Vincent strode slowly down the darkened tunnel. The lack of light in these passages bothered him little. What did bother him was the faint sound of someone crying. As he walked the sound became gradually louder, until finally he stood outside a door. The person crying was on the other side of the heavy, polished wooden door. There was only one problem; the door should not have been there. He knew every detail of these tunnels the way anyone else knew the details of their own neighborhood, and there should not be a door here.
Hesitantly, he put out his hand to grasp the brass doorknob. Just as his hand reached the knob, the door swung silently open. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck rising.
He glanced down the passageway hoping to find a way of escape for he wanted to run far away from this strange room, but instead he was slowly, reluctantly drawn inside.
The walls were a neutral color, as was the carpeting. There was a bed and dresser to his left. To his right were two wingback chairs with a small table between them. A brass floor lamp shed light on the chairs, making a perfect spot for reading.
The figure in the chair nearest him was not reading. She had her arm laid on the table, her head on her arm. The shoulders under the delicately flowered robe shook with sobs.
Vincent was drawn closer to the small figure. The closer he came the surer he was his heart had turned to stone within him refusing to beat. The hair fanned out on her shoulders was longer but the same color as Catherineís.
Slowly, fearfully, he stretched out his hand toward the womanís shoulder, but just before his hand reached her she raised her head and he found himself looking into Catherineís tear filled green eyes. "Vincent!" she called out, and the longing and despair in her voice broke his heart.
Vincent opened his eyes to the golden glow of the stained glass window behind his bed. The pillow under his cheek was wet with his tears. He seemed fated to have this dream forever. It was at least the tenth time he had come face-to-face with Catherine since he had brought their son home. He sighed, "Catherine is gone. I must go back to what life was before she came into my life." But things would never be the same. The only person he had ever loved completely, had ever been so bonded to that he knew what they were feeling at any time had been torn away from him, leaving a gaping wound that was still only thinly covered.
He sighed and threw back the covers. There were at least 15 things needing his attention. His friends and family needed his help and his company. That thought got him out of bed each morning. That and the small bundle lying in the cradle in his room.
He walked over and looked down at Jacob. The baby was still sleeping peacefully. Vincent hated to wake him; he so seldom slept for long periods at night. Vincent turned and went to wash up before dressing. Jacob would have a few more minutes to sleep anyway.
Later, dressed and ready for the day ahead, Vincent walked back to the cradle. The baby was awake now and Vincent knelt and picked up his son. Jacob smiled and cooed in recognition. When he held the child, a soft expression came over his face, and many lines of care disappeared. Unbidden the sound of Catherineís voice came to him, "Heís beautiful!"
Vincent stood and cuddled the baby for a few minutes, talking softly to him before he began to bathe and change him. He was almost finished when someone entered the chamber behind him. "Well, youíre getting better! Soon Iíll be able to turn all my younger charges over to you!"
Vincent chuckled, "Hello, Mary. I may be better, but hardly a professional!" Vincent chuckled as Jacob kicked water up the front of his vest. "I donít know why I bothered to bathe this morning when Iím getting a shower now!"
Mary smiled as she remembered a much fuzzier baby, "You used to do the very same thing when you were small."
Vincent smiled, too. Father loved to tell people what heíd done as a child. He especially loved telling Catherine. Had. His smile faltered. Quickly he clamped down on the feelings beginning to rise. He refused to cry in front of Mary, or risk upsetting Jacob. He didnít know the extent of the childís empathic abilities, only that they were linked. He finished bathing and dressing Jacob and presented him to Mary. She smiled her approval of his job, and took the baby with her so Vincent could work.
Vincent sighed, gathered his cloak and left to join Father for breakfast. As always, his thoughts were kept on the needs of the day. As he entered the chamber Father called a "Good morning" from the balcony.
"Good morning, Father. Did you sleep well?"
Father looked over his glasses at him, "Yes, thank you. Bathing Jacob I see."
Vincent looked down at his water-spotted vest. "You might say that. I personally am not sure who was bathing whom."
"Just wait until he can sit up by himself in the water!" Father warned as he came down the spiral steps. Vincent came forward to take the stack of books from him so he could balance better.
They sat down at the table and began to eat. The conversation was benign, thankfully. Vincent really didnít feel up to an in-depth conversation this morning. He was still distracted over the dream. They discussed the schedule for the day; first was the reading lesson for the "primer" group. It was Fatherís turn for that, which meant Vincent now had the math class. They discussed the lessons and how well each child was doing. There was one child, Joanna, who had a real gift for math. At age 10 she was already to the point most high school freshmen were: algebra. The remarkable thing was that sheíd gotten there in about 3 years.
Breakfast finished, Father and Vincent left for their classes. Vincent was thankful to have something requiring his full concentration. He had tried to stay busy, even to the point of relieving Pascal in the pipe chamber from time to time, when he could talk Pascal into it.
Vincent grabbed a sandwich standing up in the kitchen instead of sitting down to lunch so he could check on Jacob for a few minutes. Then he was hurrying off to check on several projects. First was a new "secret entrance" being constructed to create a shortcut to a Helperís house. Later he stopped to watch some repair work being done on a water pipe. The leak had caused quite a mess, and could conceivably have brought city crews looking for the loss. After that he helped bring down some foodstuffs from another Helper.
Tired, but satisfied with his day he joined Father and Jacob for supper. Father had arrived early and had picked him up from Mary. The two were playing "hide the baby: when Vincent came in. If the children could see Father now they would certainly wonder where their stern teacher had gone! Babies tended to have that effect on adults heíd noticed. Vincent walked over to where they were sitting. "Hello, Father. How was your day?"
"Very well, thank you." He picked up Jacob and handed him to his father. "Mary tells me this little man had a good day, also."
"Oh you did? Well, lets hope Sarah tired you out enough so you will sleep tonight," Vincent said, laughing, as he took Jacob and swung him up in the air to hear him giggle. Sarah was a young teen who helped Mary in the afternoons by reading to the toddlers and helping with the three babies. Jacob smiled as if to say, "Weíll see!"
Father and Vincent sat at the table and talked about the jobs in progress. Vincent told him the pipe was finished but the door was going to take at least another day. "By the way, Charles OíMalley sent several cases of canned vegetables since fall is here. Fresh foods are going to be getting more expensive. He sent 3 cases each of corn, green beans, and kidney beans. He also sent some canned fruit. Matthew is inventorying everything and will bring you the list tomorrow." Father was very pleased with the news. "Thatís wonderful. I knew Charlesí business was doing well, but I didnít expect such generosity."
"Well, remember the condition he was in when he came here. He was a 15-year-old alcoholic with no home. He had a very good head for figures, once he dried out, and his business sense was almost uncanny. All he needed was a chance."
"Oh I remember him well," chuckled Father. "He may have good business sense but his sense of direction is not the best Iíve ever seen." Vincent laughed with Father, for he was exactly right. The first code Charles had learned after his name was "Iím lost".
Vincent glanced at the clock. "Well, itís getting late. We need to get to bed." He rose, a sleepy Jacob on his shoulder.
"Iíll see you two in the morning then. Sleep well."
"You too, Father," Vincent said as he turned to leave.
Father sat staring after them long after they were out of sight. The baby was certainly what Vincent needed after the death of Catherine. But he was aware of a nagging thought that would not leave him. Had Vincent really mourned her? (Anger was not quite the same.) Or, was the grief buried deep inside? Father sighed. That was something only Vincent would know. Rising, he walked to the old cupboard to get a nightshirt.
Vincent strode the tunnel, a small bundle nestled protectively in the crook of his arm, his massive size dwarfing the blanket-wrapped child. He went down the tunnel to the chamber he had occupied alone since Devin had disappeared that fateful night so long ago. Only now he did not share it alone anymore. On entering the chamber one saw a beautiful, Colonial style hand-made cradle on the left beside a dresser that was doubling as a changing table. Vincent laid Jacob down and dressed the giggling baby warmly in booties and flannel gown. He then wrapped him in one of Maryís handmade quilts, baby sized, and sat in a rocker. It had come from one of their Helpers who said you couldnít possibly raise a baby without a rocker. He took a bottle from the warmer, a very useful item that used warm water and a miniscule amount of electricity, and snuggled his precious bundle down against his chest. Rocking and singing softly, he finally got the baby to sleep. He continued holding the child for a while longer after he had finished his bottle, just watching him sleep. It occurred to him Jacobís hair was really getting thicker, and the color in the light of the chamber was just the same as Catherineís. He clamped down on his feelings before they really had a chance to surface. He sat until he got his feelings under control, then he stood and tucked the little one into his cradle. Even though it was oversized, he worried a little. Jacob would be sitting up soon, and he was afraid he might manage to tip it over. He needed to speak to Mary about getting a crib of some sort. He covered his son with the blanket Mary had knitted for him.
Vincent straightened and stood smiling down at the child. Jacob was such a blessing. What he and Catherine had shared had been a gift from above, of that he was certain. When she was taken from him he was sure he would never have peace again. Diana had helped. She tried to keep him safe for Catherineís sake, though they didnít see much of each other now. Then there was Jacob. He was such an exquisite gift, filling the void in his life.
Almost without thinking he got ready for bed, picked up his journal and pen and sat down at the table. He wrote about the events of the day, but seemed somehow restless. Putting it down to simple fatigue, he wrapped up the entry and closed the book. Standing up he put his hands on the small of his back as he arched in a bone popping stretch. He began blowing out all but the long-burning night candles. He checked on Jacob one last time before heading for bed. Happening to think about bottles, he stopped to check the can of formula. "Hmm. Almost out. I need to be sure to get more tomorrow from Charles." Charles OíMalley had promised anything Jacob might ever need to Vincent in return for not only his time in the tunnels, but also help Catherine gave him in defending his business from a protection racket getting started in his area.
Vincent lay down on his bed, but sleep just didnít seem to come. His thoughts roamed around in circles from formula to bottles to babies. Jacob was unusual in that he was taking a bottle at all. All his life Vincent had seen mothers Below nursing their babies. His thoughts roamed from babies in general to Jacob in particular. In his mind he saw Catherine in his chamber with their son snuggled up in her arms. He didnít know what to wish, if he had known about their son before she was kidnapped or finding out as he had. Why hadnít she told him she was pregnant? Judging by the timing, she had to have been several weeks along when Gabrielís men grabbed her. Then, with sudden clarity, his mind replayed an encounter between the two of them. Catherine had come to him, needing to talk. He now saw she had been deeply troubled and needed to talk to him. He had snapped at her because he had not felt her coming but was forced to wait until she entered his chamber. She had tried to tell him that perhaps when something was lost, something else would take its place. He hadnít wanted to listen, wanting instead to wallow in self-pity. Truth be told, he had been quite impolite. When he had finally asked her what she had wanted she had put him off. He now saw Ė all too clearly Ė exactly what it was she had wanted to tell him. She had been trying to tell him about their baby. His hands clenched into fists as he curled into a ball around the pain. Then, as a dam will crack if too much pressure builds up behind, the wall he had built to shelter himself from all thoughts of those horrible events slowly began to crack. Tears leaked out the corners of his tightly closed eyes. He missed her so much! How he ached for her soft touch, the feel of her silken hair against his cheek. Her laugh, the way she looked up at him impishly. The way she felt tucked under his chin, her body pressed so closely against him he could feel every curve, as they stood wrapped in his cloak. How could he have not seen with his eyes, even if the Bond was silent, how much she hurt, how she had needed to talk. Sobs welled up in his throat and without thinking he began automatically to reach out for Catherine as he had done so many times in the past, needing her so much. As his spirit spiraled farther and farther out from him, he suddenly felt a feather-light touch almost like a mothís wings. If he lived to be a hundred he would know that touch. His eyes snapped open as he came bolt upright in bed. "Catherine!"
Vincent swung his legs over the side of the bed. His hands were shaking as he ran them through his hair. What was going on? Was he going crazy? "How can this be?" he thought desperately. "Catherine is dead. But I know the feel of her spirit as well as I know this chamber. Could it have been her ghost? NoÖnot that." He paused for a few moments. He recalled a conversation he and Pascal had had shortly after the funeral. He had told Pascal that he often felt as though Catherine were near when he read books the two of them had enjoyed. Could the two events be connected?
"What does this mean?" he muttered as he rose and began pacing. There was one possible answer. ButÖdare he even think it? "I have to know!" he exclaimed, coming to a decision. He grabbed his pants and a shirt; his fingers flew over buttons and ties. As he swung his cloak around his shoulders his eyes fell on the cradle. Jacob. What was he going to do with the baby? He couldnít leave him here alone, nor did he want to take the child with him. It would be cold in the Great Hall; and the distance would help insulate Jacob, already stirring, from his fatherís emotions. Vincent might hot be able to control the transfer down the bond, depending on what he discovered. Coming to a swift decision, he grabbed a canvas bag one of the women had made for Jacob and packed it with extra clothes, diapers and another bottle. Then he gently picked up his son being careful not to wake him.
Mary was sitting up in bed reading when she was surprised to hear a knock on the wooden plate beside her door. "Coming!" she called as she reached for her robe. Thinking it was probably one of the children, she was very surprised to see Vincent standing on her doorstep holding Jacob. "Vincent! Whatís the matter? Is Jacob sick?" She couldnít imagine why he had come to her instead of Father if the child were ailing.
"No, Jacobís fine," he replied. He shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably. It was rather late.
Mary took Jacob from his arms and pulled him into her chamber. She pushed Vincent into a chair as she walked over to tuck Jacob into her bed. Turning to look at her visitor she remarked, " Jacob may be fine, but his father is most definitely not!" She slid another chair closer to Vincent and took his hand. "Tell me what has you so troubled, child."
Even though he had been several years old when Mary first came to the Tunnel World, she was the closest thing to a mother heíd ever had. Their relationship had grown closer over the years. Father he loved deeply, but when it came to something that wasnít analytical, such as his bond with Catherine, he knew his father would have trouble believing. Mary, however, had understood. So, it was with great trust and relief he shared his story with her.
As he wound down, she stood and walked across the room and stood looking down at the child sleeping peacefully. Vincent didnít speak because he knew she was digesting what he had told her. Slowly, she walked back and sat down. "Are you certain about what you felt?" she asked softly.
"Yes," he whispered, his pain evident in his voice and eyes.
"I understand why you brought Jacob to me. If you feel strongly he will feel it, too. I guess you must follow your heart. Go to the Great Hall; that should be far enough away to keep from disturbing him and should give you the privacy you need. I will watch over him for as long as it takes," she told him, reaching out to push the hair back from his face.
Vincent leaned forward and embraced her. "Thank you," he whispered. Quickly he rose and left.
"God be with you," Mary said to the empty doorway.
With his cat-like quickness, Vincent was soon to the doors of the Great Hall. He stood for several minutes gathering his courage before he lifted the heavy oaken beam and pushed open the right-hand door and stepped in. He pushed the door closed against the wind then lit the stub of a candle heíd brought with him. Finding a lantern sitting on a table he lit it with the candle and watched the room fill with strange shadows.
Vincent sat down in an old carven chair beside the table and leaned his head against the high back. Closing his eyes he listened to the wind howling outside the high chamber. His mind was transported back to their first Winterfest. Once again he saw Catherineís smiling face and warm eyes asking him if he heard the music in the wind. Once more he held her in his arms as they waltzed around the hall to music heard by lovers alone. She had been so lovely he had been barely able to catch his breath.
Tentatively he began to reach out. Then with more boldness he began searchingÖsearching for the touch of the spirit he knew to well. Even in this setting it was difficult for him. His empathic powers were shut down altogether until the night Jacob was born. It was not until the child was several weeks old that he felt the bond growing strong between Jacob and him, showing the power was back with him. Just a Catherine had tried to assure him it would.
The dance faltered. Quickly he blocked out the memory of that horrible night when his world had fallen apart and instead focused on the wonderful times theyíd spent together. He thought of her hair glowing in the light of hundreds of candles, her face radiant with love. He thought of her dancing in the rain when their outdoor concert was interrupted. In all the scenes passing before his eyes, he finally allowed himself to see what he had tried to deny: the tremendous depth of the love in Catherineís eyes.
He reached out, searching in ever widening circles until he once again felt a faint brush. His breath quickened. His heart gave a mighty leap and began racing as though it would leave his chest. With great difficulty he regained control of himself and focused his attention to that one point. He reached out and caressed her spirit. It trembled with emotion, recognized his touch and then their contact was broken.
Vincent collapsed back into the chair. Sweat poured from his body, and he was as exhausted as if heíd been swimming against a strong current. Maybe he had been. The carefully constructed wall heíd built to shelter himself from all the pain of her death, quite without realizing heíd even built it, now came tumbling down completely. He lay his head down on his arms, sobs wracking his body.
He still couldnít "feel" her. There was no warm spot in his chest where her spirit always rested, telling him if she were happy or sad, lonely or contented. But he knew she was still alive. Against all reason, against all hope, she was alive! No one else "felt" the way Catherine did.
Vincent rose and began pacing back and forth. Now what? What was he to do? Find her, of course. But how? Where would he look? He could tell a general direction: upstate somewhere. How was he to find her? Who could help him?
He stopped in his tracks so suddenly he rocked forward. Why had there been a funeral?
The room was very nice, reminiscent of a good hotel. The carpet was neutral, as were the walls. To the left was a 4-polster bed with a dresser and mirror. To the right, two wingback chairs flanked a small table. The wall opposite the door had a window overlooking the grassy lawn. Tasteful, muted pictures decorated the walls.
A woman wearing a long, white terrycloth robe entered the room through a doorway to the right. She was toweling her hair dry as she came. She was petite, pretty, with blondish brown hair. But the expression on her face and in her eyes revealed this woman had known a great sadness that would not leave.
She rolled her sweaty running suit and stuffed it into a laundry bag. The towel followed. She sighed as she walked to the door and deposited the bag in the hallway. "Just like a hotel," she thought, "only hotels do let you checkout!" For the thousandth time she was reminded of the Eagleís song "Hotel California". "You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave!"
She shook her head, "Stop it!" she whispered fiercely. Walking to the bookcase beside the door, she scanned the titles. At least they would get her copies of books she requested, even if they were paperback and not antique editions like she had found scouring antique shops and used booksellers in the Village. When she thought of all her collection now possibly gone foreverÖ. She sighed and wrapped her arms around her body. The anger seemed to bubble up without warning no matter how hard she tried to find constructive outlets, hence the running clothes. Her old college friends would have been amazed at how many hours she was spending in the exercise room in the basement, the physical therapy time augmented with her own schedule.
Looking over the somewhat eclectic assortment she could not seem to settle on a new selection to begin. Should she pick a new book, or a classic? Poetry might be interesting, too. She snorted. "What I need is to get out of this place before I go stark raving mad! I have thought having all the time in the world to read would be heaven but it is pure Hell!" Finally, after looking over the choices again she smiled slightly, closed her eyes and grabbed a book. "Hmm. Idylls of the King. Well, I guess I visit with Tennyson next." She turned to her favorite of the two chairs and curled her feet up under her. Opening to the first page she let the familiar verses take her away. She staunchly refused to allow herself to remember the first edition Christopher had helped her find for Vincent in Mr. Smythís shop.
She hadnít been reading very long when a buzzer sounded. She got up and walked to the intercom panel beside the door. "Yes?" she inquired.
"Ms Chandler? Will you be eating in the dining room or would you prefer a tray sent up?" a cheery voice asked.
Catherine smirked slightly. They always asked because she chose one or the other without any rhyme or reason. It was a shallow victory at best. "I think I would prefer to have a tray tonight, please." Always be polite, no matter how she ground her teeth over her protection. Her father would be proud of her.
"That will be fine. I will send someone up with a tray right away."
Before she could say another word the connection was broken. "I hope Marcus doesnít bring it up!" she muttered. Honestly, the man was too much. He was nice looking and he knew it! He expected all the women to fall for him, and couldnít understand why she didnít. As if he could even hold a candle to Vincent. Her eyes began to prickle at the thought of her love so far removed from her. Taking a deep breath she firmly pulled herself together, walked to her seat and dropped back into it. She was back into the story when there was a knock at the door.
On opening the door her worst fears were confirmed. Marcus stood holding her tray with what he must have felt was an endearing smile on his lips. Unfortunately for him, she was not amused.
"Thank you", she said as she reached for her meal. She came up empty however as he pushed into the room past her and walked over to set the tray on the table between the chairs. Then the crowning touch was when he sat down, obviously expecting to join her for the evening.
"The reason I didnít go down to the dining room was because I preferred to eat alone!" she exclaimed. Really, the man was too much!
"I just thought you might want some company. A beautiful woman like you away from family and friends must be very lonely. I thought I might cheer you up." He might have pulled it off if he hadnít kept stealing glances at her robe. Looks like that she had seen too many times before, usually when interviewing suspects at the local lockup!
Catherineís jaw tightened, and when she spoke her voice was tight with fury. "When I want company, I will ask for it. Right now I want you to leave." When he showed no signs of hurrying out, she stormed to the door, jerked it open and said, " I said now!"
The man passing in the hallway stopped in his tracks. "Ms Chandler, is anything wrong?" It was a tall man, over 6 feet, with brown hair. David Nation was Marcusí superior, and his timing was perfect. Marcus turned a lovely shade of white as he beat a hasty retreat, muttering something about checking the perimeter.
Catherine would have laughed at his frantic exit if she hadnít been so angry. The man just wouldnít take no for an answer. Having him make advances when Vincent was out there somewhere was like rubbing salt into an open wound.
"Ms Chandler, I do apologize for Marcus. I see now what you were talking about. Rest assured, I will speak to him about thisÖand it wonít happen again." Catherine wished she could be a fly on the wall for that discussion! "Weíre supposed to wear the white hats, you know," he added with an apologetic grin.
Catherine finally blew out the air she was holding. " I know. By the way, have you heard anything else?" Her voice was pleading. David cringed inside at the pain this woman was experiencing. "No, maíam, Iím sorry. There has been no word of the whereabouts of the baby."
Catherineís head drooped, her eyes filled with tears. She felt the old familiar despair rising to engulf her.
"All we know is that Gabriel was found cut up and shot through the heart. The crib was empty. One of his people must have taken the child just before we stormed the mansion. Beyond that, we have nothing new. Weíre still checking some leads."
Her heart had stopped. She looked up, eyes wide, words barely escaping her lips. "Cut up? What do you mean?"
"You didnít know? Yeah, three slashes across his face. Really messed him up. That wasnít what killed him, though. The shot to the heart did that." David looked at his charge curiously. "Are you all right?" he asked as he put a supporting hand under her arm. " You look like youíve seen a ghost."
She shook her head, "Iím fine, really. Just a little tired I guess. Some dinner should help, too, since I didnít eat much lunch."
"I could send Dr. Crawford up to check on you if you want."
"No, really, Iím fine. Iíll eat and turn in early. Iíll see you tomorrow." She began all but pushing him out the door.
Standing outside in the corridor he stared at the closed door. He was missing something, obviously. He would have to speak to Emily and have her corner Catherine in the morning. The two had become tentative friends in the five months she had been in their keeping. Emily had been a fantastic field agent with 2 black belts to help back her up. Now with the added training in witness/victim counseling she was even more of an asset, in his unbiased opinion of course. That and a dislike of sleeping on the couch. In the mean time, there was a discussion he needed to have with a certain Marcus Bishop! He turned on his heel and strode purposefully toward the front stairs.
Catherine stood leaning against the cool, steel door. Her face felt feverish and her heart felt as though it would leap from her chest. "Slashed!" she whispered, "Please, oh please let Vincent have reached Gabriel before he could send our child away!" Three slashes across the face, what else could it have been except Vincent? While the knowledge that Vincent had gotten to Gabriel was a small comfort, she still didnít know for certain if their son had escaped with him to safety.
She stumbled in a daze over to the table and sat down. She picked up the carafe and with shaking hands poured herself a cup of coffee. Holding the cup with two hands to keep from spilling it, she sipped the hot drink. Her supper was quite cold before she calmed down enough to eat it.
Leaving the cup and pot of coffee on the small table, Catherine set her tray outside her door. She walked thoughtfully over to the dresser and pulled out a gown and headed back into the bathroom. Emerging a few minutes later, she walked to the nightstand and pulled out a book and pen. She sat down in one of the chairs, opened the book and prepared to write. Until she met Vincent, her journal writing had been sporadic at best. As a young girl she had wanted a diary. She had been very excited to receive one for her birthday, and had written faithfully in itÖ for about a week. She found journal writing much more satisfying, for if she missed a few days there were no empty pages staring at her. Catherine was very careful never to mention anything that could possibly lead a person to the Tunnels, or to Vincent. She had a suspicion her private journal wasnít so private.
"I wonder about my son. Where is he? Who takes care of him? Is he safe? I wonder how he looks now. What color is his hair?" She paused in her writing to reflect on the red-faced baby with the light dusting of hair she had seen for an instant before heíd been whisked away. "Does he have Vincentís blue eyes or my green ones?"
She paused and lifted her head staring at the wall at a scene only her mindís eye could detect.
She sat curled upon Vincentís wide bed. Nestled in her arms slept a small, blanketed bundle. How peaceful he looked! A noise made her look up. Vincent stood in the doorway of the chamber, the golden light from the passageway falling lightly on his shoulders. The look in his eyes was pure love as he gazed at the two figures on his bed. Slowly he walked over to stand beside the bed, the grace of his movements caused her heart to quicken. Ever so gently he bent and took the sleeping child from her arms and laid him in a cradle. He covered him with a handmade quilt, and then turned to look at her. Her breath caught at the look in his eyes as he sat beside her and took her hand in his. He pulled her to him, kissing her deeply, reaching his hand up to stroke her hair backÖ
Laughter rang out suddenly in the hallway outside her door. Catherineís head swung around to face the door. The voices went on by. It was only the night watch. She sighed, her eyes filled with tears. Her head drooped until she rested her head on her arms and cried as only the broken hearted can.
She wept for the loss of her son, their son. She wept for the shattering of her life, for what else could you call it? She had no job, no apartment. Her will had been probated she was sure, so she had nothing to her name except for the clothes her keepers had so graciously given her. Vincent didnít even know she was alive. All her friends thought she was dead, and Eliot was dead. She wasnít supposed to find that out, but someone (had it been Marcus?) had left a newspaper lying around and she had seen the story. The overwhelming sense of isolation seemed to engulf her, choke off her breath.
How she yearned for Vincentís strong arms around her! How often had she sought refuge from the pain and grief of the world within the circle of his arms? He always seemed to be able to sooth her and draw away the tension with the gift of their bond and his wonderful voice speaking softly in her ear.
Almost without realizing it Catherine began to "reach" for Vincent. Her spirit sought his the way a flower seeks the sun. She pushed outward, hoping he would feel her. Then, in the depths of her despair, she felt a soft, warm touch. Just for on instant. Her head jerked up, eyes wide. "Vincent!" she whispered, her voice failing her. She knew his touch as well as she knew her own name.
He had felt her, of that she was certain. Tears of joy now streamed down her face. At last she had reached him once more! Now she knew he knew she was still alive. Although half formed before it slipped away the thought came to her: She must return to him; with her lover she would be safe.
She stood and walked into the bathroom to retrieve a tissue. Wiping her eyes she moved to stand beside the window. She leaned her cheek against the cool glass and looked out on the moon-drenched lawn. She could imagine Vincent standing in the shadows of the trees that bordered the wide lawn, hooded against prying eyes, waiting for her.
She realized that up until tonight he had not known she was still alive. Tears filled her eyes again as she imagined the pain he must have been living with. At least she knew her lover and son were alive somewhere, but he only had the knowledge of her "death" and the kidnapping of their son (oh, please let him be with his father). She knew how she would suffer if she thought Vincent lost forever.
It was late when she finally pulled herself together enough to finally head for bed. She crawled beneath the covers and stared at the ceiling. "I know he felt me. He had to. Is our bond opening up again?" she mused. She lay for a few more minutes, considering. " I wonder if I could reach him again? It couldnít hurt to try."
She knew she was setting a difficult task for herself; she wasnít nearly the empath Vincent was. In fact, until she met him she would have laughed at the thought of Ďempathic abilitiesí. She took several deep breaths as she tried to relax. Catherine cleared her mind of all thoughts except for the feel of Vincent. She began to "push" outward, trying to emulate Vincentís description of how he felt for her. She used all her love and longing to power her flight. She reached for him with the same urgency she had felt as she drove back from Westport, the same need that had sent her feet flying across the dewy grass of the darkened park into his waiting arms.
The house grew quiet. The only sound in the room was the soft breathing of Catherine lying still in the bed. Suddenly, she sat upright. "Vincent!" she called out, the sound jarring in the quiet. She sat for a moment, utterly still, shaken by the noise of her cry as much as what she had felt. Then the trembling started.
She hugged herself rocking back and forth with her eyes clenched shut. When the shaking finally subsided somewhat she turned on the lamp beside the bed and retrieved her journal and pen. With shaking hands she opened to the nightís previous entry and began to write. " Tonight I touched him. I reached as he taught me Ė and I felt him. I felt his arms enfold me, and his lips against my hair just as surely as if we were standing together on my balcony. Then he was gone. I felt a warmth at his touch, but now I feel cold and empty." Again the thought that she would be safe with him came to her. Here she felt like a caged animal, "With a wolf sniffing at the door," she snorted.
Suddenly the thought of staying any longer in the big two-story house rose up to choke her. Somehow she had to get away. She wanted to feel the cool of the Tunnels. She longed for the raging, fierce winds of the Chamber of the Winds. She wanted to see the huge Falls again. Vincent had promised to take her to the Crystal Cavern but there had been no time. Paracelsusí interference in their lives had put a stop to many plans. Vincent had been so distraught! Then there had come the night when everyone had thought him lost beyond hope. The night their son had been conceived. A soft smile touched her lips at the memory and her tense body relaxed. That had been a special night.
His recovery had been swift physically, but he had been unable to recapture their Bond. At first he had to be reminded of her name. His depression had been obvious as more of his memory returned. She had suggested to him that perhaps all he needed was time to heal his mind, also. Apparently she had been right. "If I can feel his touch, surely that means he is healed. Oh, Vincent, I love you so much!"
Finally, worn out from the exertions of the day and the emotional turmoil of the night Catherine sank back into the pillows and burrowed under the covers to sleep. In her dreams she once again walked rock tunnels, a tall figure accompanied her holding her hand.
Miles away, far below the city streets, Vincent lay sprawled across his bed, too exhausted to even undress. He too dreamt of walking the tunnelsÖbut not alone.
The sun came up bright and glorious in a clear sky. The morning was going to be a warm one, unusually so for this time of year. Catherine lay abed, staring at the ceiling, watching the light grow. Sleep had left her early, leaving her tossing and turning. The covers hung to the floor, the sheets were pulled loose from the corners.
Sighing deeply she rose and padded across the room to the dresser. She pulled out her running clothes. "Even after last night it will be good for me to get some exercise," she thought. When her mind was in turmoil she found the clarity she needed racing around the track in "The Pit". She wished she could run across the grassy lawn surrounding the big house, or even up the drive to the first checkpoint, but that was absolutely not allowed. David had almost had a stroke the time she had snuck out to do some running near the woods. She got the longest lecture she had had since high school about being where she wasnít supposed to be!
Dressed in sweatpants, t-shirt, running shoes and headband Catherine left her room and headed fort the main stairs. Just as she reached the top, however, she saw Marcus headed for the stairs. He hadnít seen her yet so she doubled back and went down the stairs at the opposite end of the hallway and into the kitchen. She had No desire to speak to Marcus this morning. "Maybe David insisted he come apologize," she thought, "Tough!"
" ĎMorning, Cara!" she called as she bounded into the big kitchen. It was definitely what would be called a harvest kitchen, dating back to the time when this was a working farm. Cara with her mostly gray hair pulled up into a bun seemed to fit quite well in the setting. Now, with various numbers of agents and "clients" staying there the big kitchen was a definite bonus.
"Good morning, Ms Chandler. How are you?"
"Just fine. Whatís for breakfast?"
"Fresh fruit, cream of wheat, toast, bagels and cream cheese, eggs, bacon andÖ."
"And! You mean the works! How do you do it every morning?" Catherine laughed.
Cara joined in. "Why, child, I love to cook! And besides, at my age you are lucky to have people appreciate what you do."í
"Well you know I appreciate you," Catherine replied as she headed for the door. "Iím going down for a short run. Iíll eat when I get back."
"Have a good timeÖI guess getting hot and sweaty is a good time," she added, mischief dancing in her eyes. "I wonít need help with lunch until about 11:00. See you then?"
Catherine laughed, "Deal!"
She smiled after the slim, young woman going out the door. "What could someone that sweet have seen to cause her to have to stay here?" Cara wondered to herself. She shook her head. "You see many strange things at this job," she decided. "Iím going to have to corner David for her file!"
Catherine went to what would have been the cellar door in the old days. Now on opening the door you found yourself in an elevator leading down to the basement (where she was going) and the sub-basement. Her jokes about bunkers had fallen flat with the agents for some reason. Exiting at B1, she walked to the end of the corridor and through the door into a large exercise/weight room. A track ran around the walls surrounding equipment of all types. There was a mirror on one wall and a stereo on the counter opposite. The radio didnít work down here, which said something for just how thick the ceiling was, but there was a selection of CDís in the rack.
She had always enjoyed running, though she had never made a big deal about it to her friends. The time alone helped to clear her head and organize her thoughts. Lately sheíd learned to block her mind of painful thoughts as she concentrated on her pace. Thoughts such as why she was in such poor shape to begin with.
As she sped around the track, her mind was drawn back to her dreams of the past night. Dreams of walking the Tunnels with Vincent filled her mind. The dim lights, the cool air making for a romantic atmosphere as he drew her close to his warmth. Then the dreams led to memories. Memories of walking silently enjoying the beauty of the Park at night, sitting and talking or reading passages from some favorite book arose in her mind. She remembered lying in his arms in the nest of pillows heíd brought to the tunnel near the stage in the park where theyíd listened to concerts. Oh, the pleasure of listening to the beautiful strains as his hands softly caressed her. She remembered their first the trek to the Chamber of the Falls, and how heíd almost trembled with suppressed excitement. Heíd made her close her eyes and led her the last few steps through the opening. As he positioned her, he stepped back so he could see her face. She knew heíd been thoroughly delighted with her wonder and amazement at the beauty and grandeur. They had returned many times after that to spend some quiet time reading or talking.
She missed a step, tripping slightly. It was hard to see through the mist clouding her vision. Her pace became slower and slower until finally she came to a stop. She leaned back against the wall vainly trying to regain her composure. She lost. Slowly she slid down to sit hunched against the wall. Her shoulders shook with her tears.
Upstairs, Catherine was being watched from the central security station. Emily sat silently considering her friend, for that was how she thought of her. They had met the morning after her arrival. She had led her from the infirmary (actually better equipped than many small hospitals) in the basement up to her current room on the second floor when she had finally been dismissed. Dr. Crawford had been beside himself over the drugs still in her system from Gabrielís torture. Then the time they lost trying to find her to give the antidote to the doctorís drug had left her in critical condition for several days. Those first days after she had finally regained consciousness had been especially hard. Catherine had been in a daze from the events of the past few months. Kidnapping and torture, physical and chemical, were bad enough, but to give birth to a child and have him taken away without even being given a chance to hold himÖthe counseling sessions had been daily for a month. The nightmares had lasted longer.
Catherine and Emily had had several long, heart-to-heart talks. Emily was such an open person Catherine knew instinctively she could be trusted. She didnít tell her everything, of course, but they did talk about the baby and his wonderful, loving father. Emily helped Catherine come to grips with what had happened to her, and why she was in hiding. "Catherine, Gabrielís organization was huge," Emily explained to the confused young woman. "He operated on an international level, he had people on the police force on his payroll, he even had John Mereno working for him. You are a prime witness since you can collaborate so much of the evidence others will be presenting, and that makes you a prime target. We canít let anything happen to you while we are dismantling the organization and tracking down his key people. You have to realize, they will want to silence you before you can implicate them."
"Emily? Briefing in 5 minutes," David called.
"Coming." She drained her coffee. She would make it a point to see Catherine as soon as the meeting was over. Something had sent her back into the depths again.
Catherine sat against the concrete wall without a care about the cold seeping into her back. Her frustration was evident to anyone who knew her. She was a woman who had a take-charge attitude. Now, since Vincent had shown her how. At the moment she felt trapped and very out of control. All she wanted was to go home, home to her son and Vincent.
She sat on the floor for a long time. She knew she was being watched; she was becoming used to the hair on the back of her neck prickling. They called it protection; she called it strangulation.
She stood, leaned against the wall for a moment before pushing off and heading for the door. She had lost her taste for running.
She made her way back to the kitchen to get her breakfast. Cara didnít comment on her shortened run. Being a wise person she recognized the signs of a troubled heart, quite common actually in this profession. Her quiet concern comforted Catherine as she fixed her plate of fruit and toast and poured her cup of coffee.
Catherine went to her favorite table in the morning room. The windows in the big bay window (lexan, not glass) looked out over a wide expanse of lawn where she occasionally saw rabbits and deer. Marshalling her emotions she began to eat, even though she mostly ate because it was necessary. Rarely did any meal really spark her appetite, which was why she was way below her pre-baby weight. Father would not have approved of how thin she was getting. She did humor Dr. Crawford by taking vitamins. She had the feeling she could be good and mind the nice doctor or he would hold her down and make her take them; he was sure big enough!
She almost jumped out of her skin when a hand touched her shoulder. Her head jerked up and met Emilyís gaze. She motioned her to a seat. " I could use a friendly face about now," she told her. At her questioning look Catherine told Emily about Marcus and David, and they both had a hard time not giggling over David being on the spot. Catherine became quiet. "O.K. I know something else is bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?" Emily inquired.
Catherine sat playing with her fork for a moment longer, then said softly, "I dreamed about Vincent and our son last night," tears slowly slid down her cheeks. "In my dream we went to all our special places; you know, the kind where you can be alone? And he thinks Iím dead. Everyone thinks Iím dead. He doesnít even know Iím all right. Can you imagine how much he must be hurting?" Emily could only nod; what else was there to say? "Do you know what scares me? I donít know if they are both all right, eitherÖreally. And if he isÖ If Vincent is all rightÖ What if someone comes along that helps him forget the pain? Iíve been gone from him a year! Emily, what if I lose him, too?" Catherine finally broke down. Emily moved her chair to sit beside her, letting Catherine have the shoulder to cry on she needed so desperately. Emily could not stop her tears from coming. What if she lost David and their boys? This hit close to home in their line of work.
Once Catherineís tears had subsided somewhat Emily walked her up to her room. Cara, sensing a crisis, brought up a tray with cups and a pot of herbal tea. Emily and Catherine gave her their heartfelt thanks and settled down for a long talk.
Father awoke and stretched. He lay listening to the early morning sounds of the Tunnels. Traffic on the pipes had not picked up yet, and most of the children were obviously still asleep. He threw back the covers and rolled up to sitting. As he reached for his stick, really more of a shalale he was startled to see Vincent sitting in a chair, watching him. "Good heavens! You scared me half to death!"
"Iím sorry, Father, I didnít mean to frighten you."
Father cast an appraising gaze over his son. "Hmmm, not enough sleep. And something is very wrong," he thought. Aloud he said briskly, " So. To what do I owe the honor of this early morning visit? It is early, isnít it? I didnít fritter away the morning, did I?"
"No, Father. It is very early." He paused, and Father saw he wasnít up to joking.
"Vincent, come here." He patted the bed beside him. Always when Vincent was little and had a serious matter to discuss, he would make these early morning trips to Fatherís chambers and they would sit on the bed and talk it out. It had been a long time since Vincent had made one of his pre-dawn visits.
Vincent rose slowly and walked to Fatherís bed. Father was shocked to notice how much like an old and bent man he moved. Vincent sat down beside Father and took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts. Looking down at his hands he began, "FatherÖ Itís CatherineÖ"
Jacob closed his eyes in pain for his son. As he prepared words of comfort Vincent continued. "FatherÖ I donít know how, but Catherine is not dead. She is alive."
Jaw hanging, all the older man could do was stare for a few beats. "What! How? Vincent, are you sure? WhatÖ"
Vincent held up his hand to stop the stammering stream of words. "I donít know why, or how. All I do know is I have felt her touch. I know, the way I used to know, that she is alive, and somewhat well. Sad, lonely, but she is alive." A pause, "And I must find her."
"Vincent, how will you find her? Even if you know the general direction, you donít know how far, or in what type of area she is to be found. She may be in a rural area, or in a city. How in the world will you get there?"
Vincent stood abruptly and began pacing back and forth is the alcove, very much like a great agitated lion. "I didnít say it would be easy, but what else am I to do?" He stopped and held out his hands, "I held her. I caught her as she fell and I held her in my arms as she died. I sat holding her a long time before I had the strength to carry her home." He was pacing again. "I have grieved, Father. Every night as I sit alone or with Jacob I grieve for her, though for his sake I try to hold it in, to wall off the pain. I see her in my dreams, and when I awake I ache with longing for her. Father, not a day has gone by that I havenít thought of her." His tears were flowing now as he turned to face the care-worn face of the older man. "How can I not look for her? I could not bear to sit by and lose her again."
Father sat thinking of a reply. "Are you sure? Could this have been a dream? You know how vivid your nightmares canÖ"
Vincent interrupted, "No, Father, not a dream, a reality. I know what I felt!" Vincent described the events that led to his decision. Hands gripping his knees tightly, Father listened as the tale unfolded. Finally he had to agree with Vincent. "Have you considered exactly how you will look for her?" he asked.
"There is a man; one she trusted with part of our secret."
"Not Mr. Maxwell, I take it," Father guessed. "He does seem rather prosaic in his outlook, though we were able to work together to find Gabriel."
"No, not Joe. He was very good to Catherine and very protective of her in his own way. But Iím not sure he would understand about our connection. The man I was thinking of was Isaac Stubbs."
Father nodded as he remembered the tall black man who had helped Catherine find Vincent when he had been running from the Suits. He had offered his help with no questions asked. "How do you intend to contact him?"
Vincent considered a moment. "Diana would be a good choice for a first contact. She could see if he would be open to a meeting. He has seen me before, and Catherine trusted him completely, but I donít know how he would react if I just appeared on his doorstep." He gave a rueful grin at this last comment.
Father rose and walked to where his tall son was standing. Grasping his shoulders firmly he assured Vincent, "Weíll find her. Somehow we will find her." All Vincent could do in response was hug him.
Dispatching a message to Diana wasnít a problem, as the children would occasionally go Topside. Explaining the situation to Dianna was a little more difficult. "How do you know sheís alive? Vincent, I read the autopsy report. It said she died of morphine overdose. Joe was there when they took the body to the morgue. I donít mean to sound harsh but those are the facts." They were standing in one of the upper tunnels; Diana was playing Devilís Advocate. There was concern in her voice, obviously she was wondering if the strain was finally getting to him.
"Diana, Catherine and I shared a bond, we were connected in a way I canít explain. I could feel her the way you can tell the direction of a light with your eyes closed."
"I know," she replied softly.
Vincent looked at her sharply, trying to read her emotions. He had forgotten Catherineís journals had been scrutinized in an effort to find clues to her disappearance and eventual death. Diana was given the books in her work as a profiler and investigator. He couldnít get used to Diana having read Catherineís personal writings. He had not even read them, though Diana had given the slim volumes to him 3 weeks before, knowing that if they were called for she could retrieve them easily. Somehow the pain of losing her was still too raw to consider reading them. He knew Catherine loved him, and for now that was enough.
"Last night something happened I thought never to feel again. I made contact with Catherine. It was fleeting, granted, but I know what I felt. Then, I made contact for the second time. This was longer and I know she felt me, too because she responded. I felt her sadness and loneliness then her joy at the touch. I think this means our Bond is returning. So you see I have to find her. There is a man I want you to approach for me. Isaac Stubbs, Catherineís self-defense instructor. He knows about us, some of it anyway; and he has seen me. Talk to him and see if he would be agreeable to a meeting. He has a lot of connections on the street, numerous sources of information. I am somewhat limited in what I can do."
"Whew! O.K., youíve got it. Iíll call him this afternoon-see if I can talk to him tonight at his place."
"Thank you, Diana. Youíve been a great friend to me-us." He turned to walk away, down the tunnel leading to his world. Diana stopped him, "Vincent!" When he turned she said, "I hope youíre right. I hope she is still alive."
"So do I."
"Mr. Stubbs?" A female voice rang out is the stillness of the loft. The living area was lit with two lamps, but the practice area with its punching bags and dummies was dark. "Mr. Stubbs, I need to talk to you!" A door to a storage area closed, the loud bang of the metal door causing her to jump.
"Sorry, I didnít hear you come in. Iím Isaac Stubbs," he said, walking toward her with his hand outstretched.
"Diana Bennett," she replied taking his hand. "I called this afternoon. I just need to speak to you for a few minutes if you have the time."
He shrugged his shoulders, "Sure, what about?"
Isaacs smile faltered. "She was a good person and a good friend. I really miss her." Then his curiosity got the better of him. "Who exactly are you and what did you want to know?"
Diana showed him her badge. "Today, however, Iím here strictly off the record. I am here on the request of a friend. Vincent."
Isaac directed her to the couch. "I think weíd better sit down." He sat in a chair and waited for her to gather her thoughts and begin the story.
"Vincent sent me to you because he says you are someone Catherine trusts implicitly. He said you helped Catherine locate him when he was injured in a blast and helped get him home," she said.
"I remember that night very well." In his mindís eye he remembered Catherineís frantic phone call, asking for his help. The frantic search across town, the demand the police not be involved all made for a memorable night. Then the lighted doorway in the bowels of the old building, two brothers locked in death, one cold, cruel, the other rich in compassion. He had beaten Catherine to the doorway by about a half of a second. The figure limping away from them had stopped and turned. Heíd never forget that face for as long as he lived. Involuntarily he had been drawn forward, but Catherine had grabbed his jacket, "No questions, Isaac," sheíd said. "Thank you for everything. Leave us now." Then sheíd walked toward the man (?) saying, "I have to take him home." The next thing he knew they were embracing, and she could say what she wanted, they were more than just "friends". He knew love when he saw it.
"Yeah. I remember," he said quietly. "What about it?"
"He wants to meet you. He needs your helpÖ Itís a long story." She was floundering now. Really, Vincent could tell this better then she.
Isaac sat back into his chair, considering. "O.K. Iíll meet him. Where?" If Cathy could trust him Ė love him apparently Ė then he could trust him, too.
"Here. Now, if thatís O.K. If no one will see him."
ĎIím not expecting anyone else tonight. And if someone does happen to show up I do have a back door," he said lightly. At last he was going to get some answers to some questions that had been haunting him.
Rising, Diana said she would go signal to Vincent to come in. She went down the steps and out the street level door. A few moments later she returned, a tall cloaked and hooded figure followed her into the room. The heavy boots he wore scarcely made a sound. As they walked back to the living Isaac couldnít help admire the graceful, controlled movements. Here was a natural-born fighter if he had ever seen one.
As nervous as during her third grade manners class Diana made the appropriate introductions. Isaac extended his hand," Vincent, you donít know how pleased I am to finally get to meet you!" Vincent only hesitated a moment before extending his gloved hand to grasp Isaacís. "And I you. Iíve always wanted to thank you for all you did for Catherine, and not just the lessons. For your friendship and support."
"Hey, man, you donít have to thank me. She was a fine woman. You donít know how sorry I was Ė am about what happened."
Sensing there was about to be an awkward silence, Diana suggested they have a seat. Vincent took the chair as Isaac and Diana took the couch. Isaac could not help but notice Vincent was still hooded, and it bothered him to try to carry on a conversation with someone when he couldnít see his or her eyes. Quietly, tactfully he reminded Vincent he had seen him before. Briefly, true, but he had seen him. Almost reluctantly, Vincent agreed and lowered his hood. He raised his eyes to meet an approving smile.
"Nice to see you again. Cathy wouldnít let me ask any questions. Is it all right to ask you a few questions?" Isaac inquired.
"Ask me anything, Iíll do my best to answer, but I warn you there are some questions to which I do not know the answers."
Isaac nodded, "Fair enough. Where did you and Cathy meet? And what did she mean by you two were Ďconnectedí?"
"We met the night she was attacked and dumped in the park. I found her and took her to my father, who is a doctor. He stitched the slashes to her face, and then I cared for her for ten days. During that time an empathic bond developed between us; I know her emotions, and at times she can feel what I am feeling even though we are apart," Vincent explained.
"I see. This would sound like pure fantasy any other time, but I can see otherwise." Isaac thought a moment longer, "Then over time this link developed into love between you."
"Yes," he whispered, his pain evident in his eyes.
"Iím sorry. I donít mean to pryÖ Iím just trying to understand. If I get too personal, just tell me to Ďbutt outí." Isaac said it smiling, trying to ease the tension in the man across from him.
Vincent nodded as he perceived his intentions, "Iíll certainly let you know if you are intruding. Yes, Catherine and I came to love each other deeply. I never imagined I would ever find someone who would love such a one as I. The depth of her love truly humbled me." He fell silent, thinking of her.
Isaac cleared his throat, "What about you? You mentioned your father was a doctor?"
"Not as in Ďmad doctorí," he said smiling slightly. "I was found abandoned as a baby outside St. Vincentís Hospital and Jacob Wells raised me as his son. The place where we live is removed from society; we and many others who have been cast off by society have formed our own safe, peaceful world below the city streets in old, unused or forgotten tunnels and caverns." Vincent was ignoring years of caution in telling Isaac so much, but he knew nothing short of complete honestly would do in this situation.
"I see. Well, thereís a lot you havenít told me, but thereís time for talking later." Isaac said as Vincent looked at him curiously. If he wanted to talk later, then maybe he would help.
"If Cathy trusted your friendship and judgment, so can I. Now tell me what happened. Iím sure there was a great deal not in the papers. I know there was a lot of information floating around on the street."
As briefly as possible Vincent related the chain of events that lead him to finally sit in Isaacís loft. Still, the story was long and somewhat complicated to follow. His mouth was getting dry by the time the story wound down. He was grateful when Diana excused herself and returned with a glass of water.
"This guy Ė Gabriel Ė what size operation are we talking about here? I know lately the word on the street is thereís a new organization moving into the drug operation," Isaac inquired.
"Huge," Diana answered. "Weíve only scratched the surface but gun running, drugs, extortion, money launderingÖ you name it. He had international contacts Interpol and the CIA are investigating. Considering some threats his lieutenants have made, the CIA is watching very closely." She shook her head, thinking about the notebook. "See, I believe Catherine was about to crack the code on that notebook Joe passed to her. Thatís why Gabriel took her, I know it!"
"Hmm, if the operation was that big, wonít the feds be in on the investigation? The FBI, ATF, and the rest of the alphabet soup will all want a piece," Isaac mused.
Diana told him there had been contact made just that week. The feds were working with the DA to get the case up for a hearing in about 3 weeks. If Catherine is still alive, as she appears to be, itís a sure bet Gabrielís organization is not holding her! She would be a key witness for the prosecution and a key target. We know Joe Maxwell passed her the codebook he had gotten from an informant. She has to be in some sort of protective custody."
Vincent leaned forward in the chair, "Are you suggesting I just sit back and wait for the trial?" Looking down at his clasped hands he whispered, "I donít know if I have the strength to wait until then."
"There may be a wayÖ I will have to do some checking. There is a guy from my days in Army Intelligence who owes me a favor or three. Maybe I can find out something." Isaac said softly. "You have hope for the first time in months. How can I stand by and see that destroyed?"
"Thank you," was all Vincent could say.
"All right!" A voice called from the kitchen of the apartment. Lee Stetson came walking into the living room carrying his morning cup of coffee. He snagged the phone before it could ring again. "Hello?"
"Scarecrow? How ya doiní? Itís Isaac."
"Isaac! Well now, itís been almost a year since Iíve heard from you. How have you been keeping? Still running the gym?" Lee said, delighted to hear his old mentorís voice.
"Canít complain. Business is paying the bills. What more could you want?"
"Hmmm. Thatís just what I was wondering. Whatís up? You never were one to call just to shoot the breeze." Lee sat down on the arm of the couch.
"Iíve got something to talk over with you if you have the time. How about lunch? The usual place." Isaac said.
Lee mentally ticked off his agenda. "Yeah, I think I can manage. How about 12:30?"
"Sounds good. Iíll see you there."
"Hey, wait a minute," Lee was terribly perplexed, "How did you know I was in town? Iíd been meaning to call butÖ."
"Just a hunch," Isaac said, though Lee couldnít see his shrug. "I had a sticky problem so I knew you had to be close."
Lee whooped with laughter. He managed to gasp out, "As long as the SPís arenít involved Iíll be glad to help!"
"Great! See you in a few hours." They said their goodbyes and hung up. Lee walked thoughtfully back to the kitchen. If Isaac Stubbs was concerned over something, Lee knew enough to be worried.
"Well? Do you have the information?" The man asked from the deep shadows of the doorway.
"Oh, Yeah! We hit pay dirt this time. Itís Chandler all right. Iíve even talked to her."
The two men were barely visible in the dark shadows cast by the buildings. "Excellent! When is the hearing scheduled?"
"The first Thursday. That gives us almost three weeks."
"She must not testify against us. See to it."
"I will. Iím scheduled to have the night watch all next week. Iíll arrange for a little accident. Everyone knows how despondent sheís been lately. It makes one careless."
They chuckled, and then parted. One deeper into the alley, the other dressed in tattered clothes shuffled back to the sidewalk. He glanced around and made his way down the street. Any friends meeting him would have had a very hard time recognizing Agent Marcus Bishop.
Catherine awoke and looked around her room. She felt as though she would scream if she contemplated too long on another day just like all the others here. Today was Monday and in another life she would have been bemoaning heading to work. Now sheíd give anything to see her desk piled high. By now she didnít even have a desk! The thought was depressing. She knew she was being kept in "protective custody" but her death had been just a little much. Oh, she understood the reasoning behind it, it was just that the lawyer in her shuddered to consider the paperwork when she reappeared! It could take months, maybe even years to get everything cleared up! As far as she was concerned, the FBI ought to handle everything. This had been their idea after all! If they could cut through the red tape she was sure it would take no time at all. Or maybe some of her fatherís old friends could help?
Reluctantly she threw back the covers and headed to the bathroom. Maybe a hot shower would ease her gloom.
As she was toweling her hair dry there came a knock at the door. "Who is it?" she called out, almost afraid of the answer. She couldnít face Marcus.
"Cathy? Itís Emily. Can I come in?"
"Oh, just a minute," Catherine opened the door. "Come on in. Just give me a few minutes to get dressed."
"Thank you. You go ahead and Iíll sit over here out of your way," she teased. It was well known Catherine moved very determinedly. However, when she saw the sweats she hesitantly cleared her throat. "Cathy? You might want to put on something else this morning."
Catherine froze, "Oh?"
"Yeah. Weíve got a briefing this morning. And youíre invited."
Catherine sat down slowly on the edge of the bed. "The hearing?" Emily nodded.
Catherine sat down slowly on the end of the bed. "Well. Itís come. Good, Iím ready for a fight!" The glitter that came in her eyes told Emily why she was so valuable to the D.A. And why Gabrielís organization feared her so.
An hour later Catherine, now in her only pair of jeans and a sweater, sat in the downstairs briefing room. Besides David and Emily there was a tall brown-haired man who was introduced as Mr. Stetson. He was the CIA liaison on the case since there was an international element, and there had been threats from outside the country against certain officials in the time just prior to Gabrielís death. Obviously he had worked with David and Emily before, as there was a definite friendship between them.
Catherine learned the hearing had been set for a little over two weeks, and she was to be the star witness for the government. Security was going to be tight around the federal building and inside. Both the FBI and the CIA were to have people in place. "If he had the D.A. of New York in his pocket who knows who else may be on his payroll," Davis explained.
Catherine chewed on her pen as she listened to the discussions, and then scribbled notes occasionally on the yellow pad in front of her. She would have to work up a time-line of the events from the time Joeís friend had given him the notebook until the time she was "rescued". She knew she shouldnít be so hard, but the waiting was really getting to her. It would mean reliving all those months of hell at the hands of Gabriel. How much was she to tell about the baby, or just let them assume he intended to use the baby as a bribe to get her to turn over the notebook? Her mind began to wander. She didnít even know for certain where he was. She suspected he was with Vincent, but she wasnít sure. And she couldnít just keep calling him "he" for surely there had been a naming ceremony. What would Vincent have chosen? Of course: Jacob.
"Cathy?" A hand touched her arm, "are you all right?"
"Oh. Sorry. Just thinking back," Catherine said, dropping her eyes. "This is not going to be easy." She added wryly, "Iím not used to being the one on the stand!"
"Donít worry, Ms Chandler. Our lawyers have sent a copy of the brief for you to read. And if you have any questions, donít hesitate to ask," David assured her.
"Iím sure youíll do just fine, from everything Iíve heard about you," Lee added.
"Oh?" Somehow it was disconcerting to have come to the attention of the CIA.
Lee laughed, "Nothing official, I assure you. David and I are old friends and we have discussed this case at length."
Later that morning Catherine took her notepad and her copy of the brief to the study and sat at the old library table. Gathering her thoughts, she began to write her notes for the coming hearing. It felt good to finally be doing something constructive. Already it seemed like years since her de-briefing. Those first few days after her release from the infirmary had been very arduous. Sheíd felt as though someone had dropped her into the middle of a play, and forgotten to give her a script! After she had discovered the "Good Doctor", who she had hated with a passion, was really a deep cover agent sheíd ceased to be surprised by anything.
Then there was the coroner. Heíd have to be a man of great discretion, she mused, trying to remember her impressions of the man from their few dealings. She smiled as she imagined his office filling up with tall men in overcoats and black shades. Her smile faltered slightly when she thought of all her friends thinking she was dead. Again, she was drawn to the memory of Vincent holding her as she lost consciousness thinking she was dying in his arms. The drug the doctor had given her was taking effect about then. Her eyes grew damp as she thought of Vincent carrying her back to her apartment.
Now, that special place was gone, sold as per her directions in her will and the money part of a trust fund administered by Peter for the community Below. Only she wasnít dead. When this was all over in a few weeks she was going to have nowhere to live. ExceptÖ dare she consider it? Was this the time she had been waiting for? Would Vincent finally allow her to come Below with him? Could she leave her life Above and her job with the district attorneyís office (if she still had it, of course)? She and Vincent had often spoken about how she made a small difference in the lives of the innocent people in the city. But look where it had gotten her this time! Her thoughts swirled round and round unable to rest on a decision.
Then for some reason a movie she had watched one stormy night with Vincent came back to her mind. He had come to see her and as they had been engrossed with each other out on her balcony a storm had broken on them without warning. Well, if there had been warning they had been blissfully unaware of it. They had escaped to the safety of her living room, laughing at how narrowly they had missed a soaking. She convinced him to stay with her until the building quieted for the night so he could go back down the elevator shaft since the whipping wind made his usual method unsafe. They had popped popcorn, turned off the lights and snuggled down to watch television. She had been sure there was a concert being broadcast that night, but had been unable to find it. In flipping through the channels she had stopped at a movie mainly because she saw a wonderful townhouse in the movie that reminded her of some of the old neighborhoods in New York. What had struck both of them was the beautiful interior of the house. When she had suggested maybe she should think of a house instead of the apartment so he wouldnít have to climb to get to her, he became very still. Looking up at him she saw his face close down, giving no response. His arms around her as she sat back against his chest seemed to be made of wood. Apparently the thought of buying a house was too domestic for him; he still had trouble understanding how much she loved him and was committed to him whether he liked it or not! She had sensed he felt she was pushing him to make a more formal commitment to her, so she dropped the subject. She also suggested they just turn on the stereo instead. They had spent the rest of the evening listening to a selection of their favorite pieces and talking about nothing really important.
He had stayed until she had dozed off in his arms. She never knew the feelings coursing through him as he picked her up in his arms and carried her to her bed and tucked her in. He had carried her before, of course. The night he had found her he had taken her down to his chamber, to his bed. The night two policemen had beaten her he had lifted her gently and carried her to her bed before doctoring her injuries. Those times were nothing compared to the wonderful weight in his arms now. When he lifted her to carry her and put her to bed she turned slightly and clutched at the edge of his vest. He carried her to her room, and then had a few awkward moments trying to pull the covers down without waking her. She was already wearing lounging pants and a t-shirt so he bundled her under the covers. When he leaned over to brush his lips against her brow she woke slightly and reached for his hand. Vincent sank down beside the bed and held her hand until she was deep asleep. Then he slipped away never letting her see the sadness he felt at leaving her alone.
What if she did somehow manage to buy a town house? Maybe that was something she should seriously consider. She could get listings and take them to Vincent so he could tell her which ones were close to the Tunnels; she always got turned around trying to match Above and Below. That isÖ assuming she ever managed to get back to Vincent. She grabbed hold of her emotions before they could carry her away. She must not lose hope! Her fists beat on the tabletop. She would get back! She grabbed up the pencil and pad. The only way back was through the hearing.
Catherine stood and stretched her aching muscles. She had worked for the rest of the day only taking a short break for lunch before starting back. (Cara had insisted she eat with her, away from the library, to give her mind a chance to rest.) The table was covered with books pulled from the shelves, printouts from the computer and wadded up sheets of yellow paper, but the pad was covered with page after page of notes. Now she stood looking out the picture window at the lawn as the sun dipped below the tree line. One more day gone, but thankfully this one had been more productive than the others she had endured here. Then she saw lights in the distance, a car was coming down the long drive at a pretty good clip. As it drew up in front of the house she saw it was and old candy-apple red Thunderbird. With a porthole, no less! She wondered who in the world it could be when she heard David call out, "Scarletís here!" as he went out the door. The woman who got out of the car was middle aged with a little gray in her hair and was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.
Catherine felt herself smiling as she watched David and the woman greet each other. She suspected the woman was special to him, especially when she saw her pat his stomach, implying there was more to him now, and David ducked his head. Just them Emily walked up and received a hug from the woman.
When they came in David took her in the study to introduce her to Catherine. When she spoke it became obvious she was from the South. So Ė what was she doing here?
As Scarlet and David walked toward the kitchen, she said softly, "I need to talk to you. Soon." David nodded, and as soon as was polite led her into the briefing room.
"So. Whatís up? The kids are fine, I hope."
"Oh, yes, everyoneís fine. But, David, isnít this a little close to home to be doing an undercover operation?"
David started, "What are you talking about? We donít have anything going on right now, not with the Chandler case so close to going to the grand jury." He looked at her closely, saw her discomfort and knew something was up, " I know you; you know something, I can tell. Letís have it all."
"Well, remember the jacket I left up here last time? It was Rickís foul weather jacket from the Navy?" she asked.
David nodded, "Uh huh. He almost divorced you until I told him Iíd put it up for him in the equipment closet."
"Could we go and get it, please?" she asked. David was totally puzzled by this complete turn in the conversation but agreed. When he opened the closet, however, he didnít see the jacket on the shelf where he had remembered putting it. After several more minutes of search he was forced to conclude the jacket was simply not there. "Iím sorry! I canít imagine what could have happened to it. And I promised Rick I would take care of it!" Scarlet put her hand over his mouth. "Hush now. Lets get back to somewhere private."
When they got back to the briefing room she indicated a chair beside the table. "I didnít really expect to find it there because I saw it last night." She stopped his stream of questions with her upraised hand. "The boat number is stenciled on the back, and there is that tear we had darned across the back near the bottom. There was no mistaking the coat, or the man who was wearing it." She took a deep breath before she continued, " David it was Marcus."
David sat stunned for several seconds trying to sort out this bit of news. "Iím sure there has to be an explanation," he said, though the words certainly sounded lame to him. Scarlet shook her head, "Greasy hair, three day growth of beard, and staggering. Try to explain that!"
It was certainly damning. What could he possibly have going on the side? And what about this chasing after Chandler, pretty lady or not? "How did you happen to see him anyway?"
"I was looking for an all night health food store," she replied. David looked blank. "Ianís new baby has colic. We were looking for catnip tea," she explained.
David turned a piercing look on her, "What it boils down to is you donít trust him."
She met his gaze levelly. "No I donít. Not after what happened. There is something you should know. Iíve done some checking since then, quietly, on the side. Those guys that we were after had a very big boss. A man named Gabriel."
David went white. "What? Are you sure?" His mind was reeling with the implications.
"Oh, itís a very good paper trail. Itís taken the last three years to track back. I got final confirmation last week. After last night I decided to drive out myself to tell you personally."
David sat chewing on the information. There would have to be an internal investigation. Maybe. Might it not be better to just snoop around quietly? Were they really sure Marcus had slipped up intentionally?
"David? Are you okay?"
"Huh? What? Oh, Iím sorry. You just gave me a lot to think about?" He shook his head. Such a waste, if there was a connection. Theyíd worked together for so long.
"The Chandler girl out there. Sheís part of the Gabriel thing, too." It was a statement more than a question. David nodded. "If weíre going to get her ready for the hearing Iíd better talk to her. Transcripts are fine when the person isnít available."
For the next two hours Catherine sat in the briefing room going over aspects of her confinement. At the end she had to admit the woman would have been valuable back at the D.A.ís office. She had a way of helping you think back and look at other angles of situations.
Catherineís stomach was growling audibly as they exited the room. Very embarrassing until they all started laughing good-naturedly. They headed for the kitchen in search of food. Cara had the afternoon off so they were own their own. Fortunately, she had taken pity on them and left a big bag of chips on the counter, packs of cold cuts in the refrigerator and a huge bowl of potato salad.
The conversation at the table was light and cheerful. Catherine was urged to join them for the meal, and she gladly accepted. Catherine felt completely at ease with this group, especially Scarlet.
Afterward, as they were cleaning up Catherine found herself in the kitchen with Scarlet. As they loaded the dishwasher Catherine tentatively broached the subject of her name. Scarlet just laughed, "I wondered when you would ask. Everyone up here does eventually. Itís really ĎAura Leeí after the old Confederate love song. Naturally, after people found that out I got tacked with the nickname ĎScarletí. The rest, as they say, is history." They talked for a while longer, and Scarlet promised to stop by later and give her a few pointers on cooking. "Itís nothing to be ashamed of. Back home mamas give their daughters lessons as they are growing up. You just didnít have the chance. Cookbooks are fine, but you really need to know how to cook before you can use some of them. Not to mention you can really get discouraged when you attempt something a professional might make just because you canít tell the good from the difficult. Donít worry. Iíll give you a few pointers and then you can take off on your own!"
Catherine was sorry to see the night end; she felt like she had found a favorite aunt. Emily saw her expression and whispered, "Itís okay. She has that effect on people!"
The next day Lee met with Isaac for lunch. The talk quickly turned to old times and the two were once again reduced to tears of laughter.
Finally, Isaac broached the subject of the girlfriend of a friend of his, and just where might she be?
"Isaac, you of all people know I canít talk about protective custody people. Even with your clearance itís still Ďneed to knowí stuff!"
"Lee," he interrupted, "the guy doesnít even know if the mother of his baby is alive or dead. Right now the world thinks sheís dead, but he doesnít buy it. Right or wrong he believes she is still alive. Donít you think he deserves some hope?" He took an envelope, from his jacket pocket and laid it on the table between them. The flowing script read "Catherine". Isaac had found it on his coffee table with instructions from Vincent that morning. "Donít you think she deserves to know heís still out there waiting for her? Lee, itís been a year! Donít you think she deserves to know he still loves her?"
Lee looked at the envelope for several long seconds before he slid it off the table into his coat pocket. "If sheís there, sheíll get it today; if sheís not there, it goes in the trash. Unopened."
Isaac nodded, "Fair enough."
Lee looked puzzled for a moment, "How did you get mixed up in this anyway?"
"Strictly off the record, Diana Bennet brought him to me. Sheís known him for a while, and she was the NYPD investigator."
"Iíve met her. Sheís acting as liaison between the police and the feds. But why you? Does she know about your stint with us?"
Isaac snorted, "You make it sound like a part-time job! Remember who trained you! Actually I was Cathyís self-defense instructor, as well as a friend. And I have met her boyfriend before; he knew I could be trusted."
"From what I understand, they were trying to find him during the early stages of the investigation. Why didnít he come forward then?" Lee wondered.
"Itís a long story, believe me. Letís just say heís not exactly what High Society would approve of as a match for Ms Catherine Chandler." Isaacís voice had a trace of bitterness in it.
"Oh. Is it a racial thing? Surely, that wouldnít keep him away from the investigation."
"No, itís not race," Isaac corrected him. Boy, how much to say! "Heís what society would call Ďdisfiguredí though no one who really knows him would ever think that way." Was that skirting the issue or what!
"You mean like the ĎElephant Maní? Some kind of fibroid disease?" Lee inquired.
"Iím no doctor, so I really canít tell you why he looks like he does. I do know there is absolutely nothing wrong with his mind. He has a brilliant mind and is very well schooled in all the classical literature, art, music, you name it, not to mention more practical stuff like engineering. Thatís part of the problem. He knows how he looks, thereís nothing that can be done either, and he canít imagine anyone a lovely as Catherine Chandler falling desperately in love with him. Thatís why it is so important this letter get to her."
Lee picked up the check. "Come on. Lets go for a ride."
Once safely in the car he remarked to Isaac he needed some information, and maybe they could work a deal. Isaac chuckled, knowing Lee as well as he did that letter was as good as delivered. "Okay, shoot. Who am I tracking this time?"
"Gabriel; or rather, his operation. Heís the one who kidnapped Catherine, kept her until the baby was born then gave the order to have her killed. We still havenít found the baby, by the way. He cut his eyes over to Isaac when he said this, but didnít get a nibble at the bait. Oh well. "His lieutenant intends to keep working apparently. But the hearing has everyone jumpy. My guess is they will watch closely, and be ready to cut and run if things look too close. We just hope they donít leave us any surprises when they run."
"I do know he has had a drug lab operating down in the warehouse district, real state of the art stuff. They apparently had an explosion that shut that one down. Iíll keep an eye out, make a few visits. Check back with me in a couple of days."
"Thanks, Isaac. I owe you one."
"More than one! You just deliver that letter and I may forget a favor or three."
Isaac sat sprawled on the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him. The stereo was playing jazz softly in the background, soft enough that the tapping on the water pipe running up from the sub-basement could be heard. He rolled gracefully to his feet and opened the basement door. He hit the light switch to illuminate the basement and the steps up from the long-disused sub-basement.
He stood waiting, and was surprised and impressed anew at the powerful, but contained movements of the man walking toward him.
"I got your message," came the deep voice from the depths of the concealing hood.
"Hey, Vincent. Come on up. Donít worry, itíll be safe; the doorís bolted. I even bought some herbal tea, though you should have seen the look I got!" he chuckled, trying to put Vincent at ease.
Vincent hesitated a moment longer then started up the last set of stairs, pushing his hood back as he came. He had trusted Isaac with his secret, why not with his friendship?
Isaac sighed in relief as he ushered Vincent into the living area, then slipped into the kitchen to put on the kettle.
When he returned, Vincent had draped his cloak over the back of one of the chairs and was sitting looking around the loft and studio. Looking at the way he took in his surroundings with a minimum of movement Isaac couldnít help but think, "Heíd have made a great commando!" A slightly irreverent thought danced through his mind, "We could have even cut back on equipment, too." Isaac cleared his throat, and then sat, uncertain how to begin. Vincent sat so still, waiting, he looked like a statue. "I gave the letter to a friend of mine. Of course, he couldnít tell me yea or nay as to whether she was there or not Ö But- he did take the letter!" he emphasized, hoping Vincent would come to the same conclusion he had.
Vincentís head dropped, his eyes closed tight as he took a shaky breath. "Thank you!" he choked out. When he raised his head, hope flared in his eyes and he seemed more alive than any time Isaac had seen him.
"Now, I need your help," he told Vincent. "My friend needs information about Gabrielís organization. Thereís a man Iím not too sure about. Marcus Bishop. I donít know what kind of contacts you might have, but Ö" Isaacís voice faltered.
"Every small piece of information is a gain. I understand. Actually, I can tell you a little bit now that I have gleaned.'
Isaac listened intently to all Vincent had to tell him and jotted it all down. Then they continued to talk, through the water heating, drinking the tea and sitting companionably. Somehow they ended up in the studio portion, at the weights.
Vincent was well acquainted with physical labor, having worked all his life without the benefit of anything more than simple pulleys or levers to help. He actually enjoyed the exertion and was intrigued by the universal weights. Isaac suggested those instead of free weights the first time since learning to balance was a big part of weight training. "Man!" he exclaimed, "I bet you could go into international competition!" He was astounded at the ease at which Vincent bench-pressed 500lb. He could curl 75lb with each arm without even straining.
"Come over here," Isaac suggested as he walked toward a storage cabinet. He opened it and took out head protectors and gloves. "You might want to take off that vest; weíre liable to get pretty hot," he said as he tossed a helmet to Vincent, who caught it deftly.
"Are you sure you want to do this? I really would hate to hurt you, youíve been such a good friend." Vincent looked a little worried.
Isaac chuckled, " Why do you think I got out the gloves? Donít worry. Weíll take it slow."
Soon both men were stripped to jeans and a-shirts, wearing protective equipment and walking toward the woven mat on the sparing area. For the next hour they fought, Isaac quickly learning to avoid a direct blow from Vincent after the first one pretty much put him flat on his back with Vincent kneeling worriedly beside him.
"Iím okay. The old man just got a little careless, thatís all." He rolled to his feet. "Letís try that one again. Iíve got to redeem myself!" He didnít tell Vincent he moved faster than anyone he had ever seen, and that was when he was trying to go slow! What he wouldnít have given to have had him back in ĎNam! Of course, he chuckled to himself, Vincent wouldíve been Ė what- 10 years old?
Vincent was learning quickly, too. He was picking up on how to watch dispassionately as he fought, judging instead of his usual lashing out indiscriminately. This was a totally new experience for him.
Finally they both were sitting on the mat unstrapping headgear and stripping off gloves. "Whew! I havenít had that good a workout in a long time!" Isaac said happily as he flopped onto his back on the mat.
"Glad to have obliged!" Vincent replied from where he lay propped on his elbows, his head tilted back. His mind was whirling with possibilities. He had learned so much from Isaac in this last hour. A suspicion was forming in his mind. Was it possible to control his beast by learning the techniques Isaac taught? Was it just easier to let his beast out rather that really fight using his head? Could he learn to channel at least part of that energy? He had much to consider.
Later that night, Lee drove back to the safe house on the pretense of double-checking some notes. David took the opportunity to voice his concerns about Marcus, and asked Lee if there was any way they could check things out off the record. Lee assured him he would see what they could do. When David went off to check on the security center, Lee went in search of Catherine. She wasnít in the study or the kitchen. From what she had said the night before he knew the only way she would be in the TV room was if it were MET night, and not the team. So it was with great trepidation he climbed the stairs to the second floor and finally found himself at her door. She opened at his knock, somewhat surprised to see him, for it was after 9:00.
Motioning him into the room she walked to the bookcase and turned off a small cassette player. Lee vaguely recognized a classical piano piece before she clicked the STOP button. It wasnít that he didnít like classical music; he just couldnít keep all those names straight. They sat down in the two chairs and she waited on Lee to compose himself. She could tell he was nervous and wondered at what it could mean.
Finally he spoke, "I had lunch with a friend of mine today, a very old friend. Imagine my surprise when he mentioned you." At her mute question he said, "Isaac Stubbs," and watched her face for some sign. She was very good because nothing was revealed. "Isaac is one of my best friends, and one of my instructors at the academy." He had her then, she couldnít hide her surprise at that! "He came to me because a friend of his was looking for any trace of you. Under the circumstances I was hesitant to say yea or nay. But he did give me something to give to you," he smiled crookedly, "If youíre here, that is."
She smiled at his remark, but it almost shattered at the sight of the handwriting on the front of the envelope. Flowing script she had seen time and time again formed her name on the outside. She could even hear his voice saying her name. As she reached for the envelope, both could see her hands shaking.
After several tries she finally had the letter open. It wasnít long, only a page. But it was enough. As she drank in his words, she didnít notice when Lee discretely removed himself to study titles on the bookcase. Catherine read the letter, absorbing his words. In her mind, she could hear his gentle voice speaking the words.
There were tears in her eyes when she finished. Lee turned to see her clutching the letter to her breast, her head laid back, and the most peaceful smile on her face. He stepped into her bathroom to retrieve the box of tissues before he took his seat.
She looked at him as she heard the chair creak when he sat. She reached out and took his hand to reassure him she was fine, that heíd done the right thing. "Everythingís all right. Heís still waiting for me. Vincent wants us to be together always." She stopped there, overcome by emotion; her joy and relief spilled down her cheeks. She gratefully took the tissue Lee offered her and wiped her eyes.
"Isaac was right," Lee thought, "She did need hope." Her face was more alive now than heíd ever seen it. He realized now what a front she had been putting on for them. In a flash it came to him. Losing Amanda, or the boys, and not knowing if they were safe or notÖ what torment that would be! He looked at Catherine now and saw a different woman and he realized this ĎVincentí was a very lucky guy. He wondered if Amandaís love for him would ever by as strong and as deep as Catherineís obviously was for this mysterious man. He prayed it would.
Then he remembered when heíd been injured. The first voice heíd heard at the hospital had been Amandaís. The first face heíd seen when they removed the bandages had been Amandaís. Maybe she already did.
Catherine did not know her and Vincentís love had inspired yet another, for when Lee left her room it was with a much lighter heart. He was heading for the private office put at his disposal, and wondering if Amanda was still up. He really needed to talk to her!
Catherine prepared for bed in a fog of ecstatic thoughts. Their son was with Vincent! Somehow he had rescued him apparently just ahead of the police storming the mansion. And he wanted them to be a family. He wanted her with him always. No more, "Youíll find someone else," or "This can never be." And he had said he loved her. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought. He had said his one regret was that he had never told her how much he cared for her, how deeply he loved her. He had promised never to leave her to doubt that ever again.
Catherine slipped beneath the covers and settled back to read the letter yet again. Jacob. He had named their son Jacob. The Naming Ceremony in the tunnels was a special and moving ceremony involving the community in welcoming their newest members. She wished desperately she could have been there. Now Vincent was concerned she wouldnít like the name. Perhaps she could reassure him, and send him her love. Catherine turned off the lamp and began relaxing, trying to send soft, loving accepting thoughts to Vincent. She fell asleep, holding his letter, and dreamed of the tunnels.
Miles away Vincent lay sleeping in his bed. A soft smile touched his lips.
Isaac began making some phone calls the next morning. After his ear began to feel a little numb, he decided to hit the streets. If he timed it right, heíd be able to eat lunch right after the rush and still make his afternoon lesson, a secretary from the criminal courts building. She was not the first woman to come to him for lessons after Catherineís story made its way through the office gossip mill.
The next night, Isaac sat waiting for the phone to ring, always the tedious part of information gathering. He was well used to waiting on informants from his days in dark-ops. Being used to something was not the same thing as liking it, however.
The first call was from a "street person" known to most people as Bear, confirming the drug lab in the area had been taken over by Gabrielís organization. He found out from another source why the police had never been able to successfully raid it: inside information.
Finally, he got a visit to his back door that made his blood turn to ice water. He all but ran back into the loft, grabbed his coat and hit the door. Isaacís hands shook as he tried to find the key to open the car door. Once safely inside he headed for a pay phone he used in an isolated gas station. He pulled out a number on a napkin and dialed it. When the person on the other end picked up he said tersely, " Code Gamma, Ronny2," and hung up. Grimly he got back in the car and began a roundabout drive to a small diner run by a very old friend, at each turn he checked for anyone who just might be following him. He parked and headed in, taking a booth in a back corner to wait the arrival of his friend. He was sipping his second cup of coffee when Lee slid into the booth across from him.
"Isaac, whatís going on? I never thought Iíd get that call!" Lee whispered. Isaac might trust this place, but in the position they were in he wasnít sure he would trust his own mother. He had just gotten off the phone with Amanda when the phone rang. On hearing the brief message he almost dropped the receiver. Isaacís call meant they had a traitor in their midst, and he couldnít for the life of him figure out who it could be!
"Lee, we are in deep, deep trouble. You asked me to check out a few things for you, and I hit pay dirt. You are not going to like this one bit. Weíre dealing with an informant; actually, he appears to be more than just an informant. The indications are heís on the payroll." Isaac explained.
"Isaac, tell me, is he Company?" Leeís voice sound agonized.
"No, heís FBI. Do you remember anything about a man named Marcus Bishop?"
"I met him, oh, about 5 years ago. Why? Are you saying heís our man?" Lee asked, shocked. Then another thought hit him. He had seen the man only this week walking down the corridor ahead of him at the safe house where Catherine Chandler was staying. "Gabriel is the connection! Bishop is working for Gabrielís organization and heís on the team protecting Chandler! How could this have screwed up any worse? Weíve got to get up there fast!"
"Hold your horses! You canít just bust in there and accuse an FBI agent," Isaac cautioned him. "Youíll need facts and thatís where I come in. You need to come with me tonight to see someone Iíve known for a long time and weíll get your proof. In the mean time, how about that friend of yours, David something, isnít he on the case, too? Can you get a message to him?"
"David Nation, heís actually in charge of the operation. I can try to get him." Lee shook his head, trying to get the cobwebs out. He felt the news from Isaac had stunned him. How could they have someone as high up as Bishop on the take and undetected? He felt very old just now, old and tired.
The cab driver really didnít want to take them to the address Isaac gave him, but the extra bill he put in his hand persuaded him to drive there after all. Lee didnít say anything, letting Isaac handle all the details while he kept watch on their surroundings. Truth be told, he was just as enthusiastic as the driver about the neighborhood!
When they stopped at the address he really did feel uneasy. Isaac paid the driver while Lee looked around. The store they were standing in front of was boarded up, and papers littered the recessed opening. None of the windows he could see in the surrounding buildings had a light on, and the streetlights seemed dimmer somehow. As the cab pulled away, Isaac led him down the street past two more doors, and then turned down into an alley. They walked halfway to the next block before Isaac stopped and knocked at a door Lee had almost missed seeing. A panel opened and Isaac said something Lee couldnít catch. The panel closed and the door opened; Isaac led the way inside. They went down a hallway and into a shabby sitting room. The furniture was very old and worn, but clean. The man they were to see turned to look at them and Lee saw he wouldnít have been looked at twice in this city. He had a two-day growth of beard, old work clothes and a knitted cap completed his attire.
"Isaac, itís been a while. I think I have what you need." He said as he walked over to a bookshelf filled with old tools, canned food, and pots. He pulled the shelf out from the wall to expose a sophisticated computer on an old desk. He picked up a file folder, then checked the FAX machine and picked up two sheets of paper. He closed the door back and walked over to where they stood. "The last conformation came through just before you knocked. Iím sorry, really sorry. You were right." He handed Isaac the file and motioned for them to sit at the somewhat shaky table.
As Isaac read each sheet he passed them over to Lee. Lee felt as though his insides were dropping out as he read each report and checked the pictures. It just got worse and worse. Finally, Isaac was on the last sheet when Lee heard him suck in a breath sharply. "What?" he asked, looking over his arm to try and see what had struck him so. Isaac slid the paper over and put his head in his hands, trying to think through their next step.
"Okay. Hereís what we do. Weíre going to head upstate. Tonight. This canít wait any longer. Weíll take the file with us. Lee, youíll have to talk to Nation and let him know weíre coming, tell him to keep his eyes open." He stood up and turned to shake hands with the man standing behind them. "Thank you. I know it was hard, but thank you. Iíll be in touch. Can we go out the back?"
"Anytime, Isaac. Come on, Iíll lead you out."
The man then led them back into the hallway before opening another door and heading down that passageway. They went down a set of stairs to a basement area and proceeded across the large room that opened up before them. They went up another set of stairs and through another passageway before exiting in an alley Lee knew was not the one they were in before. Isaac and the man exchanged goodbyes before walking deeper into the alley. They finally emerged back on a street and started walking, being sure to keep to the shadows. After a couple of blocks the territory improved dramatically and they were able to catch a bus headed back toward the general direction of Isaacís place.
When they returned, finally, to the studio, Isaac set Lee to planning their route to the safe house and collecting a blanket and first-aid kit. "Iíve got to check on something. Iíll be right back up," he called as he went down the steps to the basement. He went on down the next set of steps to his rarely used sub-basement and to a pipe leading through the wall. He picked up an old wrench and began to strike out a message when he nearly jumped out of his skin at the quiet, "Iím here," just behind him. He whirled around, gripping his chest where his heart used to be. "Damn! How can anyone be so quiet?" Vincent smiled faintly then looked at him questioningly, "Somethingís happened, hasnít it?"
Isaac nodded his head. "We found her." Vincentís head came up sharply and a light lit his eyes. Isaac held up his hand, "Wait. Thereís more. Sheís in trouble. Scarecrow and I were just about to leave and head up there. Sheís about 200 miles away, so it will take us a whileÖ"
"Iím coming with you!" Vincent interrupted.
"No! Think what youíre saying! We need you here at this end."
Vincent stalked over to the wall and hit it with his fist. Isaac walked over and gripped Vincentís shoulders, something most people would never do in that position, and shook him gently. "Think! Youíve got to stay here in the city. We may be followed and we will need our bolt hole protected."
Vincent took a deep breath and finally nodded. "Where do you need me?"
"Thereís an area down near the river where there are some abandoned warehouses. Is there an entrance to the tunnels near there?"
Vincent nodded and gave Isaac the address of the closest entrance. "Isaac. Please. Bring her back to me!"
Isaac just smiled, "I promise you this: I will bring her back or die trying!"
Catherine woke in the dark of her room; she wasnít sure what had stirred her. Then, she heard a sound from her door as though someone was trying to quietly unlock her door and open it. All Isaacís training came to the fore as she grabbed the ink pen from the nightstand and slid out of bed. Just as her feet hit the floor, the door swung open. For some reason the lights in the hallway were much dimmer, as though the sconce across from her door was out. She hit the floor and slid under the bed, which thankfully was high enough for her to get under easily. She slid toward the middle and gripped the pen tightly. Her heart was hammering with adrenalin as she watched a man come into her room. He looked at the empty bed and cursed then stepped into the bathroom to check for her. Quick as a cat she scooted out and headed for the door. She almost made it. Hard hands grabbed her from behind and jerked her back into the manís chest.
"Where you goiní, Ms Chandler? I think you donít want my company. We could have a real good time, you know. A real good time, if you know what I mean."
Catherine cringed at his touch and hot breath in her ear. It came just a little too close to that night so long ago when she was thrown to the floor of a dark van. Desperation took over as it had in the gym that day with Isaac. In those moments when she lost control her fury was, had she known it, very close to the rage that filled Vincent. Maybe, in some small way, she did take something from him through their Bond. Her feigned half-faint put him off guard long enough for her to drive her heel into his instep and an elbow to his middle. Two more punches had him on his knees on the floor gasping for breath and trying without success to get his two hands all the places he hurt. Catherine scanned the room quickly, grabbed the lamp beside the bed and proceeded to smack Marcus on the head with it. He collapsed onto the carpet.
Catherine stood panting for breath, and trying to calm her racing heart. This was the last straw. She wasnít sure exactly what was going on, but she sure wasnít going to stay around and find out! She was leaving tonight, right this second. She scrambled over to the dresser and got out a set of dark blue sweats and a t-shirt. Black would have been better for what she planned, but at least they werenít white! She pulled them on over her pajamas, knowing as cold as it was she was going to need the extra layers. "A sweat band around my ears will help protect them, and a pair of socks for my hands since I donít have any gloves," she thought quickly. She put on two pairs of socks and then her running shoes. These were white, however. She thought a moment then retrieved her make-up from the bathroom and rubbed it on the shoes. Dirty white was better than stark white. All the time she kept an eye on Marcus, ready to whack him again it he looked like he was regaining consciousness. Now she had to figure out how she was going to get out of the house. The glass in the windows had been replaced with lexan and locked shut. She looked down at Marcus thoughtfully and then began to check his pockets. She took all the money in his pocket, his key ring and his ID badge with the magnetic strip on the back she had seen the agents use to open the doors. But what she found in his other pocket really frightened her. It was one of the kitchen knives and a suicide note written in her handwriting. So that was what he was up to! She was to have killed herself, with a little help obviously. She stopped long enough to grab her journal from the table. No doubt they had read it already, but there was no use in making things easy for them. Then without a backward glance she ran for the door. Had she looked she would have seen Marcusí eyes flutter open.
She hurried down the hall and to the stairs leading to the kitchen. When she got to the bottom, she heard the sounds of unsteady footsteps in the hallway above. She quickly scanned the room and her eyes lit on the pot of grease left over from the onion rings they had had with supper. She remembered Cara asking one of the men to pour it out for her in the morning when it was cool. Catherine grabbed it up and poured it out on the stairs. Then she stepped back out of sight. Marcus came hurrying down the stairs, murder quite literally in his eyes. Unfortunately for him, he was still not seeing to clearly in the dim light. The sight looked like something in an old slapstick movie. Marcus slipped and slid tried vainly to keep his balance and ended up rolling backwards down the stairs. His head hit the floor at the bottom with a sickening crack. Just to be sure, however, Catherine once again smacked him on the head using the boiler in her hand. She stepped over him and, praying fervently, swiped the card through the reader beside the door. The display changed to indicate the alarm was by-passed; she turned the key in the deadbolt and was out the door in a flash, running across the grassy lawn. She didnít stop to question her good fortune as she passed perimeter of the property. She didnít know about how Marcus had by-passed the sensors on the perimeter, the loop he had installed in the video system, or how he had arranged to be the one with the security center watch this night.
It was a good thing she had been working out so faithfully, for it became apparent the house was in a secluded area. She headed south, going through the woods for a few hundred yards before she hit a road. She took a chance and used it. Since it was night she would hear any cars in time to get off the road. She had to hit the woods beside the road several times in the next hour. Finally, she came to a crossroad and found a road sign. She now had a better idea of where she was, at least 200 miles from New York. She took the left hand way and continued to run five minutes and walk one to conserve her energy.
Catherine came upon a small country gas station and store, closed for the night. She walked around the building and almost sagged with relief to find the phone on the wall. She already had a plan forming in her mind. She would call Isaac. Some instinct in her told her that if there was anyone she could trust with her life, it was he. He would also keep her secret. She fumbled with her cold hands in her sock where she had stowed the money she had taken from Marcus and found a couple of quarters. With trembling hands she inserted the money and dialed the number. At first she was afraid he wasnít going to answer, then she heard the unmistakable sound of his voice.
"Isaac? Itís me Cathy. IÖ" She was interrupted by Isaacís disbelieving voice.
"Cathy!! What the hellís going on!" Isaacís voice had definitely lost its resonant tones.
"I donít have time to explain," she interrupted. " Iím in deep trouble and I need you to come and get me as soon as you can. Iím on route 599 headed back into the city. Iíve only gotten to Compton so Iím a long way off and Iím on foot." She took a deep breath to control her tears, but they came out in her voice. "Please, Isaac, I need help!"
"Donít you worry, Iím not all that far away. The call transferred to my cell phone, and Iím actually only about 20 minutes away from you now. Is there somewhere you can hide out until I can get to you?"
"Iím at a little store before you get to Compton on 599. Itís closed but thereís a storage building behind it and a steep embankment beyond that. I think Iíll be okay," she assured him.
"Good. You stay put. Iíll be there as soon as I can. Iím in that black van of mine." Isaac disconnected the call and turned to Lee who was staring at him open mouthed.
"You mean to say that was Catherine Chandler on your cell phone?" Lee asked him. "You guessed it. Cathy. I donít know whatís happened, but sheís in trouble. Hold on."
Isaac pushed the van up to the upper limits for the road, gripping the wheel and praying the whole way they would be in time.
Catherine hung up the phone. The night closed in around her, suddenly, like a predator. She had gotten used to fear in the past year, but this was somehow worse. She made her way to the back to the storage building and sat down against the side, thankfully it was out of the breeze that had started kicking up. She couldnít remember being so cold, not since the night Vincent pulled her out of the lake. In the past three years, she had been cut, beaten, shot and kidnapped. Vincent had been beaten, stabbed, and shot. When would they get a break? Was the whole of creation conspiring against them? All she wanted was to get back to Vincent and Jacob. She smiled. Jacob was such a nice name. All of a sudden she heard an engine. She stiffened at the sound, ready to take a tumble down the embankment if necessary to get away, but the car drove on by. It was several minutes before her heart rate returned to normal. By that time the cold was seeping into her bones. She rubbed her limbs briskly and flexed her muscles trying to keep the blood moving. She wished she had her old bomber jacket; she hadnít been given a jacket at the safe house because she was never allowed outside. She almost wished sheíd taken Marcusí windbreaker, except she felt the thing would have picked up some slime from its owner.
She had almost decided to stand and walk around when she heard another car. She froze in place again; her eyes widened as it pulled into the parking lot and stopped close to the building. About the time the driver dimmed the lights to "park" she realized it wasnít a car but a dark van. She didnít move until she saw Isaacís tall frame unfold from the driverís side. She did move then, stumbling forward as fast as her cold limbs would carry her.
Isaac stopped the van and got out, hoping this was the right store this time. He had just stepped around the door when he saw movement at the back of the storage building behind the store. Words couldnít describe the feeling of seeing Cathy stumble forward into his arms, weeping uncontrollably into his chest. He stroked her hair and whispered comfort to her like to a frightened child. He led her to the sliding door and helped her inside. She started when she saw Lee, turning quickly to cast Isaac a questioning glance. "Itís okay. Heís a friend Ė an old friend and a former student, too. Weíll explain on the way. In the mean time we need to get you warmed up. Thereís a blanket under the seat; you wrap up and lay down. If youíre hungry thereís a bag of burgers on the floor behind Leeís seat."
"Isaac, there are no words to thank you enough Ö," Catherine began.
"Donít, Cathy. What are friends for anyway?" He got in and pulled out headed back toward New York, still driving just slightly above the posted speed, his urgency plain to her. In the next hour he and Lee told their story, how they were looking for information on Gabriel, and how they found out about Marcus. She told them of her attack, and her escape. Isaac chuckled, then laughed outright as she described her encounter with Marcus. "Thatís my girl! Didnít I tell you she was one of my best students?"
Lee just shook his head then said over his shoulder, "Remind me never to get you mad at me."
"Where are you taking me?" Catherine asked as she leaned forward to snag a burger from the bag. She was warming up and her hunger was growing after all that time in the cold.
"Somewhere safe. And thereís someone waiting on us to take you there." Isaac told her.
"Oh, great. Another safe house? IsaacÖ"
"Just hear me out, Cat. I mean a really safe place. And Vincent will be waiting on us."
She couldnít believe her ears. "You know Vincent?" she asked in a very small voice. What in the world had been happening while she was gone?
"Oh, yes. I know him. Iíve even been in some of the tunnels. Seems I have a perfect access from the subbasement under the studio. I havenít been conferred the title of Helper yet, but I think this little delivery will just about do it."
"Is he Ė is he all right?" she asked hesitantly. It had been a year, and so much apparently had changed.
"Oh yes, very well. But I would imagine heís sitting on pins and needles waiting for us. See, when I told him we were coming up for you, he wanted to come, too, and the risks be damned. I wouldnít let him. I made it plain that since I had taught you everything you knew, I wasnít about to risk my skin over anything happening to him. Weíve already arranged a drop off point and heís going to be there to meet us. Lee was going to take some heat for taking you away from FBI custody, but maybe it wonít be so bad now that you actually took your self away."
"Mr Stetson, I want to thank you for everything youíve done. For the letter, and for helping me tonight." Catherine thought her words sounded terribly formal, but she was too tired to process everything just now.
"Please, call me Lee. I just want to keep you safe, and not because we need your testimony. You seem to be a very nice person, and though I question your taste in friends," he paused and pointedly looked at Isaac, "I really do want to get you back where you will be safe."
Isaac had been checking the mirror since they got the call from Catherine. Now he was becoming suspicious. "Heads up, Scarecrow. We may have company." He motioned to the vehicle behind them. "Catherine, get down." She didnít need to be told twice; she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and lay down in the floor of the van. Lee reached in his shoulder holster and pulled out his 9mm and jacked a round into the chamber. Catherine could only hope Vincent couldnít feel the pounding of her heart just now.
The car accelerated and pulled up behind the van, its bright lights illuminated the interior. "I think theyíre checking us out, Isaac." Lee remarked. About that time the car pulled up along side them. As Isaac saw the passenger window start to lower, he pushed the brakes. The bullet went in front of them. "Not very smart, is he? Should have had that window down before he came up. Obviously he didnít have you yelling at him to use his brain."
"Well, why do you think we gave you that particular name, hmm? I always had to remind you it was there!"
Catherine recognized their banter for what it was: the playfulness of close friends. Obviously they were trying to relieve her tensionÖ not that it was working just now.
Isaac pushed the van back up to speed, but just behind the right rear fender of the car. He then bumped it hard and gunned the van so that when the car spun around and into the ditch they were already past it.
"Well, well. Looks like the old man still has it!" Isaac chuckled. "I hope thatís the only one. I just canít figure how they found us after that route you plotted. You had me lost a time or two," he added, then he said over his shoulder, "You can get up now."
"Iím not sure I want to," but she did, looking over her shoulder at the now empty road behind them. "How much farther?"
"Not very far; weíll pick up the interstate in about a mile. Hopefully they wonít try anything once we get into traffic."
Catherine sat back and tried vainly to get the muscles in her back and neck to relax. The rest of the trip into the city was a blur; it had been so long what had been everyday sights now seemed like a visit to a seldom seen location. Finally, they were in the heart of New York, headed toward an area of warehouses, dark and deserted looking in the late night hours.
The van screeched to a halt in the darkened alley between two abandoned-looking warehouses. Lee and Isaac bailed out, Lee headed toward the sliding door and Isaac grabbed a crowbar from under the seat and began lifting the cover off a manhole there. As soon as the door was open Catherine jumped out and ran to stand beside Isaac. When the hole was clear Lee pulled a glow-stick from his pocket, activated it and dropped it down the hole to signal to Vincent. The eerie green glow illuminated the ladder and a small part of the passageway.
Catherine caught Isaac in a fierce hug. "Thanks!" she whispered.
"Anytime. But youíd better hurry. Someoneís waiting."
Catherine didnít hesitate in heading down the ladder. On the contrary, she couldnít seem to get down the rungs quick enough.
Lee was looking down the hole as he and Isaac began sliding the cover back in place. When Catherine was four rungs from the bottom a huge cloaked figure stepped up and grabbed her from behind. Before Lee could cry out Catherine squirmed around like an eel and grabbed the person around the neck, laughing and crying at the same time. He could hear her happy voice saying, "Vincent!" and a deep gravelly voice replying, "Oh, Catherine!" Then they were locked in a kiss so passionate Lee almost blushed.
Isaac called down playfully, "Hey, buddy, youíd better come up for air and get the lady outta here!"
That deep voice came back tinged with mirth, "See you Isaac." Then the two shadowy figures moved off hand and hand to blend with the greater shadow beyond the light as the cover slipped into place. Lee and Isaac grinned at each other, stood and walked back to the front of the van. Lee got in and shut the door as Isaac stowed the crowbar under the driverís seat and got in. As his hand was reaching for the ignition, a shot rang out and the van leaned noticeably to the right. In the stillness of the aftershock they heard, over their scrambling, a voice yell, "Out! Now!" They had no choice but to comply, especially when the windshield disintegrated.
Below, Vincent and Catherine had not moved more than a few yards from the ladder when Vincent stopped. Catherine looked up into his face, green cast in the light of the glow-stick in his hand. As one they moved into each otherís arms. Catherine pressed her cheek to his chest, listening to the slow, steady beat of his heart, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist. It had been so long! Vincentís head dropped forward to nuzzle her hair, and then his lips found hers again. As they broke apart he whispered in her ear, "I thought Iíd lost you forever!" His arms tightened around her holding her close to him, never wanting to let her go again.
Suddenly the sound of gunfire echoed faintly. Vincentís head snapped up, listening. "What Ö," she began, but Vincent placed a finger to his lips. Motioning for her to stay put he handed her the light-stick and said softly, "If I donít come backÖ" She caught him by the front of his vest and pulled him to scant inches from her face. "Come back to me, Vincent!" she whispered harshly. Recognition flickered in his eyes at her words. He nodded, kissed her quickly, and then walked quietly back to the ladder and carefully began to climb. Once at the top he paused, listening, his extraordinary hearing picking up what no one else could.
Standing by the van, hands up in the air, Lee and Isaac got their first good look at their "guest". Black pants tucked into mid-calf, soft soled leather boots, and a black leather jacket Isaacís practiced eye put at $800. That and the .44 auto mag with the laser sight said he was no ordinary street punk.
"Letís see whatís in the van. You," he said pointing to Isaac, "open it up!" One look at the manís cold, icy stare told them there was no use trying to reason with him. Isaac complied, opening up both doors and stepping back beside Lee.
The man whipped out a small black flashlight from a pouch at his waist and pointed the beam into the back of the obviously empty van. He turned the light on Lee and Isaac. It was blindingly bright after the dim alley and their raised hands sought to block the beam.
"Where is she?" the man demanded.
"Hey, man, what you talkiní Ďbout?" Isaac responded loudly, slipping into street slang.
A bullet hit the pavement uncomfortably close to his foot. Both men took a couple of involuntary steps backward. Lee noticed the man had moved forward in his eagerness, putting the manhole to his back. Lee hoped Isaacís friend was still around for backup.
"Where is she!" the demand was repeated. Again, a shot rang out, taking a chunk of pavement from the ground beside Leeís foot.
Lee tried to buy for time and a miracle, "Look we donít know who youíre talkiní about."
Isaac was trying very hard not to look at the manhole and give Catherine away, so it was with the corner of his eye he saw the cover lifting slowly. "Vincent! It has to be!" he thought. "No one could lift that lid so easily." Isaac had been amazed at the strength of the man one night in the studio when Vincent had come by for a status report, and ended up sparing with him. If he lost his cool now and growled the man would simply turn and fire and that would be it. He and Lee had to keep the man occupied until Vincent could make his move.
By this time Lee had noticed the cover lifting, and a huge, cloaked figure climbing out of the hole. It registered for an instant that this Vincent guy must be terribly strong to lift that 80lb chunk of steel like it was paper. Trying to buy a little time, and hoping for that miracle Lee loudly replied, "Look, we donít know who youíre talkiní about!" Lee didnít expect him to believe him but he had to try something. That guy wasnít going to play around long.
"Look, man, if your olí lady ran off, Iím sorry, but I ainít seen no chicks Ďround here tonight. Our van broke down, we was fixing the engine when you showed up. Now I got to change the tire, too!"
"Iím not looking for my "old lady"," the man said sarcastically. "I want to know there youíve hidden Catherine Chandler and I want to know now!" he started to raise the gun, aiming this time to maim, not scare. Vincent, who was up to his thighs above the rim, lay the lid down quietly and drew back.
Isaac watched Vincent drawing back and gauged the timing. As he began his swing Isaac grabbed Leeís arm and yelled, "Down!" There was a scream of agony and a shot rang harmlessly off the building behind them. The man fell to the ground howling in pain, neatly hamstrung on both legs. Isaac hopped up and put him out of his misery with a right cross.
Lee got slowly to his feet, checking for holes and broken bones, not quite believing there were neither. He stood watching as Isaac walked over to Vincent. What he saw made him reach for the door of the van for support.
As Isaac reached Vincentís side he stretched out his hand. The hand that clasped his was covered in fur, long nails like claws glinted in the light from the nearby security light. The planes of the face inside the hood were revealed by the same light, and the broad, flat nose and cleft lip were evident.
"Thanks, pal!" Isaac told him warmly, "I owe you one."
"You owe me nothing, for I am already deeply indebted to you, to both of you," he said, nodding to Lee. "You have brought Catherine home to me and our son. I can never thank you enough for that."
"There is something you can do Ė actually two things." Isaac informed him.
Vincentís brow raised in query, "Oh?"
"Yeah," Isaac looked stern, " Take that lady home!" Vincent nodded solemnly, "I will. But Ė you said two things?"
Isaac smiled broadly, "Yeah. Donít be a stranger. Youíre welcome anytime; in fact I would like a rematch sometime. Iíll be in touch."
Isaacís smile was mirrored by Vincentís, so broad in fact that the tips of his fangs gleamed in the light, much to the surprise of Lee. "Iíll be seeing you, Isaac." Vincent turned and started down the ladder into the dark. Isaac looked down the hole and said, "Bye, Cat. Take care of my man here." Faintly Catherine could be heard laughing and promising to give it her best shot.
As Vincent disappeared into the darkness Isaac slid the cover back into place. He walked back to the vanís open back door to retrieve the jack. As he walked past Lee, who was still holding on to the door, he whacked him on the shoulder. "Better close that flytrap, Scarecrow."
"OhÖyeahÖright. Isaac, can we talk?"
Vincent reached the bottom of the ladder and turned in time to catch Catherine up in his arms as she flung herself at him. He swung her around, delighting in the sound of her laugh at his antics. He felt light as air, as all the worry and grief of the last year fell from his shoulders. He sat her down and looked into her face, luxuriating in the sight and feel of her before stooping to kiss her soundly.
Catherine slid her hand behind his neck to pull him closer and deeper. She felt as though warmth was filling her from the inside out. It was almost like being out in the cold all day skiing and then drinking a mug of hot chocolate, the warmth started at the core of her being and radiated outward. She never wanted the kiss to end.
For Vincent, the kiss was more than a kiss; it was a rebirth of sorts. Never, never would he shy away from telling this beautiful woman exactly how he felt. Holding her in his arms as their passion built he could feel her relief, and her love. His spirit soared as the realization hit him! He could "feel" her! With each passing second the Bond was reforming, deepening until it filled all the lonely, empty, silent corners of his soul with the unique presence that was Catherine.
He finally pulled away, his breathing a little ragged. Then, taking her hand in his he raised it to his lips and kissed the palm, never taking his eyes away from hers. He didnít need the Bond to tell him how she felt. "Take me home, Vincent," she whispered. He didnít pretend not to understand what she meant, as had been his habit of old. He wrapped his arm around her and began leading her on the long journey back home.
They walked for two blocks before taking a left hand turn. Going a few yards they stopped at what appeared to be a blank wall. Catherine didnít even blink an eye when Vincent reached high over his head, pressed the edge of a brick and pushed open the doorway that was revealed. Vincent led her through then pushed the door closed.
As the door closed behind them each let out a sigh of relief. In the pale light of the glow stick Catherine smiled up at him. She couldnít see him perfectly, but clear enough to see him smile down at her. She reached up to cup his face in her hands caressing his cheeks with her thumbs. "I canít believe Iím finally here with you."
"Believe it," he whispered huskily as he bent to kiss her yet again. When they pulled apart, somewhat breathless, he whispered, "We canít stay here; itís too close to the entrance and we have a long way to go."
"I know. Iím ready."
They walked close to another block when she started to see a pale light ahead. Here there were dim lights spaced about 50í apart. The two went along passageways, some concrete, some hewn from the rock, and down ladders until Catherine lost track of how far they had come. The shortcuts Vincent would have used had he been alone, in fact had used on his way to the rendezvous, were all too strenuous for Catherine in the best of times. All she really knew about the trip was that Vincent was there with her. Sometimes he held her hand; sometimes he put his arm protectively around her waist.
Suddenly they came to an abrupt drop off in the passageway they were following. Indicating the metal rungs fastened to the concrete wall and leading down into the darkness he said, "This is the last one."
She sighed tiredly, and he was there to encourage her. Telling her he would go first to guide her down, he took the glow stick from his belt and dropped it over the edge to give slight illumination to the shaft. He started down the ladder then indicated she should follow him. As she started down Vincent stayed where he was until her waist was about even with his head, then they started down together. She was very thankful for when she put her hands on the rungs she felt how cold and damp they were. Alone she would have been afraid to attempt it, but the security of Vincentís body behind her in case she slipped gave her the confidence she needed, especially in her fatigued state.
Vincent could feel her fatigue eating away at her reserves of energy. Already it must have been close to 3am. He had been struck by how thin she felt even through her layers of clothes, and her lack of energy bothered him. What had been done to her in those months? Could he even endure the knowledge, knowing it was partly because of him? She must be running on pure nervous energy at this point. When his feet touched bottom he reached up and taking her by the waist guided her the rest of the way down. She turned in his arms then and wrapped her arms fiercely around his waist. She couldnít seem to get enough of the feel of him solid under her hands and not the shade from her dreams. She pushed back slightly so she could tilt her head to look up at him. At his questioning glance she reached up to grip the collar of his heavy tunic with both hands, then pulled him down to kiss him soundly. His eyes widened in surprise, but only for an instant before he, too, was lost in the moment.
With each touch, Vincent felt their bond growing stronger and stronger. By now it was fairly strumming with intensity. When they finally pulled back, Vincent swept her up in his arms; her weight bothered him not at all. "Weíre almost home," he whispered softly to her. About a hundred yards farther on a pipe dropped down through the ceiling and continued on in the direction they were traveling. Vincent stopped, put her on her feet, and removed an object from his belt pouch. It was a gracefully curved piece of polished wood with a metal cap on one end, about 5 inches overall. Catherine watched and listened intently, trying to decipher his message.
"Father," she recognized that one, "Catherine and I Ö are..." Her voice caught on the last word so all she could do was whisper, "home." Vincent put the instrument away and lifted her in his arms once again. She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned her cheek against his shoulder. Soon more lights began to appear and Catherine was able to recognize landmarks leading to the home tunnels. Finally they arrived at the entrance to Fatherís chambers and Vincent set her carefully on her feet.
Father was sitting at his table, a heavy robe on over his nightshirt. A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned to see Vincent and Catherine standing at the top of the iron steps leading down into his chamber. He pushed back his chair and, leaning on his stick, rose almost in slow motion. "Catherine?!" he asked, almost afraid to believe his eyes.
"Father!" she called and her voice faltered at the love she saw in his face. It had been a long time coming. She trotted down the steps and across the room, arms held open. He met her part way across the room, dropping his stick to catch her in a fierce hug. "Catherine! Thank the Lord youíre safe. We thought weíd lost you!"
"I know," she whispered brokenly into his shoulder. "They wouldnít let me tell a soul. I only wanted to come home!"
Mary, alerted by Vincentís message, came to the chamber entrance a few seconds behind them and took in the sight of Catherine and Father. Tears came into her eyes as she looked at the two of them. Finally, Father accepted the fact Catherine really belonged here. Vincent spoke in her ear a moment before leaving. She walked quickly across the room and laid a hand on Catherineís shoulder. At the touch Catherine turned to see Mary smiling broadly through her tears, holding out her arms to her. Catherine went to her, grateful for the older womanís warmth and support.
There were tears, hugs and happy chatter until Mary and Father caught sight of someone at the chamber entrance. A silence enveloped them and Catherine turned to see what had caused their reaction. She found herself rooted to the spot, her chest refusing to accept air.
Her beloved Vincent stood at the top of the steps, his eyes dark with emotion. Catherine could "feel" him; feel his love flowing across the room as though it were a tangible thing, all golden, warm and sweet. Her eyes moved downward to the blanketed bundle in his arms. "Vincent?" A world of questions was contained in that one word.
His movement down the steps released her, sending her feet flying across the chamber. She almost beat him to the bottom step.
Their eyes locked. Neither said a word; no words were needed for them. Then she was looking down at the child Vincent was gently placing in her arms for the first time. It had been six long months since sheíd seen him, but she still recognized him. His hair was longer and the same color as hers, and his eyes were starting to look the color of Vincentís. Then his face blurred under her tears as Vincent slipped his arms around her and said softly in her ear, "He is beautiful, Catherine."
She looked up into Vincentís blue eyes and traced his jaw with her fingertip. She wanted to tell him how much she loved him, how happy she was to finally be here with him and their son, how sorry she was for the pain of the past year. But as she looked into his eyes she realized he already knew, her emotions being passed unerringly to his heart. All she could do was lean her face against his chest as tears slid slowly down her cheeks. She was home.