Nancy Lynn Knauff
A story based upon the characters of “Beauty and the Beast”
The night had its own magic. Vincent never got tired of it; walking Above at this late hour gave him a quiet thrill unlike any other. As he silently moved through the alleys and streets of Manhattan, the sights and sounds of this forbidden world cast its spell of enchantment upon him. He inwardly smiled as he moved between two buildings with stealth. His thoughts turned for a moment to a certain enchantress from this realm.
Vincent’s nightly prowl had brought him to a few warehouses near a section of piers. It wasn’t a place he visited often. There were only a few entrances to his own realm, the hidden world of the Tunnels. Ever cautious, he scanned the empty roads and buildings. No one was usually around this time of night. Besides, this was an abandoned section. He kept to the shadows anyway, out of the harsh overhead lights. There was no sense in taking a chance of being spotted.
He glanced for a moment in a dirty window. Odd, he thought. This warehouse had been empty for quite a while. Yet there was a dim light inside, illuminating the dusty, grimy window and the inside with a ruddy glow. Vincent peered through, hesitant for a moment. He knew from experience that transients or homeless addicts sometimes inhabited these abandoned buildings. Entering one of these places was not something he was fond of. There was always a chance something could go wrong; being inside could be detrimental if he needed to escape in a hurry. Logic dictated to keep a distance.
Something didn’t feel right however. His sense of it kneaded in the back of his mind. He didn’t question the feeling; it was a quirk, as Catherine would say, of his unusual abilities. Making the decision, he climbed the rusting ladder of the fire escape to investigate.
Leaping from the catwalk above to softly land on the warehouse floor moments later, Vincent knew he had been right. The last time he had visited this warehouse, there hadn’t been as much as a barrel or box inside. Cobwebs and rats had been the only inhabitants. Packing crates and forklifts were now scattered throughout the cargo hold area. He knew the warehouse hadn’t been sold- the building was so old and decrepit it should have been demolished years ago.
A sound from the far end of the floor caught his attention. Ducking behind a large crate, Vincent listened intently as two men entered the space from a nearby flight of stairs.
“You sure about this, Eddie?” said one.
From his vantage point, Vincent silently observed the pair. At first glance he knew these two were not guards or warehouse workers. For one thing they were dressed wrong. Common blue-collared workers did not wear designer three-piece suits. If Vincent hadn’t noticed that, the gun hidden in the shoulder holster of the second man was a dead giveaway. Both men held an air of disinterest in their environment as well. A chill traveled down his spine. These two men could only be described as thugs.
“Yeah,” said the second one. He buttoned his suit jacket while the first one gathered up some papers from a nearby table. “We’ve only got another day in this hellhole, then the shipment is out of our hands,” he said, running a hand through his blond hair. “She’ll keep ‘til morning, then we can hand her off to whoever wants her. Relax. ”The men walked out of Vincent’s line of sight, but he could still hear their diminishing voices. “She won’t be tellin’ anybody. And nothing is going to ruin this run. ”
“Besides,” replied the first, apparently in agreement, “there wasn’t that much damage done. ”The weak light bulb illuminating the floor was extinguished, plunging the warehouse in near darkness. Vincent’s eyes adjusted quickly as he heard a distant door slam; he was out of his hiding place when he heard the gunning of a car speeding off to parts unknown.
The overheard conversation he had witnessed troubled him. Without more information he was powerless to do anything about it, however. He looked around once more, eager to get home and send a message to Catherine. As an investigator for the New York D. A. ’s office, she would have better luck finding out about the building and what might be going on.
He was on the second floor of the building, heading for the fire escape once more when he heard another sound. It wasn’t the men returning, it was much softer. He whirled around, using his exceptional hearing to find the source. Nothing. Maybe he imagined it, although Vincent’s imagination didn’t normally conjure up mysterious noises while Above. Vincent was about to write it off as some rodent or other usual denizen when he heard it again. It sounded like a cross between crying and a moan.
A few soundless strides brought him to a nearby supply closet door. He brought an ear to it and listened intently. The small moan had come from the other side, he was certain of it. A drop of dread settled in his stomach as Vincent recalled the conversation he had eavesdropped on.
‘She’ll keep ‘til morning, then we can hand her off to whoever’… My God, Vincent thought, could those men have been referring to an actual person?
This was not a good predicament, for a captive nor for him. Vincent was ever cautious of any stranger seeing him- to show himself, even to come to the aid of someone, unnerved him more than slightly. Still, he couldn’t simply leave a possibly injured or dying person on the other side of this door to their fate, not even to summon help. Someone could be seriously injured- in need of medical attention. Immediate action was required, he felt it. Vincent inwardly warred with himself for a moment, then made a decision.
“Do you need help?” he finally asked. There was no answer except for the intermittent moaning. He tried the doorknob to no avail; it was locked. “It’s alright, I’ll get you out. ”He studied the door for a moment. There was a small glass pane set in the door, but there was sufficient space between the pane and the knob to ensure that he could reach the doorknob from the inside if he broke it. At least crashing through the door bodily will not be necessary, he thought wryly. “Shield yourself, I have to break the glass,” he warned the occupant a moment before he brought his left elbow to the glass and took a swing. The whimpering moan changed to a small cry as the grimy window shattered with a loud crash and gave way. He removed the shattered glass splints and peered inside the small hole he had made.
A little girl, a toddler really, cried out in fear, hiding her face from him.
Children held a soft place in Vincent’s heart. Throughout the years of wandering Above Vincent had found many children; some starving, wandering the streets looking for scraps in trashcans or hiding in alleys, unwilling to go home or hopelessly lost. Some of those children he had befriended, many more he had brought to his home, safe and protected from those who would do them harm. Never had he found a child in this matter, though. The sight of the dirty bedraggled waif tore at him.
A rope bonded her hands together. She whimpered against them, trying to further shrink herself into the darkness. “Don’t be afraid,” he told her gently. “I mean you no harm. ”At the sound of his quiet low voice, she froze. Timidly, she peered into the darkness from behind her fingers. Vincent knew it was too dark for her to actually see him; the distant light from a streetlight through a broken window gave a silhouetted look about him. He took a slow breath before he spoke again. “Are you hurt, cut anywhere?” The child didn’t reply, so he tried another approach. “It’s all right. I won’t hurt you. ”He paused, thinking how to gently approach the frightened girl. “My name is Vincent,” he told her. “What’s your name?”
For a moment, he thought maybe the child didn’t understand him. Then much to his relief she answered with the barest of whispers. “Fawn. ”
“Fawn,” he repeated softly, letting his voice reassure her. He began to remove more of the broken glass from the opening, slowly so as not to let any pieces fall on her, speaking to her all the while. “I’m going to get you out. Where is your family?” She gave no answer. “Your mother? Father?” Nothing, which furthered his suspicions. “Where do you live?” Again, her silence spoke volumes.
Finally he had enough of the glass removed to reach inside. “Now, don’t be frightened, Fawn,” he said. “I’m going to open the door. ”He took an oversized handkerchief from a hidden pocket in his cloak, wrapping it around one of his clawed hands as he spoke. “Please, it will be all right. ”Vincent paused, still hesitant. There was no gentle way to prepare her for his appearance. Most children were at least warned beforehand. “I look… different from other people,” he finally told her. “You have nothing to fear from me. ”He pushed back the hood from his cloak. “Do you understand?” Fawn mumbled a reply too quiet for even him to hear. Nonetheless, he reached into the door, found the handle and turned it. The door creaked open on tired, warped hinges.
Once the door was open, he was better able to see the child. Shivering, she squinted up at him, the light from outside bright to her dilated eyes. He bend down, resting on his haunches as he quickly slit the rope binding her hands together with a sharp nail. Once freed, the child wrapped her small arms around his neck as tight as she could. She was as light as a feather. Vincent held her with one arm and stood, brushing off small slivers of broken glass from himself and his prize.
The child held on to her rescuer tightly, face buried into his tawny mane. “There now, you’re safe,” Vincent softly crooned. He brushed the last of the glass free, keeping a firm hold on the little girl in his arms. After a minute she picked her head up from his shoulder and glanced at him. He was tense for half a moment; the waif only gave a quick big-eyed stare at his unusual features then rested her head again on his shoulder.
She looked weak and small for her age, which might have been about three. Her clothes were in tatters and much too thin for this cold fall night. He took a quick inventory, not seeing any obvious signs of injury or any bleeding. Still, she most likely needed medical attention, warm clothes and a good meal. “Fawn?” She picked her head up once more to look at him without a trace of fear. Amazing, he thought, then continued to speak slowly and clearly. “I know of a place, where it’s safe,” he said softly. “No one would hurt you. I live there, with my family; with many boys and girls like you. It’s a secret place, we all live there together. Would you let me take you there?”
Little Fawn pondered his question for a moment. The sight of this toddler scrunching up her little face in serious thought made Vincent inwardly smile. Despite the predicament he had found her in; dirty, clothes torn and ragged, she was still adorable. Vincent found himself under the child’s innocent spell. Her tangled russet-colored hair matched the beautiful brown eyes that peered behind the locks.
“Okay,” she finally whispered, resting her head against him once more. Vincent resettled his cloak to offer some warmth to her, replaced the hood, and headed for the fire escape with his precious cargo.
It had been a long day, way too long, thought Catherine Chandler as she stepped out of the elevator to her floor. She felt like she had been in a fight, if you could call working twelve-hour days in the D. A. ’s office this week a battle. Still, it was a good fatigue; her latest case was in the hands of the jury now. She had attended the trial only briefly today, enough to hear Joe’s closing arguments. She had left for a deposition with a small smile on her face; content that justice would be served in quick order.
Moments like this morning were when Catherine felt most satisfied in her job. The rest of the time, she mused as she approached her apartment door and fumbled for the keys, was just plain hard work.
The woman opened the door to her darkened apartment and clicked on the light, dispelling the darkness within her small living room. She was about to step in and close the door when she noticed a small white envelope on the floor. Picking up the familiar-looking stationary, she shifted her leather briefcase and purse under her arm and opened it. She read the accompanying note quickly, then tossed her briefcase on the nearby sofa, flicked the lights off again, and shut the door closed behind her.
Moments later Catherine lowered herself from the ladder underneath her building and walked through the blue-white light from the threshold between her world and Below; Vincent’s world.
Sure enough, there he was, waiting for her. Motionless, one side leaning against the crumbling brick of the entrance, his tourmaline eyes was the first feature she noticed as she stepped toward him. She halted her steps as emerald drank in azure blue- she was mesmerized by the expression of love and desire she saw in them. His still gaze shone brightly from his angular leonine face- Catherine felt her heartbeat rise a notch, silently swearing he could see into her soul and beyond with those eyes. She all but tore her own gaze from his to travel slowly across his other features before her- the broad shoulders and chest, the narrow hips and strong legs, all but hidden from the multiple layers and cloak he wore. She wondered silently if the high-collared sweaters, the multitude of layers and the vests he favored were more of a disguise to hide his body than to stave the tunnels’ chill. She didn’t ponder the question for more than an instant. She knew it wasn’t a question in good taste- she would never make Vincent uncomfortable with such a personal inquiry. Still, she loved all she saw. She let her actions speak for her.
Her eyes wandered over to his hands, densely furred at the wrists, tapering off to shorter, finer fur at the fingers, ending in gleaming sharp-looking pointed nails. They could be considered claws, even though they didn’t detract, but Catherine never tired of looking at them. She had once told him they were her hands; she loved every nuance of them, from their size to the bare palms, work-roughened from hours of toil deep Below, yet gentle enough to soothe a child, comfort a friend or hold her close to him. God, she loved those hands!
The hands and the arms attached to her object of scrutiny opened before her and she raised her head to look into his eyes again. They had not strayed during her momentary inspection, yet now they held a glimmer of awe; he had known her feelings of pride and love as she gazed at him lovingly. She smiled softly to him, a sense of peace washing through her as she stepped into his welcoming arms. The hands she had admired now rested against her back to pull her close into his warm embrace.
Catherine knew she had come home. Her own arms slipped around his waist underneath the cloak as Vincent lowered his head to lightly rest against her own, completing the embrace.
She snuggled into the handmade vest he wore, inhaling the familiar scent of candle-smoke, leather, and the unique scent of the man Catherine so loved. “I missed you,” she murmured into his clothes. Vincent loosened his hold on her as she raised her head to gaze back at him. She noted the same peace she felt in his eyes as he regarded her.
“As did I,” he told her. Catherine smiled again, confident that the bond between them sang with her love of him, just as she knew the love mirrored in his every embrace, every look, every…Her mind stalled as it registered his head lowering itself to hers, turning to one side as he took her lips in a sweet, passionate and much-welcomed kiss.
Vincent had finally- FINALLY- instigated a kiss between them some nights ago on her balcony. Catherine had been surprised and delighted at the turn of events. It was a step in the right direction, a “move toward love”, as Vincent once said; a move Catherine welcomed whole-heartedly. She returned his still shy and undemanding kiss, one hand stealing up behind his head, her slender fingers gently sliding into his fire-gold blond mane of hair. He responded in kind, his arms holding her a little closer, his mouth opening to her slightly. Her heart pounded in her chest; she could feel Vincent’s own pulse underneath her hand quicken. Catherine felt as if she would float and drown at the same time. Still, she let him take the lead, knowing and understanding his need to control the depth of this new, exciting, and wonderful intimate contact between them.
All too soon, he reluctantly broke away from her, overwhelmed with his own chaotic feelings and hers through their bond. He didn’t relinquish his hold on her, however, and Catherine took advantage. She leaned in for one more, soft, brief, yet passion-filled kiss before opening her eyes to drink in his striking countenance once more. It was a few moments before she spoke, giving him the time he needed to gather himself emotionally. It wasn’t only for him; her emotions of love, desire, and passion for him and a thousand others she couldn’t name were running rapid in her head and heart. What he could sense through their connection, she didn’t exactly know, but if his blue-blazed eyes were anything to go on, she would have given everything she owned in the world Above to find out.
Her voice slightly cracked, her words stilling some of the simmering passion in the air surrounding them. “You didn’t ask me to come just for this, did you?”
Her light tease had the desired effect. Vincent shyly dropped his head, not before she detected a small smile on his unique lips, heard the quiet humor in his voice as he replied “No. ”His raised his head once more, a glimmer of that humor in his eyes as he regarded her again. Then he wordlessly teased her back, brushing the back of his fingers of one hand across her smooth cheek. She leaned into the contact, giving a soft kiss to them. But it is a nice benefit, his eyes seemed to tell her.
Before his actions could eliminate her rationale, Catherine spoke again. “Your message said it was important. ”With that, he eased away from her, taking her hand into his own as they moved out of the light from the threshold into the tunnel a few feet ahead. He guided her; even though she knew the way, she followed him gladly.
All business now, yet his love finding its way across his voice, he said “Yes, I need your help. Actually, a little girl needs your help. ”As they moved through the tunnels of bedrock toward his home, she listened intently as Vincent described to her about his adventure in the darkened warehouse, finding and freeing young Fawn.
“Oh, Vincent, the poor little thing,” she told him a few minutes later, both turning into the entrance of Father’s study in the Tunnel proper. “Is she all right?”
“She had several bruises on her arms- Father guessed she tried to struggle when she was placed in the crate. One minute cut from the glass I broke. Other than that…” Vincent’s voice died away, his anguish over the toddler’s plight clear as he gestured to Catherine to walk down the stairs before him. As both descended the small stairwell, Father’s voice took up where his son’s had left off.
“She was in no worse condition than any of the other young children brought to us from the streets Above. ”The patriarch leaned into his crutch as he placed the volume in his hands down before moving over to the couple now standing by his desk. He settled his frame on his worn but comfortable chair before giving Catherine’s hand a welcoming squeeze, which she returned. “Malnourished and exhausted for the most part. Mary cleaned her up last night when Vincent brought her home; she’s been quiet for most of the day today. ”
“Any idea where she might have come from?”
“None that I know of, Catherine,” Vincent answered her, having collected himself once more. She knew of his affinity for the children he encountered, shared his desire to protect them in any way possible. She had come across many cases of abuse and neglect in her job in the D. A. ’s office, knew of the sometimes backhanded way the system Above handled those entrusted to its care. “She may not even remember herself, she is still so young. Father guessed her age at around four. ”
“Although she is physically underdeveloped for her age,” the older man added. “she seems quite bright. I don’t think there’s any mental impairment. ”
Catherine looked at one man to the other. “What can I do?”
“Try to find out if there is a home for her somewhere Above,” Father said. “She seemed to have been well cared for at some point- her family might be looking for her. ”
“More than that,” Vincent added, leaning one hip on the surface of the desk to regard the others, “what I saw in that warehouse was not supposed to be there. It has been vacant too long to be of any great use. ”
“It wouldn’t be the first time someone used an abandoned building illegally,” Catherine mused. Her gaze wandered from the desk, lost in thought. “I’ll check into it tomorrow. ”
“Be careful, Catherine. ”Vincent gave her a worried gaze, placing a strong hand over her own where it rested on the desk. She gave him a warm smile, giving him a small nod of consent. Father watched the silent play before him, both forgetting his presence in the room.
They were disrupted suddenly by Mary’s appearance into the chamber. The older man rose from his seat, Vincent straightening himself to his full height but remained holding Catherine’s hand. The younger woman turned slightly as Mary greeted her then turned to Vincent.
“Little Fawn asked for you, Vincent. I was hoping you’d be back by now. ”The older woman gingerly walked down the stairs. “I have her in my chamber if you would like to tuck her in. ”She smiled at Catherine. “Vincent has an uncanny ability to lull any child to sleep. ”
“Child and adult alike,” the younger woman replied, catching a glance at the object of conversation. Vincent only tipped his head in characteristic fashion, meeting her humorous gaze with one of his own. One of the many talents I first came across, she added mentally. She enjoyed teasing him; it wasn’t something she engaged in often with him or his family, but it was quite enjoyable. Not willing to embarrass him further tonight, she let a comfortable silence pass then raised a question. “Can I see her?”
Mary answered. “I don’t see why not. She’s lovely, Catherine, even if a little shy. Come along,” the woman replied, leading the way out of the chamber, all three of the others in tow. “Vincent’s not the only one down here known for a good rapport with the children. ”Catherine blushed herself as the group left the study.
The small figure in the bed was hardly noticeable to Catherine when the four of them entered Mary’s chamber. Hearing their approach, the toddler turned to her side, a small fist absently rubbing her eyes.
From Vincent’s description of young Fawn, Catherine had a mental picture of a disheveled child, shy and withdrawn. Even noticing her painfully thin body and little drawn face, the little girl seemed to be a fairy child, a young sprite from the fantasy tales Catherine had so loved from her youth. And her eyes! Catherine inwardly gasped at the innocent wonder of that bright, wide, soft chocolate gaze. Had Vincent’s childhood visage been as mesmerizing as a young boy, she thought. Her heart tugged at the idea- for the child as well. She was so beautiful and promised to grow into a similarly beautiful young lady. Catherine was captivated.
Vincent approached the bed first, Catherine and the others maintaining a discreet distance at the foot of the bed. “Hello, Fawn,” was his greeting as he gracefully took a seat on the high-standing bed.
“Hi,” Fawn answered, taking one thumb and popping it into her mouth.
“Mary tells me you’re having trouble falling asleep tonight. ”The toddler nodded. “Is that why you asked for me?” She nodded again, solemn except for the small gleam in her wide eyes.
“She’s darling,” Catherine whispered to Mary, standing at her side while Vincent soothingly rubbed Fawn’s back.
“I know. ”A smile creased the older woman’s face as well as Father’s from behind them. “The way she looks at Vincent, you can tell she’s thrilled by him. ”
“Fawn truly sees him for who he is,” Father softly added.
She’s not the only one, Catherine thought to herself as Fawn eyed them. She smiled kindly at the child, and to her further surprise, the toddler smiled back through her sucking thumb.
Vincent noticed Fawn’s attention shifting and took the opportunity. “I’d like you to meet someone,” he said, beckoning to Catherine to join him. The woman slowly moved to the bedside, offering another warm smile. “Someone very special. ”She stopped, squatting next to Vincent and facing the little girl eye to eye. “Fawn, this is Catherine. ”
“Hello, Fawn. It’s nice to finally meet you. ”
“Hi,” the child mumbled from behind her thumb. But there was a new sparkle in her eyes, telling Catherine she was welcomed.
“Vincent’s told me about you,” Catherine continued. “And he asked me to come by and find out where you came from. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
“Are you Vincent’s girlfriend?” Fawn asked, sitting up in bed and abandoning her sucking finger. At her innocent question, almost everyone in the room chuckled. Father rolled his eyes upward, joining Mary in trying to conceal their further laughter. Catherine saw Vincent bow his head, hiding his face from her, but not before she saw a hint of a blush peak out from the bare points of his face. She felt a similar heat fill her own face and tried hard not to lose her composure completely. Fawn only watched her, waiting patiently, oblivious to anything else.
Catherine thought for a minute then gave her answer. “Yes, Fawn, in a way I am. ”She winked at the girl, but Vincent brought his head up at her reply. She was caught in the stormy blue visage she had encountered earlier that night, full of love, devotion and passion. She barely heard Fawn’s one word reply.
“Good. ”And with that, the child snuggled back into the pillows of her perch, satisfied while the couple held their gaze.
Both of them stayed with the little girl until she had finally fallen asleep. While reading a third story to her, Fawn had drifted off, snuggled in Catherine’s arms and the bedclothes. Disentangling the small toddler without waking her, Vincent tucked Fawn in for the final time. Catherine blew out all but one candle by the bedside then both snuck quietly out of the chamber.
“She’s adorable,” Catherine told him as both walked back toward the other chambers. Inwardly, she was pleased they weren’t turning back toward Above, even with the late hour.
“I agree,” Vincent said. “She is so unlike other children I have found. Many of them were withdrawn, distant. ”He stopped. “Why would anyone ever dream of harming any child, especially one so precious?”
One arm wrapped around his as Catherine felt as well as saw the anguish in him. “Who knows, Vincent. I wish I had the answer. ”She looked into his eyes once more, her heart full of sympathy for him and the girl, as well as the determination he so admired in her. “But I will do my best to find out. I promise. ”
At the office the next day, Catherine realized her promise would not be fulfilled easily. One of the first things she had done this morning was call Child Social Services. After being placed on hold three times by three different people and a lot of haggling, she learned nothing- there was no child matching Fawn’s description missing from their ranks. No one had filed a missing person’s report with the police either.
By afternoon she had exhausted all her options. She was reading a police report on a case Joe had thrown her way earlier when Rita sauntered up to her desk. “You asked about that warehouse?”
“Yeah,” answered Catherine, looking up from a set of scribbling she was reading that was being passed as notes. “What did you find?”
“Really, Cathy, not much. ”The dark-haired woman handed her a few sheets of computer paper. “It was a distribution center for a company overseas at the turn of the century. They closed it down during the Depression. Several other shipping companies leased it until the early 80’s- it’s been vacant ever since. Changed hands a few times, but now the city has the papers. ”
Catherine flipped through the report. “Wait a minute. It says here it was scheduled to be demolished 3 months ago. ”
“I was just getting to that. ”Rita leaned a hip over the corner of the desk. “Seems a bunch of buildings in the wharf meant for the wrecking ball, including this one, got lost in the shuffle. ”
“How do you lose a warehouse?” Catherine frowned as she spoke.
“Paperwork. The wrecking company had a fire earlier in the year, before the first of the buildings were to be taken down. ”Rita pointed to a line on the third page, which was a printout of a report from the city fire marshal. “Redwood Demolition. ”
“Odd,” mused Catherine. “How many buildings?”
“Seven,” the researcher answered, pulling another several sheets from her pile of paperwork and handing it to Catherine. Each building was listed with address and current owner. All of them were city owned.
There was more of a mystery here than a little girl, it seemed. Catherine frowned again at the papers in front of her. “Thanks, Rita. ”
Toward late evening Catherine found herself down at the wharf facing the run-down warehouse in question. A sudden thrill went through her as she searched for an entrance, flashlight in hand. It wasn’t the brisk fall air; she was walking into a possible dangerous situation and she knew it. Her heart was pounding in her ears. She took a deep breath, trying to calm it and her uncertainty down. Any more of that and Vincent will be on his way, she told herself.
Since the summer and Vincent’s illness, recovery, not to mention the kidnapping involving a case she had been entrusted with, both Catherine and Vincent had endeavored to lessen the dangers Catherine was exposed to as a result of her job. Still, walking around a warehouse on the wharf at night wasn’t the brightest idea she had come up with. She was determined, however, to find Fawn’s home, if indeed she had one.
The woman found a doorway leading into the place, unlocked and left ajar. That was strange; most people keeping a warehouse would keep it under lock and key. How Vincent had gotten inside in the first place Catherine wouldn’t know, but then again, that was Vincent. There might have been a guard but she doubted it. Vincent hadn’t encountered one two nights ago.
Once she was inside, she shone her light around the ground floor. Vincent had described the warehouse in detail to her- down to the dingy floor and poor lighting, crates and old, worn out forklifts. She turned around, her small light illuminating nothing but bare grime-encrusted walls. “What the hell,” she muttered, thinking for a moment she might have the wrong place.
Suddenly a large hand came down to rest on her left shoulder. Instinct, hammered into her by experience and training, took over as she yelped and swung to the right, into her would-be attacker, the flashlight now being used as a club. Another strong arm stopped her swing. She struggled for an instant in the darkness until the tall, broad shouldered figure called her by name.
“Vincent!” she answered, instantly relaxing as he let her go. She felt her cheeks flush as adrenaline coursed through her veins too late. Embarrassed, she stammered an apology.
He shook his head. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Catherine. ”He paused, looking down at her as she straightened her now rumpled coat.
“What are you doing here?”They both chuckled as each one asked in concert. The humor underlined the concern in Vincent’s voice as he continued.
“I was on my way here when I felt your… trepidation. ”
“Oh. ”His arrival was a record, even for him. She knew her fear hadn’t reached that intensity to call him so quickly.
“You should not have come alone,” he stated, Catherine hearing rather than seeing Vincent’s frown.
“I know. I didn’t come up with a lot today. ”Both looked around the spacious floor. “So much for answers here. ”
“The floor above is empty as well,” Vincent told her. He took an arm to escort her outside. “Come. Let’s discuss your findings…” he also took a cautious look around, “elsewhere. ”
They moved slowly through the upper tunnels toward Catherine’s apartment building some time later. As she told him all she had found, and not found, Vincent became more concerned. When she had finished, he stopped, leaning his impressive frame against the smooth tunnel wall. Catherine watched him, seeing the tension in his upper body. She wrapped her arms tighter around herself- she knew his frustration. There was a mystery on their hands with no explanation in sight. She felt the same.
“Fawn told me something today,” he said at length.
“About what?” she asked, taking a step forward. His voice had carried a twinge of sorrow which chilled her even further. “Can you tell me?”
“She said it was not the first time ‘they’ had been there. ”
Catherine’s eyebrow lifted. “She knew them?”
“Possibly,” Vincent answered. “She didn’t know their names. ”He paused, making Catherine suspect she wasn’t going to like what he had to say next. “Fawn did say she knew they were ‘bad’ men. ”
“They had guns. ”
Both eyebrows angrily lifted at his statement; she didn’t like that at all. After a minute, Catherine shifted her stance, thinking. “She’s obviously not a foster child in the system,” she thought aloud. “But there’s more to this than meets the eye. ”She looked up at him, her anger diminishing at the look in his bright blue eyes. “Do you think I could talk to her again?”
“Of course. ”Vincent brightened at the prospect, picking himself off the tunnel wall. “She likes you. ”
“The feeling is mutual. ”She took his large hand into her chilled smaller ones. A small smile graced his lips gratefully as he continued to gaze at her.
Next day found Catherine on her way to Redwood Demolition. Their new office was located near the wharf on the site of a current project. It was turning out to be a bright and brisk morning as she stepped inside the makeshift trailer that was the office.
The place looked like a typical office in this side of town- nothing fancy and a little cramped. The carpet was faded despite the newness of the place; the desks were standard office issue. The receptionist/secretary, whose desk looked like she was doing the work of three people, looked up from her adding machine as Catherine came in.
“Hi there,” the older woman said with a smile, lowering her reading glasses. The plump woman looked to be in her fifties. “What can I do for you, Miss…”
“Chandler. Catherine Chandler with the D. A. ’s office. ”The woman continued to look cheery, so Catherine relaxed a bit. “I’m looking for some information about a series of city-owned buildings that were scheduled for demolition. ”She handed the other woman Rita’s printout of addresses from yesterday. The secretary visually scanned the document, nodding her head.
“Oh, yeah, sure honey. Did you know about-”
“The fire on April 30th?Yes. My reports said you lost the paperwork needed to file the permits to begin work on the buildings. ”
“Oh, we lost it all, Ms. Chandler,” the receptionist replied. “Arson, the fire chief told us. They’re still investigating. We only started again last month, when another company took us over. I’m glad I have my job back, but let me tell you,” the woman swept a hand over her overcrowded desk and two equally full tables nearby, “We’re way behind. ”A small smile graced a corner of Catherine’s lips, she could sympathize.
“Tell you what,” the secretary continued, “Sal- that’s our manager here- he’s over at our parent office today; Starkstrom Industries- he’ll know more about the timetables of those buildings than I do. ”
“Thanks. ”Catherine gave a card to the secretary and left.
Less than an hour later she was talking to the manager at the corporate headquarters uptown. “Starkstrom Industries bought us out a few months ago when we weren’t able to rebuild,” Daniel Salvatore told her while they were walking down a corridor. “They’ve let us continue to run our business the way we have been, a blessing indeed. We in turn give them priority for future contracts for clients. It’s a nice partnership, all things considered. ”
“And the reason for the delay with the buildings?” Catherine asked as he ushered her into an empty conference room.
“We simply haven’t gotten to them yet. We literally have dozens of jobs yet to be fulfilled; we’ve lost a lot of revenue as a result of that fire. I’m just grateful the city has been kind enough to wait, again, thanks to our new owners. ”
It seemed plausible enough to her, but something in the back of Catherine’s mind sent alarm bells ringing. The broad shouldered Latino held himself too rigidly for a routine interview. She also noticed the thin film of perspiration forming along his brow. Without her skills as a lawyer and the experience from working for the D. A. ’s office, she would have passed it off as nothing. Salvatore was nervous about something, she was sure of it.
Catherine decided to press her luck. “Mr. Salvatore, would you know of anyone using these buildings in the interim?”
“Not that I know of, Ms. Chandler,” he replied. His color drained from his face as he spoke. Lying was something some people just couldn’t do without giving it away, it looked like Daniel Salvatore was one of them. “We’re only hired to take them down. The last I knew, most of these buildings were condemned. No one should be in them. ”
The doors to the conference room opened before Catherine could continue. “Ah, Sal, there you are,” said a barely middle-aged executive as he entered the room. He spoke with a slight English accent. “I just wanted to remind you of your lunch with Mr. Starkstrom. ”
The other man looked at his watch. “Eleven o’clock already?”
The light blond-haired man stepped closer to regard Catherine. He smiled at her, but only a blind person wouldn’t have noticed the emptiness behind it. “We always try to wine and dine our new associates to make them feel welcomed,” he told her for her benefit. She wasn’t impressed.
“Excuse me, where are my manners,” said Salvatore. “Ms. Chandler, this is Frances Whyte, Richard Starkstrom’s personal assistant. Frances, this is-”
“Catherine Chandler, from the D. A. ’s office?” Whyte replied for him, catching Catherine off guard for a moment. He noticed her hesitancy, adding “I’m sorry, but your reputation precedes you. A wonderful job you did last spring with the Nolan trial. I’ve also had dealings with your father’s law firm. My condolences on his passing. ”
“Thank you. ”A bad feeling clawed at the back of her head. Suddenly Catherine wanted out of the room, out of the building and away from this man’s reach. “Well, Mr. Salvatore, I won’t keep you. If there’s anything you would like to add, please call my office,” she told him as she handed him a card. “Good day, Mr. Salvatore. Mr. Whyte. ”With that she walked out of the conference room as quickly as she deemed fit.
Both men watched the woman leave. When it was certain she was out of earshot, the assistant turned to Salvatore. “What did you tell her?”
“Nothing. She was just asking about the buildings. She doesn’t have anything concrete. ”
The younger man wasn’t impressed. “Not yet. I know of her, she’s ruthless. ”He paused. “And you are no help at all. Your face itself gave everything away. ”
Salvatore was clearly angered by that last statement. “You didn’t say anything about deflecting questions. ”
Whyte gave a cold smile. “Well, aren’t we the assertive one. No one twisted your arm, Salvatore. You created your own problem when you scorched your company. ”He went to the door, stopping as he grasped a hold of the doorknob. “You had better be prepared the next time that Chandler woman comes around. Believe me, she’ll be back. ”He shut the door behind him, leaving the manager to wipe his brow nervously.
That Saturday Catherine finally managed to get Below to see Fawn. She was now staying in the larger dormitory chamber with several other children, still shy in groups, but quite precocious as Father pointed out. Catherine and Vincent sat at Father’s council table in the study across from the child who was happily drawing away. The patriarch sat as his own desk, Mary hovering nearby.
Catherine had experience with interviewing small children from the abuse cases she had worked on, so Vincent gave her the lead. “What have you got there, Fawn?”
The toddler didn’t even look up. “It’s not done yet. ”
“Well, that’s okay. When it is done, what is it going to be?”
“A building with a window. ”
The woman took a glance at the drawing. Fawn had used dark colors for one half of the picture. It looked like there was a figure standing at the window. “Who’s this?” she asked.
“Why are you standing at the window?”
“Looking outside,” the child told her matter-of-factly, pointing to the other half of the drawing. This part had bright colors. Catherine could make out a big yellow sun with what looked like three children playing with a ball. Catherine looked up at Vincent, their eyes meeting in silent communication. He saw it too.
She glanced at the child again. “Why aren’t you playing ball with the others, Fawn?”
There was a pause as the girl gave a dramatic sigh. “’Cause the men said I was bad. ”
“Why?”Catherine came over to her, bending down to the girl’s level. “You can tell me, Fawn. It’s okay. ”
“They said I was bad ‘cause I saw what was in the boxes. ”
“In the warehouse?”That was Vincent, his soft voice tender as he addressed the child. “What were in the boxes, Fawn?Tell us, please. ”
Fawn pointed to the black scribblings in her picture, the one behind her self-portrait. “Big guns. ”The toddler looked at Catherine. “Am I bad?” she whispered to the woman.
“Oh, no, Fawn,” Catherine answered immediately, picking up the child before depositing herself in the empty chair, the toddler held in her lap with a heartfelt embrace. “You are not a bad girl. You did the right thing by telling us. ”She followed Vincent’s eyes as he turned to give Father and Mary a glance. The older man gave his son a concerned look, one hand absently stroking his graying beard. “Fawn, would you let us adults talk for a minute?” Catherine continued.
“Yes,” Mary agreed. “Why don’t you run over to William and the others. I’ll bet he’ll have something for you,” she continued as Catherine gave Fawn a kiss on the head then put her down. Fawn happily agreed, turning and rushing up the steps then out the door in true tunnel child fashion.
“Arms dealers,” said Vincent softly, standing from his place at the table to join the others at Father’s desk.
“And a now empty warehouse,” added Catherine. “A list of buildings never torn down and a arson fire too convenient for my liking. ”She looked out the exit Fawn had just used, a contemplative look on her face.
“What is it, Catherine?” asked Vincent.
“How much do you want to bet these guys who grabbed Fawn are using those buildings as a revolving warehouse for their goods?”
“Is that plausible?” asked Father.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” answered Catherine. “It’s used mostly in drug cases, to throw off investigators. I’ll have to let Joe in on this; he won’t be happy about it. ”
“There’s something else,” the patriarch guessed, from the remaining frown on the younger woman’s face.
“I hate to do this,” she said. “I didn’t want to involve her, but I might need her to help me identify the men from the warehouse. ”
“You mean testify?” Mary asked.
“She’s too young,” Catherine admitted to the tunnel matriarch. “It wouldn’t hold up in court. Besides, they’d place her in foster care, something I’m loath to do. But there may be a way she can give me a head start. ”She looked at Mary and Father. “Could I take her Above Monday morning for a few hours?”
“What do you have in mind?” Vincent asked.
“Oh, I just thought I’d take a ‘niece’ to the office, show her what goes on where I work,” Catherine slyly told him, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Make it a ‘Take a Child to Work’ Day. ”Both Father and son chuckled at her as Mary shook her head in amusement.
Sunday evening found both Fawn and Catherine in her apartment. She was just tucking the girl into her large bed when Fawn asked her a question. “Do I have to go back there?”
A sad look crossed the toddler’s face. “Back to the ugly building. ”
“The warehouse where Vincent found you?No,” she comforted the child. “We’re not going to go anywhere near there. Just to my office. ”She smoothed back the flyaways in Fawn’s now washed and brushed hair. Catherine had loved giving the little girl a bath. Her heartstrings tugged at the memory, bringing up a pang of longing she usually kept hidden from even herself.
She mentally shook her head, physically blinked, coming out of her revelry. “Can I let you in on a secret?” she continued. The child nodded. “Everyone you meet tomorrow doesn’t know about Vincent, the tunnels, or anything about where we’ve been. And we have to keep it that way. ”She sat on the bed, her voice lowering itself as if the very walls could be eavesdropping on them. “So, I have to ask you something very important. A very special promise. ”She leaned in, practically whispering. “Do you promise not to say anything about the tunnels or the world Below?Or for that matter, how Vincent found you?”
“Okay,” the child whispered back, grinning at her.
It seems like a big game to her, thought Catherine. I just wish I knew the rules as well as Fawn did. “Good,” she told her, giving her a little squeeze and a kiss. As she sat back up, she paused, as if listening for something in the stillness. Suddenly a smile crossed her own face. “I think someone’s here to say ‘good night’,” she stated, a twinkle in her eyes as she turned from the bed to the doors leading to the balcony.
Sure enough, a familiar figure stood beyond the glass doors, cloak slightly swaying in the breeze. Catherine stood from her seat on the bed and walked over to the door to let Vincent in. It was cold out there tonight, the warmth of the apartment welcome. Vincent gave her a look of gratitude as she took his cloak. Fawn sat up in the bed, mesmerized as Vincent shook out his golden mane.
“Vincent,” she squealed, “you sneaked in!”The little girl was practically hopping in bed, making Catherine giggle as she caught Fawn’s excitement. Suddenly the girl frowned. “How’d you get waaay up here?”
He slipped past Catherine as she gave him an expectant look. “I have my ways,” he told the child. “Besides, nothing could keep me away from a proper ‘good night’ kiss,” he added mysteriously when Fawn suddenly gave him a noisy peck on the cheek.
“See Vincent?Cath’rine gave me a shirt to wear, ‘cause I forgot mine,” she told him when he helped Fawn back under the covers. Indeed, the child was wearing one of the woman’s t-shirts. The garment encompassed the four-year-old, making her look almost comical, but Vincent only smiled gently as he nodded.
“Did you thank her?”The girl nodded enthusiastically. “Good. ”
“She even gave me ice cream. And she ate the rest right out of the carton!”Vincent looked back expectantly, probably as a result from their bond. Catherine was blushing bright scarlet red, hiding behind a hand.
“I see,” said Vincent, turning back to the child. “It sounds like you had a busy evening. I’m sure Catherine has a big day in store for you tomorrow. Do you think you could go to sleep with me here?”
Fawn nodded as she settled into the pillows, stifling a sudden yawn. “Vincent?” she asked sleepily as he tucked her in.
“I’m glad you’re here. ”
“So am I,” he soothed. “Sleep now, I’ll be close by. ”He lightly kissed her forehead, one clawed hand smoothing a lock of hair as Catherine had done previously. A twinge of longing struck her again, but whether it came from him or herself, she couldn’t tell. “Good night, Fawn. ”
“Good night,” Catherine repeated, coming up from behind Vincent to bestow another kiss as well. “We’ll be right outside if you need us. ”
“G’night, Catherine. G’night, Vincent. ”Fawn smiled, closing her eyes as Catherine led Vincent into the living room. As she was closing the folding doors of the bedroom, Fawn called out to them. “Vincent?”
“Don’t forget to give Catherine her kiss. ”
The said recipient fought not to laugh out loud as Vincent blushed. “What… kiss?” he asked.
“Her goodnight kiss,” the little girl replied matter of factly. “You said nothing would keep you away from one. ”
Catherine almost lost it right there. She saw Vincent’s neck and face turn bright scarlet before turning away. She couldn’t look in his eyes. Vincent’s head dropped, hiding his embarrassment with his blond tresses as he shook his head back and forth. Both were shaking with repressed laughter as Vincent recovered enough to speak again.
“Goodnight, Fawn. ”His tone was humorous, but had a strained quality in it. Catherine risked a glance back at him. Vincent’s eyes were smiling at her as he lifted his head. The look of love, embarrassment and joy warred within his countenance.
The child, however, was undeterred. “But what about Catherine’s kiss?”
“I will take care of Catherine. Go to sleep. ”The woman thought she heard a bit of a command in his voice as Vincent looked out toward the bed. Fawn settled down once more, satisfied. Catherine pulled the door closed, let out an unrepressed snicker then turned to her companion.
Vincent was still shaking his head as he leaned against the arm of the closest loveseat. He was silently chuckling. “She is something else,” Catherine told him.
“I know,” was all he could give as a reply. Vincent’s eyes were avoiding hers at the moment, settling on everything but her. They stayed where they were for a minute, comfortable yet unsettled. Then Catherine moved to the coffee table where she had left the remains of two mugs of now cold hot chocolate.
“Do you want some tea?” she offered as she moved toward the kitchen with the mugs on a tray. Catherine thought he would decline, he usually did, but she felt tonight was different. It was. Vincent nodded a yes as he looked up at her. She smiled back, then went to make the tea.
When she returned, Vincent had a fire burning in the fireplace, seated on the floor in front of it. She handed him a mug then settled at his side with her own cup. They held the friendly silence between them until Vincent wrapped an arm around her. Catherine slid closer to him. They sipped their tea, content in sharing the warmth of the fire along with the warmth of each other.
At length, Catherine stirred. “Vincent?”
He swallowed his mouthful of the fragrant tea. “Yes?”
She sighed. “I’m not going to find Fawn’s home, am I?” It wasn’t really a question, more thinking out loud, but it felt better voicing it.
“Probably not. ”She was glad Vincent picked up her train of thought as he gazed into the crackling flames glowing softly in front of them. “She will be safe with us. ”
“I know. ”Another sigh escaped her lips. “It was wonderful having her with me today. I wish…” She cut herself off, instantly regretting where this conversation might be heading.
A beat passed before Vincent spoke. “Speak your heart, Catherine. There is truth in it. ”
She shook her head slightly. “What we have now is enough. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Vincent gave a sigh himself as he looked at the fire. “Even if it means never bearing a child?”
Catherine’s head turned sharply as he spoke. They had never spoken openly about this before; it was sort of unspoken agreement between them. Now Vincent was laying bare her dream, a dream that had taken a back seat since the night he found her. He looked back at her, his face laced with shadows of red from the flames, making him look savagely beautiful to her, save for the sorrow in his blue eyes.
She studied those contrasts, reading the gaze he settled on her. Catherine realized he wasn’t telling her to move on with her life, as he had in the past. Vincent accepted her presence in his life now, that she knew. So much has changed since the summer, she thought. He knows my destiny is with him, that my life would be empty without him in it. And I know the same holds true for him.
Looking away, Vincent’s arm held her a little tighter, his tawny head resting on hers a moment. “I, too, have sometimes wished things were… different. ”
His confession startled her. “I never knew that. ”
A silence passed before he spoke again. “I’ve never admitted it before. ”He said nothing more, only held her as both of them stared into the fire.
Although she was still against him, Catherine’s mind was whirling in a thousand directions at once. In almost two and a half years Vincent had never let on once that he had dreams other than the one they shared. Not only that, it was one she had held as well since her mother’s death! It was just too much to take in now. She filed the information for another day, not able to deal with it at the moment.
Her only response to Vincent’s admission was a kiss bestowed to his right hand encompassing her shoulder. “You are wonderful with the children Below, Vincent,” she told him. “I always thought you would make a good father.” He kissed her temple at her compliment.
After that, the conversation shifted to more innocuous topics, the latest on events both Below and Above, a recent letter from Devin, the last phone conversation Catherine had with her friend Nancy Tucker. As the fire dwindled, both moved to one of the sofas, unwilling to let the evening end. They sat together in comfort, neither saying much now, when Catherine stifled a sudden yawn.
“Perhaps I should go,” Vincent said to her. He made no move to leave however as Catherine settled further into his side.
“Not quite yet,” she told him. Catherine knew he didn’t want this night to end either. Just having Vincent in her apartment was a luxury. He had entered his apartment before- had even stayed here twice. She mused for a minute; maybe recuperating for those three days within “her space” this summer had taken the mystique out of it. However it had happened, she was grateful. A few months ago she would have never imagined a night like this, both of them in her living room enjoying the fire and each other’s company. It was almost… normal.
He continued to look down on her, causing Catherine to meet his gaze after a few minutes. His eyes were as blazing bright as the embers in the fire. She knew that look, a warm feeling of anticipation filling her being.
“What is it, Vincent?” she asked when he remained silent as he gazed at her steadily.
“There’s something I’ve forgotten. ”
He softly smiled, lowering his head down to her so slowly that Catherine didn’t catch it until Vincent practically had his lips against her own. His voice was now reduced to a whisper; the way he said the next two words made Catherine shiver as he replied “Your kiss…”There was nothing else as Vincent made good his promise, kissing her gently. She would have dissolved into jelly if he hadn’t brought up a hand to cup the back of her head. She slid one of hers from where it rested against his broad chest into his mane. The texture of his unique lips against hers as he gently pulled her closer to him thrilled her.
Still new to the concept of kissing her, Vincent was an apt pupil. Still, for all its intensity and passion she felt from their connection, it was still an innocent kiss. Catherine didn’t mind at all; it touched her deeply that he felt comfortable in being this intimate with her now.
Vincent tenderly nuzzled his cleft lip apart, a sensual move that made Catherine soar. She brought her hand from Vincent’s golden mane back around, her fingers stroking one cheek. Vincent captured it in his own hand, bringing it to where she could feel the beating of his own heart. He ended the kiss there, the emotions in his eyes warring between disbelief and love. Catherine slid her hand from where he held it between them to his mouth, tracing a soft finger down the demarcation of his cleft lip before settling on the bottom one. He allowed the caress, slightly trembling, his eyes never leaving her face.
How far we have come, Catherine thought, as she leaned against his shoulder once more. Vincent settled back into the couch, bringing his arms around her, giving her a sense of inner warmth and comfort. He sighed; it let her know he shared in her feelings. How far we have come.
Fawn was practically bouncing beside a tired Catherine Monday morning as both entered the office. Catherine set her briefcase down beside her desk, trying to disentangle herself from her coat and Fawn’s hand at the same time. Spending a late night plus trying to sleep next to an unaccustomed- and squirming- guest in her bed had left its mark on Catherine. When Joe came up to her desk at the same time, she knew it was going to be one of those days.
“What’s this, Radcliffe? Playin’ babysitter today?” Before she could come up with an answer, Joe winked at the woman’s charge, who was holding onto Catherine’s skirt shyly. “Hi there. What’s your name?”
“It’s okay, honey, this is Joe,” Catherine assured her. “He’s a friend of mine. ”
That seemed good enough for the girl. “Fawn,” she told him, still behind the skirt.
“That’s a pretty name, for such a pretty little girl. ”Fawn gave Joe a shy look and smile, hanging her head a bit. She obviously liked the attention.
Catherine got settled while Joe conversed with Fawn, coaxing her from behind Catherine. When the woman picked up her mug, it caught the girl’s interest. She lost track of her new friend, asking “Can I be your secretary, Cath’rine? Bring you coffee?”
“Well, I can’t see why not. Just be careful not to spill it coming back, okay?”
“Promise!”They had passed by the office coffee maker on the way in, so Fawn raced off, mug in hand, to fetch Catherine’s morning infusion, making the woman smile at her enthusiasm.
Joe gave girl a passing glance, than took a step closer to Catherine. “When did we become a day care service?”
“I’m sorry, Joe. I’m doing a favor for her family, she’s been with me since Sunday. ”She didn’t like lying to Joe, but it wasn’t a total farce. There was no place Above she could take Fawn even if she wanted to. “It’s just for the morning, my deposition for the Maris case was postponed until Wednesday anyway. ”
“Hey, I’m not a tyrant. Just keep her out of the way, will ya? Levinson sees her, and I’m not responsible, got it?”
“Got it,” Catherine replied, all too aware of the interim D. A. ’s grouchy demeanor on Monday mornings. A sudden inspiration struck her as a smug smile crossed her face. “I might even forget a certain deputy D. A. ’s nephew who threw that basketball after hours and broke-”
“Wait a minute! It’s not my fault Jennings didn’t take her flowers home!” Catherine sat down at her desk, satisfied by the half pout on her boss’ face. “Geez, Radcliffe, if I didn’t know better I would swear you were trying to blackmail me. ”He smiled back at her chuckle, unable to keep up his pretense of the wounded victim.
“Remind me to talk to you later today, okay?” Catherine tossed back as he left her desk. Fawn returned with Catherine’s coffee at that moment, a huge smile of her own plastered on the child’s face. The girl hadn’t spilled a drop onto her borrowed jeans and light sweater, much to Catherine’s relief. The woman took a sip, barely keeping from grimacing at the taste.
“I even put in milk and sugar for you,” the little girl said proudly.
“I can tell,” Catherine said, mentally wishing she had told Fawn she preferred her coffee black. Oh, well, she mused. My father always said children could sweeten your life. I just never knew he meant that literally.
Throughout the morning Catherine had somehow managed to keep Fawn busy. She had set her up at a nearby table after about an hour of playing ‘secretary’. The little girl had drawn all over one of her blank legal pads earlier, happily trying to imitate Catherine as she broke down a testimony from another case at her desk. Right now Fawn was thumbing through a large book, the picture books Vincent had brought the night before having lost her interest when Catherine couldn’t read them to her. Someone had given the girl a candy bar from one of the vending machines, much to the child’s delight and Catherine’s dismay. The result was copious chocolate fingerprints on the current book occupying Fawn’s attention.
Rita came around to the table. “Hey, sweetheart, you having fun?”
A big smile, smeared with chocolate greeted the dark-skinned woman. “Mmm-hmm. I like it here. Lots of people walk around. ”
Rita laughed as Catherine walked over. “Hey, Cathy, you sure she should be looking at that?”
Catherine gave Fawn’s brown curls a toss. “At what?”
“That mug book. Not exactly what I call a bedtime story. ”
Only through exhaustive practice was Catherine able to keep a straight face. “Now how did that get there?” Rita shrugged, picking up one of the law books christened by Fawn’s fingers earlier and walked back to her desk. Catherine took up a position behind the child and spoke in a half whisper so no one else could hear. “Do any of these men look familiar?” The girl shook her head. Catherine’s heart sank. It was the third book she had managed to sneak in for the child to look through. Nothing. Well, it was worth a shot, she thought. “We’d better get this stuff off you before everything in the office has chocolate on it,” she told her charge, taking a moistened paper towel to Fawn’s fingers. “It’s after one o’clock, you feel up to a late lunch?”
“We’ll do lunch?” Fawn asked hopefully. Catherine chuckled. This girl was too cute for words. She charmed everyone she met.
A few minutes later they were ready to leave. They were stopped at a desk on their way out by another investigator. Catherine chatted with him while Fawn looked around. She let go of Catherine’s hand and slowly walked up to an empty desk. Catherine kept an eye on her while she was talking to the young man in front of her, noticing when little Fawn whimpered and froze.
“Thanks, Adam, I’ll get you that file tomorrow. ”Catherine moved past him and up to the girl. “What is it, Fawn?”
“That’s him,” she said, tapping the morning’s newspaper left on one of the intern’s desks.
“The man who put me in the closet. The bad man. ”
Catherine pulled up the newspaper. It was the business section, an article she hadn’t even skimmed through this morning at home, trying to get Fawn and herself ready for the day. There was a large photo included, quite a few men shaking hands. Under it, two words from the caption caught her eye; Starkstrom Industries. A sudden gust of unpleasantness flashed through her, a similar one she had experienced last week. “Which one?” she asked fearfully, almost certain she knew what the girl’s answer would be.
“That one,” Fawn whispered, pointing to one man in the background of the photograph. Catherine inwardly groaned, a sense of dread filling her.
The man Fawn had pointed to was Francis Whyte, personal assistant to Richard Starkstrom.
Fawn and Catherine sat in a booth finishing their lunch in a nearby diner later. The little girl was polishing off the hot dog pieces and French fries, a rarity in the tunnels. Catherine had only picked through her salad, musing on the afternoon’s events.
Bringing Joe up to speed on the possible gun smuggling ring wasn’t the highpoint of the day. He hadn’t been pleased about it; without tangible proof there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. He couldn’t even yell in frustration- Fawn had become the woman’s shadow, clutching Catherine’s trench coat. Still, the list of warehouses helped matters- she had left Joe on the phone with Greg Hughes setting up some surveillance.
She still hadn’t mentioned Fawn’s involvement at all. She knew if the authorities got wind of it, the little girl would probably be whisked off to Social Services. Everyone Below had grown very fond the small charmer in the short time she had been with them. Not only that, Catherine knew she would receive the personal attention and care she otherwise might not in foster care.
Thank God I’m bringing Fawn back Below this afternoon, she mused as she watched the young girl drown a fry in ketchup. She had almost taken Fawn straight Below after talking to Joe, but Fawn had her heart set on “doing lunch all grownup” that Catherine just couldn’t resist. The look of happiness in her soft brown eyes was thanks enough. She relaxed; she felt motherly today. It was a good feeling, one she couldn’t indulge in often.
She picked up the check when Fawn was almost through with her pudding. She probably won’t eat a bite of dinner tonight, thought Catherine ruefully. Poor William will be insulted. She frowned when she only had a couple of twenties in her purse. “I have to go get some change, alright?” she told her small companion. “Stay right there, I’ll be back. ”She slid out of the booth as Fawn nodded, happily licking her spoon.
“She’s adorable. She your daughter?” the middle-aged waitress asked at the register when Catherine handed her the check.
Giving a small sigh, the younger woman shook her head. “I wish,” she admitted. “I’m just taking care of her for the day. ”
“They don’t make many like that, I can tell you,” the older woman replied. “I have three at home, none of them are that well behaved. ”Catherine laughed, took her change and turned back toward the booth.
She helped her charge back into her coat when someone came up to them. Smiling, Catherine stood up, expecting to see the waitress again. The smile vanished when she encountered a stocky man in a business suit. She noticed the gun hidden under his coat and held onto a whimpering Fawn. “Keep her quiet, Ms. Chandler,” he warned, motioning with the gun. Catherine took a glance around, assessing the situation. Even if she managed to rid themselves of their unwelcomed escort, she noticed two similarly dressed men stepping out of a black Lincoln in front of the diner. She quickly thought of maybe sprinting for the back entrance, then quickly discarded it. The last thing she wanted was for some innocent bystander to get shot or hurt. That and she knew she would never outrun three armed men, especially with a frightened four-year old in tow. Catherine mentally tried to calm her pounding heart as they were accompanied out of the diner. They were gruffly pushed into the car, allowing a very scared Fawn to sit on her lap. Catherine remained silent, arms protectively wrapped around the child, not letting the sudden fear overcome her observation skills or further upset Fawn. She prayed that there would be a window of opportunity to escape on the way.
Vincent had been pacing in Father’s study since before noon. He had relaxed somewhat for a while, as Catherine’s emotions had traversed from light humor to a maternal concern for the child throughout the morning. When he had felt Catherine’s trepidation, he knew it had something to do with the case. She hadn’t returned with Fawn in the early afternoon as planned; he had begun to suspect that she had found something important. Perhaps Fawn has helped identify the men responsible, he thought. They should be coming back soon. Father had said as much before leaving to attend to an ill member of the community in the hospital chamber. The words didn’t help; only the steady footfalls on the well-worn carpet seemed to ease his troubled thoughts.
When he felt a stab of fear course through the bond, he mentally cursed. He felt her efforts to suppress it; she was not helpless, but in danger. Another emotion settled into her- a protective instinct from Catherine he recognized- Fawn was in trouble as well. It had to be the men they were seeking then. Instantly he flew up the stairs, cloak in hand, out the door passing by a startled fellow dweller, flying down the tunnel at breakneck speed, frantic to find Catherine and Fawn.
This is not good, thought Catherine for the hundredth time. Both Fawn and her were being held in Redwood Demolition’s office trailer. The only way out of the trailer was through the one door. Catherine didn’t even try to get near it; she had been pushed into a chair on the opposite side, near the locked window. The afternoon sun streamed in on both her and Fawn, who was silently perched on her lap, her eyes wide and fearful. Catherine kept her calm despite the gravity of the situation; not only for her, but for Fawn. The girl was terrified; she almost didn’t move when ordered out of the car. They had tried to take her from Catherine once, the girl had screamed, wrapping strong arms around the woman and holding on for dear life. She knew they would try again; she was prepared to fight dearly for the child if it came to that.
One of the ‘guards’ opened the door to allow Salvatore into the trailer. Instantly his eyes widened in surprise as he took in the sight of the girl and the woman. “What’s the meaning of this?” he asked one of the men.
“Taking care of your problem,” a voice said from a small speaker on the absent secretary’s desk. Catherine had seen someone dial the phone earlier; supposedly to set up a connection. Fawn whimpered again as she buried her face into Catherine’s breast. Protectively, Catherine held the little girl tighter; she recognized the voice as well. It was Francis Whyte’s.
Salvatore obviously recognized it too; he angrily stomped over to the phone system, picked up the receiver and started to talk animatedly into it. The two other men in the office watched Catherine like proverbial hawks. She pretended to show disinterest by looking out the nearby window again. Beyond the trailer she could make out the remains of a current project- a demolition crane, complete with wrecking ball, the shattered wall of a barely-destroyed building. There was a large area in the area devoid of anything; Catherine supposed they were clearing it to make room for a new building. The sun disappeared beyond the city-made horizon, but Catherine knew it wouldn’t start to get dark for at least half an hour. She was on her own.
Salvatore put down the receiver. He had the face of a broken man as Catherine turned back toward the desk. She knew the look too well; she had seen many a man who had given up in her profession. His dark eyes seemed to be sorrowful, both for himself and for her.
“Why, Daniel?” Catherine asked him, suddenly becoming bold. “Did you really believe you would get away with hiding guns in abandoned warehouses?”
“You don’t understand, Ms. Chandler,” Salvatore replied. “I dug this grave for myself. ”
“Quite right,” said Whyte’s voice on the speaker phone. Catherine gave a startled jump- she hadn’t realized the phone was still online. “You see, Ms. Chandler, Sal here decided he would collect insurance by hiring someone to set his business to flames. Only he didn’t expect my employer to buy his company before he could take off with the profits. Imagine our surprise when we found out. ”
Catherine wasn’t impressed. This was starting to sound like an all too familiar story. “So you took advantage. ”
“In exchange for impeding the fire marshal’s investigation, Sal helps us out with some of our more… delicate operations,” finished Whyte.
She mulled over it for a minute. She knew Whyte was referring to the arms shipments. “And what about the girl?”
Whyte laughed coldly. “She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. ”
“Then why not just let her go. You have me, you don’t need her. ”
“That’s not the way the game is played, Ms. Chandler. You of all people should know that. ”Catherine mentally raised a red flag on that statement. The next words made her blood run cold. “You certainly played it well at my former employer’s mansion on Staten Island this summer. ”
Her stomach twisted in paralyzing fear. This past summer, Catherine had been attacked in the garage of her office building while working on a priority case. When Vincent tried to rescue her, in a weakened condition from his illness, he had been captured instead. She had spearheaded an effort to rescue him, covertly sneaking into the mansion. Vincent’s captor, a ringleader of a complex shadow crime organization, had almost succeeded in stopping them. She had never found out who the man’s identity was. She also knew Vincent was still experiencing hellish nightmares from the experience.
My God, Vincent, she thought, suddenly afraid for him if he tried to rescue her now. If Whyte or any of his men knew about him, the danger level just went through the roof.
Vincent rushed through the section of the tunnels he was in quickly, having just abandoned a running subway car, trying to reach Catherine. He could feel her heightened fear, the cold terror knifing through his chest. Almost running on automatic, he nearly collided into the hidden doorway of the tunnel entrance. He pushed, the false wall caving in to his strength, allowing him to move through.
Suddenly he stopped, frozen on the edge of the entrance. Beyond the alley lay a sun covered expanse of an empty parking lot. It was still light Above! He was stuck, unable to go any further.
He quickly went over a half a dozen alternate routes in his mind, trying to find a way to reach Catherine. All of them would expose him to the sunlight, where he could be possibly be seen. No matter what route he took, there was no way to reach her.
He slid back into the shadows, calculating how long he had until the sun was down enough for him to get to her. Everything in him was screaming to go to her. Suddenly a strangled roar of frustration erupted from him. He was helpless.
“So now what? Kill me, and the D. A.’s office is all over you. ”Catherine was taking a risk, but she had to protect Vincent at all costs. “They already know about the guns, the connection between Redwood and those warehouses. Getting rid of me isn’t going to solve your problem. ”
“Oh, I agree,” Whyte replied. “Killing you isn’t what I had in mind. ”
She didn’t know whether that was a good thing or not. “What do you have in mind?”
“We just have to get rid of the evidence. Which our Mr. Salvatore will be doing at Pier 15 at eight o’clock tonight. ”Sal visibly bristled at his mention. “I am sorry that neither of you will be able to attend. It was nice to speak with you again, Ms. Chandler. My current employer sends his greetings as well. ”There was an audible click, then the system shut off automatically, signaling the end of the conversation.
The men advanced toward Catherine and Fawn at that point, Salvatore hovering by the door. “Please, Ms. Chandler, don’t make it more difficult. I have no wish to see you get hurt. ”
“Then let the girl go,” Catherine pleaded once more. She was standing now, Fawn in her arms, whimpering, her legs wrapped tight around her waist. One of the henchmen tried to make a grab for the girl. She screamed, holding onto Catherine with an almost vice grip. They struggled, the other man joining in the fray. “No!” the woman yelled, cradling the child’s head protectively. Two well built men were two much for her, they succeeded in wrestling little Fawn from her arms. The toddler fought them valiantly as Catherine made a desperate lunge.
She felt a crack on the back of her head, felt herself falling as she heard Salvatore apologize once more, Fawn screaming her name as she helplessly fell into darkness.
“Catherine…Catherine…” a gruff familiar voice called to her from the recesses of her unconsciousness. She was cold, save for the warmth of the cloak now draped over her as she opened her eyes. She looked up to see the face of a much relieved Vincent.
“Vincent!What-” a groan involuntarily issued forth as Catherine tried to sit up and a wave of nausea swept over her.
“Easy, easy. ”Vincent helped her into a half-sitting, half-reclining position against him, swinging his cloak around her again when she started to shiver.
“My head. ”She closed her eyes as another wave hit her, a sickening throb beginning in the back of her skull. Vincent’s hand slid over to examine it, making Catherine flinch.
“There’s no bleeding,” Vincent said, more to himself than to her. “Nonetheless, you might have a concussion. I should take you to Father-”
“No!”She flinched again, her loud outburst making the accompanying headache worse. “Vincent, they’ve got Fawn. ”His response was immediate- she felt rather than saw him tense. A feeling of intense remorse and guilt washed through her.
“It’s not your fault, Catherine,” he told her, obviously feeling her emotions through their connection. She didn’t agree, but didn’t say anything more. They could argue about it later- right now they had to find that sweet little girl.
“Where are we?” Catherine asked, looking around. The building was vacant and the lighting from outside dim.
“Another abandoned warehouse. Near the piers. ”
She tried to sit up further, doing her best to keep her head from spinning. “Probably another one on the list. ”The nausea was beginning to dissipate, much to her relief. Her head was still pounding, however. Catherine longed to lie down but she didn’t dare. “How long have I been here?”
“Half an hour. The sun just went down. ”
Lord, she thought. Catherine grasped Vincent’s sleeve. He must have been frantic!She knew his greatest fear was not reaching her in time should danger befall her. Her thoughts were confirmed when she looked into his eyes as he helped her stand. So far this ‘trying to stay safe’ idea is not working. We are definitely going to talk after this. “I’ve got to get a hold of Joe,” she told him.
“Come, there’s a payphone not far from here,” Vincent took her hand and they rushed toward the exit of the building.
“Cathy!Where the hell have you been?” Joe cried when Catherine finally got through to the office. “Do you know you left your briefcase and purse at the diner? You stiffed the waitress on the tip too-”
“Joe, listen,” Catherine cut him off before his ranting could make her headache worse again. Vincent watched her silently from the shadows, having found a dilapidated but working payphone a few blocks away. “Salvatore grabbed me from the restaurant. They’re moving up their delivery date to tonight. ”
“Pier 15. Eight o’clock. ”
“Hughes is checking out that first warehouse you gave us. I’ll let you know you’ll meet him there. ”
“Wait, Joe!” He held on. “I have to get back to their office. They… took something of mine. I need it back. ”She paused, not willing to give up too much. “Something personal. ”
Silence greeted her on the other line. Had Joe hung up after all? “Not alone, you’re not,” he finally said.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a… friend. ”
Trust Joe, she thought. She gave the phone a smile despite the situation. “Yeah, I’m okay, just a headache. ”
“All right. Good luck. I’ll fill Greg in; meet you at Redwood in an hour. ”There was a click before she could reply. Catherine slammed down the phone as Vincent sidled up as close as he dared in the dusk. “The police are checking out the warehouses. Joe is going to meet me at the Redwood office, where I was held, in an hour. ”
“It’s not too far from here. It’ll be faster below ground. ”He steered her toward a nearby tunnel entrance.
As Catherine expected, Redwood Demolition was deserted and dark when both Vincent and her reached it. “You look around,” she told him as she slipped into the office trailer. She quickly scanned the office. Other than the files strewn around the floor, there was no sign as to where they might have taken Fawn. Hopefully, they didn’t take her to the pier, she mused. Please God, let her still be alive!She ran back outside to hear Vincent calling to her from behind the trailer.
The body of Daniel Salvatore was there, Vincent stooped over him. The Hispanic had been shot twice. She groaned again. “I’ll have to call the police,” she said mournfully.
“Then we must hurry. ”
Catherine looked around. Time was short, ideas were scarce. There was nothing around except worn-down offices and decrepit buildings. One place did stand out to her; the half-demolished building and vacant lot she had seen earlier. It could have been one of their sites. She took a chance, pointing over to it. They both broke at a dead run, Vincent taking the lead.
Once among the broken down building, they started calling out to the girl frantically. Vincent and Catherine split up, Vincent climbing a still functioning steel ladder against a wall while Catherine looked under every hidden corner she could find.
After a few minutes of this, Catherine was beginning to really worry. It was a long shot at best, her hunch hadn’t paid off. She stood at the edge of the ruined building, Vincent above her on a working catwalk.
“She’s not here,” Catherine said frantically. “Vincent, we might be too late-”
“Shhh,” Vincent said suddenly. He had heard something. Catherine stood stock still, suddenly she could hear a very faint cry. He leaped to the ground with practiced ease, the woman too anxious to admire it. “This way,” he said, taking her by the hand and pulling her toward the sound. She followed, praying it was Fawn.
He led them to the vacant lot. Over the edge Catherine found a large hole, probably where the basement had been. The ground had recently been dug. Both stood over the edge. In the midst of the empty space, a louder scream could be heard.
“My God!” Catherine realized it at the same time as Vincent. Those men had buried little Fawn alive!
Vincent instantly took another leap into the space. Catherine whirled, finding two shovels abandoned near her. She called to him, throwing one to Vincent. He started to dig quickly. Catherine slid down the embankment, joining in his efforts. It didn’t take long, their shovels struck wood only a few feet in.
“Stand back. ”Catherine watched in awe as Vincent leapt onto the large crate. He gave a roar as he wrenched one side completely off, sending dust and soil everywhere. Soil poured into the sudden hole he had made. Then he reached inside and pulled out one dirty and very scared, but still live Fawn, who coughed up dirt as Vincent scrambled back onto more sturdy ground.
When the little girl started to cry loudly, Catherine let out a small laugh of relief. It was the best sound she had ever heard. She threw her arms around the pair, both Vincent and Catherine sheltering a shivering Fawn from the cold gusts of wind now sweeping around them.
Vincent took Fawn with him Below to Father before Joe and the police arrived. By the time Catherine finished with them, Vincent was waiting for her alone at the entrance. He took her directly to Father as well; the older man had been relieved that neither had been seriously harmed. The woman didn’t have a concussion, much to both Father and Vincent’s relief, but she was ordered to the guest chamber for the night by the patriarch. She was glad; she had no desire to drag herself back up to her apartment tonight. Besides, she was exhausted beyond belief.
It was much later when Catherine entered Vincent’s chamber. He was reading in bed, looking up when she stopped at the entrance. “You should be in bed,” he admonished.
“I know,” she admitted. She was dressed in a tunnel nightgown and robe, borrowed from Mary. “I can’t sleep with this thing,” she told him, indicating the ice pack she held to the back of her head to keep the swelling down. “Besides, I need to tell you something. ”
Vincent put down his book on a nearby table as Catherine sat on the edge of the bed. “What is it?”
A moment passed before Catherine spoke. “While Fawn and I were being held in the trailer, I found out something. Something…”
Vincent finished for her. “Something that truly frightened you.” He sat up a little straighter. “I felt it. You were terrified. ”
She nodded. “Salvatore was working under someone. Probably the man who had him killed tonight. ”She closed her eyes. Just say it, Cathy, she told herself mentally. Delaying it won’t make it any easier. “He once worked for the man who had you taken in the garage. ”
“Him?!”Vincent sprung from the bed. “Who is this man?” He began pacing in front of her.
“Frances Whyte. He’s a… personal assistant to Richard Starkstrom, founder of the company who bought out Redwood. ”She stood up herself, stopping Vincent in his tracks, placing a hand on his shoulder. “He didn’t mention you at all, but he seemed to know my… involvement… with his former boss’ death. ”That brought a barely repressed surge of bile to her throat; Catherine had shot the ringleader in cold blood to facilitate Vincent’s escape. “I’m not sure what this means, Vincent, but I am sure we haven’t heard the last from this man. ”
“You’re in danger. ”
She shook her head. “Not as much as you think. Whyte didn’t want me dead, I’m not sure why. He even told me where the deal was to go down. It was almost as if…”
“He wanted you to inform the police. ”
“Yes. Like I was useful in some fashion. ”From Vincent’s expression, Catherine surmised he thought the situation had gone from bad to worse. “We haven’t heard the last from him, of that I’m sure. ”She brought a hand up to his face, trying to soothe the tension she saw there. “Try not to worry. I’ll tell Joe. If the authorities know the shadow group hasn’t gone under, I’ll be safe. They won’t come after me. ”
“How do you know this?”
“You. ”He seemed surprised by that statement. She explained. “They cannot reveal the reason I killed their leader. It would undermine their very existence. It’s the same reason why I can’t publicly go after them myself. ”
“To do so would expose our secret. ”Vincent added, understanding. “Still, the risk to you…”His voice tapered off as he held her tightly to him, as if his mere embrace could protect her from all harm. Catherine sighed, grasping him about the waist, feeling that he possibly could. They held each other for a long time, letting their love for each other soften the blow tonight’s revelations had been.
“Vincent?”The soft, groggy voice of Fawn barely echoed past the doorway to his chamber some time later. The couple withdrew from their embrace as the little girl entered the chamber.
Catherine stooped down to touch a smooth hand to the child’s forehead. Fawn, what are you doing out of bed?” Catherine asked. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Had a bad dream,” the little girl informed them. “Can I sleep here tonight?”
“I don’t know. I think you’d better ask Vincent. ”Obviously, their conversation would have to be tabled until the morning. Still, Catherine felt that all wasn’t lost. They would find out who these people were and stop them, of that she was certain. On the same hand, she knew she couldn’t do it alone or in secret. There’s too much at stake, she thought. She knew Joe would keep her informed once she talked to him about it, asked him to assign someone else to the investigation. There were more important matters to think of now. And despite his concern, she knew Vincent felt the same.
The woman looked up at the object of her thoughts. Vincent had returned to his bed, seated at the edge, watching the two of them. Catherine smiled once more. She knew he agreed. “I don’t see why not,” he told Fawn in response to the child’s question, patting the bed with one hand. Instantly the child padded over, scrambling up beside him and gave him a grateful hug.
“Well, I best be turning in,” Catherine announced, squelching a sudden feeling of envy as she stood.
The little girl frowned. “Aren’t you coming to bed too?”
Neither Catherine nor Vincent could tell which one of them was more surprised. “Pardon?” the woman replied.
“Is there room enough?” Fawn asked Vincent innocently.
He seemed to ponder the question for a moment, much to Catherine’s disbelief. That feeling deepened when he answered. “I think so. ”He turned to the woman, his blue eyes soft as sky, as if to say ‘please?’ Through the bond she could feel his question as well.
Catherine silently nodded, moving as Vincent blew out the remaining candles at his bedside table, settling into the bed, little Fawn snuggled between them. The girl sighed happily, tucked into Vincent’s warm torso. “G’night, Vincent, Cath’rine. ”
“Good night, Fawn,” they told her in unison. All three of them under the covers, Catherine was surprised again as Vincent took her hand into his own, his other arm laying across his pillow to lightly stir her bangs from her forehead with his other hand.
“Good night,” he repeated softly once Fawn had fallen asleep, both of them watching the other one, their bond swirling between them of safety and love, deeper than the ocean, enduring as the purest diamond, reflecting its magic in both tourmaline and gray-green eyes.
Everything will be all right, Catherine thought as she drifted off to sleep, Vincent still watching over her and little Fawn. It has to be.