BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
WHAT’S MINE IS MINE
Catherine worked all morning at her desk then thought of all the things that she had planned to do at home this weekend. She decided to get an early start, so she thought she’d take her work home with her and finish it over the weekend. She walked into Joe’s office to tell him of her plans.
Joe looked up briefly as she walked in then glanced back at his notes. “What’s up, Radcliffe?”
“Joe, I’ve got some things that I need to do at home, I thought I’d take the rest of my work with me and finish it up over the weekend. Is that all right with you?”
He looked up with a devilish grin. “Well, seeing as how you only put in 52 hours this week, I suppose you can do that. But why don’t you leave whatever it is until Monday? Have you got something pressing?”
“Just the Rodriguez case; it goes to trial on Tuesday. I just want to make sure the work is done correctly.”
“You want me to do it for you? Clear up your weekend?”
Catherine thought about it for a moment. It would be nice to have a complete weekend free from any work; still, she hated having Joe do work for her.
Seeing her indecision, Joe prompted, “Just bring it to me, Cathy. I’ve got some free time. If I have any questions, I can call you at home, right?”
“Okay, thanks, Joe,” she said excitedly. No one needed to tell her twice.
She ran to her desk and grabbed the files from her briefcase. She brought Joe the case file and said her goodbyes then headed for home.
Catherine had almost skipped from the office as she thought about what awaited her at home. She was so excited.
She had been going through her closet the other day and discovered that many of the items she had hanging in the back of the closet she just didn’t wear anymore. That, and she still had boxes packed from when she planned on moving to Providence. Most of the clothing was sweaters that she had received as gifts; she’d never worn any of them because they didn’t fit. She also had several items that prompted her to reflect on the not-so-distant past - what she referred to as her “spoiled, rich girl days” - when she bought things just because she could and then realized that what had once looked so appealing in the store was totally impractical when she brought it home but, instead of being returned, they were relegated to the back of her closet. She had picked up one particular sweater and realized that, unless she lived in the frozen tundra, she would never wear it. Her thoughts had turned to some of the older women in the tunnels; this sweater would be perfect for one of them on those particularly cold nights. All of these discoveries led her to the conclusion that she should clean out her closet and donate the contents to the world Below. How many sweaters did she need anyway?
So here she sat, on a Friday afternoon, crossed-legged on the floor of her closet, sorting through the rest of her clothing. She was humming to herself, smiling. She had found so many articles for the women Below. She also realized that some of the items she received as gifts may even fit some of the older children. “How small do people think I am?” she thought to herself as she folded yet another unused gift.
Her thoughts turned to the men in the tunnels. She knew it would be frowned upon if she went out and bought new things to take down there. She thought of all the things her father might be willing to part with and decided to call him. She shot to her feet and walked over to the phone and dialed his number.
Her father picked up on the third ring. “Charles Chandler.”
She smiled at the sound of his voice. She loved her father and realized it had been awhile since she had seen him, or even talked to him, for that matter. “Hi, Daddy.”
“Sweetheart, how are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“Good. What have you been up to?”
A thought suddenly popped into her mind. “Missing you, wondering if you’re busy tonight?”
“Actually, I’m not. Kay was called out of town unexpectedly. She went to see her daughter in Connecticut. Why are you asking?”
“Would you like to have dinner with me? My treat!”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “Dad...”
“No...Don’t get me wrong. I’m honored. I would love to have dinner with you, but...I’m paying. You should save your money.”
“Dad!” She shook her head and laughed at the fact that he still treated her like a child. She gave up trying to change him. She thought about a small restaurant around the corner from his house. “How about 7:00? I could meet you at Antonio’s.”
“Sounds good, honey. I’ll be there.”
“Hey, Dad, there’s one more thing. I was wondering if you had any clothes you didn’t need anymore. Sweaters, sweatshirts, warm things….”
“That’s an odd question. What are you doing with them?”
She wrinkled her nose in distaste, realizing she would have to lie to him. “Just spring cleaning. I got the urge the other day to go through my closet. I have so much stuff, I thought I would donate the items to a little shelter I know about.”
Charles chuckled. “Great minds think alike. You actually called at a really good time. Just last week I went through my closet and pulled out two big boxes of items, mostly sweaters I’ll never wear. They’re in my office at home. I keep meaning to take them somewhere but I haven’t had the chance. You’re welcome to them.”
“Oh, Dad, that’s perfect. I’ll pick them up after dinner. Thank you.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you at 7:00 then.”
“I can’t wait! Bye, Dad.”
Catherine smiled to herself as she hung up the phone. Now she would have used items for the men to wear as well. Her thoughts turned to Vincent and his size. He was so big, it would be hard to find him anything to wear from her father. She decided to buy him a couple of thermal shirts like the ones he already wore. She could slip them into the bottom of her father’s boxes and hopefully no one would be the wiser.
She walked back into her bedroom and glanced at the pile of clothes she had set aside. She shook her head ruefully. So much waste on her part would benefit the people Below greatly. She just needed some boxes to pack up the clothes.
She glanced at her watch and realized she had time to run to the department store, grab the thermal shirts she wanted for Vincent, pick up boxes, and get back in plenty of time to shower and change for dinner with her father.
She grabbed her keys and ran out the door. The doorman quickly hailed a cab and Catherine was dropped off right in front of the store entrance.
She walked purposefully to the men’s department and looked around for the big and tall section. She found a whole rack of thermal shirts and picked up three in the colors she thought would look good on Vincent. Then she thought of Winslow and William and impulsively grabbed four more shirts in various colors. Looking at the items as the girl rang them up, Catherine sighed. “How am I going to hide this many new items?” she wondered.
Standing at the checkout, she noticed a tool set on an end cap that would be perfect for Mouse. She grabbed it instantly. She would already be in trouble; what was one more item? Her thoughts turned to the children Below and all the things that they needed. She knew she was pushing it and sighed aloud. “Maybe next month….”
She got all of her purchases together and some empty boxes, and returned home. She quickly packed up her articles and placed them in the boxes then carried them to her front door.
“That was dumb,” she thought and smiled at her enthusiasm. “Now, I’m going to need help with all of this.”
She quickly jotted a note to Vincent. She would send the message to him tonight and he could meet her Below in her basement with some of the kids tomorrow morning.
She hopped in the shower and got ready for dinner. On her way out the door, she grabbed the note for Vincent and stopped at a helper’s shop to send her message Below before continuing on.
Catherine got to Antonio’s in plenty of time but her dad still sat at a table waiting for her.
She bounced up to the table and kissed him on the cheek. “Hi, Daddy.”
Charles rose and hugged his daughter warmly. “Almost as good as Vincent’s hugs,” she thought to herself.
Charles released her and waited for her to sit. He couldn’t help himself from teasing her. “Hi, sweetheart. I can’t believe you’re on time!”
She smiled at him indignantly. “Hey!”
They ordered their meals and then sat sipping their wine.
Charles sat back and looked over at his daughter. “So, Cathy, tell me what’s been going on in your life.”
Catherine blushed when she realized it had been a few weeks since she’d talked to him. “Just the same old stuff...Long hours at work and too little rest when I finally get home.”
Charles leaned forward. “Honey, I know that you haven’t had the best of luck finding someone to share your life….”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “Dad...”
Charles held up his hand. “No, no, let me finish. Honey, Tom wasn’t the right person for you, and I don’t think that Burch fellow was either, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone out there for you, someone that’ll make you happy.”
Catherine knew she had to keep Vincent and the world Below a secret. She longed to be able to tell her father everything but she knew she couldn’t. Still, she trusted her father and debated whether or not she should tell him the truth.
Charles knew she was thinking about what he said and decided to change the subject. “So, you know of a shelter you’re planning on donating to.”
“Yes, I met someone special from there and know they could use all sorts of winter clothing items.”
“You know, there’s a ton of clothes in the cottage in Connecticut. I wonder if they’re still in good shape.”
She smiled excitedly. “Oh, Dad, I hadn’t thought of all the stuff that’s there!”
“You’re welcome to any of my clothes that are there. I’m sure they won’t fit me anymore. Besides, I’m not into the winter activities like I used to be, not with these old bones. I bet there are some of your mother’s things there, as well.”
Catherine shook her head. “I know I left clothes there, and last time I was there, my pink Strawberry Shortcake coat was still in my closet!”
Charles chuckled as he remembered Catherine wearing the coat with the popular cartoon character on the front. “I guess it’s time we let the stuff go.” He smiled at her wistfully then looked down.
Catherine reached out and touched his hand comfortingly, and looked through tears that had sprung to her eyes. “It’s very generous of you, Dad. I’m sure Mom would be happy to hear that our clothes are going to a good cause.”
He smiled as he patted her hand. “Yes, I think you’re right.”
At that moment, their dinner came, and they sat back and enjoyed their meal and the rest of the night.
Catherine reached for the bill when it came, and Charles grabbed it before she could pay.
Catherine stood up and kissed him. “Thank you, Daddy, for the dinner and the company.”
He smiled. “Are you coming home with me now, or do you want to have someone from the shelter pick up my things?”
“The shelter?” Catherine was confused then gasped aloud. “Oh, I forgot. No, I’ll come with you now and grab the stuff.”
Charles looked at her quizzically and guided her towards the door. They stopped at several tables and greeted old friends. Finally, half an hour later, they made it outside.
Catherine giggled. “Whew! Everyone we know is here.”
“Yes, and we had to visit with every one of them because they haven’t seen you in ages.”
Catherine grimaced and made herself a mental note to try and spend more time with her Dad.
“Dad, how about if we promise to go out together at least once a week?”
Charles chuckled. “Like that’ll ever happen. I have a better idea...why don’t we try for every other week, and see if you can keep that promise.”
Catherine nodded. She knew she would easily be able to keep that commitment.
Charles flagged down a taxi and they were soon in front of his home. Charles turned to Catherine. “Do you want to stay for a while, or should I have him wait?”
Catherine looked at her watch. “Well….”
Charles nodded and leaned forward to talk to the driver. “Can you wait here, please? She’ll be right back down.”
The cab driver nodded. “No problem.”
Charles sighed. “Looks like the doorman took the night off again. I was hoping to get him to help carry those boxes for you.”
The cab driver looked up shyly. “You need some help? I’d be happy to carry stuff for you.”
Catherine went to protest but her dad nodded. “Yes, I’ll give you an extra tip.”
The driver turned off the car and followed Charles and Catherine inside. Charles indicated the items to be carried, and the driver was able to get all but one of the boxes.
Catherine looked at him. “Thank you, I’ll get it.”
Charles stopped the man from leaving. “Hey, buddy…?”
“It’s Leon, sir.”
“Well, Leon, this is for you. Thank you for all your help.”
Leon smiled as he watched Charles slip a more than generous tip into his front pocket. “You’re welcome, sir.”
Catherine leaned over and kissed her father. “Thanks, Dad. I really had a wonderful time tonight. I’ve missed you.”
Charles returned her kiss. “I’ve missed you, too, honey. Now don’t be such a stranger.”
Below, Vincent received a message from Catherine while he was playing chess in the study with Father.
Vincent ruffled the hair of the young boy. “Thank you, Kipper.”
Kipper smiled, and stood and observed the game they were playing. Father and he talked about strategies as Vincent read the letter.
Would it be possible to have four or five of the older kids meet me at the threshold around 11:00 tomorrow morning? I have some clothing items I had lying around the house and thought they could be of use Below. If I don’t hear from you, I will assume that the kids are able to come. Thanks, until tomorrow...
With all my Love,
Vincent turned to Kipper. “Kipper, Catherine needs help tomorrow bringing a few items down from her apartment. Will you be available to help?”
Kipper nodded. “Sure, Vincent; anything for Catherine.”
“Thank you. Would you go ask Zac, Michael, Thomas, and Kevin to accompany us, as well? Then let me know what they’ve answered.”
“Yep, I’ll go ask right now, but I’m sure they’ll help.” Kipper ran from the room.
Father cocked his head and looked at Vincent with amusement. “A few items, and you’ll need five boys plus yourself?”
Vincent shrugged helplessly. “I didn’t know anything about it until just now.”
“Catherine has done so much for us already. She shouldn’t keep giving so freely. It’s way too much, it’s....”
Vincent interrupted. “It’s her generous nature, Father. Please don’t give her a hard time. It’s what she wants to do.”
“I know she’s very generous but….”
“Okay, okay...I promise I won’t say anything to her.”
The next morning, Catherine lugged her heavy boxes down to her basement and stood them next to her father’s. She locked the door behind her then moved the empty boxes that were blocking the tunnel entrance. She opened the door and looked down into six eager faces.
She broke into a large grin. “Hi, guys.”
Vincent smiled and a chorus of hellos came from the boys.
Now, thinking there may have been a better way, Catherine looked at Vincent worriedly. “Vincent, I should have thought this through better. Some of these boxes are heavy; how will I get them down there?”
“I’ll send Zac up and you and he can drop them down to me. I’ll catch them.”
She nodded in agreement. “All right. There’s nothing breakable, it should be okay.”
Zac climbed up the ladder and smiled at Catherine.
“Thanks, Zac. I’m so sorry. If I had thought this through, maybe we could have come up with an easier way.”
Zac picked up the first box and shrugged as he smiled. “That’s okay, Catherine, we’ll manage.”
He dropped the boxes down one at a time to Vincent who, with his great strength, easily caught them and set them on the floor of the tunnel.
Zac climbed down the ladder, followed by a smiling Catherine. “That’s all of them, I’m afraid.”
Vincent turned to the boxes and matched their weight to each person so they could easily accomplish the task. He left the heaviest box for himself.
He looked at the boys. “Okay, off to the library with them.”
The boys took off racing to see who could get there first. Vincent smiled and shook his head at their exuberance while Catherine chuckled. Vincent picked up the heavy box with ease and held it with one arm. He held out his free hand and Catherine took it, and together they walked to meet the boys in the library.
“Catherine, what is all of this stuff?”
She smiled up at him. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I cleaned out my closet and found I had an abundance of things I never wear. I thought they could be used down here.”
Vincent looked at her incredulously. “All of this was in your closet?”
She blushed. “No, some of it belongs to my father.” At his questioning look, she continued, “I went out to dinner with him last night. I mentioned I was donating some of my things to a little shelter I knew about. My dad said he just happened to have several boxes sitting in his house ready to go to charity. I went over and picked them up.”
Vincent nodded. “That was very generous of you. So how was dinner with your father?”
She smiled. “Wonderful. I miss him so much. When I worked for him, I got to see him every day. Now...we’ve started to grow apart.”
Vincent felt guilty. He knew that part of the reason she saw her father less was because of him. “You should make an attempt to see him more often.”
Catherine nodded. “We promised to set a date every other week to go out and spend some time together.”
“That’s good to hear, Catherine.”
“I know; it’s good to say it out loud. We talked non-stop through dinner. It was nice to catch up. We’ve always been so close….”
Catherine swung their arms happily between the two of them as they walked. Vincent caught onto her happy mood and squeezed her hand gently.
Soon enough they were in the library. A large group of people gathered around and waited with excitement to see the items Catherine brought out. As was custom Below, the items were looked over by the adults and sent to the people with the greatest need.
“Look at this beautiful sweater,” Mary said as she gushed over the sweater Catherine had deemed was the warmest. “This will fit Elizabeth perfectly.”
Jamie nodded. “It sure will, and it gets so cold in the Painted Tunnels, this sweater is sure to keep her warm. Can I take it to her?”
Mary looked at Father for confirmation, and he smiled and nodded his assent then chuckled when Jamie took off at a run.
Winslow had entered the chamber and looked around with surprise. “What is all this stuff?”
Catherine smiled coyly. “Just a few odds and ends from around the house.”
Vincent had bent over and retrieved an article from the box she was searching through. She looked up at him as he smiled down. “You should learn to remove the price tags from your odds and ends.”
She looked back down in embarrassment and spotted the sweater she wanted for Father. She handed it to him, explaining her father had worn it only one time to go skiing. Father said it would be great for the next time he hit the slopes. Everyone shared in his laughter while Catherine looked for Mouse. She wanted to hand him the present she had for him.
The new thermals she bought were also discovered and, although she blinked in innocence, Winslow and William each thanked her profusely.
In another part of the tunnels, no one was aware that Mouse had been digging and discovered some buried treasure. He quickly closed up the hole he created and raced through the tunnels. He knew he was late for the meeting in Father’s study, so he ran full speed to get there.
Catherine asked where Mouse was and Winslow quickly explained. “He’s supposed to be here, but Mouse isn’t exactly the most dependable when it comes to....”
Mouse ran into the room.
Father reprimanded Mouse gently. “As Winslow was saying...Mouse hasn’t entirely grasped the concept of time.”
Mouse smiled as he walked in and stood by Vincent. “Time...easy. Early...come before Mouse, late...come after.”
Father reluctantly looked over at Mouse, almost afraid to hear his answer. “Now tell me, Mouse, what have you been doing? Something useful, I hope.”
Vincent interrupted, nudging Mouse towards Catherine. “Catherine has brought you a present, Mouse.”
Mouse reverently took the container from Catherine’s hands, recognizing immediately what it was. “Tools, for me.”
Catherine smiled and nodded as Mouse opened the container.
“Look!” he said as he showed everyone then looked back at Catherine wondrously. “New!”
Cullen was shocked. “Expensive.”
Winslow noticed Catherine’s embarrassment at Cullen’s comment. “Just say thank you and get it over with, Mouse.”
Mouse nodded and looked at Catherine. “Thank you.”
Catherine smiled at Mouse’s excitement. “You’re welcome. I guess I better get going.”
Catherine looked at Vincent hopefully, and he nodded imperceptibly to her, knowing immediately what she wanted. “I’ll…guide you out.” Vincent turned and grabbed his cloak. “I won’t be long Father.”
As they walked, Vincent was silent until he sighed and turned to Catherine.
“Catherine, thank you for the shirts you bought me.”
“I didn’t…um…” Catherine chewed on her lip thoughtfully. She wanted to tell a little white lie but refused to have the falsehood between them and sighed. “Stupid price tags.” She grinned ruefully.
Vincent smiled in acknowledgment. “An unfortunate mistake, or you might have gotten away with the ruse.”
“Ruse?” She stopped, curious at the tone in his voice. “Vincent, did I offend you or anyone else with my gifts? That surely was not my intention when I brought the stuff down....”
He chuckled and shook his head. “You didn’t offend anyone. Even without the price tags, I was pretty sure that neither you nor you’re father had shirts lying in your closet in sizes for Winslow, William, and myself.”
She blushed and tried to change the turn of the conversation. “No, but the rest of the men’s clothing came from my dad’s. Will Father be upset with me?”
“Catherine, your gifts brought much joy today.”
“I wish I could do more. There are so many things I wish I could give you.”
“You give of yourself, your generosity, your friendship, to all of us...there is no more than that.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Well, with what our friends bring to us and what the world above casts aside, we have everything we need.”
Catherine knew that Vincent understood that she was wealthy, and he knew she had inherited all of Margaret’s money when she died. Margaret’s only stipulation was that it be used to help the world Below. Catherine had yet to find a way to put into place programs that would enable her to do so. Father threw up so many roadblocks, it made helping out almost impossible.
Mouse chose that moment to run up to them breathlessly, stopping her from leaving. “Vincent, Catherine, I’m glad I caught you.”
Catherine looked at him curiously. “Is there something wrong, Mouse?”
Mouse handed her a bundle. “For you, a gift from me. You give, I give.”
“Why, thank you, Mouse.”
Catherine smiled as she went to open the package.
Mouse stopped her. “No... not here. Better at home!” Mouse backed away. “Have to go now, help Father. He is lost without Mouse.” He smiled as he turned and ran from them.
Catherine turned to Vincent and looked at him timidly. “Do you think he...?”
“Stole it? Mouse hasn’t taken anything for weeks.” He shrugged. “Well, wherever he found it, you can be sure it came from his heart.”
Catherine placed her hand on Vincent’s arm. “That’s exactly where my gifts came from, from the heart. I never meant to imply that I thought you didn’t have everything you need.”
Vincent took her hands into his own. “Catherine, I know that. I know how good your heart is. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Vincent.” She sighed. “I wish I could stay here, but I need to meet Jenny at a book signing.”
“A book signing?”
“Yes, a man named Alain Viso. He wrote….” She searched her memory then sighed. “I forgot the title.”
Vincent interrupted her. “A book called Rediscovering The Lost City of Petra. Father and I read it just last week.”
“Was it good?”
Vincent shrugged. “We both liked it.”
“Well, I promised Jenny I would be there. She’s nervous, and I want to be there to support her.”
“Well, then, you should hurry.”
Catherine reached up and gave him a hug. “See you soon.”
He nodded as she smiled and turned away.
Catherine opened the door to her apartment and quickly called Jenny. She told her she was running late and would meet her at the bookstore. She started her shower and glanced at the present Mouse had given her. She opened it up and smiled at the beautiful necklace he had given her.
Wondering where he had gotten it, she walked to the bathroom. As she got ready, she wondered what she could wear that would go with the necklace. She took a minute to clean the dust and dirt off the necklace. Later, when she was dressed, she put the necklace on. She smiled that she was correct in her assumption; the necklace did compliment her outfit perfectly.
Catherine met Jenny at the book signing. Jenny had just stepped away from her to bring the author over when a man approached her.
“Excuse me, are you with the publishing house?’
Catherine smiled back at him. “No.”
“Are you a collector?”
“No, not really...”
“Jonathan Thorpe. I’m he without whom this book could never have been written.”
“Catherine Chandler. Hello.” She offered him her hand.
He kissed her hand. “Pleasure.” He stopped abruptly, staring at her neckline.
The moment became uncomfortable, and Catherine looked at him curiously. “Something wrong?”
“I was just admiring your necklace; it’s beautiful.”
Jenny approached Catherine with the author by her side. She was planning on introducing the two of them. Jonathan sprang into action and pulled the author away. Catherine and Jenny smiled at Jonathan’s strange behavior. Jenny leaned in and whispered. “What a weirdo!”
Catherine giggled. “Only in New York.”
“Sad, he’s a cute one, too!”
Catherine laughed. “You’re hopeless!”
“I am not, I’m single. I can look! Why aren’t you looking?” Jenny narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time you pointed out a guy to me.”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “That’s because you always beat me to it.”
Jenny shook her head. “There was a day when you were faster than me, when you could see a cute one walk in from a mile away.”
Catherine smiled ruefully. “I guess I’m out of practice. Hey, look, there’s a cutie!”
Jenny looked at the door as a young Adonis with sandy blond hair came in. “I’ll be right back.” She took a step away and turned back curiously. “Unless you want to go for him?”
Catherine shook her head and laughed. “Nope, he’s all yours.”
Catherine watched as Jenny worked her charms on the man that walked through the door. “He doesn’t stand a chance,” she thought.
Catherine looked over and saw that Jonathan was still talking with the author. She turned to a group of people and talked with them about the book.
She never did get to meet the author that night.
The next day, Jonathan called Catherine at work and asked her to meet him for lunch. Out of curiosity, she accepted.
Catherine poked her head into Joe’s office. “Hey, I’ve got an appointment for lunch. I’ll be back to finish up the Madden case.”
Joe embarrassingly nodded at her as he chewed on a huge bite of his sandwich.
Joe grabbed his napkin and swiped at his mouth. She shook her head and he did it again; this time the bit of mustard showed on his napkin.
She smiled as she shut the door. “Enjoy your lunch.”
Joe shot to his feet and ran to the door. “Hey, Radcliffe! What about the Oliver case?”
“Sorry, I forgot to bring it to Moreno. It’s on my desk.” She looked at him hopefully and he shook his head. “Go. I’ll see that he gets it.”
As the doors of the elevator closed, Catherine smiled. “Thanks, Joe.”
Catherine met Jonathan at a nearby diner.
Jonathan stood and extended his hand. “Miss Chandler, thank you for coming.”
Catherine took his offered hand and shrugged. “I was curious.”
The waitress came and Jonathan ordered a hamburger and an iced tea. Catherine followed his lead and ordered the same. Soon enough, the waitress brought them their drinks and food.
Catherine looked up. “Have you worked with Viso a long time?”
Jonathan shrugged. “Officially, I’ve never worked with him at all. The truth is, a man like Viso needs a man like me.”
“What kind of man is that?”
“The kind of man that has an ulterior motive when he asks a beautiful woman to lunch.”
Catherine blushed. “Is that a compliment, or should I be getting nervous?”
“Maybe a little of both.”
Catherine had assumed Jonathan was trying to get a date with her, and she was preparing to reject him when she thought that perhaps there was another reason for this meeting.
He leaned forward in his seat. “I’m interested in the necklace you were wearing last night.”
Catherine was surprised but glad he had finally revealed the meaning behind this meeting. “Oh, well, that’s blunt enough.”
Jonathan rudely plodded on. “The necklace…would you consider selling it to me?”
She started to get curious again at his strange behavior. “No, it was a gift.”
“There are gifts and there are gifts. That necklace is quite old and quite valuable.”
She hid her worry as she replied, “I didn’t know that.”
“Maybe there is something else you didn’t know. Whoever gave you that necklace probably obtained it by...shall we say less than legal means.”
“I don’t think so.”
“If there is one thing I’m an expert on, it’s the law regarding private ownership of antiquities. If you won’t sell me the necklace, will you at least tell me where you got it?”
“It was from a secret admirer. Well, Jonathan, I really should be going.”
“If you change your mind and decide to sell…discretion is my middle name.”
“I’ll remember that,” Catherine replied sarcastically as she stood. She said her goodbyes and quickly left.
Vincent had been on sentry duty waiting for his relief. When no one came after an hour, he finally tapped out a message to the closest sentry, explaining that he was going to found out what was going on.
Finding no one around, he walked to the work site to see what progress had been made. Expecting that they had been able to accomplish a lot, he frowned when he didn’t find Mouse or anyone else working. Walking quickly, he went to the dining chamber to search for the rest of the community members, but no one could be found. Everyone had left their work stations, and no one was where they were supposed to be.
He stopped in the library to tell Father about the lack of progress at the work site as well as the absenteeism that was occurring at the various jobs. Catherine’s call came over the pipes and Vincent left to see her as Father asked him to remind people that there was work to be done Below.
Catherine’s mind had been racing since she left the restaurant. She called the office to tell them she would be awhile longer then stopped by her house and picked up the necklace.
Knowing she was probably there at this time of the day because of a problem, they dispensed with the usual amenities.
“The gift that Mouse gave me...” she said as she walked up to him.
He looked at her worriedly. “What is it?”
“It’s a necklace. I thought at first it was just an old piece of costume jewelry, but I’ve been to the jeweler. It’s solid gold. He wouldn’t even begin to appraise it; he says it dates to the 17th century.”
Vincent shook his head in disbelief as he stepped back. “Well, Mouse sometimes takes things from the world Above, but only the things he needs – tools, machine parts… but a golden necklace?”
“Vincent, a man saw me wearing it and approached me, asking a lot of questions. He knew it was valuable, and now the jeweler knows too. You have to find out where Mouse got it. If I can find the rightful owner, maybe I can return it without too many questions being asked.”
Vincent nodded. “I was on my way to find him when I received your call. I’ll speak to him immediately.”
Catherine looked up at him worriedly. “I feel like I’m accusing Mouse.”
Vincent gently squeezed her hand. “You’re not.”
“I know, but he gave me that necklace as a gift, to thank me. I can’t help but feel that he’ll resent that I’m questioning him about it.”
“Mouse doesn’t have angry feelings for anyone, Catherine. It’s not his way.”
She nodded. “I’ll do my best to find out something more Above but if I ask too many questions, it’s bound to draw a lot of attention.”
“Attention we can’t afford.…”
“It’ll be okay. I’ll keep Mouse out of trouble, I promise.”
Vincent touched her arm in a gesture of thanks, and she smiled as she turned and left.
Catherine went back to work and had Jonathan Thorpe investigated. She sat at her desk eating a cold sandwich and chips from the vending machine.
Joe walked up. “What’s this?”
Catherine looked confused. “What’s what?”
“I thought you went out for lunch.”
Catherine grimaced. “I did. Had a bite of an awesome hamburger too.”
Joe looked surprised. “A bite?”
“Yeah, then I got disgusted with the company and walked out.”
He reached over and stole one of her chips. “Hmmm. How you doing on the Madden file?”
Catherine looked down at her desk. “I’m about halfway through. Can I have another hour, hour and a half tops?”
“No problem. Just get it to me before you leave today.”
“You got it!”
Joe walked away and Catherine took a bite of her sandwich then buried her face back in the file.
She was interrupted again when she found out that Jonathan Thorpe was a wanted man in numerous countries for bribery, theft of national antiquities, and smuggling. “Just great,” she thought.
An hour or so later, her phone rang. “Catherine Chandler.”
Catherine smiled. “Hi, Jen. How was Mr. Adonis last night?”
“The cute guy that you dumped me for.”
Jenny grumbled. “Married; he’s got three kids.”
“Well, maybe next time.”
Jenny chuckled. “Yeah, right. Hey, I’m sorry about last night. I met Mr. Adonis then had to run into the storage room to get more books brought out. I looked for you but you must have left by then.”
“I did. I couldn’t stay any longer.”
“I’m just glad you came at all. Thanks for the support.”
Catherine shrugged. “You didn’t need it, it was a success. You should be proud!”
Jenny smiled. “I am. I wish you could have met Viso though. That stupid creep ruined it.”
“Creep is right! He called me and asked me to lunch today.”
Jenny laughed. “Oh, no! Did you go?”
Catherine laughed as well. “I did! I couldn’t help it. I was curious.”
“How was he?”
“Just as rude. I walked out after one bite.”
Jenny laughed even harder. “Serves him right, sticking him with the check. Well, I’ve got to go; I just called to say thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Bye, Jen.”
In the world Below, no one knew that Mouse had discovered treasures that had been buried beneath the earth for a few hundred years. He had taken a few of the items back to his chamber, one of them being the necklace he gave to Catherine, and a goblet and plate.
Winslow came and saw the treasures, and he and Cullen asked Mouse if there were more items where he had found these. Mouse said that there were then walked to the place he found as Winslow and Cullen followed behind. They cast each other questioning looks when Mouse continued to take them deeper into the tunnels.
Soon enough, Mouse showed them the room he had uncovered the treasures in. Winslow searched and decided that they had come upon a sunken ship. Cullen uncovered a trap door, and Mouse jumped through it and fell into another room. He gasped in wonder that it was filled with treasures of gold and silver.
Mouse ran to get a bigger trunk to carry the items back to the home tunnels. Cullen shouted out to Mouse to keep their secret.
Winslow frowned worriedly at Cullen’s comment but stayed silent. He didn’t like the fact that Cullen was trying to keep things a secret from the rest of the community. He shrugged it off as he and Cullen started to pass things up from the lower level.
Mouse returned with Jamie and some of the kids. He smiled bashfully. “Followed Mouse.”
Cullen rolled his eyes and leaned over to Winslow. “Now everyone will know.”
The rest of the community found out about the discovery and the members flooded to the lower cavern, excited over the things that had been found.
Vincent spent over an hour and finally found most of the community in the treasure room.
He was shocked, when he walked up, to hear all of the arguments that were occurring. The community members were screaming and hollering at each other angrily, fighting over the objects they found. Unbelievable things were being said to one another, and Vincent gasped with indignation.
“Stop this!” he finally roared to get their attention. “So, this is where you’ve all been?” He looked around at the treasure. “Where did this come from?”
Mouse shyly came forward, afraid he was in trouble. “Me. Found it...down there.”
Cullen shook his head angrily. “We found it. Mouse and Winslow and me!”
Winslow had been watching the gradual change in Cullen’s behavior all morning, and didn’t like what he was seeing. “Oh, come on, Cullen.”
Jamie was offended. “Wait, I helped!”
Another huge argument broke out among the members, and again Vincent roared. “Enough! This is completely unlike us. Now, we will have a council meeting and discuss this calmly…quietly…like friends.”
Vincent got up to leave. He knew the others would follow.
Cullen was the last to leave but, before he left, he stuffed handfuls of treasures into his pockets.
The entire community met in Father’s study.
Father was shocked at the things they had discovered. Everyone was excited about the prospect of selling the items to get money to help the community with food, clothes, toys for the kids, and a way to give back to the helpers who had always been there for them.
Vincent stayed the voice of reason. “A man buying goods with antique gold would surely be noticed. The world Above would want to know where he came upon such treasure. To use any of this would pose a threat to our security.”
Father shook his head. “But this is not just gold. This is history, art! The archeological significance of these findings could be quite staggering. I mean, these things have to be cataloged, studied….”
Winslow interrupted angrily. “Tell me about archeology the next time we run out of penicillin. You can’t just....”
Cullen came forward, loudly demanding that they listen. “Hold it. Winslow and Mouse can do what they want with their shares, but a third of this is mine.”
Father looked at him incredulously. “Are you saying the community has no stake in this?”
Cullen spat angrily. “What’s mine is mine! That’s what I’m saying.”
Mary argued, “Everyone helped!”
Cullen countered angrily, “Everyone came around and watched, you mean!”
Arguments broke out again. No one could believe Cullen felt this way. This was not how the community worked.
Cullen called them all thieves.
Vincent tried to reason with him. “We’re your friends, Cullen. Listen to Father.”
He asked Vincent how he planned on stopping him from selling his items. With a final jab at their friendship, he asked, “What are you going to do if I don’t…kill me?”
Dejected that Cullen could be so cruel, Vincent stepped to the side and let him pass.
Vincent tried to reason with people but each argument he walked in on was the same. How would they spend the immense wealth coming their way? Vincent finally gave up trying to be mediator.
Father sat forlornly in the library by himself.
Vincent came over to sit with him. He kissed Father on the head, knowing he was devastated by all that happened today. “Father, don’t lose heart.”
“The selfishness, the insensitivity, shocking…and so sad.”
“Well, they’ll come to their senses,” Vincent said as he sat down in a chair next to him.
Father wondered if anyone had talked to Cullen, and Vincent promptly told him he was gone, and that no one had seen him in quite a while. Father wondered what everyone else was doing, and Vincent said that many had gone back to the ship to try to uncover more treasure.
“Father, have faith. We have faced some destructive things in the past, and our world has always prevailed.”
Father shook his head. “Those were from outside sources. Our world is starting to explode from the inside out!”
Vincent sighed at his father’s wisdom. He wished he could find a way to make this all go away but the problem was complicated. He knew the arguments within the community were destructive but he was powerless to stop them.
Meanwhile, Cullen went Above with the items he had taken from the ship. He went to a dealer who said he would buy them. Cullen demanded cash and then told the man he had more items to sell. The man told him he wouldn’t be able to move that much stuff but arranged a meeting between Cullen and a colleague for later that night.
Cullen went back to the tunnels to get his third of the treasure. He went to his chamber to gather some items and then headed for Mouse’s chamber. He opened the chest and started grabbing items, putting them into a bag.
Mouse tried to talk to him, to stop him. But Cullen wouldn’t listen to Mouse, and the two began to fight. Cullen pulled a weapon on him but Mouse didn’t believe Cullen would hurt him until he stabbed him in the stomach.
Mouse fell to the floor and Cullen took off running. He needed to get out of there quickly. He made it outside without further incident then fell back against the door, gasping with indecision. He couldn’t believe he had just hurt Mouse. He thought dejectedly, “I can never go back now.” With a sigh, he headed to the prearranged meeting. He raced to keep his appointment but in the back of his mind he was wondering how Mouse was fairing.
Jonathan Thorpe was the man that Cullen had the appointment with. He looked over the things that Cullen had brought him then quickly drew his gun and demanded Cullen take him to where he had the rest of the treasure.
Cullen stood and led Jonathan out the door. He had to think quickly. “If I lead him on a wild goose chase, he’s gonna kill me. If I lead him Below, I can take him to the abyss and push him over the side. If something happens to me, so be it. Either way, I’m a dead man.”
Catherine went Below again and sent word to Vincent. She met with him to tell him about Thorpe. “Hi, Vincent.”
Vincent nodded to her quietly and leaned against the wall, clearly upset about something.
Catherine noticed his behavior immediately and cast her problem to the side. “Vincent, what is it? Tell me.”
His voice was thick with emotion. “Mouse discovered a ship that sank hundreds of years ago. It was there that he found your necklace and some other things. Word spread quickly, and the community members have dropped all of their responsibilities to go and retrieve the gold and silver items. They’ve been fighting over the untold wealth it could bring to us. I have never seen so much arguing among people who are supposed to be friends....”
Catherine sighed. “Unfortunately the thought of great wealth does that to some people.”
“Like Cullen.” Vincent nodded sadly. “He is fighting for what he calls his share; he has called us thieves and now left us. The community continues to argue, driving us further apart. How can people be so selfish and cruel?”
Catherine had been used to dealing with this attitude her entire life. “I’ve never been able to figure that one out myself.”
“We can’t have a council meeting to decide what to do because most of the board members seem to have been stricken with the same fever Cullen has.”
The community Below was based on the generosity of others; it wasn’t equipped to deal with such a problem, and she wondered how they would weather this storm. She had guessed long ago that Father had at one time lived a life of luxury, so she knew that he had not been taken in by the supposed windfall. “How is Father?”
“Devastated. He sees his dream crumbling.”
With sympathy, she came closer and gently caressed his shoulder, offering him comfort. “And how are you?”
“Catherine, our world has never known such turmoil and dissention. It’s being torn apart!”
She sympathized with all they were going through and hated to add more problems, but that’s essentially why she was there. “There’s another threat, Vincent, maybe just as dangerous. A man was interested in the necklace Mouse gave me; his name is Thorpe. I ran a check on him and found out he smuggles antiquities. He’s quite persistent.”
Vincent’s suspicions were confirmed that no one should try to take these treasures up to the world Above and sell them. He knew it would bring unwanted attention to the source and risk their security. “Let’s go talk to Mouse.”
Vincent took her hand and led her towards Mouse’s chamber.
Vincent and Catherine arrived quickly and found Mouse lying on his floor, bleeding profusely from a stab wound to the stomach. Mouse told them Cullen and he fought, and Cullen took some treasure Above to sell for paper. Catherine knew immediately that he meant money, and grimaced at his innocence. She wondered where Cullen had gone but Mouse couldn’t tell her.
Vincent scowled as he looked around the room and nodded towards Mouse’s bed. “Catherine, get the pillows. As many as you can bring.”
“Hold this against his wound while I call for help.”
Catherine nodded at him weakly while she rushed to do as he asked.
Vincent paused for a moment to see that she was holding enough pressure to the wound then squeezed her shoulder reassuringly and ran out of the room.
Catherine offered what comfort she could as she held a towel to Mouse’s stomach.
“Stay with us, Mouse. Father will have you fixed up in no time.”
“Fix you…fix me too.”
Having quickly assessed Mouse’s condition, not only did Vincent call for help over the pipes, he also sent a message telling Father to prepare for surgery.
Mouse was pale as he looked at Catherine. “Silly paper...no reason to hurt Mouse.”
Catherine nodded. “I agree, Mouse. You are worth so much more than paper.”
Mouse smiled. “Catherine...good friend.”
Catherine chuckled. “You’re a good friend, too, Mouse.”
Vincent came up and knelt by their side. He saw the saturated towel and the blood on Catherine’s hands. He looked at her in concern as she lowered her eyes. She too was worried about the amount that was there.
Vincent looked down at Mouse. “A stretcher is on its way, Mouse. We’ll get you to Father in no time!”
“Hurts, Vincent. Head feels funny, too.”
Catherine felt a wave of fear pass over her. She looked at Vincent but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
He leaned over and put his hand on Mouse’s shoulder as he looked into his eyes. “Soon, Mouse. Hold on.”
Minutes later, Mouse’s head fell to the side; he was unconscious. Catherine chewed on her lip nervously as Vincent stood and grabbed another towel.
Winslow, Kanin, and Matthew ran into the room. They laid the stretcher on the floor and carefully placed Mouse on it.
Vincent turned to Catherine. “Can you hold pressure on the wound while we carry him?”
She nodded. “Of course, let’s go.”
The men each picked up a side and started to carry Mouse.
Catherine grew frustrated; it seemed like they could be moving much faster.
Vincent and Kanin were leading the way when Vincent sensed something was wrong. He called out over his shoulder. “What is it, Catherine? Is Mouse okay?”
“He’s the same but it’s taking too damn long!”
Vincent blanched at her anger then looked over at Kanin, who nodded.
Kanin glanced back at Matthew and Winslow. “Are you guys up for it?”
Matthew looked at Winslow, who nodded. He called out. “Yeah, let’s go!”
The men adjusted their grips and began to walk much faster. Catherine easily walked alongside them and kept the pressure on Mouse’s wound.
Mouse was still unconscious and the blood flow was still the same.
She called out as they walked, “The blood flow isn’t lessening. Is it safe to pick up the pace?”
“She’s right! Let’s go!” Winslow demanded.
The men increased to a slow jog and covered the journey to the hospital chamber in half the time.
Father paced as he waited in the hospital chamber. He and Mary had prepared everything for surgery. The men finally carried Mouse in and moved him to the operating table. Winslow, Kanin, and Matthew quickly left as Father came over and nodded to Catherine.
She took her hands from the towel and gasped that they were covered in Mouse’s blood.
Mary cut away Mouse’s clothes as Father finally removed the towel. The blood flow increased and pooled on the table around Mouse’s waist. Father went to move and bumped into a horrified Catherine. He glanced up and noticed as the color drained from her face then nodded his head to Vincent. “Vincent!”
Vincent gently came and took Catherine’s shoulders and led her from the room as Mary stayed and assisted Father as he operated on Mouse.
Jamie gasped at the sight of Catherine’s hands covered with blood and began to cry.
Vincent led Catherine to a basin off in the far corner. He gently lowered her hands into the water. The cool water brought Catherine back to her senses and she looked up at him guiltily. “I’m okay, Vincent. Go help Jamie.”
Vincent looked at her for a second then squeezed her shoulder comfortingly before he left her to go to Jamie’s side. Winslow had been gently patting Jamie on the arm but when she saw Vincent coming towards her, she broke down completely. Vincent held her in his arms as she cried, trying to offer his comfort.
Catherine scrubbed her hands and dried them on a nearby towel then came and sat down in a chair with the others.
Jamie looked up with tear-filled eyes. “How did this happen?”
Winslow looked at her, disgust in his eyes. “Cullen stabbed him.”
“Stabbed him?! Why?”
“For money,” Vincent answered disgustedly.
Winslow shook his head angrily. “Stabbed his friend for some... I swear to you…if Cullen ever shows his face down here again, I’ll kill him!”
Catherine looked at him pointedly. “And what would that accomplish?”
Winslow sneered. “It’ll make me feel better.”
Vincent spoke quietly. “Catherine’s right, there’s been enough bloodshed.”
Jamie shook her head in confusion. “I don’t understand. They were friends.”
Catherine looked over and saw the confusion still evident on Jamie’s face. “It’s a disease from my world. It’s called greed.”
Catherine had seen so much of this her entire life. She had seen the damage that occurred when people longed for a lifestyle they knew nothing about. “Why does everyone always think that money will buy you happiness?” she wondered.
All eyes turned as Father came out and announced that Mouse would be all right. A collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout the group.
Just then a message came over the pipes. Pascal said that Cullen was Below with a stranger. He was leading a man with a gun towards the abyss. There was no time for the community to form a plan as Vincent took off running through the tunnels.
Father knew she was just as worried as he was, and looked at her appreciatively as he reached for her arm and held it comfortingly to his side. “Yes, I’m sure he will.”
Winslow had overheard them and stood up immediately. “I’m going to help Vincent. Kipper, send a message to Kanin and Matthew to meet up with me on the bridge!”
Kipper ran from the room as Father addressed the rest of the people standing there. “I want everyone to head to the library. We’ll be having an immediate council meeting.”
He looked at a hopeful Jamie then turned to Mary. “Mary, Since Mouse is resting comfortably, why don’t we let Jamie sit with him for a while, and you can attend the meeting. Do you mind, Jamie?”
Jamie sighed with relief and shook her head as Mary led her behind the curtain to Mouse’s side.
Father looked over at Catherine standing next to him, looking down uncertainly.
“Catherine, you were very brave earlier. Applying pressure to the wound was just what needed to be done to help Mouse.”
She blushed. “It was Vincent’s quick thinking. I’m sorry I got queasy on you.”
He chuckled as he put his arm around her. “Don’t be silly. I almost passed out myself when I saw the amount of blood.”
“Is Mouse really going to be all right?”
“Yes, I think so. You’re welcome to join us at the council meeting, unless you’d rather go home.”
She shook her head immediately. “No, I’d like to wait for Vincent to get back. I....” She lowered her head, and Father lifted her chin to look into her eyes.
“We have to believe that he’ll be all right, Catherine. He knows these tunnels better than anyone.”
A weak voice spoke from the other room. “Not Mouse.”
Father blinked in surprise while Catherine smiled happily. She followed Father around the back of the curtain. Jamie stood immediately to let Father get closer to Mouse.
“Uh huh. Hurts.”
Father nodded. “Would you like me to give you something for the pain?”
Catherine chuckled while Father rolled his eyes. “No, Mouse, it’s a pill to swallow, it won’t taste bad.”
Mouse nodded. “Okay, good...okay fine.”
Mouse looked and saw Catherine standing in the corner. “Catherine…thanks for helping Mouse.”
Catherine came forward. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re better.”
Catherine sighed and looked over at Father, who nodded. She turned back to Mouse. “Vincent heard a message from Pascal. It said Cullen was leading a man with a gun towards the abyss.”
Mouse removed his covers and tried to get up. “Help Vincent.”
Jamie effortlessly pushed Mouse down. “Guess again!” She covered him back up while Father got a pill out. Jamie poured a cup of water as Father handed Mouse the pill and Jamie helped him to drink the water.
Father squeezed Jamie’s shoulder. “Sit with him until he falls asleep then you can come to the meeting.”
Mouse shook head. “Mouse go to meeting too.”
Father shook his head. “Mouse, you are to stay here and rest in this bed for at least a day! Do you understand me?”
Mouse shrugged indifferently. “Yes…stay in bed…rest.”
Father narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He knew Mouse was coming up with some type of a plan to get out of bed. He looked to Jamie for support. “Please keep him here. We don’t want him ripping open the stitches.”
Jamie nodded. “I will, Father. I promise!”
Father knew he was leaving Mouse in good hands. Jamie would keep her promise. She had been too upset over Mouse’s injury to disobey.
Cullen had tried to form a plan as he led Thorpe Below. The only one he could come up with was to push Thorpe over the edge of the staircase and into the abyss. In a roundabout way, he had led him to the abyss, and they were fighting on the staircase.
Thorpe had Cullen at a disadvantage and was just about to push Cullen over the edge when Vincent came upon them. Roaring in anger, he struck out at Thorpe, sending him flying off of the top of Cullen and tumbling backwards down the carved steps.
Cullen was half off the steps and hanging over the edge when Vincent reached down and helped him up. Thorpe had regained his footing and was aiming his gun at Vincent’s head. Thinking quickly, Cullen tossed the bag of treasure at Thorpe, knocking him off balance.
Thorpe’s cries could be heard as he fell into the abyss.
The threat now over, Cullen fell to his knees and broke down, sobbing in anguish at all that he had done wrong.
Cullen finally got control of himself and stared down into the abyss. “I deserve to be down there. I should just follow that devil into the abyss.”
“What would that accomplish?”
“I’m sure it would make some people very happy.”
“I deserve to die.”
“You deserve forgiveness.”
Cullen shook his head in disagreement. “How’s Mouse?”
“Father operated on him...he thinks Mouse will be all right.”
Cullen nodded. “I’m so glad.”
“I don’t think I can live with myself. How could I have done that to Mouse? He’s my friend, a good friend!” Cullen looked at Vincent with remorse. “My God, Vincent, he’s barely more than kid. I almost took that all away from him.”
“Mouse is young, Cullen, but he’s able to forgive, just like the rest of us.”
“I don’t deserve it.”
Vincent grasped his friend’s shoulder. “You’ve always been fair and kind. You’ve always been an ideal member of our community. I don’t think one bad judgment will get you banished.”
“I don’t think I can face anyone.”
Vincent pulled on his arm as he hugged him again. “Come, we’ll face them together...as friends.”
Cullen nodded and followed Vincent to the library. All eyes turned as they walked in.
Vincent grasped Cullen’s shoulder and looked out over the sea of angry faces. “At my insistence, Cullen has come here to speak to all of us. To ask for our forgiveness.”
Vincent looked over at Cullen, who nodded fearfully as he looked out at the community. He groaned and stepped back as Vincent patted him on the back, offering encouragement.
Cullen looked down. “I don’t know where to begin. An apology to all of you isn’t enough. When I saw the opportunity to become wealthy, I don’t know what happened to me. My mind couldn’t grasp the concept. Some of you know my background, others don’t. I’d like the opportunity to try to explain.”
Cullen looked up hopefully and saw that some of the faces were wiped clean of anger. Others just stared, waiting for him to continue. He sighed and went on. “When my wife first got sick, I struggled to pay all of the bills that kept coming in. All of the things I promised we would have one day just kept getting further and further from my reach. After she died, they took everything else. I had nothing left. Somehow, in some way, the money reminded me of all the things I promised her we would have one day. I never got a chance to buy her those things. I guess, in some way, I thought that if I could get them now, she would see and be happy. I know this is a poor excuse but I’m sorry. I am truly, truly sorry.”
No one in the room spoke. Vincent looked from person to person to see the reactions people were having.
Catherine frowned as Cullen struggled to keep his emotions in check. She knew Vincent had forgiven Cullen, and wondered why the others weren’t stepping forward. Clearly, this man was devastated by what had happened.
She looked at Vincent then stood up. “Cullen, I don’t know you as well as everyone here but I just want to say that we’ve all been lost at some point in our lives. The important thing now is that you recognize what you did and try to change, so that it doesn’t happen in the future. I think it was noble of you to come here and offer an apology.” She came forward and impulsively hugged him.
Cullen nodded thankfully as tears flowed from his eyes.
Mary smiled and came over and offered a hug as well. One by one the community members softened their hearts and let him back into the safety of their community.
Winslow was the last, and Cullen looked at him uncertainly. “I guess I can understand what drove you to do it.” Cullen stayed silent. Winslow grabbed his arm and squeezed it gently. “It’s going to be okay, man.”
Catherine had backed away from the gathering crowd, and felt Vincent come up to stand behind her. She looked up over her shoulder and felt it as his arm came around her.
His head lowered to the back of hers as he whispered to her, “Thank you.”
Catherine could have sworn he kissed the back of her head. She smiled and snuggled back into his chest.
Father called another council meeting, and it was voted by everyone to dump the treasure into the abyss. They worked together and brought the trunk to the edge of the hole. As they struggled to send it tumbling over the edge, they were stopped ny Vincent’s words.
“We can’t do this. By throwing this treasure into the abyss, we admit defeat. Then it has beaten us.”
Winslow countered, “It’s the only way.”
Mary added, “I think it’s the best thing for all of us.”
Vincent continued, “There may be no place for it in our world but there are others in the world Above who go hungry and homeless and, although we live apart from them, we can never deny that we are all a part of each other and this city. We cannot turn our backs while there is a chance to help. We cannot turn our backs!”
The community took Vincent’s words to heart and struggled to get the treasure chest back to the library. Once there, it was left to the council to decide which charity would benefit from it the most. Several names of places were thrown out for discussion.
Vincent finally turned to Catherine. “Do you have any ideas?”
Mouse had been sitting quietly at the end of the table. “Mouse knows one. Not sure if it’s still there.”
Father smiled indulgently. “Are you sure, Mouse? This can’t just be a place you’ve stumbled across.”
Mouse rolled his eyes. “Stayed there once…long time ago…before here.”
“Do you remember the name of the place, Mouse?” Vincent asked gently.
“No…but had ladies dressed like penguins.”
Winslow rolled his eyes in disgust. “Oh, come on, Mouse.”
Cullen tapped Winslow’s arm. “Penguins…get it? I think he means nuns or sisters.”
“A Christian-run establishment?” Mary smiled at Mouse.
Mouse shrugged. “Don’t know. Gave Mouse food and bed when I was sick.”
“Do you remember where it was located?” Father wondered.
“No. Can show where.”
Mouse ran to get a map. When he opened it, he showed Vincent which tunnels would take him to the location. “Leave tunnels here…short walk…then here,” Mouse pointed out.
Vincent frowned in thought as he tried to remember what building was there. “Mouse, do you remember if it was Saint Regina’s?”
Mouse shrugged as Catherine leaned forward. “Well, they would certainly have sisters working there; it’s a shelter the gives aid to the homeless. My father and I worked at the soup kitchen there the Christmas after my mother died.”
Mary clasped her hands together. “I propose we take the treasure and donate it to Saint Regina’s.”
Everyone voted, and Vincent and some of the other men left to get the treasure delivered.
The community members filtered out slowly, and eventually Father and Catherine were alone. Father smiled at her. “Catherine, I haven’t gotten a chance to tell you, but your generosity was greatly appreciated. The articles of clothing you brought down were all put to use by someone. Elizabeth even commented on how warm she was in the heavy sweater you provided, and I’m sure a few of the men were happy, as well.”
She blushed, knowing he was alluding to Vincent’s new shirts. “I’m glad, Father. I wish I could do more but I see how money affects people who are unused to having it. I’m embarrassed to say I have never had to do without much, so it is inconceivable to me when others fight over wealth. You know the saying: money can’t buy happiness.”
Father shook his head. In his former life, he had come from a well-to-do family and understood exactly what she was saying. “No, you’re right, it cannot.”
She looked at him hopefully. “Still, there must be ways I can help this community without causing turmoil or dissention.”
Father sighed, knowing her generous nature would not be stopped. “Catherine, I know William would always welcome some relief in the food budget. It’s probably one of the biggest expenses we have Below. If you want to help anywhere, that’s where the most help would benefit the largest amount of people.”
She smiled and patted his hand. “Thank you, Father. I promise not to go overboard.”
Father looked at her and knew she would never be able to stay within a budget. He knew she would spend as much money as she could possibly get away with. He chuckled at her. “Ha, don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.”
She pretended to be offended. “I will do everything in my power to not go overboard.”
Father rolled his eyes. “I’ll let you go overboard on fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Catherine looked at him coyly. “And meat?”
He sighed and nodded. She grinned excitedly. “How about milk and eggs?”
He thought for a moment about the children. It had always been his hope to increase their diet to the most nutritional things they could afford. He looked down ruefully and nodded.
Father raised his hand to stop her. “How about if we start with that for right now?”
Catherine nodded, secretly pleased she was able to do that much.
Father smiled at her. “Will you wait for Vincent?”
“I think I’ll head home. Tell him I’ll talk to him soon.” She came over to him, impulsively kissing him on the cheek. “Well, goodnight.”
“Can you make it back alone?”
She nodded. “I think so, I’ll call if I have trouble.”
He smiled as she left; he decided he rather liked having a daughter around.
Vincent stopped by Catherine’s on his way home. She heard him land on the balcony and quickly ran out to meet him.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to walk you home.”
“Don’t be silly, Vincent.” She smiled up at him. “That was a wonderful idea you had. So many people will benefit from your thoughtfulness.”
He looked down shyly. “Thank you, Catherine. I think the unselfishness of the act will benefit our community, as well.”
“It did seem like everyone was back to normal. I’m glad Mouse could forgive Cullen.”
“We’ve never been tested this strongly before. I’m glad it has all been worked out.”
“Were you able to deliver the treasure?”
He nodded. “Yes, I’m just getting back now. I saw one of the sisters open up the lid of the chest.”
“I wonder what they must think.”
He smiled at her. “That it was a miracle.”
She moved in towards him and laid her head on his shoulder.
Vincent marveled at the rightness of her being there next to him. Finally, he pulled slightly away. “Catherine, I want to thank you for helping out so much with Mouse.”
Catherine knew he referred to the wound Mouse had sustained. “It was pretty bad, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but you didn’t let that stop you from helping. Without you it would have taken us much longer to get Mouse to Father.”
She blushed. “I’m just happy Father was able to take care of him. Mouse is strong, he’ll be fine.”
He nodded grimly. “Yes. I’m still surprised he was up and walking so quickly.”
“He wanted to show Cullen he forgave him.”
Vincent nodded. “Cullen is very thankful and remorseful. He hasn’t left Mouse’s side. He helps him do everything.”
“Will everyone else forgive him?”
“Once you showed them how, they started to. Compassion is an emotion that’s hard to have when so many hurtful things have been said. But I think everyone is on their way to forgiving him.”
Catherine nodded. “Good.”
“It’s good to see the community back and working together.”
Catherine thought of her earlier conversation with Father. “Father’s trying, as well. He is finally going to let me use some of Margaret’s money to help the community.”
Vincent looked at her with surprise. “He is?”
“Uh huh! We talked after you left to deliver the treasure. He said I could send extra for fruits and vegetables and eggs and milk and meat.” She looked down and pouted. “I wish I could slip some fun stuff in there, like cookies and cakes.”
Vincent smiled shyly. “I’m sure if William found some extra flour, sugar and butter, he could find a use for them.”
Catherine hadn’t thought of that. William could bake his own treats! She smiled gleefully at Vincent then narrowed her eyes. She knew how much Vincent liked sweets; she wondered if she was correct. “I’ll bet he could use chocolate chips and peanut butter, as well.”
Vincent blushed and looked down. “Perhaps.”
She laughed out loud and Vincent soon joined her. She reached her hands around his neck and pulled him down to her. Vincent embraced her and laid his head down on her shoulder.
Vincent slowly released her. “I should go.”
“I...need to tell Father what happened at the shelter.”
“Okay, see you soon, Vincent.”
Vincent nodded. “Yes.”
He quickly hopped on the wall and disappeared from sight.
Catherine sighed and turned to go inside.
The next day, Catherine made her rounds to all of the helpers she knew of and excitedly told them about the increases they could make in the amount of things they sent Below. She arranged payment plans for each of the stores, and they all agreed upon the billing arrangements.
Catherine knew that today and tomorrow, William would be pleasantly surprised at the extra stuff being delivered.
On Monday, Catherine headed to work early. She walked in and saw Joe reading the paper.
He looked up with a grin. “Did you see the paper?”
Catherine shook her head. “No.”
Joe laughed. “Someone donated a treasure chest full of antiquities to a homeless shelter. They’re having a hard time assessing the stuff’s value.”
Catherine shrugged. “Imagine that. Someone is very generous.”
“Someone is a nut job!”
“Joe, that was very generous of someone to donate stuff to a shelter. St. Regina’s would have been closed without that stuff.”
Catherine blinked for a second, mind racing. “I didn’t read it. I heard about it in the taxi on the way here this morning.”
Joe shrugged. “Oh, hey, did you get the Rodriguez file done?”
“I did. I finished it yesterday.”
“Good work, thanks.”
Joe reached over and grabbed a stack of files on the corner of his desk. He handed them to her with a smile. “Now you can start on these.”
Catherine grimaced but took them. “Slave driver.”
She turned with a smile and left to go to her desk.
Catherine worked her way through the files and carefully separated them into piles for research or depositions or for more investigation. By the end of the day, she was exhausted and headed for home.
Catherine let herself into her apartment and changed into more comfortable clothes. It grew dark outside and her stomach started to grumble.
She headed for the kitchen when she saw a shadow pass outside on her balcony. She changed her direction and headed outside.
“Yes, Catherine. I have a surprise for you.”
Vincent had his back turned and was doing something by her table. He turned around and she smiled at the table setting, complete with a candle and flowers; in the center of the table stood a crock of something that smelled delicious.
Catherine’s stomach protested and Vincent came and took her hand. “You’re hungry. Let’s eat.”
Catherine followed and allowed him to seat her. He sat across from her and dished out William’s special chicken and dumplings.
Catherine grabbed a spoonful and sat back. “Mmmm, this tastes heavenly!” Vincent smiled as she dug into her bowl with gusto. She even had a thick slab of bread. She finally sat back with a satisfied grin. “That was wonderful. Tell William I said thank you.”
Vincent looked at her pointedly. “This was William’s thank you to you. He received several huge shipments of food between yesterday and today. He’s wondered who was responsible.”
Catherine looked at him innocently. “Hmmm, how strange.”
Vincent shook his head with amusement and reached into the basket he brought. “There’s something for dessert, as well.”
Vincent brought out a huge chocolate brownie covered with nuts.
Catherine shook her head. “I can’t eat all that. Take half?”
Vincent split the brownie in two and watched as Catherine took bits from her half.
“Oh, God, Vincent! This is fantastic.”
She had two more bites as Vincent finished his half. She looked at the last bite of hers and knew she couldn’t possibly finish it. She slowly brought it up to his lips.
He looked at her nervously but opened his mouth as she popped it in. He could hardly chew as she looked into his eyes.
He looked away and she got up. “Would you like a glass of milk, Vincent?”
He nodded while he chewed, and she ran inside and brought back two medium-sized glasses of milk. She handed him his, and they both drank the cool liquid down.
Catherine took his glass and set it on the table. She turned and noticed for the first time the shirt he was wearing.
“Vincent, is that one of the new shirts?”
He blushed and looked down as he nodded.
She smiled and came forward and opened his cloak. “It fits perfectly; I like this color on you. You look great!”
If possible, Vincent blushed even more.
Catherine dropped the sides of his cloak and held her hand to her stomach. “Uck! I’m so full. I feel like it’s just after Thanksgiving dinner. You know the feeling...when it’s uncomfortable to even breathe.”
Vincent chuckled. “Would you like to sit for a while?”
“Sure, let me grab the blankets.”
Catherine went inside her bedroom door and grabbed the blankets that were always there. Vincent took them from her and spread the biggest out on the floor. Catherine sat down and Vincent followed, carefully leaving space between them.
Catherine scooted closer and laid her head on his shoulder. “How’s Mouse doing today?”
Vincent chuckled. “Father is beside himself with worry. Mouse won’t stay still long enough get any rest. I suppose he’s doing well.”
Catherine sighed. “Good, and are things back to normal yet?”
“Yes. Everyone is talking about how our good deed was returned to us tenfold because of the abundance of food that was sent down.”
Catherine stayed silent but Vincent could feel how happy she was inside. He turned his head into hers and smelled her unique scent.
Catherine held her breath, wondering if he was going to kiss her again. When he turned back away, she nestled her head against his shoulder and tried to relax again.
Vincent recited poetry to her from memory, and she occasionally helped him with lines. Soon he grew tired and they sat there, silently enjoying the night together.