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Classic Round Robin

Chapter 6
Carole W.

“Whoa, hold the phone, Radcliffe!” Joe pulled his feet from his desk and shot out of his chair, covering the space between his desk and the door in two bounding leaps. “I thought you’d never get out of there. I got a call from upstairs. Meeting in twenty minutes—everybody and everything on Brewster, in the conference room. The big guys are getting all hot and bothered on this one. We gotta make some major progress, and we’ve gotta make it tonight.” Raking his fingers through his hair, Joe shook his head and half-growled. “Don’t make that face at me, Cathy. I had somewhere I wanted to be tonight too; and I can promise you, it didn’t involve a cold olive loaf sandwich in wax paper.”

Catherine never uttered a word aloud, just sighed and shrugged her shoulders and turned back to her workspace. She flung her coat across her desk in a fit of pique, but there was no hope for it. She was jittery with annoyance. She had to talk to Vincent! This nightmare had been frightening enough, odd enough, but now...this new...information. The dream...shared. Shared with a stranger. Knives, deserted garages, evil looming from the shadowy back seat.... NO! Not evil. The dream isn’t literal! Change. Monumental change, a new beginning, surely! But how did this woman figure into her life? She pushed away the thought of the second dream, the Winterfest waltz and Vincent...with another woman in his arms. She sagged into her chair, spun to the window. The mystery of it threatened to unnerve her. She had to keep a grip on reality.

She gathered her files and fresh pencils and legal pads and was first to the conference room. Checking her watch, she nodded. She’d have time. “Rita!” she called, as she passed her coworker’s desk. “I’m running downstairs for a fountain Coke. I need caffeine and I need shaved ice. Be right back!” She raced down the hallway, punched the elevator buttons once, twice with impatience. The third time it hurt.

Barreling past the cafe, she went straight out the front door. Thank you, Vincent. David Mendez was still on guard, this time at the corner. He was seated and kept a bright, staccato rhythm on a five-gallon bucket drum, an insistent complement to Zeke’s seductive saxophone. Lazily fingering the keys, Zeke smiled at his growing, after work audience. “Giant Steps, pretty lady,” he crooned as Catherine approached, then broke into the John Coltrane classic. 

Giant steps...or even baby steps, thrilling, wondrous steps.... The memory of their time at the falls the night before.... She shook herself. Watch it, Chandler. Keep your eye on the prize, but on the balls too. Lots of them in the air right now. She tossed a twenty and a handwritten note into the case open on the sidewalk. David took it up immediately, saluted her with a drumstick and melted into the late afternoon crowd.

I’ll need to call security, tell them my car will be parked overnight. Why did I drive in the first place? She knew why. It was akin to remounting the horse after a pitch into the dirt. She was compelled to face her fears. Tonight, it would be late, very late, before she would be leaving. She would take a cab home. Vincent would not need to wait in the garage for her. The way Joe was talking, she might have to send out for more than supper. She might need a toothbrush and a sleeping bag.

I’m fine, Vincent. But you won’t believe what I have to tell you. She paused, listening hard. Disappointed, she hurried back inside. He would have to read her note instead.

“Did you drink your soda already?” Rita asked. The two women fell into step in the hallway.

“Out of ice,” Catherine said, thinking fast, veering toward the break room. “I guess I’ll have coffee after all.” Tapping her foot, waiting for the last cup to perk through the strainer, she found she was strangely less worried than she had been in the morning, though the added quirk of the mutual dream stymied her. It seemed...impossible, beyond coincidence. Lost in thought, she spilled her coffee. There were no napkins on the counter, and she turned, looking for more. That’s when she saw it—one of those quotation-a-day calendars on the desk by the phone. The entry for this day read:

The stronger your will, the clearer and more defined your goals will be and the greater the ‘coincidences' that will appear in front of you, helping you get where you wish - Heaven or hell.  You decide what you want.

~ Alfredo Karras, ‘BE’

Well, she said to herself. Look at that.

***

Helen stopped at the market, remembering there was little in the cupboards that would combine into anything edible. Listless, she examined the cold pasta salads in the deli case. She wanted something hot, hot and spicy to stir her blood. The cold was already getting to her and winter was just beginning. If only they sold her grandmother’s crawfish etouffee or her andouille jambalaya. Somewhere in New York, it was available, but not on her street and not at this store. Pointing at a random salad, she held up one finger, resigned to her culinary fate. She had no energy to create a fine dinner for just herself.

But even in the dead of winter, there were masses of flowers for sale. She stopped, stunned, in front of a display—long spikes of glads, blood red, almost black. Shuddering she recalled her dream. Night after night in a sleepless row now, the blood ran as red, as black as these flowers. Look. A voice sounded in her mind. Look. They are a beautiful color, a warm color, a color to melt the snow and ice. She touched the blooms with the barest brush of her fingers, then dug her wallet from her gym bag. Yep, Hunter. You need a little heat in your life. At least buy yourself some flowers.

“Gladiolus says strength of character. You should have some of these too,” the clerk said, already gathering a few tall stems from the bucket. He was a wizened man and no taller than she. “Fuji mums. White for truth.” He stood eye-to-eye with her, holding out the wrapped bouquet.

For a moment, Helen considered dropping her purchases, her bag...everything...to run screaming into the street. Instead, she paid with a mumbled ‘thank you’ and began the trudge home. Meanings...meanings.... Everything had a...meaning! This dream shared with Catherine Chandler? How? Why? Was it one of the cases? What had Catherine suggested—that it was something...personal? She’d felt oddly comforted by her meeting with the woman. Catherine Chandler was a focused, hardworking, intuitive woman…kind, compassionate, dedicated. It was strange. None of the fear remained, but all the puzzlement spiraled and tightened in Helen’s chest. Funny, it still feels like fear.

If only she weren’t so alone. She could barely remember her mother and clung to one, unfaded memory—being held on her mother’s hip, moving from a cool, dark place into bright sun and trees. But her grandmother’s passing.... That stung with a sharp, blossoming pain whenever Helen gave in to the press of her loss. She missed the easy explanation of misgivings, missed the gentle, stroking hand that could soothe her hurts, that would gently point—and shove—her in the right direction. They hadn’t been the last words she’d spoken, but nearly so. Go back to New York, Ma-Mére had said, with Helen’s hand in her hot, dry grasp. Be strong. Look deep. She’d done as she’d been instructed. She’d been in the city four years now. Volunteering, mentoring, working to do good... She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she knew she hadn’t found it. And what had Ma-Mére meant, go back?

New York winters. She missed the heavy southern sun, pecans from the trees, the graceful, draping Spanish moss. The scent of her moss-stuffed pillow rushed at her across time and she stifled a sob. The iron railings around her apartment building, on the windows, of the fire escapes, bore no resemblance to the fancy filigreed ornamentation of her childhood home. There was no balcony here where she might sit and dream as she did as a girl. Grappling with her key and the reluctant lock, juggling her bag, the groceries and the clutch of flowers, she managed to open the door. One flight up, up a dark, narrow, stale-aired stair, she repeated her actions. Finally...home.

a marvel and a secret...be it so....

a marvel and a secret...be it so....

“I’m coming, Paris. I’m home now.” So it’s Byron tonight, is it Paris? And a quote from ‘The Dream’ no less. The words seem to float, to shimmer, in the air.

a marvel and a secret...be it so...

kiss, kiss, perch up baaaaaby...perch up....

 “Kiss, kiss, back. How’s my boy tonight? Hmmmm? Hungry?” Helen filled the tray with pellets and opened the cage door. She took a container of treats from the refrigerator. Before she could pry off the lid, the parrot, a brilliant blue and gold macaw, had flown to his favored roost—the back of the lone chair in the kitchen, the chair pulled close to a small round table beneath a small, barred window.

perch up baaaaaby...kiss, kiss....

The bird lifted his foot and waved it at her—his private summons. Moving close, she put out her arm, and full of chattering commentary, he walked up to sit at her shoulder. He combed through strands of her hair with his beak and nuzzled her cheek.

me and you...perch up...

 Helen laughed. “I’m perched, Paris. See?” She pulled out the chair, sat down and closed her eyes, rolled her shoulders, giving him a ride. So tired.... She folded her arms and lay her head down. The parrot hopped off to stand watch, strutting around the tabletop, eyeing the room. Her champion. Me and you, baaaaby. kiss, kiss...

***

Vincent was already restless, and reading Catherine’s message only intensified that agitation. Wondering, hoping... He cast his thoughts toward her being. Catherine? I feel your... What was it he felt from her? Searching, pondering, weighing the meanings, he could only choose one word—dither. There was excitement and tumult and trepidation. Catherine, can you tell me? He could feel her heartbeat. He knew where to find her, but there was no answering voice within his mind. Pacing his room, he grew anxious for the time to pass.

His only wish was to bring her Below, to stand legs spread, arms folded, before any and all threats, to safeguard her. She would not be ruled by fear, and yet fears clouded his own mind. He could not lose her, not now. Now, when the dam was breaking loose, when the way was washing clearer.

I love you. He’d said it aloud. It was no surprise to her; she’d read his heart, knew him, yet it thrilled her to hear the words. These last distances between them... He wanted to leap ahead as if in seven-league boots but he knew he must...wait.

I love you. His thoughts drifted back to the night before at the falls. Her heart was his echo. Forgive me for taking so long. But there was no blame in her. This night, I cannot doubt. Their way was still new and uncharted, but a radiance bathed it, and it wound toward tomorrow, a ribbon of golden light.

Change. Awesome, essential change. This dream of Catherine’s... The woman... How was he involved? Was he involved? Too overwrought to have supper, too restless to read, he donned his cloak. Narcissa. Narcissa might understand.

***

Near Father’s chamber, Vincent debated a visit. Unwilling to be drawn into conversation, eager to make the trek to Narcissa’s haunts, he quickened his pace and wished for invisibility.

“Vincent!” Father’s voice rang out, turning him.

“Father, I’m just on my way to Narcissa. There’s something I must discuss with her. And I want to convince her this year’s Winterfest cannot help but be a better one for her. She must come. I intend to persuade her.”

“That’s certainly a noble idea, but an unnecessary one. I’ve just had word. She’s on her way up now. The sentry heard her singing on the stone circle.” Father peered up at him. “Are you all right? Is it Catherine?” Little else would prompt such a stubborn, intent demeanor.

“It’s a long story, Father. After I speak with Narcissa, and if I have time before Catherine arrives home, I’ll return.” Vincent whirled from the doorway, leaving Father to take his tea alone.

***

Vincent supposed it was singing, but it was an eerie sound: repetitive, warbling, more conversation than song and interspersed with seesawing, harmonic sounds. At the top of the steps, he called out to her.

“Narcissa. Don’t be frightened. It’s Vincent.”

She shrank back against the stones, mock terror on her face. “That is what the evil one say to me, child. How do I know it is you?” She laughed at his consternation and continued her struggle with the last of the stairs. “I know you, Vincent. Heh heh. Something about you. Heh heh heh. Fills these old eyes with light.”

“Narcissa. It is good to see you. We’ll not let you go now, not until after Winterfest.” Vincent, descending to meet her, took her arm, steadying her, leading her. “I need to talk to you. I was coming to you when Father told me of your approach.”

“What can you need from me, a crazy old woman? Hmmmmm?”

“An interpretation...of a dream. Catherine’s dream, a terrifying dream. More than that. She’s met the woman, the woman from the nightmare, in person, at her workplace Above. I’ve had a message from her tonight. The woman has had the same dream herself—with Catherine in it!”

“Tell me, child, everything you know.”

“About the dream?”

“About the woman.”

They made the final step and began their slow journey down the corridor. “We know very little, Narcissa. We’ve put word out to our helpers, but their information is the same as Catherine’s. The woman is with the police, a lieutenant. She has a reputation for hard and fair work. She’s received honors from her peers, in the community. Active in charity work.” Vincent paused, searching for more. “She has a parrot.”

“A parrot!” Narcissa brightened at the mention of the bird. “I once knew a woman with a parrot. Heh heh. Long ago. Parrots live many years, Vincent. They see and hear many things. Heh, heh, heh. This woman, you remember her, hmmmmm? But you were only a boy and she was here such a short time. A tiny thing, she was. Frail. Hair as black as a crow’s wing. Zurie. Yessss, her name was Zurie. And her little one, a girl child... The bird...he watched over that baby. Heh heh. Like a hawk, he did.”

Matching his stride to Narcissa’s determined but halting step, Vincent willed himself to an impatient silence. Narcissa mumbled to herself, chortled and sang, lost in some veiled world that only she could map and travel. Suddenly, she stopped and plucked at Vincent’s arm. 

“A dream is proof, Vincent... The spirit can act without the flesh. But things are never as they seem. Shadows can be cast by the sun. This dream... Your Catherine’s dream... Tell me.”