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Classic Round Robin

Chapter 5
Nancy

sleep in Heavenly peace…sleep in Heavenly peace…

Her first thought was for the irony of waking to those words from “Silent Night” playing on the clock radio.

Her next thought was for the peaceful rest she’d had in her very own heaven…Vincent’s love. She had no memory of being lifted, carried here, placed gently… He’d have covered her and hesitated a moment to watch her sleep. She smiled to think of it. And though he’d undoubtedly left as dawn’s kiss raised a blush on the eastern sky, his sheltering spirit had hovered to protect her, keeping the nightmare away.

Eyes still closed, she played her morning game: wish really hard, turn on the pillow, peek at the place alongside…and, as the foolishness inevitably ended every time, she found herself alone in the bed.

…bells on bobtail ring…making spirits bright…what fun it is to ride and sing…

Jingle Bells… She hummed along, stopping because a notion had flitted by with the lyrics…spirits…Christmas spirit…Vincent’s spirit…the familial spirit of Winterfest and of the Tunnel community living it out daily. Spirits are messengers…bearing good tidings… perhaps hiding in a nightmare…seeming to come…almost…true?

She had met the slight, blue-eyed woman and the encounter had occurred right in Joe’s office. It was terrifying to find her night visitor there in the flesh, a police officer, seeking her help, yet they’d exchanged pleasantries…more or less. Oh, there was definitely a reason…sense…to be made of it…somewhere…and she was determined now to undertake the untangling. Catherine was done with reacting to the obvious. It was time to search out the subtly imbedded answers.

* * *

“Good morning, Joe.”

He looked up from what he was reading. You’re right on…” he checked his wristwatch, “Cathy-time. Great. Back to normal. See that stack of folders…all Brewster…and all yours.”  His grin, so engaging, smoothed the sting of his sarcasm.

“Goody,” she mumbled, hefted them, and said, “Thanks. Uh, do you know which cold cases Lieutenant Hunter wanted to review with me yesterday?”

“As a matter of fact, I called her Captain to find out if any of them really needed your particular input just when we’re drowning in our own work. Two were kidnappings, one a missing person. I wrote down the names…”  His sentence trailed off as he began shifting piles in search of the illusive note. “Captain Tunnard said they could wait until the end of next week, unless you were free before then. I told her there was absolutely no chance of that.”

Hiding the relief that none of the cases involved her or Vincent directly, she shrugged his efforts away. “Never mind, Joe, it doesn’t matter.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. It was only curiosity…though I would like to help. Any objection to my giving Lieutenant Hunter an hour or so, if I can? We never did get to talk yesterday. She might have been pressed for time…or she was annoyed…” 

He completed her sentence. “Yeah, by your breakfast delivery.”

“I guess it was poor timing if the Lieutenant was in a hurry.”

“Everyone is always in a hurry, kiddo. Let’s count ourselves lucky that she’s not calling you today and get back to Brewster?  If you really want to see her, go ahead; but don’t forget we have a lot to do to get this case ready.”

“Right, Joe,” she smiled as she left his office.

* * *

“Catherine.”

Warm hands spanned her waist, helped her down the last rusty rung, and turned her in his arms. 

“Can you feel it…within me…the joy, the amazement, the gratitude…?”

“Yes, they are real and deep. Your feelings…overwhelm and honor me, Catherine.” She knew he was embarrassed…and pleased.

She touched her forehead to his chest and told him, “Vincent, I wish I could be…all that you deserve…”

“Hush. You are…infinitely more.”

He held her and she rested in his love. There was nothing but the two of them…a unique reality untouched by anything Above or Below, no one but them, no cold or heat, no floor or ceiling or walls to contain them, no yesterday or tomorrow.  He was her air, her nourishment…her love. There was no desire for anything else and no other need…contentment and fulfillment…all…lay in him.

“Come.”  Whispered, the word did not fracture the spell that enclosed them. 

His warm hand took hers and they set off for a rocky outcropping far enough from the falls where they could enjoy Nature’s underground magnificence, but sounds from the tumbling water would not reach to interfere with their conversation.

“The world…everything…seems so far away.”

“Yet it has journeyed here with us, Catherine.”

Her gaze drifted to her lap and she let her fingers play there with his. “I…need to talk to you…about Lieutenant Hunter and the dreams, Vincent.”

“Has something happened?”

“No. I didn’t see her today.” She looked back at him. “And I slept…very well…last night.  Thank you for putting me to bed.”  He returned her tiny smile with the slightest shy nod.

“I’ve been thinking that something…some thing…I don’t know…spiritual…is happening, Vincent. Why would I dream of dying at the hands of this woman and then find her sitting in my boss’s office? Coincidence? Not likely. There is a message…and we have to understand it.” 

His absorbed silence encouraged her to continue.

“I …uh…did a very unprofessional…well…I got some background on her this morning.  There’s nothing ominous. She has a fine record on the force…promotions…smart…lives alone up in the Bronx…with a parrot named Paris. She volunteers at a facility run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Our Helen Hunter is a good person, Vincent. I’m going to get to know her.”

He’d been watching, as well as listening, and concern and worry shaded his words. “Catherine, getting to know her…that means being in her company…I am…”

She interrupted him with a finger to his lips, a finger she’d touched first to her own. “I know, Vincent. And I’ve thought it through. I’ll get her to come in…to discuss her cold cases…and I’ll have a couple of interns there with us…opening a cold case would be fascinating and educational for them. They can ask questions and I can…observe…and maybe…find some answers. I refuse to let this control me any longer. You do understand, don’t you? And I’ll be careful. I promise. I don’t want to endanger you…or me…but I feel… Oh, Vincent…I feel…it’s necessary.”

“None of what the Lieutenant wishes to discuss involves…me?” His words spoke grief and guilt.

“No, Vincent.” The memories, horrific as they were for him, devastated her.

He moved even closer and squeezed her hand in reassurance. “I trust your instincts.”

“Even in this?” she asked. “I know you…worry.”

“Even in this,” he told her. “Perhaps the dream came as a…messenger…so that you…we…would help Lieutenant Hunter once you’d met.” 

“I’ll call her tomorrow and try to arrange a meeting in the afternoon. Some…power…is at work here. We can’t ignore it.”

“No, we must not, though I wish you were not alone. I’ll be nearby when you leave work in the evening. I will watch over you…in the garage…”

“Thank you, Vincent. I suppose we can’t ignore the fact that the nightmare did…end…there.”

“Yet, you’ve faced the fear…”

“And conquered it. I don’t like being afraid. You taught me that.”

“Take great care, Catherine. You are everything to me.”

She looked at him and felt such a flood of love…breathing stopped…hearts caught one another’s cadence and beat together… He saw her soul and she held his. To ever lose this man…to ever lose you, Catherine… She read the words on his heart. Life held miracles…piled at a distance…like so many Winterfest presents wrapped in everyday brown paper and string…miracles other people could not see for their very ordinariness…but she and Vincent knew their worth.

Catherine was about to choose one, pull it close, and open it now…a gift for both of them.  She was overcome with the most desperate need to say, clearly and aloud, the words he’d known, for so long, written only for him, on her heart. Now, right this moment, he had to hear them from her lips, see them forming there, feel the anticipation…and want them spoken…to him…for the very first time.

“I love you, Vincent. I love you.”

Their universe of centuries’ old earth and  rock, though heretofore forever silent, was inspired at those words to find voice and to sing out in pure exhilaration.

She thought, for long moments, that he would lean closer…find her lips with his own…but he went on…staring…as though unable to comprehend…and she was about to  tell him again when he reached inside his cloak and withdrew his journal.

“Catherine…I was saving this…for you…for Winterfest. Would you read…now?”

They held it together as she looked at the page…a poem… for her…in his magnificent hand…

To My Catherine

Is this home

You

Feel

Like home

Here

Dust billows at my feet

Muffles my steps

Erases them as I pass

Stone enclosed

I wonder

Can I be

Real

This night

I can not doubt

Your smile

Believes in me

Inspires

Tells me

Gives me breath

And hope

That I am

Being 

I watch you

Whiteness

Sharing light

You turn

I am in your eyes

And I am light

No candle

Not stone

Living

Born of you

Your Life

Loved in me

She read it twice, a third time, and saw that his hand was trembling where he held the book with her. Taking it from him and pressing it, opened, to her breast, she let him see the tears slipping down her cheeks, showed him the happiness his words brought. “It’s beautiful, Vincent. Thank you, my love.”

“I love you.” He whispered it with all the care and courage he’d once said they would need to carry them forward. “Know that you are my world…everything. I love you with all that I am.”

He stood, took the journal from her, closed it, and placed it on the stone seat.  

“Forgive me for taking this long to tell you.”

She rose and took the single step into his arms.  He held her against himself, his palm warm upon her cheek, his thumb drying the tears there.

“Will you write it out for me to take Above?”

“It is done…and wrapped for presentation at Winterfest.”

“Why did you have your journal…?”

He held her more tightly. “Inspiration comes when it will. I’ve taken to carrying it.”

He felt her nod in understanding.

“Love such as ours comes to a blessed few in this life…we must take to…appreciating it…in creative ways.”

* * *

“Lieutenant Hunter is here for you, Cathy.”

“Thanks, Michelle. You and Terry and Hank are joining us in the conference room.” She tried her best conspiratorial whisper, “Joe even approved it!”

 “We’re looking forward to this. Thank you for requesting us.”

Helen graciously greeted the interns as they were introduced. She shared details of the first case, and as Catherine had expected, the questions began. The Lieutenant patiently answered each. Catherine thought her competent and generous, adding information for clarification despite the time constraints. Toward the end of the hour Catherine had begged from Joe, a light tap on the glass paneled door announced him. 

“I really need Hank and Terry, and Thomas says Jenny went home sick; so he wants Michelle to do something with the Blum files, Cathy.” 

The interns had accomplished exactly what she’d hoped, behaving like students in their favorite class, showcasing Helen to be intelligent,  knowledgeable, considerate, and eager to offer assistance. Catherine thought they could be friends, once they got past Helen’s mysterious presence in her nightmare.

“Thank you for being so…well…more than tolerant of the inquisition here today.” 

The Lieutenant clasped her hands on the table. “I enjoyed it. They’re good kids…smart and intuitive…should make for good lawyers.”

“Yes, we’re fortunate. They  work really hard…as do you…obviously.”

“I’ve had some luck with a couple of cases like these…” She let the sentence drop.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of any help to you.”

“I didn’t expect it. I have to follow up on everything and hope that I’ll get lucky…but it doesn’t usually happen this easily.” She began to gather the files.

“Helen, could we talk about something else…at least I think it’s unrelated to work…it’s more…personal.”

Catherine watched tension physically grab the other woman, freeze her features, arrest her movements. There seemed nothing to do but relate the story…quickly. “I’ve had this…dream…lately…a nightmare really…and…you are in…”

“I…think…I know.” The words were barely mouthed, almost inaudible, frightening in their dread delivery. 

Catherine’s eyes widened but she was careful to dampen any resurgence of fear that would alert Vincent. 

“I don’t…understand.”

Helen rose and paced to the far wall, turned abruptly, and came back to face Catherine.  “Neither do I, but every night I dream a nightmare and you’re in it.  You kill me.  Is that the dream you’re talking about?”

Catherine felt a chill enveloping her.  “I…kill…you?”

“Is my dream different then?  Shall I describe it?”  Helen was resigned, perhaps eager, finally able to face the terror in the daylight…and with the one person who…could be called responsible.

Catherine only nodded.

“It starts out with you…everywhere I go…everywhere I look…you’re there…and then I’m alone and it’s dark and I get into my car and your face appears in my mirror… You yank my head back and…”

Catherine finished it for her.  “I know the rest.”

Helen dropped into a chair, disbelief and horror deflating the desperate courage of a moment earlier. 

“I have the same dream…well…nearly the same…but our ‘roles’ are reversed…in my nightmare you…are in the backseat.”

A cold, clammy silence tried unsuccessfully to smother the office sounds beyond the conference room.

Helen spoke first. “I recognized you the very first night I dreamed…from when you were in all the papers…a couple of years ago. Not only were you in my nightmares but when the Captain handed me these files your name came up in every one of them. I decided then that I had to face you.” 

“It was rather…extraordinary…finding you…waiting for me, Helen.”

“I can imagine.”   

Catherine was recovering quickly. “At least we know why you were sitting in Joe’s office.”  Both women tried to smile. “We know why I panicked yesterday. Why did you?”

Helen picked up a rubber band and began playing with it. “I knew I was going to meet you.  You had no way of knowing you were going to meet me. I was sure you didn’t know me. But I saw it…the recognition and the fear in your expression. How could you know me? Why would you be afraid at seeing me?  Except for the dream we had never met. I got so…spooked. I had to leave. You gave me the opportunity when you had to pay for the delivery…so I…took off. I did leave a message for you, a guy, his name plaque read R. Port.  Did he give it to you? He wrote it down.”

“Richard. No. I don’t think so.”

“I said I had to meet a friend’s flight…an untruth, I’m afraid.”

“At the aiRPort…!”

Helen blushed. “It just…came to me.” She was serious when she asked, “Where do we go from here? You know, I don’t even own a car anymore. I sold it when I moved to the Bronx. Public transportation is less of a hassle.”

“Well, I do, and if I have it with me, I park in the garage under this building…exactly as in our dream.”

Helen looked so fearful that Catherine reached across the table to cover her hand.

 “Oh, Helen, we are going to be friends through this and afterwards.  We’re going to solve it.   Don’t worry…there will be a very happy ending to our little nightmare mystery!”