head. "Yes Madame, we have you down for the Bird of Paradise cottage, if youíll sign right here." He pointed to the guest register handing her a pen. She gave it to Vincent with a smile this would be his first time ever in a hotel and she didnít want him to miss out on a thing. He took the pen and studied the line above the empty one, then he wrote in his beautiful handwriting Ė Mr. And Mrs. Vincent Wells. He laid the pen down and hugged Catherine; even this little thing so commonplace to most people was exhilarating to him. As he was signing the concierge rushed up to the clerk and whispered in his ear. The manís eyes went wide and he looked with respect at the couple in front of him. He rang the bell and a bellhop came forward for instructions eyeing Vincent warily. He had taken a few of the other unusual guests to their rooms, but Vincent was by far the most ferocious looking. "Please take Mr. and Mrs. Wells to the Bird of Paradise." He turned to Catherine and Vincent, "I understand your luggage will be coming up from the dock, Iíll see to it that it gets to your cottage as soon as it arrives."
"Thank you," Catherine checked is name plaque, "Bill. I noticed on the sign outside that Pavarotti will be singing at the Maritime Museum. Would you know if there are any tickets available?"
Bill shook his head, "Iím sorry Mrs. Wells, that concert has been sold out for months."
"Well if there are any cancellations youíll let us know?"
"Of course, maíam, Iíd be happy to."
Catherine could have kicked herself; she never thought to check to see who might be giving a concert while they were here. Well no use worry about it, she turned to follow the bellhop. He led them out the front door and to an electric golf cart. Guests of the hotel that were coming in and out stopped and stared at Vincent making him uncomfortable, but he held his head up high and followed Catherine. They climbed into the cart and were taken towards the beach where the cottage was located. As they drove Catherine asked the young man his name, which turned out to be Charlie, she smiled thinking that the last time she was here she was with her father. When they reached their destination, Charlie leaped out and ushered them through the door. They entered into the living room, which had a fireplace and an open beamed ceiling with ceiling fans. The master bedroom had a king size bed with a walk-in closet and French doors that opened out onto a private covered terrace. The bathroom was huge with an open shower and a soaking tub. They had a private patio and garden, but best of all it was seconds away from the beach. Catherine thanked Charlie and handed him a generous tip. When Vincent commented on it she told him that it had been her experience that if you take care of the help, the help will take care of you. He nodded thoughtfully and filed it away in his memory. As soon as Charlie had left Catherine leaped into Vincentís arms initiating a kiss that left them both breathless.
"Well what do you think?" Catherine asked him when she pulled away from him.
"Catherine, Iím overwhelmed. To be out in public in the daytime with you, itís a dream come true and a little unnerving."
"But why Vincent, so far everyone weíve met has taken you in stride, sure theyíre staring at you, but who wouldnít youíre gorgeous. And if youíve noticed not one person has run away screaming, so if I were you I would just relax and enjoy yourself. Now what would you like to do first?"
He wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her tightly. Nuzzling her neck he said, "Besides making love to you?"
"Weíll do that after the bags are here," she demurred. "I wouldnít want to be interrupted."
"Hmm, good thinking, then I think Iíd like to walk on the beach." So off they went arm in arm and in moments were walking in the white, hot sands of Elbow Beach.
The beach was absolutely pristine, with the crystal blue ocean water gently lapping along the shoreline in stark contrast to the turbulent waves he had swum through just yesterday. There was a warm breeze blowing the fronds of the palm trees making them sway and bringing with it the sweet scent of the flowers growing in the gardens of the resort.
Eventually they took off their shoes and walked through the water, an arm around each otherís waists. Occasionally people would stop and stare, but for the most part it was a pleasant stroll in the sunshine. Something Vincent had gotten used to on Beta, but here on Earth it was still somewhat nerve wracking for him. But he sucked it up as Catherine would say and went with the flow pretending like he was just like everyone else.
As they neared the resort he heard someone calling to him in the distance and made out Charlie, the bellhop, running towards them. He was yelling, "Mr. Wells," over and over, something else Vincent wasnít used to, and when he reached them he double over trying to catching his breath. When he could finally talk he said that he had been sent to let them know that there were a horde of reporters waiting to talk to them about the rescue of the Premier and his wife. The hotel management wanted to know if they should be sent away or did they want to talk with them?
"Did you really rescue them in that storm like they say?" Asked the boy all-wide eyed. Vincent nodded looking to Catherine to see what they should do about the reporters. She gave it some thought and then slowly said, "If we try to dodge them, theyíll be after us all week and weíll never have any peace. On the other hand if we give them an interview now itíll be over and done with." Vincent nodded his agreement with her assessment, but was definitely not happy with his celebrity status. He chuckled to himself, if Father only knew!
"Charlie," Catherine got the boys attention, "did our bags arrive yet?"
He nodded enthusiastically. "Yes I just put them in the cottage."
"Good, then keep the reporters in the lobby and tell them weíll be right with them." He took off and Catherine turned to Vincent. "Weíll get changed and meet them there, I donít want them to know where weíre staying."
When they got to the cottage Catherine quickly opened some of the suitcases and got them a change of clothing; she wore a floral print dress with sandals and Vincent a pair of black cotton trousers with a floral shirt and boat shoes. Charlie had come back down with the cart and they rode with him back to the lobby. As soon as they entered men and women assaulted them with microphones and cameras. Charlie, very importantly, led them through the mob to a sitting area where they could conduct the interview. The reporters fired questions at the couple garnering all the details of the rescue. Captain Jaap and his crew walked in and they were quickly pulled over to add their comments. One sticky moment happened when they asked how Vincent knew there was someone still alive by the wreck. Jaap fielded that one by saying he had seen something when lightening had briefly lit up the sky. He had ordered the lights to be manned and when they had swept over the wreck they had seen the couple clinging to the mast. Finally satisfied the reporters filtered out of the building.
Catherine had arranged for the Roseís crew to stay at the resort wanting to make sure that Vincent would have the moral support of some friendly faces. As Jaap and the others went to check in, Charlie approached the couple to let them know that the Premierís car was waiting for them outside. Catherine sighed; hopefully the rest of the week would be theirs. She took Vincentís hand and led him out to the waiting car. Some people who had been standing around listening to the interview took the opportunity to congratulate him on a job well done. He graciously inclined his head, acknowledging the praise. Catherine could see that her husband was a little unnerved with all the attention he was getting from complete strangers. She urged him into the car and they were taken to the Premierís official residence. They were warmly greeted and after cocktails, which Vincent declined opting instead for a fruit drink, they went into dinner.
It was a delightful affair with lively conversation; Vincent avidly read the paper everyday cover to cover and was up on all the worldsí current events. He and John spoke at great length about the Gulf War, the ladies adding their comments as well. After dinner John took Vincent into the library where they continued their discussions while Marjorie took Catherine on a tour of the residence. At the end of the evening John presented Catherine with an envelope. She opened it pulling out two tickets for the sold out Pavarotti concert. Surprised she looked at John and Marjorie, "How did you know?"
"My dear," John replied, "being a Premier does have its advantages. Itís just a small way to show our gratitude."
Catherine was elated; she and Vincent were going to their first concert together just like a normal couple, in real seats, in front of a stage not on pillows under a storm grate. She carefully tucked the tickets into her purse as they went out to the car.
Upon reaching the resort Catherine steered Vincent in the direction of the Deep, the resortsí nightclub. When they paid the admission fee the girl at the desk hardly gave Vincent a second glance and as they followed the hostess to a table by the dance floor they could see why, all the people pictured in the Bod-Mod brochure was here. As they were seated Catherine took in the elegant dťcor of the room, it looked like something you would see in a Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers movie. The stage was in front of them on the opposite side of the dance floor with a twenty-piece big band on it currently playing Moon Light Serenade. Vincentís eyes, however, were riveted to the table that held the unique people from the convention. Stalking Cat in particular caught his eye; he looked just like a tiger, stripes and all. No wonder the rest of the guests just gave him a curious glance they had already had an eye full of Cat. Not to mention Katzen, the woman who looked like a cat, and her husband the Enigma whose short stubby horns and blue puzzle pieces tattooed all over his body provided more of an interest than a mere Betazed. As he stared a man that looked like a lizard sat down at the table, nodding to Vincent as he caught his eye. Vincent looked away quickly, embarrassed by his behavior; he was usually the one being stared at not the other way around.
The band began to play a waltz and Catherine took his hand, tugging him toward the dance floor. As he swept her into his arms his world condensed down to the music and Catherine, everything else fell away. The band segued into a fox trot and they changed their steps to accommodate the new rhythm. They stayed up for all the dances and when the band swung into a Cha-Cha Catherine felt a tap on her shoulder, it was the woman called Katzen. "I hope you donít mind," she started, "but I love to cha-cha and my stick in the mud husband over there," she swung her head in the direction of the Enigma, "doesnít Cha-Cha. Besides Iíve been just dying to meet you." Catherine backed away as Katzen insinuated herself between her and Vincent. Catherine shrugged and went back to their table watching the pair. Katzen seemed to be doing most of the talking with Vincent merely nodded occasionally and keeping his gaze on Catherine. When the dance was finished Vincent escorted Katzen back to her table and she introduced him to everyone there. He motioned Catherine to come over and they met the people who had made this trip for Vincent possible. Stalking Cat aka Dennis was practically drooling over Vincent wanting to know who had done his modifications. Vincent turned to Catherine who promptly said the surgeon was a family friend who was now retired. That seemed to mollify everyone and they began talking about the convention that would begin in the morning. The four of them would be speaking tomorrow about their transformations, detailing the many operations they had had and the tattoos that covered most of their bodies. There would be all kinds of tattoo artists and vendors selling their art or their products. Catherine and Vincent stayed with the group until closing time dancing and enjoying the stories they had to tell of other conventions.
The next morning Catherine slept in while Vincent went out to their little patio to watch the sun rise. Charlie spotted him there and rushed up to him with the morning newspaper. "Look, look," he pointed excitedly, "youíve made the front page." There was a picture of them standing in front of the Compass Rose with the crew and the Premier and his wife. The article was well written with a detailed account of what was said in the interview yesterday in the hotel lobby. Vincent thanked Charlie and went in to show Catherine, as he entered the bedroom his thoughts were on Father and what he would say if he saw this.
At that very moment Father was sitting in the dining chamber across from Bishop Jack. They had just finished their breakfast and were lingering over a cup of tea reading the paper Dustin had fetched for them from the brownstone. Jenny was out of town for the week so Joe had volunteered to bring in the paper and mail every morning before he went to work. As Father turned to the "News in Other Places" section of the paper he began to choke, spitting out the sip of tea he had just taken. Alarmed the Bishop moved around the table and began thumping Father on the back. He was just about to administer the Heimlich maneuver when Father stopped choking, holding up his hand.
"Jack, Iím all right," he croaked.
The Bishop sat down next to his friend, catching his breath. "Well what in heavens name brought that on? Did the tea go down the wrong way?"
Shaking his head Father pointed to a picture in the paper. The tunnel dwellers that were still in the hall gathered around craning their heads to see what he was pointing at. There under a headline that read "Bod Mod Attendee Saves Premier" was the same picture Vincent had just seen with a shorten version of the article.
"Well I guess the cat is out of the bag now." Jack quipped, laughing.
Father glowered at him, "Itís not funny."
"Oh come Jacob youíre taking this far too seriously, itís obvious no one is out lynching the boy, on the contrary theyíre praising him."
Father shook his head exasperated, "He could have been killed!"
"He wasnít killed and he saved two peoples lives, you should be proud of him." More people had come into the hall, demanding to know what was going on. Finally Father read the article out loud and you could see the pride in everyoneís face to know that one of their own was a hero.
Meanwhile a sleepy Catherine had just finished reading the article and smiled up at her husband, "Iím married to a bona fide hero!"
Vincent frowned at her, "Catherine Iím not used to this kind of attention, itís very unnerving, itís hard to break the habits of a life time."
"I know dear," she replied. "But you donít have to worry this kind of thing blows over very quickly." He sighed hoping she was right.
After breakfasting at the Seahorse Grill they wandered over to the convention. Breakfast was every bit as nerve wracking for Vincent as everything else had been so far. People not only stared at him for what he looked like, but they now came over to him to congratulate him on saving the lives of a prominent Bermudian couple. He was mystified at this changed perception of himself from a beast to be feared to a hero to be thanked. Finally the wait staff decided to deflect well wishers so the couple could eat in peace. When they left the restaurant Catherine made sure she left a very generous tip.
The convention was in full swing when they got there. They wandered through the aisles stopping here and there to admire someoneís artwork. One artist had seen Catherineís Ďvirginí skin and repeatedly offered to do tattoo work on her for free. He bemoaned the fact that there was never enough Ďliving canvasí for him to express his art. They only escaped the man by leaving the convention.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on a scooter, sightseeing. They were able to rent one of the little vehicles right at the resort and after a lesson with the rental employee Vincent felt confident enough to take one out. He had no qualms that Bermudians drove on the left side of the road since he had never driven at all he had no right hand road habits to overcome. They motored out to Somerset Island and then back again past the resort to Hamilton stopping there to check on the Rose which was still anchored at the dock looking ridiculously small next to the two huge ocean liners that were also there. As they stepped off the boat, back onto Front St., Vincent spotted a shop that would fulfill a dream Catherine once had while lying in a hospital recovering from a gun shot wound, taking her hand he led her to it. She smiled at him when she saw where he was taking her, "You remembered!" He smiled back at her, "I remember every thing you tell me, Catherine." They strolled through the door hand in hand eliciting stares from patrons and employees. They walked up to the counter and Vincent turned to his wife, "What flavor would you like?" She checked over the long list posted on the wall. "I think Iíd like coconut." Vincent turned to the girl behind the counter, "We will have one coconut cone, and one pineapple." The girl quickly filled the order and handed them to Vincent with a grin, "Theyíre on the house." When Vincent looked at her quizzically she explained, "Heroís should be rewarded." She began clapping her hands and soon everyone else in the place joined in. They thanked the girl and left the applause ushering them out.
They leisurely strolled up and down Front Street, looking into the windows of the colorfully painted shops and enjoying the warm breeze that blew off the water as they ate their cones. Vincent still marveled at his ability to walk down a street in broad daylight with no one screaming in terror of him. Oh people would stare, but it was with curiosity not with fear and for the most part the people would shake their heads probably wondering why someone would go to such lengths to alter their appearance. Many recognized him from the picture in the paper and he would see them point at him and hear them whisper, "Thatís him, thatís the guy." He was uncomfortable with the celebrity status that his act of heroism garnered him, it made him stand out all the more, but it was in a nice way. However he felt nothing matter more to him than Catherineís happiness and right now he could feel waves of it emanating from her. He stopped walking for a moment and pulled her hand so that she faced him, she looked so happy and so thoroughly content with just a bit of ice cream at the corner of her mouth. He couldnít resist, he bent down to lick it off, "Hmm coconut Iíll have to try that one next." She giggled as his raspy tongue cleaned her face, "letís get back to the resort, Iíd like to lie on the beach for awhile." He nodded in agreement and they went back to the Rose where they had left the scooter.
What was left of the afternoon was spent swimming in the crystal blue waters of Elbow Beach. Schools of tiny fish would dart around them looking like silver streaks in the sunlight. The water was so calm it was more like being in a huge bathtub than an ocean. When they got back to their blanket after one of their swims they noticed a little boy sitting on the sand, hugging his knees tightly to his chest and staring wistfully at the water.
Something about the look on his face tugged at Catherine and she called out to him. "Hi my nameís Catherine. Are you all right?" The boy looked up, his eyes widened when he saw Vincent, but after that they filled with tears that slowly trickled down his face. The poor child seemed so miserable; he looked to be all of eight years old what in the world could make an eight year old so upset on this beautiful beach. Catherine went over to him and kneeling in front of him gently asked, "Is there anything I can do?" He sniffled and wiped his nose on his arm, shaking his head no. "Can I find your parents for you?"
He looked up at her in terror, "No I donít want them, my fathers the one who put me here."
Catherine shook her head perplexed, "I donít understand, what do you mean Ďput me hereí?
He kept his eyes lowered and haltingly explained, "IímÖIímÖafraid to goÖinto theÖwater." He raised his head, "my father says Iím aÖa coward." He buried his face in his arms again.
Catherine sat next to him, hugging him to her side. "Itís all right to be afraid of something."
He pulled away from her, "my father put me here and he said I have to stay here until I go into the water." Catherine was appalled, how could a parent be so heartless. She looked over the childís head to Vincent; he nodded and came to kneel in front of the boy.
"What is you name?" he asked.
"David," the boy mumbled.
"David, my name is Vincent."
David looked up into the blue eyes of the being in front of him and gasped, "Youíre the one in the paper, the one that saved the Premier. My father says youíre a hero. I bet youíre not afraid of anything."
Vincent grinned at him being careful not to show his fangs, "Iím afraid of many things, David but I do not let my fear rule me. What is it that you fear of the water?"
David shrugged his shoulders, "I donít know, I guess Iím afraid Iíll drown."
Vincent stood up and held out his hand, "If I hold your hand and Catherine holds your other hand will you walk into the water with us?"
David looked at the offered hand, indecision clear on his face. When Catherine got up on his other side and held out her hand he looked from one to the other. "Youíll hold me? You wonít let go?"
They both shook their heads, "We wonít let go no matter what, we promise David." Catherine said solemnly.
Coming to a decision David grasped both their hands and pulled himself up. Slowly they approached the water letting David set the pace. Vincent projected calm assurance towards the boy and slowly, ever so slowly David entered the water holding their hands in a death grip. His eyes squeezed tightly shut David took one wooden step after another. They stopped when they were about ten feet out.
"David, open your eyes," Vincent urged. The child opened his eyes, they widened when he saw where he was and he began to tremble. "Itís all right David," Vincent crooned, "Weíre holding you, nothing will happen to you." Vincent continued to broadcast calm and the trembling stopped.
David looked down and saw the tiny fish swimming around his ankles. He was entranced by them, he looked happily up at Vincent and Catherine, "I have a fish tank at home, but my fish are bigger than these." The thought of being able to swim with the fish seemed to break down a barrier in David. He let go of Catherineís hand to bend down and tried to touch one. He had a vise grip on Vincent however and would not let go.
Even ten feet out the water was very low and barely came up to mid-calf on David. Vincent knelt down in the water urging David down with him so that the little waves lapped at Davidís thighs. Soon David became used to having the water there. Vincent let go of his hand and had him lie stretched out on his stomach. With Vincent supporting him, Catherine showed him how to move his arms and legs to swim. By the time they went back to the beach David was swimming all by himself. They came out of the water with David frolicking around them.
"Did you see me? Did you see what I did? I was swimming! I was swimming! I have to tell my father!"
He started off for the resort and then suddenly turned around and launched himself at Vincent. Vincent caught him up and swung him in a circle. Setting him down the child hugged him fiercely.
"Thank you, thank you ever so much."
He broke away from Vincent to give Catherine a hug and then ran to tell his parents. Vincent swept Catherine into his arms, "That was a deed well done." He nuzzled her hair. She sighed blissfully thinking of a time when they would teach their own child to swim.
They stayed on the beach to watch the sun set, the sky turning into shades of pinks and lavenders as the sun slowly disappeared. They strolled back to the cottage to shower and change for a casual dinner at Mickeyís bistro, which was situated right on the beach. Afterward they walked on the beach gazing up at the stars, pointing out different constellations to each other.
The next day was filled with tours that Catherine had booked through the resort. A van picked them up, along with some other guests, outside the hotel lobby. The others were leery of Vincent at first, but as they made the rounds of the forts they became more comfortable and easily fell into conversation with him. Fort Hamilton had spectacular views of the capital city and surrounding areas. While this fort once protected the city it now was a show place for Bermudian flora and Catherine took tons of pictures. One that she especially liked was of Vincent sitting on an 18 ton canon. They took the tour of Gibbís Hill Lighthouse and climbed the185 steps to the top to step out onto the narrow, iron catwalk that encircled the top. Catherine held on grimly to the railing as the wind whipped her clothing and hair about. She had Vincent take the pictures not wishing to let go of the rail that was over hundred feet above the ground. The view however, was spectacular and when Vincent had taken his pictures, one of which included Catherine gripping the railing for dear life, she was able to enjoy it secure in his embrace.
In the afternoon they took the ferry, along with Katzen and Enigma, to St. Georgeís. They made quite a strange group and people would stare and point at them wherever they went. Catherine was definitely the odd man out with this bunch with no horns on her head or tattoos on her body or altered facial features she was the one that stuck out as been "different." They took the walking tour starting out with a replica of The Deliverance, a sailing vessel that had been built in the 1600ís. It was unbelievably tiny and Vincent marveled at the bravery of the men that would sail the ocean in such a way. The two couples strolled along the streets following the instructions in the brochure. When they came to the Featherbed Alley Printery and saw the old printing press in action Vincent was reminded of one of Mouseís failed inventions, a press that spewed ink on everyone who had attended its unveiling. They entered St. Peterís church, the oldest Anglican Church in the Western Hemisphere still in use, and read the memorials around the walls, which told of St. Georgians past and present. They ended up at Fort St. Catherine where Enigma took a picture of Catherine and Vincent standing by the sign.
Everywhere they walked there was lush vegetation and beautiful flowers it truly was a paradise. Their companions had been delightful company telling tales of other places they had been and funny situations their unique appear had gotten them into. They had invited Catherine and Vincent for dinner with some of the other conventioneers, but they had to decline, as tonight was the Pavarotti concert and they just had time for a quick bite before heading out to the Maritime Museum.
Catherine dressed carefully for the evening, this was to be after all their very first concert Above together and for it to be Pavarotti was something she couldnít have envisioned in her wildest dreams. She chose a tea length cotton dress, with thin straps and a square neckline, low enough that her crystal hung just above it. It had a floral print the predominate colors being green and blue, a match for their eyes. She finished her ensemble with a pair of delicate, cream colored sandals and a matching lace shawl.
Vincent dressed just as carefully, excited about being able to see the concert as well as hear it. He wore a pair of black cotton trousers with a white V-neck shirt with a light black cotton jacket. He had brushed his mane until it shone like a newly minted penny. When they were done they stood back and admired each other. Vincent looked at his wife amazed as always that she was his. She was a delight to his senses the scent of her filled his nostrils, not the perfume that she wore though that too was enticing, but her natural scent that he knew as well as his own. The feel of her satiny skin beneath his fingers, the taste of her flesh on his tongue, the vision she created for his eyes to feast upon. And her voice, the sound of her voice as it floated to his ears was beyond price. But for them there was the sense of their bond, which communicated more clearly than any of their Ďnormalí senses their love for one another. In this they were truly blessed, for how many couples here on Earth could know something so intimate.
They heard a knock on the door and Catherine tore her eyes away from the vision that was her husband. Could anyone look so strong and gentle as he? And the way he was devouring her with his eyes almost made her wish they were staying in. She shook herself and opened the door to the taxi they had order to drive them to the concert. After the concert, she promised herself.
As she and Vincent stepped out of the cottage they discovered that the waiting car was not the taxi they had ordered, but the Primers limo that had initially brought them to the resort and to dinner. As the chauffer smartly opened the door for them they were greeted by John and Marjorie, Catherine laughed as John got out, "You do know everything, donít you." John returned Catherineís hug and helped her into the car, "of course, I told you, what good is being a Primer if you donít know everything." He shook Vincentís hand and followed him into the limo.
When they got to the museum there was a great crowd of people waiting to get in, but because they were with the Primer they sailed right into the facility and were escorted to their seats, center stage, front row. The concert was everything they could have hoped for. Pavarotti was in top form singing all his best-known pieces. The highlight of the evening for Catherine, besides being able to have Vincent with her at a concert, was when Pavarotti introduced prominent people in the audience. The house lights came on and he called on the Governor to stand up and then the Primer and then he said, "I am sorry I have not so good the English but there is here tonight, with us, an hero." Smiling hugely as he walked to the center of the stage he pointed to where Vincent was sitting, gesturing for him to stand up. "Vincent Wells!" Vincent sat stunned while people rose to their feet applauding, finally Catherine and John had to push him to stand up. Pavarotti had put the microphone under his arm and was also applauding. He pulled it out again and continued, "Senor and Senora Wells are here for their first anniversary." The applause continued, but now Catherine joined Vincent in standing, he hugged her as she cheerfully waved to the crowd, proud of her husband. They resumed their seats and Pavarotti dedicated the next song, ĎRecondita Armoniaí to them in honor of their wedding anniversary. It was a night that they would never forget.
There was a short article the next day in the paper about the Pavarotti concert and how the visiting Bod Mod and his wife were honored with a song from him. Catherine bought several copies of the paper, as she had done previously, to take home with her to be shared among family and friends. They had broken their fast that morning with the captain and crew of the Rose, swapping stories of the sites they had seen. Captain Jaap proudly showed off the new tattoo he had gotten from one of the artists at the convention. It was a compass rose done in the colors of the Dutch flag. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship and the couple duly admired it. Jaap also told them that several people had asked about hiring the Rose for a cruise and that he was handing out business cards left and right. It seemed the article had enhanced the Roseís reputation for being a safe boat. They reluctantly solidified plans for getting underway the following day.
Since this was to be their last full day on the island Catherine wanted to cram as much into it as possible. Right after breakfast they rented a scooter and went out to a riding academy that let you rent horses to ride on the beach. The woman at the facility took one look at Vincent and had a groom saddle up a black draft cross by the name of Goliath. By the look of him he could have carried Andre the Giant with no problem. The woman had seen Vincentís picture in the paper and wasnít too startled by his appearance, but Catherine noticed she kept staring at him when she thought he wasnít looking. Catherine told the woman she had ridden extensively as an adolescent so she was presented with a pretty thoroughbred mare that look like she had some fire in her eyes.
Vincent held out his hand to Goliath to be sniffed, and Catherine felt the familiar waves of calm emanate from him. He patted his mounts glossy neck marvalling at the size of the beast. He watched as Catherine swung into the saddle and then emulated her movements. As they moved off, following their guide, he felt wonder at the immense strength of the being he sat on. He fell into the rhythm of Goliathís walk and soon became comfortable enough to enjoy the scenery around them. It was another beautiful day and as they followed the narrow path down to the beach he deeply inhaled the scents of the flowers that grew in abundance along the way. When they reached the beach their guide kicked her horse into a trot. He noticed that Catherine would rise up out of the saddle as her horses back came up. He decided to try it since sitting at this pace was very uncomfortable and his more tender parts were beginning to protest. It was awkward at first but he soon got the hang of it. Catherine noticed and smiled encouragingly at him. When they got on firmer footing, closer to the water, the two women urged their mounts into a canter. Goliath was not one to be left behind and followed suit joyfully entering the water, splashing his rider with the spray of his passage. It was absolutely exhilarating! Vincent could feel the powerful muscles of his mount working under the sleek coat of black hair. Goliathís long mane flew backwards as he ran, fanning Vincentís face as he crouched over the horseís neck. The horses flew down the beach enjoying the outing as much as their riders. When they reached an outcropping of rock the guide slowed her horse back down to a walk and turned around. Catherine had brought her camera with her and asked if the guide would take a picture of them. She had been taking copious pictures of their vacation pursuits, but she thought this one would top them all. To have a picture of Vincent astride his great black mount looking ever so dashing would be something to treasure. They got the horses to stand together and the guide snapped several pictures. When Catherine took the camera back she took a few more of just Vincent and Goliath.
She was planning on having her film developed here since most of the islanders knew of Vincent she wouldnít have to worry about anyone seeing the pictures. She would use a one-hour photo shop so they would be ready by the time they left. She also wanted to get some scrapbooks to put the brochures, newspaper articles and other memorabilia she had collected during their stay.
They walked the horses back to the stable and when Vincent dismounted he found he had a few protesting muscles that he never knew he had. Catherine laughed when she caught him rubbing his backside and murmured low enough so only he could hear, "Iíll rub some liniment on that tonight if you want." Just thinking of Catherine rubbing his body was enough to make the pain subside. Gingerly he got back on the scooter and they motored down to Horseshoe Bay.
Catherine had brought their bathing suits along knowing there were changing facilities at this beach. He had finished changing first and as he waited for her to come out he sat down on the low stonewall that ran along one side of the path that led to the beach. As he sat with his head bowed, waiting a man came and sat along side him. From the corner of his eye he could see that it was a black man with long dreadlocks topped by a colorful, knit beret. He wore an un-buttoned, flowery shirt with khaki shorts and sandals.
The man nudged him in the ribs with an elbow, whispering confidentially in a lilting Jamaican accent, "Hey man, dere be lots of pussy on de beach today."
Vincent looked up and scanned the beach, "I donít see any cats on the beach," he observed.
Looking up at Vincent the manís eyes went wide, "Me mean no offense, man," his dreadlocks bounced causing his hat to shift precariously as he shook his head.
Vincent gave him a slight smile, "none taken."
Seeing that Vincent was not in the least perturbed by his remark the man put out his hand, "Me called Ruben, me never see you here before."
"My name is Vincent," he shook the offered hand, "and this is my first time to Bermuda." Vincent tilted his head, "You donít sound like youíre from here either."
"No me come from Jamaica way, me woman from here, she got me job working on de beach."
Vincent nodded and looked at the beach again, "I still donít see any cats."
Ruben laughed, "Me donít mean pussy like pussy cats, man, me means chicks." He looked up at the changing rooms just as Catherine came out. "Here look, like dat one there," he pointed. "Datís pussy you wanna take home." As Catherine walked toward them Vincent stood, holding out his hand to her.
The man swallowed hard as Vincent introduced them. "Catherine, this is Ruben he works here and he tells me that there is a lot of pussy on the beach today." Ruben looked like he wanted the earth to swallow him up. A blushing Catherine shook his hand then tucking her arm into Vincentís they walked toward the water.
Ruben lowered his head, one of these days me mouth gonna get me into some kind of trouble.
As they walked to a less populated spot Catherine could feel everyoneís eyes on them. Proudly she noted that many of those eyes held envy, for Vincent was every inch a male and exuded masculinity. They found a spot and laid their blanket out securing the corners with their shoes and bag, then strolled into the water. Unlike Elbow beach here there were rocks and little caves to explore and they swam around investigating all the nooks and crannies.
They lay on their blanket, basking in the sunshine until they were dry and then got changed back into their street clothes. Remounting the scooter they drove into Hamilton and stopped for a bite of lunch at Port of Call on Front St. As they were shown to their table Vincent felt the eyes of the other patrons staring at him, actually he was getting used to it, and in fact if he were a true Bod Mod heíd welcome the stares. So they sat and ate just like an ordinary couple and soon the stares subsided. After lunch they walked around exploring the alleys and the little, colorful shops. Catherine bought a few souvenirs to take back with them stowing them back aboard the Rose before going on. The city wasnít actually that large and they had covered much of it by dinnertime. They got some sandwiches and sat in the Par-La-Ville gardens munching contentedly enjoying the sounds and scents of their surroundings.
Catherine had spotted a movie theater not far from where they were sitting, and enticed Vincent with the promise of a bag of popcorn, into going to see Regarding Henry, a movie that had received good reviews. There was hardly anyone else in the theater so they had their pick of seats. Catherine urged him into the back row and when the lights dimmed she took his popcorn from him and put it on the empty seat next to him. She then proceeded to show him what "making out" was all about. He pulled back from her startled, "Catherine, what are you doing?!" He whispered. "Making out with you," she whispered back. "I figured you never got the chance to do that when you were young so I thought Iíd give you that experience now."
"But Catherine," He stammered, "This is a public place, there are people here." Catherine looked around, peering into the darkness. "Thereís hardly anyone here and theyíre nowhere near us. Besides thatís what makes it exciting. Didnít you ever Ďmake outí with anyone before?" She could see him dimly shake his head. "My one attempt was with Lisa and we all know how that turned out." Oh boy do we she thought. Then something else occurred to her, something she had thought about before, but never found the opportunity to ask. "Vincent, who taught you kids about the birds and the bees? I mean is there sex education Below?" Vincent squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. As he gazed around the interior of the theater and as the coming attractions were playing across the screen he explained. "Father taught us the mechanics of it in anatomy and biology classes, as I recall the lecture was very dry and clinical, nothing about the emotions that were involved. Mary took the girls separately and explained the more practical considerations of their monthly cycle. The rest we got from books." Catherine had turned on the edge of her seat so she could look at him as he spoke. She moved very close to his face, kissing him tenderly on the lips. "So you never kissed a girl until me?" she kept her lips close to his so that when he shook his head she felt the passage of it brush against them. "And you never groped or were groped?" She put her hands under his shirt stroking his chest. "Not until you," he whispered huskily. He pulled her to him till she was lying across his lap and kissed her so deeply it made her toes curl. Then he pushed her into her own seat and grabbed his bag of popcorn. "Now watch the movie." She was startled at first, but then gave his knee a little slap, "you brute, wait till we get back to the cottage." Through the munching of popcorn she heard, "promises, promises."
After the movie let out they walked over to the one-hour photo lab and dropped off their rolls of film, telling the girl behind the counter that they would be back in the morning to pick them up. They returned to the Rose to get the scooter and went back to the resort. Catherine made good on her promise and although it didnít hold the element of excitement of Ďmaking outí in a public place, they nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed each other.
They got up early to watch one of Bermudaís magnificent sunrises on the beach. Vincent took in the view with his arms wrapped around his wife. Could anything be better than this, he thought. He would miss the freedom he had here, but Catherine had mentioned that there were other Bod-Mod conventions. Until then he was sure the memories of this one would sustain him for quite sometime, for a lifetime if need be. Catherineís anniversary gift to him was priceless, he had walked among people and to a certain extent been accepted. She had shown him things he had only the written description of before this trip. The grittiness of the sand on the beach, of how it warmed in the sun, the salt of the ocean water, the power of a horse as it galloped beneath him, driving a scooter down a road, eating in a restaurant, going to a movie, all these things so commonplace for most people were a thrill beyond measure for Vincent. He held her tighter as the sun slowly turned the black sky into shades of lavender, pink and then blue. They took a final walk on the beach and then went back to the cottage to pack their things before getting some breakfast. They said goodbye to all their acquaintances, leaving generous tips for the employees. The taxi dropped them off at the photo shop and continued to the dock to drop of their luggage. As their walked to the Rose admiring some of the photos they had taken their heard shouting coming from the boat. Looking up they saw Jaap gesticulating wildly at a man in a uniform. Concerned they hastened their steps and climbed aboard. Catherine rushed up to the two men, "Whatís the problem? Whatís wrong?"
"This person," Jaap looked disdainfully at the official, "wonít let us leave!"
"I donít understand," Catherine asked, "Why canít we leave?"
"Something about papers!" Jaap replied agitated.
"I know we were supposed to show our passports when we first came in, but we were with the Primer so no one ever asked us for them." As she spoke she was rummaging in her bag." Vincent stood close to her and whispered, "Catherine, I donít have a passport."
"Yes you do," she told him without looking up. "Ah here they are," she said triumphantly holding up two small, blue booklets. She handed them to the official who carefully scrutinized them. Vincent pulled Catherine aside, "Where did you get a passport for me?"
"Do you remember Maurice? The one that helped me find Lena?" Vincent nodded. "He got one for me." She smiled recalling the negotiations that took, not to mention the price. Vincent shook his head in wonder; this wife of his was very resourceful.
As the official handed Catherine back the passports a familiar limousine pulled up to the dock. Sir John and Marjorie stepped out followed by their chauffer carrying a large package. They came aboard the Rose and the official snapped a salute and left. Catherine stared perplexed until a laughing John explained.
"I had to keep you here until this was finished." He pointed at the package. They went back to one of the tables on the stern where the chauffer laid the package down.
"Go ahead," Marjorie urged, "open it."
Catherine and Vincent carefully removed the wrapping and gazed in wonder at the gift the Swanís had given them. It was a beautiful piece of oak rubbed to a buttery finish with an 8x10 picture, set in an oval, in the center of them at the Pavarotti concert just after he had announced that it was their anniversary. Around the main oval were smaller ovals with pictures of what they had done on their stay here. Sir John explained that he had hired a photographer to take candid shots of them. There was a picture of them swimming at Horseshoe Bay, of their horse ride, as they ate lunch in the restaurant and dinner in the park. There was a picture of them eating the ice cream cones and of them riding the scooter.
"How is this possible?" Vincent exclaimed, he had felt no one immediately around them.
"This man is a professional, with a telephoto lens," Sir John explained. "I told him he was not to intrude on your intimate time, but only when you were out in public. I think he did a wonderful job capturing your vacation."
They nodded in agreement; it was a wonderful memento of their trip. There were thanks and tearful goodbyes with promises of a future trip. Mari and Herman undid the lines wrapped around the cleats of the wharf and they were on their way home. They stood at the rail together waving to the Swanís until they were out of site. They stood for a long time watching Bermuda until it was just a tiny speck on the horizon. Vincent sighed deeply, pulling Catherine into a tight embrace.
"That was a wonderful anniversary gift, thank you." He kissed her till her knees almost gave out.
"Your welcome," she huffed trying to catch her breath.
They had fair weather all the way home. As they were approaching the coast Vincent was able to place a ship to shore call to Peter while Catherine was still sleeping. His anniversary surprise had been put on hold because of her gift to him, but now he put Peter on the alert to tell everyone involved that they would be arriving that evening Peter went Below in person to let the community know the anniversary couple would be arriving soon and Vincentís plans were put into action. When he and Catherine arrived home by way of the tunnels there were candles lit everywhere accompanied by bouquets of red and white roses. A candle lit dinner had been laid out in the dinning room Vincentís sharp ears could hear the whispers of his friends as they hid in the hall closet waiting for the opportunity to scamper down the stairs and back into the tunnels. He urged Catherine upstairs as she oohíd and ahíd at how lovely the house looked. As soon as they reached the landing Vincent heard the creak of the basement stairs and knew his friends had made a clean get a way. As Catherine dropped the bags she was carrying she gazed around the room noting that it had been freshly vacuumed and dusted. There was a huge floral arrangement on the dresser that bathe the room in the fresh scent of flowers. The flames of the candles flickered behind their protective hurricane glass. Catherineís gaze finally came back to her husband, the sun had lightened his fur considerably and he looked like a golden god of mythology standing in the candlelight. He opened his arms and she melted into them.
"Vincent, the house is beautiful! How did you manage it?"
He chuckled, "this is what I had planned for our anniversary until someone shanghaied me."
He kissed her, and then led her down to the dinning room for supper. At the end of the meal he presented her with a small box. Opening it she found a pair of earrings that matched her wedding ring. She could tell that the same jeweler had made them. There were two stones in each, a green above a blue, set in the same delicate gold filigree that the stones of her ring were set in. "Vincent, theyíre beautiful!"
The rest of the night was spent re-affirming their love in a physical way and as Catherine lay in her loverís embrace she mentally patted herself for a job well done. Tomorrow they would go Below and live every glorious moment of their vacation over again through the retelling of it. They had spent the trip home placing their pictures and mementos in the scrapbooks she had purchased, these books were going to get a thorough going over by their friends and family. She sighed contentedly, it had been worth it, every penny she had spent, every drop of sweat she had shed in the planning, it had all been worth it. The only thing was, how would she ever top it?