BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
IT WAS LOVE
Elliot Burch was sitting at his desk, immersed in his latest building’s blueprints. He looked with disgust at the phone when it rang, interrupting his thoughts.
He reached absently for the receiver and brought it to his ear. “What?”
“Call for you from the district attorney’s office.”
Elliot’s thoughts raced. “She’s calling! After all this time, she’s finally calling! What should I say? What should I do? Why is she calling now? Am I finally going to get a chance to explain what happened? God, I’ve missed her...”
Elliot’s attention was brought back to the present. “Sorry, Rachel. Put it through.”
Elliot took a deep breath to calm himself and answered the phone on the second ring. “Cathy?”
“Mr. Burch, this is District Attorney John Moreno. How are you today?”
“Yes, how can I help you?” Elliot sighed as disappointment flooded through him. “How could I have been so stupid? She would never call me!” he thought.
“Mr. Burch, I’d like to talk about your dealings with Max Avery...”
“Yeah, word’s out on the street that you’ve been calling around. I was wondering when you’d get around to me.”
“I was hoping you’d help our investigation...”
Elliot interrupted him. “I have nothing to say about Max Avery.”
Moreno grumbled. “C’mon, Mr. Burch, give me a break. We’ve talked to every other developer and they’ve all said the same thing! My office has been investigating him for months; all of my best people are working on this. Your job can’t be easy with Avery controlling your every move. I just need someone to come forward and work with us so we can nail Avery to the wall.”
Elliot laughed aloud. “And you thought it would be me?”
“I was hoping for anyone!”
“Sorry, Moreno, it won’t be me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a busy schedule.”
Elliot hung up the phone and stared at his desk, his hopes and dreams crashing down around him once again. He was elated when he thought the phone call was from Catherine. He couldn’t wait to have the chance to see her again and explain to her what happened. He knew she wasn’t dating anyone or at least, if she was, it wasn’t in the papers. Maybe he still had a chance with her.
He thought for a second and made a split-second decision. He picked up his phone. “Rachel, get me Phil Lardner on the phone.”
In two minutes Elliot’s phone rang and he answered it abruptly. “Phil?”
“Yeah, Elliot. I was in an important meeting…What’s up?”
“Forget about the damn meeting. Phil, you know that ledger I have on Avery?”
“Yes, of course. I’ve told you a million times to get rid of it.”
Elliot laughed. “What would you think if I told you I might give it to the DA’s office?”
“Elliot, that’s not funny.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“Then I would strongly advise you against doing it. Max Avery could do some serious damage to your projects! Why would you even consider it?”
“I have my reasons, Phil.”
“Well, as your attorney, I’m going on record that I’m against you doing it.”
“I’ll get a new attorney.”
Phil shrugged. “You may have to, Elliot. Once Avery finds out what you’ve done, you’re going to need someone to save your butt.”
“Thanks for the advice, Phil.”
Elliot hung up the phone and picked it up again immediately. “Rachel, get me District Attorney Moreno on the line, please.”
This time it took ten minutes for the call to come through. Elliot had become immersed in his blueprints again and answered the phone abruptly. “Burch.”
“Mr, Burch, it’s John Moreno.”
“Yeah! Look, I may have reconsidered. I have a proposition I’d like you to hear.”
Moreno leaned forward in his seat. “I’m not going to like it, am I?”
Elliot laughed. “It shouldn’t hurt you one bit.”
“Okay, what is it?”
Elliot sat back in his chair. “I have information on Max Avery that you would find extremely interesting and quite damning. I’m willing to release that information to you.”
Moreno sighed. “What’s the catch?”
“I want one of your top investigators to come to my office to pick it up...”
In an instant, Moreno knew who he meant and he shook his head in disgust. “I suppose that top investigator would have to be Catherine Chandler?”
Elliot smiled, glad that Moreno caught on so quickly. “The one and only. If she comes to my office and agrees to see me, I’ll hand her this ledger. If not...”
Moreno sighed into the phone. “I’ll talk to her. Chandler’s a team player. I’m sure she’ll come around. Give me a day.”
“I’m a patient man, Mr. Moreno. I’ll be here with my book. Goodbye.”
John Moreno sat back in his chair. He was willing to do anything to get hold of that book. Did he want to sacrifice his second best employee?
He picked up the phone and called his assistant. “Joe, get in here, will you?”
Joe dropped his file and headed to his boss’s office as he wondered what the hell was so important. He knocked on the door.
“Yeah, come on in.” Moreno pointed to a chair.
“Oh, boy,” Joe thought as he sat down.
Moreno saw the look on Joe’s face. “Relax, Joe, no one’s in trouble. I wanted to tell you I talked to Elliot Burch today.”
Joe shrugged indifferently. “Yeah, what’d he say? He gonna play ball with us?”
Moreno nodded. “He’s got a whole ledger for us, Joe. I’m sure it’s filled with dates and everything we need to put Max Avery away.”
“So, you want me to go get it?”
Moreno grimaced as he spun around in his chair and looked out the window. “No, Burch has only one contingency. One little thing we need to do to get hold of that book...”
“What is it?”
“Send Catherine Chandler to pick it up.”
Joe shot to his feet angrily. “What! Why?”
Moreno shrugged as he turned his chair around to face Joe. “How the hell do I know? They had a fling a while back, didn’t they?”
Joe began to pace nervously. “Yeah, and that fling made her sit at her desk for two weeks looking like something the cat dragged in.”
“Joe, just ask her if she’d be willing to do it.”
“No, no way! You want her to do it, you ask her!”
Moreno shook his head. “Joe, you and Cathy are friends. I need you to try and get her to our side in this. I need you to soften the blow.”
“Damn it, John, I don’t want to ask her to do it.”
“Joe, it’s the only way. Just get it done.”
“Son of a…!” Joe angrily reached for the knob and stormed out of Moreno’s office. He flew into his own office and stewed about his current dilemma.
He remembered how bad Catherine looked the day she and Burch broke up. He remembered how hurt she was to find out it was his company that was responsible for what had been done to the older people living in his apartment buildings. He remembered her hiding the tears at her desk and trying to do her job.
With a sigh, he left a message on her home machine asking her to come and see him first thing in the morning.
Catherine answered Joe’s early morning summons.
She walked in with a smile on her face. “You wanted to see me?”
Joe motioned. “Yeah, come in; shut the door.”
“What is it?”
Joe told her about the Avery case. Every builder in New York had been questioned about Avery’s dirty business practices. No one would give them any information, except one major developer.
It dawned on Catherine where this was leading. “No. Don’t ask me, Joe. Don’t even think about it.”
“Give me a break, Radcliffe. Do you think I wanna do this? I just work here. Just have a little talk with Elliot Burch.”
“My relationship with Elliot Burch was personal, not to mention painful, and it’s in the past.”
Joe raised his hands in defense. “All right, take it easy. We’re just asking you to interview him, not have his children. If Burch talks, we can put Avery away.”
“Then subpoena him...”
“He’s got an army of lawyers, Cathy. He could stonewall and tie us up for years. He’ll talk to you.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because he told us he would. Look, personally I think this whole thing stinks, but there it is.”
Catherine knew Joe had witnessed her heartache after her breakup with Elliot. She shook her head angrily. “Joe, I can’t believe you of all people are asking me this.”
“Cathy, I’m not the one asking. If it was up to me, I would have never brought it up.”
Catherine looked at him. “Well, then why...” She stopped herself, her mind working furiously. “Moreno? He put you up to this?”
Joe blushed and looked guiltily at the floor.
Catherine sighed. “Don’t bother, I can read the answer on your face. How dare he!” she said as she spun around and glared angrily in the direction of Moreno’s office. “What gave him the right?!”
Joe mumbled, “I think he just wants to get Avery. It’ll look good on his record at reelection time.”
Catherine paced, trying to control her anger. “Yeah, well, he just lost my vote.”
Joe chuckled. He knew Catherine liked Moreno; overall he was a pretty decent boss. “Far as I know, Burch called and told Moreno he had a ledger that he would be willing to turn over to you and only you. He wants to see you at his office; you pick the day and time.”
“Blackmail!” Catherine threw her hands in the air in disgust as she shook her head. “Just another one of Elliot Burch’s stellar qualities!”
“Cath!” Joe looked up at her. “You can refuse, you know? I’d stand by you.”
Catherine shook her head and ruefully smiled. “No, I can’t! I know it, you know it, Moreno knows it, and so apparently does Elliot!”
Joe eyes her hopefully. “So, you’re gonna do it?”
“Yeah, damn it! I’ll do it.”
Joe came over and fake-punched her shoulder. “Take one for the Gipper.”
“What?” Catherine looked at him quizzically. “Who’s the Gipper?”
Joe rolled his eyes. “Football...forget it. Thanks, I’ll tell Moreno you’re on board.”
Catherine made a face and went to her desk.
Joe headed to Moreno’s office, knocked, and walked in unannounced. He looked over at his boss with disgust. “She’s in.”
Moreno sat back in his chair and let out the breath he’d been holding. “Great! Good work! How’d she take it?”
Joe looked at him with disgust. “Wonderfully.”
“Well, I’m sure she took it better from you than she would from me.”
Joe chuckled. “Oh, she hates you right about now.”
Moreno lowered his head with sigh. “Yeah, well, some days I hate me, too! Thanks, Joe. I’m sorry I had to ask you and her to do it. I know how unethical this is, but I’m a puppet just like everybody else.”
Joe blinked in surprise. He had never seen his boss so visibly upset. He started to leave and took mercy on him and turned back. “John, it’ll all work out. Cathy will get over it when we put Avery away.”
Moreno looked up and smiled. “Thanks, Joe.”
Joe walked back to his office. He cast a glance over at Catherine sitting at her desk. She looked up, saw him then frowned as she looked back down. With a sigh, he went back to work.
Her phone rang and she angrily reached for it. “Yeah.”
“Yeah? Don’t you mean ‘Catherine Chandler, how may I help you?’”
Jenny giggled at her friend’s change of attitude. “You sound like you need someone to rescue you.”
Catherine laughed. “Yeah, I do.”
“So, let’s do lunch.”
Catherine sighed. “I can’t! I have an impossibly miserable task I have to do.”
Jenny wondered about the catch in Catherine’s voice. “Can I help?”
“I wish you could.”
Jenny leaned forward in her chair, wondering what task Catherine had that was so hard for her to accomplish. “What is it?”
Catherine hesitated. “I have to see Elliot Burch!”
Jennie groaned loudly. “Oh, no! Why?”
“That’s the price he put on giving our office information we need to get a conviction against somebody.”
“What a creep!”
Catherine snorted in disgust. “Yeah.”
“How do you know this information is worth the price?”
Catherine hadn’t thought about that. She took a second to reason it out. She knew Elliot had dealings with Avery. She also knew that, despite everything, he was a busy man and wouldn’t waste time playing games. Heck, even when he tried to get in touch with her, it was always late at night, when Catherine assumed the loneliness of the night finally got to him.
“Sorry, Jen! I don’t know, Elliot’s a lot of things but he’s never lied to me. I’m sure his information is legit.”
“Okay...when do you have to go?”
“I’m gonna go as soon as I get off the phone with you.”
“Yeah, I’ve just been sitting here stewing in my anger but I may as well get it over with.”
Jenny reached out across the phone line and tried to offer comfort. “You gonna be okay?”
Catherine sighed. “I don’t know. I guess.”
“Want me to call you tonight?”
Catherine smiled at her friend’s devotion. “How about if I call you?”
“Okay, I understand. Good luck; stay strong!”
“Thanks, Jenny. Your call came at the perfect time.”
“Good, I’m glad! Bye, Cath.”
Catherine hung up the phone and headed out.
She stood outside of Elliot’s building, staring up at the top floor. With a sigh, she went in to see him.
She walked somberly into his office. When he looked up, her heart skipped a beat. She had thought that she was in love with him at one time, and some of that attraction still lingered.
He smiled weakly at her as he walked around his desk. Assuming he meant to hug her, Catherine walked to and stood on the other side of a chair, effectively keeping it between them as she looked at Elliot defiantly.
Elliot’s face fell. “It’s nice to see you, Catherine.”
“Let’s skip the amenities, shall we? I’m here to talk about Max Avery.”
“You’re angry. I can understand that. But whether you believe it or not, this is just as difficult for me as it is for you.”
“Well, maybe you should talk to someone less difficult. That can be arranged!”
Elliot felt like she had stabbed him. He realized she really had no interest in hearing his explanation. Inside he was deeply hurt; he thought they had more going for them. “What did I do to make you hate me so much?”
“I think we both know the answer to that. Let’s get on with it.”
Elliot touched a ledger. He told her it was a file on Max Avery. It detailed every illegal thing he had ever done to Elliot. Elliot told Catherine it was easier to give in to someone like Avery then it was to try to fight him, but Elliot had had enough. It would hurt him financially but Elliot wanted to be rid of Avery.
He looked up at her. “Maybe you were right to walk out on me when you did. My employees were breaking the law in my name, things were happening that were inexcusable, and ultimately it’s my responsibility. But Cathy, I didn’t know…Maybe I didn’t want to know. I’ve got a lot of regrets in my life, and losing you is one of them.”
Catherine could tell he really meant it and she took his words to heart. “It might take months, maybe years, to put Avery away. Until then...you’ll have every kind of nightmare ever imagined. Avery plays hardball.”
Elliot leaned forward. “Because I’m not one of the bad guys, Cathy, no matter what you think.”
Catherine looked at him curiously. “I once cared deeply for this man,” she thought. She shook her head to refute his statement. “Elliot, I never thought you were one of the bad guys. I only thought that you got lost somewhere along the way and forgot what was really important.”
“What’s really important?”
“Yes: people, relationships, feelings...those are what’s important in life, Elliot.”
He shrugged. “My relationship with you was always important. My feelings for you were…are...confusing.”
“I know, Elliot, mine were too.” She stood and smiled. “I should get back to the office. Thanks for the file.”
“You’re welcome,” he said as he escorted her out.
She stopped and turned to face him. “Whatever my feelings are…were…I’ll do my best for you, Elliot.”
“I know you will, sweetheart, I know.” Elliot smiled warmly as he touched her elbow.
Catherine went back to the office and shared the information with Joe. She told him Elliot was doing the right thing and that he should be offered immunity.
Joe smiled at her change of tune. “So, Radcliffe, can we expect more pheasant under glass lunches being wheeled in here?”
Catherine blushed then chuckled. “No, I’m pretty positive that’s not going to happen.”
“Here I thought that maybe you and Burch...”
Joe trailed off as Catherine’s thoughts turned to Vincent. “Not a chance!” she said as she headed back to her desk.
Far below the city, Mouse was not having a very good day. It had all started late the night before.
Jamie and two of the older teens, Matthew and Kenneth, were with Mouse when he decided to enter a warehouse.
Mouse turned to the group and whispered, “Find what I need…in there.”
Kenneth shook his head. “Mouse, I don’t think you should go in there.”
Matthew agreed. “Me either, Mouse.”
Mouse shook his head. “You stay, I go!”
Mouse took off before Jamie could stop him. He climbed into the building through a broken window. He was only in there for a few minutes when he set off an alarm.
His three friends jumped at the noise and hid behind a dumpster.
Jamie looked worried. “Where is he?”
Matthew and Kenneth peered through the darkness in different directions.
Kenneth reported first. “I don’t see him anywhere.”
Matthew sighed. “Me eith...wait! Here he comes. Oh, great, there’s a guard chasing him...”
Jamie grabbed their arms. “Let’s go!”
Mouse saw his friends run from behind their cover and he took off after them. The guard was in pursuit but the foursome had gained some lead time. Soon enough the guard was joined by his partner.
The foursome was chased for three city blocks. They just made it into the tunnels and slammed the door shut. Gasping for breath, they headed deeper into the tunnels when Winslow, who was on sentry duty, approached them.
“What are you guys doing?”
Just then a noise sounded on the other side of the door. Jamie hissed, “Shut the lights, they followed us!”
All of the lights were quickly extinguished. Winslow slowly made his way to the sentry lookout point and removed the hidden brick. He saw two security guards in the outer room looking behind old crates and underneath covers.
The first officer waved his arm angrily. “Damn it, I know I saw them come in here.”
“Are you sure, Carlos? Maybe they went on ahead. They certainly ain’t in this room...whatever the hell this room is…”
Carlos shook his head. “I guess you’re right. This place is a neighborhood dump. Look at this junk, it’s been covered with dust for years.”
The two men left and Winslow waited ten minutes before he felt secure enough to close the brick.
He turned angrily. “Someone want to explain this?”
Jamie and Mouse shrugged so Winslow pinned the two boys with his glare.
Kenneth buckled. “We were out looking for stuff to use and Mouse accidentally tripped an alarm.”
Winslow angrily shook his head. “Who has alarms on garbage cans and stuff that’s been discarded?”
Kenneth blushed and Matthew attempted to bail him out. “The alarm was in a building I think Mouse must have wandered into by mistake.”
Mouse chuckled. “Big mistake. Had a heavy tool, shifted weight, got careless, cut wrong wire.”
Kenneth and Matthew laughed but Winslow was getting angrier by the second. “So Mouse went into the building by himself?”
Jamie nodded suspiciously. “We waited for him outside.”
Winslow wanted to hear their reason. “Why didn’t the rest of you follow him in?” Jamie shrugged, and Winslow turned to Kenneth and Matthew. “Well?”
Both boys blanched under Winslow’s stare.
Matthew looked up. “’Cause it would be wrong!”
Kenneth nodded. “We warned Mouse not to do it!”
Jamie looked disgustedly at the stool pigeons. She thought they were old enough to keep their mouths shut. She met Winslow’s gaze. “Well, we got home safe and nobody took anything, so let’s just forget about it and go to bed. Goodnight, Winslow.”
Winslow was seething as they walked away.
In the distance he overheard Mouse. “Try again tomorrow! Know alarm now, won’t trick Mouse again.”
“I’ve got to tell Father,” Winslow grumbled.
Early the next morning, Winslow got off of his shift and went to see Father.
Father looked up from his book when Winslow walked in. Knowing he must be tired from working sentry duty, he wondered why he was here, and smiled wryly. “This can’t be good...”
Winslow shrugged. “I have something to report but I’m not sure...” His voice trailed off. He didn’t want to get Mouse in trouble, but if the fool tried it again tonight and got caught or, worse yet, exposed the world Below, Winslow would never forgive himself.
Father nodded. “It’s never easy to report something someone has done wrong but you must tell me.”
“Mouse set off an alarm last night in a warehouse. He was attempting to steal tools.”
Father grimaced. “An alarm? He could have been caught!”
“He almost was. The guards followed them to the Edgewood Street entrance. They made it all the way inside the building; they were on the other side of the false wall!”
Father looked up with alarm. “What happened?”
Winslow shrugged. “For some reason they gave up; they walked away!”
“Have a crew erect another false wall, say thirty feet inside the tunnel. If they come back and search further, at least they might be stopped by a second wall.”
“That solves that problem. But Father, what are we going to do about Mouse?”
“If you could stay up for another half hour or so, I think we should call an emergency council meeting.”
Winslow nodded. “I can stay up. I’ll get William and Mary.”
Father nodded. “Vincent is already on his way with breakfast, and I’ll send for Pascal.”
The council members were gathered within ten minutes.
William leaned forward. “Let’s get this going, Father. I’m in the middle of cooking breakfast.”
“Yes, William, I’m well aware that I’ve had to call everyone from important duties,” Father said dryly.
Mary touched Father’s hand. “Of course, Father, what I think William meant to say is what is so important we had to address it now?”
Father nodded at Winslow, who looked out at the group. “Last night I was on sentry duty when Mouse, Jamie, Matthew and Kenneth ran into the tunnels. They were being pursued by security guards.”
Pascal nodded. “What’d they do?”
Winslow folded his arms. “Mouse tripped an alarm in a warehouse building while trying to steal tools, so of course they were pursued by the guards.”
William nodded angrily. “They’re lucky they got away.”
Pascal looked around the room. “That doesn’t solve the problem with Mouse though; is that why we’re all here?”
Mary sighed. “It does seem like Mouse has a way of finding trouble.”
Father shook his head angrily. “I don’t blame the other three, they weren’t inside the building. They even warned Mouse not to go inside. But this is the third time this month that Mouse has been in trouble for stealing...”
Vincent finally spoke. “Silence seems like a harsh punishment.”
Winslow shook his head. “It fits the crime.”
Vincent shrugged but stayed silent. Father took that to mean he would not defend Mouse’s actions.
“All right then, let’s vote. If Mouse admits to the charge then he will receive a 30-day silence as his punishment. Raised hands, please...”
All of the members but Vincent reluctantly raised their hands. Father grimaced at his son’s vote but nodded towards the others. “After breakfast I will call everyone to the library. It’ll be handled then.”
Two hours later, the entire community was gathered in the library.
Father brought everyone up to date on why they were summoned there.
Mouse had been caught stealing again. He had set off an alarm and had barely gotten away. Now he had to answer to the charges brought against him by the community. His repeated stealing put the community Below in danger of being discovered.
Father presented him with the charges and, in Mouse’s typical fashion, he made light of them. He just didn’t understand the seriousness of the charges.
Father looked grimly at Mouse. “Well, then, I suppose it’s time. Mouse has admitted the charge. Those in favor of imposing the punishment, so indicate.”
Everyone in the room turned their backs on Mouse except for a handful of people. Vincent and Jamie were among them.
Father turned his back towards Mouse then turned around again to address him. “Mouse, I’m sorry, but since you won’t listen...perhaps our silence will teach you a lesson that our words could not. For one month…no man, woman or child will speak to you. The sentence will begin…now.”
Father looked down as the members of the community started to filter out of the library.
“Joke, right?” asked Mouse. “Okay good, okay fine.” When no one acknowledged him, Mouse tried to get his friend’s attention. “Pascal, hey!”
Pascal shook his head and walked away.
Mouse rolled his eyes. “This is so stupid.”
He grabbed Jamie, his best friend, by the shoulders. “Jamie, big joke, huh?”
Jamie looked away guiltily. She felt this was her fault but wouldn’t break the rules, even for her best friend.
Vincent tried to walk forward when Mouse stopped him. “Vincent?” Mouse looked back at Father. “Vincent breaks their stupid rules too.”
Father looked up, unsure of what his son would do.
Mouse pleaded with Vincent. “Vincent’s my friend. He found me, brought me here when I was little, read to me, talked to me. Talk to me now, Vincent.”
Vincent looked at Father. He did not agree with this punishment and his eyes told his father so, but he would not go against what the community decided. He too walked away.
Mouse was heartbroken. “Vincent, too.”
Father saw reality sink into Mouse. It was devastating. He hated punishing people, especially Mouse, who really didn’t understand why he was being punished.
Mouse was the last to leave; he turned for one last hopeful look at Father.
Father sighed and, with tears in his eyes, looked down.
Mouse dejectedly walked away.
A few hours later, Vincent walked into the library.
“Father, am I disturbing you?”
“No. I was....no...no.” Father shook his head as he lovingly caressed a kaleidoscope.
They reminisced over the kaleidoscope a ten-year-old Mouse had made for Father. They were all worried that Mouse had stolen it but Mouse had assured them he had built it himself. Then Father found out he built it with stolen parts. They laughed over the fond memory.
Father looked at his son. “You were very silent in our circle today.”
“I had nothing to say. The problem is a grave one.”
“You disagree with what we decided?”
Vincent nodded. “It troubles me. The silence can be terrible.”
“Not so terrible as what he would suffer if he were caught up top. I’ve seen the inside of their prisons. No, what we did was right...but it doesn’t make it any easier to live with.”
“My heart tells me that you’re right, Father. I just wish that Mouse could understand why this punishment was imposed. I fear he’ll never learn the lesson because he doesn’t see that what he’s doing is wrong.”
Father sighed. “Perhaps when the month is over, you and I can sit down and talk to him, explain to him...”
Vincent smiled affectionately. “You never give up trying to teach, do you?”
“There are always lessons that can be learned, Vincent.”
“If one is willing to open himself up to those possibilities. Mouse is…” Vincent stopped; he was unable or unwilling to voice Mouse’s weakness.
Father reached out and touched his son’s arm and finished Vincent’s thought. “Mouse is Mouse…slower in the areas of speech or learning but brilliant in engineering and constructing.”
“I would argue that he’s a genius in those areas…”
“And if he lacks in other areas…well…he certainly is a person worth the extra effort it takes to teach…”
Meanwhile, in another part of the tunnels, the kids were playing in their usual manner.
“Wanna play hide ‘n’ seek?” Ellie asked.
Kipper shook his head. “No, I’m tired of the same old hiding places all the time.”
“Let’s play in the maze, I bet there’s neat hiding places in there,” Eric suggested.
“I don’t know,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “Father said it was off limits.”
“Why?” Eric wondered.
“I don’t know, he never said…” Ellie explained.
Kipper debated with himself then finally shrugged. “We shouldn’t play in there but you’re right, Ellie, he never really said why. Okay...let’s go, but remember…don’t climb on any of the walls.”
Eric nodded quickly. “Okay.”
“We’ll remember,” Ellie said.
The children walked to the forbidden maze and played for quite a while.
“You’re it!” Eric said when he caught Kipper.
Kipper nodded. “Okay, okay, I’ll count, you hide.”
Ellie and Eric took off running. Ellie found a spot immediately while Eric looked up and found a perfect nook in the rock wall and started to climb. He lost his footing a few times and rocks gave way but he was close to his spot.
He reached out with his hand to grab a portion of rock at the same time as Kipper finished counting and began searching. Kipper looked up and saw Eric and knew he was in trouble.
“No, Eric, no!” Kipper yelled, running forward.
But it was too late. Eric’s hold gave way and he fell to the ground and screamed out in pain. Kipper got to him quickly and Ellie, hearing Eric’s scream, ran up behind him.
“Are you okay, Eric?” Ellie asked.
Eric rocked back and forth on the ground, holding his leg. “My ankle, I hurt it bad.”
Kipper stood and looked at Ellie. “Let’s try to get him up.”
Kipper and Ellie got Eric to his feet but his ankle gave out and he fell to the floor, howling again.
Kipper, not wanting to face Father’s wrath just yet but knowing Eric needed help, turned to Ellie. “It’s no use. I’ll stay with Eric and you run to Father.”
Ellie ran all the way to Father’s library and breathlessly announced to Father and Vincent, “Father, come quickly! It’s Eric; he fell.”
Father got up and walked to get his medical bag. “Fell? Where?”
Ellie hesitated. “In the maze.”
Father admonished the whole time he was getting his medical supplies together, “You know how dangerous the maze is…the whole of that area is saturated with ground water. The walls are unstable. There are warnings posted everywhere, and I know Mary has told you a thousand times to stay away from there.”
“We were playing hide ‘n’ seek. Kipper told him not to climb up there, he told him,” Ellie said, defending Kipper.
Vincent came up to comfort her. “It’s all right, Ellie. Can you take us to Eric?”
Ellie led the way and showed them the passage they would have to crawl through to get to Eric.
Father examined Eric’s leg and found that the ankle was just sprained. He bandaged it as best he good and had Kipper and Ellie help Eric to his feet. Just then, the walls in the maze started to tremble, and pieces of rock began falling down around them.
Vincent worriedly rushed to the opening while Father pushed the kids to go through as quickly as they could. A huge section of the wall tumbled over and Vincent caught it on his shoulder. He roared angrily at the kids to crawl faster then begged Father to go also. Father was trying to help Vincent with the wall when more sections crumbled down on them, knocking them over. Rock debris and dust covered the opening and Vincent’s last thought before he blacked out was that they were trapped.
Kipper, Ellie and Eric had crawled out of the passageway to safety. The room was filled with dust in the air caused by the cave-in and the kids were coughing hysterically as they struggled to breathe.
“This is bad, this is really bad,” Kipper cried out.
“Are Father and Vincent okay?” Eric asked.
Kipper shook his head. “I don’t know. I’d better go call for help right now.” He stood up and took charge. “Ellie, help Eric over to that boulder. I’m going to the nearest set of pipes to tap out a message.”
“Okay,” said Eric and Ellie together.
Kipper ran until he found a set of pipes. He tapped out the emergency “all quiet” signal. He waited a minute then tapped out SOS CAVE-IN MAZE BAD FTR N VIN TRAPPED. He tapped it again, and then a third time.
The people in the community organized themselves into emergency mode. William started to prepare things that could be eaten in shifts. Sara, Rebecca, and Olivia rounded up all of the younger children. The children that ranged in ages from eleven to sixteen quickly divided into pairs of twos. The fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds ran to the various security points to free up the men from sentry duty, and the eleven- to fifteen-year-olds headed to both the nursery and the kitchen to free up any adults that were currently working there. The tunnels quickly filled as the community raced to handle the disaster.
Winslow was one of the first people on hand when Kipper came back from his warning mission.
Kipper looked up at him nervously. “Father and Vincent are trapped in the maze.”
“Are you sure? What would they be doing in the maze?” Winslow asked.
Ellie stood up worriedly. “Getting Eric. He sprained his ankle and Father came to help.”
Winslow shook his head angrily. “Kipper, run to Father’s study and get me a map of this area.”
Kipper took off at a dead run.
At this point, everyone from the community was here.
“My God, look at this. It’s even worse than Kipper said!” Jamie stated.
“Can we clear the tunnel?” Winslow asked.
Jamie shrugged. “Even if we clear this hole, that crawl space is twenty feet long. Once you’re in there, there’s no way to turn around and swing a pick.”
Winslow’s mind was racing.
“There must be something we can do?” Sara said. “We can pass out the stones hand to hand.”
Winslow looked disgusted. “One rock at a time? They’d be dead for sure by the time we reached them.”
Sara looked at him angrily. “Don’t say that! They’re not dead and they’re not going to die!”
“There’s got to be another way in,” Winslow thought.
Kipper came back with all of the maps from Father’s study. No one could find another way into the maze.
Winslow hollered at the kids again for being down there in the first place.
Jamie said that maybe Mouse could help, he might know of a way that wasn’t on the maps. Winslow said no, he didn’t want Mouse confusing things.
Without Father’s leadership, the community was starting to argue and divide itself. Winslow tried to take charge, and he began breaking up rocks and digging out Father and Vincent. The other men helped as they assembled a line to remove the rocks from the area.
Jamie watched and knew they would not get to the men in time. She took off
During this time, Vincent woke and struggled to get out from underneath some boulders that had come to rest on top of him. He coughed in an attempt to clear his lungs. The air was thick with dust and dirt. He got up on his feet, wincing at the pain in his legs caused by the heavy debris falling on him.
He was soon in a panic, as his eyes searched frantically for Father. It was dark in the cave and their lantern had been knocked over, and he could barely see two feet in front of him.
Father suddenly began to cough and Vincent followed the sound and went to his side. He removed the big rocks from his body and pulled him into an upright position.
Father’s first thought was for the children, and Vincent assured him that they were well up the passage when the tunnel collapsed. He was sure that they were safe.
He tried to make Father as comfortable as he could. He tore a strip of cloth for a rag and dipped it into a nearby puddle of cold water, then rested it on Father’s forehead.
Father winced. “Vincent, I think my ribs are broken.”
“What can I do?”
“Nothing…not while we’re in here.”
“There must be something…”
“No, I’ll just lie quietly until help gets to us.”
“Okay, Father,” Vincent said as he frowned and looked around the chamber, trying to assess their predicament. Silently, he thought about the fact that they might not get out of the chamber alive. He knew the air would eventually run out and he wondered if his family Below would be able to get to them in time.
Hours later, Father was doing okay but Vincent was also extremely worried about him. His breathing was labored and he had a deep cut on his head. He had also been unconscious for quite a while and had just slipped back into sleep. As he himself had been unconscious, Vincent had no way of knowing how long they were out.
He sighed with relief when Father woke again. Vincent sat with him then cocked his head as he heard pounding on the walls. “Father, they’re digging us out. The children must have gotten through.”
Father nodded. They were both relieved that the children were safe. They finally turned their thoughts over to themselves and wondered about their own rescue.
“Father, I believe we were unconscious for a while.”
“I don’t know. The lantern spilled its oil onto the ground but there is still some burning in a pool. If I had to guess, I would say no more than ten minutes, but then you keep fading in and out of consciousness.”
Vincent looked worriedly at him. He knew it wasn’t good that he had been asleep for so long. He tried to examine the cut to his head but couldn’t see how deep or wide it was. He saw that the blood flow had lessened, so he knew that was a good sign, but he still wondered about a concussion. He tried to keep Father talking and keep his spirits up.
Father was in a lot of pain but his humor showed through as he, too, tried to lessen his son’s worries.
Meanwhile, Catherine got back from Elliot’s office and called Jenny on the phone.
“Hey, Jen, it’s me.”
“How’d it go? Are you okay?”
“It went...well…I guess. I got the book, Elliot and I talked briefly, and yes, I’m okay. It wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
“Yeah. Elliot did a good thing today. I’m proud of him.”
Catherine laughed. “There’s no ‘uh oh’! I like Elliot, but not in that way, not anymore!”
Jenny was intrigued. “Really? So is there someone else in your life that you didn’t tell me about? Someone that you do feel that way about?”
Catherine’s thoughts turned to Vincent. She wished she could just say,“Yeah, Jen. I think I’m in love with this great guy who lives in tunnels Below the city.” Instead, she smiled. “Nope, there’s no one you should know about. Bye, Jen!”
“Bye, Cath. Don’t work too hard.”
An hour later, Catherine sat at her desk concentrating on her work. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she felt an odd tingling then what can best be described as a wave come over her that resulted in an immediate headache. She gasped for breath and dropped her pencil to her desk then placed a hand to her forehead.
“What’s going on?” she thought to herself. The pain was unusual and subsided quickly, but she had never felt anything like this before. She suddenly felt intense worry and fear. She frowned then a moment of clarity brought her to panic. “Vincent!” she said aloud. She got up immediately and gathered her stuff and left in a hurry.
She stopped at Joe’s office on the way out. “Joe, something’s come up and I’ve got to go now!”
“You okay, Radcliffe? You look pale.”
“I’m fine, Joe, I…just have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He answered to an empty doorway. “Yeah, no problem.”
Catherine ran out of the office and caught a taxi home. Her mind was racing.
She had only briefly felt things through the bond before - small glimpses of worry or relief, but those were only in the most extreme of situations, like the time when the gang had kept him captive. When she had finally caught up to him, he was partially blinded, and as she ran into his arms she remembered feeling intense relief wash over her. The only other time was when she unlocked him from the cage he was held in at the university and helped him escape. But she had never felt such intense feelings as she had a little while ago.
“Is this what he feels every time he comes for me? How does he stand it?”
The taxi pulled up in front of her apartment; she threw money over the back of the seat and ran through the open front door. “Thanks, Carl,” she said over her shoulder to the doorman.
She let herself inside her apartment and quickly changed clothes, grabbed a flashlight and extra batteries, and headed down to the threshold of her apartment building. She tapped out the code Vincent had taught her and waited. After about ten minutes, she lost her patience and tapped again. Twenty minutes later, she stood trying to decide what to do.
“Okay, okay, think, Chandler, think,” she said to herself. “Vincent’s led you home every time, just take your time and retrace your steps.”
Catherine started to make her way down. Most of it she remembered, and she thought she was doing pretty good until she took a wrong turn and got stopped at a gate. She searched around for a hidden mechanism. She reached up and turned a lion’s head hanging on the wall. She felt the floor give out and she screamed as she fell for what seemed forever. She gasped when she landed on a mattress filled with pillows.
She looked around a chamber and sensed she wasn’t alone then saw a young blond man hiding behind a screen. She peered through the dark. “Hello, hello, is someone there?”
“My name is Catherine,” she said as he came around the screen. “I was looking for Vincent and...”
“Catherine...Vincent’s Catherine?” Mouse smiled. He was happy to finally meet the person his friend had talked so much about. He looked at her quizzically. “Express route to the deepest chamber of all, no place for a topsider.”
Catherine scooted to the edge of the bed. “I think Vincent might be in trouble.”
Catherine came closer and Mouse took a step away from her. “Vincent takes care of himself. Shouldn’t have come.”
Catherine pleaded with him. “Please, I need to find him.”
“Hundreds of tunnels, chambers…wander forever, never....”
“Well, then, take me to him. Please, I need your help!”
Mouse thought for a minute then quickly decided. “Okay...okay good....okay fine.” Mouse took off and ran out the door without another word.
Catherine had to scramble after him and try to catch up. She ran out of the entrance to the chamber and saw Mouse way ahead of her.
Mouse stopped. “Thought you were in a hurry to find Vincent?”
“I am, I was just....afraid to get lost again.”
“Who is this guy?” she thought then shrugged it off. “I don’t care as long as he takes me to Vincent.” “Okay, Mouse, I’ve caught up now. I promise I won’t fall behind. Can we start again now, please?”
Mouse nodded. “This way.”
They started walking again and it wasn’t very long before a blond girl ran up to them. She stopped and looked at Catherine with fright then turned questioning eyes to Mouse.
Catherine picked up on it immediately. “It’s okay. I’m a friend of Vincent’s.”
Mouse nodded his head so Jamie spoke. “Mouse, you’ve got to come!”
Mouse smugly smiled. “I thought you broke the silence ‘cause you missed me.”
Jamie grabbed his shirt and tugged. “Listen to me. There’s been a cave-in. Father and Vincent are trapped!”
“My God, where?” Catherine asked.
Jamie looked at her, wondering what difference it made. “The maze.”
“This is bad. Worse than bad, worse than worse,” Mouse said as the three of them took off running.
They reached the place of the cave-in and the rest of the community from Below was gathered there. Catherine noticed they were starting to dig Father and Vincent out.
She looked up at a tall black man who seemed to be in charge. “Are they alive?”
Winslow shrugged. “We don’t know.”
She felt the horror of the situation sink into her mind. She could tell this was going to take a long time.
Mouse said he had a better way to get to them, with a new tool and a different location. Winslow dismissed Mouse, saying he was wrong, and Mouse stood his ground and tried to prove his point.
Catherine couldn’t believe the community was arguing like this.
Several of the men from the community sided with Mouse. He did have good machines, most of the time. The new group made their way back to Mouse’s chamber to get his new machine.
Catherine chose to go with Mouse, hoping she was making the right decision. When they arrived at his chamber, each person was handed a different part of the machinery. Mouse took them to the new location and assembled the machine.
He began drilling holes into the rock. The rock was so hard they kept breaking drill bits. Mouse was desperate; he needed better parts from the world Above.
Catherine looked at Mouse. “What, you need more tools? Tell me what you need. Maybe I could get them!”
“You?” Mouse asked in disbelief. “Explosives, tungsten carbide drill bits?”
Catherine’s mind went immediately to Elliot. “He would help me, I know he would,” she thought. She looked at Mouse again. “I know a man who might be able to help. C’mon, Mouse, guide me up.”
“Must be sure, no time to waste.”
“I’m sure! Let’s go!”
She turned to leave and Mouse shrugged as he followed her. “Okay good, okay fine.”
Vincent sat next to the wall that the community was digging at, trying to hear their progress. Catherine’s emotions flowed to him over the bond.
He blinked in surprise and incredulously announced his findings to Father. “Catherine is with them!”
Vincent continued, “I can feel that she’s near.”
Father shook his head with disbelief. “How could she know?”
Vincent shrugged. “She knew. She must’ve known.”
Father wondered. “How?”
“I don’t know...our bond is stronger and deeper than either of us can begin to imagine.”
Father offered to explain. “As if your hearts, in their search for union, would transcend time and space, circumvent the laws of physics and probability.”
Vincent nodded and came to his Father’s side. “Yes.”
Father told Vincent the story of his first sighting of Margaret. He told how he searched for her for months afterwards until he finally found her. A year later they were married.
Father turned to Vincent. “So you see, Vincent, I, too, know of miracles.”
“That’s a wonderful story.”
“Well, I wanted you to hear it. Vincent, I understand more than you think about your Catherine....about your bond.”
In the darkness, Vincent could confess his emotions. “I feel our bond so deeply, Father. Catherine has become my life. Sometimes I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel her.”
Father didn’t think that they would be rescued in time. He also felt like his strength was weakening, and he wanted to tell Vincent what he truly felt. “What you have with Catherine is wonderful. I know I’ve always warned you against having a relationship with her, or anyone, for that matter. I’ve even warned her…. But for some reason you two are drawn to each other...”
Vincent nodded his head. “Like moths to a flame.”
“I don’t want Catherine to be the one who gets burned…” Father sighed. “And as a parent, I don’t want you to be the one who gets burned either. Someday, when you’re a father, you’ll understand that.” Father gasped when he realized what he had inadvertently said. “I’m sorry…I…”
Vincent interrupted him. “I know…”
He sighed as Father looked up at him. “What is it?”
He hung his head in shame. “I fear that the love I feel is only emanating from my side of the bond.”
“Vincent, your world is so limited and Catherine has had so many more experiences available to her...”
Vincent chuckled. “Is this supposed to make me feel better?”
“Let me finish. Catherine has had previous relationships, you have not. It’s easier for you to know you love her, easier for you to accept those feelings. Catherine has been hurt in her lifetime. She won’t be so quick to jump into the unknown. But Vincent…trust me…she does love you.”
Vincent shook his head in disbelief. “How could you know this?”
Father felt rather smug as he smiled at his son. “She told me.”
Vincent’s jaw dropped in wonder. “She told you?” Vincent didn’t dare to hope this was true. He immediately tried to explain away her feelings. “I’m sure my friendship means...”
Father interrupted him. “No, don’t get me wrong, she does value your friendship, but I think her true feelings run much deeper.”
Father began to cough and Vincent helped him shift into a more comfortable position. Rocks started to crumble from the walls again and Father was struggling to breathe. Vincent was extremely worried for both of them, and looked around for the hundredth time trying to find a way to escape.
Catherine felt a wave of fear course through the bond. She wondered what Vincent was afraid of. Was it something with Father? Was he trapped under something and worried about getting out? Was he hurt and worried about making it through...
She and Mouse ran to her home, where she picked up her car. She drove swiftly through the city to Elliot’s home. Deep down, she knew Elliot wouldn’t let her down and would give her the things she needed.
Catherine dug through her purse and handed Mouse a pad of paper and a pen. “Mouse, you need to make a list for me.”
Mouse frowned at the paper and pen. “No, Mouse ask.”
“It’ll raise too many questions I won’t be able to answer.” Catherine waved the paper and pen at him. “You have to write it down so that I can get everything you need!”
“Can’t,” Mouse said as he shook his head sadly and glanced away, clearly embarrassed. “Know letters, can’t make them words.”
Catherine frowned as she realized the implications of his words. “You can’t read, Mouse?” she asked quietly.
Her mind raced as she looked at the line of cars in front of her. “You know the letters?” Mouse nodded and she smiled weakly at him. “Okay, tell me what we need and I’ll tell you what letters to write.”
Mouse brightened considerably and took the cap off the pen. He started listing the items and Catherine spelled out the words slowly as he painstakingly wrote the letters in the order she gave.
Luckily, they finished the list as she pulled up in front of Elliot’s house. She looked over at Mouse as she turned off the car. “Mouse, stay right here! Don’t leave. I’ll be out in five minutes, okay?”
Mouse nodded. “Okay.”
Catherine got out and started to walk away then thought better of it and came back. “Mouse, don’t touch anything. If you disconnect a wire or take something apart, we won’t get back in time, okay?”
Mouse had been looking at all the dials on the panel and was thinking of taking some of them off. He flushed guiltily and looked down. “Okay, no touch.”
Catherine ran to his front door and knocked loudly. She was surprised when a kind elderly woman opened the door. She told the woman who she was and asked if Elliot was home. The woman made a quick call then smiled and pointed towards a closed door at the end of the hallway. Catherine smiled warmly at her as she raced towards his study.
Elliot took in her appearance and was flooded with concern. He flew to her side to offer comfort. But Catherine stood strong and handed him a list of things she needed. He was shocked at the items she wanted but, as expected, he came through with the materials for her. Everything she needed would be waiting at his latest job site with the foreman, she only needed to go and pick it up.
She turned to leave then glanced back. “Next time you call, I’ll be in.”
Elliot looked at her, surprised. “Why?”
Catherine waved her list of supplies. “’Cause you didn’t put a price tag on this.”
Elliot smiled as she ran from the room then sat back and puzzled over the strange thing that had just happened.
Catherine and Mouse raced back Below with the new equipment. Mouse quickly put all the pieces in place then continued drilling, but soon discovered he needed more manpower.
Catherine went to Winslow and the others, begging them for their help. They argued then finally gave in to Catherine’s insistent demands.
Secretly, Winslow knew that, working his way, they wouldn’t reach Father and Vincent in time. He was hoping Mouse’s way was going to work. He left to help, and the group drilled more holes then pulled the machine away as Mouse quickly set up the plastic explosives.
Catherine noticed how much he used then turned to Mouse in fear. “It seems like a lot.”
Mouse shrugged. “Maybe.”
Catherine looked around desperately for someone who could help. “Maybe? You don’t know?”
Winslow shook his head worriedly. “You’re gonna blow us all to kingdom come.”
Mouse rushed to reassure them. “Put the stuff in the hole, put in the gizmos, set it off with the other gizmo… read all about it.”
Catherine gasped. “You’ve never used plastic explosives!”
Mouse nodded timidly. “Yeah, might blow Father and Vincent up, might blow Mouse up. Might save their lives too. Hand me the little gizmo.”
Catherine was frightened. She couldn’t believe she was trusting this guy with Vincent’s life. Her feelings flowed to Vincent through the bond.
Vincent picked up on her feelings and wondered aloud. “Catherine is frightened.”
Father gasped for breath in the thinning air. “She’s afraid you’re dead.”
Vincent shook his head. “No, not sadness or despair....fear.”
“Why would Catherine be afraid?”
Vincent shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “What was happening on the other side of this wall?” he wondered. He knew she wasn’t in danger; it wasn’t fear for herself, it was fear for him. Something was going to happen!
Mouse had finished hooking up the wires as Winslow and Catherine watched his every move.
Mouse looked over his shoulder at Winslow. “You wanna blow up with me? Go on. Her too!” He nodded towards Catherine.
Winslow knew the gravity of the situation and wasn’t willing to let such a young person as Mouse put his life in danger. He looked down at the detonator. “No, I’ll do it. You take her and go on out.”
Mouse shook his head like a petulant child. “My gizmos. Go!”
Catherine realized that this was the only hope they had of getting Vincent and Father out. She guessed correctly that they would be in extreme danger when the walls crumbled down around them, but slowly came to realize the danger of blowing up the wall would also endanger everyone else. “You can’t detonate it from the tunnel?”
Mouse shrugged. “Signal won’t go through solid rock. Go with Winslow.”
Catherine immediately volunteered. “Show me what to do and I’ll do it.”
Winslow looked at her in shock and a newfound respect for her. That she would risk her life for Vincent, she would put her life above all others and do this dangerous job spoke volumes to him about the type of person she was.
Mouse wouldn’t hear of it. “He’s my friend, too, Catherine. If you die, Vincent will kill me anyway. Go now.”
Vincent felt Catherine’s fear rise again. Somehow he knew something was going to happen and he braced himself and tried to shelter Father as best he could.
The people in the community moved away and took cover in the nearby tunnels. Mouse detonated the explosives and the air was instantly filled with rock and debris. It took a few moments for the air to clear enough to be able to see again.
Catherine came out from behind a rock when she saw a large form walking around. “Vincent?!”
She ran to him and he felt her relief flowing to him through the bond.
Their hearts reached out to one another before they actually touched. Vincent gathered her close as she ran into his arms, grateful he was alive.
He released her slowly and looked down at her, his face mere inches from hers. He wondered, in the space of a second, about kissing her. Instead he backed away. “Father’s badly hurt.”
They dropped down to a kneeling position on either side of him and she took Father’s hand in hers.
She suddenly started looking around. “Mouse! He stayed behind to set off the explosives.”
Just then Mouse coughed. Winslow ran over to him and roughly grabbed him, lifting him off the floor and hugging him warmly. They walked over to where Vincent, Catherine and Father were.
Mouse looked at them, trying to assess their condition. He proudly knew he had rescued them both. “Vincent...Father.”
Father looked up upon hearing his name. He blinked in surprise at all the faces surrounding him and knew they’d been rescued. “Mouse,” he said, touching his cheek.
Then he looked at Catherine and knew she was somehow responsible for helping them to get out. He was overcome with feelings that she was in their lives. “Catherine, I have no words to thank you.”
Catherine held his hand to her face and looked again at Vincent, drinking in the sight of him.
Four of the men in the community ran up and put Father on a stretcher. They walked quickly and took him to the hospital chamber.
Vincent and Catherine led the rest of the community in the walk towards the home chambers.
Catherine held tightly to Vincent’s hand and wouldn’t relinquish the hold she had on him. He recognized her need for closeness and he, too, held her hand, absentmindedly caressing her gently with his thumb.
Vincent turned to Catherine outside the entrance to the hospital chamber. “Catherine, would you go with the others and wait for me? I shouldn’t be more than an hour.”
She nodded and squeezed his hand. “Of course, Vincent. Take care of Father.”
Vincent turned and entered the hospital chamber.
Catherine started to brush some of the dust from her clothes.
Jamie came up to Catherine and took her arm. “C’mon, Catherine, I’ll take you to my chamber and you can clean up a little.”
Catherine looked at her gratefully. “Thanks.”
Jamie giggled. “By the way, I’m Jamie.”
Catherine laughed as well at the humor of the situation. They had been through so much together already and she didn’t even know the girl’s name. The two of them turned and walked to Jamie’s chamber.
Jamie poured some warm water into a big bowl and they both washed their hands and faces. Jamie offered Catherine a comb and she quickly ran it through her hair. When they finished, they left to join the others.
“Thanks, Jamie, I looked pretty frightening.”
She giggled. “You looked beautiful, at least Vincent thought so.”
Catherine blushed and smiled at her as they walked into the dining hall.
The chatter in the room died down as Catherine and Jamie entered.
Jamie stood by Catherine’s side. “Hey, everyone, this is Catherine, she’s a friend of Vincent’s. She’s also the one who got Mouse the tools he needed to save Father and Vincent.”
The people in the room started to clap their hands. Jamie sat Catherine down at a table and the people lined up to introduce themselves. Catherine smiled warmly; she was enjoying finally meeting everyone. It was a nice distraction and hid the tension everyone felt for Father’s well-being.
Vincent cleaned up quickly then helped Mary assess Father’s condition.
Mary came over to him worriedly. “Stop being a doctor. Vincent and I will take care of you.”
Vincent carefully felt along Father’s chest, Mary followed his lead. They agreed with Father’s assessment of broken ribs. Vincent bandaged his ribs tightly while Mary cleaned him up as best she could and got him in a gown and robe.
Mary gently cleaned the wound to Father’s head. “I think it could use some stitches.”
Father frowned. “I don’t think that’s necessary. Let me take a look. Get me a mirror.”
Vincent ignored him as he leaned forward to look at the wound closely. “I think you’re right.”
“Well, this is just great,” Father grumbled. “Peter’s out of town…how am I going to stitch myself?”
Still ignoring him, Vincent sighed. “I’ve never done stitches before.”
Mary shook her head. “Neither have I.”
“I’ve watched him do it countless times…”
“Me, too.” Mary nodded.
Father rolled his eyes. “For Pete’s sake, it’s easy enough. One of you will have to do it.”
Mary’s faced paled instantly and she gripped the edge of the table. Vincent reached around to steady her.
Father looked to Vincent. “I think you’d better do.”
Vincent blew out his breath as he nodded. Mary handed him a needle and he looked at Father. “Should I give you something for the pain?”
“Yes, Vincent, I don’t want to feel every poke with the needle!”
Vincent administered a mild sedative and Father was sitting there waiting for his surgery to begin.
Mary rummaged around in a drawer and handed him the mirror.
Father held it up as he looked at the wound. “Vincent, it’ll be easy enough. Just close up the two ends like you’re stitching a torn piece of fabric.”
Vincent swallowed and leaned forward and realized the mirror Father was holding would be in his way. “Put the mirror down, Father, and let me get this over with,” he commanded.
Father grimaced and gave Mary back the mirror. “Fine.”
Vincent leaned in again and looked into Father’s eyes. “I can’t do this if you’re watching me.”
Father rolled his eyes then sighed as he closed his eyes.
Vincent’s stomach rolled as he poked the needle through the skin.
Father exclaimed, “Ow!”
Vincent dropped the needle and left it dangling on the thread as it swung in front of Father’s eyes. He fell back in his chair. His face filled with horror.
Vincent gasped for breath as he glared at him. “That was not amusing, Father.”
Father laughed and Vincent chuckled as well. Father’s joke had helped to break the tension, and after the first stitch it got much easier. Vincent finished and Father looked at it in a mirror.
Vincent nodded shyly and turned to Mary. “Mary, how long were we trapped?”
“Oh, my! Let me think. We dug for close to three hours. Then Mouse got his machine going and it went much quicker. If I had to guess, at least six hours, maybe more.”
Vincent turned back to his patient. “Father, I think it should be safe enough for you to rest.”
Father nodded gratefully. “You mean you’ll finally let me sleep and not drone on to keep me awake?” Vincent smiled as Father continued, “Thank you, Vincent. I know I worried you down there.”
Vincent came and laid his head against his father’s. “Let’s hope something like this never happens again.”
Mary patted their hands comfortingly. “If it wasn’t for Catherine, you two would still be trapped.”
Both men turned and looked at her quizzically. Mary rushed to explain. “Catherine found her way down here – well, almost. She got lost and made it to Mouse’s chamber. She was able to get Mouse the parts he needed to work that glorious digging machine of his. She also got the plastic explosives he used.” Mary turned away, thinking. “Maybe I should have Winslow check to see if Mouse had any left, we certainly don’t need any surprises.”
Father sat up worriedly. “That would be a very good idea. Vincent, can you help me walk to my chamber?”
“Of course, Father.”
Father reached for Vincent’s hand. “Tell the others I’m doing well. And please send my thanks to Catherine.”
Vincent nodded and left to address the community while Mary stayed with Father.
Vincent walked into the dining chamber and all eyes turned as the room quieted.
“Father was correct in his diagnosis. He did have some broken ribs. I taped them and he seems to be breathing easier. He also required a few stitches. He’s resting comfortably and Mary is with him, but he’s going to be fine.”
A cheer exploded around the room. Vincent held up his hand one more time and everyone quieted again.
Vincent’s voice grew thick with emotion. “Father and I can’t thank you enough for pulling together and working so hard to save us.”
Winslow gave credit where it was due. “It was Mouse who knew what tunnel to use and he had that wonderful machine that he built.”
Mouse shrugged shyly. “It was Vincent’s Catherine. She’s good at taking stuff.”
Catherine smiled and moved closer to Vincent. Everyone congratulated Mouse and Catherine for all their hard work.
Most of the men went on work detail to start to seal off the entrance to the maze. The kitchen crew left to start the next meal, and the women left to see about cleaning up the kids and getting them settled down.
Kipper, Ellie and Eric ran up to Vincent.
Kipper came forward nervously. “Vincent, will you still talk to us?”
Vincent, although very weary, sat down in a chair and looked at Kipper. “Kipper, there will never be a time when I wouldn’t talk to you.” He looked over into the very worried faces of Ellie and Eric. “To any of you.”
Eric came forward with tears in his eyes. “We thought you’d hate us now and send us away.”
Catherine’s heart clenched at the desperation and worry she saw on Eric and Ellie’s faces.
Vincent reached for the children. “Please, you must believe me when I say that there is nothing you could do that would result in a punishment that severe. You’re safe here and you’re loved. This is your home and will always be your home for as long as you wish.”
Ellie started to cry. “We’re so sorry, Vincent,” she said as she ran into his arms.
Vincent held her and gently rocked her as she cried. “Ellie, hush now. It was only an accident. All is forgiven.” Vincent leaned back and wiped her tears. “You children should try to get some rest. I need to walk Catherine home.”
Ellie smiled through her tears. “Thanks, Vincent.” She threw her arms around him and squeezed tightly and when she let go she kissed his cheek and ran from the room.
“Why don’t I try that?” thought Catherine.
Eric and Kipper shuffled their feet awkwardly. Men didn’t hug and kiss. Vincent extended his hand. The boys smiled when they realized Vincent understood and shook each of their hands.
When they made to leave, Vincent grabbed them both and growled as he hugged them warmly and whispered, “It’s always acceptable for men to show that they love.”
Catherine and Vincent were finally left alone.
Vincent looked down at her shyly. “I’ll take you home.”
Catherine reached over and held his hand tightly. Vincent closed his fingers around her hand as they walked slowly in silence.
Vincent’s curiosity finally got the better of him. “Catherine, how were you able to find the things Mouse needed?”
“I got them from Elliot Burch.”
Vincent nodded grimly then looked ahead as Catherine rushed to explain.
“Oddly enough, I saw Elliot just this week. He had some information we needed on a case and the only way he would hand it over was if I came and got it from him.”
“He wanted to see you again.”
“He must care deeply for you.”
Vincent felt differently. Something told him Elliot loved Catherine and was hoping for another chance. He also knew that Catherine now owed him a favor, one that Vincent wondered if he would try to collect on. He grew silent as they walked.
Catherine wondered about his silence and, right before her threshold, she turned to him. “How are you, Vincent?”
She chuckled. “It has been a long stressful day, hasn’t it?”
Vincent looked at her with a question in his eyes. “Catherine, how did you know?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I felt your emotions. I knew they weren’t my feelings but I felt...worry and despair. I had to come. I had to find you. I knew something was very wrong.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “Catherine...” He was incredulous and at a loss for words.
Catherine looked up at him. “I’ve never been so frightened.”
“Your courage saved our lives.”
“I felt like I was losing the best part of myself. I would have done anything. It wasn’t courage Vincent...it was love!” She looked at him and moved to kiss him then thought better of it and lowered her head to his chest and embraced him.
His arms came up and tightened around her and he laid his head against hers, relishing the feel of her in his arms.
They were both moved by her words. The bond flowed with their unexpressed emotions. Both of their hearts swelled as they thought simultaneously,
She looked up at him as she pulled away and then turned to walk home, her thoughts still on him. “He’s the most important person in my life. I do love him! I’m glad I finally told him!”
Vincent stood and watched her leave, his thoughts on what she had just said. “She just said it was love she felt. How could she love me? Why would she love me? Why couldn’t I tell her I love her too?”
His thoughts jumbled, Vincent turned and walked home.
Catherine let herself into her apartment. Although it was late, she headed for the shower. She cleaned up quickly and had just changed when the phone rang.
“Hi, but it’s not Jen.”
Catherine was surprised. “Elliot…”
“I know it’s late. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay; I just got in a few minutes ago.”
“I was wondering if you were able to get all the things you needed.”
Catherine chuckled knowingly. “No, you weren’t. You knew I got everything, you were just curious why I needed that stuff.”
It was Elliot’s turn to chuckle. “You know me that well, huh?”
“The stuff was for a friend who was in trouble. It helped, thank you!”
Elliot smiled. “Good...um...hey, as long as I got you on the line, I was wondering if we could go out for dinner sometime?”
Catherine grimaced as she thought about the awkwardness. “I don’t know, maybe. Let me think about it for a while.” When silence met her response, she chuckled and shook her head. “I need more than a few seconds, Elliot.”
He laughed aloud. “I tell you what. I’ll be at Tavern on the Green tomorrow at 8:00; if you show, fine. If not, no hard feelings.”
Catherine thought that Vincent might show up tomorrow night after a long rest. “Elliot, I don’t think...”
Elliot interrupted. “Sweetheart, I’ll be there…no hard feelings. Think about it.”
Catherine sighed and hung up the phone, then went to sleep.
Catherine went in to work, put in an extra long day, and came home exhausted. She looked out and saw a shadow on her balcony. She dropped everything in her hands and ran outside.
Vincent stood there waiting for her and she ran into his arms. They held each other until Catherine became aware of wonderful smells coming from the table.
She backed up a step. “Vincent?”
He smiled and led her to a seat. “I hope you’re hungry. William has packed us a feast.”
“I’m starved. I was supposed to meet Elliot at a restaurant but...”
Catherine stopped as Vincent turned to hide his face as he quickly interrupted her. “I’m sorry. I had no right. I should...”
Catherine grabbed his arm and spun him around. “...but I thought better of it and headed home. I was hoping you would stop by tonight.”
Vincent looked at her in surprise. “Are you sure?”
“Positive! Now, can we eat, please? I’m starved.”
Catherine watched as Vincent unpacked a feast of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and green beans, and huge slabs of bread.
Catherine stuffed herself and sat back with a satisfied smile. “That was wonderful, Vincent.”
He smiled. “I’m glad you like it. You’re quite the celebrity Below right now.”
“Everyone was so nice to me, Vincent. They were all so welcoming. How is Father?”
“He’s fine, Catherine. He was up and talking with everyone today. He asked me to thank you yet again.”
Catherine waved her hand dismissively as Vincent lowered his gaze.
“Perhaps you should have gone to dinner with Elliot and thanked him, as well. Without his help...”
Catherine sighed as she nodded. “Without his help, I wouldn’t be spending a wonderful night here with you. I’ll call Elliot later. Maybe we can meet for lunch one day. I can thank him then.”
Vincent shrugged as Catherine continued, “And you’re fine, Vincent? You look...rested.” Catherine had been about to say wonderful but stopped herself.
Vincent nodded. “You look...rested, as well. Would you like to read for a while?”
Catherine eagerly nodded. “No, I would love to read for a while.”
They settled down onto her blankets in their usual spot. They took turns reading until late into the night. Neither one of them wanted their time together to end.
Vincent finally closed the book. “Catherine, it’s late.”
Catherine sighed in agreement. “It is.”
Vincent hung his head. “I should go.”
“Why does our time together always go by so quickly?”
He stood and helped her to her feet. She came close and threw her arms around his waist as Vincent lovingly returned her embrace.
Catherine backed up and looked at him with a question in her eyes. “Soon?”
Vincent nodded. “Soon.”
With a sigh, she went inside and picked up the phone and called Elliot’s number.
He groggily answered. “Hello.”
“Hi, Elliot. Did I wake you?”
“Cathy! No, you didn’t.”
“Sorry about dinner. I had other plans.”
Elliot was pleased she even bothered to call. “That’s okay, it doesn’t matter. Another time, maybe. Are you busy for dinner tomorrow night?”
“How about lunch instead?”
Elliot wanted to have a romantic dinner. He wanted the chance to wine and dine her, but if she was unwilling to do so, he leapt at the alternative she gave to him. “Lunch is good. I’ll pick you up at work tomorrow. Noon?”
Catherine smiled and nodded. “Noon is fine, Elliot. Goodnight.”
The next day, Catherine looked at her watch and sighed. It was 11:50. Elliot would be here in less than 10 minutes. She put on her coat and grabbed her purse and headed to the lobby. She didn’t want the people in her office to get the wrong idea.
Elliot came inside and led her to his limo. They went to a popular restaurant and Catherine groaned, thinking about how slow the service would be since they were sure to be packed.
She blinked in surprise when they walked into the near-empty building. She turned to Elliot. “I think they’re closed.”
Elliot chuckled and took her by the elbow and guided her to a table. “I wanted to see you and spend some time alone. I rented out the place for an hour.”
Catherine gasped. “The whole hour?!”
Elliot smiled and handed her a menu. “I told them we would probably be having their famous seafood salad but if you would rather...”
He nodded to the waiter, who brought over a bottle of wine and poured two glasses then discreetly left them alone.
Catherine sipped her wine then folded her hands in front of her. “I can assume that you’re curious about the unusual items I needed the other night...”
Elliot shrugged. “Not necessarily. If it’s in my power, whatever you want or could possibly ever need from me is yours. No questions asked.”
Elliot returned her smile. “You’re welcome. And although I admit I have an innate curiosity as to why a beautiful socialite needs plastic explosives, you told me they were for a friend and I believe you. I hoped everything worked out for the best.”
Elliot chuckled. “Okay, not forthcoming and that’s fine, honestly!”
“Elliot, I did want to thank you again.”
“Forget it; I have. Now, please...tell me what you’ve been up to these last few months.”
Catherine and he spent a pleasant lunch catching up on the happenings in each other’s lives. Catherine gasped when she realized they had been there for over two hours.
“Oh, my gosh, I have to get back to work!”
In the limo, he took her hand. “Thanks for lunch, Cathy.”
She smiled as she squeezed his hand affectionately. “You’re welcome, Elliot. As always, I had a good time.”
He looked at her hopefully. “Can we do it again sometime?”
Catherine shook her head ruefully. “I don’t think it’s a good idea....”
He nodded sadly. “Okay, I understand.”
Catherine got out of the limo then turned to look back inside. “Goodbye, Elliot.”