On Velvet Paws
By Midnight Rose 1991
(Who followed her Muse.)
Catherine pushed her office chair back from her desk with a determined flare. She bent and pulled out a large canvas bag that she had stashed under her feet at the beginning of the day. It held the extra items she would need tonight on her stakeout. Her plan was to leave straight from work, grab a bite to eat at the corner hot dog stand, hop the subway, and meet Vincent at their planned rendezvous.
She was looking forward to this stakeout out on the Docks, not because Catherine liked to be out all night on the unpredictable streets of deserted New York City or be out on a purposeful night with her husband and self-appointed bodyguard. She was anticipating the chance to use some of her newly acquired skills. Over the past six months, she had been a very studious pupiland quick learner under Vincent’s patient and encouraging tutelage.
Catherine emptied her green duffel bag onto her desk, a small black knapsack, flashlight, camera, film, small hunting knife, and an extra sweater. She set her new soft suede black boots on the floor. She smiled; tonight she would walk as silently as her feline soul mate.
"Teach me how to walk as quietly as you do, Vincent."
The couple had been strolling along the narrow path that traversedhigh on the cliff wall of one of the great chasms that guarded several levels of inhabited Tunnels. Vincent padded a couple of paces in front of Catherine on a particular narrow portion and she watched his feet in their thick, soft leather boots, fascinated at how he managed to step with such soundless grace. There had to be some method to his steps other then being just an inborn trait, she mused. In contrast, her hiking boots scuffed along the granite trail.
This odd request stopped Vincent in his tracks and he turned around to face his wife with the most bewildered look on his unique face. He looked down at his boots. He was silent for a long, thoughtful moment as he pondered the feet in question.
"I do not know if it can be taught." Vincent replied softly, his intrigued blue eyes returning to meet Catherine’s inquisitive gaze. " I have never paid much attention to the way I walk or what I do that makes it silent."
Catherine could see the wheels of renewed curiosity turn behind her husband’s sapphire eyes. "Do you want to experiment with it?" she asked, subtly feeding his open-mindedness. Vincent’s eyes brightened with a silent yes and he held out his hand.
"Come." He said simply.
Catherine was led to a length of a nearby culvert, its floor covered in a few inches of dry sand and sediment. Vincent shrugged off his cloak and ran its hem over the disturbed powder smoothing it. He began to remove his padded boots and socks and Catherine followed his example by shedding her own footwear.
"If we are to find out what the differences are between the way I walk and the way you and others do, we must start with the basic step." Vincent reasoned, with the voice of a practiced science teacher.
Vincent walked several paces down the smoothed sand, and then instructed Catherine to do the same. She obediently laid in a second set of footprints in the soft dirt. Plucking a nearby lantern from its wall peg, Vincent bent down to look closely at the set of tracks and compared them.
"Well, your feet are bigger than mine," Catherine joked, coming to stand beside him.
Vincent snorted; a chuckle in his gravel voice. "I should hope so."
He fell silent then and carefully studied each print down the length of the smoothed sand. Catherine waited as Vincent looked at the tracks, but she had no idea what he was comparing or observed what was different.
Vincent smoothed the sand once again with his cloak hem and came to Catherine’s side. "Wait here," he instructed, then went half way down the culvert and crouched down. "Walk past me at you natural stride, Catherine."
How can you walk normally when you are thinking about it? Catherine mused. She walked down the smoothed sand, her feet sinking into the yielding sediment. Vincent watched the action of her steps, the placing of the heel first and then rolling forward to push off with the ball of the foot and toes. Vincent grated the sand again and traded places with Catherine. He instructed her to watch how his feet rolled through each stride. Afterward, he listened with a growing understanding of the differences, as Catherine relayed her observations.
Without offering Catherine his findings, Vincent graded the dirt again and asked her to watch him walk again. This time, however, he walked slowly as through he was stalking something. Catherine explained her findings and Vincent smoothed the sand again. Once more Vincent and Catherine lay down their footprints side by side in the soft sand.
Together, they knelt to look at the imprints and Vincent revealed his findings. "Catherine, when you walk itis a rocking horse action," her husband explained visually demonstrating the motion with his palm. "Your weight is rolled from heel to toe."
"That is normal," Catherine stated.
"When I walk," Vincent continued to demonstrate, "I bring my weight down flatter on the heel, so that the ball of my foot also catches my weight, and then push off with my toes. The rocking horse action is still there but not as pronounced in my step."
Catherine weighed all this. "And when you are…stalking?"
"Then," Vincent said with an elegant and shy tip of his head, ‘My weight is fully on toe and heel of the foot together, a slow press of full weight and then an equally slow roll off my toes."
The sand and sediment was graded again and Catherine spent the next few minutes experimenting with the way Vincent said he walked.
"This is awkward." Catherine complained.
"It is when you exaggerate the flatness in the step." Vincent offered, sympathetic to her determination to learn the different stepping action as subtle as it was. "Perhaps with the right footwear, plenty of practice, and some American Indian bloodlines…." His voice broke off into chuckle.
Catherine was determined that she could pull it off, it was too intriguing. In Father’s Library, the books on Indian culture did not say much about how the American Indians walked so silently in their soft leather moccasins, but a few books on Military Special Forces and Hunting were able to give some pointers on quiet stalking.
For the next couple of weeks, when she was Below, Catherine would spend an hour of careful stepping and making footprints in the sand. The next few weeks, Catherine would walk in slippers across the cold stone floors of the underground corridors and passageways. Catherine continued to practice at home and even caught herself unconsciously doing the delicate, subtle change of step at work on the rare days she exchanged her normally high-heels for flats. The slight adjustment in the placement of her feet was becoming second nature and did not appear as an awkward gait to anyone who happened to be watching, including Vincent. He was both bemused and pleased at her accomplishment.
Catherine slipped out of her black high-heeled pumps and placed them in her canvas bag. She stood and removed her deep red waist-jacket she wore over her white turtleneck, folded the jacket and added it to the large bag. Grabbing the extra black sweater, she pulled it over her head and then swept her hands through her coppery tresses to free them from beneath the ribbed neck.
Sitting down again, Catherine pulled on her brand new---well, almost new---soft-soled black suede boot.
Catherine went to five different shoe stores before she was able to find the kind of flat, soft-soled boot that Vincent had suggested would give the quietest step humanly possible. This boot had a rubber sole that could be easily manipulated and twisted. The velvet-soft black suede comfortably gripped her ankle before slightly flaring out to a standing cuff at mid-calf. On impulse, Catherine bought two pair, one black and the other dark brown. She entrusted both pair into Vincent’s care. A week later, her husband returned them to her well broken in. He had oiled and rubbed the inside leather until it was soft and supple. The rubber soles had been buffed. Miraculously, the outside suede had not been touched or damaged. No matter how hard Catherine tried, she could not make the boots creak or crack. They fit her feet as though she was wearing a second skin and in no way did they hamper her newly learned walking form.
Vincent took Catherine and her new footwear to a particular flat ancient bridge—one of three—which spannedthe first of the great chasms that guarded the inner levels of the Tunnels. This hand-ripped plank and wooden trestle was notorious for it’s moaning creaks that met all who walked across it. This was the bridge’s feeble attempt to threaten it would break beneath any weight pressed upon it; although it was almost as solid as the rock that supported it. That is, unless it was Vincent who walked across the bridge. Catherine joked that Vincent simply defied gravity. Her husband crossed and re-crossed the grumbling wood that remained quiet beneath every step to prove it could be done and to prove to Catherine she could do the same.
Catherine’s first attempt was a complete failure; every one of her steps was met with echoing creaks and groans from the aged oak. Vincent gently admonishedher for trying too hard.
"Catherine, you must move with your feet…your weight centered over your feet," Vincent reminded from where he leaned against the sheer rock face behind him. "Walk normal."
"Normal." Catherine muttered beneath her breath. How do you walk normal when you are thinking about it? Ha! It is like trying to breathe normal when you are thinking about it. She squared her slim shoulders and strolled across the moaning bridge prepared to give her tawny husband an "I told you so" when across the span.
Her casual childish air was Catherine’s undoing, the bridge barely protested under her implanted gait. "I am chastised by my own disbelief," Catherine quipped, her shy emerald gaze catching her husband’s eye.
Vincent affirmed her accomplishment with a knowing nod of his bushy head. ‘So, it is possible.’ His clear blue eyes told her. "Try again." He encouraged.
Catherine continued to practice on many of the Underground’s many bridges, learning to subtly adjust her weight equally on every pressure point of her foot when she stepped. The final test was one of fun and stealth---sneak up on Vincent without him hearing her. Catherine’s soundless grace was becoming Vincent’s equal.
Catherine tucked her black pantleg into her boot and repeated the process with her other foot. The broken-in leather was not only soundless in movement, but also very comfortable to walk in, especially for a couple of tired feet like hers.
Next, she grabbed the camera and placed it on her lap. A box of 35mm infra-red film was torn open and the film extracted from the protective plastic cylinder. The cylinder lid yielded under the pressure of Catherine’s thumb, ricocheted off her file cabinet and landed at her feet. After loading the film into the camera, Catherine bent to retrieve the cylinder lid.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the hand of Bob Weston, a new DA intern, reach across her desk for her leather-sheathed hunting knife. Catherine’s hand, resting against the edge of her desk, slammed down on the targeted knife to prevent its removal with the lightening quick strike of a rattlesnake.
Knives, as a weapon, had slowly become common place in the Tunnels after the last intrusion and attack of criminal Outsiders as had the silent weapons of archery, crossbows and long bows. Father had tried to fight the introduction of such armament but was overruled by the Council and the community on the grounds that they had to learn to fend for themselves. They could no longer justify letting Vincent carry the sole burden of tunnel security. All the men and many of the women learned the basic skills of archery and how to defend themselves with knives.
The knife was of a more practical arsenal to most, its application was endless in the day to day tasks of life Below and was light enough to continually carry and was easy to conceal.
Vincent carried his small hunting knife inside his left boot on the inside of his calf. The leather sheath was held in place just above his ankle by the crossties laced across the outside of his well-worn boot. The leather-wrapped ivory handle with its blood-red tassel tucked completely into his boot. The knife could not be seen, yet was easily accessible.
Vincent approved of the introduction of these weapons as a pleasantdeparture of having to use his own deadly weapons of claws and crushing strength. He had learned to work with the red fury of the Beast and temper it with intelligence and patience to think his way through a dangerous situation and not run blindly to someone’s aid—especially Catherine’s. Also, the use of crossbow, long bow, or knife throwing allowed Vincent to remain safely concealed in the shadows while still protecting Catherine at the same time.
Catherine had presented Vincent with a set of hunting knives for Christmas. Each of them would carry one. A razor sharp blade with an ivory handle intricately engraved with roses, twisting stems, leaves and thorns. The mahogany leather sheath, with rawhide laces, was also finely tooled with leaves and roses. A scarlet silk tassel hung from the hilt. Catherine explained she was told it made the knife easier to spot in the dark after it had been thrown. The craftsmanship of the pair of knives was superb, their balance unsurpassed and the weight perfect for hands as large as Vincent’s or delicate as Catherine’s.
The art of knife throwing required more skill and practice than archery. Not only did one have to throw it accurately but also had to spin it fast and hard enough to land it point first. The knife was held by the back of the blade between thumb and side of the index finger. At the top of the arm swing and point of release the wrist was snapped to make the knife rotate properly so it was in the correct position to penetrate its target.
Vincent taught Catherine to pull the knife from her boot with her left hand on the hilt, transfer it to her right so she properly gripped the blade. Catherine practiced until her right arm ached.
Vincent’s only word of advice was, "Keep your eye on the target throughout the whole throw, your arm will deliver the knife."
The coordination of eye, hand, and knife was slow in coming but with constant practice Catherine’s mark was becoming more and more deadly accurate.
"Hands off!" Catherine snarled, her voice ice cold and looking at Bob Weston out of the corner of her flashing green eye. As she straightened up in her chair, Bob stepped back in alarm. If Catherine had seen herself in a mirror she would have beheld eyes of fathomless mirrored pools of dark fury, a flickering hint of the raging untamed spirit to which she was bound.
"Sorry," Bob raised his palms in an awkward defensive apology. He was visibly shaken by her sudden and unexplained violent reaction.
"I’m sorry," Catherine said her eyes returning to their soft green, her voice gentle. " I’m a little jumpy today…hazard of the job…stakeout tonight."
She gestured to the items and papers on her desk and warned, "Bob, next time, ask before you help yourself to the things on my desk, OK." She picked up her knife and concealed it in her left boot.
"Your…your hunting knife caught my eye," Bob awkwardly explained for the sake of a much wanted conversation with the elusive, but beautiful, investigator. "The craftsmanship is admirable."
"Thanks," was all she said as she tucked in the tassel. If Bob thought she was going to let him see the knife, he was mistaken. Catherine stood then and placed the flashlight, camera, and extra film into the black knapsack, all but ignoring the adoring audience of Bob Weston.
"Aren’t you being a bit over-possessive." Bob challenged watching Catherine flip the knapsack strap over one shoulder. He was a bit hurt by her lack of friendly conversation.
Catherine grabbed her black wool cape hanging on the corner coat rack and moved around her desk preparing to don it. As she came to Bob’s side, she looked him straight in the eye.
"I am possessive of life." Catherine’s emerald depths bore into the handsome Italian brown. In a billow of ebony, Catherine left.
So attuned to the subtle shifts in the bond, Catherine could find Vincent where he stood in the shadow of an alley before she could make out his intimidating, towering silhouette. She stepped into his warm and welcome embrace and gathered courage from the glistening black pools beneath her husband’s bristling and deeply shadowed brow.
They worked as a team when Above on a night like this. Vincent had already scouted out the area and relayed details of the deserted dock and pier. He pointed out the routes of possible entry and escape.
A sliver of moon peeked out now and then through the passing clouds empty of their storehouse of rain. The salty air was heavy and rank with the acidic smell of machine oil and diesel. Puddles slick with a rainbow sheen of oil warned that the wet pavement would be dangerous footing. A high fence, its interior landscape still except for the erratic blinking of dim lamps, caged the seaside freight yard. Somewhere there was a short circuit in the yard lights and the bluish dim left behind in those dark moments would provide a temporary cover for dashing across the yard dotted with metal containers and wooden crates.
The shadow couple slid under a bent-up place in the wire fence and crouched between two wooden crates labeled for shipment to Japan and waited for the sporadic blackout. Without warning the lamps on their poles blinked out, Vincent and Catherine were in motion dodging around grates and sleeping machinery toward the last cavernous warehouse in a line of three. A cargo ship bobbed and groaned in its moorings at the water’s edge, straining against its thick ropes. A small square of light shown from the window of the captain’s quarters where the First Matekept his nightly vigil. A crude iron gangplank rusted from use and salt air was the only path from ship to dock.
The couple’s attention was turned to the dark warehouse beside the wooden pier. Inside was the office where alleged illegal activity of arms deals and drug running had taken place. The only way in was a broken window covered in wire mesh at a second story height. Threading his fingers to form a step Vincent gave Catherine a gentle boost. Her hands gripped the sill and using the mesh across the window for leverage, pulled herself up to balance her toes on the window ledge.
The blinking lights flickered on and Vincent dropped back into the shadows to wait until they went out again.
Catherine was safe in the shadow of the roof overhang. She pulled out her hunting knife and went to work prying the bottom mesh hooks free from the window casing. Bending a corner of the mesh up, she put her arm carefully through the broken pane and opened the window. Pushing the mesh inward and straddling the windowsill, Catherine tested the darkness with a toe. Her search found footing on a pile of boxes stacked on platforms below the window and she slide inside. Catherine pushed the mesh back out the window and folded it upward to clear the opening for Vincent. She stepped into the blackness to wait for Vincent to follow.
While she waited, Catherine set her back against the warehouse wall and listened intently to the sounds within the vast building and beyond.
The smell of cardboard boxes, wood, mildew and mice permeated the stagnant air. Rodents scurried along the floor, somewhere there was a leak and a steady drip of water. Occasionally, there was a creak from the settling old building or the pop of a pipe constricting in the cooling nighttime temperatures. In the rafters above pigeons roosted and beyond the confines of the walls the lapping of water against wooden pilings and distant traffic from a city.
"What do you hear?" The enduring bronze tones asked from the blackness.
Catherine was standing in the center of an empty cross-chamber that was the hub to three passageways leading to sleeping quarters of some of the older children. She had been blindfolded for the lesson.
Vincent always asked the most simple and direct of questions through the numerous shades of meaning was evident in its simplicity.
Catherine tilted her head in concentration.
"Tapping on the pipes…The passing subway cars." These were easy and ever-present sounds.
"Laughter and voices." These were coming from the nearby chambers.
"Beyond them." Vincent prompted softly. His wife turned slowly in a circle trying to home in on the elusive sounds.
"Chamber of the Falls…and closer…The Ice Rivulet."This ice-cold trickle of drinking water dripped from a crack in the rock and splashed into the collection barrel placed underneath.
Catherine was silent for a moment as a look of wonder crossed her blindfolded face. "I believe I can also hear the waterwheel driving the pump." She grinned, pleased with herself. The waterwheel was a good ways downstream and she was surprised she could hear the creak of the turning wheel.
"Anything else?" smiled her husband’s velvet voice.
Catherine’s features tightened as she strained to pick out other sounds.
"The hiss of swirling air?" The sounds of air rushing from a large cavern into the narrow honey-comb of tunnels.
"Very good," Vincent praised. There were dozens of other sounds he could plainly hear that were beyond Catherine’s abilities.
Catherine heard him circle around her just beyond her reach.
"What do you hear in this chamber?"
She could not help but grin. Vincent was deliberately swinging his arms and shuffling his feet, otherwise she would never hear him.
"Vincent, walk normal." Catherine giggled. She had no trouble hearing such obvious movement. Her husband’s movements became almost soundless.
Catherine tipped her head in concentration and listened for many silent moments. "The rustle of your cloak hem over the floor," she announced. Vincent was harder to hear then she thought.
"Open your mind to any sound," Vincent whispered halting directly behind her. He purposely shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"The stiff creak of leather and the clink of metal on your belt. Oh, and the sway of the cords against your cloak."
The silence of the chamber closed in as Catherine stood absolutely still. At length, she turned her head slightly toward the handsome leonine man behind her. "I can hear you breathing…" she spoke in a hushed tone of wonder.
She turned to face him. The quivering of the bond told her he was only inches away. A very faint, but strong pulsing rhythm met the searching invisible fingers of her ears. She could almost feel it.
"Your… heartbeat," she breathed. Catherine reached out to place her hands on his broad chest, but Vincent captured her hands to press them to his lips. Catherine beamed.
Vincent did not dare question what she had heard with her ears or what she had heard with the ears of her heart.
Vincent dropped an aluminum soda can on the stone floor, picked it up, and then dropped it at Catherine’s feet. "Pick it up." He instructed as he stepped back from her.
Catherine knelt and groped around for it until she found it.
"I’d give that an F." Catherine snorted as she straightened back up. Vincent retrieved the can from her.
"Try again…Listen for it and mentally see where it dropped…how far away," came the voice of encouragement from the darkness.
The empty can was dropped again. Catherine did better this time, quickly picking up the can to the left of where she stood. She did even better the next time. Each time Vincent dropped the can further and further away until he simply threw it. Each time Catherine retrieved it with growing trust in what she heard and with increasing accuracy. After a week of such drills, Catherine could tell Vincent approximately how far away the can was thrown and then retrieve it.
This also helped her become more aware of every sound around her no matter how soft, subtle, or seemingly insignificant. And she was more alert to the sounds of movement, even though she could not see it. This new skill came in handy in the day to day legwork required by a DA investigator.
When the yard lights blinked out, Vincent sprang up to the window sill and hauled himself in the window with the soundless grace of his feline heritage. He joined his Beauty crouching in the shadows.
"Is it clear?" he asked, trusting in Catherine’s ability to clear an area for safety.
"Just us and the rats." She cringed with a wary smile.
The unpredictable lights flashed on, catching the glint of a pearl white fang as Vincent gave his wife a warm smile.
They carefully made their way down the length of the warehouse atop the rows of boxes and crates. The height of them gradually lowering until the couple was one course from the floor. Vincent went first, jumping the six feet down to land deep in the knees, silent. A threatening hiss at the rodent population sent the warehouse citizens scurrying for cover from the oldest of enemies.
"Thanks." Catherine breathed from her couched perch on the upper edge of the crate. She took Vincent’s offered hands and jumped down beside him. Meeting one rat at a time did not bother Catherine, but the number of pattering feet throughout the vast warehouse made her skin crawl.
The couple crossed an open space to the metal staircase that would take them to the glassed-in office. They were ever mindful of the sounds around them, inside and out.
Catherine pulled out her camera and took a couple of low light pictures of the office landing and surrounding warehouse interior, before heading to the office door. Vincent used his knife to pick the lock and stood in the doorway while his wife went inside. Catherine took more pictures.
Catherine had been diligently going over the files for several minutes, being careful not to disturb anything, when a pair of headlights danced outside the warehouse windows, followed by a second. Car engines hummed beyond the metal skin of the building.
The couple gauged their time. Catherine closed the office door and quickly crossed the steelplatform to follow Vincent up a ladder that led to the above catwalk. The couple sought cover behind a series of vertical heating and cooling ducts, becoming as still as shadows as a key turned in the deadbolt of the outside lock.
Catherine’s agenda was to scout out the allegations, not engage the suspects. If she was discovered in the warehouse, it could spook the criminals or worse, jeopardize the shaky beginnings of the case.
The house lights, hanging below the level of the catwalk, were switched on and the three male suspects engaged in small talk all the way into the office and closed the office door behind them.
Only now did Catherine allow herself a seeping exhale and turned to look at Vincent, looking him a question. Now what?
The catwalk ran the length of the warehouse passing just above the window they used as their entrance. As long as they were on the catwalk, they were safely concealed in the shadows.
Vincent took her hand and tapped the code of the tunnels into her palm to relay his plan. Catherine nodded.
Carefully, Catherine walked to the corner of the catwalk, turned and continued down its length until she was above to the broken window and bent-up mesh. Her steps made no sound and her weight barely swayed the rickety walkway. Vincent followed her until he came to the electrical lines that ran down the wall to a utility box beside the outside door. He pulled out his hunting knife and carefully cut the casing around the two lines one at a time. When the lights outside in the yard went out, Vincent shorted the lights inside by bridging the gap between the two lines with the blade of his knife, tripping the circuits in the utility box.
Curses rang from the office while at the same moment Catherine jumped onto the stacked boxes. Vincent hustled down the catwalk, landed softly beside her and in the same motion leaped through the window and dropped to the ground, landing deep in his knees to absorb the shock of his weight. Catherine followed, jumping safely into Vincent’s waiting arms as the unpredictable yard lights blinked back on. Catherine hit the ground running and slipped back into cover, Vincent at her heels. Her heart was pounding in her throat from the rush of adrenaline.
The couple silently, patiently waited until the blinking lights went out again to carefully thread their way back to the hole in the chain-link fence.
Catherine thought she heard something and suddenly halted in her tracks; raising her hand to signal Vincent to stop. He was only a pace behind her. She listened intently, picking out each sound around her with great concentration. Hearing nothing and giving Vincent a thumbs up that all was clear, Catherine continued on with Vincent following a step behind.
As Catherine was about to round a huge metal container, Vincent grabbed his wife about the waist with one iron arm, picked her up off her feet and swung them back into the concealing darkness. Their combined movement, though sudden, was silent, fluid and executed as if choreographed.
The First Mate from the ship tied at the dock had been drawn outside by the approaching cars and taken the liberty to stretch his legs with a stroll about the freight yard. He had stopped to light his cigarette the moment Catherine was about to round the corner of the crate. The sea-toughened sailor settled himself down on the cab step of a towering crane to smoke and was in no hurry to move on. On the other hand, Vincent and Catherine were in a hurry. The continual blinking of the yard lights made finding safe continuous shadows impossible even between the rows of crates. Catherine tapped a plan of distraction into her husband’s palm. He nodded.
The First Matejumped with a start as a flash of silver hit its mark in the wood slat of a crate across from him. Catherine’s blade had hit her mark.
"Hey!" He cursed, ignoring the knife and searching the darknessin the direction of the throw. Catherine gave him her best childish laugh as she dashed across the open lane and disappeared between the rows of crates. The sailor took off after her. "Come back here, you…punk!"
The lights blinked out. Catherine zigzagged between the crates and containers toward the opening in the fence making sure she did not lose her pursuer by allowing too much distance to come between them. At the fence she skittered down the last few yards, snaked under the fence and disappeared down the dim street. The sailor cursed after her retreating form. She ducked into an alley to wait for Vincent.
Vincent waited until the yard lights went out again before he ventured across the open lane to retrieve Catherine’s knife. He could hear the sailor’s fading curses as the hapless man pursued his elusive intruder. Vincent smiled as he dislodged the elegant weapon; Catherine had learned her lessons well. She also could play a wicked game of "cat and mouse."
Reaching the fence, a handful of strides took Vincent to the metal mesh. A single leap to the top of the fence and a silent drop to the ground. He sprinted across the street as the yard lights flashed back on. A short climb up a fire escape took him to the safety of a building’s roof. Down the street, there was a light ringing of the wire fence, a round of curses, and a black silhouette being swallowed by the dank darkness of a rain-swept night.
"I didn’t hear him, Vincent." Catherine apologized. She had come close to exposing the one person she had vowed to protect. It was one of the reasons why she had wanted to learn more survival skills. She was disappointed in the performance of her listening ability.
Vincent lightly squeezed the delicate hand he held as they walked back through the tunnels. "Neither did I." He revealed softly.
Catherine stopped in her tracks to turn and look at him. Her inquisitive gaze bore into the blazing embers glowing in the dim light from the shadow of his shaggy mane and deep brow.
"Then how did you know he was there?"
"I felt his presence," Vincent replied simply. His wife’s expression turned to bewilderment. Vincent silenced her unspoken, how? "Catherine, I do not know how. It is one of my unexplained abilities." His serious tone was broken by a twinkling lightness. " I am sure it cannot be taught."
"Are you sure?" Catherine laughed.
"Quite sure," Vincent returned, "but with you, my dear Catherine….one can ever be sure…"
"Thank you for patiently teaching me all these new skills." Catherine whispered tenderly into Vincent’s lofty ear as they embraced at the basement threshold of Above and Below. "I always wanted to move about on the safety of "velvet paws." She smiled shyly at the last. Catherine was once again overwhelmed with gratitude for the skills Vincent had patiently taught her over the past several months. And there was plenty more to be taught.
His warm breath stirred her disheveled tresses. "You have worked hard and practiced diligently, Catherine. I have been amazed at what you have accomplished. Do not become discouraged. The skills you have learned will take a lifetime to refine." He praised in his gravel voice, a softest of velvet. "You deserve the right to walk on "velvet paws" with me."
Vincent pulled back from their embrace to bend and retrieve something from his boot. Vincent held up the ivory hilt of Catherine’s hunting knife. The engraved white rose and scarlet tassel stood out in the dim underground light. Catherine accepted the returned gift with a warm smile. Before Vincent released the glittering weapon into its owner’s possession, he softly bent his head and kissed her lips.
Copyright: "On Velvet Paws", presented during WFOL 2008, is the sole property of the author, Midnight Rose, and is not to be duplicated or shared in any way, shape, or form except with the express permission of the author.