How had it come to this? Jacob Wells asked himself for perhaps the hundredth time as he sat on an orange crate in one of the cityís filthy alleyways. The cold winter wind howled past the opening, seemingly angry at him for escaping its icy fingers for the moment. Pulling his hat down lower and turning the collar of his coat up he dropped his head in his hands and thought about the circumstances that had brought him here.
Less than a year ago he had been a successful research physician employed with the Chittenden Institute. His new bride was the beautiful socialite daughter of the rich and powerful Edward Chase, whom he had fallen in love with when he had first spotted her on 57th Street a year earlier. At their wedding, with a guest list that included some of the most powerful and affluent people in the city, Chase had presented the couple with the deed to a brownstone on prestigious Park Ave as a wedding gift. Life couldnít have been better.
Shortly after the wedding the institute had been awarded a grant by the defense department to study the effects of nuclear fall out and Jacob had been made head of the project. What he had discovered appalled him and he quickly presented the results of his research to his superiors expecting the institutes support in demanding a cessation to all nuclear testing. When his studies were published he was shocked to see that the institute had not only misrepresented his findings, but condoned the use of atomic weapons. He had been outraged; storming into the head of his departmentsí office demanding a retraction. The two men had argued vehemently until Jacob was told, in no uncertain terms, that he was to remain quiet or leave. Unable to ethically stand by the falsification of his research he walked out firmly convinced that being a doctor he could find work anywhere, or so he thought.
In trying to make the American public aware of the deadly effects of radiation he found himself brought before the un-American Activities Committee. He was accused of being a traitor, attempting to halt Americaís use of atomic weapons in an effort to give Russia arms superiority. He flatly denied any involvement in an armament race, declaring that he was a physician; his only agenda was trying to save lives. They wouldnít listen and if he had to point a finger at who was behind his down fall it would have to be his father-in-law, his ex-father-in-law he reminded himself ruefully.
Edward Chase was a self made millionaire, an arms dealer and absolutely ruthless. Chase saw his son-in-law as a business liability one who was attempting to block a new weapon that he had already heavily invested in. Calling in a few favors he had Jacobís medical license revoked, had him thrown in jail and the marriage to his daughter annulled. He then had her packed off to France, and sold the couples brownstone.
Jacob remembered the letter he had received from Margaret while he was in jail telling him of the annulment, feeling its heavy weight where he kept it close to his heart, in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. Tears sprang to his eyes as he recalled the words she wrote, words that he had committed to memory:
Dear Jacob, it began,
I am writing you from Paris, where my father has sent me. Spring has arrived early here, the time for lovers, and itís as if the season mocks my sadness. But Iím beginning to understand that loss is sometimes necessary. I know of no gentle way to tell you, my father has annulled our marriage. Iíd be lying to you if I said that Iíd fought him. I canít even blame him. Forgive me, Jacob, because I know youíre innocent and still I donít have the strength to stand by you. But you are strong and you will rebound of that Iím positive. Please donít hate me we knew each other so short a time. All I can say seems useless, and still I cling to the wreck of my memories before they sink forever. Goodbye Jacob, Iíll love you always.
Heedless of the frigid temperature, tears rolled down his cheeks as her words once again stabbed him in the heart. Angrily he dashed them away, shaking his head. Why he had ever married a pampered, society ornament was beyond him. She didnít even have the strength of character to stick by her own husband; her father crooked his little finger and she went running. Never again, he vowed, never again would a woman make a fool of him Cling to the wreck of her memories indeed! She couldnít be too devastated while surrounded by the rich finery her father provided for her. He was pretty sure she wasnít homeless, or cold, or hungry. The time he had spent in jail reading her letter over and over again had hardened his heart to any relationship he might have in the future. Of all the betrayals hers had been the worst. For better or worse, she had repeated after the priest during their marriage vows. Obviously she hadnít meant it, obviously her word meant nothing, nothing at all.
Being released from jail in the dead of winter only to find that his home and his possessions were gone, his reputation and his good name destroyed, his profession denied him, made him bitter beyond belief. His close friend and classmate Peter, newly married with a fledgling practice of his own had offered to take him in, to make him a partner, but he had gratefully declined worried that McCarthyís hell hounds would destroy his friend as they had destroyed him. No he was better off on his own away from any friends that could be tainted by his company.
Bitterness and self-pity overwhelmed him sinking him deep into the blackness of his thoughts. Perhaps the cold would cause hypothermia and he wouldnít have to greet the sunrise that would begin another day of wretchedness. Deep in his misery he didnít feel the hand on his shoulder until he was given a hard shake. Looking up, almost angry at the interruption, he saw a woman peering down at him, her head muffled in a scarf that partially hid her face. Staring at her, he tried to remember where he had seen her before. It took a moment for his cold numbed brain to recognize her as the woman from the soup kitchen, the one who had cut her hand slicing bread. Reacting quickly he had immediately taken her to the kitchen sink, washed the cut thoroughly with soap, and then wrapped it carefully with a bit of clean cloth another volunteer had offered. She had given him an extra piece of bread for his trouble and a heartwarming smile. Now she stood before him urging him to his feet. Slowly he rose using his cane to support his right hip which had been injured when a pack of jostling, news hungry reporters had caused him to fall down a flight of stairs at the Criminal Courts building.
The woman pulled at his arm taking him away from the alley and down the street passing other alleys with homeless crowded around flaming garbage cans, their hands stretched out to gather the feeble heat that fought the cold of the winter night. They walked with the wind pushing at their backs, their breath smoking out in front of them like white plumes. Piles of once pristine white snow, now gray and black with city dirt, lined the sidewalk and crunched under their feet as they walked. She pulled him along 42nd St. to 7th Ave to a set of concrete steps by Penn Station. Curiously he followed her down and through a battered service door. The stench that assaulted his nostrils made his stomach roil and it took all his will power not to retch. There was garbage strewn everywhere, but the woman led him unerringly to a piece of ply wood that lay close to one of the walls. Lifting it and shoving it to one side revealed a small hole barely a foot around. The woman dropped down and shimmed through the hole, soon out of sight. Jacob hesitated, but when her head popped back out her smile reassured him and he followed after.
He found himself in a narrow area on a steep incline made up of gravel and rubble.
After pulling the wood back into place behind him, the woman carefully slid down the unstable hill to a concrete floor. Bare electric bulbs showed a cavernous area whose ceiling of steel girders looked like the ribs of some huge, fantastic beast. The girders were supported at regular intervals by concrete and metal pylons that stretched away, seemingly endlessly, into the darkness. The rumble and screech of subway trains was deafening and the stench of ozone was added to the already over powering smell that filled the place. Undeterred by their surroundings the woman walked deeper into the gloom into a tunnel following an abandoned set of tracks. Jacob starred wide eyed at the maze of pipes and electrical wires that hung in a tangled confusion from the ceiling and walls. He was unaccustomed to walking; it seemed to him like they had traveled for miles, and when there was a pause between trains he asked her how much further they had to go.
"Ach," she replied with a lilting, Irish brogue, "Itís just a wee stretch of the legs, surely a bonnie lad like yourself will be having no trouble." She smiled impishly up at him then frowned when she realized the pain his hip was giving him. "Itís not much further, I promise." It was all they had time for before another series of trains rumbled by making conversation impossible.
Jacobsís eyes grew even wider when they arrived at their destination. He saw a series of concrete rooms behind a bunker that at one time must have served as a storage area, housing supplies and providing a place for railway work crews to rest. Now they provided a home for people who had none. As they drew closer he saw a campfire in front of the central room with a woman tending a pot that hung above the flames. She looked up frightened at first, but then recognizing his companion she smiled a greeting and went back to stirring the pot. The sound of the subway trains roaring down their tracks was less here and it was now possible to talk.
"What is this place?" He asked his guide, shifting his weight to his good leg.
"An unwanted place," she answered with an ironic smile, removing her scarf, "that takes care of unwanted people." She sat down on one of the cinder blocks positioned close to the fire that evidently served as seats, inviting him to sit at another. "You looked like you could use a place to stay. My name is Grace."
Grace was rather a plain woman with a tendency to be plump had she been eating regularly. As it was her clothes hung on her and her usually round cheeks were sunken in giving her face a hollow look. She had thick black hair that when released from the braid she usually wore it in, hung down to her waist. Her eyes were a deep brown and set wide apart, split by a small perky nose that was liberally sprinkled with freckles. Standing at just five foot three, she nonetheless had a sturdy, large boned frame with big, rough skinned hands. She was no shrinking violet that didnít know hard work, and her lack of physical beauty was more than made up for by her personality. Her compassion for others and her willingness to help made the people who knew her thankful for her friendship.
An only child of Irish immigrants she had been born late in life to Maggie and Devin OíMalley. Her father had named her for an ancient relative from the 16th century, who for her time was no timid housemaid content to watch over hearth and home for her men folk, she was a pirate that plied her ship off the coast of Ireland, Graceís father was the last of that line.
When Maggie became ill, Devin had pulled Grace out of school to care for her. The young girl had taken care of everything, her mother, the house, the shopping and the cooking. While she was in her twenties, her father suddenly died of a massive heart attack and she had gone out to find part-time work to supplement the social security funds she and her mother received, but had to quit when her mother became too ill to even be alone for a few hours. After Maggie passed away the social security stopped, but Grace soon found employment in the void left in the work force by Americaís entrance into World War II. After the war ended, however, the jobs were turned over to returning soldiers and the women were expected to go back to tending the home and children. Without an adequate education Grace was soon jobless and without an income was evicted from her home. Undaunted she managed to make a bit of money by turning in bottles she scrounged for in the street and found places to sleep in flop houses. Unfortunately these filled quickly as more unemployed became homeless and if you got there late you were turned away. She volunteered at a soup kitchen serving people like herself at St. Agnesí. Here she could always be sure of having at least one meal a day and sometimes, in bad weather, they would let her stay in the storage shed at the back of the church. There was no place she could call her own and the only possessions she had were those she could carry around with her.
One day, while looking for bottles by Penn Station, she came across an unlocked service door; she must have had a touch of her ancestorsí adventurous sprit for she ventured in. With barely enough light to see by she fell through a hole in the floor and instead of climbing back through she decided to look around and wandered beneath the city through abandoned subway tunnels finally finding a bunker area that hadnít been used since the tunnel had been completed and abandoned many years ago. At the widest section was a cluster of concrete rooms including a small room set back against a wall that contained a toilet that still worked and a shower. The place was filthy, but that didnít faze her at all she might not have had a formal education but she knew how to clean and she could recognize a godsend when she saw it.
In the days that followed she gathered the trash, burning most of it, and scrubbed the place clean. She discovered an entrance that brought her out to Riverside Park, but there were others there that frightened her, they called out jeering remarks as she passed and she resolved not to go that way again. Exploring further she found other entrances where there were no others and through which she could bring down large items. She made it a practice to go to the better neighborhoods on trash day to pick through the bits and pieces that people thought useless and make use of them herself. Smiling she would remember something her father used to say when they passed by second hand shops. one manís trash is another manís treasure, he would remark. Little did he know that someday his daughter would be the living embodiment of that little phrase.
Grace was always very careful entering her new living place, making very sure that no one saw where she went. During the day she was up top, as she called it, looking for bottles so she would have the money to buy the things she couldnít find. Some of her things came from the church thrift shop, but most were from the castoffs of others. Her father had been a carpenter and passed his knowledge of woodworking to his daughter. Grace would find discarded pieces of wood and drag them down to her platform eventually furnishing her concrete room with shelves and a frame for the mattress she had managed to bring down. In the evenings she went to the soup kitchen to help dole out the meals and have one for herself. If anything was left over they would let her have what she could carry. Life was pretty good she thought, except for the rats. It was a fact of the tunnels that she couldnít get away from, the tunnels had rats and she would fearfully lie awake at night hearing their claws scrabbling on the concrete floor. She learned early on to make sure any edible items were secured in metal tins. Eventually she found a stray cat that was only to happy to keep her company and share her home. He earned his supper by keeping the rats away and Grace had to admit she felt much safer from the rodents with the big, gray and white tom cat she named Shamrock. He was also good company, she hadnít realize how lonely she was until Shamrock came to live with her. He would lie on his side lazily flicking his tall while she stroke his head and told him of her day.
One night she came home to find two strangers sitting by her little fire pit. Fear clutched her stomach, what were they doing here? Were they going to take her things? Did they mean her harm? When they saw her approaching they stood and the tall, sandy haired man held out his hand to her. "My name is Lou, and this is my wife Michelle."
Louís mother had died when he had just entered his teens. So father and son had set up bachelor lodgings above the barber shop that the sale of the house had enabled Lou the elder to buy. Lou Jr. enjoyed the shop immensely he liked nothing better than meeting the steady stream of customers that came in for a shave or a haircut or both. There were a group of regulars that sometimes just came to sit and chat. It was a pleasant, easy atmosphere and Lou followed his father into barbering. He began cutting hair before he was out of high school and was proud when his father added son to the sign that hung above the shop. A few years later he married his high school sweetheart, Michelle, a tall, willowy, blond with sparkling blue eyes. She quickly changed the apartment above the shop from an ill kept bachelor pad into something more of a home. Theirs was an easy, tranquil life marred only by the estrangement of Michelleís family; they didnít like Lou and thought their daughter could have done better, much better. But the couple didnít let it bother them and Louís father became father to them both. He lived with them in the smaller room that had been Louís graciously giving the larger room to his son and daughter-in-law.
One night the couplesís life was shattered. As they walked home from the movie theatre they could see flames shooting high into the sky and sirens wailing loudly, the stench of smoke hung heavy in the air. It took a moment to realize the fire was at the barber shop.
Lou ran, trying to enter the shop and get upstairs to where he knew his father was, but the firemen held him back. The fire was fully involved and there was no way anyone was getting in and if there was someone inside there was no way they had survived.
Hours later, after the fire was extinguished, and the firemen and emergency vehicles had long gone; Lou and Michelle carefully picked their way through the still hot, smoldering rubble that was once their home. There had been no insurance on the building, his father hadnít believed in it. Tears rolled down their faces as they realized that they were left on the street with nothing. In one devastating blow they had lost their only source of income, their home, and the only father either of them had. They clung to each other as they walked through the debris, looking for anything they could use that had escaped the flames. The memory of his metal Ďtreasureí box popped into Louís head and he remembered that he had kept a photograph of his parents in it. He had kept it hidden behind a loose brick in the wall in back of the furnace. Cautiously he made his way to the rear of the shop and started moving blackened pieces of the home he had once had. Digging down he found the basement steps and careful of the shifting remains he made his way to the back wall where the furnace still stood. He located the brick, still warm from the blaze and poked at it, but instead of the brick coming away the whole wall caved backward away from him. A plume of dust assaulted him and a gust of cool air; curious he stuck his head into the hole and discovered a narrow walkway that seemed to go to the house next door. Completely mystified, but with curiosity piqued he called to Michelle and the two of them clambered into the opening together. They saw a light way off in the distance and walked toward it.
Heedless of any danger they continued on, what did they have to lose after all, theyíd already lost everything and had no-where to go. The light proved to come from a wide tunnel that had sets of subway tracks running down its center. Bare bulbs hung at intervals from metal conduits suspended from the ceiling, illuminating the tunnel as it stretched for as far as they could see until curving away in the distance. They looked at each other and shrugged; picking a direction they followed the tracks until they came to Graceís home.
Grace could see that Shamrock had taken a liking to the couple, winding himself between their legs and as her mother used to say if an animal liked a person they couldnít be all that bad, animals had a way of knowing what a person was like. After hearing their situation Grace invited them to stay if they wanted to. With nowhere else to go they did and the three of them became a little family. Lou found a job cutting hair at a barber shop in midtown and although it didnít pay enough for an apartment it did provide for some of the things they needed. The trash of the wealthy provided furnishings and if it wasnít the Ritz at least it was a place of their own out of the weather and away from the disreputable elements that roamed the city. Lou proved to be handy with electricity and he soon had the interior of the rooms illuminated with an odd assortment of electric lamps. An old radio whose antenna was attached to the metal support of the tunnel played the current tunes and brought them the news of the day. Existence in the tunnels was peaceful and comfortable, what they couldnít afford, theyíd find, if they couldnít find it, theyíd make it.
Their little family was expanded one day when Grace bought down a couple that were expecting a little stranger in the very near future.
When he was working Niklaus was a drummer, his last employment was with the Artie Shaw band at the Roseland in Manhattan. Niklausí misfortune came through his wife who had been extremely spoiled as a child by her parents and expected the same of her husband. Her demands on his time and money increased when she found that she was pregnant. When the band left the city to go on tour Niklaus felt obliged to stay behind when Eva refused to go and getting another job in his line of work proved difficult. When the money ran out their landlord evicted them from their apartment and they found themselves on the street forced to make use of the flop houses that gave the homeless a place to sleep. Here again they ran into trouble, Eva was a war bride, Niklaus had met her while in the army, stationed in Germany during World War II. He had married her there and brought her back with him, but Germans were persona non gratia in the States and Eva was met with angry stares and down right rudeness whenever her heavy accent was recognized. In the flop houses she was separated from Niklaus as women were housed in one area and men in another. The women would pass remarks the content of which Eva didnít understand, but the looks and the tone were all too clear. She was nearing the end of her pregnancy when Grace met them in the soup kitchen. Listening to Niklausí story her compassion overrode her caution and she brought them down to the tunnels. After their initial astonishment they settled into the established routine very nicely, at least Niklaus did Eva was not at all pleased with their circumstances and made sure to let her husband know at every opportunity. Lou was happy to have another male presence and the two men got on famously. Evaís condition had the women all in a flutter preparing for the babyís coming. Another room was furnished and despite all the complaining she had done throughout her pregnancy the birth of her son was relatively easy.
Pascalís birth was closely followed by Evaís abandonment. She left as the otherís slept, leaving husband and son to their own fate. Niklaus found out later that she had run off with a saxophone player whose band was booked to tour Europe. She undoubtedly was using him to get back to her native Germany. The animosity she had received from her husbandís country men had broken her and her home sickness had overwhelmed her to the point that even her baby was no deterrent to her leaving.
The little family closed ranks as they all cared for the motherless tyke. It was difficult however; he was a fussy baby and seemed to be constantly crying.
Jacobís arrival provided the little community with the medical knowledge to help little Pascal. He determined that the baby was suffering from colic and soon had him set to rights. Gratefully Niklaus invited Jacob to share his room while a new one was being cleaned and furnished.
The two men were quite a contrast in opposites; Niklaus was a neat freak where Jacob was a clutterer. Niklausí speech was liberally sprinkled with the slang of the day Ďthreadsí were clothing; a Ďcool catí was someone that impressed him, Ďa squareí was someone who didnít. Jacobís speech was extremely precise and proper the result of good schooling, Ďhigh-tonedí Niklaus would call him and where Jacob spent time reading, Niklaus could be heard beating out a rhythm on anything that was within reach of his ever present drum sticks.
Jacobsís complete disillusionment with the world above kept him in the tunnels, "They donít want me," he would grumble to Grace when she invited him to go top side with her, "they made that abundantly clear." He never explained what he meant by that and she didnít pry, intuitively she knew he was hurting badly and needed time to heal.
If he refused to travel Above he more than made up for it in his travels Below. He had an insatiable curiosity that he turned to exploration, wandering the tunnels making copious notes and drawings of their environment. He soon knew every inch of their world below and had made maps to help his fellow tunnel dwellers get around, noting places that could be dangerous. There were others living in the subway tunnels, people suffering from drug additions or alcoholism, particularly at the entrance of the Riverside Park tunnels where there were grates that let in some light into an otherwise dark world. He was extremely careful in his travels making sure that he was never followed; he didnít want to be the cause of bringing any trouble to the little community.
Grace made sure he had every thing he needed, his clothing came from the churchís thrift shop and he would smile imagining the shocked expressions of his fellow doctors if they were to see him in his odd and varied outfits. Nothing matched of course and he wore his garments in layers to keep out the tunnels chill. Yes, he chuckled; he would present quite a sight. Grace also made sure he had journals and pencils to make his notes and maps. It made him happy to be useful, and she wanted him to be happy. She had taken a liking to him and she hoped in time that he would to her. It was something to wish for anyway, she thought of him as being very handsome and so educated, a good catch as her mother would say. Occasionally she would find herself staring at him and when he would turn to look at her sheíd quickly avert her eyes. Sometimes, like when she was showing him how to do laundry, their hands would touch and her heart seemed to beat so hard she was surprised he didnít hear it. At night when they were all gathered around the fire pit, he would tell them of his explorations, making them sound like the grandest of adventures, he had a real gift for story telling, and she would close her eyes, just listening to his voice imagining that he was talking only to her.
It took time, but Jacob finally realized that Grace had fallen in love with him. He felt badly about that since the feeling wasnít mutual, he liked her of course and would be forever grateful to her for her kindness, but love was out of the question. He loved once and look what had happened, he wasnít over Margaret, would probably never be over her. There were times when he would brood over his lost love becoming almost maudlin and it was at one of these occasions that he let his guard down.
He and Grace were at their little encampment by themselves for a change; all the others had gone top side on one errand or another. Grace was scrubbing the laundry in the big silver, metal tub Niklaus had found, Jacob was in his room writing in his notebook, or so she thought. She heard the sound of weeping and hesitantly stood outside the doorway of his room. "Jacob," She called softly. When he didnít answer she went inside and found him sitting on his cot looking at a picture, it was a wedding picture. Her heart broke for him and she sat beside him, putting her arm around his shoulders and pulled him close to her. "Jacob, whatever it is itís all right, cry it out and youíll feel the better for it." He turned to her, throwing both arms around her waist, burying his head between her breasts and cried great wrenching sobs.
When the storm subsided he pulled away from her a little, looking down shamefully, "Grace, Iím sorry I didnít mean to lose control like thatÖIímÖIím sorry."
She lifted his chin with a finger so that he looked into her eyes. "Tis no great shame to show what youíre feeling, it doesnít make you less of a man."
He blinked away the remains of his tears and looked at her, really looked at her, she was beautiful in her own way and her inner beauty shone brilliantly in her soft brown eyes. He was mesmerized by her eyes, falling into them as she looked at him with such compassion and love. Suddenly he pulled her to him kissing her deeply. Some small part of his mind stood apart and screeched at him, what are you doing? But he ignored it, needing to feel the love she offered him, needing to feel her physical comfort. She melted in his arms, molding herself to him. In the heat of passion they stripped away their clothing needing to feel flesh against flesh.
He took her quickly, savagely with none of the gentle tenderness he had given Margaret on their wedding night. Afterward he looked down at the woman underneath him filled with remorse, it was her first time and he had practically raped her. He had dimly noticed her pain when he had thrust himself into her and ignored it. Now his selfishness made him feel guilty and when she pulled him down to her, listening to her words of love, he reciprocated as best he could and when he was able, he loved her the way her first time should have been.
Grace was beside herself with joy, finally she knew what it was like to be loved by a man. To feel a manís work worn hands on her body, running the rough skin of his palms up and down her flesh, to feel him inside her assuaging the ache that had plagued her since she had met him. Oh it hurt, it hurt like hell at first, but to feel his weight on her and in her, to feel his hot seed spurt inside her, to smell the sweat of his body, it was worth it.
The second time was worth everything, he was so sweet, so tender. She knew he did it out of pity, out of guilt for the savage way he had taken her the first time, and she knew he didnít really love her, but none of that mattered. The one he loved wasnít here, but she was, he was hers now and she would do whatever it took to make him happy. He never said he loved her and that was all right, she didnít need to hear the words.
By mutual agreement Jacob moved his meager possessions into Graceís room and by the time the otherís got back his room was empty of everything but his cot, he would be sharing Graceís from now on.
It was a few weeks after Jacob had settled in that their little group was expanded yet again. He and Lou were getting water to heat for Pascalís bath when they thought they heard someone calling for help. It was very faint and far off and they were arguing as to what to do when Niklaus came looking for them.
"Whatís the hold up here?" he asked when he found them, buckets on the ground and ears to the tunnel wall.
"Listen," Lou beckoned him over.
Laying his ear against the wall he too could hear the faint cries for help.
"Well what are you standing around for?" The diminutive man asked them, tapping on the wall. "It doesnít sound too thick we could use the sledge hammer to break through unless thereís another way to get back there?" He looked pointedly at Jacob, who shook his head,
"I donít know of any."
"That settles is then."
He went back and told the women what was going on and grabbed the hammer. Handing it over to Lou, the largest of them, he stepped back. Lou spit on his hands, gripped the handle and gave it a mighty swing. The head of the hammer broke right through and they managed to make an opening large enough to crawl through.
Now the cries could be clearly heard and they set off taking a lantern and some chalk with them. Jacob never went exploring without chalk, he had found out the hard way how easy it was to become disoriented in the dark labyrinths of the tunnels. But what they found themselves traveling through was no subway tunnel these looked more natural, the floor was uneven, the walls rough and jagged. The three men made their way cautiously along, following the direction of the voice. It seemed to take forever and they were heading downward, deeper and deeper into the earth. Eventually they could make out a glow coming from somewhere up ahead of them and cautiously walked towards it. As they drew nearer they could hear the sound of water and were astonished when rounding a curve found themselves standing on the ledge of a huge cavern, high above a pool of water with three waterfalls in the distance roaring into it. It was amazing that they could hear anyone crying for help at all above the din of the falls. It must have been some trick of the acoustics of the tunnels, a lucky thing for the man who lay below them, near the pools edge. Quickly they scrambled down being careful not to end up falling on the slippery rocks themselves. A fine mist rose from where the falls plunged into the water of the pool and it coated everything making the way down treacherous.
"Oh thank God," the man rasped in a voice hoarse from yelling. "Iíve done something to my leg, it hurts like the dickens," he grimaced as he tried to move.
"Just lie still for a moment," Jacob instructed handing the lantern to Niklaus. Deftly he felt the leg eliciting a loud groan from his patient. "Iím afraid youíve broken it, now lie still while I try to immobilize it." Taking out a pocket knife he quickly cut away the pants leg and began tearing it into strips. "You two see if thereís anything we can use as a splint, a thin piece of wood, about so long would do." He indicated the size with his hands and continued making strips as his two friends scoured the immediate area. "My name is Jacob by the way." He introduced himself over the sound of tearing cloth.
"Sebastian," the injured man returned. "Iím very happy to make your acquaintance."
"Iím sure," Jacob chuckled. "How did you manage to find your way down here? Do you live here?"
"Live here?" Sebastian looked around in surprise. "I should say not! Iím an entertainer by trade, used to being on the stage, in the spot light; this place would be a poor setting indeed for someone like me. Although I must confess I was gather glad to stumble onto it, everywhere else was pitch black, I couldnít see my hand in front of my face and when I saw the light I thought I had found my way out. I was disappointed when I came out on the ledge up there, but then I realize how terribly thirsty I was, so I started down and fell. I still canít believe it; Iím very nimble as a rule."
Jacob merely grunted, wondering what type of entertainer this man was. Lou called to him from the edge of the pond holding up a stick. "Jacob, will this do?" He looked over his shoulder judging the suitability of what Lou had found and nodded. "That should do very nicely, bring it here."
Lou and Niklaus both came back to the fallen man picking their way carefully through the wet, slick rocks. Handing the length of wood to Jacob, Lou stepped back giving Niklaus room to hold the lantern close while Jacob skillfully splinted the leg. When he was done Jacob rocked back on his heels inspecting his handiwork. Satisfied he took one of Sebastianís arms and draped it over his shoulders. "Lou, get his other side." Lou took Sebastianís other arm and they hoisted the injured man up between them. "This is Lou by the way and Niklaus." Jacob introduced them with a gesture of his head as they made their way back up to the ledge. "Sebastian." Sebastian managed to wheeze out painfully. It was slow going, there was no path as such, they had to pick their way and Jacobís hip, which had been a manageable, dull ache now flared painfully under the added weight. He would have asked Niklaus to take over but the prematurely-balding man stood at just five feet making him a poor match for the six foot Lou. Sebastian must be about six foot himself, Jacob figured, with a lanky, wiry frame. He noticed the hand he gripped was smooth and soft, much like his had been before he had taken up residence in the tunnels.
The way became easier when they got back up to the ledge and back into the tunnels. Niklaus took the lead lighting the way, checking the chalk marks Jacob had made on the way down. When they got to the hole in the wall Lou went through first then carefully dragged Sebastian through it while Jacob held the broken leg. Sebastian gritted his teeth as he was pulled through, his face white with pain. Grace came running as Lou and Jacob again supported Sebastian between them, practically carrying him the rest of the way to their living area. They settled him on one of the cinder blocks by the fire, Grace first setting a cushion down on it to make it a little more comfortable. With his bad leg stretched out in front of him Sebastian breathe a sigh of relief.
"My friends I donít know how to thank you, I thought I was going to lie there forever." His face was beaded with sweat from pain and exertion.
"You should really go to a hospital." Jacob suggested. He was worried about the amount of pain Sebastian was in, there were no painkillers available here, they didnít even have any alcohol.
"No, no I donít want to travel again. Couldnít I just stay here for a little? Perhaps lie down for awhile?"
Grace poured a cup of tea and handed it to him. "Thank you dear lady," he accepted it gratefully and after taking a sip sighed, "ah thereís nothing like a good cup of tea to make you feel warm and cozy, unless itís a shot of whiskey," he added hopefully. Lou shook his head, "Sorry." Sebastianís face fell, but it brightened up almost immediately, "no matter, no matter, this will do nicely."
Grace had been standing in front of the new comer, waiting for one of the men to introduce her. She finally let out an explosive sigh and introduced herself, shooting the men a disgusted look. "My name is Grace, by the way and this is Michelle."
Sebastian inclined his head, "Dear ladies if I could stand I would bow. My name is Sebastian, Sebastian the Magnificent to my admiring fans."
Grace looked puzzled, "The magnificent?"
Sebastian straightened, drawing himself up tall, striking a regal pose, his voice taking on a condescending tone, "Youíve never heard of me? I am wounded to the quick. My dear lady, I am only the greatest prestidigitator the world has ever known!"
Graceís face went blank as her mouth formed the unfamiliar word, questioningly she looked at Jacob.
"Magician," he translated for her.
"Oh," Was her quiet response.
"Iíll have you know," Sebastian continued. "That Iíve played in some of the best houses, to some of the biggest audiences on the circuit, why Iíve opened for Tempest Storm."
He said it like they would all knew who that was and be impressed, but only Niklaus recognized the name and he laughed, "You opened for a stripper? Youíre in burlesque!" Niklaus snorted. Sebastian drew himself up even taller, grimacing when he moved his bad leg, "Exotic dancer, if you please!" He shot Niklaus a disdainful look.
Wishing to diffuse the situation Jacob interjected, "If one may ask, what is a magician doing down here?"
"Iím temporarily," he shot Niklaus a scathing look, "between engagements at the moment and needed to find other ways to ply my trade. The hostess of my last job took quite a shine to me, unfortunately her husband found us in flagrante delicto as it were and I found myself running for my life."
This time everyone looked to Jacob for a translation. Jacob grinned, something Grace had seen all too rarely, "He was caught inÖahem...a compromising situation." Understanding broke through and the women blushed while the men smirked.
"Anyway my companion told me that her husband was in the habit of carrying a gun, only natural he being an officer of the law, and I made a graceful, but hurried exit out the window. He gave chase so I ran down the nearest subway station, there was no train handy at the time so I jumped down to the tracks and found a door that led to what I took to be a storage area. I secreted myself inside, leaned against the back wall and fell through. You can imagine my surprise. I heard a commotion outside the door and thinking my pursuer had gotten some friends to help him, I decided I had better continue onward. I think I wandered for hours before I saw the light of that cavern.
"Why didnít you just wait awhile and go back the way you had come?" Lou asked perplexed.
"I tell you, it was so dark it was like the backstage of the Palace, I had gotten so turned around that I was completely lost."
Jacob notice the tremor in the hand that Sebastian was holding the tea cup in and moved closer to him. "I think thatís enough for now, why donít you lie down for a bit, then when youíre feeling up to it you can go back up top."
Sebastian didnít take the helping hand that Jacob held out to him, instead he hung his head. "I really have no place to go, I promised my landlord that I would have the rent for him today and if I had gotten paid from this job I would have." He looked up sadly. "As it is heís probably thrown my stuff out on the street by now, not that I have very much."
Jacob looked around at the little group, they all gave him a brief nod and he bent down lifting Sebastian up under the arms. "Thatís all right, weíve all been Ďevictedí from up top, you can stay here with us. But Iím afraid weíre going to have to do something about that leg."
As Sebastian struggled to his feet, Lou moved to support his other side then he and Jacob took him into the room that had been Jacobs. After settling their new member Jacob wrote a hurried note and asked Lou to take it to Dr. Peter Alcott, to let him know that he was well and to ask for some items he would need to cast Sebastianís leg.
Lou entered the old brownstone that boasted a shiny new plaque that read Dr. Peter Alcott, MD. A receptionist desk had been placed right by the entrance guarding the foyer that had been set up as a waiting room, which was empty at the moment. Hesitantly he went over to the woman sitting behind the desk.
"May I help you?" She asked briskly.
"I have a note for the doctor."
She held out her hand to him, "The doctor is in with a patient right now, Iíll see that he gets it."
Lou didnít move to give it to her, Jacobís instructions were very clear, he was to give the note to Peter and wait. "I was to say that itís from Jacob."
Her eyes went wide, "Jacob Wells?" she asked.
Lou took a chance and nodded. She immediately got up and moved to a hallway, "Stay there Iíll be right back."
Well that certainly got a reaction, Lou thought. Wells, he rolled the name around in his mind, it rang a bell. Then he remembered where he had heard it before and Jacobís reasons for being in the tunnels became all too clear. He was startled out of his reverie when he heard a manís voice coming from the hallway the receptionist had gone down.
"Youíll be fine Mrs. Brown and so will your baby, Iíll see you again next month." The pregnant woman waddled by Lou flashing him a shy smile. As soon as the door closed behind her the man dressed in white, obviously a doctor, excitedly approached Lou.
"You have a note for me?"
Lou held the note in his hands, "If youíre Peter Alcott."
Peter nodded and Lou put the note into Peterís eager hands. Scanning it quickly Peter grabbed Lou by the arm. "Come into the office with me." He ushered Lou into a small room lined with book shelves, a desk stood at the far end with a chair behind it and two in front. Peter indicated Lou should take a seat and sitting down himself he re-read the note. "It says here Iím to give you some items that indicate heís hurt. What happened? Is he all right? Where is he? My God I havenít heard from him in months!"
"I take it you were good friends then?" Lou questioned him in return.
"We went to school together."
Lou nodded thoughtfully, medical school of course, thatís how he knew what was wrong with little Pascal and why he knew exactly what to do for Sebastian, Jacob was a doctor. "All I can tell you is that your friend is all right, those things heís asking for arenít for him, heís taking care of a man we found injured." Lou explained, not giving away anymore than he needed to, Jacobís business was his own after all.
"Well why didnít he come himself? Why hasnít he come to see me?" Peter abruptly stood and began to pace the room. "Whereís he been all this time? God, I thought he was dead!"
Lou stood as well, "Heís a very angry man at the moment, he keeps a lot inside, but you can see heís hurting. Look I donít know what his reasonís are and itís none of my business. Iím just letting you know that heís okay."
Peter stopped pacing and stood in front of Lou, staring at him. "Youíre right of course, it is Jacobís business and when heís ready heíll come around." He glanced down at the note again. "Why donít you have a seat, itíll take me a few minutes to get these things together."
"Sure Doc, take your time." Lou sat down as Peter left the room.
Peter sensed that Lou had no idea what had driven Jacob to abandon the world so he let it be. He gave Lou a box containing everything Jacob had asked for including some of Jacobsís personal items that he had managed to save from the sale of Jacobís house.
Lou made his way back below as quickly as he could, the box was heavy, and he was puffing by the time he reached the bunker. Jacob opened the box and took out the supplies Peter had sent to take care of Sebastianís leg in a more permanent fashion. He was elated to find that Peter had also included his black leather medical bag. When he had finished casting Sebastianís leg he took the box into the room he shared with Grace; he wasnít ready to see what else Peter had sent so he put it in a corner for another time.
Jacob had been intrigued by the tunnels they had gone through to rescue Sebastian and he had taken to mapping those as well. He would take a lantern and his ever present chalk and walk in a particular direction making notes and seeing what there was to see. It was amazing to him what lay under the busy streets of New York City. The world below was honeycombed with passages; the ones closest to the surface were, for the most part, man made; used as conduits for electrical wires, gas, water, and sewer pipes. He found abandoned railroad stations, storage facilities, catwalks, elaborate stairways, other entrances that led out to streets or stores, even the parks, all boarded up or forgotten. His favorite excursions however were the longer ones that took him even farther down below the city. These were the tunnels and passage ways that Mother Nature had carved out. He found pools of fresh water, hot springs, caverns of all sizes, a place where the wind blew so fiercely he had to be careful of not being blown down. Everything was amazing and wonderful and it made him forget the troubles that had brought him down here in the first place.
On pantry days, when the otherís went above to collect bags of groceries the churches dolled out, Jacob would be left to care for little Pascal. He would strap the little fellow to his back papoose style and take the boy on his journeys mapping out the tunnels. He found he enjoyed playing nurse maid to the little boy; here was someone who needed him, relied on him, who wouldnít judge him for his past
On this occasion Jacob had decided to take Pascal down to one of the hot springs for a little swim. He left Sebastian in charge of the stew the women had left on the fire and taking some towels with him hoisted the baby onto his back and took off through the hole in the tunnel wall.
He returned before the others did only to find Sebastian lying unconscious on the ground amid the debris of what once was their home. "Sebastian!" He shouted, running to the prone figure. Gently he turned him over and saw that there was a large bruise on his forehead. Slowly Sebastian opened his eyes a look of relief on his face when he saw who it was.
"Iím sorry, Jacob," he wheezed out. "This gang of ruffians came in and started tearing everything apart. I couldnít stop them."
Un-strapping Pascal and putting him his makeshift playpen, Jacob carefully pulled his distraught friend up and placed him in a chair. "Tell me what happened? Where did they come from?"
Sebastian indicated the end of the tunnel with his head, immediately regretting the gesture. "They must have been drunk to come this far into the tunnel, there must have been twenty of them, young hooligans with nothing better to do." Sebastian lowered his head into his hands, his black hair swaying down in front of his eyes. Suddenly he looked up remembering what one of the punks had said and grabbed the front of Jacobsís coat. "Theyíll be back! They said theyíll be back! They noticed the womenís things and I remember one of them saying if they couldnít find any action on the street theyíd be able to have a little fun down here. Jacob what are we going to do?"
Jacobís face was set like stone, his voice grim, "Weíll have to move."
As soon as the otherís got back plans were quickly made to move whatever they could into the natural tunnels that Jacob had been mapping. Silent tears rolled down Graceís face as she looked at the place that had been her home for so long. "Grace," Jacob called, "itís time to go." "Aye," she said resolutely turning her back on the concrete bunker rooms. She was the last to crawl through the hole, beckoning Shamrock to come with her but the cat staunchly refused. Broken hearted, she turned away.
They had shoved everything they could into the passageway, as quickly as they could; there was no telling when the gang would return. Lou and Jacob pulled cinder blocks in place to cover the hole hoping to hide it from view, but Jacob assured them even if the gang got into the tunnel they wouldnít be able to track where they were going. He led them down through many twists and turns until Niklaus called a halt.
"Jacob, where they hell are you taking us, I feel like weíve walked down to the very center of the earth!"
"Itís not much further now; youíll see I think it will suit our needs admirably." Jacob went on and one by one the others followed with Niklaus taking up the rear grumbling to his son, "Itís all very well for you, youíre used to traipsing around with him." Pascal merely giggled.
Jacobís light finally stood still and as the otherís gathered around him he announced, "Here we are." They held their lanternís high and craned their heads to see just where Ďhereí was. The tunnel they were standing in was wide in comparison to some of the narrow passages they had had to squeeze through. There were openings all down its length and they saw pipes running along the side of the wall. Excitedly Jacob moved them along showing them everything he had found. "Here, look here," he went into one of the openings which turned out to be a good sized cave. "Caves like this run all up and down this portion of the tunnel, we can use these as our rooms or chambers if you like. And here," he moved past them back out into the tunnel. "Here, this one has a hot spring in it for washing or bathing." This cave was much warmer than anywhere else they had been so far with wispsí of steam rising up from the surface of the water. "And here," moving out once again he brought them into a much larger cave, "this oneís got a sort of natural flu if weíre ever lucky enough to find a cook stove we can place it here." Jacob was becoming more animated by the minute. "Some of those pipes out there carry electrical wires, Iím sure we can tap into them, and there are water mains and gas and sewer lines. Weíll have every thing we need." He beamed at them and it seemed to Grace that this was the first time she had seen him really enthused about anything since she had first met him.
Lou shook his head amazed at what Jacob had found. "Jacob, this is all very wonderful, but you talk like this is going to become something permanent. As soon as Michelle and I have enough money saved I have every intention of living back up top."
Sebastian stood, supported by his crutches, his face weary from the trip down, "I have to agree with Lou, as soon as my leg is healed Iím going back on the stage. Iím sorry Jacob, but for me this is just another bend in the road as it were."
Jacobís face looked like a storm cloud, "Well Iím not going back! Iím not ever going back they made it abundantly clear that Iím not wanted, they cast me out, so out Iím going to stay and this is where Iím going to do it." He strode angrily away from them and into the chamber that he had already picked out for himself and Grace. It was large with a ledge that ran around it about two feet up from a fairly level floor. There was another ledge that was high up that ran about half way round. He threw his things down and jumped down after them. As he set about making up a pallet for himself, Grace came in.
"Jacob," She called softly. He didnít turn to her until she had placed a hand on his arm. "Jacob, you canít be blaming them for wanting to go back."
His eyes softened as he looked at her, the dim light of the lantern made her look almost beautiful and her lyrical voice had a soothing effect on him. He took a deep, calming breath, "No I suppose youíre right. What about you?"
She chuckled, "I have nothing up there and no one, hereís as good a place as any to be hanging my hat. Iím staying if youíll have me?"
"Count me in," Niklaus jumped down to join the other two. "Iím staying too, me and Pascal. I never made a very good living up there; down here I can be useful, build something for myself and my son. Up there Iím just a no body with nothing. No I donít mind being a tunnel rat." He grinned from ear to ear the light making his bald head glow.
"Fine, thatís fine," Jacob gripped Niklaus on the shoulder, "Well, pick out a chamber; there are plenty to choose from." As Niklaus went to inspect the other caves, he went back to the others and apologized for his outburst. "We can consider your chambers guest rooms, if you ever need them again theyíll be here waiting for you."
In the days that followed Jacob showed the little group around their new home, giving them maps and pieces of chalk so they wouldnít get lost. He found that he rather liked his role of leader it seemed to fit him rather naturally, but he also found that it was a responsibility. He had to make sure there was water and assign every one a turn at fetching it. He set up bathing schedules and worried about polluting the hot spring. He fretted about sanitary facilities. Keeping busy made him forget why he was down below the city in the first place until he and Lou were working on running some electrical lines into some of the chambers. They were alone and Lou brought up something that had been on his mind since his visit to Peter Alcottís office.
"I know why youíre down here," Lou began hesitantly. "I know your last name is Wells." Jacobís head jerked up from his work, he eyed Lou warily. "Your friend Peter said you went to school together and the receptionist mentioned your last name." Jacob hung his head; did Lou think he was a traitor? "I remember reading about you in the paper, you said nuclear testing was dangerous, but no body wanted to listen to you." Lou placed a large hand on Jacobís shoulder, "I just want you to know that I think what you did was right and that you got a raw deal."
Gratefully Jacob gripped Louís arm, tears stung his eyes, "Thank you Lou, it means a great deal to hear you say that. Do the others know?"
Lou shook his head, "It was an accident that I found out, I figured if you wanted us to know you would have told us." Jacob nodded his head acknowledging their shared secret. Later, while they sat alone over a cup of hot tea brewed on the brazier in his chamber, he showed Lou the letter he had received from Margaret while he was in jail.
"The wreck of my memories," Lou repeated thoughtfully, as he handed it back. "This whole situation must have been tough on her too."
Jacobís old anger flared, "What do you mean tough on her, I didnít see her being thrown in jail and stripped of everything."
"Jacob, calm down and look at it from her point of view, can you imagine the guilt she must have felt for not having the strength to stand by you? She canít help how she was brought up; you canít blame her for that."
Jacob took a deep breath and calmed down, "No I suppose I canít, her father was always a dominant force in her life. I suppose itís hard to oppose someone like that."
"There you go," Lou clapped him on the back. "Itís better to let go of that anger than have it fester inside of you."
Jacob smiled, "Lou, youíre right. Iím glad we had this talk. Now letís get back to work."
Jacob had taken the box Peter had sent by way of Lou with him into their tunnel home and decided the lower ledge would be an excellent place to put the books he had found in it along with the materials for Sebastianís leg. Taking them out he placed them on the ledge and stood back to admire his handiwork. There was something else wrapped up in newspaper at the bottom, when he removed the paper he sucked his breath in, surprised. It was a black, lacquer box with a silver, metal rose adorning the top containing a chess set; a gift from a dear friend and colleague. Silently he thanked Peter and opened the lid, fingering the black king, remembering the many hours of pleasure he had had with John who had given him this gift. The newspaper Peter had wrapped the chess set in caught his eye and as he bent to pick it up the headline blared out at him, it contained McCarthyís name. Like a man in a trance he slowly sat down on his pallet and began to read. A knot formed in his stomach and he felt ill as the article told of another McCarthy victim.
After graduating from medical school John Pater went to work at the Chittenden Institute as a microbiologist and chemist put in charge of the bio weapons research department. He worked hand in glove with the government in conducting germ warfare tests on an unsuspecting American public. In 1950 a test was performed in San Francisco in which a navy vessel was used to release amounts of airborne aerosols to study the results on the cityís population. He also headed up the research on the effects of different microbes on a group of army volunteers known as the white coats. In 1951 he was on loan to the war depart, attached to Ft. Detrick, a military research facility in Frederick, MD and later that year was sent to the Dugway testing area outside of Utah.
John wasnít well liked at the institute because of his lack of patience with his fellows and his arrogance. He was condescending in the extreme, with a very obvious air of superiority. Pompous ass was the phrase used to describe him, and most people went out of their way to avoid him. He had a habit of quoting famous persons or writers that added to his haughty persona. If it werenít for the fact that he was absolutely brilliant he probably would have been let go.
Jacob met John quite by accident, while walking through a hallway at the institute he heard Johnís rich, resonant baritone quoting Shakespeare. When John paused for a breath Jacob, without missing a beat, finished the quote. John had looked at him with surprise and respect. He grabbed Jacob by the shoulders and shouted "Finally someone with culture! A refreshing change from you barbarians," he had glanced scornfully around at group with him. Their common literary interests led them to discover their shared love of chess and they would spend hours over a game board discussing moves or authors.
McCarthy entered Johnís life when one of his government stoolies found out that John was corresponding regularly with a Russian biologist who had recently defected to Canada. He had been Johnís counterpart in the Soviet biological warfare department and McCarthyís hounds jumped on John, declaring he was a traitor to the American people. During the commissions interrogations John would repeatedly get up and argue.
"I have absolutely no interest in your petty politics!" he would boom. "Knowledge is everything. Research is the noblest pursuit a man can have. What care I about your ridiculous squabbles? End this nonsense and let me go back to work!"
His demands fell on deaf ears. In the end he was stripped of his medical license and thrown in jail much like Jacob had been. The difference was that Johnís wife Anna stood by him throughout the witch hunt, supporting him all the way. She knew he was innocent of any wrong doing and that the government was using him as a scapegoat so that all attention would be focused on John and not on the clandestine doings of the war department. Released from jail and unable to find work he and Anna were on the verge of losing everything when Jacob read the newspaper that had protected the chess set.
Appalled that his friend was going through the same horror that he himself had lived through he dashed off a letter, asking Lou to deliver it. In it he instructed John to meet him in Central Park at a drainage tunnel located close to the carousel. His little group no longer used the Riverside Park entrance of the tunnels fearing the gang of thugs that had forced them out of the bunker area. John met him at the appointed time staring at the strange assortment of clothing his friend was wearing.
"Jacob, my dear friend," John greeted him with a handshake, "You look well except for this eclectic garb youíre in. Why are we meeting here?"
"I just found out about your troubles with the commission."
"Bah, those small minded, feeble parasites, they have no idea what theyíve done." John made a face, remembering his persecutors. "Theyíve lost the benefit of my genius," he paced to the other side of the tunnel, presenting his back to Jacob; abruptly he turned striding back, "But now that Iím free I will pursue my own line of studies, I will just have to find some backers to provide me with the funds. Perhaps when I do," he pointed his finger at Jacob, "You can come with me; we can be together again my friend, doing what we were meant to do."
Jacob shook his head, "No John, Iím not going backÖnot ever again, Iíve found a new place for myself and I want to show it to you."
He moved to a great, circular, barred metal gate and swung it open. "Come my friend," he beckoned, "Come and see my new world."
John stared, then shrugged his shoulders and followed.
Jacob closed the gate behind John and taking his lantern led the way through the tunnels, down a spiral stairs and past the abandoned areas of the underworld. John took note of everything, filing the many twists and turns away in his memory. Finally they came to the little communityís new home.
"You mean to tell me this is where youíve been all this time?" John asked incredulously.
"Well no, not here, we just moved here. We had been living in a section of abandoned subway tunnels under Riverside Park, but a gang of thugs forced us out, so we came here."
Jacob took him through the different rooms explaining his plans for them. John was amazed when his friend showed him the natural wonders he had found in his travels, the hot spring, the falls, it was all very overwhelming. He raised an arched eyebrow when he was introduced to Grace and she placed a proprietary arm through Jacobís.
"This is all very astonishing, Jacob." John remarked after he had meet the others and they were on their way back to the surface.
"It is, isnít it? I donít think I would have believed it if someone had told me about it. Thatís why I wanted you to see it. I thought perhaps, considering youíre current circumstances, it could be a place for you and Anna. Thereís plenty of room and a great many things you could help us with to make things better."
"YesÖyes I can see the possibilities." John stopped walking, causing Jacob to stop as well. He turned to his friend, "I will speak to Anna about it, she will of course do anything I decide, but I would know her thoughts about it. She is a sensible woman and may have some insights I do not."
"Splendid, thatís splendid, John." Jacob slapped him on the back. At the park portal he told John to get in touch with Lou at the barber shop when he had made a decision.
John walked home from the park, his mind in a whirl. Jacob was offering him a place to stay where he could help build a home for himself. A place where he could do what he pleased without anyone hovering over his shoulder telling him what to do or how to do it. He looked up at his house as he entered his street seeing the Ďfor saleí sign prominent in the front window of the parlor. What choice did he have after all, there was nothing left. Anna had sold much of their things in an attempt to just keep up with the ever mounting bills while he had been incarcerated.
Entering the house he told Anna to pack what was left of their belongings and while she did he went to the wall safe in his study and took out a small metal box which contained a small fortune in gold coins. Placing the box on his desk he opened it. In the dim light of the desk lamp the gold seemed to come alive with a glow of their own. John stared at them enthralled; he had always been fascinated by gold and with any extra money he had he would add another coin to his collection. Reverently he closed the box locking it, and placing it in the black satchel that would be going into the tunnels with him.
Anna never knew about the gold coins or about his obsession with them, if she had she would have undoubtedly cashed them in to pay their debts as she had done with most of her jewelry. The only thing she couldnít part with was a gold locket John had given to her for her birthday. She had placed a tiny picture of herself on one side and was still waiting for him to get a picture done so she could put it in the other.
When Lou brought down Johnís affirmative answer the little community all got together to get one of the caves ready for the newest tunnel residents. Jacob was sure it would be a temporary arrangement; John would undoubtedly pick out a much grander place most probably away from the central hub. John was a hermit at heart, not bothering much with people, they never seemed to understand him and he wasnít about to waste his precious time trying to explain himself. If it wasnít for Anna he probably would have shut himself off in a remote laboratory somewhere and never come out.
Niklaus had been topside as they worked scrounging for items that could be used in the new chamber and rushed in all excited, "Theyíre demolishing a hotel up on 8th Ave, if we go up tonight we can grab all kinds of furniture and stuff."
Everyone went up that night, except for Jacob, someone had to stay with Pascal and he still adamantly refused to go Above no matter what the circumstances. Much of what the group took had to be dismantled and then lugged through the streets to the park portal in the culvert. It took them all night and by the break of day they had managed to take several beds and chests. They had left everything piled up just inside the great gate and were heading back down for a well deserved breakfast when Grace doubled over in pain. Michelle was the closest and she held Grace by the shoulders as her friend retched.
"Grace, whatís wrong?" Her voice tinged with worry, in all the time sheíd know Grace she had never been ill, not even a sniffle.
"Iím fine, really all this fuss over a sour stomach," she straightened holding the small of her back with one hand.
"Youíve done too much," Michelle admonished her. She had noticed that Grace had taken the same heavy loads the men were carrying. Grace was a strong, robust woman, but that was taking things too far and obviously it had taken its toll. Michelle supported Grace the rest of the way down with a hand under her arm. She wasnít at all convinced that is was the strain of the work that had caused Graceís pain, and as soon as she saw Jacob she would tell him.
While they were gone Jacob had prepared a simple breakfast of hot oatmeal. The others dug in with relish, their recent exertions adding an edge to their hunger. Grace merely turned green and excused herself saying that she was going to lie down for a bit. Michelle quickly told Jacob what had happened and, concerned, he followed her, determined to give her a thorough examination.
Putting away his stethoscope, his back to her, he asked softly, "Grace, when was your last menstruation?"
She looked at him startled as he turned towards her. It took her a moment to think about it and then she smiled, "Youíre thinking Iím pregnant?" Her face was radiant as he nodded not at all sure how he felt about it. She held out a hand to him. He walked over to her and took it, sinking slowly down beside her. She placed his hand on her abdomen keeping hers overtop. "We are going to have a child, Jacob," she beamed, "You and I are bringing a new life into this world we are building together. Heíll be the first born here."
He looked into her shining eyes, she was so happy, "You seem very certain itíll be a boy."
"Ach, of course itíll be a boy, a fine strapping young lad to help his da build a place where good people can come and heal from the hurts they suffer, a place to be proud of."
How could she be so certain? Why did she place so much trust in him? Long after she had fallen asleep beside him, he stared into the darkness wondering what was to become of them and of the child that would be born in the tunnels under the streets of New York City.
A few days later John and Anna joined the others in the tunnels. As Jacob predicted the chamber they had cleaned and furnished was nowhere near grand enough for John. After instructing Anna to only unpack those items necessary for a few days he accompanied Jacob on an exploration trip to see what other accommodations were available. He found what he liked in a tunnel one level below the central hub. A large spacious chamber connected to two others, with plenty of ledges that could be used for the storage of his things. He showed it to Anna and directed her to begin cleaning it out to make it fit for their occupation. Then he concentrated his keen mind on the problems Jacob had presented him with. Waste management was among the first problems to be tackled. The little community had been using buckets as privies and dumping the contents down river from the three falls. Touring their new home John had noticed that a sewer main ran parallel and slightly below them. It was quite an undertaking but they managed to run a pipe from a small chamber to the main and using a commode taken from the same demolition site as they had gotten the furniture made a lavatory. Running another set of pipes from a water main he designed a flush commode utilizing a pump he designed and some Ďborrowedí electricity. The little electric pump drove the waste material into the sewer main that he had cleverly tapped into. It was ingenious as was John himself.
The others found John pretty insufferable, even Sebastian who was usually unflappable complained. The little group had endured Sebastianís repertoire of tricks ad nauseum and practically ran the other way when they saw him pull out a deck of cards, so he was elated to have a new audience. The newer comers were fresh meat and he gleefully rubbed his hands together and sat them down after dinner one night to regal them with his cleverness. Unfortunately John knew how he did every trick and vocally pointed out the misdirection and slight of hand Sebastian used. Deflated Sebastian had limped around complaining about being unappreciated until John showed him some tricks of his own that amazed even the seasoned entertainer.
John and Jacob took to prowling around their underground domain together finding all manner of interesting places. But unlike Jacob, John would go top side usually at night to find things he needed for whatever project took his fancy. He used the maps Jacob had made initially to get around, but soon had them committed to memory. Once, while exploring by himself, he came across a set of stone stairs in a place where the wind blew fiercely. With his clothing whipping about him he went down the steps and found a huge cavern with a fairly level floor. Excitedly he brought the others down to show them, declaring it for himself, but he was unanimously voted down. John took it with ill grace and sulked around for days afterward.
Shortly after John and Anna had come down to the tunnels Jacob entered their chamber and saw that a lab of sorts had been set up in one area of the their chamber on one of the ledges, it held an assortment of glass tubes and bottles, a small fire was heating the contents of one of the flasks.
"Whatís all this about?" He asked his friend.
"An experiment to analyze the lichen that grows around the chamber of the three falls to see why they glow. Perhaps I can coax it into growing on the walls of the tunnels so we wonít have to worry about torches and lanterns." John replied.
Jacob touched one of the flasks on the ledge. "How did you get all this equipment?"
"I took it of course." John answered nonchalantly.
"You stole it." Jacob retorted his face grim.
John flew into a rage, "Why notÖ why shouldnít I take what I need from them," He rolled his eyes upward as he shouted, his voice dripping with distain. "They took everything from me, everything. This," he pointed to the equipment, "is nothing, small recompense indeed for the pain and humiliation they caused me, besides theyíll never miss it."
Jacob turned away not wanting to argue, John was hurting every bit as much as he was and if this was a way of getting some of his own back who was he to stop him as long as he didnít draw attention to the tunnels, but that didnít mean he had to like it.
During the summer the people above looked to the shore or the mountains to get some relief from the heat, but down in the depths of the tunnels the temperature remained a constant 50 degrees necessitating layers of clothing for the tunnel residents. Michelle had gotten a job as a seamstress with a small tailor shop and was given cloth remnants and the use of the sewing machine in her spare time. Eventually she came across an old foot powered sewing machine at a flea market and had Lou carry it below for her. She was very adept at turning out useful garments out of practically nothing, even the thick quilted material used for shipping fragile items and furniture were turned into vests or leg warmers. Once in a while she would find a nice piece of cloth that she used to make an outfit for Graceís impending child.
Graceís pregnancy was progressing well, but her only pre-natal care was given by Jacob who constantly badgered her to go see Peter. She pooh-poohed him every time he brought it up, "Jacob, what nonsense my mother had me at home, with a mid-wife, in her own bed, Iíll do naught but the same, our son will be born here in the tunnels, into a world that will welcome him and love him." She would beam at him so happy that he would acquiesce, but he kept a close eye on her and had John do the same.
Grace and Anna had become close friends and would go foraging for things they needed, bringing down bits of crockery, chipped and broken but perfectly usable. Niklaus was good at foraging too and had found some braziers that now helped to heat the chambers they occupied making them more comfortable. Over time their collection of furniture, crockery, books, and knickknacks grew turning the tunnels from bare caves into cozy, comfortable homes.
When Sebastianís leg had totally healed he would go up with them to canvas the neighborhoods to find useful items. But he was also sure to make the rounds of the booking agencies looking for work usually staying topside longer than the others. Night after night he would return weary and dejected until one day he practically bounded into the dining hall.
"Iíve got an engagement," he crowed delightedly. Everyone excitedly surrounded him for details. "Iíll be going to the Catskills," he related to which Niklaus guffawed, "You got the Borscht Belt!"
"Well at least its work," Sebastian glowered at him, "and if you donít behave yourself I wonít tell you the rest." Niklaus managed to get himself under control. "Thereís a job in it for you too." Sebastian poked him in the chest.
"For me?" Niklaus stared at him surprised.
"Yes the band Iíll be touring around with needs a drummer; I told them I knew of one, a good one! Iíve heard you and your drum sticks banging away on the walls, the furniture and even the pipes. You are good arenít you?" Sebastian asked hesitantly.
"Good, Iím great, you wonít be sorry for recommending me." He clapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly, "A job, think of that! A few bucks in my pocket wouldnít hurt a bit." All of a sudden his smile faded, "IÖI canít take it," he said sadly, "Iíve got Pascal to consider." He glanced at his son sitting in Annaís lap.
"Donít be foolish of course you can take the job, we can take care of Pascal." Michelle jumped up sweeping her hand around to indicate the group. Everyone nodded agreeing with her. Brightening Niklaus looked at his friends, "You sure? You donít mind?" He looked at each one in turn, even John nodded. He threw an arm around Sebastianís shoulder, "So when do we leave?"
The tunnels seemed strangely empty after the two men had gone, and when Lou and Michelle went top side to work it left only the two couples and Pascal. Grace was getting too big and awkward to make the trip above anymore so it was left to Anna and John to make the rounds to the church pantries to pick up food. These were the times Grace loved best she had Jacob and Pascal all to herself and she would envision the time when it would be the two of them with their own son. Jacob would watch her with their surrogate son and smile fondly, he didnít love her with the all consuming passion that he had for Margaret, but he did love her in his own way.
A month before her estimated due date Grace went into labor, she was with Anna when the pains started, putting together a soup for the evening meal. Jacob and John were as usual out exploring. With Anna supporting Grace, the two women managed to make it back to the home tunnel and into Graceís chamber where Grace collapsed on her bed groaning as another contraction hit her. Anna did what she could to make Grace comfortable but even with her limited medical knowledge she knew something was wrong. Grace sensed it too and clutched Annaís arm,
"Anna, get Jacob," she panted between contractions, "find Jacob for me."
Blood was beginning to stain the sheets, alarmed Anna nodded and ran in the direction she had seen Jacob take earlier. She raced down the tunnels calling his name, Graceís screams of pain following her. Finally she found him in a place he called the Mirror Pool, a small body of water that seemed to reflect the stars at night. "Jacob," she gasped bending over trying to catch her breath.
Alarmed Jacob grabbed her shoulders straightening her, "What is it, Anna?"
"Grace, itsÖGrace" she managed to wheeze out.
"Good God sheís gone into labor?!"
Anna nodded and they ran back to the central hub. Jacob far outdistanced her, and ran even faster when he heard Grace screaming.
"Iím hereÖGraceÖIím here."
A bloody hand clutched the front of his vest, "save our son, Jacob," she sobbed, "save our son." He left her for a moment to fetch his medical bag; rushing back to her side he examined her. The babyís head was crowning already and had badly torn her, but it wasnít the only place she was bleeding from. She was hemorrhaging internally and there was nothing Jacob could do about it. They just werenít equipped to handle this kind of emergency down here.
"Anna, find John." The poor woman nodded and left running for all she was worth. She knew from the look on Jacobís face that it was bad. When she finally returned with John, Grace was gone; she had barely gotten a glimpse of her son before she passed away. They found a stunned Jacob with his son in his hands the umbilical cord still attached. Gently John cut the cord and handed the baby to Anna, she took him away her tears dropping onto his tiny body. John covered Grace with a sheet and pulled Jacob away.
"There was nothing you could have done, Jacob."
Looking up from the still form on the bed he stared at John, slowly shaking his head from side to side, "Iím a doctor there should have been something I could have done. Why is it everything I do goes wrong?" Looking back at the woman who had just given him a son, his voice so low John could barely hear him, he muttered, "She didnít deserve this." Abruptly he stood his fists balled at his sides, "she didnít deserve this." He shouldered past John and ran. Johnís stare followed him, "Mala tempora currunt" he murmured.
John took charge of everything, told Lou and Michelle when they came down from work. Went Above and called Niklaus and Sebastian, who borrowed a car and drove back for the memorial service, and found a place to inter the body. In his wanderings he had found a place he called the catacombs and they laid Grace there in a niche with a large stone rolled in front to close it off.
Jacob had no idea what was happening around him, he was in a daze, numb to everything. He was no good, no good to anyone; he had lost everything he loved and everyone who had loved him. After the services John found him sitting on the edge of a hole they called the abyss because no matter how much rope they lowered into it the end never touched the bottom.
Softly John quoted from Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night."
"What?" Jacob whispered tonelessly.
"Are you planning to throw yourself off the edge?"
Filled with self-pity and remorse Jacob stared into the pit, "Why not, everything I do everything I touch, crumbles away, why not end it now and be done with it?"
Angrily John took him by the shoulders, pulled him up and dragged him away from the yawning hole. Shaking him he caught Jacobís eyes and held them, "Because you have a great deal to live for, more than most and because you are needed here. We have something we can build down here and nurture, Grace started it and you need to continue it if not for yourself, or for us, then for your son."
"My son," Jacob whispered low, looking away.
"Yes your son, do you know what Anna would give to have a child, what I would give to have a son and here you want to abandon him without mother or father to drown yourself in your own self-pity. So if not for yourself at least live for him. The poor tyke doesnít even have a name yet." John admonished him.
"A nameÖ" Jacob moved further away from the hole and put a hand out on the cool stone of the tunnel wall, his head bowed. "Grace and I spoke about a name for the child," he looked up at John. "She wanted to name him after her father."
"Good thatís a start." He took the few steps over to his friend and gripping his elbow steered him in the direction of the home tunnel. "Letís get the boy christened."
John propelled Jacob back to the dining hall where the others had gathered. John left Jacob standing in the middle of the chamber and plucked the baby from Annaís arms. Standing beside Jacob he announced, his deep voice filling the chamber, "We have buried our dead now we must turn to the future," he looked down at the sleeping babe. "It has been said that the child is the meaning of this life. Today we celebrate this child, this new life that has been brought into our world through pain and blood. We welcome him into our community with love, and we welcome him with a name." Turning to Jacob he placed the baby in his arms. Jacob looked down at his sleeping son, he looks like his mother, he thought. A hint of a smile curved his lips upward; if he couldnít save Grace at least he could keep her memory alive through the child they had created together.
"His name is Devin, for his maternal grandfather," he looked up at his friends, "itís what Grace wanted."
When it was time for Niklaus and Sebastian to head back, Niklaus shook his head, "Iím not going back Iím going to stay here, theyíll need me." Sheepishly he looked at his friend, "Besides Iím not having that much fun and I miss Pascal. You go on ahead."
"All right my friend," Sebastian patted Niklausí shoulder, "you keep an eye on things, Iíll keep in touch." He made his farewells and used the Central Park threshold to get to where he had left the car.
So while Sebastian performed his magic tricks in front of a summer audience made up of primarily Jewish New Yorkers, his tunnel friends expanded their little community. Jacob choose a chamber that he called the hospital chamber and set about furbishing it with whatever he could, sending notes to Peter by way of Lou asking for any equipment and medicines he could spare. It wasnít long before Peter was coming down himself, astonished at what they had created below the city streets and more than willing to lend whatever help he could. Anna became primary caretaker of the two boys, a job she absolutely delighted in. Pascal was a bundle of energy scooting here and there forever getting into something, but would happily sit in her lap and play with her soft, brown hair which she had allowed to grow long since moving Below. Devin, despite having been born early, was growing into a study child, but unlike his boisterous tunnel brother, he would quietly watch everything around him, his brown eyes wide and studious.
A few others had been welcomed into the community, Mike an elderly fellow who had been a blacksmith until his knees had given out on him, had been living near Grand Central Station until Niklaus had brought him down with him.
Lindaís husband had been killed during the war and when the solders had come back she had lost her job in the factory forcing her to live on the streets. Michelle had found her sleeping in an alley in a cardboard box. She was an excellent cook and soon took over all the cooking for her new family, happy to be useful again and able to give something back to the people who were so kind to her. There was a greengrocer, Marco, that she was well acquainted with and when she went above at the close of business he would give her anything he was going to throw out. Soon Marco along with Peter became known as helpers a term Jacob coined that perfectly suited those who helped the people living below.
Their little community was growing and John, who had been greatly perturbed by the lack of communication that had sent Anna running when Grace was giving birth, wanted some system in place incase of another emergency. Putting his genius to the task the solution presented itself one morning as he watched Niklaus banging away on the table with his ever present drum sticks in the dining hall at breakfast.
"Niklaus," he spoke suddenly interrupting the conversation that had been flowing around him, "do you know Morse Code?"
"Sure, learned it in the service." Niklaus answered surprised at the odd question.
Getting up from his seat, John gestured for Niklaus to accompany him.
"Whatís going on John?" Lou asked perplexed.
"Does anyone else know Morse?" John asked of the group.
Lou nodded, "I learned a little in Boy Scouts, not much just enough to signal for help."
"Good," John nodded, "Stay here and listen."
Totally mystified the group sat in silence while John and Niklaus left the chamber. Shortly after they had gone they heard a banging on the pipes. They all looked at each other questioningly, until Louís eyes went wide, "Itís an SOS!" He exclaimed excitedly. "Theyíre tapping out and SOS on the pipes." Hurriedly he got up and taking a chisel out of his pocket went to the nearest pipe and rapped three times on it in quick succession and then three more but slower and then three quick ones again. He was answered with a long series of taps that he shook his head over, "My Morse is way too skimpy to know what that was all about." They didnít have long to worry about it because the originators of the message soon strolled triumphantly through the entrance. Grinning from ear to ear Niklaus explained that the last message was a time and place for Morse Code training. Communication was no longer a problem and in time the whole group became proficient in code which John and Niklaus began to streamline to better suit their needs. Mike fashioned pieces of pipe that everyone could carry with them and now, where ever there were pipes they could keep in touch with each other.
As Pascalís first birthday approached the group decided to use the Great Hall, as the big chamber John had found was now called, for a party. John had been up top one night and found a stack of tapestries somewhere and these he hung on the hallís wall giving the feeling that one was in a medieval castle. They built heavy wooden doors out of scraps they found Above to close off the entrance against the great wind that blew continuously outside the hall. Mike had fashioned metal hinges that he attached to the rock and the doors. Sconces he made were affixed to the walls and burning torches placed in them to push back the darkness. Michelle had purchased a cake at the bakery near her shop and little Devin smiled and licked his lips when his father let him taste a bit of the icing. Sebastian had returned for the festivities and regaled them with new tricks and stories of the road. The chess set was brought out and a tournament kept some occupied while others read stories out loud. Jacob was by far the best story teller changing his voice with each character with such a dramatic flair that it was like being in a theatre. Afterwards they used the hall for any occasion or holiday, making it the special place where they enjoyed each others company and relaxed in a festive atmosphere.
A few months later John announced that he and Anna were expecting. Everyone was overjoyed at the news they knew how much Anna and John wanted a child of their own, even though they now had a few more children living with them. Children who had been shunned from the world above, left homeless and alone for one reason or another.
Michelle had found Jason, rummaging around in a garbage can for something to eat near the tailor shop where she worked. He was ten years old and all alone in the world. His family had been killed in an automobile accident and there was no one to care for him.
Debra had been added to the family when Anna found her sleeping on a bench in Central Park. She had been on the verge of pneumonia, but with the medicine Peter provided and the care she was given in the hospital chamber she had made a full recovery. Also having no family she elected to stay in the tunnels. She was twelve years old and thoroughly enjoyed helping out with the two small boys. A blessing really since as Annaís pregnancy progressed she would be less able to look after a toddler who could seemingly run like the wind and a baby who liked to be held. Debra also had another skill that turned out to be a boon for the tunnel community, she liked to make candles and soon her candles were every where. They graced the eclectic collection of candles sticks that soon sprouted in every chamber. Where there were no electric service lights there were now Mikeís iron candle holders with her candles lighting the tunnels.
John was elated at the thought of becoming a father and would spout all kinds of poetry and prose about birth and children, so he was devastated when Anna miscarried in her third month. Anna took it hard, but John took it even harder. It did something to him, he became morose and withdrawn. He would be gone for days leaving Anna to grieve by herself. When he was with the group he would barely say two words and when he did it was always negative. When John was gone Anna would sleep in the childrenís chamber, with Jason and Debra. She would take care of Pascal when Niklaus took a job topside that Sebastian had alerted him to. Pascal was talking now calling Niklaus daddy and Jacob father, as Niklaus was always referring to Jacob as Pascalís other father. Devin was crawling and into everything. Her sadness would dim when she was with them.
Sometimes Anna and Jacob would sit by the edge of the pond in the Chamber of the Three Falls and talk about death, about the changes it brings for good or ill. She found comfort in these talks, their shared grief over the losses in their lives giving them a commonality. Time found her and John growing apart, she still loved him, but there didnít seem to be any room in his life for her, he was too consumed by his grief to allow her any part of himself. Jacob and the others would try to talk to him, but he shut them out as well and when he did talk he didnít make any sense, and when he announced that he wanted to be called Paracelsus they indulged him. It was almost as if his great genius had been dealt a blow it couldnít recover from. They say there is a fine line between genius and insanity, in Johnís case the line had become blurred. His mental illness disturbed everyone, but no one had a solution to his problem so they let him be, as long as he was no harm to anyone or himself they let him wander and do as he pleased.
Things changed with John when Anna came back from an outing above with a bundle of rags that mewed and cried out in misery. Interested, he stared at the tiny being that had interrupted his mental musings. A child, but a child of such strange appearance that John was completed captivated, his mind once again focusing in on a puzzle that needed to be solved. The infant boy, and boy it was as the genitalia were completely human, had a face that was covered with fine, golden fur, the nose was cat like, the eyes almond shaped, if anything he looked more like a lion cub than a human. Johnís eyes sparkled and for the first time in a long while he focused his gaze on Anna, "A son, youíve given me a son." He gripped her shoulders, squeezing them gently, "Thank you," He murmured over and over. It was evident the baby was ill, Anna had found him at the back of St. Vincentís hospital near the garbage cans that were filled to overflowing. It was January and the naked baby had been subjected to the freezing cold for who knew how long. Anna had pulled out some rags to cover the tiny body and tucked him under her coat in an attempt to get him warm.
The little creature cried incessantly, nothing seemed to comfort him. His tiny body would at times be hot and at others cold. Anna would walk with him for hours and when she needed to rest one of the others would take a turn. Everyone speculated on the childís origins fascinated with his looks, but none more so than John. He had named him Vincent for the place where he was found and he too would take his turn walking with the boy in his arms. Jacob feared for the tiny life, and was reluctant to give any kind of medication not knowing what it might do to the strange blood chemistry. He had taken a blood sample and given it to Peter for analysis. Peter came down himself with the results wanting to know where the strange blood had come from it had looked like nothing he had ever seen before. He too was at a loss as to what to do, so Vincent was watched around the clock.
John became more and more obsessed with the childís physiology. Anna would catch him staring at the naked body of the boy, probing at it with his long fingers, listening to the heart beat with a stethoscope. Johnís behavior towards the child alarmed Anna and when she walked into their chamber to see the child lying on a table with John hovering over him with a syringe she rushed in, snatching the whimpering boy up she quickly swaddled him in a blanket.
"What are you doing?" She asked her husband appalled at what she thought he was about to do.
"Itís obvious to me that heís not going to live, heís been crying for three days and in that time has hardly taken any sustenance, I was merely going to collect another blood sample to see what else I can learn. It may be that I can duplicate him if I take enough samples for analysisÖ"
Anna didnít wait to hear anything else; she hurried out of the chamber clutching the baby to her. She made her way up to the next level to Jacob.
"Jacob," she cried out.
Alarmed Jacob got up from the chair Niklaus had scavenged for him, putting down the book he was reading on the desk that now occupied a prominent place in the room.
"Anna, what is it? Whatís wrong?"
Wide eyed, Anna approached him clutching the still crying baby to her bosom. "Its John he doesnít think the baby will live he wants to collect samples to see what made him the way he is, Jacob heís mad."
"Anna, calm down. I know Johnís not been himself lately, but Iím sure heíll come round. Iím sure he wouldnít harm the child."
"No! You donít know what I just saw. Here," she pushed the baby into Jacobís arms, "heíll be safer with you."
"Now Anna, donít be ridiculous."
Anna stepped back after giving the baby a longing look. "No Jacob, I know what Iím doing, keep Vincent away from John, please."
Jacob slowly nodded, "All right, Anna, but what about you if John is dangerous perhaps you should stay here as well."
"No," she shook her head, "heís my husband and despite everything I still love him, no my place is with him." She left, leaving Jacob standing with boy in his arms.
Jacob placed the baby in the cradle that the now two year old Devin had recently vacated for a big boy bed. He looked from the child to glance around the room, it looked far different now than it had two years ago. A faded oriental rug lay on the ground providing some insulation from the cold floor, there was his desk and an octagonal table where his chess set sat, perpetually ready for a game. Books adorned the ledge that ran partway around the chamber. He had been contemplating cobbling together some shelves for the wide ledge that ran around the top of the chamber. Devinís bed was by his own along one wall of the chamber that had now been transformed into a home, cozy and welcoming. He sighed, sitting down at the table to wait for the inevitable.
It wasnít long before John stepped into the chamber,
"Iíve come for Vincent." His searching gaze settled on the cradle, but as he stepped toward it, Jacob moved to stand between John and the cradle.
"Iím sorry John, but Anna felt he would be better off here with me, besides heís finally sleeping. Why donít you just go?"
"She had no right to give him to you, heís mine." Angrily John made to push aside Jacob, but Jacob stood firm. "Jacob, you donít seem to understand, to see the implications that this child represents." When he didnít respond John went on, "Itís obvious that this child has been genetically engineered, but something must have gone wrong and the experiment failed the child is ill, most probably terminal, hence his ending up in the trash. But think of it Jacob," John began pacing the chamber, his excitement rising. "A genetically enhanced being with the physical attributes of a beast and the intelligence of a man. Superior hearing, sight, smell, strength, the list is endless, coupled with the thinking ability of a human." He whirled on Jacob coming nose to nose with him, "we are looking at the future of mankind. If we can learn what was done perhaps we can duplicate it, Iíve read all of Watson and Crick publications, we can do it! I know we can."
Jacob gripped his friendís shoulders and shook them, making John focus on him. "John whatever this child is, where ever he came from, he is still a child I will not let you harm him."
Furiously John batted away Jacobs hands, "Bah, youíre no better than the rest of those small minded idiots; youíre throwing away the chance of a lifetime. We can show them, you and I, we can show the world the future. We can engineer soldiers, we can become leaders, we can take back our rightful places."
Jacob stared at this man, looking for the friend he once knew. "No John, Iím sorry I want none of those things, Iím content here."
John threw his hands up in the air, "Here? Here is a hole in the ground, it is nothing and no whereÖgive me the child." John demanded.
"No, Iím sorry John but he stays here with me."
Balling his fists up John took a threatening step closer and then suddenly whirled, leaving the chamber. Jacob let his breath out slowly in a sigh of relief and went to check the strange child that was still sleeping. He would ask Niklaus to keep Devin with him and Pascal for a few days while he concentrated on caring for their newest member and he would cancel Jasonís and Debraís lessons for a few days. A small smile played around his lips, he was sure the children wouldnít mind, when they came to the tunnels they thought school was a thing of the past, but Jacob had insisted they study just as they would top side.
Dinner that night was subdued, John wasnít there, although that wasnít so strange these days as he often skipped meals, but Annaís place was empty as well and that wasnít usual. Linda made up a plate and Michelle took it down, but when she returned she still had the full plate and something in her face alerted Jacob that all was not as it should be.
"Michelle, what is it?" She stared at the table noting that the two older children were still there.
"Kids, why donít you clear the table?" Lou suggested.
When they were out of ear shot Michelle whispered urgently, "Somethingís wrong with Anna, I went in to give her dinner, she was lying on the bed, her eyes were open but she didnít say anything when I called out to her. I was afraid John would come back so I left."
"John wasnít there?" Jacob questioned her.
She shook her head, "No, but there were two glasses of wine on the table, so I thought he had just stepped out."
"Here take Vincent," he said handing the baby over to her, "Iíll see whatís going on."
When he got to John and Annaís chamber on the lower level he saw the wine glasses, one was full the other half empty, John was no where to be seen. "Anna" he called out softly. She was lying on the bed just as Michelle had said. Going over to her he saw that her eyes werenít blinking, he picked up her hand, feeling for a pulseÖthere wasnít any, Anna was dead.
"Jacob!" Johnís voice boomed from the chamber entrance. "Youíve reconsidered."
Jacob whirled to face him. "John, what have you done?"
"Done?" He seemed confused.
"To Anna, what did you do?"
John stepped further into the chamber to the table and picked up the half empty glass, he twirled it in his fingers watching the red liquid spin around inside it. "Do? Why I did what I had to do. She was disloyal to me, I canít have that, believe me Jacob it was the hardest thing Iíve ever done.
Appalled Jacob stared at the stranger before him. "YouÖyou poisoned her. You poisoned your own wife."
"Of course," John said as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. "She gave you my son, the proto-type of a superior race of beings. I couldnít let that disloyalty go unanswered; I had to set an example."
"An example?" Jacob was shocked; these were the ramblings of a mad man.
"Well naturally a leader must lead by example how else am I to keep my people in line. And I did it for Vincent too; she would have coddled him, made him into a mewling weakling. If he survives heíll be the ultimate killer, you see that donít you? Heíll be at the vanguard of a new race of soldiers that I will create and control."
"John, we are not your people, you are not in charge here." Dismayed at Johnís lack of understanding, Jacob quickly came to a decision, normally any action taken in the tunnels was discussed and voted on, but in this instance he took matters into his own hands. What John had done was heinous and could not go unpunished, he had become dangerous they had put up with his delusions of grandeur since Annaís miscarriage, but this was not something they could just shrug off. Thinking of the others and especially the children, he continued,
"Youíve committed a crime, youíve killed, youíre ill John, perhaps if you go above you can find some help."
John looked at him uncomprehendingly, "Ill? Iím not sick; on the contrary Iíve never felt better, and I thought I made it clear that my name is Paracelsus."
Jacob drew in a deep breath, "If you wonít go above Iíll have to ask you to leave."
"Leave? I donít understand this is my home."
"No, John, I canít let you stay here after what youíve doneÖ please go."
Johnís face twisted angrily, "Who are you to tell me what to do, compared to me you are an insignificant insect crawling on the ground," he raised his fist, "I could swash you in an instant. Your insubordination will have to be dealt with."
"In the same way you dealt with Anna? Youíll soon have no one to rule."
"Have a care; Jacob I do not suffer fools gladly." John turned and left the chamber heading away from the home area. Jacobís shoulders sagged, how had this happened, was there something he could have done? Sadly he went back to Anna, pulling the coverlet over her face he whispered, "Iím sorry" his voice catching in a sob.
The others were where he had left them huddled together drawing comfort from each other waiting for whatever was coming. When he told them what John had done they were grief stricken, just two years ago they had lost Grace and now Anna, it seemed surreal. It was decided that if John wouldnít go peacefully they would forcibly take him to the outskirts of their living area. They were all saddened by what they were about to do, John had been a real driving force in making life easier in the tunnels. His ability to solve problems was amazing, but obviously he had become unhinged. They had no facilities or resources for dealing with someone in his condition and his attack on Anna had given them no choice but to expel him from the community.
Their first consideration was Anna and leaving Michelle and Linda to stay with the children the men put the body on a stretcher and carried her down to the catacombs to be interned close to Grace. Niklaus chiseled her name in the stone they used to cover the opening and after much debate he put beloved wife of John under the dates. When they got back they found John seated at the table where the deadly wine had sat in Annaís beautiful wine glasses of etched crystal.
In the end they had to forcibly eject John from his chamber. They packed most of his things in the suitcases he and Anna had originally brought down with them. The men escorted him to one of the abandoned subway lines that had a barred iron gate still guarding it. They left him on the other side of it chaining and locking it behind them. John shook the bars and shouted at them, showering them with epithets. As Jacob sadly turned and began to walk away he heard John say, "Retribution will be mine, mark my words."
Afterward they set up sentry posts each one taking a turn at watching to make sure John did not enter the home tunnels and surprise them. The mood among the community was morose at best and Jacob looked for a way to comfort his friends finally deciding on a party. Christmas was fast approaching but they needed something now to lift their spirits. He suggested a dinner in the Great Hall and they all readily agreed anything to take their minds off their missing members. A table and chairs were carefully carried down the windy stone steps to the hall and through the great doors. Braziers had been placed around to take the chill out of the air and torches placed in the holders that dotted the walls. The children helped carry items from the dining chamber to the hall, happy to be doing something different. They set the table putting the forks on the left and the knives on the right along side the mismatched china plates as Linda had taught them. Lou carried in the big pot of stew Linda had cooked and as the delicious smell filled the hall it had more than one mouth watering. Lou placed the pot in the middle of the table and took his place beside Michelle. Thatís when they noticed that the children had inadvertently set a place at Johnís usual seat. They all looked at each other and then Niklaus got up from beside Pascal and took the place setting away, the utensils making a clinking sound as he put them on the plate. Jacob took the chair away placing it out of the way against one wall.
When he returned to the table the mood was once again subdued. He stood there with his head bowed thinking of what to do. When he looked up again he saw one of Debraís candles flickering brightly in its stand. He thought back over the last few years, everything they had been through to get to this point, the struggle to improve their living conditions, the fear of being discovered, the finding of the unique life that was Vincent. He looked over at the babe cradled protectively in Michelleís arms. If this child survives, he thought, this will be the only place he could live, for his sake alone it must continue. Slowly he scanned the faces of the people seated around him, Lou, next to Michelle, Niklaus with Pascal squirming beside him, Sebastian who currently had a gig (as he termed it) in the city and was staying in his old chamber, Marco, Peter and his wife, Jason, Mike, Linda, Debra and little Devin. They all looked to him now for some words of comfort for what they had just gone through, three of their members were gone and the pain of their absence was evident in their faces. He moved away from the table to the few torches, extinguishing them, plunging the room into a darkness only dimly lit by the warming braziers and Debraís festively colored candle. His gaze once again went around the table now seeing only the dark silhouettes of the people seated about it. As the flame of the single candle lit his face he cleared his throat and began to speak,
"The world above us is cold and gray, the summer a distant memory. Our world too, has known its winters, so I would like to begin this feast in darkness, as our world began in darkness." He picked up another of Debraís candles that sat with others in an eclectic assortment of scavenged holders and lit it from the one in front of him handing it to Lou. As he continued to light and pass out the candles he spoke, "Long before the city above us raised its towers to the sky, men sought shelter in these caverns." The progression of candles around the table made the room brighter as each found its way in front of a person seated there.
"In those days, these tunnels were dark places, and those who dwelt here dwelt in fear and isolation. This was a land of lost hopeÖof twisted dreams, a land of despairÖ where the sounds of footsteps coming down a tunnel were the sounds of terrorÖwhere men reached for knives and rocks and worse at the sound of other menís voices."
Sebastian shuddered remembering when the gang of young thugs had roughed him up.
"But at last a few people learned to put aside their fear. And we began to trust each otherÖto help each other." The candles had made their way all around the table and now each face was lit by their individual glow that combined to light the room. "Each of us has grown strongerÖthose who took the help, and those who gave it." He looked at Peter and Marco, who nodded returning the acknowledgement of all the help they had given them.
"We are all part of one anotherÖone familyÖ one community. I think sometimes we forget this, so once a year at this time we should meet here to give thanks to those who have helped us and to rememberÖ even the greatest darkness is nothing so long as we share the light."
The faces now were smiling, nodding in agreement. Lou and Peter got up and relit the torches and the chamber came alive with light that flickered and danced as the slight breeze blew across them. The plates were passed to Lou who filled them with heaping helpings of stew. Jacob took Vincent from Michele so that she could eat and he sat gazing into the face of the most extraordinary being he had ever seen, wondering what the future held for this amazing child.
The celebration became known as Winterfest becoming the tunnel communities own unique annual holiday heralded by the giving out of Debraís beautiful candles.