IíLL PROVE MORE TRUE
Though they sink through the Sea they shall rise again...
Joe stood at his office window, looking out over the City.
"Put him through." He told his secretary. "Hey Coleridge, itís about time you called me back."
"Iím not calling you back. This has nothing, well, very little to do with the matter we have been discussing."
Joe walked over to his desk and turned off the speaker on his phone, picking up the receiver.
"I donít... "
"I need you to come to my office immediately. Come through the back entrance, the custodianís. I suggest you wear dark glasses, perhaps a hat. Iíll not be responsible for the consequences if youíre recognized. Itís quite possible I am under surveillance."
"What the hell... "
"Look, Iíve been instructed not to call the police. And technically, you are not the police. However, I donít think they would look too kindly upon my contacting you."
"Who? Who wonít?"
"Iím speaking to you from a pay phone, and I am not going to stand here all day answering moronic questions. Can I expect you or not?"
"Iíll be there."
Joe didnít like Mark Coleridge. But the man valued his own time immensely; he was not one to play games or take things lightly. Whatever it was must be serious. Joe looked around his office; pulled his jogging sweats out of his drawer. He had dark glasses, but the only hat he could find was a Totes rain hat. It would have to do. He didnít call his driver. Instead he hurried down to the street and hailed a cab.
The fact that the name on the door no longer said Chandler and Coleridge annoyed Joe - - no respect. He moved toward the receptionist and stated his name. She showed him down a long and now familiar corridor to Mark Coleridgeís office. Mark was sitting at his desk.
"What the hell is this about?" Joe demanded as soon as the woman closed the door behind her. Mark didnít answer. Instead he shoved an envelope and a video tape across his desk.
"I trust youíll be able to make more sense of this than Iím able to. I cannot even fathom... Iím just stunned."
He didnít look stunned. He didnít look anything. Joe moved toward the desk, picked up the letter and read it. He raised his head and stared at Mark Coleridge.
"I donít understand."
"Diana - thank God, youíre home. Your lieutenant said you were in the field. I was worried that wouldnít be able to get a hold of you today."
"What is it Joe... "
"Iím coming over. Youíve got a VCR, havenít you?"
"Yes, whatís going on?"
"I donít want to tell you over the phone, anyway, youíll have to see for yourself. Iíll be there in ten."
Diana hung up, stared at the phone. Joe sounded breathless, excited, worried all at once. She slowly walked the length of her apartment and back. She looked down at what she had been working on: a case that was taking her nowhere. She hadnít been able to pick up a thread, any thread. It happened sometimes. Sometimes you just werenít the right detective for the job.
He actually was there in a little more than ten. He must have flown downtown. Panting, he entered her apartment. "Diana," he halted, unable to continue. Instead, he took a much needed breath, then walked over to the VCR and shoved a tape into it. He came back and handed her the one page letter. Diana read it over quickly and then looked up at him. She was speechless.
Joe was off again, back uptown. Dianaís lieutenant had already set up a command post; Joe intended to be there when they figured out their next move. For Diana there was only one. She followed Joe out, and then ran to the corner.
"I have to see Vincent... tonight," she told the news venders there. Luckily, there were still two of them. They were counting out the dayís receipts.
One of them looked up at her. "Whatís happened, Diana?"
"It would take too long to explain. Just let him know Iíll be waiting."
"Ok, Iíll send him a message right away."
Diana didnít wait for an answer. She hurried back to her loft and hit the rewind button on her VCR.
He was there sooner than she expected. She heard his step on the roof top terrace and she hurried out to meet him, pulling him by his sleeve into her apartment.
"Diana! What is it?"
She didnít say anything. She took his hand and led him into her living room instead, making an effort to collect herself.
"Sit down, Vincent. Here. You know what a video tape is, donít you? Yes, of course you do. Mark Coleridge, from Catherineís old firm, received this in his office today - - along with a letter. Vincent, I donít know how to prepare you for what youíre about to see."
Vincent sat down slowly, narrowing his eyes, looking up and sideways at Diana with a cautious look. She was more perturbed than he had ever seen her. He quietly contemplated this for a moment.
"Play the tape, Diana."
Diana pulled in her breath, moved to the VCR and pressed the play button. There was static for a moment and then the tape began to play. There was a plain white background, a sheet probably, hanging behind a woman sitting manacled to a chair. She was wearing a pair of menís blue jeans rolled up to her ankles and a pale blue tee shirt with a pocket over her heart. Over that she was wearing a rather bulky, ratty looking button down sweater. She was thin, worn looking. Her hair was light colored, long and straight. There was a belligerent expression on her face. A manís voice in the background sounded muffled but the womanís voice came through loud and clear.
"Say Ďhií for the camera, Sweetie."
"Why? What are you going to use this tape for?"
"Now you donít need to know that."
She shook her head. "Why am I here? What am I worth to you?" She looked off camera to where there was obviously someone else in the room. A shadow on the sheet was visible. She looked at this person pleadingly.
"Why wonít any of you tell me anything?"
The tape ended. Vincent had stumbled forward off of the sofa; he was kneeling in front of the television, one trembling hand on the screen where the image of the woman had been. "Play it again," he whispered.
Diana shot forward, she rewound the tape, pressed play again. Vincentís hand remained where it was. It was such a short tape.
He was swaying by the time it finished for the second time. Diana thought he might topple over - he kept his balance, however. He turned to her, breathing as if he had just run a long way.
"There was a letter."
"Yes; these are just copies, of course. The originals have already been entered into evidence. Iíll read it to you.
"Dear Mr. Coleridge, Please view the enclosed video tape before proceeding with this letter. Have you watched it? Good. We believe this merchandise is of some value to you. We are requesting thirty million dollars for the return of the original on this tape." Diana stopped, "There are detailed instructions as to how and when the money is to be wired." She skipped to the bottom. "If you do not comply with our request, we cannot be responsible for the result. It is likely, however, that the dead will remain dead. And please do not contact the police or any other authority. We do not wish to be forced to withdraw our offer."
Diana stopped reading. "Thatís it. It is a peculiar letter; deliberately so, I think."
"Merchandise", Vincent interrupted, his voice hoarse.
"I think the writer wants to be very clear that this is merely a business transaction for him."
"Mark Coleridge will give them the money; he does he have it?"
"A little more than that, actually -- the abductor must know that. He must have an inside person. The tape is time stamped 2-13-90. Thatís a few weeks ago. If that date is correct they must have been waiting until the amount in Catherineís Estate reached that exact sum. A large amount was just deposited the other day. And I do think the date is accurate. It occurred to both Joe and me that this tape could have been shot when Cathy was first abducted, but we donít think thatís the case. To begin with, she is considerably thinner than she was then. It would have taken some time to lose the weight and by then she would have been showing. And sheís not. And her hair is much longer. Most important, however, is that this particular brand of VHS tape has only been on the market since January. Joeís got the whole lab working on this, but I think it is safe to assume that this is the real deal."
Vincent moved back; fell unto on the couch, putting his head in his hands. "Sheís alive; Catherine is alive."
"I believe she is, Vincent." Diana hesitated. "The problem is, once we hand over the money...there is no reason to keep herÖ. "
Vincent looked up. "They gave untilÖ. "
"They actually gave a fair amount of time, forty eight hours. I suppose they realize it might take that long to move that much money around. But we have to move fast. Iíve tried to locate the funeral director who was in charge of Cathyís burial. George Ogolive is his name, but heís already in the wind; has been since last week. So I think it is safe to assume that he was involved somehow."
"Diana, I carried her home. She was so cold. She wasnít breathing. I know she wasnít. How is this possible?"
Diana shrugged. "I donít know, Vincent. There have been other instances. I know a senior detective who tells the story of a victim having been pronounced by a doctor at the scene. They covered him with a sheet, began gathering evidence, taking pictures, interviewing witnesses. More than an hour later the man began to move, talk; the detective said they all nearly jumped out of their shoes. These things happen."
"So if I had just stayed with her longer. Brought her below... "
"Donít torture yourself, Vincent. You couldnít have known. I saw her body, well, what I thought was her body. Someone deliberately made us believe she was dead. Joe is already working on having the remains exhumed. He is going to try and have it done tonight with as little fanfare as possible. We would rather the abductors not know that the police are working the case. But it may become unavoidable. Anyway, Joe is coming back to pick me up as soon as he has finished up where he is. We are going to be interviewing three employees of Gabriel that we still have in custody."
"There was a nurse?"
"Yes, and a body guard and a man whose job it was to get rid of Gabrielís victimís bodies. Says quite a bit about Gabrielís organization, doesnít it? That he had an employee for that. Anyway, heís our best shot. He was the most cooperative of the three."
The phone rang. Diana reached over and picked up the receiver. She mouthed the word "Joe" to Vincent.
"Ok, youíll be here, in what, twenty minutes? Iíll be ready." She hung up.
"Iíll go down and meet Joe. Weíre going to Rikers. You can stay here. Make yourself a cup of tea. You look like you could use... something."
"Diana, how can I thank you... "
"Iím just doing my job."
"Youíll do more than that."
"I hope so. Weíll bring her home safe; I promise."
She didnít know why she said that. Diana didnít feel as if she could promise anything. There was too much uncertainty involved. Too many ifs.... But the look on his face -- a cross between soaring elation and deep anxiety - - she had to say something.
The ride to Rikers Island was filled with anxiety as well. Joe was tightly wound, on the car phone every minute. They decided to interview their best bet themselves. The other two would be handled by other detectives. Diana looked over his sheet. He was twenty-nine years old, born in South America but raised in the South Bronx. Despite the late hour he greeted them with a smile that included several gold teeth.
"Ey, pretty lady. What a nice way to wake up in the middle of the night. I was just dreaminí about you."
"Iíll bet you were," Joe interrupted. "Have a seat. We would like to ask you a couple of questions."
The man shrugged. "I might know the answers; I might not. You never know." He leaned forward. "Youíre the guy in charge, right? Top of the food chain -- you think I could get a little rhythm on my time, huh?"
Joe glared at him. "Iíll make that decision once youíve given us the information we need; and I decide whether or not I believe you."
Diana leaned forward. "You were there the night Catherine Chandler died, werenít you?"
"Might have been," he shrugged.
"I think you were. Diana told him. "We havenít got a lot of time here; and youíre wasting it. If you want consideration youíll help yourself most by just telling us what you know -- and quickly. What happened that night?"
"Ok, ok. Iím a cooperative guy. But I gotta tell ya somethiní first, otherwise, nothiní else I say is gonna make any sense. Gabriel... was nuts. And Iím talkiní seriously fruit loops. We all knew it. Everybody, and I mean everybody, was taking money on the side. Because we figured this wasnít gonna be a long ride with Gabriel driving the gravy train. We all knew he sooner or later he was jusí gonna shoot the horses or somethiní. That was jusí the kind of guy he was. Iíll tell ya man, that was one crazy dude."
"Bout a week or two before that night, the night they offed her, two of Gabrielís top guys come to me with a proposal. They tell me they will give me five large if I disappear the pregnant chick after Gabriel has finished with her. They tell me to jusí take the body and drop it at Ogoliveís place instead of droppiní her at the dump in Jersey or where ever. Thatís all I had to do."
Joeís jaw was tight. "Thatís all, huh?"
Diana interjected, "Ogolive, the funeral director?"
"Yeah, look, I donít go around killing nobody, that wasnít my job. My job was disposal. Thatís all I did."
Joe started to speak but Diana gave him a shake of her head. "What were their names, the men who asked you to do this?" Diana asked.
"Roger Alton, Gabrielís drug man. He knew all these different languages and had connections all over the world. The other was Gabrielís money man, Jonathan Frick.
"You mean his accountant?" Joe asked, recalling the name.
"Uh-huh. Now I knew these guys musta been stealiní left and right from our dearly departed boss. Everybody was."
"Wasnít that dangerous?"
"Yeah; but so was weariní the wrong color socks. Gabriel would have you taken out for that same as for anythiní else. So what the hell? I told you the guy didnít even have one oar in the water. And he was obsessed with the pregnant lady."
"Yeah, so I figure maybe these guys have come up with a plan to make a couple of extra bucks, maybe not. Whatever; these guys, I really donít want to mess with; couple of spooky dudes. Frick is one greedy bastard. The other one, Alton, heís just a mean dude...cold, you know what I mean?"
"So you didnít do what they asked you to?"
"No, I did. You know, moneyís money. So I say Ok, Iíll do it. Couple a days later I see Alton cominí out of the infirmary. Not for nothingí, that doorís always locked, Ďcause of the drugs, you know, Gabriel had some skivvy guys workiní for him. So Iím surprised to see this. But I jusí mind my own business; makes life a lot easier if you do.
Anyways, couple of nights later Chandler starts having the kid, so they tell me to help bring her to the infirmary. So then Iím jusí waitiní around for someone to tell me what else I gotta do," (he turns to Diana) "when I hear her friend come in. Now, heís making an awful racket. Everybody is runniní to see whatís goiní on. Me, I locked myself in the can."
"Yeah, absolutely; So I wait. Then it gets all quiet. I come out, Iím real quiet too, nobody around, Ďcept a few bodies her friend fricasseed for us. Anyways, I know Gabriel has a chopper on the roof. So I go up and see if itís still there or if heís left the buildingí. Chopperís gone but I thought I saw somethiní going over the side of the buildiní. I go to take a look, and what do I see...there he is, larger than life and three times as hairy, Catherineís friend, and heís carrying her down the fire escape. Not for nothiní, I figure Iíll just leave him to it. Iím not stoppiní him. But as Iím cominí down the stairs who do I meet cominí up but Alton and Frick. So I tole them what I seen.
Well, youíd think it was all my fault. Alton starts cursing me in three different languages. I tell him, heís probably hittiní the pavement right about now, why donít you go down there and ask him to hand her over. So then I jusí walk away, after I tole them they still owed me the five grand, of course. Ainít my fault about... whatever that dude is. And thatís about it."
"Thatís it?" Joe demanded.
"Yeah; believe me, these guys didnít tell me nothiní. I got no idea what they wanted her for. And you know what, I didnít want to know. I tole you, I was mindiní my own business, always do."
"If youíve held anything back... " Joe warned.
"Look, I swear. Thatís it."
"It better be." Diana jumped in. "We need you to sign an affidavit. One other question... the funeral director, George Ogolive? What do you know about him?"
"We did business with him before. He was on Gabrielís payroll."
"And do you think he would have done business with Alton and Frick?" Diana asked.
"Sure. Another greedy bastard if ever there was one. Heíd a buried his best friend alive if there was enough cash in it for him."
"Nice guys, the whole lot of you," Joe mumbled to him.
As soon as they got back to the car, Joe was on the phone again. "I need multiple warrants... soon as possible. Iíve got probable cause in the form of an affidavit signed by a material witness. Right! Roger Alton and Jonathan Frick. They both worked for Gabriel. Make sure you get all residences listed for these guys covered in the warrants. I want wire taps on their phones, everything, A.S.A.P. We have reason to believe they are holding Catherine Chandler hostage. You heard me -- Catherine Chandler."
Joe continued giving out commands on the phone while Diana made a mental list of what her next moves would be.
Finally Joe put down the receiver. "Weíll try listening in first. See if it leads us anywhere. This is gonna be a hell of a balancing act, Diana. We canít make any mistakes. Once they get that money... ", Joe didnít finish the sentence.
Vincent was waiting for Diana. He had watched the tape a hundred times over. Now he was just pacing. She told him everything she had learned.
"I need to go Below... let my father know. Iíll be back within the hour."
"Take your time, Vincent. Iíve got more phone calls to make. And Vincent, why donít you pack some things? You canít keep running between here and the tunnels."
Vincent nodded, that made sense. He wanted to be as near as possible to his source of information. He quietly left. Diana looked after him. She had still hoped. She knew, of course, that there was only Catherine. Still, she had hoped that maybe one day that would change.
Diana was on the phone again when Vincent returned. She hung up. "That was Joe, Altonís out of the country. Frickís at his home on Long Island. We are having both their phones wired as we speak. We might as well try and get some sleep Vincent. We are in for a long couple of days."
Vincent nodded. As if he could sleep. Father and Mary had been in Fatherís chamber when he had returned below. They had been incredulous. But then, they hadnít seen the tape - - hadnít seen with their own eyes that she was alive. Alive. The words played over and over in Vincentís head. Sheís alive. He had packed several daysí worth of clothing and said goodbye to his son.
Vincent didnít know what lay in store for him. Yet he knew that what ever it took to save Catherineís life he would do it. The risk to himself was unimportant.
Vincent sat on Dianaís couch staring wide eyed at the blank television screen. Finally, he did sleep. He fell asleep in a sitting position, a restless sleep, full of dreams of searching, searching rooms and corridors. He had the dream again, the one which had been haunting him for weeks. He dreamed a dream of the ocean, of a small cove lit only by moonlight, of a small boat bobbing out on the surf, its sidelights shining through the dark.
Vincent awoke to the phone ringing. The sun had already come up and was just making an appearance over the tops of the buildings. Diane came bounding out, wearing only a pair of cotton boxer shorts and a tank top. Vincent rose and walked out to the roof. He was embarrassed by her lack of clothing. He knew her feelings, even though she had never told him. He could see it in her, feel it. It saddened him; he hated to disappoint yet another person who cared about him.
"You canít be serious, Joe? How bizarre... and they are sure it was an accident? Iíll be damned...Well, one less buzzard to worry about." Diana listened for a while longer. "See you in a bit; Iím just getting out of bed."
Diana hung up the telephone. "Roger Alton is dead."
Vincent swung around, forgetting her lack of clothing. "What happened?"
"It was on the Autobahn."
"Yes. A couple of hours ago; car accident. Some Danish teenagers on holiday were driving intoxicated and out of control, smashed into his vehicle; he died en route to the hospital."
"Yes. And maybe a good piece of luck. They had just finished installing the tap on both their phones. The German police notified Mrs. Alton. Thatís how we first heard about it. Our guys listening in said she didnít seem too broken up. Anyway, she called Frick. We donít think she knew anything about what they were doing, other than that they were business partners. Frick took it like a man. Now the whole bundleís just for him. The officers listening in said it sounded hard for him to muster up the usual words of condolence, but he did. Then he started making calls of his own; he held it close to the vest, was very cryptic.
Still, we picked up some information. And he mentioned something about a bay house, which is interesting, because there is a man working for one of Altonís supposedly legitimate businesses, a man by the name of Darren Holbrook. His father owned a string of gambling boats that ran out of Freeport and Montauk out on the Island. Holbrook ran the business into the ground after his father died. In recent years he has been suspected by the Suffolk Police Department of drug running, but nothing has ever been found on his boat. Hereís the thing though. His parents owned a bay house off of Long Islandís south shore. There arenít many of them left. Most of them are little more than shacks really, built on small islands off the coast. No one is allowed to even build them anymore, but the standing ones were grandfathered in. Guess who inherited it?"
"Yup. Suffolk County Marine Bureau and Aviation are organizing a party to go out there as we speak. And weíve got the South Shore Coast Guard on stand by. Theyíre gonna land on them hard and fast. If sheís there..."
Vincent was finding it difficult to breath. Could it be that simple? Could she actually be brought home today?
"Anyway, Westchester is going for Altonís home and Nassau Police already has Frickís house under surveillance. Itís all happening in the next couple of hours. Joe is picking me up any minute; weíre going to be there to question Frick."
Diana looked down at herself. With a curse, she turned and headed for the bathroom.
Vincent stared after her dazed. He couldnít help feeling helpless. There was nothing he could do. It was broad daylight. Without their bond, he had no way of knowing where she was. New York had one of the finest police Departments in the world. They had all the surrounding departments working on bringing her home as well. There was nothing he could do but wait.
Diana had literally taken one minute to shower. She came out buttoning up her shirt, her hair still pinned up on her head. The buzzer sounded. "Thatís Joe." She retrieved her holster and gun from a cabinet. "Please, Vincent, donít worry. Itís all going to work out; Iím sure of it."
They pulled up outside of Frickís estate on Long Islandís north shore. It wasnít very large, not by gold coast standards anyway. But it was certainly a nice place to live. Joe waited on the car phone while all the jurisdictions co-coordinated. They couldnít risk anyone being tipped off. He finally got the go ahead and they went in. Frick was sitting down to breakfast. He tried to look unimpressed, yet his face drained as a swarm of officers descended on his home and began searching every room. One by one the calls came in over Dianaís radio from the other jurisdictions. The bay house was first. It was deserted; negative results. They were still tossing Altonís mansion when the Nassau officers finished searching; Catherine was not on the premises.
Joe sat staring across Frickís dining room table.
Altonís place came back negative too. Negative, all negative! Diana wondered how she was going to tell this to Vincent. Then they patched Suffolk Marine through on Dianaís radio. Joe continued to stare at Frick while the sergeant in charge of the scene reported that the bay house had been in use in recent weeks. There was food in the cupboards and refrigerator. The milk, however, had gone sour. There was clothing left in a chest of drawers, some toiletries. Whoever had left, left in a hurry.
Joe took the radio from Diana. "Could you designate it a crime scene?"
"Already done; are you coming out?" The sergeant asked.
"As soon as we can," Joe responded before turning around to Frick.
"If you are going to ask me any questions, I want my attorney present," Frick sulked.
"Yeah, well, Iíd like a house like this one. But Iím just an honest, hard working guy. We canít always get what we want, can we?" Joe asked.
"I donít find you amusing."
"Gee, thatís a shame. Youíre right; this is no joke. You think I got this search warrant with my good looks?"
"With hers, maybe, not with yours," Frick looked Diana over.
"No, even that didnít do it. We have hard evidence. You asked one of Gabrielís employees to hold Catherine Chandlerís body for you. The funeral director was on Gabrielís payroll. I should have checked when he told me that Catherineís nearest relation had hired him. Her nearest relation was a second cousin who lived in Europe; but then you knew that already, didnít you? You were the one who paid Ogolive to tell me that."
Frickís cheek twitched. If Diane hadnít been watching him so closely, she might have missed it. She shared a quick sideways glance with Joe; he had seen it too.
Joe changed his tone. "Look, Johnny, I know Gabriel ordered Catherine Chandlerís murder. I donít know how, but you saved her life. If it hadnít been for you, she really would be dead now," Joe softened his voice. "You think we wonít take that into consideration. All I want is Miss Chandler back. If Cathy is safe and well, I am prepared to offer you the deal of the century. I mean that; you have my personal guarantee," softer still. "I canít even begin to tell you how grateful I am to you."
Frick vacillated. They could both see it. But then he seemed to recall something and he held firm again, denying any knowledge or involvement. They tried for another hour but he wouldnít budge.
Diana could see that Joe was at the end of his rope, and really, so was she. She became aggressive, threatening.
Frick responded with equanimity. "You think you can frighten me because of what you did to Gabriel? Yes, I know. Everyone knows. You wonít get away with it a second time, Ms. Bennett. Once, your friends were able to cover for you, but twice, in a house full of police officers and the District Attorney to boot. No. There isnít a thing you can do."
Enough was enough. She leaned over very close to Frick, her face inches from his, her voice barely above a whisper.
"You were there the night Catherine Chandler was supposed to have been murdered. Did you see him? You must at least have heard him. I know you saw the bodies after. Youíre going to tell me, and tell me now, where Catherine Chandler is...because if you donít...for your sake I hope you have a God to pray to...because, and this I can promise you, you are going to be praying to him tonight like youíve never prayed before in your life." Diana moved even closer, hissed into his ear. "Where is she?"
He looked at her stoically. "I donít know."
Diana sat back. It was useless. "Officer," she called to a uniform. "Weíre going now. Donít let him use the phone; donít let him even go to the bathroom alone."
"This isnít legal," Frick said quietly.
"I intend to."
"Oh, I donít think you will. Youíll have changed your mind about that by tomorrow, that is, if youíre still alive tomorrow. But of course, that would depend entirely on you. If I were you, I would think long and hard about any move I made right now. Your life is in your own hands."
Diana rose to go; Joe followed her out. As they exited the front door, Joe stopped her, turned her around.
"What are you planning on doing, Diana?"
"Iím not going to do anything."
"But Vincent is."
This caught her off guard, but she answered, "Yes, Vincent is. Do you have a problem with that, Joe?"
Joe looked at her, thought of Catherine, thought about her baby. "No...no, I donít think I do. But should you have warned Frick? Heíll be ready for him now."
Diana couldnít help laughing a very grim laugh. "No, he wonít."
Diana and Joe were transported by Police helicopter out to the bay house in Suffolk. It was a small, wind damaged bungalow, sitting barely above sea level in the middle of an island of reeds that stood far removed from any others on the Atlantic coast - - a truly deserted place. Joe shivered as they landed on a narrow strip of solid ground. They were met by the sergeant from Suffolk Marine Bureau. He reiterated what had been found. They walked the long and unstable dock that wound through the high grass and cattails to the abandoned hut.
As soon as they entered, Joe and Diana exchanged glances -- there was the chair that Catherine had been chained to; they recognized it from the video tape. There were several small bedrooms off the main room; the sergeant led them into one. There was a narrow bed with white sheets and a small chest of drawers. Diana opened it and turned to Joe, pointing to a light blue pocket tee shirt.
"Itís the one she was wearing in the video tape," Joe murmured. They looked in the bathroom and found a hairbrush, a toothbrush and other essentials. "She left in a hurry -- didnít take anything with her."
They continued with a quick look around and then moved back outside.
"Thereís one other thing you should see," The sergeant told them. He stopped on the path about halfway to the water and pointed to something glistening in the sun. It was handcuffs with a chain attached to them. The manacles from the video, and they had been unlocked, not broken.
"Anything else", Joe asked quietly, looking out over the high, windswept reeds choking the island. The sergeant shook his head. "Do you think we could get a couple of canine units out here?" Joe was trying to keep his voice under control.
"Yeah," the sergeant answered just as quietly, "Cadaver dogs?"
"As many as youíve got," Joe whispered. The sergeant turned and headed for his boat to radio for additional units.
"No, Joe," Diana glared at him, shaking her head. "No. I didnít tell Vincent she was alive for this. I donít believe it. I wonít believe it. Iím going back to the City. I need authorization for a small ESU truck."
Joe stared at her, "For what?"
She lowered her voice. "To go back and question Frick again, as soon as it gets dark."
Joe nodded slowly. "Ok." He stepped closer to her. "And Diana, if sheís here... you can tell Vincent for me... you can tell him to make it as slow and as painful as possible."
"Oh, Joe," Diana put her arms around him. "I know sheís alive. I know it."
Frick was nervous that night. The officers all left suddenly, just after sundown. He was finally able to call his lawyer, not that the phone call did him much good. His lawyer talked about filing a law suit. But at two hundred plus dollars an hour, Frick wondered if it would really be worth it. He felt better after he called his security company to test his alarm system. He double checked it himself -- twice. He let the dogs out of their kennel to wander the property. He even hired a call girl so he wouldnít be alone for the evening.
Not that any of that helped. He realized that as he was being dragged out of his bed that night, a large hand over his mouth, sharp claws digging into his cheek. He thought about what Diana had said about praying. He thought of it as he was being hauled like a rag doll out of his bedroom, down his broad staircase and into his study. And he had no God to pray to. He was all alone, alone with it. The prostitute lying beside him had not even stirred. Of course, she was intoxicated, passed on his expensive liquor.
The dark figure pushed him into his chair, reached over and turned his desk lamp on. The creature stood over him for a moment, and then sat down on the chair placed at the side of his desk. Frick had known about Vincent from the beginning. He had been there the day Gabriel had discovered his existence, and he had seen Gabrielís tapes of him. But it was nothing compared to the reality. The size of his canines: the animal face, the blue eyes glowering at him. He felt a chill go down his spine. He had one chance; there was a revolver in his desk drawer.
Vincent leaned forward, "I want you to tell me... tell me everything you know about what has become of Catherine Chandler. Leave nothing out... and I will not harm you. Do you understand?"
Frick nodded, searching for his voice. "Yes." He finally croaked. He stared at the drawer where the gun lay. The creature looked away. Suddenly, he shot his hand out toward it. But before his fingers could reach the smooth brass handle, a set of talons was sinking into his flesh. He screamed out. Vincent threw his hand back at him and opened the drawer he had reached for. He removed the gun and set it on the far side of the desk.
Low, ominous, it sounded like a growl, "Tell me."
Frick held his injured wrist. "I canít. Iíll bleed to death."
Vincent bent down and ripped a large piece of silk from the bottom of Frickís own pajama pant. He reached over and removed Frickís hand, which was holding his bloody wrist. He bound the wound, none to gently, and then told him, "It is not bleeding badly. You are in no danger. You can proceed."
Frick gulped; took a breath. "Sheís gone."
Vincent didnít move. But as Frick stared into the creatureís eyes, he realized that what he saw there was a look heíd only seen once before -- when one of Gabrielís men had plunged a knife into another manís throat. The look of shock, pain, and despair was the same.
"No, no, I didnít mean gone -- deceased. I meant gone as in I donít know where she is."
Vincentís heart started to beat again, to pound actually. He breathed out and leaned toward Frick again.
"Tell me." Vincent repeated.
"I have a private detective, a very good one, working on finding her. He was supposed to call me tonight, but I never heard from him. Just as well, I believe my phones are tapped." He looked at Vincent, sighed. "Why donít I start from the beginning?"
"Please." Vincent almost sounded gracious.
"Gabriel told Alton he intended to kill Ms. Chandler as soon as the baby was born. Alton came complaining to me. He said she was an extremely wealthy woman, that it was ridiculous to just throw her away like that. He asked me to look into it. I did. I discovered that Catherine Chandler might be worth upwards of fifty million dollars. Alton was right -- a ridiculous waste.
We began to devise a plan. I donít know if you know this, but Alton ran Gabrielís narcotics operation. He had connections all over the world, including and especially in South America.
Alton said that there is a plant grown there; I donít remember the name offhand, but it mimics death. Respiration, circulation, reflexes, all slow down to be almost imperceptible."
Vincent spoke softly, "Yes, I remember reading something about that myself. My father would know more about it. Go on."
Frick stared at Vincent. ĎItís got a father, there are more of them?í he thought, but then he dismissed it and continued, "Alton said he could obtain this plant from his sources there. Gabriel already had the director of a prominent funeral home on his payroll, Ogolive, a very grasping man. We knew we could buy his cooperation. Then there was the man whose job it was to dispose of anything Gabriel did not like to have lying around. A hustler if ever there was one. We knew we could count on him to take money and keep his mouth shut. No one ever tattled to Gabriel about a disloyal staff member. He was very likely to kill the messenger, so we were safe in that direction.
Alton had a discussion with the doctor about which drug he intended to use to euthanize Ms. Chandler. Then he managed to slip into the infirmary, and replace all the vials of that plus any other drug he thought the doctor might take into his head to use to kill her. As you already know, it worked exactly as it was supposed to."
Vincent sat back, stunned. If only -- if only he had stayed by her side a little longer...if only -- but he couldnít think about that now. "Go on."
"Alton was furious when we discovered that you had taken her. But then Gabriel got a call the next morning from someone working within the Police Department. Alton happened to be there when the call came in. He said that Chandler had been brought home and was on her way to the morgue. We, Alton and I, were ecstatic. We hadnít actually known how long lasting the effects of the plant would be. But we made the most of our renewed opportunity. We started spreading money around. We had Ogolive, the funeral director, already. I knew Ms. Chandlerís nearest relation lived abroad. When Joseph Maxwell came to make the arrangements, he was told they had already been taken care of. We also knew a worker at the City morgue always looking for some extra cash. Between the two of them they managed to switch bodies before the autopsy. I donít know who they buried instead of Catherine Chandler. I didnít want to know. That wasnít my end of the deal."
"What was your end of the deal?"
Frick hesitated, "I live alone. Chandler was brought here. We put her in the basement, hired guards round the clock. But I have a wait staff during the day; they didnít know anything about it. It made me nervous. We kept her drugged; that was Altonís idea. And I agreed at first. But days and weeks turned into months. Of course, we knew it would take a considerable amount of time to settle Chandlerís estate. There was no sense in demanding money if her assets werenít fluid. And we couldnít quite figure out what Gabriel would think when Chandler turned up alive. We were afraid he would suspect us, but we knew he was in self-destruct mode. It was just a matter of time, so we waited.
But one night I decided to go downstairs just to see how she was holding up -- and she wasnít. I could see the effects the drugs were taking on her. She was beginning to barely look human. There was no sense in keeping her alive if she was too brain damaged to make a video tape for us. And otherwise, who would believe she was alive? I told Alton to make other arrangements. He was angry at first, but things were coming to a head with you by that time. We were almost home. Why risk it all now?
Alton hired a neíer-do-well he knew who would occasionally run drugs or other contraband for him; man by the name of Holbrook. He had just about grown up on a boat. His parents had been well off, but it was my understanding that he had squandered his inheritance. Yet Alton said he was a good man in some respects. He had sea water in his veins; knew the ocean like most people know their own back yards. And he owned one of those old bay houses out in the middle of nowhere. There are hardly any of those left anymore.
Anyway, we had Holbrook take Chandler out to the bay house. She was off my hands, and she wouldnít need to be sedated any longer.
While all this was going on I was paying a file clerk in Chandlerís old law firm to keep tabs. Coleridge was doing a fine job of liquidating assets. But we had to work a fine line. Suppose he started dispersing the monies? Try as we might, we could not get a copy of Catherine Chandlerís will. And then you and Ms. Bennett took it into your heads to send Gabriel to Hell, where, I have to say, he richly belongs. Not long after that Joseph Maxwell took it into his head to lay claim to the estate for Chandlerís son. It was getting riskier all the time. We decided once the amount reached thirty million we would take the money and call it even. And we would have; except Coleridge apparently went to the police, and Catherine Chandler, well, she just disappeared into the sunset."
"What are you saying?"
"Apparently this Holbrook fellow got it into his head that he was a knight in shining armor, and Chandler was a damsel in distress. I suspected something. The other guards told me things. I didnít like this guy. I told Alton but he didnít listen."
The phone rang. Both Vincent and Frick started; they were so immersed in Frickís tale that the interruption startled them. Frick just looked at the phone.
"Answer it," Vincent commanded.
Frick nodded. "Finney, youíre late." He glanced at Vincent. "Iíve got company; let me put you on hold for one minute."
"This is the private detective I was telling you about. He has been tracking Holbrook and Chandler. Holbrook took her on the lam - week before last. I suppose Chandler used him to get out; if I were her Iíd have done the same thing. By any means necessary, right? And Holbrook may be a little pisher, but I canít say that I blame him either. She is a good looking woman and, and this is nothing to sneeze at, she is a woman with thirty million in cash lying around." Frick paused. Maybe it wasnít such a good idea to tell this to the creature; he was starting to look rather strange. The thought of Finney talking on a tapped phone wasnít exactly appealing to Frick, but then neither was the idea of being ripped to pieces. Vincent could still kill him before he left. Better to prove to Vincent what a forthright individual he was than risk those claws and teeth.
"Look, Iíll put him on speaker phone." Frick pushed the button on his phone. "Finney, I have a colleague of mine here. I was just explaining to him what happened. Could you start from the beginning and tell him everything?"
"Sure. Um, letís see. Well, they took off sometime during the night on the eleventh. They initially left in Altonís motor boat, a twelve footer. Holbrook cleared out his bank account before he bailed, but there wasnít much there. Heís got a gambling problem, not to mention a drinking one. Anyway, he withdrew $380.00 from an ATM the day before he disappeared with her.
They sunk the twelve footer off the Jersey shore. We wouldnít have found that out but for a lucky set of circumstances; she was salvaged. We found out that a small yacht had been stolen in the same vicinity. We managed to trail its progress down the coast. He traded that one in for a fishing boat docked in Maryland. He scraped off the name and the registration number. But we still got a lead. They continued on south, stopping here and there, taking their time. I suppose they thought that you would assume they would move fast and launch your search accordingly. Holbrook worked a bar in at least two places that we know of to pick up some extra cash. And here is the real news and why I am so late in calling you.
They stopped in at a bar tonight in North Carolina, an old haunt of Holbrookís. He introduced her as Christina. They had dinner, and then he took Chandler back to the boat. He returned to the bar by himself but he didnít drink. Told his buddies heís on the wagon. He claimed that he and the girl were headed to Mexico to get married."
Frick turned to stare at Vincent; he didnít move a muscle.
"Holbrook told them he hadnít seen any card action in a while but that he was up for a game. They played, he flirted with the waitresses, drank club soda. He didnít seem to have brought much cash with him but luck was on his side. He won a few hundred. Then he left, presumably back to the boat.
I got there not long afterward. I went out to where they had been moored but they were already gone; so I went back to the bar and bought his buddies a few beers. They said he was in a rare good mood; told his pals that his ship had finally come in." Finney paused, "Thatís about it for now. I got a couple of men already heading south. But Iím stopping for the night. I need a few hours sleep. Weíre right behind them, Sir, it wonít be much longer."
"Actually Finney, you can call off your men. This is the end of the road for me. Iím done with your services."
"Youíre kidding? Why, when weíre this close?"
"Because I believe the police department will be picking up the trail from here."
There was silence for a moment. "I see. Well, nice doing business with you, Frick. Iíll send you my final bill."
"You do that."
Vincent stood up, towering over Frick, who followed him with his eyes, suddenly afraid. "Iíve told you everything. You can see that I have," he pleaded.
"Yes, you have. And however self motivated your reasons, you saved Catherineís life. And for that I will spare yours as well." Vincent picked the revolver up from off the edge of the desk and threw it, smashing the large plate glass window behind Frick. The alarm sounded. He turned and headed for the door.
"Vincent," Frick called. Vincent spun around. "I know you wonít believe this. But I hope you find her."
Vincent stood there quietly for a moment longer; Frick blinked, and he was gone.
Frick meant it too. He could not for the life of him comprehend loving anyone as much as this creature obviously loved this woman. For once in his life he almost thought about what that might be like. Then he remembered the girl upstairs in his bed. He could still go up and get his moneyís worth. He had been too nervous before to get what he paid for. But his arm was starting to really throb, and anyway, the police would come in response to the alarm Vincent had set off.
Vincent slipped quietly in beside Diana. She quickly turned on the ignition and pulled out and onto the road. She had heard the alarm sounding. They drove for a few minutes until she could pull into a dark and empty parking lot.
Vincent told her everything as quickly as he could. "We have to find her, Diana."
She stared at him. "We? Vincent, do you realize the risk you would be putting yourself in, the enormous risk? I mean, we can use this truck, that would minimize it. But still ..."
"Iím coming with you."
Diana still hesitated. "Vincent, what that private detective said about them getting married..."
"It doesnít matter Diana. Catherine would never voluntarily leave her son. There must be some threat involved, or some other explanation. You will take me with you?"
Diana nodded, she started the engine and drove back into the street, turning the vehicle westward toward New York City.
Diana dropped Vincent off at the first tunnel entrance after entering the City. She drove to the Emergency Services Unit yard.
"Hey, Kenny, Iím gonna need this truck for a few more days. Joe Maxwell will call Lieutenant Murphy for the authorization."
"No problem, Diana. Iíll put you down for the week."
"Great. Kenny, you mind if I check the back room for some gear? Iím going out with an undercover. I donít think heíll have time to pack anything."
"Help yourself." Kenny followed Diana to the back of the building where they stored spare parts and discarded clothing. She would have preferred to have gone alone, but she couldnít think of an excuse not to have him accompany her.
"What size is this guy?" Kenny wanted to know.
"Remember Line Backer?"
"Sure, funny guy. Had hands the size of hams. Never had to use Ďem though, just the threat was enough."
"Thatís about the right size."
"Whoa, thatís big. I think I actually got some of Line Backerís old stuff layiní around.
Lemme see...here we go...howís this?"
"Perfect. Thanks a lot, Kenny." Diana helped him pull out several pieces of clothing from the bottom of a pile of various items. There was a windbreaker, a button down shirt, a pair of pants and some rain gear all in a very large size.
Diana threw the clothing into the back of the small truck, which was perfect for their needs really. The only windows were in the rear, and they were so darkly tinted it was impossible to see in. Also, a police vehicle would have access where other cars wouldnít. Vincent could sit up front with her by night; he could use the windbreaker instead of his cloak, it had a draw string hood. By day, he would have to stay in the back.
She drove back to her apartment and began packing her own things. She spoke with Joe while she threw her clothing into a duffle bag and other items into paper shopping bags. She was nearly finished when she saw Vincentís shadow cross the wall of her living room. She told Joe she had to go.
"Diana, about what I said before, back at that bay house, I am so ashamed of what... "
"Donít worry about it, Joe, I understood."
"I donít. I donít believe in that kind of vigilante justice. And I canít believe I was actually condoning it. But it was just the idea of it; of keeping her alive all that time, and then, all alone in that desolated place... I just couldnít... "
"Joe, you and I have both been on this job long enough to know that people do and say things when they are put under extraordinary pressure that they would never do or say ordinarily. Forget it, I already have. Gotta go. Iíll call in every chance I get. Theyíll probably be off the South Carolina coast by the time we get down there."
Diana hesitated. "Yes, we; Vincent is coming with me."
Joe was silent for a moment; she thought he was going to protest.
"Tell him he did a great job questioning Frick. Just so you know the officers who responded to the alarm brought him to the hospital to get his arm stitched. He refused to tell them how he got cut up. Heís lawyered up now, but we have him on tape talking to his P.I.. Open and shut case. But Iíll be willing to shave a few years off being that he did save Catherineís life."
"Yes he did, albeit for monetary gain."
"Iím sending some detectives down by air. Theyíre going to question the guys Frick hired. Weíre hoping they can just keep following the trail. You know, Iím actually glad Vincent is going with you. Didnít you say he knows when sheís in trouble?"
"Iím afraid they lost that connection, Joe. Itís a very long story."
"But still... he seems to be a good man in a pinch."
"That he is. Iíll be in touch."
"Be careful, Diana." She hung up and turned to Vincent.
He told her, "Iím sorry, I took some time... I needed to say goodbye... to my son."
Diana gazed into his face. "Youíll come back to him Vincent."
"Yes, I know. I just had to tell Father... I wanted to tell him that when Catherine returns and, if I did not...
"That isnít going to happen, Vincent. You are both coming back, together."
Vincent nodded, it was almost dawn. They loaded the back of the Emergency Services truck with blankets, pillows, and some provisions.
"Iíll drive Ďtil I canít go any further. Then weíll stop at a rest stop along the way and Iíll catch a few hours. Make yourself comfortable, Vincent. We have miles to go..."
"And promises to keep."
She smiled at him. "That we do."
Diana was running pretty high on adrenalin as they sped down I-95. She pulled off before they hit the morning traffic in Washington D.C. and called Joe from a rest stop.
"Our guys are already in North Carolina. The P.I.s turned over their notes. We got a good description of the boat theyíre on. We notified the Coast Guard to keep an eye out. These guys Frick hired were top notch.
"So are we, Joe, weíre going to find her."
"I know you will. We put a police information only bulletin out in all the jurisdictions along the coast. We donít know that much about this Holbrook guy, take every precaution, Diana."
Catherine was frying up fish for breakfast. She had been doing a lot of that since they had left the bay house off Long Islandís south shore. They were living on a shoe string. Darren said he couldnít access any of his money since the bad guys were sure to be monitoring his bank accounts. That is what he had told her. Catherine believed him. She had to. She wasnít quite sure at times if she should, but he had risked everything to save her; and he was all she had.
He had been kind to her from the beginning. She could only vaguely recall Frickís basement. She had been so drugged up she couldnít be sure of any of it. She had come to for the first time really in the boat on the way to the bay house. She remembered the spray of salt water on her face. It felt good. She fell asleep again though, and when she awoke, she was in a narrow yet fairly comfortable bed. Her legs were chained to the foot of it.
That is when she met Darren. He brought her some soup, crackers and a can of ginger ale on a tray. He apologized for the chains. He said it wasnít up to him. He was pleasant looking, with fair colored, curly, hair and bright, green eyes. He sat by her bed and made small talk while she ate. She would have liked to have refused but she was very hungry. And thin, surely she hadnít been this thin before. But then, she didnít know, couldnít remember. She questioned Darren, but he told her he wasnít allowed to tell her anything.
Somewhere there was a radio playing. She realized there was another man there. She heard Darren talking to him when he left her room with the empty tray. The man asked him what he had been saying to her. Darren told him nothing of importance. That was true enough. He had just talked about the weather, the tides, told her she could tell him if she needed anything -- anything within reason.
And so it went, day after day, week after week. Catherine wasnít allowed out of the bay house, but she could sit by the window. And it was cold, even though they had space heaters going all the time.
There were three of them, the men, they worked in shifts, two men always on duty at a time, with the third man leaving the island on a motor boat she could hear but not see. She suspected there was only one boat. This would mean that she and two of the men would be stranded on the island without transportation almost at all times.
The other two men barely spoke to her. One was an older man, tired and wind blown looking; he had an Australian accent. Catherine thought he was probably in his late sixties. The other was much younger and surly; a square, squat man with greasy, brown hair that was always hanging in his face. He never said much to anyone. He just hunched over the heaters and listened to the radio.
But Darren usually had a kind word. He did most of the cooking and cleaning. He made sure she always had soap and toothpaste and other sundries. He brought her salve for the sores on her ankles. He told her stories about the ocean -- sea faring tales; he knew a lot of them. He made the time bearable. But he wouldnít answer any questions, other than to say that one day she would be released, he didnít know when.
Then they made that tape. Catherine began to suspect she was being held for ransom. But for such a long time? It didnít seem to make any sense. Still nothing happened. The weather was starting to get a little warmer. On one really sunny day they opened the windows and let the salt air drift through the little house. Catherine couldnít see beyond the reeds to the ocean, the island was too overgrown. But she could listen to it. It sounded low and mournful mostly, yet at times, during the day, when the sun came and flooded the cottage, it sounded almost cheerful.
Then one day Darren came back in a nervous state, he was worried -- she could see that. He paced for hours. Finally, the old man had trudged out over the rickety dock to go check on the crab traps that he kept at the waterís edge.
Darren whispered to her that she was in danger. He told he had been forced into the whole thing from the beginning. He didnít know what the men in charge were going to do next; but he promised her he wouldnít let anything happen to her. He told her he had fallen in love with her. He told her that no matter what the risk, he would save her from the men who had ordered her abduction. It was a tricky situation. He would come during the night when the other two were on duty. She had to be ready. He wanted to know if she was willing to throw caution to the wind and come with him.
Catherine believed him, trusted him. What choice did she have? She was always chained, her two feet fettered to each other and then secured by a long chain which was fastened to a piece of furniture.
Darren planned their escape for the following night. He unlatched the window in her bedroom. He brought a couple of bottles of good rum and left them in the cupboard. He hoped the other men would help themselves.
She was lying awake waiting for him. He had made wax impressions of the locks on her chains and then had duplicate keys made. Darren silently slipped in through the window and they left the same way. He threw her unlocked chains into the weeds. They made their way to the boat.
They motored southward and inland. A couple of hours before dawn he had left her on a small empty island, instructing her to hide in the weeds. He came back when the sun was near rising with a small yacht. He said he had borrowed it from a friend. They continued heading south.
Darren told her that he couldnít tell her everything about why she was being held hostage. He said to begin with, he didnít know all the details. He was hired, forced really, into working for a large crime organization. He said he had unknowingly had some business dealings with them and then had gotten in over his head. He told her that she had been the girlfriend of a rich and powerful man that another man, his employer, had set out to destroy. He told her they had to keep running, keep moving.
It took Catherine a couple of days to get her sea legs, but she was managing nicely now. She loved the boat, loved working on it, and she loved the ocean. She was learning so many things too: how to read the charts, how to fish, how to keep the boat in ship shape, how to navigate. She marveled at Darrenís abilities.
And he was a good man -- very considerate. He had tried to kiss her the first night on the boat. But Catherine had pulled away. She said she was too unsure of anything yet, confused. He accepted that readily. He told her that in time he hoped she would come to feel perhaps some small amount of what he felt for her.
Catherine was actually a little surprised that she didnít have any feelings for him. He had saved her life. He was very kind and very handsome. But the only feelings she could muster toward him was gratitude.
She asked him questions about the man he said had been her boyfriend. He told her he didnít know much, other than that he was dead, killed by her abductor.
There was another question she wanted to ask him. She wanted to ask him if he knew if she had any children. She could see the stretch marks on her lower abdomen. And she often had this feeling, this feeling as if her arms were empty. At night she would dream of a child, of cradling a baby. She finally worked up the nerve to ask him. He told her he had wanted to spare her, but that she was right. She had had a child during her captivity, a boy, he had died at birth.
Catherine was surprised that she could mourn the loss of a child she did not remember, but she did.
Still, she had her quiet moments. She would sit out on the deck at night, leaning back, looking up at the stars. They were beautiful, reflected as they were, by the dark water. And she found if she gazed at any one constellation long enough she could begin to hear a voice. It would name the stars for her, and then tell a story; there was always a story. Some times Darren would have to come and wake her, as she would be lulled to sleep by the combination of the gentle voice and the sound of the water lapping against the hull of the boat.
She never slept as well below. She had been having trouble sleeping, as a matter of fact, since the day she had arrived at the bay house. There was this uneasiness in her that seemed to manifest itself only at night. She never slept for more than an hour or two together. She would wake, fall back to sleep, wake again. It was very draining.
Catherine was especially troubled this morning. Darren had attempted to put his arms around her again last night, had attempted to draw her to him. She had had to refuse him again, and this time he seemed a little put out, a little sullen. Catherine was starting to think that perhaps she should put ashore, find her own way. But Darren said the men who kidnapped her were sure to be looking for her. They would never let her go so easily. He said their best chance was to make their way down to Mexico.
Catherine had been ruminating on this all morning. Darren had been his old self in the morning, as cheerful and easy going as usual. But she couldnít feel what she couldnít feel, even for a man who had put everything he had on the line for her. It made her feel terrible.
By the time they had pulled into a harbor that evening Catherine had made up her mind. She told him that she was going ashore. She told him that she was grateful for all he had done for her, but that the time had come for her to strike out on her own.
He kept asking her why. She gave him several reasons. First and foremost, she told him, he would probably not be in nearly as much danger if they separated. It was her they wanted. And finally she told him that her feelings for him were never going to be more than they were at that moment. She told him she imagined she was still in love with the other man, the one that had been murdered.
He tried to plead his case, but she was adamant. Finally he told her that he accepted her rejection of his romantic proposals; they wouldnít be repeated. But he said that he could not in good conscience just leave her there with no resources. He told her he would take her back up to New York. At last Catherine gave in, reluctantly agreeing.
So in the morning they turned and headed back up the coast.
Vincent was restless after the entire day confined in the truck. They were no longer on I-95. They had taken to traveling along local roads bordering the Atlantic. They pulled off along a deserted stretch of beach. Vincent strode down to the ocean while Diana slept. He pulled off his outer clothing and plunged into the cold water. He had never swum in waves before, never tasted salt water. But he soon discovered the oceanís rhythm and he moved with the waves in the dark water.
He swam until he felt worn out, then he dressed and returned to the truck. He was sitting staring out over the ocean when Diana woke up. She was surprised to see his damp locks of hair. But she didnít say anything. Vincent would know if there had been anyone near by. He knew to be cautious.
They continued driving south along the shoreline. The following day she stopped for breakfast along the road and brought Vincentís out to the truck. Then she put a call in to Joe.
"Diana, youíre not going to believe this," Joe told her. "Call came in about an hour ago. A man and a woman fitting their description stopped for gas and some supplies in Virginia. Local off duty Sheriff saw them; thought there was something familiar about them. He called in to base and sure enough, they told him about the bulletin. But by the time he got back to the dock, they were gone. He said it was definitely them though. He would stake his life on it. So we started calling all the fueling stations along the route. A cashier saw them too."
"But Joe, how could they be in Virginia? They were in the Carolinas the night we set out. I thought you said..."
"I did. Theyíve turned around, Diana. Theyíre headed back toward New York."
Diana went back to the truck, joined Vincent, sitting opposite him in the dim light which was filtering in from the sun outside. She was surprised by his reaction. He wasnít happy.
"But, Vincent, isnít this good news?"
"But why Diana, why did they suddenly change direction? What happened to change their minds?"
"I donít know. Could be anything. Vincent, your bond, can you feel something?"
"No. No. I have no sense of her. Yet I feel...I feel as if something is amiss. I couldnít exactly say...what. Diana, how far from us do you think they are?"
"Hard to say really; especially since we are now traveling in opposite directions. Weíre moving a lot faster than they can. Just think, Vincent, you almost made it to Florida."
Vincent tried to respond to her bantering tone. He knew she was trying to lighten his mood. When they pulled out of the parking lot, they headed north instead of south. Despite Vincentís misgivings, Diana was relieved. They drove through the day and by nightfall they were passing through Virginia. Vincent joined Diana in the cab, the hood of the windbreaker pulled far forward over his head. But he seemed different than Diana had ever seen him before; he was fidgeting, anxious. Diana kept taking sideways glances at him. He was almost getting on her nerves.
They weighed anchor off Ocean City, just around sunset. Catherine could see the summer rentals clustered around the beach. The shoreline soon started to fade into dark; the condos and cottages were deserted at this time of year, too early for the summer dwellers.
Darren was drinking. She hadnít seen him imbibe before, not throughout the entire trip. They had stopped in Virginia, and he had bought two bottles. A warning light had gone off in Catherineís head, yet she had ignored it. They were headed straight up the coast, not ambling like they had before. Darren had always said that they neednít hurry. If the men who might be following them suspected they were going by boat, they would think they would have moved quickly down the coast. It would be safer to do the unexpected. But now Catherine was anxious to get back. She really couldnít have said why. It was just a feeling she had.
Darren wasnít saying much. He was just sitting there silently, looking at the darkening shore, pouring himself drink after drink. The water was getting choppy. A storm in Florida was sending reverberations northward, stirring up the surf, buffeting the beaches. Catherine thought it best to go below, retire for the night. He was starting to make her nervous.
Darren Holbrook stared at the now invisible coast. He had really thought that he had fallen in love with her. She was not at all what he expected when he agreed to the job. She was so nice; he had never really liked her kind before He had met some of them. His mother had forced him into it.
They had been a working class family originally. Both his grandfathers had been fisherman. His father had worked hard to put together a thriving business: pleasure trips, first fishing, than gambling boats. He started with nothing and had built an entire fleet. And his mother: his mother had set out to spend as much of her husbandís earnings as she could. She wanted to belong to society, New York society. She read all the gossip columns, the society pages, all the reports about the goings on in the glittering City just beyond her reach. But then she started buying plates to charity functions given by New Yorkís elite. As Darren got older she had even dragged him (his father refused to attend). She pushed him at all the young debutantes. He was good looking -- a lot of women told him he had movie star looks. But these girls, they still looked down on him as if he were just the waiter or any other servant -- below them. It made him furious.
He finally refused to accompany her. That made his mother furious. His father was right. His mother was just a want-to-be, a hanger-on, a peasant looking to steal thunder from the gods, or more accurately, from the goddesses. Not that he could find any sympathy for his father. The man wanted him to work harder, harder. He always wanted more. Darren gave up trying to please him, practically gave up working altogether. So his father worked harder himself; probably what killed him.
He died of a massive heart attack. Darren was relieved, especially when his mother received a cancer diagnosis soon after. Within a year he was rid of them both. It should have been great. And it was actually, for a while. He hit the casinos, Vegas, Atlantic City, he partied, had a good time. Then the business started going under. He didnít know how to stop it. His father had been right. He was a good-for-nothing knuckle head.
But then, then he had been given the opportunity to live both his parentís dreams. And Catherine was different from the way he remembered those other girls. She was warm, and didnít mind pitching in. She seemed to like being a deck hand. Plus she had all that money. It was as all just within reach. But she turned out to be just another snotty rich girl. Darren finished the bottle he was working on, tossed it into the ocean. He lurched up to search for the other. He found it and unsteadily poured himself another drink, but then set it down without swallowing it.
He had done so much for her. They really would have killed him if they had found them. Alton would have, anyway. He doubted Frick would have it in him; nothing but a lousy bean counter. Darren had been surreptitiously reading the New York papers whenever they stopped for gas or supplies. Alton was dead. So he had been closer than ever.
And now she wanted out. He couldnít even count on a reward. What would she do when she found out her baby hadnít died? Found out that he had lied about it, about that and some other things. Shit! He wasnít going to get anything out of her. Well, maybe there was something he could still get from her. He should get something, shouldnít he? Heíd earned it.
Darren staggered down into the cabin. He lost his footing, cursed, and found his way back to his feet. Catherine heard him. She had been lying there, awake, tense. She should have listened to that voice when it warned her, but it was too late now.
She was ready for him. She smashed into him as he made his way toward her bunk. She managed to slip out of his grasp as he tried to grab her, scrambling up the steps and out onto the deck. Catherine was hoping he would stay below, pass out, and sleep it off. But he climbed up after her. He kept lunging at her, but she kept managing to move out of range.
"Darren, Darren what are you doing? Why are you doing this?" she cried to him. He really had been good to her. This was unbelievable. "How can you?"
He dropped onto the seat running along the boatís starboard side. "How can I? How can you? You led me on. You let me risk my neck for you! Then I get thrown out like an old pair of shoes? Who do you think you are?"
"I never led you on. I was never anything but honest with you. I canít believe you could act this way."
"Believe it," he slurred at her. "Believe it. You know, I should have believed it. They told me about you. The other guys guarding you, theyíd worked for Gabriel too, they told me all about your boyfriend."
Catherine stood there silently, weighing her options.
"But I said, that nice girl? No. Besides, it just sounded too crazy. What is it?" He made another sudden lurch toward her. Catherine just managed to keep out of his hands.
"How come Iím not good enough for you?" He screamed at her, "Because Iím a man, not an animal. I could act like one, would that turn you on?"
Catherine said nothing. What kind of response could she have to this kind of talk?
"You know, that baby of yours, I wonder what it looked like. With a father like that -- I hope they drowned it. Something like that shouldnít be allowed to live."
"What are you saying? Are you telling me my son didnít die?"
"I donít know what they did with it. Itís just too disgusting really," he sneered. "Youíre disgusting." He suddenly made another dive for her, knocking her backwards onto the deck. Catherine struck at him repeatedly and he hit her back. She kicked him then, full in the chest, sending him sprawling. She looked around wildly. She tore open the hatch and grabbed a life preserver from the hold. They werenít that far off shore. Better to risk the ocean than this lunatic. She headed aft, quickly climbing up and over the gunwale. But he was on her again. He came out of nowhere. She leaped out into the ocean. It was colder than she had expected. The life preserver! She turned every which way. He had torn it out of her grasp. But she couldnít think of that now. As she started for shore, she heard splashing around her; he was flinging things at her from the boat.
Catherine might not remember that she was a good swimmer, but she was. She had won medals for it in High School. But still, she hadnít counted on the water being so cold and rough. And the shore seemed much further off now that she was in the ocean. And it still looked a long way off when she began to tire. Turning over on her back, she attempted to float and rest. But she knew her body temperature was dropping. She had to keep moving. The shore line was dark, yet she could see the street lights out on the highway beyond the beach. They looked so far away. She was swallowing water, too much water. Her limbs felt frozen, it was painful just to move them, yet she kept reaching through the waves.
The waves were washing over her, pushing her down, down where it was deep, and dark, and silent. It would have been peaceful there, peaceful beneath the water, except for the pain in her throat and lungs. She made one last effort, but the surface was far above her now.
They stopped for something to eat. Vincent put it down untouched when Diana gave it to him. They moved on. He kept looking eastward toward the ocean as they drove. Suddenly, urgently, he called to Diana to stop, to stop the vehicle. She did. They were on a dark and quiet highway bordering a series of beaches. During the summer months, there would be plenty of traffic along this road, but not now. Vincent sprang from the truck and ran toward the beach. Diana followed him, trying to keep up. He didnít stop until he had reached the waterís edge.
"What is it, Vincent? Can you feel her?"
"No. No, Diana. I just... I dreamed... Iíve been dreaming about this inlet." Vincent squatted down, removed his shoes and socks. He stood up and began pacing the beach, pulling off his windbreaker as he moved.
"Are you sure, this exact place?"
"Yes. Itís all the same. The curve of the shoreline, the gazebo, that buoy -- even the moon. Iíve been seeing it over and over whenever I close my eyes." Vincent squinted out at the ocean, as if he was looking for something; then he pointed.
"Diana, can you see those lights?"
She followed the direction of his finger. No, she didnít...well, maybe, appearing and disappearing again. The water was churning, but perhaps a boat....
Without warning, Vincent sprinted forward, throwing himself into the ocean. Diana called after him but he didnít look back.
Catherine felt a strong pressure around her wrist. She was gliding, up, upwards towards the turbulent surface of the ocean. The air struck her in the face, but still, she couldnít breathe. She felt two hands pushing up under her ribs, expelling the water from her lungs; a low whisper in her ear.
"Breathe, Catherine, breathe." Had she heard those words before? Maybe...in a dream once.
She coughed, she gasped, and then she took in air. She gulped in huge bursts of oxygen. A strong arm wrapped around her chest, a large hand grasped her arm pit. She felt a hip jut into her upper legs as her body settled against the body of another. And they were moving; she was being pulled through the water. She was saved. She felt long strands of hair plastered against her face. She closed her eyes and slowly blacked out.
Diana was pacing along the shore. She heard him splashing through the water. She ran to the oceanís edge and he was almost upon her before she could finally make out his shape emerging from the water. And she couldnít believe what she saw. He was striding out of the surf, carrying Catherine in his arms. "Vincent! Vincent, youíve found her." He laid her unconscious body on the sand. Diana put her hand on Catherineís heart, bent over and listened.
"Her breathing is shallow." Diana told him.
Vincent leaned over Catherine and breathed into her mouth. She began choking; he turned her onto her side; she was still coughing up sea water. Her body was shaking uncontrollably.
"Iíll get the truck." Diana yelled back at him as she ran to the parking lot. She drove the truck right up onto the beach where Catherine was lying. "Iíve turned the heat up full blast. Letís get her inside. Sheís frozen."
Vincent carried her to the back of the truck and Diana fished inside it for warm clothing. As soon as Vincent laid her down, Diana began pulling off her wet things. Vincent looked away. She turned and pulled some of Vincentís clothing out of his bag and threw them to him.
"Here, you change too; youíll both catch your death."
Vincent ran back to the shoreline, snatching up his boots and his windbreaker and then returned to the shadow of the truck to change. He froze, overwhelmed, when he heard her voice.
"Who are you?" Catherineís voice was low and unsteady.
"My name is Diana Bennett. Iím a detective with the New York City Police Department. Here, put your arms up. Youíre freezing; we need to get you into warm things, Catherine."
"Catherine? Is that my name? Do you know who I am?"
"Of course we do. Weíve been tracking you. You donít know your own name?"
"No. The man I was with -- he was calling me Christina."
"Yes. I was kidnapped. He helped me to escape... but then... "
"He said he wanted to marry me. I told him I couldnít. So then tonight, he got drunk... he tried to rape me."
"Oh, Cathy, Iím sorry."
"It was horrible. I thought... I trusted him. He seemed so kind. But he hit me, and when I jumped onto the ocean to get away from him he grabbed my life preserver. He said... " Catherine squinted at Diana, trying to see her in the almost dark; "Do you know what happened to my baby?"
"Yes. Heís fine, Cathy, just fine."
Catherine began to cry. "Is he? Is he really? He didnít die? Where is he?" Catherine was taken with a fit of coughing. Diana waited for it to subside.
"Of course he didnít die; heís some place safe. Heís been very well cared for. Here, put this on too; youíre still shivering."
"All along Darren told me he was born dead. That was before... tonight, he said awful things... he said my baby was...that someone probably drowned him, because of what his father was. He said it was disgusting...I was disgusting. What did he mean?"
Diana looked up. She wondered where Vincent was. "Nothing. He didnít mean anything. It was just the rambling of a drunken man. We know Holbrook has a drinking problem."
"Does he? I never saw him drink before tonight." Catherine started coughing again, she fell back exhausted, but made an effort to continue. "Tell me, tell me about who I am. Tell me about my baby."
"Not right now -- you canít even keep your eyes open."
"I am tired -- and my arms and legs hurt."
"Iím sure it has been a while since youíve been swimming, Cathy, and the water was very cold. You are probably cramping up. Try and relax. Get some rest. Then weíll talk," Diana paused. "You neednít worry about anything; everything is going to be all right from now on."
"The other detective; I didnít thank him. He saved my life."
"Yes, he did," Diana murmured, helping Catherine to lie down among the blankets, pulling them over her. She stayed a moment as Catherine sighed, closed her eyes. Then Diana sprang out of the truck, looking around for Vincent. He was standing in the truckís shadow; still dressed in his dripping clothing.
He turned from Diana. "What she has been through... it is unimaginable."
"Itís over now, Vincent. Itís over. And she doesnít even recollect most of it."
"Yes, she doesnít know me, Diana, doesnít remember."
"She will. Give her some time. She has been through a nightmare." Diana moved to face him.
"Yes." Vincent grimaced, thinking about all the things that had happened to her.
"Vincent," Vincent turned away from her again. "Holbrook is a thug, one of Gabrielís men. You canít take what he said... "
"Why? Because the rest of the world Aboveís opinion would be any different if they knew who...what...had fathered her child?"
"Only because they donít know you; no one who knows you could think that way." Diana stood looking at his silent figure. "Iíll let you get dressed. We should get on the road."
They pulled out onto the highway. Diana stopped at the first payphone she could find.
"Iíve got to call Joe." She told Vincent.
The officer answering the phone at the command center told her Joe had gone home for the first time since it had all started.
"If itís anything important he said to call him -- not to worry about waking him."
"No, no Steve. Let him sleep. Iím about four hours out of New York. Iíll wake him when I get there."
"Youíre coming back?"
"Yeah, Iím coming back." She didnít tell them the news. She figured she would wait until she told Joe first. She looked back in to the rear of the truck as she climbed into the cab. Vincent was turned in his seat and was staring anxiously at Catherine who was still shivering. She checked the heat; it was all the way up. "Sheís still cold." Diana said.
Vincent nodded. He climbed into the back, searched for and found his cloak. She was asleep still, but her body was shaking and her teeth were chattering. He sat beside her and leaned over her. He noticed that her wet hair was clinging to her body. He gathered her hair together and held it as he wrapped his cloak around her. He couldnít have said how it happened. But suddenly, she turned, moved up against him, grasping his shirt with both her hands, huddling into his body for warmth. He couldnít help himself; he wrapped his arms around her, holding her to him. She burrowed closer and rested her cheek against his chest.
Diana looked back and then quickly looked away again. Well, this is what she had wanted. This is what she had been determined to bring about. So then why didnít it feel better?
And she wasnít surprised. So Catherine couldnít remember him. So what? If her mind couldnít remember, her heart did. Her heart still knew the truth.
Catherine slept. She slept all the way up the eastern seaboard. But Vincent felt that only minutes had passed when Diana turned around and told him she could see the New York City skyline. They would be at the Holland Tunnel in ten minutes. He held her closer still, his cheek against her hair.
Diana drove straight into Central Park. She parked as close as she could get to the drainage tunnel. She got out and walked to the back, opening the truck doors. Catherine was still asleep. Vincent looked at Diana, gazed back down at Catherine.
"Itís almost dawn, Vincent."
The sky was beginning to lighten. He kissed the top of her head and slowly disengaged himself from her, laying her gently on the blankets and tucking them in around her. He climbed out of the back of the truck, looking back at her longingly. Then he turned to Diana. "Donít tell her anything: about me, I mean. I need to think... she doesnít know."
"It will come back to her, Vincent. And if it doesnít...it wonít matter. Sheíll just have to fall in love with you all over again."
Vincent looked down, then back up at Diana. "You have much faith, Diana."
"I do. Now Iím taking her to Joe. He is going to be one very happy man."
Vincent embraced her. "I donít know how I can ever.... "
"So then donít; you donít have to. Get some sleep, Vincent, weíll talk later."
Vincent gazed back at Catherine, took a deep breath, and then turned and headed for the junction door.
Can I go forward when my heart is here?
Diana drove up to the front of Joeís apartment building. She looked back. Catherine was still sleeping soundly. She jumped out and ran inside the building, fidgeting in the elevator until it came to a standstill. When she got to his door she didnít even bother with the door bell. She pounded on his door instead. Joe came running.
"What? Diana, youíre back!"
"Iím back! Weíre back! Iíve got her Joe. Sheís downstairs in the truck."
"Yes. Sheís asleep. I didnít want to wake her."
Joe wrapped his arms around Diana, giving her a tight squeeze. "Give me thirty seconds."
Joe threw on a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt and raced back downstairs with Diana. They opened the rear doors. He turned and looked at Diana, tears running down his face.
"Itís really her."
"Yes. It is." She grinned.
"What happened? Did Vincent find her?"
"Yes. He did." Her grin was even wider.
"Tell me everything." Joe led Diana to his stoop. They sat and talked until they heard movement from within the truck. Joe went around to the back. Catherine was sitting up, looking around her.
Joe stood there blinking in the sunlight which was filling the morning sky. "Cathy."
She smiled at him.
"Hi yourself. Here, let me help you."
"Weíre in New York?" Catherine asked as Joe assisted her in sliding to the edge of the truck bed.
"We sure are Kiddo. Take a look around you. This is home."
She laughed. "It does feel like home. And thank you...for saving my life. I donít know how you managed to be there just at the right time."
"Who me? No Radcliffe, you have me confused with somebody else."
Diana stepped forward. "Joe is your boss Cathy, the District Attorney.
"Well, I guess itís nice to meet you then." She turned to Diana "And your name was...?"
"Diana. I know you were there last night."
"Yes I was."
"The other man, the one who pulled me out..." Catherine looked around her.
"Oh, heís an under cover. He doesnít like his name given out."
"But surely...I just want to thank him."
"Perhaps heíll contact you himself."
"And my baby..."
Joe made a face. "Weíre looking for him Cathy. Iím sure..." Diana grimaced at Joe. She had forgotten to tell him about Jacob.
"Looking for him? I thought..." Catherine faltered.
"We know who he is with." Diana quickly told her.
Joe turned to Diana, "We do?"
"Yes, we do." Diana told him.
"Was he kidnapped too?" Catherineís voice rose in panic.
"Originally yes. But the man responsible for that is dead now. Your son was found and kept by a very decent family of people. Heís been well taken care of and they have every intention of returning Jacob to you as soon as they are able."
"Jacob...Jacob." she said the name to herself. "But I donít understand."
"Neither do I." Joe said. He always knew Diana had known a lot more than she had ever told.
"Look, it is a very long and involved story -- very complicated. And weíre standing in the middle of the street." Diana looked around. "I havenít called any of this in yet. Donít you think we owe John a call."
"Yeah, of course. Come on upstairs ladies. Iíll make some coffee." Joe stopped, looked at her. He opened his arms to Catherine. "Could I?"
She laughed, a deep throaty laugh. "Sure."
Diana had dodged a bullet on that one. She made sure she was on the phone as soon as they entered Joeís apartment. What was she going to tell Catherine about Jacob, when Vincent had told her not to tell Catherine about him?
In the mean time Joe began to relate to Catherine everything that he knew about Gabriel and his abduction of her. Catherine could only shake her head. It was an unbelievable story. She was almost glad she couldnít remember any of it.
Dianaís call to her lieutenant resulted in a large number of various agency people descending on Joeís apartment. Diana took the opportunity to duck out unseen. She would have to report to Headquarters to file a report anyway. Then she would visit the tunnels, ask Vincent how he intended to tell her who he was.
Vincent was in a daze as he passed through the junction door. He heard the sentries tapping out his arrival. He picked up a stone, tapped out a message himself.
ĎHave found Catherine alive...she is home.í
Vincent continued on to Fatherís chamber where he knew everyone would congregate. Father was waiting with open arms, Pascal and William soon joined them.
"Sheís alive Father. I just left her above, in the park." Vincent turned from Father and lifted Pascal up off his feet, hugging him too; then he turned to William.
"I hope you donít think youíre going to pick me up?" William protested.
Vincent laughed and embraced him as well. The other tunnel dwellers started pouring in. Vincent waited until they were all assembled.
"Thank you, all of you. It is good to be home, especially with such a greeting. Catherine is home and safe. She is not altogether well. She does not remember me, she does not remember her own name."
"She has amnesia?"
"So it would seem. I really cannot tell you much else right now. I am weary; weíve traveled a long way. Iíd like to see my son."
Vincent struck out for his own chamber, Father at his side.
"Do you have any idea what could have caused her condition?" Father wanted to know.
"You did say she had been administered heavy doses of narcotics?"
"Yes. Is it possible that could have caused her memory loss?"
"Depending upon what was given to her and how much, certainly."
Vincent briefly related the circumstances of Catherineís rescue. "What I really need more than anything is to be alone Father, I need time... to think...Iím not sure...How is Catherine to be told?"
"Yes, yes I understand. It is a difficult situation. Well, the important thing is that she is alive. Everything else will eventually fall into place."
"Thank you Father." Father hugged him, left him at the entrance to his chamber.
Mary was there, holding Jacob. Vincent took him from her, sat down, Mary placed her hand on Vincentís shoulder; there was really nothing to say.
Vincent looked up at her and then down at his son. "Catherine, your mother...she has returned to us. By tonight...she will be holding you in her arms. You cannot know yet Jacob, what this will mean to you."
Diana spent the morning filling out reports and ignoring Joeís phone calls. Catherine was anxious to see Diana again, ask her all her unanswered questions. But Catherine had little time to think really, she was extensively questioned herself -- then brought to the hospital for a full examination. The day was passing quickly by them all.
Diana was tearing up the room, marching from one side to the other.
"This is insanity Vincent, pure insanity. You canít give up your son."
Diana had finished at headquarters and then had immediately headed down to the tunnels. She was anxious to know what Vincent intended to do. His decision made her feel ill.
"Diana, have you ever loved someone enough, enough to sacrifice your own needs to theirs?" he asked her quietly.
She stopped in her tracks; stood looking into those blue eyes. He didnít say it out loud, he knew he didnít have to. She had pulled out all the stops to bring Catherine back home. She would have traveled to the very depths of Hell itself if need be in order to give Vincent back his Catherine; even though she loved him too - because she loved him too. Because thatís what love is - real love. Diana knew that. And it was the kind of love that Vincent had for Catherine. She came and sat down beside him. He took her hands in his.
"Catherine, for what ever reasons, is unable to remember me. You cannot know Diana, that before there had been obstacles; so many difficulties, that stood in the way of our love. She had always been torn, torn between our world and her own. There were always so many sacrifices she had been forced to make. And now, now Catherine has the opportunity to start fresh, unburdened..."
"Unburdened? Is that what you are, a burden?"
"No, no. Itís..." Vincent leaned back in his chair, sighed. "Diana, I believe I could continue to explain my reasons for the rest of the afternoon, but you would still not understand. So I wonít ask you to. I only ask that you take our son to her - please, Diana."
Diana stood up. "I wonít. I wonít be a party to this. He is everything to you."
"So is Catherine. She needs to have her son with her, they need each other."
"Youíre his father. Heíll miss you."
"Perhaps, but I donít imagine for long -- not with his mother caring for him."
"But what about you?"
"It will be painful, yes. But I will rejoice in the knowledge that they are reunited. I cannot think of myself now. Catherine has suffered enough."
"And you havenít?"
Vincent heaved a deep sigh. "Perhaps, at some future time, we may meet again, form a friendship. Who can tell? I want to give her this chance, Diana."
Diana glared at him. "Friendship? I donít believe what Iím hearing. You canít do this! You canít." She swung around and strode out of his chamber. Vincent looked after her, then leaned back in his chair and gazed up at the rough stone ceiling above him, wishing he felt as certain as he had tried to sound.
Diana was almost to the junction when she heard the sound of footsteps, someone running, behind her. She turned and saw Jamie.
Jamie came to a panting halt. "Did he tell you?" She demanded. "Did he tell you what he intends to do?"
"Yes. Does everyone here know of it?"
Jamie nodded. "He told Father. Then Father called a meeting and told all of us. You canít let him do this. He respects you. Heíll listen to you."
"Iím afraid not. I just tried to talk him out of this. But he is determined."
Jamie was struggling against the tears welling up in her eyes.
"Please Diana, please. You have to do something. Father wonít. He says it is Vincentís decision."
Diana stood staring off into space. Then she smiled.
"Jamie, youíve taken care of Jacob, havenít you, him, and others as well?"
"Of course. We all do; we all care for the younger ones here."
"I thought so. Catherine doesnít have any family. She is all alone. Sheíll need some help, sheís a new mother after all. Sheíll need to hire someone."
Jamie smiled through her tears. "Oh, Diana, thatís a wonderful idea."
"Letís hope so. I can recommend you. But youíll have to get some other references. Are there any helpers we can ask, ones who we can trust not to tell Vincent or Father?"
Jamie thought a minute. "Yes! Lynn and Henry Pa. Theyíll feel the same way about this as we do, I know they will. And they have a little girl already and another baby on the way."
"Good. Get in touch with them, and any others who you believe will write a letter of reference for you. Weíll have to think up something to tell Father. He wonít object to your getting a job above, will he?"
"No. Father always says we must each find our own path. Heíll worry, heíll fuss even, but then heíll let me go."
"All right then, give me a little time to work this all out. Youíll have to contact me. Vincent canít know we are in communication with each other."
Jamie put out her hand to Diana. "Thank you Diana. I feel so much better already; just to be doing something."
"Believe me, Jamie, so do I."
Diana caught up with Joe at St. Vincentís Hospital, Catherine was undergoing a thorough examination.
"Youíve known all along, where Jacob is, havenít you?" He asked. Diana just nodded. "Whatís going on Diana, we canít keep stalling her."
"No. We canít." Diana sighed. "Joe, Vincent wanted me to bring Jacob to Catherine."
"Well, where is he?"
"I refused to do it."
Joe gaped at her aghast. "For what possible reason?"
Diana stood up, started pacing. "You donít understand. He wants me to give her the baby so he doesnít have to. He doesnít want Catherine to know about him."
"Youíre right. I donít understand."
"He thinks Catherine will be better off without him in her life. He wants her to be happy, truly happy. And he has this idea in his head that what would make her happy is some well respected CEO or stock broker for a husband and a big house on the North Shore like Frickís, with a three car garage and a sophisticated alarm system."
"And that is something he canít give her? I guess I can see his point."
"Do you? I donít. And she wouldnít either, if she knew. She can never be happy without him. I donít see how he canít see that. He knows her. How can he be deluding himself like this?"
"Donít you think itís about time you told me the truth about Vincent?"
Diana sighed, sat down again. "Heís different Joe. He looks different...and...he is different. He is larger and much stronger than the average man. His face...his hands...theyíre..." Diana shrugged, sat back.
"He can kill a man, easily, with his hands."
"Yes. I know, youíve seen the damage he can do with just his hands. But there is so much more to him than that Joe. He is kind, and noble, and compassionate and just. He is intelligent and brave and fiercely loyal. He loves books, and music, and poetry and art. But most of all, more than anything, he loves her. He would lay his life at her feet without a secondís doubt or hesitation." Tears were starting up in Dianaís eyes. "And he intends to give up his son for her, the only child he will ever have, so she can have a Ďnormal lifeí."
Joe put his arm around Diana. He wondered how she would describe him to others; certainly not like this. Whatever Vincentís troubles were, Joe couldnít help being envious.
Catherine finally reappeared in the hospital waiting room. Joe stood up.
"I was beginning to think you disappeared again, Radcliffe."
"Radcliffe. Why do you keep calling me that?"
Joe laughed. "Just a nickname. I keep forgetting you donít remember." He searched her face. "So what did they tell you about that?"
"They said it was most likely the drugs. As far as they can see from the tests they performed the doctors say I have sustained some minor damage to certain areas of my brain."
"Is it reversible?"
"They really donít know. They told me the brain is still mostly uncharted territory; a mystery. But the damage didnít seem too extensive. They are optimistic. They said now that I was back in familiar surroundings I might begin to remember more. Odors, sounds, landmarks, might trigger memories - of course, they might not."
"Thatís helpful." Joe took her by the arm and started leading her toward the exit. She couldnít help laughing at his exasperated face.
"I know. Did you manage to get a hold of Diana?"
"I did. She was here. She wants me to bring you over to her place."
Joe stopped. They were standing out in the parking lot. "Youíll have him back very soon. That was all she would tell me." He started steering her again toward the car. "Cathy. I wish I could tell you more. But the problem is this..." He held the car door open for her. "Thereís a lot I donít know."
He came around and got in beside her and instructed the driver to take them to Dianaís loft. He sat back and turned to Catherine.
"Catherine, you always kept your private life private. I knew very little about what you did when you left the office. When Diana first started working the case she told me you had a kind of secret life that you led. Then suddenly she stopped telling me much of anything, she became very guarded in what she revealed to me. And I couldnít even resent it. Because I got the distinct feeling that she was protecting you somehow, even though, well, we both believed you were dead. It just got to the point where I felt that I had to trust her. Cathy, we all have things about ourselves that we keep to ourselves. And we should be able to. Unfortunately, the lives of murder victims often come under minute scrutiny. That becomes necessary during the course of the investigation. But out of respect, Diana kept your secrets. And out of respect for both you and her, I let her.
So this is the thing. There are a lot of blanks in your life that I wonít be able to help you fill in. I hope you donít resent that."
"No, Joe. Iím sure you were right in whatever you did. And Iím sure Diana will tell me what she knows." Joe wasnít. But he left that to Diana.
Diana had gone below again after leaving the hospital. Vincent wasnít there. She talked to Father instead. He told her that Vincent had already left the tunnels with Jacob. She argued with him about his decision to support Vincent. But it was as fruitless with him as it had been with Vincent. Father too, felt Vincentís decision was hasty and not well thought out. But it was Vincentís decision. And to a certain extent he understood and concurred. Catherine was coming back in what was probably a very fragile condition. Vincentís unusual biology could very well be shocking to her, especially given the evidence (Jacob) of how far their relationship had progressed. Diana left even more frustrated than when she had entered the tunnels.
She arrived back at her building just as Catherine and Joe were pulling up also. She inserted the key in her lock and let them all in. They took the ride up to her apartment in silence. They all seemed to be waiting for something. And they werenít disappointed. On the floor of Dianaís apartment, by the white and red rose bush, was a large wicker basket.
Catherine ran to it as soon as they entered. She just knew. He was wrapped in blankets. He smiled when she took him into her arms. A letter had been tucked in beside him. It fluttered down into the basket when Catherine picked him up. Joe retrieved the letter.
"Heís so beautiful. Look at him." She smiled, never taking her eyes from Jacobís face.
Diana led her over to the sofa. "Sit down Cathy." Catherine let herself be led. She looked up at Joe and Diana and then back down at him.
"I canít believe this is real, but heís really mine. I know it."
"Shall I read the letter?" Joe asked. Catherine looked at him for a second, uncomprehending.
Diana excused herself, said she had to attend to the plants in her roof top garden. Catherine was too absorbed in Jacob to question the oddity of her timing. But Joe turned and stared at her. She shrugged at him and hurried outside.
He was standing there, just as she knew he would be. His face held the same expression it had the night before, when he was holding her in his arms -- enraptured, transported, and elated.
She moved toward him, touched his arm. He was breathing in gasps.
"I can feel her again. Itís back...our bond. When she took our son into her arms, I could it feel it. I can feel her joy." Tears were streaming down his face.
Diana stood back and watched him for a moment. Then she approached him again.
"Come in with me Vincent. Tell her, tell her who you are."
"No, no Diana. There is no need. Her presence is in my heart again. It is enough."
"No, no it isnít, not for you, not for her. She needs you Vincent."
He shook his head. "Catherine has her own strength. And her son, her son will give her fortitude beyond any she has ever possessed before." Vincent leaned back against the building, savoring the feelings that were coursing through him.
So youíre actually going to go through with this?"
"Yes," he said softy, regretfully, "I must. And Diana, you must promise me. Promise me you will not reveal anything about me to her. She must not know."
Diana wanted to cry. Instead she just told him. "I promise."
Diana went back inside. Catherine seemed to be oblivious to anything but her son. She was examining fingers and toes. She looked at his attire curiously. "Heís wearing cloth diapers, and his clothes, they look hand sewn."
Joe still had not read the letter. He knew Catherine was barely even aware that he was still in the room. He opened the envelope. The hand writing was neat, ornamental and old fashioned.
"Oh, yes, please do." She looked up just long enough to tell him. Diana and Joe shared a quick exchange of eye contact. Then Joe read:
It is with incredible joy that we have received word that you are alive and mostly well. As you know, unfortunate circumstances led us to believe that you were no longer with us. In view of those circumstances we took it upon ourselves to care for your son. Be assured that it was a labor of love. He has been given the name of Jacob. We hope it meets with your approval. Unfortunately, for reasons that I cannot go into, I am prevented from bringing you Jacob myself, or otherwise making myself known to you. We, our community, have reasons known only to ourselves that prevent us from making extensive contact with the world at large. For ourselves, we say goodbye to Jacob most unwillingly, but for your sake, we give him up with unreserved gladness. We know you will raise him to be a man that we will all be proud of. Please know that both of you are in our thoughts and hearts always. Dearest Catherine, we wish you a full and speedy recovery.
With sincerest regards,
Catherine looked up at Diana and Joe. "What a strange, but very kind, letter. Jacob Wells. Do you know who that is?"
Joe hesitated. "Just barely. He came to me when we were searching for the man who ostensibly killed you. He gave us information which led to Gabriel."
"But the baby was gone when you got to the house?"
"Then Jacob Wells got there first. He must have taken my son before the police arrived."
"Iím not sure he could have. Jacob Wells is an elderly man who uses a cane to walk."
"Oh, this is all so odd. Well, in the letter, he kept saying we, there must be others who helped him." She looked down on Jacob. "He certainly looks healthy and happy. And my Jacob must be named for Jacob Wells. I wonder why all the secrecy? Diana, do you know?"
Diana sighed. "I wish I did. Cathy, Iím afraid I wonít be able to enlighten you much further."
Catherine studied Diana. Was she telling the truth? She could understand it if Diana had been uncomfortable telling Joe all of her secrets, but why would she keep them from Catherine herself? It didnít make any sense. But then she looked down at Jacob. Right now he was her main concern - her only concern really. Somehow, she couldnít worry about anything else.
Joe stood up. "You know Jacob will have to be examined at the hospital. I suppose that can wait for the morning though."
Diana opened her eyes wide. She hadnít thought of that, obviously, neither had Vincent.
"Oh, Cathy doesnít want to spend the whole day in the hospital again tomorrow. What about that doctor, Peter Alcott? He delivered you Cathy, he was your general practitioner your whole life. I interviewed him when...well, you know when. We should bring Jacob to him."
"I donít want to go back to the hospital, youíre right about that. And if he was my family doctor maybe he could tell me things about myself, about my family too, that no one else could."
"Yeah," Joe had to agree. "I remember him. He was a witness in a big case of ours."
Diana stood up, visibly relieved. "Iíll call him right now."
"Is that necessary?" Joe wanted to know.
Diana felt it was. She didnít want anyone getting any other ideas about hospitals into their heads. Diana got his answering service when she dialed Peterís office. She told the operator that she had to contact him tonight. "Tell him itís about Catherine Chandler." She instructed the operator.
He called back one minute later.
"Yes, Do you remember me, Dr. Alcott? Iím sorry to bother you at this hour. You do know about Catherine Chandlerís return?"
"Jacob sent me a message, I went below immediately."
"I have her here, and she has her son, a five month old infant, we were wondering if you could examine. The police are going to need a medical report on him. "
"Fast thinking, Diana. Iíll see Cathy in the morning. Bring her and Jacob by around eight. Iím mostly retired now but I still see some of my old patients. God, itíll be good to see her. Jacob told me about Vincentís decision."
"Did he? And what do you think about it?"
"That itís a huge mistake. But no one asked me for my opinion, Diana."
Diana hung up. "We have an appointment in the morning, first thing. Heís thrilled about seeing you so soon Cathy."
"Well, Iíll let you ladies turn in." Joe said, rising from his seat. "Youíve had a long day. Iím sorry about your homeless situation, Cathy. Mark Coleridge didnít waste any time disposing of your assets."
"You can stay here as long as you like Cathy. It will be nice to have the company, both yours and Jacobís"
"Thank you Diana. And your sofa does look comfortable."
"Youíre taking the bed Cathy."
"No. Youíve been on the road looking for me for days. You need a good nightís rest. And anyway, I never sleep well no matter where I am. Iíve been suffering from insomnia, well, for I donít know how long."
"You slept pretty soundly in the truck. But I guess that was exhaustion."
"I suppose it was. It was the best sleep Iíve had since I can remember." she smiled to herself, she couldnít have said why. "Now, whereís the linen closet?"
Diana and Catherine made up the sofa for Catherine. They placed Jacobís basket along side the couch and she lay down, smiling down on him, her hand placed upon his chest.
Diana went in to her own bed. She tossed and turned for a while before falling asleep. But Catherine drifted off almost immediately, a smile still on her lips.
Vincent waited. He waited till all was silent within. He quietly glided into Dianaís apartment and stood over Catherine and his son. She still had her hand on Jacobís heart. The sight brought tears to his eyes. He stood for a long time. At last he quietly exited through the full length windows that led to the roof . Then he halted, looking back on them.
"Know this Catherine, know that you and Jacob are my life, my whole life. And no distance in miles, no years in time, can ever divide us again. We will be together always, in our bond, in our son, and in the love that we once shared. That bond, which was born of our love, our dream, is no longer lost to me. Iíve found it again. You brought it back to me, my gift for loving you through death just as I had in life. And I vow, I give you this my solemn oath, I will never let this bond be torn from me again. I will watch over you and Jacob, I will protect you, and shield you from all harm, and be a part of you both. For where ever you are, and where ever I am, we will always be as one Catherine, whatever happens...whatever comes."
He walked back; he gently kissed her hair, just brushing his lips lightly against. He touched his sleeping son, then rose and walked slowly toward the roof top terrace. But as he reached the windows, he turned...he thought he heard...he looked back at her. No, heíd imagined it. He thought he had heard her whisper his name.
And what he wouldnít give for that, what he wouldnít give to hear his name spoken by her voice, and to have her look into his eyes, even if it were just for one last time. He leaned against the window jamb. What he wouldnít give to go to her now, and tell her everything, and ask for her love again. He turned and left her.
The name Peter Alcott hadnít meant anything to Catherine. But when she arrived at his office it seemed familiar.
He greeted her with open arms. "Cathy, Oh, Cathy, It is so good to see you."
"Itís good to be here." She looked around. "Didnít you used to have a jar of lollipops right here on your desk?"
Peter laughed. "I certainly did. Very good Catherine, youíre remembering already. I picked up a copy of your chart when I did rounds this morning. But I guess Iím supposed to be looking over little Jacob today."
Peter grinned at Jacob, who didnít protest when he brought him over to his examining table.
"He looks fit as a fiddle Cathy." He pronounced when he had finished examining him.
Diana took Jacob from Peterís arms. "Why donít I go out in the waiting room and let you two get reacquainted for a bit?"
"I think thatís a good idea." Peter put his arm around Catherine and led her to a chair by the window. He sat down opposite her. "Tell me, how you are? How are you feeling?"
"Itís hard to put it all into words. Joe and Diana have told me all the terrible things that happened to me. And those things, well, I think I might be better off not recalling them. But other things, I wish, I wish I could remember my mother and father better; also, my job with the DAís office, my friends, who Jacobís father was. I suppose it was Elliot Burch, but I really canít know that for sure, can I?"
Peter sat back. "No, you canít. But I wish you would try not to worry. I suspect things will come back to you slowly. Probably childhood memories at first, like the lollipops, and then other things as well. Just let it come to you. And Iím here. I mean that sincerely. My door is open to you any time of the day or night, for any reason. And Cathy, this is important. If Jacob ever needs medical attention, I want you to let me know immediately."
"Why, I thought you said he was fine, do you suspect something might be wrong with him?"
"No, no, he is fine." Peter had no choice but to lie. "When you were a child you sometimes had unusual reactions to medications. He might have inherited that from you. I just want to be careful is all."
"Oh, Ok." Catherine answered. Peter walked her out to the reception area and asked her about her intentions for the future. Catherine took Jacob from Dianaís arms. She was glad he wasnít a fussy baby. He didnít seem to object to any of them holding him.
"Sheíll be staying with me for the time being. Her condo has been sold." Diane interjected.
"Catherine, I just had a thought, I know of a townhouse in this neighborhood that is going up for sale. It belonged to a patient of mine who passed away recently."
"She was eighty six years old. She lived a nice long life. I had been visiting her once or twice a week for years. Both of her sons live out of state. She probably died in her sleep. Her letter carrier notified me that she hadnít taken in her mail for two days.
Anyway, the place would be perfect for you Cathy. Most of the townhouses in this area have been divided into separate apartments. But Annie Schwartz lived there for over sixty years. She insisted on keeping the whole place to herself. Would you like to look at it? I still have the keys, I have been keeping an eye on it for Annieís sons until they can sell it. We can go over right now."
The building was in the upper seventies, several blocks west of the park. The townhouses were sandwiched together along a quiet block. Each had a different facade, some simple, some embellished with intricate stonework. Most had five floors, some four; some with a single room and some with two rooms across the width of the house. The first floor of all of them was half recessed into the ground, the second floor was just above street level; all the buildings had flights of stairs going up to the front doors. Every first floor window on the street had bars over the windows, and most of the second floors as well, a concession to New York Cityís crime rate. But the upper floors had unsecured windows. Many had narrow balconies on the third or fourth floors, mostly made of wrought iron, a few of stone.
The one Catherine was looking at was one of these, a stone balcony outside of the fourth floor ran the length of the house fronting the street. It was five stories in all, it was comprised of a pale brown stone with ornate decorations carved into the front facade. Small trees surrounded by miniature iron fences lined the street which was quietly tucked away from the noise of the avenues.
It was perfect. Catherine fell in love with the outside immediately. The inside wasnít as inviting. The kitchen and bathrooms were old and outdated. But it had hardwood floors and huge full length windows. An elevator had been installed in the back kitchen when Annie Schwartz could no longer manage the stairs. Of course, anything not to her liking could be re-done. To her surprise both Diana and Peter seemed more interested in the recessed first floor than any other rooms. They walked around it, feeling the walls with their hands, examining the floor.
But Catherine liked the fourth floor best. It was the one with the balcony. It had two large rooms divided by a narrow hallway. A marble bathroom as large as a normal sized room was at the back end of the house. It was perfect for her and Jacobís bedrooms.
The purchase was conducted quickly. Annieís sons were delighted to have the matter so easily settled. One of them even remembered Catherine, she had gone to school with his son. The transaction would be all in cash, ensuring a quick sale. They told Catherine she could move in as soon as the estate dealer cleared out the house. This was done two days later. Catherine was a new mother and a home owner all within one week.
She was very happy, or she would have been, if either she or Jacob could get a decent nightís sleep. But they were both disaffected somehow, never staying asleep for long, either one of them. One or the other of them would wake from fitful slumber, sometimes unable to return to sleep until almost morning. Catherine wondered if she had somehow transmitted her own insomnia to her son. It made her feel terrible. Of course, he could be missing his former care givers, that didnít make her feel much better.
She thought once they settled into their new home the problem might be resolved. But each night it seemed to worsen. Jacob was becoming increasingly fretful. By the end of the third week she made an appointment to see Peter.
He advised the usual remedies, a long walk every afternoon, hot milk before bedtime, a warm bath. Catherine had already tried all those things. Peter assured her it was just temporary. He told her he knew that within a day or two, her problem would be solved. She was surprised at how certain he was of this. He walked her out of his office, seemingly anxious to be somewhere else.
"You do know theyíre not sleeping, either one of them?"
Vincent turned away. "I know."
"What do you intend on doing about it?" Peter was unusually impatient with Vincent.
"Iíll think of a way. I was hoping once they had the opportunity to become adjusted..."
"Cathyís adjusted. She loves her new house. She is having a wonderful time planning the remodeling. All her old friends are coming to see her. Joe Maxwell has offered her a job whenever sheís ready - part time only, flexible schedule. She has hired a motherís helper she is very pleased with. There is only one thing missing now."
Vincent wouldnít look at Peter.
"You. Youíre whatís missing from both their lives. Youíre going to have to go to her, Vincent. Iíll pave the way if you would like, explain to her about you."
"No. No, there must be another way. Iíll take care of it, Peter...somehow. But thank you for coming. If I need your help, I will contact you."
"Vincent, I never in my life thought Iíd have cause to say this to you, but, youíre a fool."
Vincent swung around now, truly startled. No one had ever before said a thing like that to him. Peter turned away and stalked out of his chamber. Vincent just stared after him.
Was he really being a fool?
Heíd kept watch from the beginning. He was never more than a few blocks away come night fall. He was taking no chances. They had not yet apprehended Darren Holbrook. And anyway, this was a dangerous city.
But now he quickly and quietly slid down from the roof top, to the balcony that bordered Catherine and Jacobís bedrooms. Jacobís crib had wheels attached to the bottom, sometimes she pushed him into his own room, sometimes she had him sleep in hers. She kept experimenting, hoping that each new night would bring them the rest they both needed.
Tonight he was in Catherineís own room. Catherine had just dropped off to sleep; Jacob was still staring up at the ceiling. Vincent slipped in silently. Jacob already knew he was there. He began to gurgle excitedly. Vincent quickly stepped over to his crib and lifted him in his arms. He had to stand a moment, take a breath. It felt so good to hold his son again. Then he quietly backed away into a dark corner, his eyes on Catherine. She was tossing and turning at first. But Vincent smiled down on a delighted Jacob and gently started to rock him. Jacob drifted off into contented slumber and Catherine soon followed, burrowing into her blankets and sighing as she fell into a deep sleep. He stayed until the hour before dawn. Then he reluctantly replaced his sleeping child in his bed, and took a long look at Catherine before disappearing into the shadows outside her windows.
And so it went. Every night he was there, watching, guarding. Jacobís crib was now permanently installed in his own room. They both slept soundly through the night, except Jacob would always awaken when his father lifted him from his cradle. Jacob would grasp his fingers, look into his eyes, sometimes even flail his arms in excitement. But he would soon return to the land of nod, his eyes closing with the sight of his fatherís compassionate face, his head resting against his fatherís strong arm, his ears listening to his fatherís dulcet voice against his cheek.
Now that she and Jacob were sleeping through the night Catherine developed a routine. She accepted Joeís proposal of working two days a week. She wanted to be sure she could get her skills back. It was somewhat difficult at first, but she had an understanding boss. Slowly the details of researching a case came back to her. She worked in the office only, no field work. She sometimes she had reason to speak with Diana. Theirs was an uneasy partnership. Diana had not been forthcoming with her about her past. They had argued about it. This made working with her awkward. She couldnít understand why Diana was holding out on her. Yet, she had to admit; she had a feeling it was for her own good. And Diana had saved her life. She didnít want to be ungrateful. But still, she couldnít understand why Diana would lie to her.
Of course, she would never be doing this, going back to work even, if Diana hadnít found her such a competent motherís helper. She was given good references. Lynn Pa came in person. She was not only was bubbling with praise for the girl but she also told Catherine about their previous encounter. She said that her husband had killed someone in self defense and Catherine had convinced the District attorneyís office not to press charges. She said she was forever grateful and if Catherine ever needed anything she was to call her.
Catherine also got a letter of recommendation from a police officerís wife, a woman named Laura who also gave Jamie a very good character. Catherine hired her.
There was something a little strange about her. All of her clothing looked brand new. She did not have a telephone number where she could be reached. She didnít seem to want to answer many questions either, about her background. She mentioned her family once in a while, but in a very guarded way. When Catherine showed her around the house for the first time, she also seemed to take a strange interest in the furnace room.
Still, Catherine trusted her implicitly. There was something about her that inspired confidence. And Jacob took to her immediately. So much so that Catherine had to count it as another one of the strange things about her. Jenny Aaronson wasnít as sure about Jamie as Catherine was. She told Catherine she made her a little nervous. Jenny asked Catherine what she really knew about her. Catherine couldnít answer. She just knew that Jamie was someone who could be relied upon.
Jenny and Catherine had picked up where they left off -- instant camaraderie. Catherine was surprised that Jenny didnít know who the father of her child was.
"You donít think it could have been Elliot Burch?" Catherine questioned.
"I suppose itís possible. But why wouldnít you have told me? There would have been no reason to keep that a secret from me. Truthfully Cathy, I suspected you were going with a married man."
"Would I have done something like that?" Catherine was nonplused.
"I donít know. I did."
"Oh, Jenny, Iím sorry, I didnít mean to..."
"Thatís Ok, Cathy. It was one of the worst times of my life. I was so in love with him. I couldnít seem to stop myself. It was like being addicted to a drug. But I knew how wrong it was. He had two little girls. I hated myself for it. You saw me through it Cathy. You helped me to move on, take control of my life again. You stayed up till all hours with me, took my phone calls no matter what else you were doing. Iíve never forgotten how you were there for me."
"Iím glad I was." Catherine took Jennyís hand.
"Me too. But I thought maybe thatís why you didnít want to tell me anything. I knew there was someone. But I didnít press. I had to believe that when you felt ready you would come to me."
Catherine nodded. "I wish I had."
All Catherineís old friends had all begun to contact her again. Marie and Jeff Rosenblum, Margaret Shaw. The last mentioned headed a number of charity committees for the arts: Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera House, and several of the museums in the area. She insisted Catherine become involved again. She told her that for the last couple of years before her disappearance she had been too busy with work to do much else. But now, now she should lead a more balanced life. Margaret had never thought that job with the District Attorneyís office was such a good idea anyway.
Catherine agreed to help her out here and there. Of course, it was a lot easier than it would have been without Jamie. She was invaluable. Babysitting, cooking and cleaning and serving when the women would hold their meetings at Catherineís townhouse.
One thing though, Jamie always insisted on leaving before dark. Catherine always offered to pay for her cab ride home. But Jamie refused every time, making sure she was on her way as dusk began to settle upon the city.
Catherine would often take Jacob to the park by herself; just the two of them. She enjoyed the walk and it seemed right to give Jamie a little down time during the day, where she could sit by herself and have a cup of tea.
She would take Jacob to the zoo, the play ground, the carousel. He was five months old when Catherine had returned to him. As the spring turned into summer he was growing by leaps and bounds. There were always children in the park. One group in particular she couldnít help noticing. They were there in the mornings, even on school days. And their clothing was strange. They would often manage to show up where ever she was. It was curious. Once Jacob dropped a toy as she was wheeling him along and a boy, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, ran after her with it. He insisted on giving it to Jacob himself. It was peculiar. The boy acted as if handing Jacob a toy was the most wonderful thing heíd done all year.
Another time she was pushing Jacob in a swing when some other children ran by and inadvertently but roughly ran into her so hard she fell down. The same boy from the stroller incident and two other children were there in an instant. They stopped Jacobís swing and took him out of it. They helped her to her feet and insisted they walk with her to his stroller. It gave her the strangest feeling. She felt, wellÖbut if she had known them before wouldnít they have re-introduced themselves to her?
It was puzzling.
And odd things seemed to keep happening. Peter Alcott stopped in one day and was astonished when he came face to face with Jamie. He said her name but then acted like he was sorry that he had even acknowledged her. They vaguely told her that Jamie was a patient of his. After Jamie left she questioned him about her but he seemed reluctant to answer.
Yet the strangest thing of all came on a miserable, rainy day. It had been raining the whole week, and it was an unseasonably chilly July day. Catherine was just finishing getting ready for work. The doorbell rang. Cathy was surprised that Jamie would have forgotten her key.
It wasnít Jamie. A very strange looking young man was at her door. He had innocent blue eyes and untidy blonde hair. He was dressed oddly, even more oddly than the children in the park. He smiled a shy smile.
"Jamieís sick. Father wouldnít let her come. Said rain would make her sicker. Mouse can look after Jacob."
Catherine was standing there with the door wide open, too surprised to move. He came walking past her, into the house. And she smelled the scent of smoky candle wax and damp, cool earth and mineral water. It smelled like heaven.
It threw her for a moment. She turned open mouthed. But he had spotted Jacob sitting in his walker. Mouse squatted down on the floor and began stroking Jacobís head, speaking quietly to him.
Catherine came and stood over him. "I donít understand. You say Jamie is ill?"
"Sneezing, coughing. Father says Ďstay in bedí. So Jamie told Mouse to come, tell Catherine she wouldnít come today. But Mouse can mind Jacob. Mouse is good at taking care of babies." He grinned up at her. "Better than good, better than better."
Catherine sat down opposite him and stared at him. "Is Jamie your sister?"
Sister?" He was incredulous. He looked down, seemed to be actually blushing. "Jamieís not Mouseís sister. Jamieís...Jamie is Jamie"
Could it be? Could the pretty, self-contained, naturally elegant girl Catherine had come to know actually be having a romantic relationship with what could possibly be a half-wit? She leaned back on her sofa. Somehow, the answer was yes. There was something about him, something sweet and genuine, and something about the way he said Jamieís name. He might not be every girlís dream, but she could see Jamie caring deeply for this boy.
Catherine thought of something else. "Father? Is that your father or Jamieís?"
"Father, why Father is Jamieís father, Mouseís father, Samanthaís, Geoffreyís, everybodyís."
"I see." Although she didnít. "And you say youíve minded children before."
"Lots, lots and lots. Always lots of children below. Everybodyís job. Feeding, changing, bathing. Mouse doesnít always like it. Sometimes would rather be building, fixing. But Mouse always does his job. Ask anyone."
Below. Of all of the odd things he had just told her, that was the word that stuck in her mind. Below. Below where?
It wasnít the first time the thought had occurred to her; that Jamie had taken care of Jacob before she had ever came to work for her. She almost asked the strange young man sitting on the floor in front of her. He had removed Jacob from his walker and was bouncing him on his knee; but for some reason that seemed underhanded. Jamie was a sober, sensible girl. If it were true she must have a reason for not telling Catherine. And it seemed cruel to take advantage of this simple minded young man by asking him questions he probably wasnít supposed to answer.
"You know Dr. Alcott, donít you?"
"Peter? Sure. Peterís a helper, gives us medicine, helps Father if too many are sick."
"I was just going to call him, will you excuse me?"
"Catherineís not sick?"
"No, no -- Mouse." The concern in his voice was evident. "Iíll be right back."
Catherine dialed Peterís number, it was the first one listed by her phone.
She explained the dilemma. Peter sounded almost amused. "I know he is rather odd on the surface, especially in the way he speaks. But the fact is he is very well qualified to take care of Jacob. He has had just as much experience with infants as Jamie has."
"And with Jacob himself, doesnít he? He has taken care of my son before."
Peter hesitated. "Do you remember something Cathy?"
"No, no Peter, Iím sorry that I donít, but I donít. Iím coming over Peter, we have to talk."
"Ok, Cathy. Iíll make you some tea."
"Thatíll be fine. And youíre sure itís Ok to leave Jacob with Mouse?í
"Then Iíll be there in ten minutes."
She hung up the phone and dialed the office. She told Joeís secretary she would be running late.
She walked back into the living room. Jacob and Mouse were taking turns pulling on each otherís noses, both laughing uproariously.
"All right Mouse, Iím going now. Peterís number and my work number are both by the phone. You do know how to use a phone, donít you?"
"Telephone? Oh, thatís easy. Take it apart, put it back together. Simple, two minutes, tops."
"Well, I canít see where that would be necessary." Catherine quickly showed Mouse where the items he would need for the day were. She left them, a little reluctantly, but she was anxious to speak to Peter. It was about time someone told her the truth.
Peter had the tea ready when she arrived. She waited until they were seated to begin interrogating him. First she explained to him about Dianaís incomprehensible reticence, then about Jamieís. She told him about the children in the park.
"They are following me around. I am sure of it. I told Jenny Aaronson about it and it made her suspicious, nervous. But that isnít how they make me feel at all. The truth is, I donít feel so much watched as watched over." She hesitated. "Peter, I havenít told this part to anyone. At night, every night, I have this recurring dream, well, perhaps not a dream exactly, more like a vision. I dream there is someone, a man I think, close by, on my balcony, even inside our rooms sometimes. And he does just what the children do, he watches over us, Jacob and me." Catherine leaned forward. "Peter, you have to tell me. What is going on?"
"I canít tell you."
"But you know, donít you? Why wonít you tell me?"
"A long time ago, before you were born even, I made a promise. Iíve kept that promise for forty years now."
Catherine heard a voice in her head, her own voice. She was standing in a luxurious office, facing a handsome man who was imploring her to tell him something "I canít" she told him. "I made a promise." Elliot, Elliot Burch. She knew him from the pictures she had seen of him.
"But I knew about that promise once, didnít I?"
"There are reasons Cathy, reasons I canít go into, why I canít divulge anything further."
"What reasons? Oh, Peter, canít you tell me anything?"
Peter considered. "Perhaps I can tell you this much...suppose there was a place...a place that took in children that nobody else wanted. And suppose the way they did it wasnít exactly legal. The people who harbor these childrenÖsuppose they didnít go through the regular channels. No foster care, no adoption proceedings, no red tape, no waiting for the poor decision making of a mindless bureaucracy. They take these children in off the streets, out of abusive situations, quietly, and they take it upon themselves to care for them, to educate them, to love them."
"The children, the children from the park."
"There have been many, so many over the years. Let me tell you the story of just one. Itís about a little girl, perhaps six or seven. She was found by two teenage girls, girls who were themselves being brought up in this place. They saw this little girl eating from garbage pails off the street. They questioned her. The little girl told them she didnít need their help, she didnít need anyone, she could take care of herself. But they persisted, followed her around. They enlisted the help of the other children. They found things out. Her mother was an addict and a prostitute. She brought men into their home. Finally they got the little girlís story out of her.
The mother had brought a client home, then had passed out. The man went after the little girl. She locked herself in the bathroom. Someone had left a beer bottle on the sink. The little girl broke the beer bottle, held it out in front of her, and held the man at bay, managing to make her way out of the apartment. Can you imagine thatÖa little girl, and she did that? And she never went back."
"What happened to her?"
"The older girls finally convinced her to come with them. She was raised along with all the others. And a braver, more confident, more industrious young lady youíll never meet."
A sudden thought struck Catherine; a sudden, horrible thought. She put her hand over her mouth, tears springing to her eyes. "It was Jamie. Oh God, Peter, that little girl was Jamie."
"Yes, it was."
"How awful, Peter. I understand now. I understand why this secret is so important. I wonít question you or Jamie further. Iíll wait. Iíll wait until they know they can trust me again."
Catherine worked quickly that day, a little anxious to get home. She had reason to be, she couldnít quite believe the sight that met her eyes when she turned her key in the lock and opened her front door. BubblesÖsoap bubbles floating everywhere through the rooms. The bubbles seemed to be emanating from the kitchen, as well a series of very loud, banging noises. She made her way toward the rear of her dwelling, nearly stumbling over the packing boxes which were lined up in the hallway leading to the kitchen. The boxes had been tied together, they had also been drawn on with magic marker, and each one had four pot lids attached to its bottom sides. Her percolator, which a string attached to it, had been attached to the first box. She couldnít imagine why.
As she entered the kitchen and was greeted by the sight of Mouse (who was wearing a pot on his head) and Jacob both seated on the floor beating out various sounds with spoons and other utensils on all the overturned pots and pans. The bubbles were coming from her blender.
Catherine stood there in a state of shock. Mouse looked up, saw her, grinned sheepishly and scooped Jacob up and presented him to her. Jacob was laughing in a way she had never seen him before. She took him in her arms.
Mouse began to explain himself. He wasnít sure Catherine was too pleased with him.
"Rain all day, couldnít go out, couldnít go to the park," he smiled, "so Mouse brought the park here. Donít worry. Mouse will clean it all up." With this he began scampering about, retrieving her cookware and returning it to cupboards and drawers.
She burst out laughing, laughing in a way she hadnít in a very long time. Jacob joined in, and soon Mouse did too.
Vincent lowered the book he was reading. He smiled to himself, leaned back his head and enjoyed their laughter. It felt good.
Catherineís friends had been relentlessly seeking to terminate her single status. It seemed everyone had a single friend, cousin, or co-worker. She accepted dates with them half heartedly. Certainly, she was lonely at times. But these men never seemed to satisfy. She always came home feeling a little sad, as if trying to find romance just reminded her that something was missing from her life.
She had convinced Jamie to stay in the evenings now. The truth was, she didnít like leaving Jacob with anyone else, except for Mouse of course. It was still odd though, because neither Jamie nor Mouse would set foot upstairs once evening began to fall. Jamie would bring everything she needed down to the main floor before it got dark. And she would invariably still be on the main floor when Catherine returned, often with Mouse at her side.
It was hard to explain to her gentlemen callers about Mouse. Her dates would almost always be disconcerted by his appearance and odd manner of speaking. They would stare at him, then later wonder out loud to Catherine what her reasons were for entrusting her son to such an odd person. To Mouse himself they would act patronizing, not bothering to hide their contempt for him. He in turn, did not try to hide his mutual assessment of their appearance and manners; he would stare belligerently back at them. Catherine resented them for it, and secretly shared Mouseís appraisal of her suitors when they acted that way. If anyone was expendable in her life it was them, not Mouse. And it wouldnít take her long to let them know this.
The summer was winding down. Catherine was seeing Peter for Jacobís well check. He was receiving his first immunization. Peter wanted to be cautious. Catherine enjoyed her visits with Peter more than almost anything else in her life. He told her stories about himself and her parents, they had all been friends together, Peter and his wife, her mother and father. They were all gone now, and Peter took just as much delight in reminiscing as Catherine did in hearing him. He also related tales about her childhood, anything he could remember. Sometimes it touched off a bell in Catherineís head. A piece of a memory would come sliding back into place.
He asked her if she was happy. She had to think about this at first. But she decided she was not exactly happy, the word content was more fitting. She was content with her life. Jacob, her home, her friends, her job were all very satisfying. And yet...and yet.
She was dreaming. Dreaming of a silent figure that moved out of the shadow of her building and entered her room. He crossed the threshold and stood over her. He said her name.
"Catherine! Catherine, please donít be frightened. You have nothing to fear from me." She stumbled out of sleep. "Your son is ill, burning up with fever."
She lay there for a moment. She sat up. Sheíd been dreaming. She went over it in her mind, what had he said? That her son was sick? She reached over and switched on her bedside lamp. Jacobís crib was empty. She looked wildly around the room. Then she realized she heard water running in the bathroom. She leaped out of her bed, wide awake now, and stumbled down the hallway in a panic. A night light lit her way to the bathroom where she saw a large, dark figure bending over the bathtub. The taps were running full blast. She noticed Jacobís pajamas had been tossed aside, they had been torn asunder and were lying crumpled on the bathroom floor. She stumbled forward. The immunization!
"The cool water will bring down his fever, Catherine."
She fumbled for the bathroom switch. "I donít need the light", the voice told her.
Catherine faltered forward toward him, peering through the dimness to look over his shoulder. The man had both his arms plunged into the water, he was holding her son totally submerged with the exception of his face, which was placidly looking up into the strangerís. His cloak smelled of burnt candle wax and old leather and fragrant earth.
"Call Peter", he said to her.
Yes, of course! Catherine flew back to her room, shaking, she dialed the phone.
"Peter. Itís Cathy. Jacob is ill. He has a fever."
"Cathy? How high is it?"
"I donít know. Peter, there is a man in my bathroom. He appeared from nowhere. He is giving Jacob a bath. He said that would bring down his temperature."
"It will. Iím getting dressed as we speak, Cathy. This man, is there anything special about him?"
"Other than he broke into my home to take care of my son?"
"Cathy, please donít be alarmed...what does he look like?"
"I donít know. I havenít seen his face. Heís wearing something long and dark."
"Yes. Cathy, I know who it is. And please, be assured that there are no safer hands in the entire world for your son to be in, than the ones he is in right now. Just let him take care of Jacob and Iíll be right there, and Cathy...."
"Donít be frightened; no matter what. He would never do anything to hurt you."
"I know that." Catherine told him. She hung up. She ran back to the bathroom.
"Peter is on his way."
"Good. Jacobís fever is breaking. He is much cooler already. He is going to be all right, Catherine."
Catherine sighed, sagged against the bathroom wall. She wondered why she wasnít fighting him; trying to take her son from his arms. It was because she knew what Peter had told her was true. He was going to make Jacob better, she was sure of it.
"I should have taken him to sleep with me in my bed. No, I should never have slept at all."
"You are not to blame; you could not have known."
"Peter told me to keep a watch out for any signs of illness. Thatís why I wheeled his crib into my room. But I didnít think...I didnít realize...." She paused. "But you knew. How did you?" He didnít answer. "Who are you?"
She saw his shoulders stiffen. He didnít turn, didnít answer her.
"It was you, wasnít it? You pulled me out of the water in Maryland. Then you held me, kept me warm, all the way back to New York. I thought Iíd dreamed that part; and Iíve been dreaming of you ever since. But itís not a dream, because youíre actually here. And you have been standing on my balcony, every night, keeping watch over both of us, Jacob and me. I canít even explain how I know that. Iíve never seen you, never heard you even. But ...I can feel you there."
Vincent let out a ragged sigh. He couldnít help it. Their bond, she could feel it again too.
She took a step toward him, but turned when the doorbell rang.
"Peter." He said quietly.
"Iíll be right back."
Catherine bounded down the stairs. She opened the door and then turned back, not even greeting Peter. He came in and followed her up.
"Hey, hey. Slow down. Iím coming."
Catherine stopped, took a breath. "Iím sorry. We could take the lift."
"No, thatís all right, Cathy. I can still manage the stairs."
"He says the fever is breaking."
Catherine ran ahead again. She froze when she reached the bathroom. It was empty. She turned and ran to her own room. Jacob was lying in his crib swaddled in a towel.
"Heís gone." She picked up Jacob and looked around the room. "Heís gone Peter."
"Well, how is Jacob?" He unwrapped him, felt his head and limbs. "Yes. That doesnít seem so bad. Letís have a look see."
Peter thoroughly examined Jacob and pronounced him a little worse for wear but in no danger, and Catherine dressed him.
"Would you like some coffee?"
"No, no. I have rounds in less than an hour. Iíll get some at the hospital."
They made their way down back downstairs. Catherine restrained him as they reached the living room.
"Who was that, Peter? What is his name?"
"Catherine. I hate to be mysterious. But I canít really tell you about him." She studied his face.
"He belongs to that place, doesnít he? The one you told me about -- where they take care of all the children -- the place Mouse calls "Below".
Peter hesitated. "Yes."
"Iíll keep their secret. I did before, didnít I?"
"Yes, you did. And I know you will. But it is not up to me to tell you. I donít have permission."
"But you could get it. You could ask. Who do you need to get it from, Jacob Wells?"
"Yes, from him. And from the man who took care of your son tonight."
"Surely heíll give it to you now."
"Iím afraid he wonít. You see, he is the one who decided that for now, you are not to be told anything about their community."
Catherine was astounded. The way his voice sounded, the way he had pronounced her name, it had made her feel... the way it had made her feel.
"I need to go. Iíll be late for rounds." Peter placed Jacob into her arms.
"But one question; there is one question I need answered."
Peter walked toward the door; put his hand on the door knob. "What is it Cathy?"
"His name; I just need to know his name."
Peter cupped his hand around the side of her neck. "I shouldnít be telling you this, but I will. Vincent, his name is Vincent." Peter pulled the door open and walked out into the coming morning. Catherine closed her eyes, and she heard...
"I was a baby, abandoned and left to die, someone found me, brought me here, to the man who became my father, he took me, he raised me, he taught me everything, he named me Vincent, thatís where I was found, near the hospital, St. Vincentís."
"Vincent." she whispered. "Vincent." She buried her head in Jacobís neck.
Catherine was sitting waiting for Jamie to come. Jamie let herself in with her key, calling out a hello. She saw her sitting in the chair. Jamie came and knelt beside her, sensing trouble.
"Is everything all right?"
"Yes. Jacob was sick last night. He had a fever. Iím staying home today. But Iíd like you to stay. I could use your help."
"Of course. How is he now?"
"Better. Vincent was here. He took care of him."
She saw Jamieís eyes light up. Then saw them cloud with indecision. "Whoís Vincent?" She asked as nonchalantly as possible.
Catherine smiled. She would keep her promise to Peter. "Iím not really sure myself. He came, saved Jacobís life, maybe, and left again. Rather strange behavior, donít you think?"
"I guess. But the important thing is that Jacob is all right, isnít it?"
"Yes, thatís the important thing."
Jamie stood up. "What was he like, this Vincent?"
"Itís hard to say. I never saw his face. But he had this way about him. He told me not to be frightened; and I wasnít."
"Yes. There are some people; well, you just know you can trust them."
Catherine reached out and took Jamieís arm. "Thatís true, Jamie. And you know that about me, donít you? You know you can trust me."
Jamie smiled, took Catherineís hand. "I do. I know that."
"Then why doesnít Vincent?"
Jamie knelt down again, giving up the pretense. "He will. I promise; some day, some day heíll know."
"I hope itís soon."
"I hope so too."
But it wasnít. The weeks went by and she heard nothing else about him. Jamie returned to her usual reticence. Catherine just continued with her life; what else could she do? Margaret Shaw was organizing a fund raiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a costume ball, to be held on Halloween night, in the Egyptian wing of the museum itself.
Catherine had gone searching for, and found the costume she and Jamie had seen while unpacking her possessions from storage. It was a colonial style dress, along with an owl mask. She held it up to her. It made her feel lovely, and loved. She was going to wear this dress to the fund raiser at the Museum. Jamie remonstrated, however. She told her should wear something new. Jamie volunteered to make her something, something special.
Catherine had already been marveling at Jamieís sewing skills. They had come across a sewing machine when the two of them were unpacking Catherineís personal effects. It was a very complicated machine with multiple settings for dozens of stitches. Jamie thought it marvelous. Catherine was still scratching her head as to why she would have purchased such a thing. The idea of long hours spent dedicated to mastering this contraption was not in the least bit appealing. Jamie told her it wasnít that complicated. They set it up in Catherineís library on the third floor. Jamie told her she had a machine already, but it was nothing like this one.
Of course, what Jamie didnít tell her was that it was her sewing skills that had been the lie she had used to Father to come above. Some of the helpers had already suggested to her that her designing and sewing skills were unique and valuable. They told her she should try and get a position in one of the designing houses. So that was the ruse she concocted for Father. She told both him and Vincent that she had become an apprentice at a fashion outfit in the garment district. They believed her. She didnít even feel guilty.
Now she was making the most wonderful costume Catherine had ever seen. Nothing rivaled it, not even anything Catherine had seen on the Broadway stage or at Lincoln Center. It was a fairy costume: lighter than air, it had gossamer wings, an iridescent bodice, and shimmering petals which floated in the shape of a skirt.
They had purchased the materials together. Jamie told her she had often made Halloween costumes for the children. But with the salary Catherine was paying her, this was the first year she had the money to actually buy the materials. Before she had always made do with whatever she had been able to scrounge together. Jamie was excited about making this costume for a girl who was turning thirteen in October; it was a special gift. The materials were very expensive, so Catherine insisted on paying for everything herself. And now Jamie was offering to make Catherine her very own costume.
They were holding one of the endless meetings that led up to the fund raising event at Catherineís house. And this gathering would be larger than any of the other ones they had before. All the committees were meeting at once. Jamie suggested they bring in an extra pair of hands to help with the cooking and serving. Just as Catherine had suspected she would, she recognized the girl from the park; she had been among those who had helped Catherine to her feet when she had been knocked over near the swing set. She was also the girl who would be wearing the fairy costume on Halloween. Her name was Samantha.
The other women were all captivated by the dress Jamie was working on for Catherine. Marie even asked Catherine if she could try it on. She had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to convince Jamie to make a garment for her. Several of the women had trooped up to Catherineís library, which had been temporarily turned into a sewing room. Fabrics were draped everywhere, and the room was littered with sequins and pearls and skeins of silken embroidery thread.
The gathering was well underway when the doorbell rang. Karen, a divorced woman in her thirties, one of the most rambunctious of the group, hurried to answer it.
He walked right past her with a salacious wink. "Hi, how are you -- lovely day, isnít it?" He swept into the room; a hurricane of energy. He walked straight up to Catherine and put his arms around her and kissed her hard on the cheek.
"Youíre a sight for sore eyes, Cathy."
"Am I supposed to know you?"
"Of course, my dear; I heard about your memory loss, but really, I didnít think you would be able to forget me."
"No? Is there some special reason why I wouldnít have?"
"Of course, Iím a special sort of a man. My name is Devin, Devin Wells."
Catherine had been removing his arms from around her, but she stopped.
"Are you sure you donít know me, Cathy?"
"Yes." She shook her head, wondering if she should ask him what his relationship to Jacob Wells was. She decided not to, not at that moment anyway. "Iím just wondering -- did I like you?"
"Like me? Why, you loved me. You always said I was the love of your life. But alas, Cathy, I am a man who needs his freedom. I couldnít commit."
Catherine grinned at him. She suspected that she did like him.
"Iím afraid you came at a rather hectic time."
He looked around the room approvingly. "Seems like perfect timing to me. What are all you lovely ladies doing? Plotting to take over the world?" He addressed the room at large. The women, especially the single ones were all exchanging glances and smiles.
"And if we were, what would you do about it?" Karen boldly asked him.
"Iíd let you, of course. You certainly couldnít do worse than we men have. And anyway, subjugation would be a pleasure to such adorable dictators."
They all laughed.
"Actually, we are organizing a fund raiser for the Metropolitan Museum; A Halloween ball -- full costume. I donít suppose youíd be interested in purchasing a ticket?" Karen inquired.
"Ah, I would. But I have a good idea what you would charge for that ticket, and it is a little too rich for my blood. Iím truly sorry for that, I cannot imagine a more fascinating evening."
"Perhaps Margaret could find an extra ticket lying around. Sheís in charge of sales. What do you think Margaret?" Karen turned to her, "We could always charge the Astor brothers more for theirs. Neither one of them can dance worth a damn. And anyway, they should have to pay extra just for all the shoes theyíve ruined."
"That would be tremendous, Margaret; would it be possible?" Devin turned to her. "I could dance like Baryshnikov himself with such a tantalizing choice of partners."
Margaret smiled, looked down and then up again. "I think we could."
"Oh, youíre a sweetheart." Devin moved away from Catherine and bent over Margaretís hand, kissing it. She laughed and blushed.
"But could I impose upon your generosity further still? My little brother, he has suffered a romantic disappointment recently. He is quite broken up about it. And Halloween was always a favorite night for us, ever since we were children. I would hate to abandon him to sit alone moping when I was out enjoying myself on such a special night."
"Is he as cute as you?" Karen wanted to know.
"Are you kidding? Heís just as cute as a button, and graceful as a swan."
"I guess it wouldnít be any more difficult finding two than one." Margaret said shyly, looking down again.
"Youíll have my undying devotion." He bowed low, causing another ripple of laughter to flow through the room. As he dipped himself he glanced up to find Jamie standing by the kitchen, holding a tray, looking uncertainly at him. He straightened up, looked around the room.
At that moment Marie swept down the stairs in Catherineís dress.
"Another vision of loveliness." Devin gazed up at her.
"Thank you," Marie smiled at Devin, and then looked questioningly at the others. "Unfortunately this dress is Catherineís. I donít suppose youíll change your mind about making one for me?" She asked, addressing Jamie.
"Iím sorry, I wouldnít have time."
"Is that what youíll be wearing, Catherine?" Devin looked pleased.
He moved closer to Marie, inspecting the dress. "Itís perfect really. Juliet, isnít it?"
"Yes. You know your Elizabethan costumes", Catherine laughed, surprised.
"Well, I know my Shakespeare, at any rate. Force fed it as a child." Despite the negativity of the words, he sounded fond of the memory. "May I help myself in your kitchen, Cathy? Iím parched."
She nodded, watching him curiously. Devin moved into the kitchen. Samantha looked up from her cutting board and opened her mouth to cry out a greeting. He put his finger to his lips and swung her up in a tight hug. Jamie quickly finished passing out the contents of her tray and returned to the kitchen.
"What are you doing here?" She frowned.
"Same thing you are, darling. No kiss for your uncle Devin?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know very well what I mean. You have no more intention of letting him get away with this than I do." He glanced around and then moved closer to her. "I came home this morning and Father told me all about this nonsense of Vincentís -- giving Catherine and Jacob up; itís too ridiculous. And youíre right about being too busy to make any topsiders a costume. Youíre going to sew another one, one for Vincent. Iím sure you know just the one to make."
"Why?" He shrugged his shoulders at Samantha. "She asks me why," he turned back to Jamie. "Because my little brother is going to that ball."
"And just how do you think you are going to get him to do that?"
"You leave that to me. You just get your little fingers busy and conjure up a fitting masquerade."
"Oh, letís", Samantha cried. "Iíll help. Please Jamie. Vincent just has to go."
"And while youíre at it, Iíll need an outfit myself. Cyrano would suit me quite well, I think."
"Yeah? Well, since youíre so good at picking up professions youíve never been trained for, you can sew it yourself. It shouldnít take you long to learn."
"Youíre a hard woman Jamie." He kissed her cheek. "But youíre getting more beautiful every time I see you."
"You can call me the Queen of Sheba; youíre still sewing that costume yourself."
Devin laughed. Jenny entered the room just then. She stared at the three of them. Devin removed his arms from their shoulders.
"I havenít introduced myself properly. Iím Devin Wells." Devin extended his hand.
Jenny ignored it and walked out of the room.
* * * * *
"What do you know about these people, Cathy? Why wonít they tell you who they are?" Jenny began to question Catherine as soon as the last of the women left.
"I canít explain it Jenny. But I trust them."
"You trusted Darren Holbrook."
"I donít think I did, not really. I just kept telling myself I did. But deep down, I think I knew all along."
"Cathy, you know with the kind of money you have you have to be careful... "
"They donít want my money, Jenny."
"Then what do they want?"
"If I had to guess, Iíd say my happiness."
"That doesnít make any sense."
"It doesnít, I know." Catherine hesitated. "Jenny, there is a man."
"Yes. His name is Vincent."
Catherine proceeded to explain to Jenny about the night Jacob was ill. Jenny listened wide eyed.
"And you didnít call the police?"
"The policeÖ no, it didnít even occur to me."
"A strange man comes waltzing into your bedroom in the middle of the night and it doesnít occur to you to call the police?"
Jenny shook her head in disbelief. "Cathy, I donít believe what Iím hearing."
"You donít understand. He was...heís...Iím sure I knew him before."
"But you donít know for sure?"
"No. Not really, butÖ. Oh, I canít explain it. It would make even less sense than any of the rest of this has."
"Cathy, did it ever occur to you that all of these people, every one of them, are somehow involved in an elaborate scam to dupe you out of your inheritance? It is possible. These kinds of things have happened before, and with less money involved."
"It isnít about money. I know it isnít. And anyway, Peter Alcott knows these people."
"Maybe he is involved too."
"Thatís crazy, Jenny. He has known me all my life. He was friends with my parents. And -- he loves me. They all do. I can feel it."
Catherine was close to tears. Jenny decided that for now, she would let the matter drop, but she intended to have a word with Joe Maxwell. Maybe he could get to the bottom of it all.
* * * * *
"Youíve been back in this City less than twenty four hours and you have already managed to procure an invitation to a party?"
"Amazing, arenít I? I always have liked making friends above. Do you remember that Halloween party I took you to the last year before I left?"
"It would be difficult to forget."
"Yeah, well, you did win the prize for best costume, didnít you?"
Vincent let out a brief exhalation through his nose. He scrutinized Devinís face.
"Yes, and remember the game you neglected to tell me the rules of before we started."
Devin laughed out loud, slapping his knee. "You donít think I could forget that? The look on your face when the bottle pointed to you and that girl tried to kiss you; I never saw you move so fast."
"Yes, and can you imagine what the look on her face would have been had she realized that this is no mask. If Father had ever found out..."
"I think we would have buried Father long ago if he had known the expeditions we had ventured on."
"Yes, and always under your aegis; you always did have a taste for adventure, Devin."
"And so did you. Admit it. Those times make up some of your fondest memories of our childhood, donít they?" Vincent had to smile, he was right.
"So come on, Vincent, come with me. Itís just your kind of party - - New Yorkís intelligentsia: thereíll be poets, and musicians, and artists there. Come with me, Vincent."
"Thank you, no."
"So, youíre just going to sit here the rest of your life? In this chamber? Donít you ever do anything for yourself? Do you know what it feels like to watch you do this? Did you ever consider how it affects the people who love you?"
"Iím not sure.... "
"You think no one here worries about you? Father and Mary and Pascal? They are all worried sick. Tell me you havenít noticed?"
Vincent looked down, heaved a deep sigh. "Father always worries too much; you know that. And he passes his concerns on to the others. They neednít.... "
"But they do."
"I am not unhappy, Devin. She is content, Jacob is content; so I am, as well."
"Do you even hear yourself? Do you understand what youíre saying?"
Devin stopped speaking, stood regarding Vincent, who became quiet himself. Finally Vincent spoke.
"This means that much to you?"
"It means that much to me."
"Then...I will come with you."
Devinís face broke out into a huge grin. "Wonderful", he exclaimed. "Now we just have to get Jamie to make us costumes. I was thinking de Bergerac for myself. What say you about that?"
Vincent smiled. "I donít think you want to know the answer to that question."
Devin laughed, and he came and stood beside Vincent, clapping him on the back.
"Itíll be just like old times, Vincent, youíll see."
* * * * *
Catherine fell asleep on her sofa after everyone left. Jacob was asleep in his playpen across the room.
She was in a strange room, a hospital room it seemed. She had just given birth. They were taking her baby, they were taking him away. She woke up with a cry. "Vincent!"
She started up from the sofa. Jacob awoke, agitated too. She picked him up and carried him upstairs to his crib. When he had settled back into sleep she walked out to the balcony. It was just getting dark.
She sighed, slipped down the wall and sat staring at the street below.
It was too early for him to come, the sun had just set. But he came anyway, risking being seen. He paced the rooftop above her. What could he do?
Finally, he realized his agitation was probably feeding hers. He settled himself down, and began reciting to himself to calm his own disturbance:
ĎThere was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
the earth, and every common sight....í
And as his composure returned so did hers. The rhythm of the words in his head translated themselves into her mind as well. She breathed a deep, lonely sigh:
ĎTo me, the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts
that do often lie too deep for tears.í
Jenny talked to Joe, who talked to Diana, who in turn talked to Jenny. She wasnít exactly satisfied. Diana wasnít very forthcoming. But she was very forceful in convincing Jenny that Catherine was in no danger Ė just the opposite. Jenny had to bite her tongue and accept the situation, but not without a certain amount of irritation. As far as she was concerned Diana was an odd bird. But she had saved Catherineís life. She couldnít argue with that. Jenny decided the only thing she could do so wait and watch, and hope she was wrong about them all.
The day was fast approaching; and then it finally arrived: Halloween.
The entire band of children, the ones from the park, showed up on Catherineís doorstep to escort them trick-or-treating. They had obviously been enjoined to silence, but the younger ones kept slipping. They talked about Father, and Mary, and, it made her breathing come a bit quicker, they even mentioned his name.
Jacob was dressed as a teddy bear. Jamie had tossed his costume off in a matter of hours. Samantha had helped.
And Samantha was still helping later in the evening. Mouse was there and he was given sole charge of Jacob. Jamie and Samantha acted as ladies in waiting, helping Catherine bath, curl her hair, and apply her makeup.
Samantha was a joyous helper, running for any forgotten item, glad to help in any way. But Jamie was a bundle of nerves. It reminded Catherine of the old stories where the servantís life would be forfeit if she did not please the Queen.
Catherine waited until Samantha had left the room and then she caught Jamieís hand, forced her to sit next to her. She looked into her eyes.
"You have a lot riding on tonight, donít you, Jamie?"
Jamie shook her head. "No, not me; but people that I love, they do."
Catherine nodded to her. They sat staring at each other until Samantha came tearing back into the room with Catherineís forgotten cap.
Vincentís instinct had been to use the back entrance to the museum, but Devin insisted they present their tickets at the door like everybody else.
"Still so shy, little brother? We have nothing to fear. We could go anywhere tonight. Who wouldnít welcome two of the worldís greatest lovers? Romeo and Cyrano, what more could anyone ask?
Vincent was a little uncomfortable at first, a fish out of water. But the only attention they received were compliments on their costumes. Vincent recognized a favorite musician from a picture in one of his books. Devinís easy bravado soon had them speaking to people whom Vincent had always admired. He was actually becoming more at ease. They were standing near a buffet table when it happened. He stood up straight, not daring a turn in any direction.
"Sheís here. Devin, she is here!"
"Who? Oh, I assume you mean Cathy. Well, itís a free country, isnít it? I guess sheís allowed to go to parties just like anyone else."
"I must leave." Vincentís eyes traveled toward the nearest escape route; it didnít seem near enough.
"Whatever for? She doesnít know what you look like. The party is just getting started. Besides, Iím sure she looks lovely in whatever sheís wearing. Wouldnít you like just one peek?"
Vincent tried to regain his composure, drawing in a deep breath.
"Oh, thereís Margaret. She is the one who gave us these tickets. Iíll bring her over and introduce you." Devin disappeared into the crowd leaving Vincent alone and paralyzed.
She felt him, felt his presence as she moved through the room; and then she saw him. He was standing alone, his back to her. She stopped short. The cut of his shoulders, the way he held himself. She would have known him anywhere. The cloak was different. This one was of purple velvet; the same velvet her dress was cut from. She could just see the strands of golden hair which had strayed from beneath his hood. She moved to where he was standing. She was directly behind him.
He half turned. But then she moved around the table, and came to stop opposite him from across the table. She was staring unashamedly, straight into his blue eyes. He couldnít look away. Finally she lowered her gaze, pretending to be surveying the food laid out before them on the table.
He knew he should leave. He knew he should take this opportunity to fly to the nearest exit. But she raised her eyes to his again. She plucked one grape from a bunch on the table and put it into her mouth. He couldnít have moved a muscle if the hounds of Hell were at his very heels.
She came back around the table again, approaching him slowly and standing by his side, almost touching him. He finally managed to look away. He turned his gaze to the ceiling, attempting to catch his breath, which had abruptly fled from him.
She still stood quietly beside him, not moving, barely breathing.
"Catherine!" He said her name out loud. He twisted back around toward her; she was still regarding him, gazing up into his face.
"I have not yet heard a hundred words of thy tongueís utterance, yet I know the sound." She held his gaze, forcing him to see into her eyes. "Vincent."
"You know my name."
"Peter told me. Donít look so alarmed, Vincent. He didnít divulge much else about you. Heís kept your secrets; youíre still a mystery to me."
"Iím no mystery Catherine. I.... " What could he tell her? He blurted out instead, "Your son, is he well?"
"Thanks to you he is."
"I...Iím glad." He stood still, trying hard not remember how her body felt to his touch. "You are very beautiful in that dress." He looked down at his own garment. "It would seem we have the same seamstress."
"Yes. It would seem so." Catherine looked down at her own attire. They were both dressed in purple and black velvet trimmed with lavender satin. The pearls which crisscrossed her sleeves and cap adorned Vincentís doublet. The silken, gold embroidery on both outfits was of an identical pattern. "My babysitter made this costume for me; it is lovely, isnít it?"
"Jamie is your babysitter?" She could hear the incredulity in his voice.
"Yes, and sometimes Mouse."
"Mouse?" Vincent was dumbfounded.
"I know. I was rather incredulous myself at first. But heís wonderful. And Jacob adores him."
"Yes, I can see where he would be. Yet...I wonder, Catherine, how many other acquaintances we have in common."
"You didnít know?"
"No, Iím afraid my friends have been keeping me somewhat in the dark."
"Good. Then you know how it feels." Vincent pulled backward, a little startled by her vehemence.
"Vincent, there are so many things I donít understand. I have so many questions."
"Youíll answer them then?"
Vincent looked around them. "Catherine, this is hardly the time or the place."
"No, I suppose itís not. But you will tell me; promise me."
"Well, look who it is! My two favorite people - - but so serious." Devin had swooped down on them, throwing an arm around each of their shoulders. He snapped the fake nose he was wearing around his neck onto his face and then pulled his best Richard Nixon imitation, turning down his mouth prodigiously.
"This is a party. Shouldnít we be having fun? I think you need to lighten up, little brother."
Vincent had his head bent, but he raised his eyes to Catherineís. "He jests at scars that never felt a wound."
"Now, you see. Better already. Vincent, Iíd like you to meet my friend Margaret, we have her to thank for the tickets to this gala event, Margaret, my brother."
Vincent acknowledged her, half bowing.
"Oh Cathy, your costumes are wonderful." She gushed, "You didnít tell me the two of you were coming as a couple." Margaret turned to Vincent. "Your make-up -- itís professionally done, isnít it? Itís superb."
"Thank you." Vincent didnít know what else to say. He turned to his brother. "Tell me Devin, how soon after your return did you and Catherine become reacquainted?"
"Oh, that very night", Devin replied breezily. "You didnít think I could stay away from my adopted sister for long, did you? And it was the most fortunate timing. Her home was filled with the most charming collection of ladies you could ever hope to behold. And of course, the most charming of all was Margaret, and the prettiest."
Margaret studied her feet, overwhelmed by Devinís praise of her.
Devin waved his arm. "Garcon, over here, or we will perish of thirst!" Devin took two glasses off the tray and gave Catherine and Vincent each one. He took two more for himself and Margaret. "The wine here flows like milk and honey." He looked at them both. "May I propose a toast." He held up his glass. "To this night. To All Hallows Eve. Samhain, as the Irish call it. How does that go? Mary used to tell us...When the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest..."
"And Spirits of the underworld walk the earth," Catherine finished for him and held up her glass. She laughed, looking a little embarrassed. "I donít where that came from." They clinked their glasses.
"I think I might." Devin laughed too. "But listen. Thereís music. The orchestra has returned from their respite."
Devin took Margaretís hand and bowed to her. "Mademoiselle."
"That would be Madam. I was married once."
"Yes. But tonight you are my Roxanne, which makes you a Mademoiselle." She was giggling as he led her away. Catherine turned to Vincent. She looked down, smiling, blushing. Then she looked back up into his face. "Do you dance, Vincent?"
Vincent searched her face. "Catherine...what do you remember?"
"Some things -- my childhood mostly -- nothing whole. Everything comes in flashes, like a snapshot, just moments in time. It is very frustrating, yet oddly, intriguing too. Have we danced before?"
"Yes, once. Do you know me, Catherine?"
"Your voice, I remember your voice. You used to tell me stories about the stars, didnít you?"
"That was the thing I remembered first, I believe. When I was out on the boat I used to look up at the stars for hours. And I heard your voice, pointing out the constellations, telling me the most wonderful tales about them. I could still hear it even when I closed my eyes. Sometimes I could almost believe it was their voice, the stars, I mean. I guess that sounds silly."
Vincent made no answer. He stood gazing at her, his head to one side, his eyes very much resembling stars themselves, all bright, blue light, as mysterious and beautiful as the universe itself. She watched the dancers for a moment and then looked back to him, wistful.
He crooked his arm and held it out to her. What else could he do? She smiled and took it, letting him lead her out to the floor.
He felt the music move through him. The other dancers, dressed in their flamboyant finery, floated all around them. He held her hand lightly in his. He stared into her eyes. They, the dancers, began to move in a blur, the room spinning about them. His own eyes began to dim with unwept tears; and all the intervening time and trouble swept away. He was drunk and dizzy and dreaming. He must be. She looked just as she had that night, that night that until now had seemed so long ago: that Winterfest, when he had held her in his arms and they had danced to the music only they could hear. He gazed up at their surroundings, trying to keep his bearings. But the very room in which they moved lent itself to the unreality. The ancient Temple of Dendur was lit from within, its eerily glowing interior throwing long beams of light, stretching luminous across the floor and reflecting off the walls and the smooth surface of the water in the hushed fountain. The walls and ceiling all of clear, glimmering glass brought the night in and lifted the music and the dancers without. All time and space was a jumble, an illusion. She was looking up at him just as she had then, smiling, her eyes full of love, full of love for him. Yes, he was dreaming; the dream that he had dreamed again and again after he had lost her. He felt his own hand tighten on her tiny waist, and she moved closer, nearer to him, still with her face tilted up to his, her lips slightly parted, her eyes full to brimming.
He could almost feel her lips on his. Those few kisses they had shared; that one terrible moment when she was lying before him cold and still. But she was warm and alive in his arms, close enough now that he could feel her enduring heart beating against him, and her mouth close to his. She extended her neck, closed her eyes.
The music ceased.
He stepped back away from her; shattering the dream, and reclaiming his composure.
She seemed unaware of his agitation. She was clapping; laughing and talking with the other revelers around them. But when the music started again she turned to him with a radiant smile and reached up and replaced her hand on his shoulder. He took her hand in his own again. But he was careful this time. The brief interlude had given him time to collect himself; yet she was so happy. He hadnít felt this in her since her return. Heíd felt her melancholy at times, when she was thinking about her lost parents. Heíd felt her frustration when she was reaching unsuccessfully to remember. Heíd felt her contentment when she was holding their son. But this elation, this opening herself up to all sensation, he hadnít felt this in her since before -- before he had lost her, before she had lost herself.
It was difficult not to respond in kind; difficult to keep from accepting those proffered lips. But it was one night, he could give her this, and yes, he could give this to himself. One night in which to recapture all that had been lost. One night he could hold to himself when he had relinquished her once more. But he was floating again, he couldnít seem to help it, he avoided further temptation by halting their waltz, suggesting they get some air.
Catherine agreed readily. They stepped out into the October night air, and with her arms outstretched, her head thrown back, her eyes closed, her lithe body twirling gracefully, she danced herself around the garden in back of the museum.
He watched her in fascination. Finally she stopped, giddy and a little dizzy, she came to him laughing, her eyes searching for his. He turned and looked up then, toward the Harvest moon and the glittering stars. It was too dangerous a moment, if he met her glance, allowed himself to surrender into those gray green eyes, who knows what would happen then? All could be lost.
"It is clear tonight; see how many stars there are, Catherine?"
"Yes, theyíre beautiful. Vincent, can you remember any of the stories you told me?"
He turned and smiled at her.
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!"
She took his hand and held it against her cheek. She gazed at him a moment, then, still keeping eye contact, she turned her open lips and kissed the palm of his hand. Vincent suddenly realized what was happening. He felt has if he was being hypnotized. The night, the stars, dancing with her, it was all taking over -- stealing his resolve, his resolution, and sending it soaring into the night just as high as the stars above them.
He removed his hand from her face. He suggested it was getting chilly, and he turned and walked back to the doors which were set into the glass wall. She had no choice but to follow him, a little uncertainly. She had given him several opportunities to kiss her. Why hadnít he? Of course, he had kept his very existence a secret from her, Peter had said so. It was his decision not to tell her about him, about the children or Jamie, or the secret place they lived in. Why? The way he looked at her, spoke to her, the way his hand had trembled against her cheek. She wasnít wrong about it. It was evident in every aspect of his face, every movement of his body.
He didnít ask her to dance again. Instead they moved to the buffet tables, began conversing with others gathered around in groups, talking and eating.
He was fascinating. He was a good listener and an even better conversationalist. He spoke easily with musicians and politicians and book publishers. Catherine didnít talk much herself. She was too busy speculating about the man beside her. And she was beaming up at him with unmistakable pride, glad to be wearing the counterpart to his costume. Catherine heard her name. It was Jenny, arrived at last.
She bore down on them, determined, breathless -- apologetic. "I am so sorry, Cathy, all Hell broke loose at the gallery tonight. The painter we are exhibiting got into a car accident. He is all right, thank heaven. Then a pipe burst..."
She stopped. She was staring at Vincent.
He extended his hand. "Jenny, Jenny Aaronson."
She took his hand without taking her eyes from his face. "Yes...Iím assuming youíre Vincent."
"I am honored to meet you...your relationship with Catherine...has meant so much to her over the years...a true friend such as you are is a value beyond any riches a person could desire."
She looked at Catherine, too stunned to speak. Catherine just hugged her.
"Iím so glad you made it."
Jennyís date introduced himself to Vincent. Jenny took the opportunity and led her a little away from them.
"Catherine, your face, your eyes, whatís happened?" She looked at Vincent then back at her. Catherine only laughed and looked down.
"I hope you know what youíre doing." Jenny stared at Vincent, "It would be hard though, not to be taken by him. There is something about him, something indefinable really Ė what does he look like under the mask?"
Catherine smiled. "I donít know. Does it matter?"
Jenny contemplated a moment. "I guess it really doesnít."
He wondered what all these refined citizenry would think if they knew... if they knew the man they were breaking bread with was just what he appeared to be - - partially an animal, a being who had used his teeth and claws against his opponents. He wondered what she would think.
Devin and Margaret joined them. The evening was at an end. They all stood making small talk and Devin suggested they walk the ladies home. Jenny and her date were heading downtown but Vincent, Catherine, Devin and Margaret walked arm and arm through the park back to the west side. Margaretís building overlooked Central Park, not far from Catherineís old apartment. She suggested they all come up for a drink but Vincent and Catherine declined. Devin jauntily acquiesced, following her into her building with a wide grin on his face. Vincent and Catherine looked down, both a little embarrassed. They turned and walked downtown toward Catherineís townhouse. As they passed Catherineís former dwelling Vincent looked up, a myriad of expressions crossing over his face - - sadness, anger, regret, recollection, love. They walked silently, side by side, Catherineís hand tucked into the crook of Vincentís arm.
They reached her townhouse soon enough. Vincent stood at the bottom of her steps, leaning against the balustrade. "Good night, Catherine."
"Good night?" She turned back to him. She had already started up the stairs. "No. You have to come up. Mouse and Jamie are here."
He moved back, started to shake his head.
"Wonít you come up and see Jacob?"
He hesitated. "Heíll be asleep."
"Yes, but...please Vincent. Donít go like this. Not yet, please."
He couldnít deny her. He nodded slowly, following her up the stairs. The second floor was empty. They continued up to the third and then the fourth. Catherine entered Jacobís room. Jamie was sitting in the rocking chair; Mouse was seated on the floor by her feet. She was reading to him from a collection of supernatural stories.
She started up when she saw Catherine; Mouse quickly rose to his feet also.
"Cathy, did you dance? Did you meet anyone?"
Vincent walked in behind Catherine, a stern look on his face. His expression didnít daunt Jamie in the least; she flew at Catherine and threw her arms around her neck, bursting into tears. Mouse attempted to follow suit and embrace Vincent but his demeanor held him back. He looked at him sheepishly instead and began telling Catherine about their evening, the words tumbling over each other.
"Took Jacob Below. Mouseís idea. Jamie said no, Mouse talked her into it. Knew Catherine wouldnít mind. Rebecca was thrilled, loved his costume. Mary and Father cried. Then took Jacob to the parade downtown, liked the music.
"In the Village?" Catherineís mouth was open. She turned to Vincent. "I donít think Iím old enough to go to that parade."
"Do you think that was wise?" Vincent was attempting a scowl.
"Some of the others were there too", Jamie answered defiantly, "Cullen and Zack and Rebecca. We just wanted to see the dancers in the park. We came straight home after."
Vincent nodded, almost smiled. He was trying to be angry with them for lying to him all these months. He just couldnít seem to muster it, however.
Jamie turned toward Jacobís cradle. "He fell asleep on the way home; he hasnít stirred since."
Catherine crept over to Jacobís crib; she looked up at Vincent, then down on her sleeping child. Vincent moved toward them, as if by magnetic pull.
She looked up into his face and nodded almost imperceptibly. He reached down and took Jacob into his arms. Jacob slowly opened his eyes, sighed contentedly, and closed them again. Mouse was still talking as Jamie pulled him away. She led Mouse out of the room. He finally realized that this was a private moment, but he paused and looked back, biting his lip. Then Jamie and Mouse quietly left the house.
Catherine was gazing up into his face; she put her hand on his arm. This is how he had envisioned it at first, when he had found out that she was alive -- just as they were now, the three of them together, a family of his own.
Vincent fought the emotion which overwhelmed him momentarily; leaning forward, he placed their son back in his crib.
"I must go."
"No!" She moved after him, grabbed his arm, physically restraining him. "You promised you would answer my questions."
"Not tonight, Catherine. It is late. You must be tired."
"No. Iím not. And how do I know youíll ever come back? I need you to tell me, now, tonight."
"Catherine, there is so much you donít know, so much to explain. I wouldnít even know where to begin... please, another time."
Jacob stirred in his sleep, disturbed by their impetuous voices. Catherine motioned for Vincent to follow her. She led him into her own room.
Vincent moved instinctively toward the windows, but Catherine followed him.
"What is it that you think you have to explain?" She asked, reaching for him and taking both of his hands in hers. "That you are Jacobís father, did you think I didnít know that?"
"Catherine!" Vincent stared down at her in disbelief.
"That night, when Jacob was ill, I thought about it then, about the possibility. In fact I was almost sure of it. But when you turned to me tonight...your eyes...you know you have the same eyes, the same extraordinary color." Vincent attempted to withdraw his hands from hers but she tightened her grip.
"I donít understand Vincent. You are the father of my child. What is it that is keeping us apart?"
"There are other things... things you donít know."
A sudden terrible thought struck her. "Is there... have you made a commitment to someone else?"
He couldnít help it. The injustice of the accusation stung him badly.
"Never, I...I could never...there has only ever been..."
Vincent had been trying to hold back the tears but they came now, coursing down his face. All the emotion of the night, combined with the fact that he knew he must gather the strength to walk away from her now, was totally unnerving him. He was breathing with difficulty. He pulled his hands out of her grasp.
"These hands, this face.... This is no charade, Catherine, no mask. This is who, this is what...I am."
She attempted to recapture his hands. He put them down at his sides, firm in his resolve to resist her. Frustrated, she told him:
"You think I didnít know that too. I knew." Catherine lifted her face up to his, stoked his cheek with her hand. "I kept looking at you tonight and thinking how beautiful your face was, and I knew."
He bowed his head with this declaration. She knew, and it didnít matter, didnít even faze her; she still wanted him to stay with her, wanted to hold his hands in her own. But he fought off the joy he felt at the revelation.
"No, Catherine. You donít know, donít understand." He pulled further away from her. "There is so much you still donít understand."
"What Iíve done. These hands... Catherine, I have taken the lives of men with these hands, too many men."
The images flashed before Catherine. She stood still, facing him, remembering. She nodded. "Yes. It was terrible, and frightening, and it was to protect me."
He looked down. "You, and others that I love. But that does not remove the blood; does not change what I become when I am incited to violence", whispering, "to murder."
"Call it what you like. It wonít change anything."
"No, we canít change anything. Any of our past -- any of the unspeakable things that have happened to us both, we can only change what lies ahead. The deaths of those men, it is a terrible burden -- our burden." She attempted to approach him again, take his hands. "Vincent, Iím sorry."
He resisted her touch, shying away. "So am I", almost inaudible.
"And this is the reason you feel I would be better off without you?"
"One reason; there are others."
"And they are...what?"
"Catherine, when I found you that night, in the park, and you had been beaten, cut...I brought you below...
"To a secret place, a place where the air smells of cinder and ash and earth, where the tapping never stops, to a safe place. Thatís what you told me, thatís what you said to me, when you brought me there. ĎYouíre safe, youíre safe now, no one can hurt youí."
"Yes. And you... fell in love. You were frightened, and I protected you. You needed me. Catherine, it happened all over again. You had been through so much. You had been separated from your loved ones, abused, betrayed by people you trusted. How could I... "
"You were afraid that I would fall in love again, because I would know that I could trust you, after every thing I had been through, I would still know, that you were the one I could trust."
"Yes. And how could I use that trust to bind you to me again?"
"You make it sound as if you are a giant spider, hovering in his web, waiting to ensnare me."
"It felt predatory to me...to take advantage of your need...to allow you to love me... when I knew the pain that it caused you before. How could I take you to me again, when I knew, better than anyone, what it would cost you?"
"And the love that I felt for you? What do you think losing that cost me? Nothing? The love that we both feel for our son, together? What about that?"
Vincent heaved a sigh. "Yes, I thought about it, worried about it, Catherine... Can you not understand? Our love, it has to be hidden...You know what the world would think, if they knew? Do you think your friends, any of those who attended that fete tonight, would understand?"
"I donít know if they would. Yet I loved, even so, didnít I? Before you came back into my life --I was beginning to wonder... I couldnít feel anything for any man. But I didnít realize that it was not that I couldnít feel for any man, but that I could only feel for one man, for you. I knew that when you took care of our son, when I heard your voice again."
She stepped closer to him again. "You say you didnít want to take advantage of my need for you. Well, look at me, Vincent. Iíve managed without you, mostly. Iím working, taking care of Jacob, standing on my own two feet." She stood in front of him, almost touching him. "I donít need you, Vincent." She reached up and wound her arms around his neck. "I love you."
He pulled her arms from around his neck, held her by the wrists. "No! No. You donít know, donít remember." He turned from her and walked toward the balcony windows, then turned back again toward her. Catherine, before, before our son was conceived, there was something extraordinary between us, a connection, a bond..."
"Yes, I could feel..."
A surge of emotion went through Catherine. "You can feel it too" she interrupted him, "What I feel, whenever youíre near? Itís not just me. We share it."
He bent his head. "Yes. But Catherine, when we consummated our love that bond was lost to us, and with it was lost my ability to protect you. I promised your father that I would watch over you until my last breath. It was a promise I didnít keep."
"Yes." He looked at her in wonder. "But only because of the greed of unscrupulous men."
"So youíre afraid if we are together, truly together, we will lose our bond again?"
"Then we lose it. Weíll have each other...weíll be with each other."
"Itís not that simple. I was never a part of your life. You had been forced to become a part of mine. And you have no recollection of what that means.
You have rebuilt a life for yourself; re-established connections with your friends. Did they not tell you, that in the last few years, you had distanced yourself from them? You had allowed your relationships with them to crumble, to fall away. Catherine, in order to be with me you had to give up a large part of who you are. You had to consign yourself to always living in the shadows, to living with secrets that you could not share with others that you cared about. And it isolated you. It was a half life, being with me, sharing my fate.
"But it was my life. And I wanted to share it with you...I wanted you," Catherine cried to him.
Vincent turned away from her, the tears falling fast down his face. They were the words he so wanted to hear. Yet how could he let her come to him? But she was weeping now too, shaking her head.
"You had no right, making this decision for me", her voice was forceful, strident. "You have no right."
He shook his own head, grasping his hair in his hands, turning from her, unable to bear her tears. She stood her ground.
"Do you love me Vincent?" She demanded. "Tell me, do you love me?"
Low and deep, "I love you."
"Then love me."
"No, not canít. Wonít." Her voice rising, "You wonít, although I am standing here telling you that I love you. And now...what? Youíll leave me? Youíve already turned your back on me." She broke down entirely then, sobbing uncontrollably.
Vincent swung around. He stared at her. Finally he strode to where she was standing and looked down into her tear drenched face. Each one stood there, trying to catch their breath, trying to still their wrenching sobs. At last, their convulsive exhalations subsiding, they breathed slowly. She didnít touch him, didnít reach for him. But she stood looking up into his face, gazing into that face that she had known that she loved. He put his arms around her, pulled her to him; and he kissed her. She threw her arms about his neck. His mouth sought hers fiercely, frantically; her lips, her cheeks, her closed eyelids, her forehead, her mouth again. She was in his arms once more. It was all he could think, all he could feel. He lifted her off her feet, gathering her up and holding her fast against him, caressing her neck, her arms, her beautiful face. He carried her to the bed, lay her down and lay down beside her. He could not stop kissing her.
And her lips felt hot and abraded, but she kept kissing him back. Not that there was any violence in the way he loved her. He was tender and gentle. He was not cognizant until later that when he gave himself over completely, when he allowed his inhibitions, always so tightly controlled, when he allowed them to dissolve into the lambency and the shadows of the air which was warm with their bodies, what he felt most, what he perceived most deeply, in his most primitive state, in his most profound self, was a desire to possess and protect. He wanted to cover her body with his own. He wanted to hold her, to shield her, to have her only to himself. That was what he gave into when he caressed the softness and delicateness of her skin, when he saw the vulnerability in her nakedness, when he felt the fragility of her wildly beating heart.
And after he loved her, he grasped her hands in his own, he breathed in her breath, he lay with his own heart pressed against hers, feeling them pulsing together. And she was truly flesh of his own flesh, bone of his bone. How could he have not have known that this is what it would be?
He was the first to awaken. The light was coming full into Catherineís windows. They had stayed awake until dawn. Whispering, holding each other, giving themselves to each other again. Neither could really remember their first and only encounter. For both it was a dim and shadowy dream, a reminiscence of sensation more than an actual memory. For Catherine his arms around her had brought back scenes of the past, other times when his love had surrounded and saved her.
She didnít have to struggle for these recollections. There was no need to struggle for anything now. Because anything she could ever want was already under her roof - in her arms, and lying close by her, just across a narrow hallway. She had questioned him on how he could have doubted that.
"Vincent, if you know what Iím feeling, how could you not have known how much I wanted you?"
"I could feel the longing in you, Catherine. But I could not know exactly what it was you desired.
"I donít believe you didnít know it was this that I wanted. Or, if you didnít, it was only because you wouldnít allow yourself to believe."
He lowered his eyes, raised them again. "Perhaps...that is true.
"I still donít understand you. How could you have kept us apart for so long?"
"But we werenít apart, Catherine. You said it yourself -- about our bond. You could still feel me, feel my love for you."
"I could...but...She moved up close against him, she held his cheeks between her palms, her lips against his, she allowed her tongue to graze his; but then she pulled away from him and searched his face.
"You didnít want this?"
"I wanted...I wanted this."
"Youíre sure?" She stared into his eyes and then began to pull even further away from him. His grip on her tightened, he brought her back up against him. His voice was low, deep, and sodden with emotion.
"I wanted this...more than anything. Iíve... Catherine, when you were gone I tried so hard to recall... to remember the love that... the love that brought us Jacob. And I thought, if I could only just remember; or if... if I could just feel, one more time... ", he signed heavily. I even went back to that cave, trying to get a sense of it. And I did but... I wanted you so much. And I thought, if only just once more; if this could be mine, if you could be mine like this, just one more time... I would gladly give up all the rest of the years of my life. It would be well worth the price for such precious hours."
"Donít, Vincent, donít say such things. We have years; years and years together still. Weíll have to be careful with our lives, we canít take any unnecessary risks, you or I. So there will be many nights, so many days; there will be weeks and months and years. I want them. I want them all. And we have Jacob, and perhaps others the years and our love may bring. You wonít ever let me go again, Vincent? Tell me -- tell me that -- never again, youíll never let me go?"
Vincent sighed from deep within him, he rolled onto his back and pulled her on top of him. "I wonít, Catherine." His hands settled on her waist. "Iíll never let you go." He slid them up to her shoulders, pressing her body closer to his. "Not ever." He kissed her mouth. "Not ever again".
He felt Jacob awaken. Vincent quietly left their bed, searched for and pulled on his pants and shirt. Jacob smiled broadly when he saw it was his father who lifted him from his crib, who quickly changed him and then quietly padded down the stairs in search of breakfast for his son.
Vincent had just reached the kitchen when Jamie let herself in, calling out a tentative greeting.
He retraced his steps down the hallway and motioned to her to follow him into the kitchen. She did, holding out a change of clothing to him. He took it, smiling, and allowed her to remove Jacob from his arms.
"Father was worried that you didnít return before dawn. But I told him it would be Ok." Vincent gave her a bemused look. Jamie placed Jacob in his highchair and began to move around the kitchen, obtaining items from cupboards and refrigerator to make his morning repast.
Vincent sat down and watched her, noting where she retrieved each ingredient from.
"How long have you been working for Catherine?"
"From the beginning; it was Dianaís idea. But I jumped at it."
"You went behind my back, Jamie." She turned to him. He looked down and then up again. "Thank you."
She grinned. "Youíre welcome. You know, you look different ,Vincent."
"Do I? I feel different."
He shook his head slowly, "Euphoric... blessed... grateful. She sees me...as no one else ever has. Our separation, her failed memory, my aloneness, these things have evaporated into nothingness; as if they had never been. It is a gift she has, a gift she has shared with me."
Jamie leaned against the stove. "I think I know what that gift is."
"Love." Catherine was standing in the doorway. She greeted first Jacob, and then Vincent with a kiss. He stood up to receive her, winding his arms around her.
She looked around the sunny kitchen. "It is morning and youíre still here. I was almost afraid you were a dream I had."
He gazed down into her face, stroked her hair. "No dream was ever like this."
Jamie looked away, but then back to them again. "What will you do now? I mean, will you quit your job, Cathy? Come Below? Make an entrance below in the basement?"
Catherine smiled, never taking her eyes from Vincentís. "I guess weíll have to talk about those things... make decisions." she said.
"I guess we will", he answered.
"Today?" she asked.
"Not today", he answered.
Jamie looked down. "You know, we only brought Jacob down for a little while last night, hardly anyone got to see him. Do you think I could bring him down again after he eats breakfast? You two could come later, after it gets dark, so Catherine can meet everyone. "
Catherine glanced at Jamie, she turned back at Vincent. "I would like to meet your family."
"They are your family as well, Catherine."
"Iíd like to meet our family."
Vincent tightened his grip around her, looked at Jamie. "We will come Below tonight, together."
Catherine returned his solid embrace, but then retreated from his arms. Vincent pulled a chair up to Jacobís highchair to feed him the cereal and cut up fruit Jamie had placed on the tray. He lifted his face to Catherineís.
"Heís beautiful, Catherine", he whispered.
Catherine blinked back her tears; Vincent gazed at Jacob as if he were a new miracle instead of a year old one. He gently wiped Jacobís chin and fed him another spoonful of cereal.