SANCTUARY WITHDRAWN

by Karen Morgia


In the damp, silent darkness of the deserted alley the only sounds were the mewing and scratching of a stray tomcat searching for food along the line of garbage cans and piles of refuse discarded against the building walls. A lone figure stood uneasily in a darkened doorway, shifting nervously from foot to foot, as he awaited his first step toward a destiny which would, in years to come, bring him to emotional ruin. He passed an automatic revolver from hand to hand as his eyes roved the shadows for his quarry.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

CRACK! The harsh cutting sound of a gunshot reverberated off and up the high brick and mortar walls of the deserted alleyway. A lone curtain fluttered in a third story window, as the frightened hand holding it was hurriedly withdrawn. The sound of running footsteps went unseen, but not unnoticed by the solitary, dark figure just rounding the corner of a connecting alley. Withdrawing into the shadows himself, the darkly clad youth waited breathlessly for any sound that might indicate he had been seen.

Stepping cautiously through the concealing shadows of a loading dock, the youth didn't see the obstruction which tripped him, bringing him to his knees. As he fell to the pavement, an acrid, coppery scent assailed his nostrils and his senses reeled with the instinctive realization that there was blood nearby. Even with his exceptional night vision it was difficult to see clearly in the cloaking darkness of the shadows, but as he felt around, his hand contacted what felt like a leg'a human leg'still warm, but already beginning to cool in death. His hands followed their own unconscious path up the body until he was able to ascertain whether the person was male or female'alive or dead. The body was male, well-dressed, partially bald'a business man, perhaps'mugged and killed on a trip to the City.

Breaths coming in quick gasps, the youth knew he must leave'now'but frightening, unknown sensations held him captive. He could feel his heartbeat racing, palms clammy, hands clenching and unclenching unconsciously. It took great strength of will to at last control the primal urges the cloyingly, metallic scent of fresh blood created within him.

The thoughts, the visions which threatened to engulf the youth were terrifying. Never had he felt such emotions, such primitive hunger. Lips pulled back exposing elongated canine teeth as the beginnings of a snarl escaped and hunted its way through the darkness of the alley. Muscles tense to the point of being painful, heart beating loudly in his ears, the youth slowly regained a semblance of mastery over the bloodlust which threatened to submerge him in a world of darkness, pain and death.

"No!"

The single word flung through clenched teeth into the menacing blackness, signaled his tenuous return to sanity. Home'quickly'he must return home. His father would know what to do. Terrified by the emotional turmoil within him, the youth turned and sped down the alley.

*

Racing footsteps could be heard echoing down the tunnel. The elderly gentleman standing on the upper landing was oblivious to the sound as he searched through piles of dusty volumes lining the chamber wall.

"Father!" called a breathless, desperate young voice, only recently settled into its lower adult range.

"Yes, Vincent, what can I do for you?" The voice from above was soon followed by the sight of a dark-haired, bearded face with piercing grey eyes peeking down from over a pile of books stacked precariously along the wrought iron railing of the upper landing. A metal, spiral staircase coiled up and around itself as it led upward toward the upper library balcony. For this room did, indeed, resemble a library with its myriad stacks of books. What bookcases were in evidence stood silent guardian over their less fortunate children, for not only were their shelves packed tightly, but stacks upon stacks of dusty volumes lined almost every available space along the granite walls of the underground chamber. This room, with its many silent inhabitants, was the hub of this miraculous underground community and the living quarters of its founder and leader, known to the people who lived there only as 'Father'.

The youth, anxiously pacing back and forth, nervously wrung his hands, and tried desperately to put into words the emotional turmoil he was experiencing. He knew Father would be infuriated that he had once more exposed himself to the madness and danger of the world Above, but little of that mattered when it was the only way he could really feel free of the confines his unusual appearance had forced upon him.

"Vincent." Father's voice was concerned over the boy's obvious emotional state. "What's wrong, my boy?"

Vincent abruptly stopped his pacing and turned toward his father, who was carefully descending the spiral staircase. The inactivity of standing in one place, combined with the emotions still coursing through his adrenaline-saturated body, caused his muscles to tense and Vincent began to visibly shake. Not understanding what was happening within himself, he began to pace once more.

"Vincent, you are obviously agitated about something. Please, sit down before I get a crook in my neck trying to follow you around this room." The nervous pacing continued. "Sit down!" Father instructed forcefully.

Without conscious thought of obeying, Vincent dropped heavily into the faded, worn, red velvet chair which was considered by everyone Below to be his, primarily because of its massive size. The chair, a theatrical prop, had once graced the stages of many prestigious theaters, but like many other items in the chamber, had been discarded by its previous owners when thought to be no longer useful. It had been acquired by the denizens of the hidden community on one of their many scavenging forays Above. Many items, such as clothing and furnishings of every shape and size, discarded by those Above, found new life when recycled and cared for by those who lived Below.

Father drew up a chair and, sitting down in front of Vincent, placed a comforting hand lightly upon his son's tense arm. "Now'tell me what has happened to put you in such a state," he said in a quiet voice.

Vincent closed his eyes, trying to calm himself, but once again, through his mind's eye, saw the body of the murdered man and smelled the burning scent of fresh blood. His eyes snapped open and Father was distressed by the sight of his son's fully dilated pupils.

"Vincent!"

Shaking his head forcefully in denial of the images burning in his brain, Vincent took, a deep cleansing breath; expelling it slowly, he once more took command of his own thoughts and began relating to his visibly worried parent what had so recently transpired.

"Father, I went to Sam's, as you asked me, to check on him. I had just left his rooms and was passing through the connecting alleys on my way home'" The accusing expression on Father's face halted Vincent recitation. "I know, Father, I should have taken the entrance below Sam's building, but it was such a beautiful night, I decided to take a longer route. You know I can only go out when it is full night."

"I know, Vincent, but to take such risks'," Father complained, shaking his head. The pleading look in his son's gaze silenced his further admonishments. "Go on, Vincent. What happened?"

"As I was moving through the alley, I heard a sound'a sound I've never heard before and then I heard someone running. As I turned the corner into the connecting alleyway, I tripped over something." Vincent shuddered again with the remembered sensation of finding the body. "It was a man; he'd been murdered'just murdered, because the body was still warm and bleeding. Father, the blood'the smell'it raised such thoughts, such emotions'even now I find it hard to maintain control of myself. I don't understand this. What is happening to me?"

Father looked ill at ease. "Oh, my God!" he whispered in alarm. He removed his hand from Vincent's arm, abruptly stood and turned away in despair.

"Father!" Vincent pleaded.

Realizing how his behavior must be alarming his son, Father turned back and resumed his seat. Frightened blue eyes met his in silence. "I'm sorry, my boy," Father clasped Vincent's had within his own. "I had hoped never to have such a conversation with you concerning these types of feelings." He bowed his head and then sadly raised it to meet Vincent's distressed gaze. "Vincent, there is a very important point you must remember about those living Above. While the majority, I must believe, consider life a precious thing to be protected and cherished; there are those who have no respect or concern for their fellow man. Such people will do anything to further their own needs in whatever manner they wish'even to the point of murder.

"I believe these feelings you are experiencing are nothing more than another facet of your own uniqueness. They are natural for you, but you must not allow them to rule you. You must try to keep a tight rein on these emotions and maintain control at all costs."

"But, Father, should these feelings overwhelm me, I am afraid I may harm someone I love. Is this the reason why I am condemned to live a life devoid of the light and freedom of the world Above?" demanded Vincent. "Am I being imprisoned here Below to protect those Above?"

"No!" cried Father vehemently. "Vincent, listen to me very carefully," charged Father, inching forward on his chair and placing both hands on either side of Vincent's face, forcing their eyes to meet. "Know this, my son, and believe it in your heart'we are not protecting those Above from you'we are protecting you from them."

*****

Reaching the end of the alley, the running figure slowed his headlong race and halted just before stepping out onto the City's sleeping street. Breathing heavily, he patted the comforting weight lying against his hip. He smiled'it had been so easy. The feeling had been so exhilarating'such a sweet high'it would take time for the euphoria of power to lessen. A small chuckle escaped into the night air as he threw his head back and savored the taste of it. Now, he was on his way. Now, no one could stand in his way. The boss had said to lose the gun, but the young man standing silently in the shadows had decided to keep it. It was clean; the serial numbers had been very carefully filed off. He'd done it himself, because he wanted to keep the gun as a memento, tangible evidence of what he had done and a way to savor the feeling of power it represented.

This had been his first kill, but he knew there would probably be more. There were many men standing between him and his goal. Dropping his head, he stared behind, back into the darkness of the alley. It reminded him of those hateful years he had spent imprisoned in that damned hole in the ground'eight interminable years. God, how he had hated it down there with those sanctimonious people with their rules, their secrets. Well, he had a secret of his own now. Maybe that hellish hole would come in handy, though. Some day, he might need a bolt-hole to hide in till the heat wore off; a place to hide from the cops. No one would ever find him down there. Smiling, Mitch Denton turned away from those memories and stepped from the alley out onto the sidewalk of the City. Even this late at night, there were many denizens of the dark wandering its dingy streets, driving along its concrete rivers. The City Above never truly slept. It merely exchanged one manner of inhabitant for another.

***

Below, every inhabitant but two slept, oblivious to the drama unfolding in their midst. Vincent lay sleepless on his bed, staring at the ceiling of his chamber. A single candle flickered weakly and then died as the wick drowned in melting wax, plunging the chamber into near darkness. The constant golden glow cast by the stained glass window behind his bed kept him from being buried by the darkness that threatened his mind. He could not get past the sensations he had experienced this night. They tormented him unmercifully. He tried closing his eyes for sleep, but the visions began again. Moaning softly, he began to toss and turn. Soon his moans changed in pitch and tone to soft growls as he battled his silent demons.

The other sleepless inhabitant sat wakeful at his desk, conscious of every sound wafting down the corridor connecting his chamber and his son's. The sounds of growls, intermingled with snarls, brought him to his feet as he leapt from the chair to comfort his tormented son.

*****

It had been two months since the body of Jimmy "Poochy" Peltano had been found murdered in an alley on the East side. There had been no clues, no evidence, no suspects. The police believed it to be a professional hit, it had all the earmarks. There was even a rumor circulating on the streets about a couple of rival organizations trying to muscle their way into the unions down on the docks. "Poochy" Peltano had been a strong arm man for one of those mob families; a 'small fish' as far as the police were concerned, but his murder might be a harbinger of a more dangerous and volatile situation. The situation down in the harbor district was definitely beginning to heat up, but it might only be a minor difference of opinion between rival families. Some of the officers on the investigation, however, thought it might just be better to let them fight it out'it might help clear the streets of trash.

*****

The years passed quickly for Mitch on his almost meteoric rise within the crime family. Following his first 'job', he slowly and steadily moved up in the organization'often over the bodies of men he had killed. He soon developed a reputation as being dangerous; it was a reputation he fostered. He was often referred to by the workers in the district as 'The Enforcer', a nickname he was very proud of. He'd gotten so good at his job that the boss had given him a territory of his own'the docks. He said who worked and who didn't'who died and who didn't. Mitch Denton, for all intents and purposes, controlled the harbor district and there had been more than one 'accident; since he had moved in, but he was very careful not to leave anything incriminating for the cops to find. So far, there was nothing the authorities had been able to prove against him.

For years he worked his inexorably, bloody way up the ladder of the mob, and now, there was only one major obstacle standing in his path. A union representation named Philip Stanhope had begun to raise a big stink about organized crime moving into the unions. He was going to have to be taken care of'soon.

There was, however, a more pressing, but minor development to see to. A longshoreman named Axel Nordstrom had been refusing to pay his daily 'dues' at the hiring hall and was threatening to go to the cops. He had to be taught a lesson and it must be one that the other men would understand.

Mitch was relaxing in his condo, enjoying a snifter of expensive brandy, when he decided what he would do to remedy the current situation with Nordstrom. Setting down the cut crystal snifter he had been caressing, Mitch picked up the receiver of the phone and placed a call.

"Ned? Yeah, it's me. Did you get in touch with a couple of the boys? . . . Good! . . . I know that. Listen, I want you to come by and pick me up, I'm going with you. . . . What? . . . Yeah, right'we'll have a little fun. Be here in half an hour." Replacing the receiver, the smile on Mitch's face boded ill for someone.

Forty-five minutes later, four men silently wound their way through the streets of Queens. The hour's drive had done nothing to improve their humor, although their boss seemed to be anticipating what lay ahead. Mitch sat in the front passenger seat of the late model car, planning each step of the lesson he would teach Mr. Axel Nordstrom'it would be a lesson not soon forgotten.

They parked in front of a well-kept two-story brownstone house on a quiet residential street, killed the car's lights and engine, and waited instructions.

"Ned'you know this guy, what can we expect to find in there?" Mitch asked.

"Well, there ain't no kids. He told a couple of the boys that they were all away at school. Shouldn't be nobody but him and his old lady."

"Okay. Now listen up, you guys," directed Mitch, turning to face the two men in the back seat. "I only want to teach this bozo a lesson. I don't want him killed'yet'and I don't want nothin' happenin' to the old lady. Got it?"

"Yeah, sure boss. We got it."

Turning back into his seat, Mitch took a moment to look out the car window at the surrounding neighborhood. "This place is too quiet for what I've got in mind, though. We're gonna have to take him someplace else for our'party," he mumbled.

Just then, one of the men in the back seat tapped Mitch on the arm and pointed toward the darkened driveway of the house. "Boss'."

"Yeah'what?" Mitch demanded impatiently, as he turned toward the man who interrupted him.

"Look!" the henchman said as he pointed again toward the house.

Mitch looked in the indicated direction and smiled. "This is too easy," he observed.

Leaving the house by the side door, their quarry was taking out the garbage. He walked to his garage unaware of the danger sitting in a car across the street.

"Go get him!" Mitch ordered, quietly.

Silently the three thugs exited the car and met Mr. Nordstrom as he was returning to the house. Hitting him over the head before he could cry out, together they lifted him and carried his inert body across the street to the waiting car. After depositing him unceremoniously in the trunk, they drove away. Careful not to draw any undue attention to themselves.

The drive back to the City passed without incident as Mitch examined the present situation. His whole organization might come down around his hears if he allowed that stooly, Nordstrom, to sing to the cops or to the union rep, Stanhope. With the money he was taking in from the dock workers, as well as the protection racket and the numbers, he was pulling in close to five G's a day. That was too sweet a pot to lose over one or two inconveniences, one of which would be taken care of tonight.

The car pulled up to a darkened warehouse down in the harbor district where the majority of the buildings were owned by companies which, in-turn, were owned by other companies, which were ultimately owned by the mob'a very convoluted, but neat business arrangement.

They felt relatively safe taking Nordstrom to that area because of the lateness of the hour'chances of a witness being around were slim, and they didn't want any witnesses. There was no worry about a watchman, either; he was on Mitch's payroll. He did, however, want Nordstrom's battered body found by the workers the next morning as an object lesson.

What Mitch was not aware of, was that there was a witness standing just outside the building in the shadows.

Vincent often went Above when the urge to have the open sky over his head was too compelling to resist. Many times he had walked the docks with their ocean-going visitors and stood enraptured as he dreamed of exotic people and places'places which he would never see. But, Vincent was not the type of individual to bemoan his fate; rather, he embraced it with all the love and compassion that was so inherent to his being. For Vincent, everything was an adventure to be enjoyed and savored; a memory to be cherished; a dream to contemplate. On nights such as this, Vincent had dreams aplenty, but that was all they were or ever would be'just dreams.

The sound of a car engine broke into his thoughts and Vincent, ever vigilant against being caught Above, moved further into the shadows created by the crates and boxes stacked along the warehouse loading area. Pulling the hood of his cloak further down around his face, Vincent stood quietly as he watched three men pull a body from the trunk of the car and carry it toward the darkened building. As the apparently unconscious man began to struggle and retain his senses, a fourth man slowly stepped from the car and followed into the dark warehouse.

The emotional surge his senses detected, caused Vincent to momentarily panic; the raw taste of fear flooded his body with adrenaline and threatened the walls placed around a portion of his soul better left in chains.

Faint voices could be heard wafting their way to him on the night breeze, but he was not close enough to decipher them.

Suddenly, the air was thick with, not only fear, but pain as well, as the capture man endured a painful beating at the hands of his abductors. As quickly as it began, the pain Vincent sensed ceased abruptly, followed by a shouted epithet from an irate voice.

You f___in' moron! I wanted him alive, you idiot!"

Vincent peeked through a grimy window just as the leader backhanded one of his men, knocking him to the ground.

"Gee, boss. I'm sorry. He musta had a bum ticker or sumptin. I never hit him dat hard!"

The leader turned away in disgust. "Ned!"

"Yeah, boss."

"Get this dumb shit outta here. I don't wanna see him ever again."

"Right." Ned looked at his man, Mike, who was just picking himself up off the floor. With a sideways jerk of his head, Ned indicated that he better make himself scarce, pronto. Mike nodded silently, fear burning brightly in his eyes and scrammed toward the back of the warehouse and the rear door. It wouldn't be healthy to hang around.

Suddenly, the quiet of the warehouse was broken by a strident demanding voice. "What the hell's going on here?" it demanded. From between a stack of boxes stepped an irate Philip Stanhope. "What's happened here?" He stopped abruptly as he noticed the body lying on the ground and recognized the man's identity. "Axel?"

Stanhope had heard rumors from some of the men concerning illegal shipments and had taken it upon himself to prove that some of the cargo being stored in the warehouse was, in fact, contraband weapons destined to be shipped overseas to a hostile government. He had been busy opening random crates when cries of pain interrupted his work.

As he stood there in shock, gazing down at Axel Nordstrom's dead body, Stanhope soon found himself surrounded by the criminals. He raised his eyes to ascertain the identity of the trespassers and instantly realized his precarious situation.

Philip Stanhope was by no means a timid individual. You didn't rise to his level in the Longshoremen's Union by being afraid of confrontation. He'd stood nose-to-nose with his share of dangerous men before, but he had always had a feeling for the temperament of his adversary. Mitch Denton was a wild card. One could never be quite sure how he would react in any given situation. Stanhope decided to go on the offensive and try to bluff his way out of the present dangerous circumstances.

"So, Denton. Now you've added murder to your list of crimes, huh?"

A smile spread slowly across Mitch Denton's face, but never touched the dark dead eyes he turned on Stanhope. "Not yet, Stanhope'not yet. They only intended to teach him a lesson'talking to the cops can be bad for your health, ya know. The son-of-a-bitch just up and died." He chuckled a little as he made eye contact with each of his men, silently relaying further orders.

The silent witness to the events taking place inside the building could not believe what his eyes were telling him. The leader looked vaguely familiar to Vincent, but he was not certain of the man's identity. Suddenly, he remembered the name.

"Mitch? Mitch Denton?" he whispered, unable to believe that the cold-hearted individual standing in the warehouse with a dead body at his feet, could be his childhood friend. Vincent turned away from the window, closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cold unfriendly siding of the warehouse wall. That man in there could not possibly be the same Mitch Denton with whom he used to play hide-n-seek in the Tunnels. It just was not possible.

Suddenly, not long after his reverie was broken by loud strident voices and the sounds of a scuffle from inside the building, The stillness of the night was shattered by a harsh sound remembered from years past. The air, thick with the emotions of pain, disbelief, and shock, gradually faded and merged into the half-forgotten scent of fresh blood.

Trembling with emotions only half-remembered, Vincent turned once more to watch through the window.

Now there were two bodies lying dead on the warehouse floor, a trail of blood spread steadily from beneath the body of the newly slain victim.

A silent figure stood motionless over two bodies, a smoking automatic revolver still clutched in his hand. He turned to speak to one of his men, bringing his face into the full illuminating light of a bare light bulb hanging above his head.

Though the years had not been exceptionally kind, Vincent instantly recognized the face'it was Mitch, his childhood playmate and friend. At least Vincent had always considered him a friend. Some of the pranks Mitch had pulled as a child were often dangerous and sometimes cruel; but Vincent had accepted them as the price to be paid for acceptance by the 'big kids'. This, however, was no cruel child's prank; this was deadly serious, for on the other side of the building's wall, Mitch had withdrawn a gun from his pocket and shot a man in cold blood, never blinking an eye.

Seeing Mitch standing there with a smoking gun in his hand, sent a cold shiver of anguish and dread coursing down Vincent's spine. Somehow, that sight was a portent of some dire future event which would bring much pain and sorrow.

The feelings were becoming almost overpowering. Realizing he must escape quickly before he lost all hold upon himself, Vincent turned sharply and inadvertently brushed against a stack of boxes. The sudden noise alerted the men of his presence.

"Hey, what was that?" came a hushed query.

"How would I know?"

"Get out there and look around'and be careful. If you find anyone'get rid of them."

Vincent turned and raced for the safety of the Tunnels and the security Father's presence would instill.

***

The average height, dark-haired man standing quietly before the Tunnel community's Council was remembered by a few of its members as being a troublesome young boy who ran away long ago. Father sat at the head of the table listening to everything being said. It would soon come to a vote; whether or not to allow this man to once again become a member of their society.

"So, that's what happened, Father. These men are after me now, and this seemed the safest place to hide until those killers are caught," Mitch explained.

"Why haven't you gone to the authorities, Mitch?" Father questioned, not completely convinced of the truth behind Mitch's words.

"Father, you ain't been up there in a while, you can't even trust cops any more. I didn't know who I could trust," Mitch continued.

Father, brow furrowed in concentration, nodded knowingly. He had first-hand experience with the legal authorities and knew of their questionable reliability. Mitch, taking Father's expression as a dismissal, sat down in a chair near the entrance of the chamber to await the Council's decision.

Father looked long and hard at the face of the man before him, but could only see the frightened eyes of a scared, hurt little boy. Mitch had never wanted to live Below; his father, Sam, had been too ill to look after him properly and had petitioned the community to allow Mitch to live Below. The boy had run away as a teenager and no one had heard from him again'until now.

Father turned a questioning eye from one Council member to the next as each silently affirmed his or her approval or denial of Mitch's re-acceptance into their midst. Each had cast their silent vote and as Father cleared his throat thoughtfully and prepared to give voice to their decision, a sound was heard on the landing above his head.

From the upper balcony, a soft insistent voice called into the ensuing silence. "Father! We cannot allow this man to come Below. It would be against one or our most cardinal rules."

Startled, Father rose from his chair and turned to face his son, who stepped resolutely down the spiral staircase, the edges of his ebony cape swinging slowly in counterpoint to each step. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, Vincent stood silently staring at Mitch, the look in his startling blue eyes unreadable.

Mitch openly stared back at the individual joining the meeting. Vincent'the scrawny, little cat-faced kid from his childhood, had changed greatly in the ensuing years. Gone were the knobby knees, the sharp elbows. Before him, stood an individual of intense physical strength and almost overpowering personal magnetism. The once skinny little kid who had followed the bigger boys, now stood over six feel tall; massively built with wide shoulders, narrow hips, heavily muscled legs and arms. His hair, a golden honey color, hung well past his shoulders. Vincent's physical attributes, coupled with his arresting facial features, combined to create a being of intense uniqueness, individuality, and power.

Mitch rose to his feet and advanced toward Vincent, hand held out in greeting. "Vincent, old friend, it's me, Mitch."

"I know who you are," came a grim, gravely reply. Blue eyes, normally as bright as a summer sky, were clouded and hard as steel. The proffered hand was pushed aside, ignored, as Vincent took a seat near Father, who was sitting in astonished silence. Never had he known Vincent to be so rude.

"Vincent?"

"Yes, Father."

"What is the meaning of this unusual behavior? Mitch has just told us that he is afraid for his life and wishes to seek refuge with us," Father explained.

"I am certain he is seeking refuge with us, Father. But it would be best not to take his explanation at face value," Vincent commented dryly. While he spoke, Vincent never took his eyes from Denton's face. "Why don't you tell them the real reason you are running away, Mitch'or shall I?" asked Vincent, sarcastically.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Mitch mumbled nervously, trying to bluff his way through this unforeseen change in events.

"Oh, don't you?" Vincent asked. "Three days ago," he went on, meeting the eyes of each Council member, "I was walking down on the docks." Steely-blue eyes turned and never wavered from Mitch's face. "I saw a man murdered."

Gasps of disbelief from the attending Council members followed Vincent's calm declaration. Mitch gulped nervously and began looking for a quick exit.

Vincent continued, "I was walking down on the docks when some men drove up to a deserted warehouse." He went on to explain everything he'd seen, omitting only the feelings evoked upon seeing Mitch holding a gun.

All through the explanation, Father's expression changed from puzzlement, to disbelief, to outrage.

"The police are even now looking for him in connection with the investigation into the deaths of those two men. That is why he is looking for a place to hide. He knows no one would find him down here. Isn't that right'Mitch.?"

Denton simply sat in his chair and ignored the question.

Father sighed and sadly shook his head. "We can only assume from your silence that what Vincent has said is true. You know we cannot turn you over to the authorities, but we also cannot allow you to use us as a hideout. You know our rules as well as anyone, Mitch. No one will be welcomed among us who is guilty of committing a criminal act." Father scanned the faces of each Council member and found grim confirmation in each face. Each gave an almost imperceptible nod.

"I'm sorry, Mitch, the vote is unanimous. We cannot give you the sanctuary you seek. I'm afraid you must leave'now." Father signaled two sentries who descended to the floor of the study, ready to escort Mitch back to the world Above.

"What do you think you're doing?" demanded an irate Denton, as the sentries flanked him and grabbed his arms. He jerked away from them and took a menacing step toward Vincent. "I'll get you for this, Vincent. Someday, somehow, you'll pay for this." Denton turned away abruptly and hurriedly ascended to the main landing of Father's study. He turned around once again, and angrily jabbed a finger in Vincent's direction. "You wait'I'll never forget this." Leading the way down the tunnel, Mitch Denton angrily left the underground community followed closely by two wary sentries.

*

"Father?" called a tired, sad voice.

Father put down a book he had finally found time to read on the table next to his bed and looked up at his unhappy son. "Yes, Vincent? What's wrong, my boy?"

"We did the right thing, didn't we?" Vincent turned his desperately unhappy blue gaze in Father's direction.

Father deduced immediately that Vincent was speaking of the confrontation three days ago in the Council Chamber. "Yes, son. We had no choice. You pointed that out quite admirably at the meeting. I'm just sorry we couldn't have done more for that young man." Father shook his head sadly. "Mitch showed such promise as a boy. Sam is going to need all the support we can give him now that Mitch has been arrested."

"Yes, Father, I know. I was Above earlier and looked in on Sam. He seems to be holding up quite well, considering. He showed me an account from yesterday's paper. It seems Mitch was arrested two days ago on charges of extortion and suspicion of first degree murder. There was a statement from an attorney in the D.A.'s office, a John Moreno, who is handling the case." A deep frown furrowed Vincent's brow. "He was my friend!" he declared forcefully. The velvety gravel voice cracked with emotion and a single tear coursed its lonely way down a craggy down-covered cheek. Softly he added, "Now he hates us."

"Vincent, despite what you may think of our actions, I must believe that not every bad man is intrinsically evil. There are some the way they are because of circumstances, some because of either a mental disorder or a physical ailment. But, then there are a very few, I am sorry to say, who are evil for evil's sake." Father halted his explanation as he seemed to be remembering something or someone from his past. He took a deep breath and blinked repeatedly, trying to dispel the tears that threatened his composure, and then continued his explanation. "These men, because they cannot or will not accept help and friendship, view these virtues with apprehension and suspicion. They do not or cannot understand such behavior and, therefore, find it suspect in others. This suspicion elicits their mistrust and disbelief in one's actions. I cannot believe that Mitch, the man whose friendship you once valued, the son of our friend Samuel Denton, is totally without some virtue. I am virtually certain that the next time you see Mitch, he will have forgiven us for not accepting him, and will realize that what we were compelled to do was for his own good. Perhaps in time he can become a Helper like his father, Sam."

Vincent nodded half-heartedly as Mitch's parting words, 'I'll never forget'', hammered through his mind and the image of a smoking gun caused a painful constriction around his heart. He turned away from Father and slowly ascended the steps leading from the study. He paced the short distance to his own chamber in silence. Sitting down at the writing table, golden head bowed in despair, Vincent wept in sad acceptance of the loss of a friend and the death of a friendship; sure in the knowledge that someday their paths would cross again.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Written 1991; submitted/published in "Flame and Shadow" Vol 8, Nov 1944.