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Classic Round Robin

Chapter 7
JoAnn Baca

Late afternoon flowed seamlessly into night and then into the wee hours of the new day. Locked within the confines of concrete and glass, neither moonshine nor starshine intruded on the lawyers of the District Attorney’s Office as they toiled together, consuming gallons of coffee along with legal precedents and the minutiae of the case. Slowly but inexorably, progress was made on the Brewster case…at least, enough progress to satisfy Joe that The Powers That Be would be satisfied in turn.

He looked around at the haggard faces of his staff, dedicated professionals he was so proud to work beside. The city’s best…their bosses didn’t deserve them. Stretching mightily in his chair, he let out a loud yawn and declared, “We’re done here, people.”

Nobody argued with him. Rita snapped the cap onto her pen with finality and pushed herself away from the conference table. “I have to be back here in…” she checked her watch, “five hours. At least I can get home, catch a shower and feed the cat.”

Catherine rose and rubbed the stiffness from her lower back. “Terry, Michelle, why don’t we share a cab, and I’ll drop you off on my way home?” She was too tired to drive in Manhattan traffic. Besides, by taking a cab, she could ensure the two interns would get home safely; the subways were iffy places to be in the pre-dawn hours. They would, of course, offer, and she would refuse their money to pay the fare; interns made a pittance, and it was a small reward for putting in the same hours as the rest of the staff, who were paid a slightly larger pittance by the city.

Joe had the sense to look chagrinned. “I didn’t realize it had gotten so late…er…early.” He had worked his attorneys nearly 18 hours straight, and the reality of what he’d asked of them suddenly hit him squarely in the conscience. “I don’t expect to see any of you back here until ten. I know it’s not much time, but at least you can catch a catnap or something.” Tired nods of gratitude greeted his offer. He hesitated a moment before sheepishly adding, “I don’t tell you often enough…but you all are aces.”

You never tell us!” Richard quipped, shrugging into his suit jacket.

Yeah, yeah, stop complaining,” Joe ribbed him. “You get paid handsomely for your efforts!”

The groans that followed that statement echoed in the empty hallway as Rita opened the door and everyone filed out, hastening for their coats before gathering at the elevator bay, the promise of a few hours in a warm bed filling them all with anticipation.

Catherine lagged behind after asking Terry and Michelle to go on ahead and hail a cab for the three of them. “Joe,” she murmured, surprising her boss, whose back was turned as he gathered the scattered files into a disorderly pile.

Joe glanced behind him, amazed anyone was still in the room; the general exodus had been remarkably quick, and guiltily he imagined they were afraid that if they didn’t leave promptly, he might change his mind and call them all back in. “No brownie points for staying after class, Radcliffe,” he joked tiredly. “Whaddaya need?”

If we’re caught up enough on Brewster…I’d like to spend some more time on those cold cases with Helen Hunter. We…worked well together. We might make some progress if….” She hoped the request sounded plausible. Truthfully, there was little more she could do to help the dark-haired woman from her dream, and her reasons for wanting to see Helen again had nothing to do with the cold cases. But she was counting on Joe’s feelings of guilt and she struck gold.

Yeah, sure. But just tomorrow…or, well, I guess I mean today, OK, kiddo? We can’t let Brewster slide just when we’ve got a good head of steam built up.” He picked up the pile of files and Catherine held the door open for him as he carried them out of the conference room.

***

A quick catnap was all Catherine had gotten. She was too wired up to rest for long, now that she had this opportunity to really talk with Helen. Surely if they put their heads together, they could discover the reason why they had been haunted by the strange dream they had shared.

She rose from her fitful sleep to take a bracing shower and change into heavy, comfortable clothes. She wouldn’t be going from her warm apartment to her warm car to her warm office today. Since her car was still in the office parking garage, it was the subway for her. She hoped by leaving this early, she might catch Helen before she left for work.

Braving the wintry mix of sleet and snow falling in the city, Catherine trudged through the accumulation and descended the stairs of the closest subway station. Once there, she couldn’t help but steal a surreptitious glance at the tops of the cars as the train rolled in. As if Vincent would be “riding” the train at this time of day, she chided herself, then mentally shrugged. Well, it never hurts to check.

She had pulled a book off the shelf at random on her way out of her apartment – entertainment for her long subway ride to the Bronx. After settling into a seat, she glanced at the worn leather cover for the first time and noted it was a volume of poetry that Vincent had once read to her. She smiled at the memory of those blissful hours sitting beside him on her balcony, wrapped in his cloak, his arm warmly around her waist, letting that rough silk voice wash over her. Heaven! She let the book fall open where it would, and found that it had opened to a poem by Lord Byron. She shivered involuntarily at the title: “The Dream.” Portends were popping up all around her; it was getting more than disconcerting. Shoving aside that distracting thought, she began to read.

As the train pulled into the station, she neared the end of the poem:

To him the book of Night was opened wide,

And voices from the deep abyss revealed

A marvel and a secret. – Be it so.

Contemplating her very own marvel and secret from the deep recesses of her city, Catherine exited the subway and made her way up to street level.

***

The parrot’s squawk alerted Helen moments before she heard a knock on her door. She awoke with a start, feeling dazed. The sunlight slanting through the little window behind her warmed her back. Apparently she was more tired than she’d thought, if she had slept slumped over on the table all night. She checked the clock on the kitchen counter and frowned. It was a little too early for a casual visitor.

Stiff from her uncomfortable position, Helen reached up and stretched her arms overhead, hands clasped. She felt the pop and crackle of protesting kinks in her back. “Hold on,” she muttered sleepily at her unknown visitor, and she rose and ambled to the door, stretching from side to side, a wide yawn stretching her jaw.

A quick glance through the eyehole revealed Catherine’s anxious face. Immediately Helen snapped into full wakefulness, rapidly unlocking her deadbolt and unlatching the chain, tugging the door open.

It’s early, I know,” Catherine began in apology.

No, it’s fine. I was hoping to see you again soon. Come in.” Helen led the way into the tiny space, indicating a chair at her small table for Catherine to sit in. Neither of them spoke while Helen busied herself in the kitchen making tea, then rummaged in the refrigerator. She came out with a container of yogurt, which she offered to Catherine, who said, “Just tea would be lovely.”

Resettled at the table with her breakfast, Helen ate a spoonful of yogurt, then said, “We didn’t get very far the other day.”

I’m sorry,” Catherine replied. “We’re working on a huge case, and my boss is a little on the anal side!”

No problem. I’m a little anal myself!” Helen grinned. “That’s one of the reasons this dream has been bothering me so much…I like things to fit neatly, but I can’t begin to figure it out.”

I’m not sure how much credence you’ll give it,” Catherine began, leaning forward on her elbows, “but I looked it up in a book on the interpretation of dreams, and it’s not as dire as you might imagine. The…violence - it has a benign meaning. Dreaming about your death means that something in your life is about to change. It’s about transitions. That’s not so bad, is it?”

Helen shook her head, blue eyes wide in amazement. “Honestly? That’s all it means?”

Catherine added, “And since we dreamed of each other, perhaps it also means that we’re meant to help each other through some changes in our lives.”

Just then Paris let out a squawk, flew from his perch, and landed on the table between the women. Startled, Catherine fell backward, nearly upsetting her chair, spilling her tea in the process. They both gawked as the parrot strutted between them.

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

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

In a hushed whisper, Catherine gasped, “No! It can’t be!”

What?” Helen asked, confused.

I was just reading that on the subway this morning…it’s from Byron, ‘The Dream.’”

A chill crept up Helen’s spine. “Yes.”

Have you been experiencing a lot of…coincidences lately?” Catherine asked the ashen-faced owner of the strangely psychic bird.

Helen nodded.

Grimly, Catherine nodded in return. “We need to figure out what it is the universe is trying to tell us.”

I’m going to call my office, tell them I’m taking some personal time,” Helen suggested. “Then…perhaps we should start at the beginning? Tell each other our life stories? We may see some confluence, or a pattern...or…I don’t know….” She shook her head, completely baffled.

It’s as good a place as any to begin,” Catherine agreed. “Go ahead. Make your call.”

***

Vincent paced the passageway leading to Catherine’s basement, feeling the confinement of the space acutely. He’d been anxious to speak with her since his enlightening discussion with Narcissa. But she’d arrived home in the early hours of the morning much too exhausted for any serious conversation, and he’d resolved not to burden her with his information at the time. Now he wished he had at least left her a note, for she had not gone to her office later as he’d supposed she would. David Mendez had experienced an awkward moment when he’d arrived at Catherine’s desk with the breakfast “she’d ordered,” only to be told she wasn’t expected at work all day; thus, Vincent’s message to meet him as soon as possible had gone undelivered. He had even tried to utilize their on-again off-again ability to read each other’s thoughts to ask her to come Below…but it appeared to be in the off-again stage.

Frustrated, he muffled a growl and continued to pace.

***

Flying off the subway train near her apartment building, Catherine let her thoughts center on Vincent. “Can you meet me below my threshold soon?”

His response was immediate. “I’m already there.”

***

Light spilled into the sub-basement as Catherine flung open the door between their worlds. Almost before she could begin to descend the metal rungs, she was lifted bodily and deposited upon her feet, within the circumference of Vincent’s arms. They clung to each other, pressed close, Vincent’s hands splayed across Catherine’s back, molding her to himself, her arms thrown around his neck, urging his head down to her shoulder so that she could press a fervent kiss against his furred cheek.

Byron’s words sprang unbidden to her mind: A marvel and a secret – Be it so. Yes. He was both to her, both…and so much more.

I was with Helen…” she began, as his raspy whisper uttered the words, “Narcissa has told me….” They stopped speaking at the same time and pulled back to gaze at each other. Again they spoke in tandem.

Helen?”

Narcissa?”

Catherine took in Vincent’s frazzled state and said, “You first.”

Grasping her hand, he led her some distance from the threshold where they could converse without the possibility of anyone overhearing them. Long ago someone had carved out a shallow indentation in the rock wall to make a rough bench, and this was where they sat to talk.

Narcissa?” she prompted him.

I sought her out in desperation, hoping she might shed some light on your troublesome dreams. You know Narcissa…she usually speaks in riddles. But not this time. This time….” Vincent sighed and shook his head. “When I told her what little we knew of Helen…Narcissa reminded me of long ago, when I was a child. For a brief period a young woman named Zurie lived Below. Zurie had a blue-eyed, dark-haired daughter. A daughter named Helen. And Zurie left the Tunnels with two companions – her daughter…and a parrot named Paris. Catherine…it must be the same Helen of your dreams who spent time Below; and if that’s true, her story is connected with mine.”

Like a pebble dropped into a pool, the knowledge generated ripples of understanding in Catherine’s mind; like a light thrust into a dark corner, it clarified shadows, illuminating seemingly random information within a startling new context. Catherine fastened on the one strong memory Helen possessed about her mother: She is carrying me, holding me on her hip, and we are moving from a cool, dark place into bright sun and trees. From the Tunnels into the Park? It made perfect sense now. That memory was so fixed in Helen’s mind, so important, because the cool, dark place had somehow been held tightly in her heart all these years – unexamined, but powerful nonetheless. Powerful because…what had Vincent just said? Her story is connected with mine. But a baffling question occurred to her. “Father…Mary…the others who were adults back then…why didn’t they mention this when the background we’d gathered about Helen first surfaced? We even knew her parrot’s name – a singular enough piece of information to jog someone’s memory, don’t you think?”

It’s puzzling,” he agreed. “Even Father had forgotten about Zurie and Helen, which seems odd, considering he never forgets the names and faces of those who have taken refuge with us, even for brief periods.” Vincent shook his head, aware that the coincidence was too great not to be a fact. “Odder still, as Narcissa spoke to me of Helen, it all came back to me in a rush, as if a veil had been lifted from my memories.” Vincent’s gaze grew so intense, Catherine found herself holding her breath. “Helen was…my first bondmate.”

He felt the sudden tension within their bond as almost a physical blow. Catherine’s hand beneath his hardened into a fist and grew rigid.

You are recalling the…other dream. The one in which Helen took me from you at Winterfest.” He stated it as a fact, not a question. “Catherine…it was a child’s bond, a perfect kinship between young souls, deep…but only a friendship.”

Only a friendship then,” she suggested, adding emphasis to the last word. “Because you were so young. What more could it have been…then? But if you were to meet her again now….” She left the rest of her thought unexpressed, but the worried frown she wore only hinted at the depth of her discomfort at the idea. Resolutely, she put her concerns aside to add something new to their ruminations. “Helen does volunteer work with the Little Sisters of the Poor. She must have been with them when they got their unexpected windfall of good fortune.”

The chest,” Vincent murmured, making connections now himself. “And perhaps the strange manner in which it came to them triggered something in her subconscious that made her begin to tap, however dimly, into submerged memories of her life in the Tunnels, her time with us…even if in her waking state she still has no such recollection.”

Catherine nodded. “Yes. But why would she associate any of that with me? Unless…well, she’s a good investigator. Perhaps in reviewing cold cases – not the ones she discussed with me, other ones that you and I were involved in – without consciously realizing it, she has recognized a link. And because you and she had a rudimentary form of bond…and you and I have such a strong one now…well, perhaps somehow we shared the dream through that connection.” Rising, she began to pace. “It’s all too confusing, too filled with what-ifs!”

Amid the swirl of possibilities, the next course of action became obvious to her. Taking a deep breath, she expressed it. “Vincent, I must bring her here, to where her story began. I know she can be trusted with your secret, and I believe it’s vital to discovering what lies beneath this strange connection she and I…and you…share.”

Your dream…Helen here in the Tunnels at Winterfest….”

Yes.” Gulping back a sudden lump in her throat, Catherine added, “Even if it means…if she’s meant to be with you….”

Catherine, no! No matter what else your dream may signify, it does not mean that!” He stood and took her by the shoulders, stilling her, then pulled her gently toward himself as he whispered fiercely, “Remember, always, that I love you.”

Looking down into her troubled eyes, he recited the words which had thrilled her to her core when he’d first shared them with her…had it only been a few days before? “You feel like home.”

Thank you!” she whispered in return, burying her face against the rough wool of his vest. His arms enveloped her and she clung tightly to his solid presence, so reassuring and real amid the myriad phantom images assaulting her mind – arms holding torches and doors closing and knives at throats…. She attempted to banish the ghostly aura of her nightmares, but try as she might, a niggling doubt still crept into her heart, cawing with a sound very like a parrot’s: something is about to change…something is about to change…something is about to change….

***

Deep in the night, as the world Below lay sleeping, a low voice murmured in the darkness of an unlit guest chamber, its eerie sing-song chanting accompanied by burning herbs. Hushed sounds followed – the clacking of tiny bones against shells, the tinkling of small bells, the swishing of water being poured into a bowl. The voice chuckled softly to itself, the woman who owned it sightless but all seeing. If anyone had been awake nearby, they would have heard a jumble of words spoken in her Caribbean-accented English, chief among them the names of two people for whom a spell of dreams was being cast. It was not the first such spell the strange old woman had cast…nor was she casting it on her own behalf, for part of her incantation included the name of a spirit with whom she often consulted, and which had requested this boon of her – the spirit of a long-departed Healer named Zurie.